Peter laughed his big, frank laugh.
“Shall we chuck the whole thing,” said Aladdin, “until it’s time to go back to the army?”
“No,” said Peter, “that would be shirking; it’s got to be settled one way or another very quickly.” He became grave again.
“I think so, too, Peter,” said Aladdin. “And I think that if she takes one of us it will be a great sorrow for the other.”
“And for her,” said Peter, quietly.
“Perhaps,” said Aladdin, whimsically, “she won’t take either of us.”
“That,” said Peter, “should be a great sorrow for us both.”
“I know,” said Aladdin. “Anyway, there’s got to be sorrow.”
“I think I shall bear it better,” said Peter, “if she takes you, ’Laddin.”
A flash of comparison between his somewhat morbid and warped self and the bigness and nobility of his friend passed through Aladdin’s mind. He glanced covertly at the strong, emaciated face beside him, and noted the steadiness and purity of the eyes. A little quixotic flame, springing like an orchid from nothing, blazed suddenly in his heart, and for the instant he was the better man of the two.
“I hope she takes you, Peter,” he said.
They rolled on through the midsummer woods, heavy with bright leaves and waist-deep with bracken; little brooks, clean as whistles, piped away among immaculate stones, and limpid light broken by delicious shadows fell over all.
“Who shall ask her first?” said Aladdin. Peter smiled. “Shall we toss for it?” said Aladdin. Peter laughed gaily. “Do you really want it to be like that?” he said.
“What’s the use of our being friends,” said Aladdin, “if we are not going to back each other up in this of all things?”
“Right!” said Peter. “But you ought to have the first show because you mentioned it first.”
“Rubbish!” said Aladdin. “We’ll toss, but not now; we’ll wait till we get there.”
Peter looked at his watch.
“Nearly in,” he said.
“Yes,” said Aladdin. “I know by the woods.”
“Did you telegraph, by any chance?” said Peter. “Because I didn’t.”
“Nor I,” said Aladdin; “I didn’t want to be met.”
“Nor I,” said Peter.
The sick man and the lame man will take hands and hobble up the hill,” said Aladdin. “And whatever happens, they mustn’t let anything make any difference.”
“No,” said Peter, “they mustn’t.”
Our veterans walked painfully through the town and up the hill; nor were they suffered to go in peace, for right and left they were recognized, and people rushed up to shake them by the hands and ask news of such an one, and if Peter’s bullet was still in him, and if it was true, which of course they saw it wasn’t, that Aladdin had a wooden leg. Aladdin, it must be owned, enjoyed these demonstrations, and in spite of his lameness strutted a little. But Peter, white from the after effects of his wound and weary with the long travel, did not enjoy them at all. Then the steep pitch of the hill was almost too much for him, and now and again he was obliged to stop and rest.