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- Aladdin O'Brien - 2/32 -
They were dancing sportively farther and farther from the shore. The water broke, now and again, and slapped the boat playfully.
"We 've come 'most three miles," said Aladdin.
"I daren't go back if I could now," said Margaret.
Meanwhile Aladdin scanned the horizon far and wide to see if he could see anything of Antheus, tossed by the winds, or the Phrygian triremes, or Capys, or the ships having upon their lofty poops the arms of Caicus. There was no help in sight. Far and wide was the bubbling ruffled river, behind the mainland, and ahead the leafy island.
"What'll your father do, 'Laddin?"
Aladdin merely grinned, less by way of explaining what his father would do than of expressing to Margaret this: "Have courage; I am still with you."
"'Laddin, we're not going so fast."
They had run into nominally still water, and the skiff was losing momentum.
"Maybe we'd better land on the island," said Aladdin, "if we can, and wait till the tide turns; won't be long now."
Again he plied the oars, and this time with success. For after a little they came into the shadow of the island, the keel grunted upon sand, and they got out. There was a little crescent of white beach, with an occasional exclamatory green reed sticking from it, and above was a fine arch of birch and pine. They hauled up the boat as far as they could, and sat down to wait for the tide to turn. Firm earth, in spite of her awful spiritual forebodings, put Margaret in a more cheerful mood. Furthermore, the woods and the general mystery of islands were as inviting as Punch.
"It's not much fun watching the tide come in," she said after a time.
Aladdin got up.
"Let's go away," he said, "and come back. It never comes in if you watch for it to."
Margaret arose, and they went into the woods.
A devil's darning-needle came and buzzed for an instant on the bow of the skiff. A belated sandpiper flew into the cove, peeped, and flew out.
The tide rose a little and said:
"What is this heavy thing upon my back?"
Then it rose a little more.
"Why, it's poor little sister boat stuck in the mud," said the tide.
From far off came joyful crackling of twigs and the sounds of children at play.
The tide rose a little more and freed an end of the boat.
"That's better," said the boat, "ever so much better. I can almost float."
Again the tide raised its broad shoulders a hair's-breadth.
"Great!" said the boat. "Once more, Old Party!"
When the children came back, they found that poor little sister boat was gone, and in her stead all of their forgotten troubles had returned and were waiting for them, and looking them in the face.
It is absurdly difficult to get help in this world. If a lady puts her head out of a window and yells "Police," she is considered funny, or if a man from the very bottom of his soul calls for help, he is commonly supposed to be drunk. Thus if, cast away upon an island, you should wave your handkerchief to people passing in a boat, they would imagine that you wanted to be friendly, and wave back; or, if they were New York aldermen out for a day's fishing in the Sound, call you names. And so it was with Margaret and Aladdin. With shrill piping voices they called tearfully to a party sailing up the river from church, waved and waved, were answered in kind, and tasted the bitterest cup possible to the Crusoed.
Then after much wandering in search of the boat it got to be hunger-time, and two small stomachs calling lustily for food did not add to the felicity of the situation.
With hunger-time came dusk, and afterward darkness, blacker than the tall hat of Margaret's father. For at the last moment nature had thought better of the fine weather which man had been enjoying for the past month, and drawn a vast curtain of inkiness over the luminaries from one horizon even unto the other, and sent a great puff of wet fog up the valley of the river from the ocean, so that teeth chattered and the ends of fingers became shriveled and bloodless. And had not vanity gone out with the entrance of sin, Margaret would have noticed that her tight little curls were looser and the once stately ostrich feather upon her Sunday hat, the envy of little girls whom the green monster possessed, as flabby as a long sermon.
Meanwhile the tide having turned, little sister boat made fine way of it down the river, and, burrowing in the fog, holding her breath as it were, and greatly assisted by the tide, slipped past the town unseen, and put for open sea, where it is to be supposed she enjoyed herself hugely and, finally, becoming a little skeleton of herself on unknown shores, was gathered up by somebody who wanted a pretty fire with green lights in it. The main point is that she went her selfish way undetected, so that the wide-lanterned search which presently arose for little Margaret tumbled and stumbled about clueless, and halted to take drinks, and came back about morning and lay down all day, and said it never did, which it certainly hadn't. All the to-do was over Margaret, for Aladdin had not been missed, and, even if he had, nobody would have looked for him. His father was at home bending over the model of the wonderful lamp which was to make his fortune, and over which he had been bending for fifteen rolling years. It had come to him, at about the time that he fell in love with Aladdin's mother, that a certain worthless biproduct of something would, if combined with something else and steeped in water, generate a certain gas, which, though desperately explosive, would burn with a flame as white as day. Over the perfection of this invention, with a brief honeymoon for vacation, he had spent fifteen years, a small fortune,--till he had nothing left, --the most of his health, and indeed everything but his conviction that it was a beautiful invention and sure of success. When Aladdin arrived, he was red and wrinkled, after the everlasting fashion of the human babe, and had no name, so because of the wonderful lamp they called him Aladdin. And that rendered his first school-days wretched and had nothing to do with the rest of his life, after the everlasting fashion of wonderful names. Aladdin's mother went out of the world in the very natural act of ushering his young brother into it, and he remembered her as a thin person who was not strictly honorable (for, having betrayed him with a kiss, she punished him for smoking) and had a headache. So there was nobody to miss Aladdin or to waste the valuable night in looking for him.
About this time Margaret began to cry and Aladdin to comfort her, and they stumbled about in the woods trying to find --anything. After awhile they happened into a grassy glade between two steep rocks, and there agreeing to rest, scrunched into a depression of the rock on the right. And Margaret, her nose very red, her hat at an angle, and her head on Aladdin's shoulder, sobbed herself to sleep. And then, because being trusted is next to being God, and the most moving and gentlest condition possible, Aladdin, for the first time, felt the full measure of his crime in leading Margaret from the straight way home, and he pressed her close to him and stroked her draggled hair with his cold little hands and cried. Whenever she moved in sleep, his heart went out to her, and before the night was old he loved her forever.
Sleep did not come to Aladdin, who had suddenly become a father and a mother and a nurse and a brother and a lover and a man who must not be afraid. His coat was wrapped about Margaret, and his arms were wrapped about his coat, and the body of him shivered against the damp, cold shirt, which would come open in front because there was a button gone. The fog came in thicker and colder, and night with her strange noises moved slower and slower. There was an old loon out on the river, who would suddenly throw back his head and laugh for no reason at all. And once a great strange bird went rushing past, squeaking like a mouse; and once two bright eyes came, flashing out of the night and swung this way and that like signal-lanterns and disappeared. Aladdin gave himself up for lost and would have screamed if he had been alone.
Presently his throat began to tickle, then the base of his nose, then the bridge thereof, and then he felt for a handkerchief and found none. For a little while he maintained the proprieties by a gentle sniffling, finally by one great agonized snuff. It seemed after that as if he were to be left in peace. But no. His lips parted, his chin went up a little, his eyes closed, the tickling gave place to a sudden imperative ultimatum, and, when all was over, Margaret had waked.
They talked for a long time, for she could not go to sleep again, and Aladdin told her many things and kept her from crying, but he did not tell her about the awful bird or the more awful eyes. He told her about his little brother, and the yellow cat they had, and about the great city where he had
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