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- Aladdin O'Brien - 20/32 -


terribly blue, too, dear, and one tries to keep up and says asinine things, and"--he smiled, and his smile was very winning--"is at once forgiven by an old dear."

She held out her hand and gave his a friendly squeeze.

"You old darling!" he said, and ran out.

She followed him into the hall, and met Manners, who had just parted from the senator at the front door. His uniform was wonderfully becoming.

"Is it Peter?"

They shook hands.

"Never," she said, "have I seen anything so beautiful!"

Peter blushed (looking even more beautiful, for he hated to be talked about).

"Where was 'Laddin going?" he said. "He went by me like a shot out of a gun, and had only time to pull my hat over my eyes and squeal Peeeter."

"He's very important now," said Margaret, "and wonders how anybody can want to write things and be a poet or a musician when there are real things to do in the world."

Peter looked at his watch.

"Isn't that the least bit rude?" said Margaret.

"No," said Peter; "my train back leaves in one hour, and I could better afford to lose my chances of heaven. I had no business to come, as it was. But I had to come."

Margaret sighed. She had hoped that it would not happen so soon. He followed her into the parlor and closed the door behind him.

"First, Margaret," he said, "I'm going to tell you something that may surprise you a little. It did me; it was so sudden. My sister Ellen is going to be married."

"Ellen!" exclaimed Margaret. "Why, she always said--" "It's only been arranged in the last few days," said Peter, "by many telegrams. I was told to tell you."

"Is he nice?"

"Yes. He's a good chap."

"Rich?"

"Well--rather rising than rich."

"Who is it?"

"Your brother John."

"My dear Peter--"

"No--I never did, either!"

"Isn't that splendid!"

Peter pulled a grave face.

"Yes--and no," he said.

"I hope you're not going to be insolent," said Margaret.

"It depends on what you call insolent. My father, you see, objects very much to having Ellen go out of the family, but he says that he can learn to bear that if the only other girl in the world will come into the family."

Manners' voice had become husky toward the last of the sentence, and perhaps not husky so much as hungry. Margaret knew better than to say anything of the kind, but she couldn't help looking as innocent as a child and saying:

"Won't she?"

"How do I know?" said Peter. "I have come to ask her."

He looked so very strong and manly and frank that Margaret, whose world had been terribly blue recently, was half tempted to throw herself into his arms and cry.

"O Peter!" she said pitifully.

He came and sat beside her on the sofa, and drew her close to him.

"My darling," he said brokenly.

A great sense of trust and security stole over Margaret, but she knew that it was not love. Yet for a moment she hesitated, for she knew that if she took this man, his arm would always be about her, and he would always--always--always be good to her. As she sat there, not trusting herself to speak, she had her first doubt of Aladdin, and she wondered if he loved her as much--as much as he loved Aladdin. Then she felt like a traitor.

For a little neither could find any words to say. So still they sat that Margaret could hear the muffled ticking of Peter's watch. At length Peter spoke.

"What shall I tell my father?" he said.

"Tell him--" said Margaret, and her voice broke.

"Aren't you sure, darling--is that it?"

She nodded with tears in her eyes.

He took his arm from round her waist, and she felt very lonely.

"But I'm always going to love you," he said.

She felt still more alone.

"Peter," she said, "I can't explain things very well, but I --I--don't want you to go away feeling as if--"

Manners' eyes lifted up.

"As if it was all over?" he asked eagerly.

"Almost that, Peter," she said. "I--I can't say yes now--but God knows, Peter, perhaps sometime--I--I can."

She was thinking of the flighty and moody Aladdin, who had loved her so long, and whom (she suddenly realized in spite of the words just spoken) she loved back with all her heart and soul.

Honor rose hot in her to give Peter a final answer now and forever--no. But she looked into his eyes and could not. He looked at his watch.

"Margaret dear," he said, "I've got to go. Thanks for everything, and for the hope and all, and--and I may never see you again, but if I do, will you give me my answer then?"

"I will," said Margaret, "when I see you again."

They rose.

"May I kiss you, Margaret?" he said.

"Certainly, Peter."

He kissed her on the cheek, and went away with her tears on his lips.

A newly organized fife-and-drum corps marched by struggling with "The Girl I Left Behind Me."

In those days the most strangled rendering of that tune would bring lumps into the throats of those that heard.

XXII

Hannible and Hamilton were privates in the nth regiment, Aladdin was major, and John was colonel. If any of them had the slightest military knowledge, it was Aladdin. Not in vain had he mastered the encyclopedia from Safety-lamps to Stranglers. He could explain with strange words and in long, balanced sentences everything about the British army that began with an S, except only those things whose second letter stood farther down in the alphabet than T. But the elements of knowledge kept dropping in, at first on perfunctory calls, visitors that disappeared when you turned to speak with them, but that later came to stay. The four young men were like children with a "roll-the-seven-number-eight-shot-into-the-middle" puzzle. They could make a great rattling with the shot, and control their tempers; that was about all. Later they were to form units in the most efficient and intelligent large body of men that the world ever saw, with the possible exception of the armies it was to be pitted against; but those, it must be owned, were usually smaller, though, in the ability of their commanders to form concentration, often of three times the size. They learned that it is cheaper to let a company sleep in tents upon hard ground of a rainy night than to lodge them in a neighboring hotel at one's own expense, and that going the rounds in pitch-darkness grows less thrilling in exact ratio to the number of times you do it, and finally, even in sight of the enemy's lines, becomes as boring as waltzing with a girl you don't like. They began to learn that cleanliness is next to godliness only in times


Aladdin O'Brien - 20/32

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