A Man for the Ages - A Story of the Builders of Democracy
by Irving Bacheller
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Bim rose and stood very erect.

"Mother, do you think I look like a baby?" she asked. "I tell you I'm every inch a woman," she added, mimicking her father in the speech of Lear.

"But there are not many inches in you yet."

"How discouraging you are!" said Bim, sinking into her chair with a sigh.

Bim went often to the little tavern after that. Of those meetings little is known, save that, with all the pretty arts of the cavalier, unknown to Harry Needles, the handsome youth flattered and delighted the girl. This went on day by day for a fortnight. The evening before Biggs was to leave for his home, Bim went over to eat supper with Ann at the tavern.

It happened that Jack Kelso had found Abe sitting alone with his Blackstone in Offut's store that afternoon.

"Mr. Kelso, did you ever hear what Eb Zane said about the general subject of sons-in-law?" Abe asked.

"Never—but I reckon it would be wise and possibly apropos," said Kelso.

"He said that a son-in-law was a curious kind o' property," Abe began. "'Ye know,' says Eb, 'if ye have a hoss that's tricky an' dangerous an' wuth less than nothin', ye can give him away er kill him, but if ye have a son-in-law that's wuthless, nobody else will have him an' it's ag'in' the law to kill him. Fust ye know ye've got a critter on yer hands that kicks an' won't work an' has to be fed an' liquored three times a day an' is wuth a million dollars less than nothin'.'"

There was a moment of silence.

"When a man is figurin' his assets, it's better to add ten dollars than to subtract a million," said Abe. "That's about as simple as adding up the weight o' three small hogs."

"What a well of wisdom you are, Abe!" said Kelso. "Do you know anything about this young Missourian who is shining up to Bim?"

"I only know that he was a drinking man up to the time he landed here and that he threatened Traylor with his whip and got thrown against the side of a barn—plenty hard. He's a kind of American king, and I don't like kings. They're nice to look at, but generally those that have married 'em have had one h—l of a time."

Kelso rose and went home to supper.

Soon after the supper dishes had been laid away in the Kelso cabin, young Mr. Biggs rapped on its door and pulled the latch-string and entered and sat down with Mr. and Mrs. Kelso at the fireside.

"I have come to ask for your daughter's hand," he said, as soon as they were seated. "I know it will seem sudden, but she happens to be the girl I want. I've had her picture in my heart always. I love your daughter. I can give her a handsome home and everything she could desire."

Kelso answered promptly: "We are glad to welcome you here, but we can not entertain such a proposal, flattering as it is. Our daughter is too young to think of marriage. Then, sir, we know very little about you, and may I be pardoned if I add that it does not recommend you?"

The young man was surprised. He had not expected such talk from a ladder climber. He looked at Kelso, groping for an answer. Then—

"Perhaps not," said he. "I have been a little wild, but that is all in the past. You can learn about me and my family from any one in St. Louis. I am not ashamed of anything I have done."

"Nevertheless, I must ask you to back away from this subject. I can not even discuss it with you."

"May I not hope that you will change your mind?"

"Not at present. Let the future take care of itself."

"I generally get what I want," said the young man.

"And now and then something that you don't want," said Kelso, a bit nettled by his persistence.

"You ought to think of her happiness. She is too sweet and beautiful for a home like this."

There was an awkward moment of silence. The young man said good night and opened the door.

"I'll go with you," said Kelso.

He went with Mr. Biggs to the tavern and got his daughter and returned home with her.

Mrs. Kelso chided her husband for being hard on Mr. Biggs.

"He has had his lesson, perhaps he will turn over a new leaf," she said.

"I fear there isn't a new leaf in his book," said Kelso. "They're all dirty."

He told his wife what Abe had said in the store.

"The wisdom of the common folk is in that beardless young giant," he said. "It is the wisdom of many generations gathered in the hard school of bitter experience. I wonder where it is going to lead him."

As Eliphalet Biggs was going down the south road next morning he met Bim on her pony near the schoolhouse, returning from the field with her cow. They stopped.

"I'm coming back, little girl," he said.

"What for?" she asked.

"To tell you a secret and ask you a question. Nobody but you has the right to say I can not. May I come?"

"I suppose you can—if you want to," she answered.

"I'll come and I'll write to you and send the letters to Ann."

Mentor Graham, who lived in the schoolhouse, had come out of its door.

"Good-by!" said young Mr. Biggs, as his heels touched the flanks of his horse. Then he went flying down the road.



Harry Needles met Bim Kelso on the road next day, when he was going down to see if there was any mail. She was on her pony. He was in his new suit of clothes—a butternut background striped into large checks.

"You look like a walking checkerboard," said she, stopping her pony.

"This—this is my new suit," Harry answered, looking down at it.

"It's a tiresome suit," said she impaciently. "I've been playing checkers on it since I caught sight o' you, and I've got a man crowned in the king row."

"I thought you'd like it," he answered, quite seriously, and with a look of disappointment. "Say, I've got that razor and I've shaved three times already."

He took the razor from his pocket and drew it from its case and proudly held it up before her.

"Don't tell anybody," he warned her. "They'd laugh at me. They wouldn't know how I feel."

"I won't say anything," she answered. "I reckon I ought to tell you that I don't love you—not so much as I did anyway—not near so much. I only love you just a wee little bit now."

It is curious that she should have said just that. Her former confession had only been conveyed by the look in her eyes at sundry times and by unpremeditated acts in the hour of his peril.

Harry's face fell.

"Do you—love—some other man?" he asked.

"Yes—a regular man—mustache, six feet tall and everything. I just tell you he's purty!"

"Is it that rich feller from St. Louis?" he asked.

She nodded and then whispered: "Don't you tell."

The boy's lips trembled when he answered. "I won't tell. But I don't see how you can do it."


"He drinks and he keeps slaves and beats them with a bull whip. He isn't respectable."

"That's a lie," she answered quickly. "I don't care what you say."

Bim touched her pony with the whip and rode away.

Harry staggered for a moment as he went on. His eyes filled with tears. It seemed to him that the world had been ruined. On his way to the village he tried and convicted it of being no fit place for a boy to live in. Down by the tavern he met Abe, who stopped him.

"Howdy, Harry!" said Abe. "You look kind o' sick. Come into the store and sit down. I want to talk to you."

Harry followed the big man into Offut's store, flattered by his attention. There had been something very grateful in the sound of Abe's voice and the feel of his hand. The store was empty.

"You and I mustn't let ourselves be worried by little matters," said Abe, as they sat down together by the fire. "Things that seem to you to be as big as a mountain now will look like a mole hill in six months. You and I have got things to do, partner. We mustn't let ourselves be fooled. I was once in a boat with old Cap'n Chase on the Illinois River. We had got into the rapids. It was a narrow channel in dangerous water. They had to keep her headed just so or we'd have gone on the rocks. Suddenly a boy dropped his apple overboard and began to holler. He wanted to have the boat stopped. For a minute that boy thought his apple was the biggest thing in the world. We're all a good deal like him. We keep dropping our apples and calling for the boat to stop. Soon we find out that there are many apples in the world as good as that one. You have all come to a stretch of bad water up at your house. The folks have been sick. They're a little lonesome and discouraged. Don't you make it any harder by crying over a lost apple. Ye know it's possible that the apple will float along down into the still water where you can pick it up by and by. The important thing is to keep going ahead."

This bit of fatherly counsel was a help to the boy.

"I've got a book here that I want you to read," Abe went on. "It is the Life of Henry Clay. Take it home and read it carefully and then bring it back and tell me what you think of it. You may be a Henry Clay yourself by and by. The world has something big in it for every one if he can only find it. We're all searching—some for gold and some for fame. I pray God every day that He will help me to find my work—the thing I can do better than anything else—and when it is found help me to do it. I expect it will be a hard and dangerous search and that I shall make mistakes. I expect to drop some apples on my way. They'll look like gold to me, but I'm not going to lose sight of the main purpose."

When Harry got home he found Sarah sewing by the fireside, with Joe and Betsey playing by the bed. Samson had gone to the woods to split rails.

"Any mail?" Sarah asked.

"No mail," he answered.

Sarah went to the window and stood for some minutes looking out at the plain. Its sere grasses, protruding out of the snow, hissed and bent in the wind. In its cheerless winter colors it was a dreary thing to see.

"How I long for home!" she exclaimed, as she resumed her sewing by the fire.

Little Joe came and stood by her knee and gave her his oft repeated blessing:

"God help us and make His face to shine upon us."

She kissed him and said: "Dear comforter! It shines upon me every time I hear you say those words."

The little lad had observed the effect of the blessing on his mother in her moments of depression and many times his parroting had been the word in season. Now he returned to his play again, satisfied.

"Would you mind if I called you mother?" Harry asked.

"I shall be glad to have you do it if it gives you any comfort, Harry," she answered.

She observed that there were tears in his eyes.

