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Aladdin O'Brien

Gouverneur Morris

  Produced by An Anonymous Volunteer




  "It was many and many a year ago, In a kingdom by the sea, That a maiden there lived whom you may know By the name of Annabel Lee. And this maiden she lived with no other thought Than to love and be loved by me. I was a child and she was a child"--



  It was on the way home from Sunday-school that Aladdin had enticedMargaret to the forbidden river. She was not sure that he knew how torow, for he was prone to exaggerate his prowess at this and that,and she went because of the fine defiance of it, and because Aladdinexercised an irresistible fascination. He it was who could whistle themost engagingly through his front teeth; and he it was, when sad dogs ofboys of the world were met behind the barn, who could blow the smoke ofthe fragrant grapevine through his nose, and swallow the same withoutalarm to himself or to his admirers. To be with him was in itself asoulful wickedness, a delicious and elevating lesson in corruption. Butto be with him when he had done wrong, and was sorry for it (as alwayswhen found out), that was enough to give one visions of freckled angels,and the sweetness of Paradise in May.

  Aladdin brought the skiff into the float, stern first, with a bump.Pride sat high upon his freckled brow, and he whistled piercing notes.

  "I can do it," he said. "Now get in."

  Margaret embarked very gingerly and smoothed her dress carefully, beforeand after sitting down. It was a white and starchy dress of price, withlittle blue ribbons at the throat and wrists--such a dress as the littlegirl of a very poor papa will find laid out on the gilt and brocadechair beside her bed if she goes to sleep and wakes up in heaven.

  "Only a little way, 'Laddin, please."

  The boy made half a dozen circular, jabbing strokes, and the skiffzigzagged out from the float. It was a fine blue day, cool as acucumber, and across the river from the deserted shipyards, where, uponlofty beamings, stood all sorts of ships in all stages of composition,the frequent beeches and maples showed pink and red and yellow againstthe evergreen pines.

  "It's easy 'nough," said Aladdin. And Margaret agreed in her mind, forit is the splash of deeds rather than the skill or power which impressesa lady. The little lady sat primly in the stern, her mitted paws folded;her eyes, innocent and immense, fastened admiringly upon the rowing boy.

  "Only 'bout's far's the cat-boat, 'Laddin, please," she said. "Ioughtn't to of come 't all."

  Somehow the cat-boat, anchored fifty yards out and straining back fromher moorings, would not allow herself to be approached. For althoughAladdin maintained a proper direction (at times), the ocean tide,setting rigidly in and overbearing the current of the river, wasbeginning to carry the skiff to some haven where she would not be.

  Aladdin saw this and tried to go back, catching many crabs in theearnestness of his endeavor. Then the little girl, without being told,perceived that matters were not entirely in the hands of man, and beganto look wistfully from Aladdin to the shore. After a while he stoppedgrinning, and then rowing.

  "Can't you get back, 'Laddin?" said the little girl.

  "No," said the boy, "I can't." He was all angel now, for he was beingvisited for wrong.

  The little girl's lips trembled and got white.

  "I'm awful sorry, Margaret."

  "What'll we do, 'Laddin?"

  "Just sit still, 'n' whatever happens I'll take care of you, Margaret."

  They were passing the shipyards with a steady sweep, but the officeswere closed, the men at home, and no one saw the distressed expedition.The last yard of all was conspicuous by a three-master, finished,painted, sparred, ready for the fragrant bottle to be cracked on hernose, and the long shivering slide into the river. Then came a finesquare, chimneyed house with sherry-glass-shaped elm-trees about it. Theboy shouted to a man contorted under a load of wood. The man looked upand grinned vacantly, for he was not even half-witted. And they wereswept on. Presently woods drew between them and the last traces ofhabitation,--gorgeous woods with intense splashes of color, standingupon clean rocks that emphatically divided the water from the land,--andthey scurried into a region as untroubled by man as was Eden on thefirst morning. The little boy was not afraid, but so sorry and ashamedthat he could have cried. The little girl, however, was even deeper downthe throat of remorse, for she had sinned three times on Sunday,--first,she had spoken to the "inventor's boy"; second, she had not "comestraight home"; third, she had been seduced into a forbidden boat,--andthere was no balm in Gilead; nor any forgiveness forever. She picturedher grand, dark father standing like a biblical allegory of "Hell andDamnation" within the somber leathern cube of his books, the fiercelywhite, whalebone cane upon which he and old brother gout leaned, and thevast gloomy centers at the bases of which glowed his savage eyes. Shethought of the rolling bitter voice with which she had once heard himstiffen the backs of his constituents, and she was sore afraid. She didnot remember how much he loved her, or the impotence of his principleswhere she was concerned. And she did not recollect, for she had not beenold enough to know, that the great bitter voice, with its heavy, tellingsarcasm, had been lifted for humanity--for more humanity upon earth.

