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- Aladdin O'Brien - 5/32 -
Then Senator St. John, and Margaret, and Margaret's godlike young friend, and the spaniel got into the carriage that was waiting for them, and drove off. But Margaret turned and waved to Aladdin.
"Good-by, Aladdin!" she called.
They helped Aladdin back to the smithy, for his only covering was a clumsy blanket; and there he put on his shrunken clothes, which meanwhile had dried. The kindly men pressed food on him, but he could not eat. He could only sit blankly by the fire and nurse the numb, overpowering pain in his heart. Another had succeeded where he had failed. Even at parting, just now, Margaret's eyes had not been for him, but for the stranger who had done so easily what he had not been able to do at all. The voyage down the river had been mere foolishness without result. He had not rescued his fair lady, but deserted her upon a desert island. For him no bouquets were flung, nor was there to be any clapping of hands. After a time he rose like one dreaming, and went slowly, for he was sick and weak, up to the great pillared house of Hannibal St. John. The senator in that stern voice of his had bade him come; nothing could be any worse than it was. He would go. He knocked, and they showed him into the library. It was four walls of leather books, an oak table neater than a pin, a huge chair covered with horsehair much worn, and a blazing fire of birch logs. Before the fire, one hand thrust into his coat, the other resting somewhat heavily upon the head of a whalebone cane, stood the senator. Far off Aladdin heard Margaret's laugh and with it another young laugh. Then he looked up like a little hunted thing into the senator's smoldering eyes.
"Sit down in that chair," said the senator, pointing with his cane to the only chair in the room. His voice had the effect of a strong muscular compulsion to which men at once yielded. Aladdin sat into the big chair, his toes swinging just clear of the ground. Then there was silence. Aladdin broke it.
"Is Margaret all right?" he gulped.
The senator disregarded the question. Having chosen his words, he said them.
"I do not know," he began, "what my daughter was doing in a boat with you. I do not object to her enjoying the society at proper times of suitable companions of her own age, but the society of those who lead her into temptation is not suitable." Aladdin fairly wilted under the glowering voice. "You will not be allowed to associate with her any more," said the senator. "I will speak to your father and see that he forbids it."
Aladdin climbed out of the chair, and stumbled blindly into the table. He had meant to find the door and go.
"Wait; I have not done," said the senator.
Aladdin turned and faced the enemy who was taking away the joy of life from him.
"In trying to atone for your fault," said the senator, "by imperiling your life, you did at once a foolhardy and a fine thing--one which I will do my best to repay at any time that you may see fit to call upon me. For the present you may find this of use." He held forward between his thumb and forefinger a twenty-dollar gold piece. Aladdin groped for words, and remembered a phrase which he had heard his own father return to a tormentor. He thrust his red hands into his tight pockets, and with trembling lips looked up.
"It's a matter of pride," he said, and walked out of the room. When he had gone the senator took from his pocket a leather purse, opened it, put back the gold piece, and carefully tied the string. Then far from any known key or tune the great man whistled a few notes. Could his constituents have heard, they would have known--and often had the subject been debated--that Hannibal St. John was human.
Aladdin stood for a while upon the lofty pillared portico of the senator's house, and with a mist in his eyes looked away and away to where the cause of all his troubles flowed like a ribbon of silver through the bright-colored land. Grown men, having, in their whole lives, suffered less than Aladdin was at that moment suffering, have considered themselves heartbroken. The little boy shivered and toiled down the steps, between the tall box hedges lining the path, and out into the road. A late rose leaning over the garden fence gave up her leaves in a pink shower as he passed, and at the same instant all the glass in a window of the house opposite fell out with a smash. These events seemed perfectly natural to Aladdin, but when people, talking at the tops of their voices and gesticulating, began to run out of houses and make down the hill toward the town, he remembered that, just as the rose-leaves fell and just as the glass came out of the window-frame, he had been conscious of a distant thudding boom, and a jarring of the ground under his feet. So he joined in the stream of his neighbors, and ran with them down the hill to see what had happened.
