Bernie Babcock.

The soul of Ann Rutledge, Abraham Lincoln's romance online

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where I left my people when I came out here."

"That was in New York somewhere."

"Yes, in New York somewhere. I expect
to come back and bring them. ' '

"When are you going?"

' ' To-morrow. ' '

"To-morrow! So soon?" she exclaimed in
surprise and pain. "Will you be gone long?"

"Maybe I don't know how long. But be-
fore I go I've a secret to tell you."

' ' Something you have never told me ? ' '

"Something I have never told anybody.
Something you must not tell."

"Not even my mother? I tell her every-



''Not even your mother, nor father."

"What is it, John?" and Ann's face was
troubled as she asked the question.

"You solemnly promise you will not tell at
least not until I come back ? ' '

"I'd like to know what it is before I promise.
It doesn't seem right to keep things from Father
and Mother. I never do."

1 ' Not even my secrets ? Don 't you trust me,

"Of course I do, John."

"Then promise."

Ann was sorely; puzzled. Her lips twitched.

"Promise," he repeated, "and don't cry.
It's nothing to cry about."

Still Ann hesitated. "Father would think it
strange. ' '

"How can he think it strange if he knows
nothing about it ? "

"I promise," she said solemnly.

"All right, then, my name is not John Mc-
Neil at all."

Ann stared at him a moment. Then with
something like a gasp she said, "Your name is
not John McNeil f What is it ? Who are you f '

* * Just this. I came here from nobody knows



just where, not even you, Ann. I named myself
John McNeil because I wanted toi lose myself. ' '

"What for?" she questioned mechanically.

"Back where I came from my folks are poor
these no-account poor that every enterprising
man despises. I wanted to get something to-
gether and knew I should never be able to do it
if they learned where I was, for I was eternally
being called on to help them and keep them from
starving when I was where they could call on

"Have you heard nothing from them since
you came here?"


"Oh, John! how could you? Perhaps your
mother has wanted for something."

"She would have wanted just the same if I
had been there."

1 1 She might even be dead. ' r

"I don't think so and hope not. At any rate,
I have made some money. Now I'm going back
to get the rest of them and I want you to wait
for me until I come back. But your name will
never be Ann McNeil. ' '

"What will it be?" she asked with pale lips.

"Well," he said, looking at her with a half-



smile, "if it's not Mrs. Abraham Lincoln before
I return, it will be Mrs. James McNamra. ' '

" James, McNamra," she repeated as if puz-
zled. ' ' I never heard the name. ' '

"It is my name. You will get used to it."

Ann was silent. She was making an effort
to choke back great lumps that kept rising in her
throat. Then the tears came and ran over the
rims of her dark, blue eyes.

"How funny women are," MbNeil said.
"There's nothing to cry about, and I want to
see you laughing the last time."

"I want to tell Mother and Father," she

"You said you wouldn't. Are you going to
keep your promise ?' '

"Yes," she answered.

' ' Then kiss me good-night. To-morrow I will
ride past here on my way to Springfield. But
there'll be no kissing then. The town folks will
have enough to talk about as it is."

After McNeil had left town Ann began watch-
ing the post-office, and the postmaster rendered
ker careful help in the matter.

But days went by and no letter came. The



fair face of Ann Eutledge took on a worried
look, and had it not been for the kindly assistance
of the postmaster the gossips might have known
more of Ann's correspondence or lack of it,
than they had yet been able to learn.

The strain on Ann, the worst part of it being
the secret, which to her was fast coming to seem
little short of a crime against her good father
and mother, began to tell on her. She laughed
little and sang less. She was more seldom seen
with the young people.

Mr. and Mrs. Eutledge noticed this, as well
as did Abraham Lincoln, and one night, when
Ann's face showed that she had been particularly
disappointed because of no letter, Abe Lincoln
suggested that Ann learn grammar with him out
of his highly prized little book. Both Mr. and
Mrs. Eutledge accepted the offer as a special

So it happened that Ann and Abe were left
together, and with the precious grammar spread
on Ann's little work-table they sat down to their
task, he on one side, she on the other. The
book was not large, and bending over it the mop
of coarse, black hair all but touched the crown of
fine-spun gold.



"I will be the teacher," Abe Lincoln said
after they had looked through the book, which
was the only one of the kind in New Salem.