  "Oh, 'Laddin," she said suddenly, "I daren't go home now."

  "Maybe we can get her in farther up," said Aladdin, "and go home throughthe woods. That'll be something, anyhow."

  Margaret shuddered. She thought of the thin aunt who gave her lessonsupon the pianoforte--one of the elect, that aunt, who had never donewrong, and whom any halo would fit; who gave her to understand that theAlmighty would raise Cain with any little girl who did not practise anhour every day, and pray Him, night and morning, to help her keep offthe black notes when the white notes were intended. First there wouldbe a reckoning with papa, then one with Aunt Marion, last with AlmightyGod, and afterward, horribile dictu, pitchforks for little Margaret,and a vivid incandescent state to be maintained through eternity at vastcost of pit-coal to a gentleman who carried over his arm, so as not tostep on it, a long snaky tail with a point like a harpoon's.

  Meanwhile, Aladdin made sundry attempts to get the boat ashore, andfailed signally. The current was as saucy as strong. Now it swept theminto the very shade of the trees, and as hope rose hot in the boy'sheart and he began to stab the water with the oars, sent them skippingfor the midriver. Occasionally a fish jumped to show how easy it was,and high overhead an eagle passed statelily in the wake of a cloud.After the eagle came a V of geese flying south, moving through thetreacherous currents and whirlpools of the upper air as steadily anddirectly as a train upon its track. It seemed as if nature had conspiredwith her children to demonstrate to Margaret and Aladdin the facility ofprecise locomotion. The narrow deeps of the river ended where the shorerolled into a high knob of trees; above this it spread over the lowerland into a great, shallow, swiftly currented lake, having in itsmidst a long turtlebacked island of dense woods and abrupt shores. Twocurrents met off the knob and formed in the direction of the island along curve of spitting white. Aladdin rowed with great fervor.

  "Do it if you can, 'Laddin," said the little girl.

  It seemed for one moment as if success were about to crown the boy'seffort, for he brought the boat to an exciting nearness to the shore;but that was all. The current said: "No, Aladdin, that is not just theplace to land; come with me, and bring the boat and the young lady." AndAladdin at once went with the current.

  "Margaret," he said, "I done my best." He crossed his heart.

  "I know you done your best, 'Laddin." Margaret's cheeks were on thebrink of tears. "I know you done it."

  They were dancing sportively farther and farther from the shore. Thewater broke, now and again, and slapped the boa
t playfully.

  "We 've come 'most three miles," said Aladdin.

  "I daren't go back if I could now," said Margaret.

  Meanwhile Aladdin scanned the horizon far and wide to see if he couldsee anything of Antheus, tossed by the winds, or the Phrygian triremes,or Capys, or the ships having upon their lofty poops the arms of Caicus.There was no help in sight. Far and wide was the bubbling ruffled river,behind the mainland, and ahead the leafy island.

  "What'll your father do, 'Laddin?"

  Aladdin merely grinned, less by way of explaining what his father woulddo than of expressing to Margaret this: "Have courage; I am still withyou."

  "'Laddin, we're not going so fast."

  They had run into nominally still water, and the skiff was losingmomentum.

  "Maybe we'd better land on the island," said Aladdin, "if we can, andwait till the tide turns; won't be long now."

  Again he plied the oars, and this time with success. For after a littlethey came into the shadow of the island, the keel grunted upon sand,and they got out. There was a little crescent of white beach, with anoccasional exclamatory green reed sticking from it, and above was a finearch of birch and pine. They hauled up the boat as far as they could,and sat down to wait for the tide to turn. Firm earth, in spite ofher awful spiritual forebodings, put Margaret in a more cheerful mood.Furthermore, the woods and the general mystery of islands were asinviting as Punch.