"We are all very fond of you," she said, as she bent to her task.

Then the boy told her the history of his morning—the talk with Bim, with the razor omitted from it; how he had met Abe and all that Abe had said to him as they sat together in the store.

"Well, Harry, if she's such a fool, you're lucky to have found it out so soon," said Sarah. "She does little but ride the pony and play around with a gun. I don't believe she ever spun a hank o' yarn in her life. She'll get her teeth cut by and by. Abe is right We're always dropping our apples and feeling very bad about it, until we find out that there are lots of apples just as good. I'm that way myself. I guess I've made it harder for Samson crying over lost apples. I'm going to try to stop it."

Then fell a moment of silence. Soon she said:

"There's a bitter wind blowing and there's no great hurry about the rails, I guess. You sit here by the fire and read your book this forenoon. Maybe it will help you to find your work."

So it happened that the events of Harry's morning found their place in the diary which Sarah and Samson kept. Long afterward Harry added the sentences about the razor.

That evening Harry read aloud from the Life of Henry Clay, while Sarah and Samson sat listening by the fireside. It was the first of many evenings which they spent in a like fashion that winter. When the book was finished they read, on Abe's recommendation, Weem's Life of Washington.

Every other Sunday they went down to the schoolhouse to hear John Cameron preach. He was a working man, noted for good common sense, who talked simply and often effectively of the temptations of the frontier, notably those of drinking, gaming and swearing. One evening they went to a debate in the tavern on the issues of the day, in which Abe won the praise of all for an able presentation of the claim of Internal Improvements. During that evening Alexander Ferguson declared that he would not cut his hair until Henry Clay became president, the news of which resolution led to a like insanity in others and an age of unexampled hairiness on that part of the border.

For Samson and Sarah the most notable social event of the winter was a chicken dinner at which they and Mr. and Mrs. James Rutledge and Ann and Abe Lincoln and Dr. Allen were the guests of the Kelsos. That night Harry stayed at home with the children.

Kelso was in his best mood.

"Come," he said, when dinner was ready. "Life is more than friendship. It is partly meat."

"And mostly Kelso," said Dr. Allen.

"Ah, Doctor! Long life has made you as smooth as an old shilling and nimbler than a sixpence," Kelso declared. "And, speaking of life, Aristotle said that the learned and the unlearned were as the living and the dead."

"It is true," Abe interposed. "I say it, in spite of the fact that it slays me."

"You? No! You are alive to your finger tips," Kelso answered.

"But I have mastered only eight books," said Abe.

"And one—the book of common sense, and that has wised you," Kelso went on. "Since I came to this country I have learned to beware of the one-book man. There are more living men in America than in any land I have seen. The man who reads one good book thoughtfully is alive and often my master in wit or wisdom. Reading is the gate and thought is the pathway of real life."

"I think that most of the men I know have read the Bible," said Abe.

"A wonderful and a saving fact! It is a sure foundation to build your life upon."

Kelso paused to pour whisky from a jug at his side for those who would take it.

"Let us drink to our friend Abe and his new ambition," he proposed.

"What is it?" Samson asked.

"I am going to try for a seat in the Legislature," said Abe. "I reckon it's rather bold. Old Samuel Legg was a good deal of a nuisance down in Hardin County. He was always talking about going to Lexington, but never went.

"'You'll never get thar without startin',' said his neighbor.

"'But I'm powerful skeered fer fear I'd never git back,' said Samuel. 'There's a big passel o' folks that gits killed in the city.'

"'You always was a selfish cuss. You ought to think o' yer neighbors,' said the other man.

"So I've concluded that if I don't start I'll never get there, and if I die on the way it will be a good thing for my neighbors," Abe added.

The toast was drunk, and by some in water, after which Abe said:

"If you have the patience to listen to it, I'd like to read my declaration to the voters of Sangamon County."

Samson's diary briefly describes this appeal as follows:

* * * * *

"He said that he wanted to win the confidence and esteem of his fellow citizens. This he hoped to accomplish by doing something which would make him worthy of it. He had been thinking of the county. A railroad would do more for it than anything else, but a railroad would be too costly. The improvement of the Sangamon River was the next best thing. Its channel could be straightened and cleared of driftwood and made navigable for small vessels under thirty tons' burden. He favored a usury law and said, in view of the talk he had just heard, he was going to favor the improvement and building of schools, so that every one could learn how to read, at least, and learn for himself what is in the Bible and other great books. It was a modest statement and we all liked it."

* * * * *

"Whatever happens to the Sangamon, one statement in that platform couldn't be improved," said Kelso.

"What is that?" Abe asked.

"It's the one that says you wish to win the regard of your fellows by serving them."

"It's a lot better than saying that he wishes to serve Abe," said Dr. Allen, a remark which referred to a former conversation with Abe, in which Kelso had had a part.

"You can trust Abe to take the right turn at every fork in the road," Kelso went on. "If you stick to that, my boy, and continue to study, you'll get there and away beyond any goal you may now see. A passion for service is more than half the battle. Since the other night at the tavern I've been thinking about Abe and the life we live here. I've concluded that we're all very lucky, if we are a bit lonesome."

"I'd like to know about that," said Sarah. "I'm a little in need of encouragement."

"Well, you may have observed that Abe has a good memory," he continued. "While I try to be modest about it, my own memory is a fairly faithful servant. It is due to the fact that since I left the university I have lived, mostly, in lonely places. It is a great thing to be where the register of your mind is not overburdened by the flow of facts. Abe's candidacy is the only thing that has happened here since Samson's raising, except the arrival and departure of Eliphalet Biggs. Our memories are not weakened by overwork. They have time for big undertakings—like Burns and Shakespeare and Blackstone."

"I've noticed that facts get kind o' slippery when they come in a bunch, as they did on our journey," said Samson. "Seems so they wore each other smooth and got hard to hold."

"Ransom Prigg used to say it was easy enough to ketch eels, but it was powerful hard to hold 'em," Abe remarked. "He caught three eels in a trap one day and the trap busted and let 'em loose in the boat. He kept grabbin' and tusslin' around the boat till the last eel got away. 'I never had such a slippery time in all the days o' my life,' said Rans. 'One eel is a dinner, but three eels is jest a lot o' slippin' an' disapp'intment.'"

"That's exactly the point I make," said Kelso. "A man with too many eels in the boat will have none for dinner. The city man is at a great disadvantage. Events slip away from him and leave nothing. His intellect gets the habit of letting go. It loses its power to seize and hold. His impressions are like footprints on a beach. They are washed away by the next tide."

There was much talk at the fireside after dinner, all of which doubtless had an effect on the fortunes of the good people who sat around it, and the historian must sort the straws, and with some regret, for bigger things are drawing near in the current. Samson and Sarah had been telling of their adventures on the long road.

"We are all movers," said Kelso. "We can not stay where we are for a single day—not if we are alive. Most of us never reach that eminence from which we discover the littleness of ourselves and our troubles and achievements and the immensities of power and wisdom by which we are surrounded."

At least one of that company was to remember the words in days of adversity and triumph. Soon after that dinner the memories of the little community began to register an unusual procession of thrilling facts.

Early in April an Indian scare spread from the capital to the remotest corners of the state. Black Hawk, with many warriors, had crossed the Mississippi and was moving toward the Rock River country. Governor Reynolds called for volunteers to check the invasion.

Abe, whose address to the voters had been printed in the Sangamon Journal, joined a volunteer company and soon became its captain. On the tenth of April he and Harry Needles left for Richland to go into training. Samson was eager to go, but could not leave his family.

Bim Kelso rode out into the fields where Harry was at work the day before he went away.

"This is a great surprise," said Harry. "I don't see you any more except at a distance."

"I don't see you either."

"I didn't think you wanted to see me."

"You're easily discouraged," she said, looking down with a serious face.

"You made me feel as if I didn't want to live any longer."

"I reckon I'm mean. I made myself feel a million times worse. It's awful to be such a human as I am. Some days I'm plum scared o' myself."

"I'm going away," the boy said, in a rather mournful tone.

"I hate to have you go. I just love to know you're here, if I don't see you. Only I wish you was older and knew more."

"Maybe I know more'n you think I do," he answered.

"But you don't know anything about my troubles," said she, with a sigh.

"I don't get the chance."

There was half a moment of silence. She ended it by saying:

"Ann and I are going to the spelling school to-night."

"Can I go with you?"

"Could you stand it to be talked to and scolded by a couple of girls till you didn't care what happened to you?"

"Yes; I've got to be awful careless."

"We'll be all dressed up and ready at quarter of eight. Come to the tavern. I'm going to have supper with Ann. She is just terribly happy. John McNeil has told her that he loves her. It's a secret. Don't you tell."

"I won't. Does she love him?"

"Devotedly; but she wouldn't let him know it—not yet."


