"You make me feel young and inexperienced."
"You are generally wise, Abe, but there's one thing you don't know—that's the use of capital. For two years Sarah and I have been studying the subject of finance."
"I've seen too little of you in the last year or so," said the young statesman. "What are you going to do now that you have sold out?"
"I was thinking of going up to Tazewell County."
"Why don't you go to the growing and prosperous town of Springfield," Mr. Lincoln asked. "The capitol will be there, and so will I. It is going to be a big city. Men who are to make history will live in Springfield. You must come and help. The state will need a man of your good sense. It would be a great comfort to me to have you and Sarah and Harry and the children near me. I shall need your friendship, your wisdom and your sympathy. I shall want to sit often by your fireside. You'll find a good school there for the children. If you'll think of it seriously, I'll try to get you into the public service."
"We need you plenty," Samson answered. "We kind o' think o' you as one o' the family. I'll talk it over with Sarah and see. Never mind the job. If I keep you behavin' yourself, it'll be job enough. Anyway, I guess we can manage to get along. Sarah's uncle in Boston died last month and left her a little money. If we can get what we have well invested, all I shall need will be a few acres and a few tools and some friends to swap stories with."
"I've had a talk with Stuart and have some good news for Harry and Bim," said young Mr. Lincoln. "Stuart thinks she can get a divorce under the law of 1827. I suppose they are still interested in each other."
"He's like most of the Yankees. Once he gets set, it's hard to change him. The Kelsos have moved to Chicago, and I don't know how Bim stands. If Harry knows, he hasn't said a word to us about it."
"I'm interested in that little romance," said the legislator. "It's our duty to do what we can to secure the happiness of these young lovers. We mustn't neglect that in the pressure of other things. They and their friends are dear to me. Tell Harry to come over here. I want to talk with him."
This dialogue was about the last incident in the visit of Samson Traylor.
Late in the historic session of that spring, wherein the Whigs adopted the convention system of nominations and many plans were made for the expenditure of visionary millions, young Mr. Lincoln received a letter from his friend, Mrs. Bennet Able of New Salem, which conveyed a shock to his nerves. Before, he had gone to the session, Mrs. Able had said to him lightly:
"Abe, I'll ask my sister Mary to come up here for a visit if you'll agree to marry her."
"All right," the young man had answered playfully. He remembered Mary. When he had left Kentucky, years before, Mary—a slender, sweet-faced girl—had been one of those who bade him good-by.
The letter had said among other things: "Mary has come, and now we expect you to keep your word."
No knight of old had a keener sense of chivalry than the young statesman of Salem Hill. It was almost as Quixotic as the excesses at which Cervantes aimed his ridicule. An appalling fear took possession of him—a fear that Mrs. Able and the girl had taken him seriously. It worried him.
About this time Harry Needles arrived in Vandalia. The Legislature had adjourned for a week-end. It was a warm, bright Saturday, early in March. The two friends went out for a stroll in the woods.
"Have you seen Mrs. Able's sister, Mary Owens?" Abe Lincoln asked.
"I've seen her often."
"What kind of a girl is she?"
"A good kind, but-heavy."
"Massive and most of her front teeth gone." Lincoln looked thoughtful.
"You look as if she had stepped on your foot," Harry remarked.
"The fact is I'm engaged to her in a kind of a way."
"Of course that's a joke."
"You're right; it's a joke, but I'm afraid she and her sister have taken it seriously. A man must be careful of the heart of a young woman. After all, it isn't a thing to play with. As usual, when I try to talk with women, I make a fool of myself."
"It would be easier to make a whistle out of a pig's tail than a fool out of you," said Harry. "I have joked like that with Annabel and other girls, but they knew that it was only fun."
"Still true to your old love?"
"As firm as a nail driven in oak," said Harry. "I seem to be built that way. I shall never care much for any other girl."
"Do you hear from Bim?"
"Once in a while I get a long, playful letter from her, full of things that only Bim could write."
"Stuart says she can get a divorce. We know the facts pretty well. If you say so, we'll prepare the papers and you can take them up to Chicago and get them signed and attested. Stuart tells me that we can serve them by advertising."
"Good!" Harry exclaimed. "Get the papers ready as soon as you can and send them up to me. When they come I'll mount that new pony of mine and start for Chicago. If she won't have me, let her take a better man."
"In my opinion Bim will want you," said the legislator. "I'll be coming home in a few days and will bring the papers with me. The session is about over. If the rich men refuse to back our plans, there's going to be a crowd of busted statesmen in Illinois, and I'll be one of 'em."
"Shall you spend the summer in New Salem?"
"I don't know yet what I shall do. First I must tackle the delicate task of getting disengaged from Mary."
"I shouldn't think it would take long," said Harry, with a smile.
"I can tell better after a preliminary survey."
"No doubt Mrs. Able would like to have you marry her sister. She knows that you have a promising future ahead of you. But don't allow her to look serious over that little joke."
Abe Lincoln laughed and said: "Mary would be like the man who traded horses unsight and unseem and drew a saw horse."
Harry returned to New Salem. After the session, young Mr. Lincoln went to Springfield and did not reach New Salem until the first week of May. When he arrived there, Mrs. Able met the stage from which he alighted and asked him to come to supper at her house that evening. Not a word was said of Mary in the excitement, about all the folk of the village having assembled to meet and cheer the triumphant Captain of Internal Improvements. Abe Lincoln went to supper and met Mary, who had a cheerful heart and good manners, and a schooled and active intellect, as well as the defects which Harry had mentioned. She and the young statesman had a pleasant visit together, recalling scenes and events which both remembered from beyond the barrier of a dozen years. On the whole, he was agreeably impressed. The neighbors came in after supper. Mrs. Able kept the comedy moving along by a playful reference to the pseudo engagement of the young people. Mr. Lincoln laughed with the others and said that it reminded him a little of the boy who decided to be president and only needed the consent of the United States.
IN WHICH MR. LINCOLN, SAMSON AND HARRY TAKE A LONG RIDE TOGETHER AND THE LATTER VISIT THE FLOURISHING LITTLE CITY OF CHICAGO.
Mr. Lincoln had brought the papers which Harry was to take to Bim, and made haste to deliver them. The boy was eager to be off on his mission. The fields were sown. The new buyer was coming to take possession in two weeks. Samson and Harry had finished their work in New Salem.
"Wait till to-morrow and maybe I'll go with ye," said Samson. "I'm anxious to see the country clear up to the lake and take a look at that little mushroom city of Chicago."
"And buy a few corner lots?" Abe Lincoln asked, with a smile.
"No; I'll wait till next year. They'll be cheaper then. I believe in Chicago. It's placed right—on the waterway to the north and east, with good country on three sides and transportation on the other. It can go into partnership with Steam Power right away and begin to do business. Your grain and pork can go straight from there to Albany and New York and Boston and Baltimore without being rehandled. When railroads come—if they ever do—Steam Power will be shoving grain and meat and passengers into Chicago from every point of the compass."
Abe Lincoln turned to Sarah and said: "This is a growing country. You ought to see the cities springing up there in the Legislature. I was looking with great satisfaction at the crop when Samson came along one day and fell on it. He was like a frost in midsummer."
"The seed was sown too early," Samson rejoined. "You and I may live to see all the dreams of Vandalia come true."
"And all the nightmares, too," said the young statesman.
"Yes, we're going to wake up and find a cold morning and not much to eat in the house and the wolf at the door, but we'll live through it."
Then the young statesman proposed: "If you are going with Harry, I'll go along and see what they've done on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Some contractors who worked on the Erie Canal will start from Chicago Monday to look the ground over and bid on the construction of the southern end of it. I want to talk with them when they come along down the line."
"I guess a few days in the saddle would do you good," said Samson.
"I reckon it would. I've been cloyed on house air and oratory and future greatness. The prairie wind and your pessimism will straighten me up."
Harry rode to the village that afternoon to get "Colonel" and Mrs. Lukins to come out to the farm and stay with Sarah while he and Samson were away. Harry found the "Colonel" sitting comfortably in a chair by the door of his cabin, roaring with laughter. He had not lived up to his title and was still generally known as "Bony" Lukins.
"What are you roaring at?" Harry demanded.
The "Colonel" was dumb with joy for a moment. Then, with an effort, he straightened his face and managed to say: "Laughin' just 'cause I'm alive." The words were followed by a kind of spiritual explosion followed by a silent ague of merriment. It would seem that his brain had discovered in the human comedy some subtle and persuasive jest which had gone over the heads of the crowd. Yet Harry seemed to catch it, for he, too, began to laugh with the fortunate "Colonel."
"You see," said the latter, as, with great difficulty, he restrained himself for half a moment, "this is my busy day."
Again he roared and shook in a fit of ungovernable mirth. In the midst of it Mrs. Lukins arrived.
"Don't pay no 'tention to him," she said. "The 'Colonel' is wearin' himself out restin'. He's kep' his head bobbin' all day like a woodpecker's. Jest laughs till he's sick every time he an' ol' John gits together. It's plum ridic'lous."
The "Colonel" turned serious long enough to give him time to explain in a quivering, joyous tone: "0l' John, he just sets beside me and says the gol' darndest funniest things!"