"We will now study the verb 'to love,' " and
turning the pages he found the place.

' ' I love, ' ' he said, looking across at Ann.

Her eyes were on the book.

"Next is 'You love'?" He spoke the words
as a question with the accent on the "you."

"Say it now, Ann, just as I have, and look
at your teacher. First, 'I love.' "

' ' I love, ' ' she repeated.

' ' Might be better, ' ' he said. ' ' Now the next,
and look at your teacher and repeat after me,
'You love'?"

As Ann repeated the question her face took
on a touch of pink.

"Very good very good, indeed. Now the
next is, 'We love.' We will say that together
with the accent on the 'we.' Now one two
three 'we,' " and he beat three times slowly
with his big hand ' ' Eeady, ' We love. ' ' '

There was much more emphasis in the
teacher's statement than in that of the pupil.
The effect on Ann was to cause a merry laugh.
"Ann," said Abe Lincoln, "I'm goin' to give



you this grammar. I know it by heart by
heart, Ann especially the verb ' I love. ' I want
you to learn it"; and he wrote across the top,
"Ann Eutledge is learning grammar," and
pushed it across the table to her.

"What a splendid present!" she said with
a smiling face. "How I wish I had something
to give you, Abraham would you take my little
Bible and read it f "

"Oh, Ann! would you give it to me?" he
asked with the joy of a child.

"You won't give it away like you did the
muffler, will you!"

"Wouldn't you be willin' if I should run
across a bigger sinner than Abe Lincoln?" he
answered laughing.

From a chest of drawers she took a little,
brown book and handed it to him.

"It must be marked, Ann," and, taking
the pencil he had written on the grammar
with, he handed it to her, saying, "Now we
will find a place where the verb Ho love' is
found. ' '

The quick ease with which he turned to the
passage he had in mind surprised Ann. With
the open page before him he said, "You are



religious, Ann. You obey the commands of the
Holy Scriptures, don't you?"

"I try to. "

"And you'll do anything in reason you are
told to by the Book?"

"Yes, indeed."

"Take your pencil and mark this"; and,
with his long forefinger pointing to the text, he
read impressively, " 'This is my commandment,
that you love one another.' "

Whether in the Scriptures or out of it, Ann
and Abe soon found something to laugh at.
"Ann is laughing," Mr. Eutledge said to his
wife. ' ' How good it sounds ! What on earth has
been the matter with her ? ' '

"She hasn't heard from John McNeil," Mrs.
Eutledge answered.

"McNeil seems to be a good fellow and un-
usually successful," John Eutledge observed
after a moment of reflection, "but Ann's not
married to him yet."



AFTER months of waiting Ann Rutledge re-
ceived a letter from John McNeil. It was a
straightforward explanation of the delay, men-
tioning sickness along the way, and other

Ann Eutledge was delighted. In some way
it seemed to lift a burden and answer a question.

Nance Cameron had the pleasure of starting
the news of the letter, and its satisfactory con-
tents, which allayed gossip, and for a time Ann
was quite herself again. But no more letters
came, and Ann was soon again cast down by the
strangeness of her lover's silence. Once when
she had hurried to the post-office after the
weekly mail had arrived only to be told by the
postmaster there was no letter, she made an
appeal to him which touched his heart.

"He ought to write to me," she half sobbed.
"Everybody is wondering about it. I don't
want people to know he never writes. Don't
tell it."

The postmaster promised, but Ann's troubled
face haunted him, and he found himself getting



thoroughly indignant with McNeil, even though
glad beyond expression that he was treating
her just as he was.

As the days and weeks went by Ann found
the burden of the secret weighing heavily on her
conscience, and the thought kept intruding itself
that since he had deceived her in one way he
might have done so in other ways. It was hard
to think this, and yet it was almost as easy to
believe as that his name was not McNeil and
that he had been gone months without writing.
She felt that she had done very wrong to promise
to keep a secret, and such a grave and important
secret, from her parents. Yet she had promised,
and, torn between the feeling that she must con-
fide in her parents and that she must keep her
promise, she grew pale and quiet and unlike the
laughing, singing Ann of a few months previous.
Her parents noticed this with concern, and it
hurt the heart of Abe Lincoln, yet none of them
surmised the real trouble.

One day after Ann had been her unreal self
for several months, Lincoln came home for sup-
per early and went into the kitchen to help Mrs.

