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- Aladdin O'Brien - 3/32 -
once lived, and why he was called Aladdin. And when the real began to grow dim, he told her stories out of strange books that he had read, as he remembered them--first the story of Aladdin and then others.
"Once," began Aladdin, though his teeth were knocking together and his arms aching and his nose running--"once there was a man named Ali Baba, and he had forty thieves--"
Even in the good north country, where the white breath of the melting icebergs takes turn and turn with diamond nights and days, people did not remember so thick a fog; nor was there a thicker recorded in any chapter of tradition. Indeed, if the expression be endurable, so black was the whiteness that it was difficult to know when morning came. There was a fresher shiver in the cold, the sensibility that tree-tops were stirring, a filmy distinction of objects near at hand, and the possibility that somewhere 'way back in the east the rosy fingers of dawn were spread upon a clear horizon. Collisions between ships at sea were reported, and many a good sailorman went down full fathom five to wait for the whistle of the Great Boatswain.
The little children on the island roused themselves and groped about among the chilled, dripping stems of the trees; they had no end in view, and no place to go, but motion was necessary for the lame legs and arms. Margaret had caught a frightful cold and Aladdin a worse, and they were hungrier than should be allowed. Now a jarred tree rained water down their necks, and now their faces went with a splash and sting into low-hanging plumes of leaves; often there would be a slip and a scrambling fall. And by the time Aladdin had done grimacing over a banged shin, Margaret would have a bruised anklebone to cry about. The poor little soul was very tired and penitent and cold and hurt and hungry, and she cried most of the time and was not to be comforted. But Aladdin bit his lips and held his head up and said it all would be well sometime. Perhaps, though he still had a little courage left, Aladdin was the more to be pitied of the two: he was not only desperately responsible for it all, but full of imagination and the horrible things he had read. Margaret, like most women, suffered a little from self-centration, and to her the trunk of a birch was just a nasty old wet tree, but to Aladdin it was the clammy limb of one drowned, and drawn from the waters to stand in eternal unrest. At length the stumbling progress brought them to a shore of the island: a slippery ledge of rock, past whose feet the water slipped hurriedly, steaming with fog as if it had been hot, two big leaning birches, and a ruddy mink that slipped like winking into a hole. The river, evident for only a few yards, became lost in the fog, and where they were could only be guessed, and which way the tide was setting could only be learned by experiment. Aladdin planted a twig at the precise edge of the water, and they sat down to watch. Stubbornly and unwillingly the water receded from the twig, and they knew that the tide was running out.
"That's the way home," said Aladdin. Margaret looked wistfully down-stream, her eyes as misty as the fog.
"If we had the boat we could go now," said Aladdin.
Then he sat moody, evolving enterprise, and neither spoke for a long time.
"Marg'ret," said Aladdin, at length, "help me find a big log near the water."
"What you going to do, 'Laddin?"
"You 'll see. Help look."
They crept along the edge of the island, now among the close-growing trees and now on the bare strip between them and the water, until at length they came upon a big log, lying like some gnarled amphibian half in the river and half on the dry land.
"Help push," said Aladdin.
They could move it only a little, not enough.
"Wait till I get a lever," said Aladdin. He went, and came back with a long, stiff little birch, that, growing recklessly in the thin soil over a rock, had been willing to yield to the persuasion of a child and come up by the roots. And then, Margaret pushing her best, and Aladdin prying and grunting, the log was moved to within an ace of launching. Until now, for she was too young to understand about daring and unselfishness, Margaret had considered the log-launching as a game invented by Aladdin to while away the dreary time; but now she realized, from the look in the pale, set, freckly, almost comical face of the boy, that deeds more serious were afoot, and when he said, "Somebody'll pick me up, sure, Marg'ret, and help me come back and get you," she broke out crying afresh and said, "Don't, 'Laddin! Doo-on't, 'Laddin!"
"Don't cry, Marg'ret," said Aladdin, with a gulp. "I'd do more'n that for you, and I can swim a little, too--b-better'n I can row."
"Oh, 'Laddin," said Margaret, "it's so cold in the water."
"Shucks!" said Aladdin, whose teeth had been knocking all night. "She's the stanch little craft" (he had the phrase of a book) "Good Luck. I'm the captain and you're the builder's daughter"--and so she was. "Chrissen 'er, Marg'et. Kiss her on the bow an' say she's the Good Luck."
Then Margaret, her hat over one ear, and the draggled ostrich feather greatly in the way, knelt, and putting her arms about the shoreward end of the log, kissed it, and said in a drawn little voice
"The Good Luck."
"And now, Margaret," said Aladdin, "you must stay right here' n' not go 'way from the shore, so's I can find you when I come back. But don't just sit still all the time,--keep moving, so's not to get any colder,--'n I'll come back for you sure."
Then, because he felt his courage failing, he said, "Good-by, Marg'ret," and turning abruptly, waded in to his ankles and bent over the log to give it that final impetus which was to set it adrift. In his heart were several things: the desire to make good, fear of the river, and, poignant and bitter, the feeling that Margaret did not understand. He was too young to believe that death might really be near him (almost reckless enough not to care if he had), but keenly aware that his undertaking was perilous enough to warrant a more adequate farewell. So he bent bitterly over the log and stiffened his back for the heave. It must be owned that Aladdin wanted more of a scene.
"'Laddin, I forgot something. Come back."
He came, his white lips drawn into a sort of smile. Then they kissed each other on the mouth with the loud, innocent kiss of little children, and after that Aladdin felt that the river was only a river, the cold only cold, the danger only danger and flowers--more than flowers.
He moved the log easily and waded with it into the icy waters, until his feet were dragged from the bottom, and after one awful instant of total submersion the stanch little ship Good Luck and valiant Captain Kissed-by-Margaret were embarked on the voyage perilous. His left arm over and about the log, his legs kicking lustily like the legs of a frog, his right hand paddling desperately for stability, Aladdin disappeared into the fog. After a few minutes he became so freezing cold that he would have let go and drowned gladly if it had not been for the wonderful lamp which had been lighted in his heart.
Margaret, when she saw him borne from her by the irresistible current, cried out with all the illogic of her womanly little soul, "Come back, 'Laddin, come back!" and sank sobbing upon the empty shore.
However imminent the peril of the man, it is the better part of chivalry to remain by the distressed lady, and though impotent to be of assistance, we must linger near Margaret, and watch her gradually rise from prone sobbing to a sitting attitude of tears. For a long time she sat crying on the empty shore, regarding for the most part black life and not at all the signs of cheerful change which were becoming evident in the atmosphere about her. The cold breath across her face and hands and needling through her shivering body, the increasing sounds of treetops in commotion, the recurring appearance of branches where before had been only an opaque vault, did little to inform her that the fog was about to lift. The rising wind merely made her the more miserable and alone. Nor was it until a disk of gold smote suddenly on the rock before her that she looked up and beheld a twinkle of blue sky. The fog puffed across the blue, the blue looked down again,--a bigger eye than before,--a wisp of fog filmed it again, and again it gleamed out, ever larger and always more blue. The good wind living far to the south had heard that in a few days a little girl was to be alone and comfortless upon a foggy island, and, hearing, had filled his vast chest with warmth and sunshine, and puffed out his merry cheeks and blown. The great breath sent the blue waves thundering upon the coral beaches of Florida, tore across the forests of palm and set them all waving hilariously, shook the merry orange-trees till they rattled, whistled through the dismal swamps of Georgia, swept, calling and shouting to itself, over the Carolinas, where clouds were hatching in men's minds, banked up the waters of the Chesapeake so that there was a great high tide and the ducks were sent scudding
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