He could get no further. His last words were blown out in a gale of laughter. Mrs. Lukins had sat down with her knitting.
"Ol' John Barleycorn will leave to-night, an' to-morrow the 'Colonel' will be the soberest critter in Illinois—kind o' lonesome like an' blubberin' to himself," she explained. The faithful soul added in a whisper of confidence: "He's a good man. There don't nobody know how deep an' kind o' coralapus like he is."
She now paused as if to count stitches. For a long time the word "coralapus" had been a prized possession of Mrs. Lukins. Like her feathered bonnet, it was used only on special occasions by way of putting her best foot forward. It was indeed a family ornament of the same general character as her husband's title. Just how she came by it nobody could tell, but of its general significance, as it fell from her lips; there could be no doubt whatever in any but the most obtuse intellect. For her it had a large and noble, although a rather indefinite meaning, entirely favorable to the person or the object to which it was applied. There was one other word in her lexicon which was in the nature of a jewel to be used only on special occasions. It was the word "copasetic." The best society of Salem Hill understood perfectly that it signalized an unusual depth of meaning.
In half a moment she added: "He's got some grand idees. If they was ever drawed out an' spread on the ground so that folks could see them, I reckon they'd be surprised."
"I'm sorry to find him in this condition," said Harry. "We wanted you and him to come out and help Mrs. Traylor to look after the place while we are gone to Chicago."
"You needn't worry about Ol' John," said she.
"He'll git lonesome an' toddle off when the 'Colonel' goes to bed an' won't come 'round ag'in till snow flies. That man will be just as steady as an ox all the summer an' fall—not a laugh out o' him—you see."
"Can you be there at six in the morning?"
"We'll be there—sure as sunrise—an' ready to go to work."
They were on hand at the hour appointed, the "Colonel" having acquired, meanwhile, his wonted look of solemnity.
Josiah, now a sturdy boy of thirteen, stood in the dooryard, holding the two saddle ponies from Nebraska which Samson had bought of a drover. Betsey, a handsome young miss almost fifteen years old, stood beside him. Sambo, a sober old dog with gray hairs in his head, sat near, looking at the horses. Sarah, whose face had begun to show the wear of years full of loneliness and hard work, was packing the saddle-bags, now nearly filled, with extra socks and shirts and doughnuts and bread and butter. As the travelers were saying good-by, Mrs. Lukins handed a package to Samson.
"I heard Philemon Morris readin' 'bout Chicago in the paper," said she. "I want you to take that money an' buy me some land thar—jest as much as ye kin. There's two hundred an' fifty dollars in the foot o' that ol' sock, and most of it shiny gold."
"I wouldn't risk my savings that way," Samson advised. "It's too much like gambling. You couldn't afford to lose your money."
"You do as I tell ye," the "Colonel's" wife insisted. "I alwus obey your orders. Now I want you to take one from me."
"All right," the man answered. "If I see anything that looks good to me, I'll buy it if I can."
As the two men were riding toward the village, Samson said: "Kind o' makes my heart ache to leave home even for a little while these days. We've had six long, lonesome years on that farm. Not one of our friends have been out to see us. Sarah was right. Movin' west is a good deal like dyin' and goin' to another world. It's a pity we didn't settle further north, but we were tired of travel when we got here. We didn't know which way to turn and felt as if we'd gone far enough. When we settle down again, it'll be where we can take some comfort and see lots o' folks every day."
"Have you decided where to go?" Harry asked.
"I think we shall go with Abe to Springfield."
"That's good. Next year I hope to be admitted to the bar, and I'd like to settle in Springfield."
For nearly two years Abe Lincoln had been passing the law books that he had read to Harry before they went back to John T. Stuart.
The gray horses, Colonel and Pete, stood by the fence in the pasture lot and whinnied as the men passed.
"They know us all right," said Samson. "I guess they feel slighted, but they've had their last journey. They're about worn out. We'll give 'em a vacation this summer. I wouldn't sell 'em. They're a part o' the family. You can lay yer hand on either one and say that no better boss was ever wrapped in a surcingle."
They met Abe Lincoln at the tavern, where he was waiting on a big horse which he had borrowed for the trip from James Rutledge. Without delay, the three men set out on the north road in perfect weather. From the hill's edge they could look over a wooded plain running far to the east.
"It's a beautiful place to live up here, but on this side you need a ladder to get to it. The little village is going to die—too much altitude. It's a horse killer. No team can draw anything but its breath going up that hill. It's all right for a generation of walkers, but the time has come when we must go faster than a walk and carry bigger burdens than a basket or a bundle. Every one will be moving—mostly to Petersburg."
As they rode on, the young statesman repeated a long passage from one of the sermons of Dr. William Ellery Channing on the Instability of Human Affairs.
"I wish that I had your memory," Samson remarked.
"My memory is like a piece of metal," said the young legislator. "Learning is not easy for me. It's rather slow work—like engraving with a tool. But when a thing is once printed on my memory it seems to stay there. It doesn't rub out. When I run across a great idea, well expressed, I like to put it on the wall of my mind where I can live with it. In this way every man can have his own little art gallery and be in the company of great men."
They forded a creek in deep water, where a bridge had been washed away.
As they came out dripping on the farther shore. Lincoln remarked: "The thing to do in fording a deep stream is to keep watch o' your horse's ears. As long as you can see 'em you're all right."
"Mr. Lincoln, I'm sorry—you got into a hole," said Samson.
"I don't mind that, but while we're traveling together, please don't call me 'Mr. Lincoln.' I don't think I've done anything to deserve such lack of respect"
Samson answered: "If you're nice to us, I don't know but we'll call ye 'Abe' again, just for a few days. You can't expect us to go too far with a man who associates with Judges and Generals and Governors and such trash. If you keep it up, you're bound to lose standing in our community."
"I know I've changed," said Abe. "I've grown older since Ann died—years older—but I don't want you fellows to throw me over. I'm on the same level that you are and I intend to stay there. It's a fool notion that men go up some heavenly stairway to another plane when they begin to do things worth while. That's a kind of feudalistic twaddle. The wise man keeps his feet on the ground and lifts his mind as high as possible. The higher he lifts it, the more respect he will have for the common folk. Have either of you seen McNamar since he got back?"
"I saw him the day he drove into the village," Harry answered. "He was expecting to find Ann and make good his promise to marry her."
"Poor fool! It's a sad story all around," said Abe Lincoln. "He's not a bad fellow, I reckon, but he broke Ann's heart. Didn't realize what a tender thing it was. I can't forgive him."
In the middle of the afternoon they came in sight of the home of Henry Brimstead.
"Here's where we stop and feed, and listen to Henry's secrets," said Samson.
The level fields were cut into squares outlined by wooden stakes.
Brimstead was mowing the grass in his dooryard. He dropped his scythe and came to welcome the travelers.
"Say, don't you know that you are standing in the center of a large and promising city?" he said to Samson. "You fellers ought to dress up a little when ye come to town."
"Boys, we've stumbled on to a dream city, paved with gold and arched with rainbows," said Samson.
"You are standing at the corner of Grand Avenue and Empire Street, in the growing city of El Dorado, near the great water highway of Illinois," Brimstead declaimed.
"Where's the growin'?" Samson demanded.
Brimstead came closer and said in a confidential tone: "If you stand right where you are an' listen, you'll hear it growin'."
"It sounds a good deal like a turnip growin' in a garden," Samson remarked, thoughtfully.
"Give it a fair chance," Brimstead went on. "Two cellars have been dug over there in the pasture. One is for the Town Hall and the other for the University which the Methodists are going to build. A railroad has been surveyed and is expected this summer."
"That same railroad has been expected in a thousand places since '32," said Samson.
"I know, it's the most expected thing in the United States but that won't scare it away," Brimstead went on. "Everybody is yellin' for it."
"You can't call a railroad as you would a dog by whistling," Abe warned him.
"But it's got beyond Buffalo on its way," said Brimstead.
"A team of healthy snails would get here soouer," Samson insisted.
"El Dorado can make out with a canal to Lake Michigan, carrying its manufactures and the product of the surrounding country straight to the big cities of the East," said Brimstead. "Every corner lot in my city has been sold and paid for, half cash and half notes."
"The brokers in Chicago got the cash and you got the notes?"
"You've said it. I've got a drawer full of notes."
"And you've quit farmin'?"
"Say, I'll tell ye the land has gone up so it wouldn't pay. Peasley an' I cal'ate that we're goin' to git rich this summer sellin' lots."
"Wake up, man. You're dreamin'," said Samson.
Henry came dose to Samson and said in a confidential tone: "Say, mebbe the whole state is dreamin' an' yellin' in its sleep 'bout canals an' schools an' factories an' mills an' railroads. We're havin' a good time anyway."
This reminded Abe Lincoln of the story:
"There was a man in Pope County who came home one evening and sat down in the middle of the barn floor and began to sing. His wife asked him:
"'Are you drunk or crazy or a fool?'
"'I don't know what you'd call it, but I know I ain't got a darn bit to spare,' he answered, with a whoop of joy."