"I want a pan of potatoes," she said.



"They're in the short bin near the door. I
sent Ann for them half an hour ago, but she
must have gone somewhere else."

"Mrs. Butledge," said Abe Lincoln as he
tucked the pan under his arm, "what ails Ann? ' '

"I'm sure I don't know. Her father and I
have wondered. It's something about John Mc-
Neil I think. I suppose she's heard the talk. I
can't understand John McNeil. He's too fine
a young fellow to do anything mean I'm sure.
I hope John Rutledge don't turn against him.
He's slow to rile up, but the fur flies when he
does get mad. Eun on now after the taters. ' '

Abe Lincoln made his way down the cellar-
steps softly. The door was not closed. As he
entered he thought he saw some object move in
one of the dark corners. Opening the door a lit-
tle more he looked into the dark. When his eyes
had become accustomed to the gloom he saw the
outlines of a human figure huddled together, and
putting down his pan, with shoulders and head
bent, he walked over the hard, earthen floor to
the dark corner.

Here he found Ann Butledge sitting on the
edge of a turnip-box with her head leaning
against the log and earthen wall.



"Ann Ann Kutledge," he said softly. A
sob was his only answer.

"Ann Ann," he said, bending over her.

' ' Go away, please, ' ' she said.

' l No, I will not go away. You are in trouble.
I want to help you. ' '

"You cannot nobody can help me," and
again her voice was choked with sobs.

"Of course somebody can help you. Tell
me about it. Perhaps I can help you. ' '

"But I cannot tell my trouble is is a

"A secret," Lincoln said "a secret who

"From everybody in the world but John
McNeil. I promised him I would not tell not
even my mother. ' f

1 1 He got you to swear to a secret you could
not confide in your mother?" and Lincoln
seemed aghast.

"Yes and I never had a secret from Father
and Mother before. ' '

"Ann Ann Rutledge!" and Lincoln's voice
was no longer gentle; "a secret from a girPs
mother is never the right kind of a secret. A
mother is the one person on earth no honorable



man would want secrets kept from. It is wrong
Ann wrong. ' '

"I believe it is. It is wearing me out it is
breaking my heart I feel that I cannot keep it
and yet I promised."

"Ann Rutledge!" Lincoln was bending over
her and there was a tone in his voice that com-
pelled her to look up. In the gloom his face
had taken on a strange, white cast and something
of the expression it had borne when Jack Arm-
strong had tried the unfair' trick.

"Ann Rutledge," he whispered under his
breath, "has John McNeil in any way wronged
you! If he has if he has I will choke the
life out of him, and that without warnin'."

"Oh, Abraham!" she cried, "don't talk so.
I don't know whether he has wronged me or not.
That's what the secret's about I don't know
and I wish I could die right here in this cellar,"
and again she turned her face to the wall and

Speechless, Abraham Lincoln looked down
upon her. His face was pale, his teeth set his
great fists were clenched, yet what could he do ?

The sobs of the girl beat against his heart,
strongly fanning the pain and fierce passion.

15 225


' ' What shall I do what shall I do T ' she said

"You shall go straight to your mother," he
said firmly. ' * Tell her everything. ' '

"But I promised gave an honorable prom-
ise, a solemn promise that I would not tell.'*

' l There can be no such thing as an honorable
promise to the kind of a man who does not know
the meanin' of the word. There can be no such
thing as a sacred promise to a man who has no
more conception of sacredness than a beast. The
man who has brought you to this trouble, of
whatever kind it may be, is unfit for considera-
tion. Go to you mother. If you don't go I'll
carry you there in my arms."

A moment she hesitated. Then she arose.
He twined his fingers around her arm and with-
out speaking they crossed the cellar. At the
door she paused. ' ' Come on, Ann, ' ' he said, and
they went up the steps together.

Entering the kitchen, Abe Lincoln said, "I
found your little girl in the cellar in trouble.
She has come to tell her mother about it. I'll
go fetch the potatoes. ' '



AFTER Ann Eutledge confided her heart-
troubling secret to her mother, Mrs. Eutledge
lost no time in laying the matter before her hus-
band. She feared it would be hard to make him
see that John McNeil's conduct toward Ann had
been honorable, and John Eutledge believed in
the kind of honor that makes a man's word as
good as his bond, and would take advantage of
no situation to perpetrate an injustice.

