Aladdin’s eyes, used to reading in blocks of lines rather than a word at a time, had at one glance taken in the purport of Margaret’s letter, and his wits had gone from him. She called herself every base and cruel name, and she prayed her lover to forgive her, but she had never had the right to tell him that she would marry him, for she had never loved him in that way. She said that, God forgive her, she could not keep up the false position any longer, and she wished she was dead.
“There’s a man at the bottom of this,” thought Aladdin. He caught a glimpse of Peter’s poor, bloody face and choked.
“I—it—the sheets are mixed,” he said presently. “I’m trying to find the beginning. There are eight pages,” he went on, fighting for time,” and they ’re folded all wrong, and they’re not numbered or anything.”
Peter waited patiently while Aladdin fumbled with the sheets and tried, to the cracking-point, to master the confusion in his mind.
Suddenly God sent light, and he could have laughed aloud. Not in vain had he pursued the muse and sought after the true romance in the far country where she sweeps her skirts beyond the fingers of men. Not in vain had he rolled the arduous ink-pots and striven manfully for the right word and the telling phrase. The chance had come, and the years of preparation had not been thrown away. He knew that he was going to make good at last. His throat cleared of itself, and the choking phlegm disappeared as if before a hot flame of joy. His voice came from between his trembling lips clear as a bell, and the thunder of battle rolled back from the plain of his consciousness, as, slowly, tenderly, and helped by God, he began to speak those eight closely lined pages which she should have written.
“My Heart’s Darling—” he began, and there followed a molten stream of golden and sacred words.
And the very soul of Manners shouted aloud, for the girl was speaking to him as she had never spoken before.
When the fighting was over for that day, Aladdin wrote as follows to Margaret:
Margaret dear: Peter was shot down to-day, while doing more than his duty by his enemies and by his country and by himself, which was always his way. He will not live very long, and you must come to him if it is in any way possible. His love for you makes other loves seem very little, and I think it would be better that you should walk the streets than that you should refuse to come to him now. He had a letter from you, which God, knowing about, blinded him so that he could not read it, and he believes that you love him and are faithful to him. It is very merciful of God to let him believe that. He must not be undeceived now, and you must come and be lovely to him and pretend and pretend, and make his dying beautiful. I have the right to ask this of you, for, next to Peter,