"You're all goin' to roll out o' bed and hit the floor with a bump," said Samson.
Brimstead declared in his usual tone of confidence:
"The worst part o' bein' a fool is lonesomeness. I was the only one in Flea Valley. Now I shall be in the company of a Governor an' dozens o' well known statesmen. You'll be the only lonesome man in Illinois."
"I sometimes fear that he will enjoy the loneliness of wisdom," said Honest Abe.
"In some parts of the state every farmer owns his own private city," Samson declared. "I hope Henry Brimstead does as well raising cities as he did raising grain. He was a very successful farmer."
"I knew you'd make fun o' me but when you come again you'll see the towers an' steeples," said Brimstead. "Put up your horses and come into the house and see the first lady of El Dorado."
Mrs. Brimstead had their dinner cooking before the horses were cared for. Samson went into the house while Henry was showing his El Dorado map to the others.
"Well, what do you think of Henry's plans?" she asked.
"I like the farm better."
"So do I," the woman declared. "But the men around here have gone crazy with dreams of sudden wealth. I kept Henry busy on the farm as long as I could."
"I've only a word of advice about it. If those Chicago men sell any more of your land make them take the notes and you take the money. Where is Annabel?"
"Teaching the school at Hopedale."
"We're going up to Chicago to see the Kelsos," said Samson.
"Glad you are. Some rich feller up there by the name of Davis has fallen in love with Bim an' he don't give her any peace. He left here last night goin' north. Owns a lot o' land in Tazewell County an' wears a diamond in his shirt as big as your thumb nail. Bim has been teaching school in Chicago this winter. It must be a wonderful place. Every one has loads of money. The stores an' houses are as thick as the hair on a dog's back-some of 'em as big as all outdoors."
She added in a moment as she stirred her pudding: "Something ought to be done for Bim to get her free."
"We're going to see about that," Samson assured her.
"Harry had better look out," said Mrs. Brimstead.
"Abe is going to get a divorce for her an' I guess from now on the grass won't have a chance to grow under Harry's feet. The boy has worried a good deal lately. Wouldn't wonder if he'd heard o' those rich fellers but he hasn't let on about it."
Abe Lincoln and Harry entered with their host and the travelers sat down to a luncheon of pudding and milk and doughnuts and pie.
"There's no El Dorado about this," said Samson. "Women have to have something more than hopes to work with."
"The women in this country have to do all their dreaming at night," said Mrs. Brimstead.
"El Dorado will not stay long," Samson averred.
"It wouldn't cost much to shoo it off your land," Abe laughed.
"You can't either shoo or shoot it," said Brimstead.
"I look for it just to take the rickets an' die," was the comment of his wife.
"How far do you call it to the sycamore woods?" Lincoln asked as they rose from the table.
"About thirty mile," said Brimstead.
"We must be off if we are to get there before dark," the young statesman declared.
They saddled their horses and mounted and rode up to the door. After their acknowledgments and farewells Brimstead came close to Samson and said in confidence: "I enjoy bein' a millionaire for a few minutes now an' then. It's as good as goin' to a circus an' cheaper."
"The feelings of a millionaire are almost as good as the money while they last," said Abe Lincoln with a laugh.
Brimstead came up to him and whispered: "They're better 'cause if you can keep away from Samson Traylor you don't have any fear o' bein' robbed."
"It reminds me o' the time I used to play I was a horse," said Samson as they rode away. In a moment he added: "Abe, the state is getting in a bad way."
"It looks as if you were right," said the member from Sangamon County. "It's a bad sign to find men like Peasley and Brimstead going crazy."
Up the road they passed many farms unsown and staked into streets and avenues. The hand of industry had been checked by dreams of wealth.
"The land that once laughed with fatness now has a lean and solemn look," Abe admitted. "But I reckon you'll find that kind of thing going on all over the country-east and west."
"It reminds me of those fellers that danced on the table an' smashed the dishes at the banquet," said Samson.
"They had the same kind o' feelin's that Brimstead has," said the legislator. "I wish we had had you in the House."
"They would have thrown me out of a window."
"I wouldn't wonder but I reckon the time is near when they would urge you to come in at the door. You've got more good sense than all of us put together. I've heard you accuse me of growing but your own growth has astonished me."
"No one can stand still in this country especially if he's got a wife like mine," Samson answered. "Even Mr. and Mrs. Peter Lukins want to be movin' on, an' a city is likely to come an' sit down beside ye when ye ain't lookin'."
"Your wife is a wonderful woman," said Abe.
"She's been a great help to me," Samson declared. "We read together and talk the matter over. She's got better sense than I have."
"And yet they say women ought not to vote," said Lincoln. "That's another relic of feudalism. I think that the women you and I know are as well qualified to vote as the men."
"On the whole better. They are more industrious, thrifty and dependable. Have you ever seen a 'Colonel' Lukins or a Bap McNoll in woman's dress?"
"Never. Democracy has much ground to win. For my part I believe that the Declaration of Independence is a practical document. My ambition is to see its truth accepted everywhere. As a contribution to human welfare its principles are second only to the law of Moses. It should be our work to keep the structure of America true to the plan of its architects."
After a moment of silence Lincoln added: "What is your ambition?"
"It is very modest," said Samson. "I've been thinking that I'd like to go into some kind of business and help develop the West."
"Well some one has got to provide our growing population with food and clothing and tools and transportation."
"And see that they don't get El Doradoed," said Harry.
At early candlelight they reached the sycamore woods very hungry. It was a beautiful grove-like forest on the shore of a stream. The crossing was a rough bridge of corduroy. A crude log tavern and a cruder store stood on the farther shore of the creek. The tavern was a dirty place with a drunken proprietor. Three ragged, shiftless farmers and a half-breed Indian sat in its main room in varying stages of inebriacy. A well dressed, handsome, young man with a diamond in his shirt-front was leading a horse back and forth in the stable yard. The diamond led Samson to suspect that he was the man Davis of whom Mrs. Brimstead had spoken. Our travelers, not liking the look of the place, got some oats and rode on, camping near the farther edge of the woods, where they built a fire, fed and tethered their horses and sat down and ate from the store in their saddle-bags.
"I was hankering for a hot supper," said Abe as they began eating. "Washington Irving wrote in his journal that if he couldn't get a dinner to suit his taste he endeavored to get a taste to suit his dinner. That is what we must do."
They made out very well in the undertaking and then with their knives Abe and Samson cut big armfuls of grass from the near prairie for the horses and a bed upon which the three men lay down for the night. Harry had dried out their saddle-blankets by the fire and these were their bed clothing.
"This hay may have some bugs in it but they won't tickle so bad as those in the tavern," Abe laughed.
Then Harry remarked: "There was lots of bad company in that tavern. The towel that hung over the washstand was as black as the ground."
"It reminded me of the tavern down in Pope County," Abe yawned. "A traveler found fault with the condition of its one towel and the landlord said: 'Go to h—ll, stranger. More than fifty men have used that towl to-day an' you're the first one that's complained of it.'"
Samson had that gift of "sleeping with one eye open" which the perils of the wilderness had conferred upon the pioneer. He had lain down on the side of their bed near the horses, which, were tethered to trees only a few feet away. He had gone to sleep with his pistol under his right hand. Since the beginning of that long journey overland from Vermont Samson had been wont to say that his right hand never slept. Late in the night ha was awakened by an unusual movement among the horses. In the dim light of the fire he could see a man in the act of bridling Abe's horse.
"Hold up your hands," Samson shouted as he covered the man with his pistol. "If ye stir a foot I'll bore a hole in ye."
The man threw up his hands and stood still.
In half a moment Abe Lincoln and Harry had got up and captured the man and the loosed horse.
This is part of the entry which Samson made in his diary a week or so later:
* * * * *
"Harry put some wood on the fire while Abe and I led him up into the light. He was one of the dirty white men we had seen at the tavern.
"'I'll give ye four hundred dollars for a hogs in good Michigan money,' he said.
"'If ye can't steal a horse you're willin' to buy one,' I says.
"'No, sir. I only come to buy,' says he.
"I flopped him sudden and asked him why he was putting on the bridle.
"He owned up then. Said a man had hired him to steal the horse.
"'That man has got to have a hoss,' he said. 'He'll give ye any price ye want to ask. If you'll give me a few dollars I'll take ye to him.'
"'You go and bring him here and I'll talk to him,' I said.
"I let the feller go. I didn't suppose he'd come back but he did. Came a little before sunrise with that well dressed feller we saw at the tavern.
"'Do you want to buy a horse?' I says.
"'Yes, sir, I've got to get to Chicago to-day if possible.'
"'What's your hurry?'
"'I have engagements to-morrow and land to sell.'
"'How did ye get here?'
"'Came up from Tazewell County to-day on a horse. It died last evening.'
"'What's your name?' I says.
"He handed me a card on which I read the words 'Lionel Davis, Real Estate, Loans and Insurance, 14 South Water Street, Chicago, Ill.'
"'There's one branch o' your business that isn't mentioned on the card,' I says.
"'What's that?' says he.
"'Horse-thief,' says I. 'You sent that feller here to steal a horse and he got caught.'