He listened in silence as Mrs. Eutledge told
him Ann's secret, the secret that was changing
the glad-hearted girl into a quiet, nervous wo-
man. Several times he seemed about to speak.
He listened, however, until the end, but Mrs.
Eutledge knew he was angry.

"Now, John," she counseled, " don't be too
hard on John McNeil. What he said may all be
true. He may go back and get his people and
bring them right here as he said."

"Maybe he will but does that change the
fact that he played double? Does that change
the fact that during his years of plenty he has
never helped those of his own flesh and blood



who may have suffered? John McNeil is as cold
a trade-driver as ever hit the trail to the West,
and if he comes back here "

"Now, John, be careful. Aside from the
awful effect the whole thing has had on poor
Ann, there may be no real sin committed. "

"Aside from the effect on our Ann? My
God! how much more sin could a man commit
unless he had ruined her reputation and if he

had done that " and John Eutledge arose

and paced the floor.

"But he didn't. How can you let such a
thought come into your head about Ann ? Don 't
get yourself all worked up over a straw man. ' '

"Straw man?" he exclaimed angrily. "Is
it a straw man that our Ann laughs no more?
Is it a straw man that we never hear her singing
home across the bluffs ? Is it a straw man that
her sweet face has been taking on lines of worry,
ill fitting the face of Ann Eutledge? Is it a
straw man that she was forced into a promise to
keep a secret a dishonorable secret from her
own father and mother? There's no straw man
about any such thing as this. 7 '

John Rutledge sat down and lit his pipe.
After it was smoking well, Mrs. Eutledge said,
"What shall I say to Ann?"



"Tell Ann to come to me," lie said shortly.

Mrs. Eutledge went out, and a moment later
Ann came. When she entered the room her
father was standing with his back to the fire-
place, his hands behind him.

"Yes, father," she said quietly.

John Eutledge surveyed her a moment. What
he was thinking of she had not time to consider,
but the expression on his face seemed to be a
combination of wrath and pity, of love and
outraged justice.

"A man called John McNeil asked my con-
sent to marry you, Ann."

"Yes, Father"; her voice was a trifle

"I supposed him to be the honorable and
straight-faced young gentleman he seemed to

She made no reply. John Eutledge blew out
a couple of puffs of smoke.

' ' From your mother I have just learned that
there is no such person as John McNeil."

"No, Father."

* ' This McNamra, or whoever he may be, may
turn up in these parts again some time."

"I don't know" ; and the tremor had not left
her voice.



"He might have the unmitigated hardihood
to expect to marry the daughter of John Rut-
ledge, the girl he courted under the name of
McNeil. If he should if he should come back
and should even look like he thought of such a
thing I would would "

"Father," Ann said softly, stepping nearer
him, for she saw that he was angry, "you
wouldn't do anything wrong."

"Wrong?" he said. "Wrong no nothing
wrong what I'd do would be right"; and he
turned and knocked his pipe against the chim-
ney with such force as to threaten its existence.

"Perhaps he was telling the truth. Perhaps
he will return some day just as he said he

"Perhaps perhaps. But is he telling the
truth about his name? No, he is lying. One
way or another he has lied to a woman, and a
man who will desert his own father and mother
would desert his wife. I 'm not condemning him
too hard, but he will never marry John- Rut-
ledge's daughter. Do you understand, Ann."

"Yes, Father"; her voice was unsteady.

"He has put you in a most embarrassing
position more than you know. You will be
talked about when his double life is known, and,



since it is bound to come out, the sooner the
better, and I shall see to that. (Gossips will dis-
cuss matters that's none of their business, but
they will not go too far, my. girl, for John Rut-
ledge is your father."

"Perhaps I will hear from him even yet/'
she said with an effort.

"If you do, hand the letter to me. I'll give
the young man some advice about swearing
dutiful daughters to keep secrets from their

The tears which Ann had struggled to keep
back now stood in her eyes, and she feared to
speak lest the slightest movement of her face
would start them running down her cheeks.

John Rutledge looked at her. The expres-
sion on his stern face changed instantly, and
the voice was wonderfully softened as he said,
"Ann, my little girl, don't cry. Don't waste
good tears. It 's not tooi late to mend the harm.
To-night when you say your prayers add a
couple of lines telling your Creator that the
best thing He has done for you up to this good
time is to save you from being the wife of a man
whose word would have no other meaning to
you than so much noise. Run on now, my girl,
and tell your mother I'd like to see her."



