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- Aladdin O'Brien - 6/32 -
learned to draw pleasant things from the old piano and to accompany his shrill voice in song. As a matter of fact, he had no voice and never would have, but almost from the first he knew how to sing. It so happened that he was drawn to the piano by a singular thing: a note from his beloved.
It came one morning thumb-marked about the sealing, and covered with the generous sprawl of her writing. It said:
DEAR ALADDIN: Do not say anything about this because I do not know if my father would like it but I am so sorry about your father blowing up and all your troubles and I want you to know how sory I am. I must stop now because I have to practis.
Your loving friend
MARGARET ST. JOHN.
Aladdin was an exquisite speller, and the first thing he noticed about the letter was that it contained two words spelled wrong, and that he loved Margaret the better by two misspelled words, and that he had a lump in his throat.
He had found the letter by his plate at breakfast, and the eyes of Mrs. Brackett fastened upon it.
"I don't know who ken have been writin' to you," she said.
"Neither do I," said Aladdin, giving, as is proper, the direct lie to the remark inquisitive. He had put the letter in his pocket.
"Why don't you open it and see?"
"Time enough after breakfast," he said.
There was a silence.
"Jack's eatin' his breakfast; why ain't you eatin' yours?"
Aladdin fell upon his breakfast for the sake of peace. And Mrs. Brackett said no more. Some days later, for she was not to be denied in little matters or great, Mrs. Brackett found where Aladdin had hidden the letter, took it up, read it, sniffed, and put it back, with the remark that she never "see such carryin's-on."
Aladdin hid, and read his letter over and over; then an ominous silence having informed him that Mrs. Brackett had gone abroad, he stole into the parlor, perched on the piano-stool, and, like a second Columbus, began to discover things which other people have to be shown. The joy of his soul had to find expression, as often afterward the sorrow of it.
That winter Jack entered school in the lowest class, and the two little boys were to be seen going or coming in close comradeship, fair weather or foul. The yellow cat had affairs of gallantry, and bore to the family, at about Christmas-time, five yellow kittens, which nobody had the heart to drown, and about whose necks, at the age of eye-opening, the Widow Brackett tied little white ribbons in large bows.
Sometimes Aladdin saw Margaret, but only for a little.
So the years passed, and Aladdin turned his sixteenth year. He was very tall and very thin, energetic but not strong, very clever, but with less application than an uncoerced camel. To single him from other boys, he was full of music and visions. And rhymes were beginning to ring in his head.
A week came when the rhymes and the music went clean out of his head, which became as heavy as a scuttle full of coal, and he walked about heavily like an old man.
One day, during the morning session of school, Aladdin's head got so heavy that he could hardly see, and he felt hot all over. He spoke to the teacher and was allowed to go home. Mrs. Brackett, when she saw him enter the yard, was in great alarm, for she at once supposed that he had done something awful, which was not out of the question, and suffered expulsion.
"What have you done?" she said.
"Nothing," said Aladdin. "I think I'm going to be sick."
Mrs. Brackett tossed her hands heavenward.
"What is the matter?" she cried.
"I don't know," said Aladdin. She followed him into the house and up the stairs, which he climbed heavily.
"Where do you feel bad, 'Laddin O'Brien?" she said sharply.
"It's my head, ma'am," said Aladdin. He went into his room and lay face down on the bed, having first dropped his schoolbooks on the floor, and began to talk fluently of kings' daughters and genii and copper bottles.
The Widow Brackett was an active woman of action. Flat-footed and hatless, but with incredible speed, she dashed down the stairs, out of the house, and up the street. She returned in five minutes with the doctor.
The doctor said, "Fever." It was quite evident that it was fever; but a doctor's word for it put everything on a comfortable and satisfactory footing.
"We must get him to bed," said the doctor. He made the attempt alone, but Aladdin struggled, and the doctor was old. Mrs. Brackett came to the rescue and, finally, they got Aladdin, no longer violent, into his bed, while the doctor, in a soft voice, said what maybe it was and what maybe it wasn't,--he leaned to a bilious fever,--and prescribed this and that as sovereign in any case. They darkened the room, and Aladdin was sick with typhoid fever for many weeks. He was delirious much too much, and Mrs. Brackett got thin with watching. Occasionally it seemed as if he might possibly live, but oftenest as if he would surely die.
In his delirium for the most part Aladdin dwelt upon Margaret, so that his love for her was an old story to Mrs. Brackett. One gay spring morning, after a terrible night, Aladdin's fever cooled a little, and he was able to talk in whispers.
"Mrs. Brackett," he said, "Mrs. Brackett."
She came hurriedly to the bed.
"I know you're feelin' better, 'Laddin O'Brien."
He smiled up at her.
"Mrs. Brackett," he said, "I dreamed that Margaret St. John came here to ask how I was--did she?"
Margaret hadn't. She had not, so hedged was her life, even heard that Aladdin lay sick.
Mrs. Brackett lied nobly.
"She was here yesterday," she said, "and that anxious to know all about you."
Aladdin looked like one that had found peace.
"Thank you," he said.
Mrs. Brackett raised his head, pillow and all, very gently, and gave him his medicine.
"How's Jack?" said Aladdin.
"He comes twice every day to ask about you," said Mrs. Brackett. "He's livin' with my brother-in-law."
"That's good," said Aladdin. He lay back and dozed. After a while he opened his eyes.
"What is it, deary?" The good woman had been herself on the point of dozing, but was instantly alert.
"Am I going to die?"
"You goin' to die!" She tried to make her voice indignant, but it broke.
"I want to know."
"He wants to know, good land!" exclaimed Mrs. Brackett.
"If a man's going to die," said Aladdin, aeat-sixteen, "he wants to know, because he has things that have to be done."
"Doctor said you wasn't to talk much," said Mrs. Brackett.
"If I've got to die," said Aladdin, abruptly, "I've got to see Margaret."
A woman in a blue wrapper, muddy slippers, her gray hair disheveled, hatless, her eyes bright and wild, burst suddenly upon Hannibal St. John where he sat in his library reading in the book called "Hesperides."
"Senator St. John," she began rapidly, "Aladdin O'Brien's sick in my house, and the last thing he said was, 'I've got to see Margaret'; and he's dyin' wantin' to see her, and I've come for her, and she's got to come."
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