"'Well I told him if he'd get me a good horse I'd give him five hundred dollars and that I didn't care how he got him. The fact is I'm desperate. I'll give you a thousand dollars for one of your horses.'
"'You couldn't buy one of 'em at any price,' I said. 'There's two reasons. I wouldn't do business with a horse-thief and no money would tempt me to sell an animal to be ridden to death.'
"The two thieves had had enough of us and they got out."
* * * * *
That night our party camped on the shore of the Kankakee and next day they met the contractors. Lincoln joined the latter party and Harry and Samson went on alone. Late that afternoon they crossed the nine mile prairie, beyond which they could see the shimmer of the lake and the sunlit structures of the new city. Pink and white moccasin flowers and primroses were thick in the grass. On the lower ground the hoofs of their horses plashed in wide stretches of shallow water.
Chicago looked very bare on the high prairie above the lake. It was Mr. William Cullen Bryant who said that it had the look of a huckster in his shirt-sleeves.
"There it is," said Samson. "Four thousand, one hundred and eighty people live there. It looks like a sturdy two-year-old."
The houses were small and cheaply built and of many colors. Some were unpainted. Near the prairie they stood like people on the outer edge of a crowd, looking over one another's shoulders and pushing in a disordered mass toward the center of interest. Some seemed to have straggled away as if they had given up trying to see or hear. So to one nearing it the town had a helter-skelter look.
Our travelers passed rough boarded houses with grand-looking people in their dooryards and on their small porches—men in broadcloth and tall hats and ladies in silk dresses. It was six o'clock and the men had come home to supper. As the horsemen proceeded larger buildings surrounded them, mostly two stories high. There were some stores and houses built of red brick. Beyond the scatter of cheap, wooden structures they came to streets well laid out and crowded and busy and "very soft" to quote a phrase from the diary. Teams were struggling in the mud, drivers shouting and lashing. Agents for hotels and boarding-houses began to solicit the two horsemen from the plank sidewalks. The latter were deeply impressed by a negro in scarlet clothes, riding a horse in scarlet housings. He carried a scarlet banner and was advertising in a loud voice the hour and place of a great land sale that evening.
A sound of many hammers beating upon boards could be heard above the noises of the street and behind all was the constant droning of a big steam saw and the whir of the heavy stones in the new grist mill. It was the beginning of that amazing diapason of industry which accompanied the building of the cities of the West.
They got out in the livery stable of the City Hotel and at the desk of the latter asked about the price of board. It was three dollars a day and no politeness in the offer.
"It's purty steep," said Samson. "But I'm too hungry for argument or delay and I guess we can stand it to be nabobs for a day or so."
"I shall have to ask you to pay in advance," the clerk demanded.
Samson drew out the pig's bladder in which he carried his money and paid for a day's board.
Samson writes that Harry spent half an hour washing and dressing himself in the clean clothes and fine shoes which he had brought in his saddle-bags and adds:
* * * * *
"He was a broad-shouldered, handsome chap those days, six feet and an inch high and straight as an arrow with a small blond mustache. His clothes were rumpled up some and he wore a gray felt hat instead of a tall one but there was no likelier looking lad in the new city."
* * * * *
After supper the office of the hotel was crowded with men in tall hats and tail coats smoking "seegars" and gathered in groups. The earnestness of their talk was signalized by little outbursts of profanity coupled with the name of Jackson. Some denounced the President as a traitor. One man stood in the midst of a dozen others delivering a sort of oration, embellished with noble gestures, on the future of Illinois. His teeth were clenched on his "seegar" that tilted out of the corner of his mouth as he spoke. Now and then he would pause and by a deft movement of his lips roll the "seegar" to the other corner of his mouth, take a fresh grip on it and resume his oration.
Samson wrote in his diary:
"He said a lot of foolish things that made us laugh."
Twenty years later he put this note under that entry:
"The funny thing about it was really this; they all came true."
The hotel clerk had a Register of the Residents of the City of Chicago wherein they found the name and address of John Kelso. They went out to find the house. Storekeepers tried to stop them as they passed along the street with offers of land at bargains which would make them millionaires in a week. In proceeding along the plank sidewalks they were often ascending or descending steps to another level.
They went to a barber shop and got "trimmed and shaved." For change the barber gave them a sort of shinplaster money, each piece of which bore the legend: "Good for one shave or ten cents at the Palace Shaving Parlors, 16 Dearborn Street, Chicago, Ill." The barber assured them it was as good as coin anywhere in the city which they found to be true. The town was flooded with this "red dog money" issued by stores or work-shops and finding general acceptance among its visitors and inhabitants. On the sidewalks were emigrant families the older members of which carried heavy bags and bundles. They were followed by troops of weary, dirty children.
On La Salle Street they found the home of Jack Kelso. It was a rough boarded small house a story and a half high. It had a little porch and dooryard enclosed by an unpainted picket fence. Bim in a handsome, blue silk gown came running out to meet them.
"If you don't mind I'm going to kiss you," she said to Harry.
"I'd mind if you didn't," said the young man as he embraced her.
"We must be careful not to get the habit," she laughed.
"It grows on one."
"It also grows on two," she answered.
"I'd enjoy being careless for once," said Harry.
"Women can be extravagant with everything but carelessness," she insisted. "Do you like this gown?"
"It is lovely—like yourself."
"Then perhaps you will be willing to take me to the party to-night. My mother will chaperon us."
"With these clothes that have just been hauled out of a saddle-bag?" said Harry with a look of alarm.
"Even rags could not hide the beauty of him," said Kelso as he came down from the porch to greet them. "And look at her," he went on. "Was there ever a fairer maid in spite of all her troubles? See the red in her cheeks and the diamond glow of youth and health in her eyes. You should see the young men sighing and guitaring around her."
"You'll hear me tuning up," Harry declared.
"That is father's way of comforting my widowhood," said Bim. "He has made a wonderful beauty mask and often he claps it on me and whistles up a band of sighing lovers. As a work of the imagination I am a great success."
"The look of you sets my heart afire again," the boy exclaimed.
"Come—put up your guitar and take mother and me to the party at Mrs. Kinzie's," said Bim. "A very grand young man was coming to take us in a wonderful carriage but he's half an hour late now. We won't wait for him."
So the three set out together afoot for Mrs. Kinzie's, while Samson sat down for a visit with Jack Kelso.
"Mrs. Kinzie enjoys the distinction of owning a piano," said Bim as they went on. "There are only three pianos In the city and so far we have discovered only two people who can play on them—the music teacher and a young gentleman from Baltimore. When they are being played on people gather around the houses where they are."
The Kinzies' house was of brick and larger and more pretentious than any in Chicago. Its lawn, veranda and parlor were crowded with people in a curious variety of costumes.
Nearly all the festive company wore diamonds. They scintillated on fingers, some of which were knotted with toil; they glowed on shirt bosoms and morning as well as evening gowns; on necks and ears which should have been spared the emphasis of jewels. They were the accepted badge and token of success. People who wore them not were either new arrivals or those of questionable wealth and taste. So far had this singular vanity progressed that a certain rich man, who had lost a finger in a saw mill, wore an immense solitaire next to the stub, it may be presumed, as a memorial to the departed.
Colonel Zachary Taylor, who had laterly arrived from Florida and was presently returning with a regiment of recruits for the Seminole War, was at Mrs. Kinzie's party. He was then a man of middle age with iron gray hair and close cropped side whiskers. A splendid figure he was in his uniform. He remembered Harry and took him in hand and introduced him to many of his friends as the best scout in the Black Hawk War, and, in spite of his dress, the young man became one of the lions of the evening.
"I reckon I could tell you some things about this boy," the Colonel said to Bim.
"He may not be afraid of guns or Indians but he has always been scared of women," said she.
"Which shows that he has a just sense of the relative importance of perils," the Colonel answered. "A man of the highest chivalry is ever afraid in the presence of a lovely woman and chiefly for her sake. I once held a beautiful vase in my hands. They said it was worth ten thousand dollars. I was afraid until I had put it down."
"A great piano player from New York" was introduced. She played on Mrs. Kinzie's instrument, after which Bim sang a number of Scottish ballads and "delightfully" if one may believe a chronicler so partial as Harry Needles, the value of whose judgment is somewhat affected by the statement in his diary that as she stood by the piano her voice and beauty set his heart thumping in his breast. However of the charm and popularity of this young lady there is ample evidence in copies of The Democrat which are still preserved and in sundry letters and journals of that time.
The refreshment table was decorated with pyramids of quartered oranges in nets of spun sugar and large frosted cakes. There were roasted pigeons and turkeys and chickens and a big ham, served with jelly, and platters of doughnuts and bread and butter and cabbage salad. Every one ate heartily and was served often, for the supper was thought to be the most important feature of a party those days.
After refreshments the men went outside to smoke and talk—some with pipes—of canals, railroads and corner lots while the younger people were dancing and being proudly surveyed by their mothers.
As Harry and the ladies were leaving Colonel Taylor came to them and said:
"Young man, I am the voice of your country. I call you to Florida. Will you go with us next week?"
Harry looked into Bim's eyes.
"The campaign will be over in a year and I need you badly," the Colonel urged.