"Course not. She pretends she's in love with somebody else. It's the best way. I reckon he'll be plum anxious before she owns up. But she truly loves him. She'd die for him."

"Girls are awful curious—nobody can tell what they mean," said Harry.

"Sometimes they don't know what they mean themselves. Often I say something or do something and wonder and wonder what it means."

She was looking off at the distant plain as she spoke.

"Sometimes I'm surprised to find out how much it means," she added. "I reckon every girl is a kind of a puzzle and some are very easy and some would give ye the headache."

"Or the heartache."

"Did you ever ride a horse sitting backwards—when you're going one way and looking another and you don't know what's coming?" she asked.

"What's behind you is before you and the faster you go the more danger you're in?" Harry laughed.

"Isn't that the way we have to travel in this world whether we're going to love or to mill?" the girl asked, with a sigh. "We can not tell what is ahead. We see only what is behind us. It is very sad."

Barry looked at Bim. He saw the tragic truth of the words and suddenly her face was like them. Unconsciously in the midst of her playful talk this thing had fallen. He did not know quite what to make of it.

"I feel sad when I think of Abe," said Harry. "He don't know what is ahead of him, I guess. I heard Mrs. Traylor say that he was in love with Ann."

"I reckon he is, but he don't know how to show it. You might as well ask me to play on a flute. He's never told her. He just walks beside her to a party and talks about politics and poetry and tells funny stories. I reckon he's mighty good, but he don't know how to love a girl. Ann is afraid he'll step on her, he's so tall and awkward and wanderin'. Did you ever see an elephant talking with a cricket?"

"Not as I remember," said Harry.

"I never did myself, but if I did, I'm sure they'd both look very tired. It would be still harder for an elephant to be engaged to a cricket. I don't reckon the elephant's love would fit the cricket or that they'd ever be able to agree on what they'd talk about. It's some that way with Abe and Ann. She is small and spry; he is slow and high. She'd need a ladder to get up to his face, and I just tell you it ain't purty when ye get there. She ain't got a chance to love him."

"I love him," said Harry. "I think he's a wonderful man. I'd fight for him till I died. John McNeil is nothing but a grasshopper compared to him."

"That's about what my father says," Bim answered. "I love Abe, too, and so does Ann, but it ain't the hope to die, marryin' love. It's like a man's love for a man or a woman's love for a woman. John McNeil is handsome—he's just plum handsome, and smart, too. He's bought a big farm and is going into the grocery business. Mr. Rutledge says he'll be a rich man."

"I wouldn't wonder. Is he going to the spelling school?"

"No, he went off to Richland to-day with my father to join the company. They're going to fight the Injuns, too."

Harry stood smoothing the new coat of Colonel with his hand, while Bim was thinking how she would best express what was on her mind. She did not try to say it, but there was something in the look of her eyes which the boy remembered.

He was near telling her that he loved her, but he looked down at his muddy boots and soiled overalls. They were like dirt thrown on a flame. How could one speak of a sweet and noble passion in such attire? Clean clothes and white linen for that! The shell sounded for dinner. Bim started for the road at a gallop, waving her hand. He unhitched his team and followed it slowly across the black furrows toward the barn.

He did not go to the spelling school. Abe came at seven and said that he and Harry would have to walk to Springfield that night and get their equipment and take the stage in the morning. Abe said if they started right away they could get to the Globe tavern by midnight. In the hurry and excitement Harry forgot the spelling school. To Bim it was a tragic thing. Before he went to bed that night he wrote a letter to her.



Many things came with the full tide of the springtime—innumerable flowers and voices, the flowers filled with glowing color, the voices with music and delight. Waves of song swept over the limitless meadows. They went on and on as if they traveled a shoreless sea in a steady wind. Bob-whites, meadow-larks, bobolinks, song sparrows, bluebirds, competed with the crowing of the meadow cocks. This joyous tumult around the Traylor cabin sped the day and emphasized the silence of the night.

In the midst of this springtime carnival there came also cheering news from the old home in Vermont—a letter to Sarah from her brother, which contained the welcome promise that he was coming to visit them and expected to be in Beardstown about the fourth of May. Samson drove across country to meet the steamer. He was at the landing when The Star of the North arrived. He saw every passenger that came ashore, and Eliphalet Biggs, leading his big bay mare, was one of them, but the expected visitor did not arrive. There would be no other steamer bringing passengers from the East for a number of days.

Samson went to a store and bought a new dress and sundry bits of finery for Sarah. He returned to New Salem with a heavy heart. He dreaded to meet his faithful partner and bring her little but disappointment. The windows were lighted when he got back, long after midnight. Sarah stood in the open door as he drove up.

"Didn't come," he said mournfully.

Without a word, Sarah followed him to the barn, with the tin lantern in her hand. He gave her a hug as he got down from the wagon. He was little given to like displays of emotion.

"Don't feel bad," he said.

She tried bravely to put a good face on her disappointment, but, while he was unharnessing and leading the weary horses into their stalls, it was a wet face and a silent one.

"Come," he said, after he had thrown some hay into the mangers. "Let's go into the house. I've got something for ye."

"I've given them up—I don't believe we shall ever see them again," said Sarah, as they were walking toward the door. "I think I know how the dead feel who are so soon forgotten."

"Ye can't blame 'em," said Samson. "They've probably heard about the Injun scare and would expect to be massacreed if they came."

Indeed the scare, now abating, had spread through the border settlements and kept the people awake o' nights. Samson and other men, left in New Salem, had met to consider plans for a stockade.

"And then there's the fever an' ague," Samson added.

"Sometimes I feel sorry I told 'em about it because they'll think it worse than it is. But we've got to tell the truth if it kills us."

"Yes: we've got to tell the truth," Samson rejoined. "There'll be a railroad coming through here one of these days and then we can all get back and forth easy. If it comes it's going to make us rich. Abe says he expects it within three or four years."

Sarah had a hot supper ready for him. As he stood warming himself by the fire she put her arms around him and gave him a little hug.

"You poor tired man!" she said. "How patient and how good you are!"

There was a kind of apology for this moment of weakness in her look and manner. Her face seemed to say: "It's silly but I can't help it."

"I've been happy all the time for I knew you was waiting for me," Samson remarked. "I feel rich every time I think of you and the children. Say, look here."

He untied the bundle and put the dress and finery in her lap.

"Well, I want to know!" she exclaimed, as she held it up to the candlelight. "That must have cost a pretty penny."

"I don't care what it cost—it ain't half good enough—not half," said Samson.

As he sat down to his supper he said:

"I saw that miserable slaver, Biggs, get off the boat with his big bay mare. There was a darky following him with another horse."

"Good land!" said Sarah. "I hope he isn't coming here. Mrs. Onstot told me to-day that Bim Kelso has been getting letters from him."

"She's such an odd little critter and she's got a mind of her own—anybody could see that," Samson reflected. "She ought to be looked after purty careful. Her parents are so taken up with shooting and fishing and books they kind o' forget the girl. I wish you'd go down there to-morrow and see what's up. Jack is away you know."

"I will," said Sarah.

It was nearly two o'clock when Samson, having fed and watered his horses, got into bed. Yet he was up before daylight, next morning, and singing a hymn of praise as he kindled the fire and filled the tea kettle and lighted his candle lantern and went out to do his chores while Sarah, partly reconciled to her new disappointment, dressed and began the work of another day. So they and Abe and Harry and others like them, each under the urge of his own ambition, spent their great strength in the building and defense of the republic and grew prematurely old. Their work began and ended in darkness and often their days were doubled by the burdens of the night. So in the reckoning of their time each year was more than one.

Sarah went down to the village in the afternoon of the next day. When Samson came in from the fields to his supper she said:

"Mr. Biggs is stopping at the tavern. He brought a new silk dress and some beautiful linen to Mrs. Kelso. He tells her that Bim has made a new man of him. Claims he has quit drinking and gone to work. He looks like a lord—silver spurs and velvet riding coat and ruffled shirt and silk waistcoat. A colored servant rode into the village with him on a beautiful brown horse, carrying big saddle-bags. Bim and her mother are terribly excited. He wants them to move to St. Louis and live on his big plantation in a house next to his—rent free."

Samson knew that Biggs was the type of man who weds Virtue for her dowry.

"A man's judgment is needed there," said he. "It's a pity Jack is gone. Biggs will take that girl away with him sure as shooting if we don't look out."

"Oh, I don't believe he'd do that," said Sarah. "I hope he has turned over a new leaf and become a gentleman."

"We'll see," said Samson.

They saw and without much delay the background of his pretensions, for one day within the week he and Bim, the latter mounted on the beautiful brown horse, rode away and did not return. Soon a letter came from Bim to her mother, mailed at Beardstown. It told of their marriage in that place and said that they would be starting for St. Louis in a few hours on The Star of the North. She begged the forgiveness of her parents and declared that she was very happy.

"Too bad! Isn't it?" said Sarah when Mrs. Waddell, who had come out with her husband one evening to bring this news, had finished the story.