  "It's not much fun watching the tide come in," she said after a time.

  Aladdin got up.

  "Let's go away," he said, "and come back. It never comes in if you watchfor it to."

  Margaret arose, and they went into the woods.

  A devil's darning-needle came and buzzed for an instant on the bow ofthe skiff. A belated sandpiper flew into the cove, peeped, and flew out.

  The tide rose a little and said:

  "What is this heavy thing upon my back?"

  Then it rose a little more.

  "Why, it's poor little sister boat stuck in the mud," said the tide.

  From far off came joyful crackling of twigs and the sounds of childrenat play.

  The tide rose a little more and freed an end of the boat.

  "That's better," said the boat, "ever so much better. I can almostfloat."

  Again the tide raised its broad shoulders a hair's-breadth.

  "Great!" said the boat. "Once more, Old Party!"

  When the children came back, they found that poor little sister boat wasgone, and in her stead all of their forgotten troubles had returned andwere waiting for them, and looking them in the face.


  It is absurdly difficult to get help in this world. If a lady puts herhead out of a window and yells "Police," she is considered funny, or ifa man from the very bottom of his soul calls for help, he is commonlysupposed to be drunk. Thus if, cast away upon an island, you should waveyour handkerchief to people passing in a boat, they would imagine thatyou wanted to be friendly, and wave back; or, if they were New Yorkaldermen out for a day's fishing in the Sound, call you names. And soit was with Margaret and Aladdin. With shrill piping voices they calledtearfully to a party sailing up the river from church, waved and waved,were answered in kind, and tasted the bitterest cup possible to theCrusoed.

  Then after much wandering in search of the boat it got to behunger-time, and two small stomachs calling lustily for food did not addto the felicity of the situation.

  With hunger-time came dusk, and afterward darkness, blacker than thetall hat of Margaret's father. For at the last moment nature had thoughtbetter of the fine weather which man had been enjoying for the pastmonth, and drawn a vast curtain of inkiness over the luminaries fromone horizon even unto the other, and sent a great puff of wet fog up thevalley of the river from the ocean, so that teeth chattered and the endsof fingers became shriveled and bloodless. And had not vanity gone outwith the entrance of sin, Margaret would have noticed that her tightlittle curls were looser and the once stately ostrich feather upon herSunday hat, the envy of little girls whom the green monster possessed,as flabby as a long sermon.

  Meanwhile the tide having turned, little sister boat made fine way ofit down the river, and, burrowing in the fog, holding her breath as itwere, and greatly assisted by the tide, slipped past the town unseen,and put for open sea, where it is to be supposed she enjoyed herselfhugely and, finally, becoming a little skeleton of herself on unknownshores, was gathered up by somebody who wanted a pretty fire withgreen lights in it. The main point is that she went her selfish wayundetected, so that the wide-lanterned search which presently arose forlittle Margaret tumbled and stumbled about clueless, and halted to takedrinks, and came back about morning and lay down all day, and said itnever did, which it certainly hadn't. All the to-do was over Margaret,for Aladdin had not been missed, and, even if he had, nobody would havelooked for him. His father was at home bending over the model of thewonderful lamp which was to make his fortune, and over which he had beenbending for fifteen rolling years. It had come to him, at about the timethat he fell in love with Aladdin's mother, that a certain worthlessbiproduct of something would, if combined with something else andsteeped in water, generate a certain gas, which, though desperatelyexplosive, would burn with a flame as white as day. Over the perfectionof this invention, with a brief honeymoon for vacation, he had spentfifteen years, a small fortune,--till he had nothing left,--the mostof his health, and indeed everything but his conviction that it was abeautiful invention and sure of success. When Aladdin arrived, he wasred and wrinkled, after the everlasting fashion of the human babe, andhad no name, so because of the wonderful lamp they called him Aladdin.And that rendered his first school-days wretched and had nothing to dowith the rest of his life, after the everlasting fashion of wonderfulnames. Aladdin's mother went out of the world in the very natural actof ushering his young brother into it, and he remembered her as a thinperson who was not strictly honorable (for, having betrayed him witha kiss, she punished him for smoking) and had a headache. So there wasnobody to miss Aladdin or to waste the valuable night in looking forhim.