"I can not say no to the call of my country," Harry answered. "I will join your regiment at Beardstown on its way down the river."
That night Harry and Bim stood by the gate talking after Mrs. Kelso had gone into the house.
"Bim, I love you more than ever," said the boy. "Abe says you can get a divorce. I have brought the papers for you to sign. They will make you free. I have done it for your sake. You will be under no obligation. I want you to be free to marry whom you will. I would be the happiest man in the world if you were to choose me. I haven't the wealth of some of these city men. I can only offer you my love."
"Be careful and please let go of my hand," she said. "The time has come when it would be possible to spoil our story. I'm not going to say a word of love to you. I am not free yet. We couldn't marry if we wanted to. I wish you to be under no sense of obligation to me. Many things may happen in a year. I am glad you are going to see more of the world before you settle down, Harry. You will stop in New Orleans and see some of its beautiful women. It will help you to be sure to know yourself a little better and to be sure of what you want to do."
There was a note of sadness in her voice as she spoke these words which be recalled with a sense of comfort on many a lonely day.
"I think that I know myself fairly well," he answered. "There are so many better men who want to marry you! I shall go away with a great fear in me."
"There are no better men," she answered. "When you get back we shall see what comes of our little romance. Meanwhile I'm going to pray for you."
"And I for you," he said as he followed her into the house where the older people sat waiting for them. Harry gave the papers to Bim to be signed and attested and forwarded to Mr. Stuart in Springfield.
On their way to the hotel Samson said to Harry:
"I don't believe Bim is going to be carried away by any of these high-flyers. She's getting to be a very sensible person. Jack is disgusted by what he calls 'the rank commercialism of the place.' I told him about that horse-thief Davis. He was the man who was going to the party to-night with the ladies. He's in love with Bim. Jack says that the men here are mostly of that type. They seem to have gone crazy in the scramble for riches. Their motto is: 'Get it; do it honestly if you can, but get it.' I guess that was exactly the plan of Davis in trying to get a horse.
"Poor Jack has caught the plague. He has invested in land. Thinks it will make him rich. He's in poor health too—kidney trouble—and Bim has a baby with all the rest—a beautiful boy. I went up-stairs and saw him asleep in his cradle. Looks like her. Hair as yellow as gold, light complexion, blue eyes, handsome as a picture."
That night in the office of the City Hotel they found Mr. Lionel Davis in the midst of a group of excited speculators. In some way he had got across the prairies and was selling his land and accepting every offer on the plea that he was going into the grain business in St. Louis and had to leave Chicago next day. Samson and Harry watched him while he exercised the arts of the auctioneer in cleaning his slate. Diamonds and gold watches were taken and many thousands of dollars in bank bills and coin came into his hands. He choked the market with bargains. The buyers began to back off. They were like hungry dogs laboring with a difficult problem of mastication. Mr. Davis closed his carpet bag and left.
"It was a kind of horse stealin'," said Samson as they were going to bed. "He got news down there on the main road by pony express on its way to St. Louis. I'll bet there's been a panic in the East. He's awake and the others are still dreamin'."
WHEREIN IS ONE OF THE MANY PRIVATE PANICS WHICH FOLLOWED THE BURSTING OF THE BUBBLE OF SPECULATION.
Samson and Harry saw the bursting of the great bubble of '37. Late that night Disaster, loathsome and thousand legged, crept into the little city. It came on a steamer from the East and hastened from home to home, from tavern to tavern. It bit as it traveled. Great banks had suspended payment; New York had suffered a panic; many large business enterprises in the East had failed; certain agents for the bonds of Illinois had absconded with the state's money; in the big cities there had been an ominous closing of doors and turning of locks; a great army of men were out of employment. Those of sound judgment in Chicago knew that all the grand schemes of the statesmen and speculators of Illinois were as the visions of an ended dream. The local banks did not open their doors next day. The little city was in a frenzy of excitement. The streets were filled with a shouting, half crazed throng. New fortunes had shrunk to nothing and less than nothing in a night. Lots in the city were offered for a tithe of what their market value had been. Davis had known that the storm would arrive with the first steamer and in the slang of business had put on a life-preserver. Samson knew that the time to buy was when every one wanted to sell. He wore a belt with some two thousand dollars of gold coin tucked away in its pockets. He bought two corner lots for himself in the city and two acres for Mrs. Lukins on the prairie half a mile from town. They got their deeds and went to the Kelsos to bid them good-by.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" Samson asked.
"Just give us a friendly thought now and then," said Kelso.
"You can have my horse or my wallet or the strength of my two hands."
"I have heard you called a damned Yankee but I can think of no greater blessing than to be damned in a like manner," Kelso answered. "Keep your largess for those who need it more, good friend."
After these hearty farewells Samson and Harry set out for their home. They were not again to see the gentle face and hear the pleasant talk of Jack Kelso. He had once said, in the presence of the writer, that it is well to remember, always, that things can not go on with us as they are. Changes come—slowly and quite according to our calculations or so swiftly and Unexpectedly that they fill us with confusion. Learned and wise in the weighty problems of humanity he had little prudence in regulating the affairs of his own family.
Kelso had put every dollar he had and some that he hoped to have into land. Bim, who had been teaching in one of the schools, had invested all her savings in a dream city on the shore of an unconstructed canal.
Like many who had had no experience with such phenomena they underestimated the seriousness of the panic. They thought that, in a week or so, its effect would pass and that Illinois would then resume its triumphal march toward its high destiny. Not even Samson Traylor had a correct notion of the slowness of Time.
The effect of the panic paralyzed the city. Men whose "red dog money" was in every one's pocket closed their shops and ran away. The wild adventurers cleared out. Their character may be judged by the words of one of them reported by the editor of The Democrat.
"I failed for a hundred thousand dollars and could have failed for a million if Jackson had kept his hands off."
Hard times hung like a cloud over the city. Its population suffered some diminishment in the next two years in spite of its position on the main highway of trade. Dream cities, canals and railroads built without hands became a part of the poetry of American commerce. Indeed they had come of the prophetic vision and were therefore entitled to respect in spite of the fact that they had been smirched and polluted by speculators.
That autumn men and women who had come to Mrs. Kinzie's party in jewels and in purple and fine linen had left or turned their hands to hard labor. The Kelsos suffered real distress, the schools being closed and the head of the house having taken to his bed with illness. Bim went to work as a seamstress and with the help of Mrs. Kinzie and Mrs. Hubbard was able to keep the family from want. The nursing and the care of the baby soon broke the health of Mrs. Kelso, never a strong woman. Bim came home from her work one evening and found her mother ill.
"Cheer up, my daughter," said Jack. "An old friend of ours has returned to the city. He is a rich man—an oasis in the desert of poverty. He has loaned me a hundred dollars in good coin."
"Who has done this?" Bim asked.
"Mr. Lionel Davis. He has just come from New Orleans. He is a successful speculator in grain."
"We must not take his money," said Bim.
"I had a long talk with him," Kelso went on. "He has explained that unfortunate incident of the horse. It was a bit of offhand folly born of an anxious moment."
"But the man wants to marry me."
"He said nothing of such a purpose."
"He will be in no hurry about that," said Bim. "He is a shrewd operator. Every one hates him. They say that he knew what was coming when he sold out."
That evening Bim wrote a long letter to Samson Traylor telling of the evil days which had come to them. This letter, now in the possession of a great grandson of Samson and Sarah Traylor, had a singular history. It reached the man to whom it was addressed in the summer of 1844. It was found with many others that summer in Tazewell County under a barn which its owner was removing. It brought to mind the robbery of the stage from Chicago, south of the sycamore woods, in the autumn of '37, by a man who had ridden with the driver from Chicago and who, it was thought, had been in collusion with him. A curious feature of the robbery had been revealed by the discovery of the mail sack. It was unopened, its contents undisturbed, its rusty padlock still in place. The perpetrator of the crime had not soiled his person with any visible evidence of guilt and so was never apprehended.
Then for a time Bim entered upon great trials. Jack Kelso weakened. Burning with fever, his mind wandered in the pleasant paths he loved and saw in its fancy the deeds of Ajax and Achilles and the topless towers of Illium and came not back again to the vulgar and prosaic details of life. The girl knew not what to do. A funeral was a costly thing. She had no money. The Kinzies had gone on a hunting trip in Wisconsin. Mrs. Hubbard was ill and the Kelsos already much in her debt. Mr. Lionel Davis came.
He was a good-looking young man of twenty-nine, those days, rather stout and of middle stature with dark hair and eyes. He was dressed in the height of fashion. He used to boast that he had only one vice—diamonds. But he had ceased to display them on his shirt-front or his fingers. He carried them in his pockets and showed them by the glittering handful to his friends. They had come to him through trading in land where they were the accepted symbol of success and money was none too plentiful. He had melted their settings and turned them into coin. The stones he kept as a kind of surplus—a half hidden evidence of wealth and of superiority to the temptation to vulgar display. Mr. Davis was a calculating, masterful, keen-minded man, with a rather heavy jaw. In his presence Bim was afraid for her soul that night. He was gentle and sympathetic. He offered to lend her any amount she needed. She made no answer but sat trying to think what she would best do. The Traylors had paid no attention to her letter although a month had passed since it was written.