"Yes, it kind o' spyles the place," said Samson. "Bim was a wonderful girl—spite of all her foolishness—like the birds that sing among the flowers on the prairie—kind o'—yes, sir—she was. I'm afraid for Jack Kelso-'fraid it'll bust his fiddle if it don't break his heart. His wife is alone now. We must ask her to come and stay with us."

"The Allens have taken her in," said Mrs. Waddell.

"That's good," said Sarah. "I'll go down there to-morrow and offer to do anything we can."

When Mr. and Mrs. Waddell had gone Sarah said:

"I can't help thinking of poor Harry. He was terribly in love with her."

"Well, he'll have to get over it—that's all," said Samson. "He's young and the wound will heal."

It was well for Harry that he was out of the way of all this, and entered upon adventures which absorbed his thought. As to what was passing with him we have conclusive evidence in two letters, one from Colonel Zachary Taylor in which he says:

"Harry Needles is also recommended for the most intrepid conduct as a scout and for securing information of great value. Compelled to abandon his wounded horse he swam a river under fire and under the observation of three of our officers, through whose help he got back to his command, bringing a bullet in his thigh."

With no knowledge of military service and a company of untrained men, Abe had no chance to win laurels in the campaign. His command did not get in touch with the enemy. He had his hands full maintaining a decent regard for discipline among the raw frontiersmen of his company.

He saved the life of an innocent old Indian, with a passport from General Cass, who had fallen into their hands and whom, in their excitement and lust for action, they desired to hang. This was the only incident of his term of service which gave him the least satisfaction.

Early in the campaign Harry had been sent with a message to headquarters, where he won the regard of Colonel Taylor and was ordered to the front with a company of scouts. No member of the command had been so daring. He had the recklessness of youth and its wayward indifferences to peril. William Boone, a son of Daniel, used to speak of "the luck of that daredevil farmer boy."

One day in passing mounted through a thick woods on the river, near the enemy, he suddenly discovered Indians all around him. They sprang out of the bushes ahead and one of them opened fire. He turned and spurred his horse and saw the painted warriors on every side. He rode through them under a hot fire. His horse fell wounded near the river shore and Harry took to the water and swam beneath it as far as he could. When he came up for breath bullets began splashing and whizzing around him. It was then that he got his wound. He dove and reached the swift current which greatly aided his efforts. Some white men in a boat about three hundred yards away witnessed his escape and said that the bullets "tore the river surface into rags" around him as he came up. Courage and his skill as a diver and swimmer saved his life. Far below, the boat, in which were a number of his fellow Scouts overtook him and helped him back to camp. So it happened that a boy won a reputation in the "Black Hawk War" which was not lavish in its bestowal of honors.

When the dissatisfied volunteers were mustered out late in May, Kelso and McNeil, being sick with a stubborn fever, were declared unfit for service and sent back to New Salem as soon as they were able to ride. Abe and Harry joined Captain Iles' Company of Independent Rangers and a month or so later Abe re-enlisted to serve with Captain Early, Harry being under a surgeon's care. The latter's wound was not serious and on July third he too joined Early's command.

This company was chiefly occupied in the moving of supplies and the burying of a few men who had been killed in small engagements with the enemy. It was a band of rough-looking fellows in the costume of the frontier farm and workshop—ragged, dirty and unshorn. The company was disbanded July tenth at Whitewater, Wisconsin, where, that night, the horses of Harry and Abe were stolen. From that point they started on their long homeward tramp with a wounded sense of decency and justice. They felt that the Indians had been wronged: that the greed of land grabbers had brutally violated their rights. This feeling had been deepened by the massacre of the red women and children at Bad Ax.

A number of mounted men went with them and gave them a ride now and then. Some of the travelers had little to eat on the journey. Both Abe and Harry suffered from hunger and sore feet before they reached Peoria where they bought a canoe and in the morning of a bright day started down the Illinois River.

They had a long day of comfort in its current with a good store of bread and butter and cold meat and pie. The prospect of being fifty miles nearer home before nightfall lightened their hearts and they laughed freely while Abe told of his adventures in the campaign. To him it was all a wild comedy with tragic scenes dragged into it and woefully out of place. Indeed he thought it no more like war than a pig sticking and that was the kind of thing he hated. At noon they put ashore and sat on a grassy bank in the shade of a great oak, to escape the withering sunlight of that day late in July, while they ate their luncheon.

"I reckon that the Black Hawk peril was largely manufactured," said Abe as they sat in the cool shade. "If they had been let alone I don't believe the Indians would have done any harm. It reminds me a little of the story of a rich man down in Lexington who put a cast iron buck in his dooryard. Next morning all the dogs in the neighborhood got together and looked him over from a distance. He had invaded their territory and they reckoned that he was theirs. They saw a chance for war. One o' their number volunteered to go and scare up the buck. So he raised the hair on his back and sneaked up from behind and when he was about forty feet away made hell bent for the buck's heels. The buck didn't move and the dog nearly broke his neck on that pair o' cast iron legs. He went limping back to his comrades.

"'What's the trouble?' they asked.

"'It's nary buck,' said the dog.

"'What is it then?'

"'Darned if I know. It kicks like a mule an' smells like a gate post.'

"'Come on, you fellers. It looks to me like a good time to go home,' said a wise old dog. 'I've learned that ye can't always believe yerself.'

"It's a good thing for a man or a government to learn," Abe went on as they resumed their journey. "I've learned not to believe everything I hear, The first command I gave, one o' the company hollered 'Go to h—l.' Every one before me laughed. It was a chance to get mad. I didn't for I knew what it meant. I just looked sober and said: "'Well, boys, I haven't far to go and I reckon we'll all get there if we don't quit fooling an' 'tend to business.'

"They agreed with me."

Harry had not heard from home since he left it. Abe had had a letter from Rutledge which gave him the news of Bim's elopement The letter had said:

"I was over to Beardstown the day Kelso and McNeil got off the steamer. I brought them home with me. Kelso was bigger than his trouble. Said that the ways of youth were a part of the great plan. 'Thorns! Thorns!' he said. 'They are the teachers of wisdom and who am I that I should think myself or my daughter too good for the like since it is written that Jesus Christ did not complain of them.'"

"Have you heard from home?" Abe asked as they paddled on.

"Not a word," said Harry.

"You're not expecting to meet Bim Kelso?"

"That's the best part of getting home for me," said Harry, turning with a smile.

"Let her drift for a minute," said Abe. "I've got a letter from James Rutledge that I want to read to you. There's a big lesson in it for both of us—something to remember as long as we live."

Abe read the letter. Harry sat motionless. Slowly his head bent forward until his chin touched his breast.

Abe said with a tender note in his voice as he folded the letter:

"This man is well along in life. He hasn't youth to help him as you have. See how he takes it and she's the only child he has. There are millions of pretty girls in the world for you to choose from."

"I know it but there's only one Bim Kelso in the world," Harry answered mournfully. "She was the one I loved."

"Yes, but you'll find another. It looks serious but it isn't—you're so young. Hold up your head and keep going. You'll be happy again soon."

"Maybe, but I don't see how," said the boy.

"There are lots of things you can't see from where you are at this present moment. There are a good many miles ahead o' you I reckon and one thing you'll see plainly, by and by, that it's all for the best. I've suffered a lot myself but I can see now it has been a help to me. There isn't an hour of it I'd be willing to give up."

They paddled along in silence for a time.

"It was my fault," said Harry presently. "I never could say the half I wanted to when she was with me. My tongue is too slow. She gave me a chance and I wasn't man enough to take it. That's all I've got to say on that subject."

He seemed to find it hard to keep his word for in a moment he added:

"I wouldn't have been so good a scout if it hadn't been for her. I guess the Injuns would have got me but when I thought of her I just kept going."

"I think you did it just because you were a brave man and had a duty to perform," said Abe.

Some time afterward in a letter to his father the boy wrote:

* * * * *

"I often think of that ride down the river and the way he talked to me. It was so gentle. He was a big, powerful giant of a man who weighed over two hundred pounds, all of it bone and muscle. But under his great strength was a woman's gentleness; under the dirty, ragged clothes and the rough, brown skin grimy with dust and perspiration, was one of the cleanest souls that ever came to this world. I don't mean that he was like a minister. He could tell a story with pretty rough talk in it but always for a purpose. He hated dirt on the hands or on the tongue. If another man had a trouble Abe took hold of it with him. He would put a lame man's pack on top of his own and carry it. He loved flowers like a woman. He loved to look at the stars at night and the colors of the sunset and the morning dew on the meadows. I never saw a man so much in love with fun and beauty."

* * * * *

They reached Havana that evening and sold their canoe to a man who kept boats to rent on the river shore. They ate a hot supper at the tavern and got a ride with a farmer who was going ten miles in their direction. From his cabin some two hours later they set out afoot in the darkness.