ANN'S secret was not long in gaming pub-
licity after her father found it out, nor was he
disposed entirely to discredit the gossips' re-
ports that McNeil's strange actions might be
due to a living wife or some crime committed.
Why else on earth would a man change his name,
desert a girl like Ann Rutledge, and go away
nobody knew where ?

The town gossip greatly embarrassed Ann
Rutledge, yet she was glad she had told her
parents, and, the burden of the secret now being
removed, she was more like herself.

The action of John McNeil and the conse-
quent displeasure of Ann 's father were much to
the liking of Lincoln, and while he felt sorry for
Ann, his sorrow was not sufficient to hold back
his joy, which was given expression in the jol-
liest stories he had ever told. Laughter seemed
infectious around the post-office when the post-
master was there. His days in New Salem had
all been busy, happy days with his good friends,
and opportunities for study. But better than



all was the growing consciousness that an unde-
fined hope which had been struggling against a
clearly defined duty, was approaching the right
of way. His heart was glad as he went about
over the country with his stakes and chains.

It was just about this time that the wheel of
fortune turned. The men who had bought the
Lincoln and Berry store and had given Lincoln
paper to pay his debts with, closed their doors
one day without notice, and, without saying fare-
well to a soul in New Salem, disappeared.

When Lincoln heard this he felt slip upon
him the burden of a debt that staggered him.
Not in a lifetime did it seem he would be able to
pay it. And so it was that just as it seemed that
he was about to enter the path of a golden glow
he was thrown, instead, into the black gloom
of a great despondency.

When the word was passed around town of
Abe Lincoln's bad luck there was much talk.
What would he do? There seemed to be just
two alternatives, to skin out and leave it all, as
the men had done who bought the store, and his
partner Berry before them, had done, or to set-
tle down to a lifetime of struggle and pay the
debt. Everybody believed Abe Lincoln thor-



oughly honest, but here was a test that seemed
beyond the powers of human endurance.

The night the store was closed, Abe Lincoln
did not come home to supper.

"Where is Abe Lincoln ?" the Eutledges

Nobody knew. Ann slipped away to the post-
office. It was closed. She rattled the door and
called his name at the latch-hole but received
no answer.

Day was drawing to a close, but she made an
excuse to go to the mill, and with a little basket
on her arm she hurried down the sloping road.
Twilight shades were falling over the weather-
stained log building which seemed to be drawing
itself into the shadows of the trees on the oppo-
site bank of the river. The big, stone wheel
was silent, but the waters falling over the dam
gavei out the sound of something alive.

Quietly she approached the wide mill doors
which stood open. On the threshold she looked
carefully in. For a moment the deeper gloom
of the inside blinded her. Then the big, white
millstone took shape, and the door, opening onto
the river platform. Through this a pale light



Taking a step farther in, she looked again
toward some dark outlines which she was sure
were not those of pillar or prop, outlines which
took the form of a tall, shadowy giant standing
against the doorway and looking out upon the
river in the falling darkness.

She crossed the mill rapidly and softly, and,

approaching the tall shadowy figure, touched the

giant of the gloom on the arm and said, "Abra-
ham Lincoln."

He turned about quickly. "Ann Ann Rut-
ledge what are you doing here ! ' '

"I have been looking for you."


"You did not come to supper."

"I often go without supper."

"I heard of your trouble. I wanted to find
you and to help you. You found me in the cellar
and helped me. ' '

"And what can you do what can anyone
do for me ? ' ' and he turned again to the river.
"Look at the darkness. Only that* for me. ' '

"But light always follows darkness, Abra-
ham. God has planned it so. Sometimes the
night is very dark, and very long, but morning
comes. It is always so."



He was silent and they stood together in the

"God!" he said to himself. "Is there a God?
I wonder. If there is a God He knows how hard
I've tried worked against fate itself, how I
wanted to be something in the world. I've loved
to study about Washington and have been fool
enough to dream I might do something for my
country some time. But "Washington came from
a race of cavaliers. I come from the poorest of
ten thousand. Washington at the age of twenty-
one was an Adjutant General of Virginia with

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Online LibraryBernie BabcockThe soul of Ann Rutledge, Abraham Lincoln's romance → online text (page 10 of 14)