In a moment she rose and gave him her hand.
"It is very kind of you," said she. "If you can spare me five hundred dollars for an indefinite time I will take it."
"Let me lend you a thousand," he urged. "I can do it without a bit of inconvenience."
"I think that five hundred will be enough," she said.
It carried her through that trouble and into others of which her woman's heart had found abundant signs in the attitude of Mr. Davis. He gave the most assiduous attention to the comfort of Bim and her mother. He had had a celebrated physician come down from Milwaukee to see Mrs. Kelso and had paid the bill in advance. He bought a new and wonderful swinging crib of burnished steel for the baby.
"I can not let you be doing these things for us," Bim said one evening when he had called to see them.
"And I can not help loving you and doing the little I can to express it," he answered. "There is no use in my trying to keep it from you when I find myself lying awake nights planning for your comfort. I would like to make every dollar I have tell you in some way that I love you. That's how I feel and you might as well know it."
"You have been kind to us," Bim answered. "We feel it very deeply but I can not let you talk to me like that. I am a married woman."
"We can fix that all right. It will be easy for you to get a divorce."
"But I do not love you, Mr. Davis."
"Let me try to make you love me," he pleaded. "Is there any reason why I shouldn't?"
"Yes. If there were no other reason, I love a young soldier who is fighting in the Seminole War in Florida under Colonel Taylor."
"Well, at least, you can let me take the place of your father and shield you from trouble when I can."
"You are a most generous and kindly man!" Bim exclaimed with tears in her eyes.
So he seemed to be, but he was one of those men who weave a spell like that of an able actor. He excited temporary convictions that began to change as soon as the curtain fell. He was in fact a performer. That little midnight scene at the City Hotel had sounded the keynote of his character. He was no reckless villain of romance. If he instigated the robbery of the south-bound mail wagon, of which the writer of this little history has no shadow of doubt, he was so careful about it that no evidence which would satisfy a jury has been discovered to this day.
On account of the continued illness of her mother Bim was unable to resume her work in the academy. She took what sewing she could do at home and earned enough to solve the problems of each day. But the payment coming due on the house in December loomed ahead of them. It was natural, in the circumstances, that Mrs. Kelso should like Mr. Davis and favor his aims. Now and then he came and sat with her of an evening while Bim went out to the shops—an act of accommodation which various neighbor women were ever ready to perform.
Mrs. Kelso's health had improved slowly so that she was able then to spend most of each day in her chair.
One evening when Davis sat alone with her, she told him the story of Bim and Harry Needles—a bit of knowledge he was glad to have. Their talk was interrupted by the return of Bim. She was in a cheerful mood. When Mr. Davis had gone she said to her mother:
"I think our luck has turned. Here's a letter from John T. Stuart. The divorce has been granted."
"Thank the Lord," Mrs. Kelso exclaimed. "Long ago I knew bad luck was coming; since the day your father carried an axe through the house."
"Pshaw! I don't believe in that kind of nonsense."
"My father would sooner break his leg than carry an edged tool through the house," Mrs. Kelso affirmed. "Three times I have known it to bring sickness. I hope a change has come."
"No. Bad luck comes when you carry all your money through the house and spend it for land. I am going to write to Harry and tell him to hurry home and marry me if he wants to. Don't say a word about the divorce to our friend Davis. I want to make him keep his distance. It is hard enough now."
Before she went to bed that night she wrote a long letter to Harry and one to Abe Lincoln thanking him for his part in the matter and telling him of her father's death, of the payment coming due and of the hard times they were suffering. Two weeks passed and brought no answer from Mr. Lincoln.
The day before the payment came due in December, a historic letter from Tampa, Fla., was published in The Democrat. It was signed "Robert Deming, private, Tenth Cavalry." It gave many details of the campaign in the Everglades in which the famous scout Harry Needles and seven of his comrades had been surrounded and slain. When Mr. Davis called at the little home in La Salle Street that evening he found Bim in great distress.
"I throw up my hands," she said. "I can not stand any more. We shall be homeless to-morrow."
"No, not that—so long as I live," he answered. "I have bought the claim. You can pay me when you get ready."
He was very tender and sympathetic.
When he had left them Bim said to her mother: "Our old friends do not seem to care what becomes of us. I have no thought now save for you and the baby. I'll do whatever you think best for you two. I don't care for myself. My heart is as dead as Harry's."
WHICH TELLS OF THE SETTLING OF ABE LINCOLN AND THE TRAYLORS IN THE VILLAGE OF SPRINGFIELD AND OF SAMSON'S SECOND VISIT TO CHICAGO.
Bim's judgment of her old friends was ill founded. It was a slow time in which she lived. The foot of the horse, traveling and often mired in a rough muddy highway, was its swiftest courier. Letters carried by horses or slow steamboats were the only media of communication between people separated by wide distances. The learned wrote letters of astonishing length and literary finish—letters which were passed from hand to hand and read aloud in large and small assemblies. They presented the news and the comment it inspired. In these old and generous letters, which antedate the railroad and the telegraph, critics have discovered one of the most delicate and informing of the lost arts—the epistolary. But to the average hand, wearied by heavy tools, the lightsome goose quill, committing its owner to dubious spelling and clumsy penmanship, and exposing the interior of his intellect, was a dreaded thing. When old Black Hawk signed a treaty he was wont to say that he had "touched it with the goose quill." He made only a little mark whereupon a kind of sanctity was imparted to the document. Every man unaccustomed to its use stood in like awe of this implement. When he "took his pen in hand" he had entered upon an adventure so unusual that his letter always mentioned it as if, indeed, it were an item of news not to be overlooked. So it is easy to understand that many who had traveled far were as the dead, in a measure, to the friends they had left behind them and that those separated by only half a hundred miles had to be very enterprising to keep acquainted.
In March Abe Lincoln had got his license to practise law. On his return from the North he had ridden to Springfield to begin his work as a lawyer in the office of John T. Stuart. His plan was to hire and furnish a room arid get his meals at the home of his friend, Mr. William Butler. He went to the store of Joshua Speed to buy a bed and some bedding. He found that they would cost seventeen dollars.
"The question is whether you would trust a man owing a national debt and without an asset but good intentions and a license to practise law for so much money," said Honest Abe. "I don't know when I could pay you."
Speed was also a young man of good intentions and a ready sympathy f or those who had little else. He had heard of the tall representative from Sangamon County.
"I have a plan which will give you a bed for nothing if you would care to share my room above the store and sleep with me," he answered.
"I'm much obliged but for you it's quite a contract."
"You're rather long," Speed laughed.
"Yes, I could lick salt off the top of your hat. I'm about a man and a half but by long practice I've learned how to keep the half out of the way of other people. They say that when Long John Wentworth got to Chicago he slept with his feet sticking out of a window and that they had to take down a partition because he couldn't stand the familiarity of the woodpeckers, but he is eight inches taller than I am."
"I'm sure we shall get along well enough together," said Speed.
They went up to the room. In a moment Mr. Lincoln hurried away for his saddle-bags and returned shortly.
"There are all my earthly possessions," he said as he threw the bags on the floor.
So his new life began in the village of Springfield. Early in the autumn Samson arrived and bought a small house and two acres of land on the edge of the village and returned to New Salem to move his family and furniture. When they drove along the top of Salem Hill a number of the houses were empty and deserted, their owners having moved away. Two of the stores were closed. Only ten families remained. They stopped at Rutledge's tavern whose entertainment was little sought those days. People from the near houses came to bid them good-by. Dr. John Allen was among them.
"Sorry to see you going," he said. "With you and Abe and Jack Kelso gone it has become a lonely place. There's not much left for me but the long view from the end of the hill and the singing in the prairie grass."
Pete and Colonel, invigorated by their long rest, but whitened by age and with drooping heads, drew the wagon. Sambo and the small boy rode between Sarah and Samson. Betsey and Josiah walked ahead of the wagon, the latter leading a cow. That evening they were comfortably settled in their new home. Moving was not such a complicated matter those days. Abe Lincoln was on hand to bid them welcome and help get their goods in place. He had borrowed fire and cut some wood and there was a cheering blaze in the fireplace on the arrival of the newcomers. When the beds were set up and ready for the night Sarah made some tea to go with the cold victuals she had brought. Mr. Lincoln ate with them and told of his new work.
"So far I've had nothing more important to do than proving damage in cases of assault and battery," he said. "There is many a man who, when he thinks he has been wronged, proceeds to take it out of the hide of the other feller. The hides of Illinois have suffered a good deal in that way. It is very annoying. Generally I stand for the hides. They need a friend and protector. When people take the law in their hands it gets badly worn and mussed up. In a little while there isn't any law. Next week I begin my first turn on the circuit."
"It seems good to see folks around us," said Sarah. "I believe we shall enjoy ourselves here."
"It's a wonderful place," Lincoln declared with enthusiasm. "There are fine stores and churches and sociables and speeches and theater shows."
"Yes. It's bigger than Vergennes," said Sarah.
"And you're goin' to have time to enjoy it," Samson broke in. "There'll be no farm work and Betsey and Josiah are old enough to be quite a help."