"I reckon it will be easier under the stars than under the hot sun," said Abe. "Our legs have had a long rest anyhow."

They enjoyed the coolness and beauty of the summer night.

"Going home is the end of all journeys," said Abe as they tramped along. "Did it ever occur to you that every living creature has its home? The fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field and forest, the creepers in the grass, all go home. Most of them turn toward it when the day wanes. The call of home is the one voice heard and respected all the way down the line of life. And, ye know, the most wonderful and mysterious thing in nature is the power that fool animals have to go home through great distances, like the turtle that swam from the Bay of Biscay to his home off Van Dieman's Land. Somehow coming over in a ship he had blazed a trail through the pathless deep more than ten thousand miles long. It's the one miraculous gift—the one call that's irresistible. Don't you hear it now? I never lie down in the darkness without thinking of home when I am away."

"And it's hard to change your home when you're wonted to it," said Harry.

"Yes, it's a little like dying when you pull up the roots and move. It's been hard on your folks."

This remark brought them up to the greatest of mysteries. They tramped in silence for a moment. Abe broke in upon it with these words:

"I reckon there must be another home somewhere to go to after we have broke the last camp here and a kind of a bird's compass to help us find it. I reckon we'll hear the call of it as we grow older."

He stopped and took off his hat and looked up at the stars and added:

"If it isn't so I don't see why the long procession of life keeps harping on this subject of home. I think I see the point of the whole thing. It isn't the place or the furniture that makes it home, but the love and peace that's in it. By and by our home isn't here any more. It has moved. Our minds begin to beat about in the undiscovered countries looking for it. Somehow we get it located—each man for himself."

For another space they hurried along without speaking.

"I tell you, Harry, whatever a large number of intelligent folks have agreed upon for some generations is so—if they have been allowed to do their own thinking," said Abe. "It's about the only wisdom there is."

He had sounded the keynote of the new Democracy.

"There are some who think that Reason is the only guide but in the one problem of going home it don't compare with the turtle's wisdom," Abe added. "His head isn't bigger than a small apple. But I reckon the scientist can't teach him anything about navigation. Reminds me o' Steve Nuckles. His head is full of ignorance but he'll know how to get home when the time comes."

"My stars! How we're hurrying!" Harry exclaimed at length.

"I didn't realize it—I'm so taken up with the thought of getting back," said Abe. "It's as if my friends had a rope around me and were pulling it."

So under the lights of heaven, speaking in the silence of the night, of impenetrable mysteries, they journeyed on toward the land of plenty.

"It's as still as a graveyard," Harry whispered when they had climbed the bluff by the mill long after midnight and were near the little village.

"They're all buried in sleep," said Abe. "We'll get Rutledge out of bed. He'll give us a shake-down somewhere."

His loud rap on the door of the tavern signalized more than a desire for rest in the weary travelers, for just then a cycle of their lives had ended.




Within a week after their return the election came off and Abe was defeated, although in his precinct two hundred and twenty-seven out of a total of three hundred votes had been cast for him. He began to consider which way to turn. He thought seriously of the trade of the blacksmith which many advised. Burns and Shakespeare, who had been with him in recent vicissitudes seemed to disagree with him. Jack Kelso, who had welcomed the returning warriors in the cheery fashion of old, vigorously opposed his trying "to force the gates of fortune with the strong arm." They were far more likely to yield, he said, to a well trained intellect of which mighty sinews were a poor tool but a good setting. Moreover, Major John T. Stuart—a lawyer of Springfield—who had been his comrade in the "war" had encouraged him to study law and, further, had offered to lend him books. So he looked for an occupation which would give him leisure for study. Offut, his former employer, had failed and cleared out. The young giant regarded thoughtfully the scanty opportunities of the village. He could hurl his great strength into the ax-head and make a good living but he had learned that such a use of it gave him a better appetite for sleep than study.

John McNeil, who for a short time had shared his military adventures, had become a partner of Samuel Hill in a store larger and better stocked than any the village had known. But Hill and McNeil had no need of a clerk. Rowan Herndon and William Berry—he of the morning-glory shirt—had opened a general store. Mr. Herndon offered to sell his interest to Abe and take notes for his pay. It was not a proposition that promised anything but loss. The community was small and there were three other stores and there was no other "Bill" Berry, who was given to drink and dreams as Abe knew. He was never offensive. Drink begat in Bill Berry a benevolent form of intemperance. It imparted to him a feeling of pity for the human race and a deep sense of obligation to it. In his cups he acquired a notable generosity and politeness. In the words of Jack Kelso he was then "as placid as a mill pond and as full of reflection." He had many friends and no one had questioned his honesty.

Abe Lincoln had not been trained to weigh the consequences of a business enterprise. The store would give him leisure for study and New Salem could offer him nothing else save consuming toil with the axe or the saw. He could not think of leaving the little cabin village. There were Ann Rutledge and Jack Kelso and Samson Traylor and Harry Needles. Every ladder climber in the village and on the plain around it was his friend.

Upon these people who knew and respected him Abe Lincoln based his hopes. Among them he had found his vision and failure had not diminished or dimmed it. He would try again for a place in which he could serve them and if he could learn to serve Sangamon County he could learn to serve the state and, possibly, even the Republic. With this thought and a rather poor regard for his own interest his name fell into bad company on the sign board of Berry and Lincoln. Before he took his place in the store he walked to Springfield and borrowed a law book from his friend Major Stuart.

The career of the firm began on a hot day late in August with Bill Berry smoking his pipe in a chair on the little veranda of the store and Abe Lincoln sprawled in the shade of a tree that partly overhung its roof, reading a law book. The latter was collarless and without coat or waistcoat. His feet were in yarn socks and heavy cloth slippers. Mr. Berry was looking intently at nothing. He was also thinking of nothing with a devotion worthy of the noblest cause. No breeze touched the mill pond of his consciousness. He would have said that he "had his traps set for an idea and was watching them." Generally he was watching his traps with a look of dreamy contemplation. He, too, wore no coat or waistcoat. His calico shirt was decorated with diminutive roses in pink ink. His ready tied necktie was very red and fastened on his collar button with an elastic loop. A nugget of free gold which, he loved to explain, had come from the Rocky Mountains and had ten dollars' worth of the root of evil in it, adorned his shirt-front—dangling from a pin bar on a tiny chain.

The face of Mr. Berry suddenly assumed a look of animation. A small, yellow dog which had been lying in repose beside him rose and growled, his hair rising, and with a little cry of alarm and astonishment fled under the store.

"Here comes Steve Nuckles on his old mare with a lion following him," said Berry.

Abe closed his book and rose and looked at the approaching minister and his big dog.

"If we ain't careful we'll git prayed for plenty," said Berry.

"If the customers don't come faster I reckon we'll need it," said Abe.

"Howdy," said the minister as he stopped at the hitching bar, dismounted and tied his mare. "Don't be skeered o' this 'ere dog. He were tied when I left home but he chawed his rope an' come a'ter me. I reckon if nobody feeds him he'll patter back to-night."

"He's a whopper!" said Abe.

"He's the masteris' dog I ever did see," said the minister, a tall, lank, brawny, dark-skinned man with gray eyes, sandy whiskers on the point of his chin, and clothes worn and faded. "Any plug tobaccer?"

"A back load of it," said Berry, going into the store to wait on the minister.

When they came out the latter carved off a corner of the plug with his jack-knife, put it into his mouth and sat down on the door-step.

"Mr. Nuckles, how did you happen to become a minister?" Abe asked.

"Well, sur, I done had a dream," said the Reverend Mr. Nuckles, as he clasped his hands over a knee and chewed vigorously. "I done dreamt that I had swallered a double wagon and that the tongue o' the wagon were stickin' out o' my mouth. It were a cur'ous dream an' I cain't tell what you'd make of it, but I done tuk it for a sign that my tongue were to be used on the gospel."

"It shows that a man who can swaller a wagon can swaller anything," said Abe. "But I'm glad you took it for a sign. You've done a lot of good in this country. I've seen you out in all weather and you've made over many a man and broke and bitted some of the wildest colts on the prairie."

"I jes' keep watch an' when ol' Satan comes snoopin' eround I'm right thar to ketch holt an' flop him. It done come to pass frequent I've laid it on till he were jest a hollerin' fer mercy. Where do Samson Traylor live?"

Abe took him to the road and pointed the way.

"There be goin' to be a raid," said Nuckles. "I reckon, by all I've heard, it'll come on to-night."

"A raid! Who's going to be raided?" Abe asked.

"Them Traylor folks. A lady done tol' me yesterday. Soon as ever I got her soul saved she blabbed it. Thar be a St. Louis man name o' Biggs, done stirred up the folks from Missourey and Tennessee on the south road 'bout the Yankee who holps the niggers out o' bondage. Them folks'd have slavery in this here county if they could. They be right hot I reckon. A stranger done been goin' eround with whisky in his bags startin' a band o' regulators. Held a meetin' las' Sunday. They be goin' to do some regulatin' to-night. Ol' Satan'll break loose. Ef you don't wa'ch out they'll come over an' burn his house sartin."