Aladdin remembered little of that breathless run, and one thing only stood ever afterward vivid among his recollections. All the people were headed eagerly in one direction, but at the corner of the street in which Aladdin lived, an awkish, half-grown girl, her face contorted with terror, struggled against the tugging of two younger companions and screamed in a terrible voice:
"I don't wahnt to go! I don't wahnt to go!"
But they dragged her along. That girl had no father, and her mother walked the streets. She would never have any beauty nor any grace; she was dirt of the dirt, dirty, but she had a heart of mercy and could not bear to look upon suffering.
"I don't wahnt to go! I don't wahnt to go!" and now the scream was a shudder.
Aladdin's street was crowded to suffocation, and the front of the house where Aladdin lived was blown out, and men with grave faces were going about among the ruins looking for what was left of Aladdin's father.
A much littler boy than Aladdin stood in the yard of the house. In his arms folded high he clutched a yellow cat, who licked his cheek with her rough tongue. The littler boy kept crying, "'Laddin, 'Laddin!"
Aladdin took the little boy and the yellow cat all into one embrace, and people turned away their heads.
In the ensuing two days Aladdin matured enormously, for though a kind neighbor took him in, together with his brother Jack and the yellow cat, he had suffered many things and already sniffed the wolf at the door. The kind neighbor was a widow lady, whose husband, having been a master carpenter of retentive habits, had left her independently rich. She owned the white-and-green house in which she lived, the plot of ground, including a small front and a small back yard, upon which it stood, and she spent with some splendor a certain income of three hundred and eighty-two dollars a year. Every picture, every chair, every mantelpiece in the Widow Brackett's house was draped with a silk scarf. The parlor lamp had a glass shade upon which, painted in oils, by hand, were crimson moss-roses and scarlet poppies. A crushed plush spring rocker had goldenrod painted on back and seat, while two white-and-gold vases in precise positions on the mantel were filled with tight round bunches of immortelles, stained pink. Upon the marble-topped, carved-by-machine-walnut-legged table in the bay-window were things to be taken up by a visitor and examined. A white plate with a spreading of foreign postage-stamps, such as any boy collector has in quantities for exchange, was the first surprise: you were supposed to discover that the stamps were not real, but painted on the plate, and exclaim about it. A china basket contained most edible-looking fruit of the same material, and a huge album, not to be confounded with the family Bible upon which it rested, was filled with speaking likenesses of the Widow Brackett's relatives. The Bible beneath could have told when each was born, when many had died, and where many were buried. But nobody was ever allowed to look into the Widow Brackett's Bible for information mundane or spiritual, since the only result would have been showers of pressed ferns and flowers upon the carpet, which was not without well-pressed flowers and ferns of its own.
Very soon after the explosion of the wonderful lamp the Widow Brackett had taken Aladdin and Jack and the cat into her house and seen to it that they had a square meal. Early on the second day she came to the conclusion that if it could in any way be made worth her while, she would like to keep them until they grew up. And when the ground upon which Aladdin's father's house had stood was sold at auction for three hundred and eight dollars, she let it be known that if she could get that she would board the two little waifs until Aladdin was old enough to work. The court appointed two guardians. The guardians consulted for a few minutes over something brown in a glass, and promptly turned over the three hundred and eight dollars to the Widow Brackett; and the Widow Brackett almost as promptly made a few alterations in the up-stairs of her house the better to accommodate the orphans, tied a dirty white ribbon about the yellow cat's neck, and bought a derelict piano upon which her heart had been set for many months. She was no musician, but she loved a tightly closed piano with a scarf draped over the top, and thought that no parlor should be without one. Up to middle C, as Aladdin in time found out, the piano in question was not without musical pretensions, but above that any chord sounded like a nest of tin plates dropped on a wooden floor, and the intervals were those of no known scale nor fragment thereof. But in time he
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