"How the girl is developing!" Abe exclaimed. "I believe she will look like Bim in a year or two."
Betsey was growing tall and slim. She had the blonde hair and fair skin of Samson and the dark eyes of her mother. Josiah had grown to be a bronzed, sturdy, good-looking lad, very shy and sensitive.
"There's a likely boy!" said Samson as he clapped the shoulder of his eldest son. "He's got a good heart In him."
"You'll spoil him with praise," Sarah protested and then asked as she turned to the young statesman. "Have you heard from Bim or any of the Kelsos?"
"Not a word. I often think of them."
"There's been a letter in the candle every night for a week or so, but we haven't heard a word from Harry or from them," said Sarah. "I wonder how they're getting along in these hard times."
"I told Jack to let me know if I could do anything to help," Samson assured them.
Sarah turned to Abe Lincoln with a smile and said: "As we were coming through the village Mary Owens asked me to tell you that on account of the hard times she was not going to have a public wedding."
The chairman of the finance committee laughed and answered: "That old joke is still alive. She writes me now and then and tells me what she is doing in the way of preparation. It's really a foolish little farce we have been playing in—a kind of courtship to avoid marriage. We have gone too far with it."
A bit later he wrote a playful letter to Mary and told her that there was so much flourishing about in carriages and the like in Springfield he could not recommend it to a lady of good sense as a place of residence. He said that owing to certain faults in his disposition he could not recommend himself as a husband; that he felt sure she could never be happy with him. But he manfully offered to marry her as soon as his circumstances would allow if, after serious consideration, she decided that she cared to accept him. It was, on the whole, one of the most generous acts in the history of human affairs.
There is some evidence that Mary was displeased with these and other lines in the little drama and presently rang down the curtain. Some of the spectators were informed by her that Abe Lincoln was crude and awkward and without a word to please a lady of her breeding. But she had achieved the credit, with certain people, of having rejected a young man for whom great honors were thought to be in store.
Late in November Mr. Lincoln went out on the circuit with the distinguished John T. Stuart who had taken him into partnership. Bim's letter to him bears an endorsement on its envelope as follows:
* * * * *
"This letter was forwarded from Vandalia the week I went out on the circuit and remained unopened in our office until my return six weeks later.—A. Lincoln."
* * * * *
The day of his return he went to Sarah and Samson with the letter.
"I'll get a good horse and start for Chicago to-morrow morning," said Samson. "They have had a double blow. Did you read that Harry had been killed?"
"Harry killed!" Mr. Lincoln exclaimed. "You don't mean to tell me that Harry has been killed?"
"The Chicago Democrat says so but we don't believe it," said Samson. "Here's the article copied into The Sangamon Journal. Read it and then I'll tell you why I don't think it's so."
Abe Lincoln read the article.
"You see it was dated in Tampa, November the fifth," said Samson. "Before we had read that article we had received a letter from Harry dated November the seventh. In the letter he says he is all right and I calculate that he ought to know as much about it as any one."
"Thank God! Then it's a mistake," said Lincoln. "We can't afford to lose Harry. I feel rather poor with Jack Kelso gone. It will comfort me to do what I can for his wife and daughter. I'll give you every dollar I can spare to take to them."
A moment of sorrowful silence followed.
"I'll never forget the kindly soul of Jack or his wit or his sayings, many of which are in my notebook," said Lincoln as he sat looking sadly into the fire.
They talked much of the great but humble man who had so loved honor and beauty and whose life had ended in the unholy turmoil of the new city.
"The country is in great trouble," was a remark of Abe Lincoln inspired by the reflections of the hour. "We tried to allay it in the special session of July. Our efforts have done no good. The ail is too deep seated. We must first minister to a mind diseased and pluck from the heart a rooted sorrow. You were right about it, Samson. We have been dreaming. Some one must invent a new system. Wildcat money will do no good. These big financial problems are beyond my knowledge. I don't know how to think in those terms. Next session I propose to make a clean breast of it. We're all wrong but I fear that not all of us will be brave enough to say so."
Samson hired horses for the journey and set out early next morning with his son, Josiah, bound for the new city. The boy had begged to go and both Samson and Sarah thought it would be good for him to take a better look at Illinois than his geography afforded.
"Joe is a good boy," his mother said as she embraced him. He was, indeed, a gentle-hearted, willing-handed, brown-eyed youth who had been a great help to his father. Every winter morning he and Betsey had done the chores and ridden on the back of Colonel to Mentor Graham's school where they had made excellent progress.
Joe and his father set out on a cold clear morning in February. They got to Brimstead's in time for dinner.
"How d'y do?" Samson shouted as Henry came to the door.
"Better!" the latter answered. He put his hand on, Samson's pommel and said in a confidential toner "El Dorado was one of the wickedest cities in history. It was like Tyre and Babylon. It robbed me. Look at that pile of stakes."
Samson saw a long cord of stakes along the road in the edge of the meadow.
"They are the teeth of my city," said Brimstead in a low voice. "I've drawed 'em out. They ain't goin' to bite me no more."
"They are the towers and steeples of El Dorado," Samson laughed. "Have any of the notes been paid?"
"Not one and I can't get a word from my broker about the men who drew the notes—who they are or where they are."
"I'm going to Chicago and if you wish I'll try to find him and see what he says."
"That's just what I wish," said Brimstead. "His name is Lionel Davis. His address is 14 South Water Street. He put the opium in our pipes here in Tazewell County. It was his favorite county. He spent two days with us here. I sold him all the land I had on the river shore and he gave me his note for it."
"If you'll let me take the note I'll see what can be done to get the money," Samson answered.
"Say, I'll tell ye," Brimstead went on. "It's for five thousand dollars and I don't suppose it's worth the paper it was wrote on. You take it and if you find it's no good you lose it just as careful as you can. I don't want to see it again. Come into the house. The woman is making a johnny-cake and fryin' some sausage."
They had a happy half-hour at the table, Mrs. Brimstead being in better spirits since her husband had got back to his farming. Annabel, her form filling with the grace and charm of womanhood, was there and more comely than ever.
They had been speaking of Jack Kelso's death.
"I heard him say once that when he saw a beautiful young face it reminded him of noble singing and the odor of growing corn," said Samson.
"I'd rather see the face," Joe remarked, whereupon they all laughed and the boy blushed to the roots of his blond hair.
"He's become a man of good judgment," said Brimstead.
Annabel's sister Jane who had clung to the wagon in No Santa Claus Land was a bright-eyed, merry-hearted girl of twelve. The boy Robert was a shy, good-looking lad a little younger than Josiah.
"Well, what's the news?" Samson asked.
"Nothin' has happened since we saw you but the fall of El Dorado," Brimstead answered.
"There was the robbery of the mail stage last summer a few miles north of here," said Mrs. Brimstead. "Every smitch of the mail was stolen. I guess that's the reason we haven't had no letter from Vermont in a year."
"Maybe that's why we haven't heard from home," Samson echoed.
"Why don't you leave Joe here while you're gone to Chicago?" Annabel asked.
"It would help his education to rassle around with Robert an' the girls," said Brimstead.
"Would you like to stay?" Samson asked.
"I wouldn't mind," said Josiah who, on the lonely prairie, had had few companions of his own age. So it happened that Samson went on alone. As he was leaving, Brimstead came close to his side and whispered:
"Don't you ever let a city move into you and settle down an' make itself to home. If you do you want to keep your eye on its leading citizens."
"Nobody can tell what'll happen when he's dreamin'," Samson remarked with a laugh as he rode away, waving his hand to the boy Josiah who stood looking up the road with a growing sense of loneliness.
Near the sycamore woods Samson came upon a gray-haired man lying by the roadside with a horse tethered near him. The stranger was sick with a fever. Samson got down from his horse.
"What can I do for you?" he asked.
"The will of God," the stranger feebly answered. "I prayed for help and you have come. I am Peter Cartwright, the preacher. I was so sick and weak I had to get off my horse and lie down. If you had not come I think that I should have died here."
Samson gave him some of the medicine for chills and fever which he always carried in his pocket, and water from his canteen. The sun shone warm but the ground was damp and cold and there was a chilly breeze. He wrapped the stricken man in his coat and sat down beside him and rubbed his aching head.
"Is there any house where I could find help and shelter for you?" he asked presently.
"No, but I feel better—glory to God!" said the preacher. "If you can help me to the back of my horse I will try to ride on with you. There is to be a quarterly meeting ten miles up the road to-night. With the help of God I must get there and tell the people of His goodness and mercy to the children of men. Nothing shall keep me from my duty. I may save a dozen souls from hell—who knows?"
Samson was astonished at the iron will and holy zeal of this lion-hearted, strong-armed, fighting preacher of the prairies of whom he had heard much. He looked at the rugged head covered with thick, bushy, gray hair, at the deep-lined face, smooth-shaven, save for a lock in front of each ear, with its keen, dark eyes and large, firm mouth and jaw. Samson lifted the preacher and set him on the back of his horse.
"God blessed you with great strength," said the latter. "Are you a Christian?"