"We'll watch out," said Abe. "They don't know Traylor. He's one of the best men in this country."

"I've heered he were a he man an' a right powerful, God-fearin' man," said the minister.

"He's one of the best men that ever came to this country and any one that wants to try his strength is welcome to; I don't," said Abe. "Are you going over there?"

"I were goin' to warn 'em an' holp 'em ef I cain."

"Well, go on, but don't stir 'em up," Abe cautioned him. "Don't say a word about the raid. I'll be over there with some other fellers soon after sundown. We'll just tell 'em it's a he party come over for a story-tellin' an' a rassle. I reckon we'll have some fun. Ride on over and take supper with 'em. They're worth knowing."

In a few minutes the minister mounted his horse and rode away followed by his big dog.

"If I was you I wouldn't go," said Berry.

"Why not?"

"It'll hurt trade. Let the rest of Traylor's friends go over. There's enough of 'em."

"We must all stand as one man for law and order," said Abe. "If we don't there won't be any."

As soon as Abe had had his supper he went from house to house and asked the men to come to his store for a piece of important business. When they had come he told them what was in the wind. Soon after that hour Abe and Philemon Morris, and Alexander Ferguson, and Martin Waddell and Robert Johnson and Joshua Miller and Jack Kelso and Samuel Hill and John McNeil set out for the Traylor cabin. Doctors Allen and Regnier and James Rutledge and John Cameron and Isaac Gollaher, being older men, were requested to remain in the village and to use their guns, if necessary, to prevent a demonstration there. Samson greeted the party with a look of surprise.

"Have you come out to hang me?" he asked.

"No just to hang around ye," said Abe.

"This time it's a heart warmin'," Jack Kelso averred. "We left our wives at home so that we could pay our compliments to Mrs. Traylor without reserve knowing you to be a man above jealousy."

"It's what we call a he party on the prairies," said Ferguson. "For one thing I wanted to see Abe and the minister have a rassle."

The Reverend Stephen Nuckles stood in front of the door with Sarah and Harry and the children. He was a famous wrestler. Forthwith he playfully jumped into the air clapping his heels together three times before he touched the ground.

"I cain't rassle like I used to could but I be willin' to give ye a try, Abe," said the minister.

"You'd better save your strength for ol' Satan," said Abe.

"Go on, Abe," the others urged. "Give him a try."

Abe modestly stepped forward. In the last year he had grown less inclined to that kind of fun. The men took hold of each other, collar and elbow. They parried with their feet for an instant. Suddenly Abe's long right leg caught itself behind the left knee of the minister. It was the hip lock as they called it those days. Once secured the stronger man was almost sure to prevail and quickly. The sturdy circuit rider stood against it for a second until Abe sprang his bow. Then the heels of the former flew upward and his body came down to the grass, back first.

"That ar done popped my wind bag," said the minister as he got up.

"Call in," said John McNeil and the others echoed it.

"I call you," said the minister turning to McNeil.

"McNeil!" the onlookers called.

The stalwart young Irishman stepped forward and said:

"I don't mind measuring my length on the grass."

This he did in less than half a moment. As the young man rose from the grass he said:

"I call in Samson Traylot."

At last the thing which had long been a subject of talk and argument in the stores and houses of New Salem was about to come to pass—a trial of strength and agility between the two great lions of Sangamon County. Either of them would have given a month's work to avoid it.

"I reckon we better begin our story-tellin'," said Abe.

"I think so too," Samson declared. "It's purty dusk now."

"A rassle—a rassle," their neighbors shouted.

"I'd rather give ten bushel o' wheat than miss seein' you fellers take hold o' each other," said Alexander Ferguson.

"I would too," said Martin Waddell.

So it happened that these friendly giants, each dreading the ordeal, faced each other for a contest.

"Now we shall see which is the son of Peleus and which the son of Telemon," Kelso shouted.

"How shall we rassle?" Samson asked.

"I don't care," said Abe.

"Rough and tumble," Ferguson proposed.

Both men agreed. They bent low intently watching each other, their great hands outreaching. They stood braced for a second and suddenly both sprang forward. Their shoulders came together with a thud. It was like two big bison bulls hurling their weight in the first shock of battle. For a breath each bore with all his strength and then closed with his adversary. Each had an under hold with one arm, the other hooked around a shoulder. Samson lifted Abe from his feet but the latter with tremendous efforts loosened the hold of the Vermonter, and regained the turf. They struggled across the dooryard, the ground trembling beneath their feet. They went against the side of the house shaking it with the force of their impact. Samson had broken the grip of one of Abe's hands and now had his feet in the air again but the young giant clung to hip and shoulder and wriggled back to his foothold. Those lesser men were thrilled and a little frightened by the mighty struggle. Knowing the strength of the wrestlers they felt a fear of broken bones. Each had torn a rent in the coat of the other. If they kept on there was danger that both would be stripped. The children had begun to cry. Sarah begged the struggling men to stop and they obeyed her.

"If any of you fellers think that's fun you can have my place," said Abe. "Samson, I declare you elected the strongest man in this county. You've got the muscle of a grizzly bear. I'm glad to be quit o' ye."

"It ain't a fair election, Abe," Samson laughed. "If you were rassling for the right you could flop me. This little brush was nothing. Your heart wasn't in it, and by thunder, Abe! when it comes to havin' fun I rather guess we'd both do better to let each other alone."

"'Tain't exactly good amusement, not for us," Abe agreed.

It was growing dark. Ann Rutledge arrived on her pony, and called Abe aside and told him that the raiders were in the village and were breaking the windows of Radford's store because he had refused to sell them liquor.

"Have they any guns with them?" Abe asked.

"No," Ann answered.

"Don't say anything about it," Abe cautioned her.

"Just go into the house with Sarah Traylor and sit down and have a good visit. We'll look after the raiders."

Then Abe told Samson what was up. The men concealed themselves in some bushes by the roadside while the minister sat close against an end of the house with his blood hound beside him. Before they were settled in their places they heard the regulators coming. The horses of the latter were walking as they approached. Not a sound came from the men who rode them. They proceeded to the grove just beyond the cabin and hitched their horses. There were eight men in the party according to Abe's count as they passed. The men, in concealment, hurried to the cabin and surrounded it, crouched against the walls. In a moment they could see a big spot, blacker than the darkness, moving toward them. It was the massed raiders. They came on with the stealth of a cat nearing its prey. A lion-like roar broke the silence. The blood hound leaped forward. The waiting men sprang to their feet and charged. The raiders turned and ran, pell mell, in a panic toward their horses. Suddenly the darkness seemed to fill with moving figures. One of the fleeing men, whose coat tails the dog had seized, was yelling for help. The minister rescued him and the dog went on roaring after the others. When the New Salemites got to the edge of the grove they could hear a number of regulators climbing into the tree tops. Samson had a man in each hand; Abe had another, while Harry Needles and Alexander Ferguson were in possession of the man whom the dog had captured. The minister was out in the grove with his blood hound that was barking and growling under a tree. Jack Kelso arrived with a lantern. One of Samson's captives began swearing and struggling to get away. Samson gave him a little shake and bade him be quiet. The man uttered a cry of fear and pain and offered no more resistance. Stephen Nuckles came out of the grove.

"The rest o' that ar party done gone up-stairs to roost," said the minister. "I reckon my dog'll keep 'em thar. We better jest tote these men inter the house an' have a prayin' bee. I've got a right smart good chanct, now, to whop ol' Satan."

They moved the raiders' horses. Then the party—save Harry Needles, who stayed in the grove to keep watch—took its captives into the cabin.

"You set here with this gun and if any o' them tries to get away you take a crack at him," said Samson, as they were leaving, in a voice intended for the men in the tree-tops.

The men and the four dejected raiders crowded into the cabin.

Sarah, who had heard the disturbance and wondered what it meant, met them at the door with a look of alarm.

"These men came to do us harm," Samson said to Sarah. "They are good fellows but they got an idea in their heads that we are bad folks. I hear that young Mr. Biggs set them up against us. Let's give them a bite to eat the first thing we do."

They took a look at the captives. Three of them were boys from eighteen to twenty years of age. The other was a lanky, bearded Tennessean some forty years old. One of the young lads had hurt his hand in the evening's frolic. Blood was dripping from it. The four sat silent and fearful and ashamed.

Sarah made tea and put it with meat and milk and doughnuts and bread and butter on the table for them. Samson washed and bandaged the boy's wound. The captives ate as if they were hungry while the minister went out to feed his dog. When the men had finished eating Samson offered them tobacco. The oldest man filled his pipe and lighted it with a coal. Not one of the captives had said a word until this tall Tennessean remarked after his pipe was going:

"Thankee, mister. You done been right good to us."