  About this time Margaret began to cry and Aladdin to comfort her, andthey stumbled about in the woods trying to find--anything. After awhilethey happened into a grassy glade between two steep rocks, and thereagreeing to rest, scrunched into a depression of the rock on the right.And Margaret, her nose very red, her hat at an angle, and her head onAladdin's shoulder, sobbed herself to sleep. And then, because beingtrusted is next to being God, and the most moving and gentlest conditionpossible, Aladdin, for the first time, felt the full measure of hiscrime in leading Margaret from the straight way home, and he pressed herclose to him and stroked her draggled hair with his cold little handsand cried. Whenever she moved in sleep, his heart went out to her, andbefore the night was old he loved her forever.

  Sleep did not come to Aladdin, who had suddenly become a father and amother and a nurse and a brother and a lover and a man who must not beafraid. His coat was wrapped about Margaret, and his arms were wrappedabout his coat, and the body of him shivered against the damp, coldshirt, which would come open in front because there was a button gone.The fog came in thicker and colder, and night with her strange noisesmoved slower and slower. There was an old loon out on the river, whowould suddenly throw back his head and laugh for no reason at all. Andonce a great strange bird went rushing past, squeaking like a mouse; andonce two bright eyes came, flashing out of the night and swung this wayand that like signal-lanterns and disappeared. Aladdin gave himself upfor lost and would have screamed if he had been alone.

  Presently his throat began to tickle, then the base of his nose, thenthe bridge thereof, and then he felt for a handkerchief and found none.For a little while he maintained the proprieties by a gentle sniffling,finally by one great agonized snuff. It seemed after that as if he wereto be left in peace. But no. His lips parted, his chin went up alittle, his eyes closed, the tickling gave place to a sudden imperativeultimatum, and, when all was over, Margaret had waked.
br />   They talked for a long time, for she could not go to sleep again, andAladdin told her many things and kept her from crying, but he did nottell her about the awful bird or the more awful eyes. He told her abouthis little brother, and the yellow cat they had, and about the greatcity where he had once lived, and why he was called Aladdin. And whenthe real began to grow dim, he told her stories out of strange booksthat he had read, as he remembered them--first the story of Aladdin andthen others.

  "Once," began Aladdin, though his teeth were knocking together and hisarms 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 meltingicebergs takes turn and turn with diamond nights and days, people didnot remember so thick a fog; nor was there a thicker recorded in anychapter of tradition. Indeed, if the expression be endurable, so blackwas the whiteness that it was difficult to know when morning came. Therewas a fresher shiver in the cold, the sensibility that tree-topswere stirring, a filmy distinction of objects near at hand, and thepossibility that somewhere 'way back in the east the rosy fingers ofdawn were spread upon a clear horizon. Collisions between ships at seawere reported, and many a good sailorman went down full fathom five towait for the whistle of the Great Boatswain.

  The little children on the island roused themselves and groped aboutamong 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 werehungrier than should be allowed. Now a jarred tree rained water downtheir necks, and now their faces went with a splash and sting intolow-hanging plumes of leaves; often there would be a slip and ascrambling fall. And by the time Aladdin had done grimacing over abanged shin, Margaret would have a bruised anklebone to cry about.The poor little soul was very tired and penitent and cold and hurt andhungry, and she cried most of the time and was not to be comforted. ButAladdin bit his lips and held his head up and said it all would be wellsometime. Perhaps, though he still had a little courage left, Aladdinwas the more to be pitied of the two: he was not only desperatelyresponsible for it all, but full of imagination and the horriblethings he had read. Margaret, like most women, suffered a little fromself-centration, and to her the trunk of a birch was just a nasty oldwet tree, but to Aladdin it was the clammy limb of one drowned,and drawn from the waters to stand in eternal unrest. At length thestumbling progress brought them to a shore of the island: a slipperyledge of rock, past whose feet the water slipped hurriedly, steamingwith fog as if it had been hot, two big leaning birches, and a ruddymink that slipped like winking into a hole. The river, evident for onlya few yards, became lost in the fog, and where they were could only beguessed, and which way the tide was setting could only be learned byexperiment. Aladdin planted a twig at the precise edge of the water,and they sat down to watch. Stubbornly and unwillingly the water recededfrom the twig, and they knew that the tide was running out.