They rode on in silence. Presently Samson observed that the preacher was actually asleep and snoring in the saddle. They proceeded for an hour or more in this manner. When the horses were wallowing through a swale the preacher awoke.
"Glory be to God!" he shouted. "I am better. I shall be able to preach to-night. A little farther on is the cabin of Brother Cawkins. He has been terribly pecked up by a stiff-necked, rebellious wife. We'll stop there for a cup of tea and if she raises a rumpus you'll see me take her by the horns."
Mrs. Cawkins was a lean, sallow, stern-eyed woman of some forty years with a face like bitter herbs; her husband a mild mannered, shiftless man who, encouraged by Mr. Cartwright, had taken to riding through the upper counties as a preacher—a course of conduct of which his wife heartily disapproved. Solicited by her husband she sullenly made tea for the travelers. When it had been drunk the two preachers knelt in a corner of the room and Mr. Cartwright began to pray in a loud voice. Mrs. Cawkins shoved the table about and tipped over the chairs and dropped the rolling-pin as a counter demonstration. The famous circuit rider, being in no way put out by this, she dashed a dipper of cold water on the head of her husband. The praying stopped. Mr. Cartwright rose from his knees and commanded her to desist. On her declaration that she would not he laid hold of the woman and forced her out of the door and closed and bolted it and resumed his praying.
Having recorded this remarkable incident in his diary Samson writes:
* * * * *
"Many of these ignorant people in the lonely, prairie cabins are like children. Cartwright leads them on like a father and sometimes with the strong hand. If any of them deserve a spanking they get it. He and others like him have helped to keep the cabin people clean and going up hill instead of down. They have established schools and missions and scattered good books and comforted sorrows and kindled good desire in the hearts of the humble."
* * * * *
As they were leaving Mr. Cawkins told them that the plague had broken out in the settlement on Honey Creek, where the quarterly meeting was to be held, and that the people had been rapidly "dyin' off." Samson knew from this that the smallpox—a dreaded and terrible scourge of pioneer days had come again.
"It's dangerous to go there," said Cawkins.
"Where is sorrow there is my proper place," Cartwright answered. "Those people need comfort and the help of God."
"But are you not afraid of the plague?" Samson asked.
"I fear only the wrath of my Master."
"I got a letter from a lady there," Cawkins went on. "As nigh as I can make out they need a minister. I can read print handy but writin' bothers me. You read it, brother."
Mr. Cartwright took the letter and read as follows:
* * * * *
"Dear Sir: Mr. Barman gave me your name. We need a minister to comfort the sick and help bury the dead. It is a good deal to ask of you but if you feel like taking the chance of coming here I am sure you could do a lot of good. We have doctors enough and it seems a pity that the church should fail these people when they need it most. The ministers in Chicago seem to be too busy to come. One of them came out for a funeral and unfortunately took the disease. If you have the courage to come you would win the gratitude of many people. For a month I have been taking care of the sick and up to now no harm has come to me.
Yours respectfully, "Bim Kelso."
* * * * *
"'A man's heart deviseth his way but the Lord directeth his steps,'" said Cartwright. "For three days I have felt that He was leading me."
"I begin to think that He has been leading me," Samson declared. "Bim Kelso is the person I seek."
"I would have gone but my wife took on so I couldn't get away," said Cawkins.
"I'll come back some day soon and you and I will pry the Devil out of her with the crowbar of God's truth and mercy," Cartwright assured him as he and Samson took the road to the north.
On their way to the Honey Creek settlement the lion-hearted minister told of swimming through flooded rivers, getting lost on the plains and suffering for food and water, of lying down to rest at night in wet clothes with no shelter but the woods, of hand to hand fights with rowdies who endeavored to sell drink or create a disturbance at his meetings. Such was the zeal for righteousness woven by many hands into the fabric of the West. A little before sundown they reached the settlement.
Samson asked a man in the road if he knew where they could find the nurse Bim Kelso.
"Do ye mean that angel o' God in a white dress that takes keer o' the sick?" the man asked.
"I guess that would be Bim," said Samson.
"She's over in yon' house," the other answered, pointing with his pipe to a cabin some twenty rods beyond them. "Thar's two children sick thar an' the mammy dead an' buried in the ground."
"Is the plague getting worse?" Cartwright asked.
"No, I reckon it's better. Nobody has come down since the day before yestiddy. Thar's the doctor comin'. He kin tell ye."
A bearded man of middle age was approaching them in the saddle.
"Gentlemen, you must not stop in this neighborhood," he warned them. "There's an epidemic of smallpox here. We are trying to control it and every one must help."
"I am Peter Cartwright, the preacher sent of God to comfort the sick and bury the dead," said Samson's companion.
"We welcome you, but if you stop here you will have to stay until the epidemic is over."
"That I am prepared to do."
"Then I shall take you where you can find entertainment, such as it is."
"First, this man wishes to speak to Miss Kelso, the nurse," said Cartwright. "He is a friend of hers."
"You can see her but only at a distance," the Doctor answered. "I must keep you at least twenty feet away from her. Come with me."
They proceeded to the stricken house. The Doctor entered and presently Bim came out. Her eyes filled with tears and for a moment she could not speak. She wore a white dress and cap and was pale and weary. "But still as I looked at her I thought of the saying of her father that her form and face reminded him of the singing of birds in the springtime, she looked so sweet and graceful," Samson writes in his diary.
"Why didn't you let me know of your troubles?" he asked.
"Early last summer I wrote a long letter to you," she answered.
"It didn't reach me. One day in June the stage was robbed of its mail down in Tazewell County. Your letter was probably on that stage."
"Harry's death was the last blow. I came out here to get away from my troubles—perhaps to die. I didn't care."
"Harry is not dead," said Samson.
Her right hand touched her forehead; her lips fell apart; her eyes took on a look of tragic earnestness.
"Not dead!" she whispered.
"He is alive and well."
Bim staggered toward him and fell to her knees and lay crouched upon the ground, in the dusky twilight, shaking and choked with sobs, and with tears streaming from her eyes but she was almost as silent as the shadow of the coming night. She looked like one searching in the dust for something very precious. The strong heart of Samson was touched by the sorrowful look of her so that he could not speak.
Soon he was able to say in a low, trembling voice:
"In every letter he tells of his love for you. That article in the paper was a cruel mistake."
After a little silence Bim rose from the ground. She stood, for a moment, wiping her eyes. Her form straightened and was presently erect. Her soul resented the injustice she had suffered. There was a wonderful and touching dignity in her voice and manner when she asked: "Why didn't he write to me?"
"He must have written to you."
Sadly, calmly, thoughtfully, she spoke as she stood looking off at the fading glow in the west:
"It is terrible how things can work together to break the heart and will of a woman. Write to Harry and tell him that he must not come to see me again. I have promised to marry another man."
"I hope it isn't Davis," said Samson.
"It is Davis."
"I don't like him. I don't think he's honest."
"But he has been wonderfully kind to us. Without his help we couldn't have lived. We couldn't even have given my father a decent burial. I suppose he has his faults. I no longer look for perfection in human beings."
"Has he been out here to see you?"
"And he won't come. That man knows how to keep out of danger. I don't believe you'll marry him."
"Because I intend to be a father to you and pay all your debts," said Samson.
The Doctor called from the door of the cabin.
Bim said: "God bless you and Harry!" as she turned away to take up her task again.
That night both of them began, as they say, to put two and two together. While he rode on in the growing dusk the keen intellect of Samson saw a convincing sequence of circumstances—the theft of the mail sack, the false account of Harry's death, the failure of his letters to reach their destination, and the fact that Bim had accepted money from Davis in time of need. A strong suspicion of foul play grew upon him and he began to consider what he could do in the matter.
Having forded a creek he caught the glow of a light in the darkness a little way up the road. It was the lighted window of a cabin, before whose door he stopped his horse and hallooed.
"I am a belated and hungry traveler on my way to Chicago," he said to the man who presently greeted him from the open doorway.
"Have you come through Honey Creek settlement?" the latter asked.
"Left there about an hour ago."
"Sorry, mister, but I can't let you come into the house. If you'll move off a few feet I'll lay some grub on the choppin' block an' up the road about a half-mile you'll find a barn with some hay in it where you and your horse can spend the night under cover."
Samson moved away and soon the man brought a package of food and laid it on the block and ran back to the door.
"I'll lay a piece of silver on the block," Samson called.
"Not a darned cent," the man answered. "I hate like p'ison to turn a feller away in the night, but we're awful skeered here with children in the house. Good-by. You can't miss the barn. It's close ag'in' the road."
Samson ate his luncheon in the darkness, as he rode, and presently came upon the barn and unsaddled and hitched and fed his horse in one end of it—the beast having drunk his fill at the creek they had lately forded—and lay down to rest, for the night, with the saddle blanket beneath him and his coat for a cover. A wind from the north began to wail and whistle through the cracks in the barn and over its roof bringing cold weather. Samson's feet and legs had been wet in the crossing so that he found it difficult to keep warm. He crept to the side of his horse, which had lain down, and found a degree of comfort in the heat of the animal. But it was a bad night, at best, with only a moment, now and then, of a sort of one-eyed sleep in it.