"Who told you to come here?" Samson demanded.

"'Twere a man from St. Louis. He done said you hated the South an' were holpin' niggers to run away."

"And he offered to pay you to come here and burn this house and run Traylor out of the county, didn't he?" Abe asked.

"He did—yes, suh—he suah did," answered the man—like a child in his ignorance and simplicity.

"I thought so," Abe rejoined. "You tackled a big job, my friend. Did you know that every one of you could be sent to prison for a term of years and I've a good mind to see that you go there. You men have got to begin right now to behave yourselves mighty proper or you'll begin to sup sorrow."

Stephen Nuckles returned as Abe was speaking.

"You jest leave 'em to me, Mr. Lincoln," he said. "These be good men but ol' Satan done got his hooks on 'em. Mis' Traylor, ef you don't mind I be goin' to do a job o' prayin' right now. Men, you jest git down on yo' knees right hyar along o' me."

The men and the minister knelt on the puncheon floor while the latter prayed long and loudly for the saving of their souls. Every one who heard it felt the simple, moving eloquence of the prayer. Kelso said that Christ's love of men was in it. When the prayer was ended the minister asked permission to go with the raiders to the barn and spend the night with them. Of this curious event Samson wrote in his diary:

* * * * *

"Of what was done in the barn I have no knowledge but when Nuckles came back to the house with them in the morning the minister said that they had come into the fold and that he would promise for them that they would be good citizens in the future. They got their breakfast, fed and watered their horses and rode away. We found five men up in the tree-tops and the dog on watch. The minister went out and preached to them for about half an hour and then prayed for their souls. When that was over he said:

"'Now, boys, be you ready to accept Christ and a good breakfast? If not you'll have to git a new grip on yer pews an' set right thar while I preach another sermon. Thar ain't nary one of us goin' to break our fast till you're willin' to be saved.'

"They caved in.

"'I couldn't stan' another sermon no how,' said one in a sorrowful voice. 'I feel like a wownded bird. Send up a charge o' buck shot if you keer to, but don't preach no more sermons to me. It's jest a waste o' breath. I reckon we're all on the monah's bench.'

"When they had come down out of the tree-tops not one of them could stand on his legs for a little while."

* * * * *

The gentleman of the sorrowful voice and the broken spirit said:

"'Pears like I'll have to be tuk down an' put together again."

They were meek and sore when they limped to the cabin and washed on the stand by the doorside and went in to breakfast. After they had eaten the minister prayed some more and rode away with them.

It is recorded later in the diary that the rude Shepherd of the prairies worked with these men on their farms for weeks until he had them wonted to the fold.



Radford's grocery had been so wrecked by the raiders that its owner was disheartened. Reenforced by John Cameron and James Rutledge he had succeeded in drawing them away before they could steal whisky enough to get drunk. But they had thrown many of his goods into the street. Radford mended his windows and offered his stock for sale. After a time Berry and Lincoln bought it, giving notes in payment, and applied for a license to sell the liquors they had thus acquired.

The Traylors had harvested a handsome crop of corn and oats and wheat only to find that its value would be mostly consumed by threshing and transportation to a market. Samson was rather discouraged.

"It's the land of plenty but it's an awful ways from the land of money," he said. "We've got to hurry up and get Abe into the Legislature or this community can't last. We've got to have some way to move things."

None of their friends had come out to them and only one letter from home had reached the cabin since April.

Late that autumn a boy baby arrived in their home. Mrs. Onstott, Mrs. Waddell and Mrs. Kelso came to help and one or the other of them did the nursing and cooking while Sarah was in bed and for a little time thereafter. The coming of the baby was a comfort to this lonely mother of the prairies. Joe and Betsey asked their father in whispers while Sarah was lying sick where the baby had come from.

"I don't know," he answered.

"Don't you know?" Joe asked with a look of wonder.

"No, sir, I don't—that's honest," said Samson. "But there's some that say they come on the back of a big crane and at the right home the ol' crane lights an' pecks on the door and dumps 'em off, just as gentle as he can."

Joe examined the door carefully to find where the crane had pecked on it.

That day he confided to Betsey that in his opinion the baby didn't amount to much.

"Why?" Betsey asked.

"Can't talk or play with any one or do anything but just make a noise like a squirrel. Nobody can do anything but whisper an' go 'round on his tiptoes."

"He's our little brother and we must love him," said Betsey.

"Yes; we've got to love him," said Joe. "But it's worse 'n pickin' up potatoes. I wisht he'd gone to some other house."

That day Sarah awoke from a bad dream with tears flowing down her cheeks. She found the little lad standing by her pillow looking very troubled. He kissed her and whispered:

"God help us all and make His face to shine upon us."

There is a letter from Sarah to her brother dated May, 10, 1833, in which she sums up the effect of all this and some months of history in the words that follow:

"The Lord has given us a new son. I have lived through the ordeal—thanks to His goodness—and am strong again. The coming of the baby has reconciled us to the loss of our old friends as much as anything could. It has made this little home dear to us and proved the quality of our new friends. Nothing is too much for them to do. I don't wonder that Abe Lincoln has so much confidence in the people of this country. They are sound at heart both the northerners and the southerners 'though some of the latter that we see here are awfully ignorant and prejudiced. We have had wonderful fun with the children since the baby was born. It has been like a play or a story book to hear the talk of Joe and Betsey. She loves to play mother to this wonderful new doll and is quite a help to me. Harry Needles is getting over his disappointment. He goes down to the store often to sit with Abe and Jack Kelso and hear them talk. He and Samson are getting deeply interested in politics. Abe lets Harry read the books that he borrows from Major Stuart of Springfield. The boy is bent on being a lawyer and improving his mind. Samson found him the other day making a speech to the horses and to poor Sambo out in the barn. Bim Kelso writes to her mother that she is very happy in her new home but there is something between the lines which seems to indicate that she is trying to put a good face on a bad matter. What a peril it is to be young and pretty and a girl! Berry and Lincoln have got a license and are selling liquor in their store but nobody thinks anything of that here. Abe has been appointed Postmaster. Everytime he leaves the store he takes the letters in his hat and delivers them as he gets a chance. We have named the new baby Samuel."

The firm of Lincoln and Berry had not prospered. After they had got their license things went from bad to worse with them. Mr. Berry, who handled the liquors, kept himself in a genial stage of inebriation and sat in smiles and loud calico talking of gold mines and hidden treasure. Jack Kelso said that a little whisky converted Berry's optimism into opulence.

"It is the opulence that tends to poverty," Abe answered. "Berry gets so rich, at times, that he will have nothing to do with the vulgar details of trade."

"And he exhibits such a touching sympathy for the poor," said Kelso, "you can't help loving him. I have never beheld such easy and admirable grandeur."

The addition of liquors to its stock had attracted some rather tough characters to the store. One of them who had driven some women out of it with profanity was collared by Abe and conducted out of the door and thrown upon the grass where his face was rubbed with smart weed until he yelled for mercy. After that the rough type of drinking man chose his words with some care in the store of Berry and Lincoln.

One evening, of that summer, Abe came out to the Traylors' with a letter in his hat for Sarah.

"How's business?" Samson asked.

"Going to peter out I reckon," Abe answered with a sorrowful look. "It will leave me badly in debt. I wanted something that would give me a chance for study and I got it. By jing! It looks as if I was going to have years of study trying to get over it. I've gone and jumped into a mill pond to get out of the rain. I'd better have gone to Harvard College and walked all the way. Have you got any work to give me? You know I can split rails about as fast as the next man and I'll take my pay in wheat or corn."

"You may give me all the time you can spend outside the store," said Samson.

That evening they had a talk about the whisky business and its relation to the character of Eliphalet Biggs and to sundry infractions of law and order in their community. Samson had declared that it was wrong to sell liquor.

"All that kind of thing can be safely left to the common sense of our people," said Abe. "The remedy is education, not revolution. Slowly the people will have to set down all the items in the ledger of common sense that passes from sire to son. By and by some generation will strike a balance. That may not come in a hundred years. Soon or late the majority of the people will reach a reckoning with John Barleycorn. If there's too much against him they will act. You might as well try to stop a glacier by building a dam in front of it. They have opened an account with Slavery too. By and by they'll decide its fate."

Such was his faith in the common folk of America whose way of learning and whose love of the right he knew as no man has known it.

In this connection the New Englander wrote in his diary:

* * * * *

"He has spent his boyhood in the South and his young manhood in the North. He has studied the East and lived in the West. He is the people—I sometimes think—and about as slow to make up his mind. As Isaiah says: 'He does not judge after the sight of his eyes neither reprove after the hearing of his ears.' Abe has to think about it."

* * * * *

Many days thereafter Abe and Harry and Samson were out in the woods together splitting rails and making firewood. Abe always took his book with him and read aloud to Harry and Samson in the noon-hour. He liked to read aloud and thought that he remembered better what he had read with both eye and ear taking it in.

