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- Aladdin O'Brien - 25/32 -
"What?" said Aladdin.
He closed his eyes, for he was very weak. It seemed as if a great sweetness came close to his face, and he could have sworn that something wet and hot fell lightly on his forehead; but when he opened his eyes, the girl was sitting aloof, her face in the shadow.
"I dreamed just then," said Aladdin, "that something wonderful happened to me. Did it?"
"What would you consider wonderful?"
Aladdin laid a finger on his forehead; he drew it away and saw that the tip was wet.
"I couldn't very well say," he said.
The girl bent over him.
"It nearly happened," she said.
"You are very wonderful and beautiful," said Aladdin.
Her eyes were like stars, and she leaned closer.
"Are you going to go on fighting against my people?" she said.
Roses lay for a moment on his lips.
He made no sign. If she had kissed him again he would have renounced his birthright and his love.
"God bless and keep you, Yankee," she said.
Tears rushed out of Aladdin's eyes.
"They're coming to take you away," she said. "Good-by."
"Kiss me again," said Aladdin, hoarsely.
She looked at him quietly for some moments.
"And your sweetheart?" she said.
Aladdin covered his face with his arm.
"Poor little traitor," said the girl, sadly. She rose and, without looking back, moved slowly up the road toward the house.
Nor did Aladdin ever see her again, but in after years the smell of box or roses would bring into his mind the wonderful face of her, and the music of her voice.
In the delirium which was upon him all that night, he harped to the surgeon of Ellen, and in the morning fell asleep.
"Haec olim meminisse juvabit," said the surgeon, as rain-clouded dawn rose whitely in the east.
Aladdin was jolted miserably down the Peninsula in a white ambulance, which mules dragged through knee-deep mud and over flowing, corduroy roads. He had fever in his whole body, anguish in one leg, and hardly a wish to live. But at Fort Monroe the breezes came hurrying from the sea, like so many unfailing doctors, and blew his fever back inland where it belonged. He lay under a live-oak on the parade ground and once more received the joy of life into his heart. When he was well enough to limp about, they gave him leave to go home; and he went down into a ship, and sailed away up the laughing Chesapeake, and up the broad Potomac to Washington. There he rested during one night, and in the morning took train for New York. The train was full of sick and wounded going home, and there was a great cheerfulness upon them all. Men joined by the brotherhood of common experience talked loudly, smoked hard, and drank deep. There was tremendous boasting and the accounting of unrivaled adventures. In Aladdin's car, however, there was one man who did not join in the fellowship, for he was too sick. He had been a big man and strong, but he looked like a ghost made of white gossamer and violet shadows. His own mother would not have recognized him. He lay back into the corner of a seat with averted face and closed eyes. The more decent-minded endeavored, on his account, to impose upon the noisy a degree of quiet, but their efforts were unavailing. Aladdin, drumming with his nails upon the windowpane, fell presently into soft song:
Give me three breaths of pleasure After three deaths of pain, And make me not remeasure The ways that were in vain.
Men grew silent and gathered to hear, for Aladdin's fame as a maker of songs had spread over the whole army, and he was called the Minstrel Major. He felt his audience and sang louder. The very sick man turned a little so that he, too, could hear. Only the occasional striking of a match or the surreptitious drawing of a cork interrupted. The stately tune moved on:
The first breath shall be laughter, The second shall be wine; And there shall follow after A kiss that shall be mine.
Somehow all the homing hearts were set to beating.
Roses with dewfall laden One garden grows for me; I call them kisses, maiden, And gather them from thee.
The very sick man turned fully, and there was a glad light of recognition in his eyes.
Give me three kisses only-- Then let the storm break o'er The vessel beached and lonely Upon the lonely shore.
If Aladdin's singing ever moved anybody particularly, it was Aladdin, and that was why it moved other people. He sang on with tears in his voice
Give me three breaths of pleasure After three deaths of pain, And I will no more treasure The hopes that are in vain.
There was silence for a moment, more engaging than applause, and then applause. Aladdin was in his element, and he wondered what he would best sing next if they should ask him to sing again, and this they immediately did. The train was jolting along between Baltimore and Philadelphia. There was much beer in the bellies of the sick and wounded, and much sentiment in their hearts. Aladdin's finger was always on the pulse of his audience, and he began with relish:
Oh, shut and dark her window is In the dark house on the hill, But I have come up through the lilac walk To the lilt of the whippoorwill, With the old years tugging at my hands And my heart which is her heart still.
There was another man in the car whose whole life centered about a house on a hill with a lilac walk leading up to it. He was the very sick man, and a shadow of red color came into his cheeks.
They said, "You must come to the house once more, Ere the tale of your years be done, You must stand and look up at her window again, Ere the sands of your life are run, As the night-time follows the lost daytime, And the heart goes down with the sun."
There were tears in the very sick man's eyes, for the future was hidden from him. Aladdin sang on:
Though her window be darkest of every one, In the dark house on the hill, Yet I turn to it here from this ruin of grass, She has leaned on that window's sill, And dark it is, but there is, there is An echo of light there still!
There was great applause from the drunk and sentimental. And Aladdin lowered his eyes until it was over. When he raised them it was to encounter those of the very sick man. Aladdin sprang to his feet with a cry and went limping down the aisle.
"Peter," he cried, "by all that's holy!"
All the tenderness of the Celt gushed into Aladdin's heart as he realized the pitiful condition and shocking emaciation of his friend. He put his arm gently about him, and thus they sat until the journey's end. In New York they separated.
Aladdin rested that night and boarded an early morning train for Boston. He settled himself contentedly behind a newspaper, and fell to gathering news of the army. But it was difficult to read. A sentence beginning like this: "Rumors of a savage engagement between the light horse under" would shape itself like this: "I am going to see Margaret to-morrow--to-morrow--to-morrow--I am going to see Margaret to-morrow-tomorrow--and God is good--is good--is good."
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