One day while they were at work Pollard Simmons came out to them and said that John Calhoun the County Surveyor wanted Abe to be his assistant.

"I don't know how to survey," said Abe.

"But I reckon you can learn it," Simmons answered. "You're purty quick to learn."

Abe thought a moment. Calhoun was a Democrat.

"Would I have to sacrifice any of my principles?" he asked.

"Nary a one," said Simmons.

"Then I'll try and see if I can get the hang of it," Abe declared. "I reckon Mentor Graham could help me."

"Three dollars a day is not to be sneezed at," said Simmons.

"No, sir—not if you can get it honest," Abe answered. "I'm not so careless with my sneezing as some men. Once when Eb Zane was out on the Ohio in a row-boat Mike Fink the river pirate got after him. Eb had a ten dollar gold piece in his pocket. For fear that he would be captured he clapped it into his mouth. Eb was a good oarsman and got away. He was no sooner out of danger than he fetched a sneeze and blew the gold piece into the river. After that he used to say that he had sneezed himself poor and that if he had a million dollars it wouldn't bother him to sneeze 'em away. Sneezing is a form of dissipation which has not cost me a cent so far and I don't intend to yield to it."

Immediately after that Abe got Flint and Gibson's treatise on surveying and began to study it day and night under the eye of the kindly schoolmaster. In about six weeks he had mastered the book and reported for duty.

In April Abe wrote another address to the voters announcing that he was again a candidate for a seat in the Legislature. Late that month Harry walked with him to Pappsville where a crowd had assembled to attend a public sale. When the auctioneer had finished Abe made his first stump speech. A drunken man tried to divert attention to himself by sundry interruptions. Harry asked him to be quiet, whereupon the ruffian and a friend pitched upon the boy and began to handle him roughly. Abe jumped down, rushed into the crowd, seized the chief offender and raising him off his feet flung him into the air. He hit the ground in a heap some four yards from where Abe stood. The latter resumed his place and went on with his speech. The crowd cheered him and there was no further disturbance at that meeting. The speech was a modest, straightforward declaration of his principles. When he was leaving several voices called for a story. Abe raised a great laugh with a humorous anecdote in which he imitated the dialect and manners of a Kentucky backwoodsman. They kept him on the auctioneer's block for half an hour telling the wise and curious folk tales of which he knew so many. He had won the crowd by his principles, his humor and good nature as well as by the brave and decisive exhibition of his great strength.

Abe and Harry went to a number of settlements in the county with a like result save that no more violence was needed. At one place there were men in the crowd who knew Harry's record in the war. They called on him for a speech. He spoke on the need of the means of transportation in Sangamon County with such insight and dignity and convincing candor that both Abe and the audience hailed him as a coming man. Abe and he were often seen together those days.

In New Salem they were called the disappointed lovers. It was known there that Abe was very fond of Ann Rutledge although he had not, as yet, openly confessed to any one—not even to Ann—there being no show of hope for him. Ann was deeply in love with John McNeil—the genial, handsome and successful young Irishman. The affair had reached the stage of frankness, of an open discussion of plans, of fond affection expressing itself in caresses quite indifferent to ridicule.

For Ann it had been like warm sunlight on the growing rose. She was neater in dress, lovelier in form and color, more graceful in movement and sweeter-voiced than ever she had been. It is the old way that Nature has of preparing the young to come out upon the stage of real life and to act in its moving scenes. Abe manfully gave them his best wishes and when he spoke of Ann it was done very tenderly. The look of sadness, which all had noted in his moments of abstraction, deepened and often covered his face with its veil. That is another way that Nature has of preparing the young. For these the roses have fallen and only the thorns remain. They are not lured; they seem to be driven to their tasks, but for all, soon or late, her method changes.

On a beautiful morning of June, 1834, John McNeil left the village. Abe Lincoln and Harry and Samson and Sarah and Jack Kelso and his wife stood with the Rutledges in the dooryard of the tavern when he rode away. He was going back to his home in the far East to return in the autumn and make Ann his bride. The girl wept as if her heart would break when he turned far down the road and waved his hand to her.

"Oh, my pretty lass! Do you not hear the birds singing in the meadows?" said Jack Kelso. "Think of the happiness all around you and of the greater happiness that is coming when he returns. Shame on you!"

"I'm afraid he'll never come back," Ann sobbed.

"Nonsense! Don't get a maggot in your brain and let the crows go walking over your face. Come, we'll take a ride in the meadows and if I don't bring you back laughing you may call me no prophet."

So the event passed.

Harry traveled about with Abe a good deal that summer, "electioneering," as they called it, from farm to farm. Samson and Sarah regarded the association as a good school for the boy who had a taste for politics. Abe used to go into the fields, with the men whose favor he sought, and bend his long back over a scythe or a cradle and race them playfully across the field of grain cutting a wider swath than any other and always holding the lead. Every man was out of breath at the end of his swath and needed a few minutes for recuperation. That gave Abe a chance for his statement of the county's needs and his plan of satisfying them. He had met and talked with a majority of the voters before the campaign ended in his election in August. Those travels about the county had been a source of education to the candidate and the voters.

At odd times that summer he had been surveying a new road with Harry Needles for his helper. In September they resumed their work upon it in the vicinity of New Salem and Abe began to carry the letters in his hat again. Every day Ann was looking for him as he came by in the dim light of the early morning on his way to work.

"Anything for me?" she would ask.

"No mail in since I saw you, Ann," was the usual answer.

Often he would say: "I'm afraid not, but here—you take these letters and look through 'em and make sure."

Ann would take them in her hands, trembling with eagerness, and run indoors to the candlelight, and look them over. Always she came back with the little bundle of letters very slowly as if her disappointment were a heavy burden.

"There'll he one next mail if I have to write it myself," Abe said one morning in October as he went on.

To Harry Needles who was with him that morning he said:

"I wonder why that fellow don't write to Ann. I couldn't believe that he has been fooling her but now I don't know what to think of him. Every day I have to deliver a blow that makes her a little paler and thinner. It hurts me like smashing a finger nail. I wonder what has happened to the fellow."

The mail stage was late that evening. As it had not come at nine Mr. Hill went home and left Abe in the store to wait for his mail. The stage arrived a few minutes later. It came as usual in a cloud of dust and a thunder of wheels and hoofs mingled with the crack of the lash, the driver saving his horses for this little display of pride and pomp on arriving at a village. Abe examined the little bundle of letters and newspapers which the driver had left with him. Then he took a paper and sat down to read in the firelight. While he was thus engaged the door opened softly and Ann Rutledge entered. The Postmaster was not aware of her presence until she touched his arm.

"Please give me a letter," she said.

"Sit down, Ann," said he, very gently, as he placed a chair in the fire-glow.

She took it, turning toward him with a look of fear and hope. Then he added:

"I'm sorry but the truth is it didn't come."

"Don't—don't tell me that again," she pleaded in a broken voice, as she leaned forward covering her face with her hands.

"It is terrible, Ann, that I have to help in this breaking of your heart that is going on. I seem to be the head of the hammer that hits you so hard but the handle is in other hands. Honestly, Ann, I wish I could do the suffering for you—every bit of it—and give your poor heart a rest. Hasn't he written you this summer?"

"Not since July tenth," she answered. Then she confided to Abe the fact that her lover had told her before he went away that his name was not McNeil but McNamar; that he had changed his name to keep clear of his family until he had made a success; that he had gone east to get his father and mother and bring them back with him; lastly she came to the thing that worried her most—the suspicion of her father and mother that John was not honest.

"They say that nobody but a liar would live with a false name," Ann told him. "They say that he probably had a wife when he came here—that that is why he don't write to me."

Then after a little silence she pleaded: "You don't think that, do you, Abe?"

"No," said the latter, giving her the advantage of every doubt. "John did a foolish thing but we must not condemn him without a knowledge of the facts. The young often do foolish things and sickness would account for his silence. But whatever the facts are you mustn't let yourself be slain by disappointment. It isn't fair to your friends. John McNamar may be the best man in the world still the fact remains that it would be a pretty good world even if he were not in it and I reckon there'd be lots of men whose love would be worth having too. You go home and go to sleep and stop worrying, Ann. You'll get that letter one of these days."

A day or two later Abe and Harry went to Springfield. Their reason for the trip lay in a talk between the Postmaster and Jack Kelso the night before as they sat by the latter's fireside.

"I've been living where there was no one to find fault with my parts of speech or with the parts of my legs which were not decently covered," said Abe. "The sock district of my person has been without representation in the legislature of my intellect up to its last session. Then we got a bill through for local improvements and the Governor has approved the appropriation. Suddenly we discovered that there was no money in the treasury. But Samson Traylor has offered to buy an issue of bonds of the amount of fifteen dollars."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse