Bernie Babcock.

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

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" Yeh who hollered ?"

Ignoring these questions, Windy continued.

' * The big Indian and the Judge of the Court
both said they hadn't never seen such sledge-
hammer blows as I hit. It was them blows that
put my shoulder out of joint. But I fixed his eye.
You couldn't have told it from a knot-hole in a
burnt tree. Time he aimed a second socdologer
at me I was ready. The crowd roared like a
camp-meeting. We fell to it. He got a straddle
of my head and chawed my finger. There wasn 't
no place for me to git holt owing to the fact my
head was pinned in twix his legs. Jean britches



didn't taste well and was ungodly tough. But
I was resolute. I found the right place and I
chawed like hell. But would he let go of my
finger? No, and I finally had to knock half his
teeth out to git my finger out his mouth. ' '

* ' You tanned him hey ? ' '

* ' You mauled him, Windy ? ' '

"You beat the Springfield stuffing out of

"And nobody parted you?"

Ignoring these questions, Windy took a
fresh start. "And there's no telling how long
it might have lasted, us two going 'round and
'round and up and down and every which way.
I was eternally mauling the ding-blasted day-
lights out of him when the Judge got hold of me
and asked as a favor if I wouldn't put off the
finish till next day. He said he couldn't get
nobody into court if I didn't and so I I
hollered. ' '

There was a moment of profound silence.
Windy shifted his weight from one stiff leg to
the other, stroked his bandaged arm and sighed.

"Spit in his ashes!"

It was the voice of Jack Armstrong that broke
the painful stillness. Immediately every man



emptied the contents of his mouth, with no small
force, into the fire, which voiced its protest by a
vigorous spitting and sputtering.

Then Windy was given some advice.

"This ain't no place fer you. You go join
them Hard Shells that's fixin' fer a ten days'
fightin' match with the devil. They have the
same runnin' off at the mouth as you have, but
they hain't never drawed no devil's blood yet,
and that's your crowd."

Windy 's lips moved as if to speak.

"Roll in your molasses sucker and train-
poose," was the order.

"Yeh trampoose," was the repeated order.
"Go fight the devil."

"The devil that's the Clary Grove gang,"
he muttered as he turned away.

' * Devil-fighter, ' ' some one said as his limping
figure disappeared in the darkness.

"If the devil pays any more heed to him than
he would to a skit-fly he's a blame bigger ass
than I 've ever took him to be, ' ' Ole Bar observed.
"Let's licker up."



IT WAS two months after the flat boat stuck
on the dam at New Salem and the day following
a quiet election in the village, that Nance Cam-
eron ran over to Eutledge Inn with news of great
importance for Ann.

"Long Shanks has arrived," she announced
without ceremony.

' ' Long Shanks ? ' ' Ann questioned. ' 1 Who is
Long Shanks?"

"The giant scarecrow, the big baboon,"
Nance answered.

1 ' Baboon, ' ' Ann repeated. * ' Nance what are
you talking* about? ' '

"My land, Ann Butledge, have you forgot-
ten the unhinged giant you waved plum blos-
soms at tne captain of the flat boat who looked
like sin, but knew how to use his hat like a

" Oh ! " answered Ann. ' l Has ~he come ? ' '

"Yes. He got here yesterday. They didn't
have anybody to help at election. Mentor
Graham asked him if he could write. He said

3 33


he could make his rabbit 's foot, and so he helped.
Mr. Graham says he can write well. Besides,
he told them stories, and they liked that. Last
night he came to our house. ' '

' ' Tell me about him. "What does he look like
close to?"

* * He 's the homeliest man God ever put breath
into. His legs run down into feet so long he
can't find anything big enough to stick them
under, and his arms are nearly as long as his
legs. He has a big head, big nose, big mouth, big
ears, lots of black hair, and he's hard and horny
and knotty like a tree and as green, too."

" Did he talk to you?"

"No, he didn't pay me any heed at all, but he
and Ma got to be good friends before he'd been
in the house an hour. She was tired half to death
putting up berries and trying to get supper.
She put Johnnie watching the baby and he let
him roll down the steps. The new man heard him,
crying and went right out and got him. In five
minutes the baby was laughing. This made Ma
feel better and she got talking, and first thing I
knew he was helping her wash dishes and telling
her about what he saw in New Orleans and down
the Mississippi. He talks better than he looks.



' ' How does he talk ? Has he a big, deep voice
and mellow, like the sound of the horn over the
tree and river?"

"No, indeed. He sets out thin sounding, but
his voice seems to work down into his chest as he
talks and he sounds pretty good. After supper
Pa brought in the cider. Mr. Graham came over
and Dr. Allen, and they got Long Shanks talking
and didn't want him to quit. Mentor Graham
took a great liking to him. He lived in Ken-
tucky once and then Indiana. He asked about
the folks in these parts and when he heard
Jo Kelsy owns a Shakespeare he said he was
going to try to borrow it, said he 's read the Bible
till he knew it by heart and the Constitution
and some other things but never seen a Shake-
speare. When Mr. Graham told him he had fifty
books his dull, gray eyes turned bright as new
candles. He's terrible interested in books, but
he don't have any time for girls."

"How do you know?"

' ' 'Cause. Ma asked him if he saw the girl
waving at him, when the boat stuck? He said,
'Yes'm wasn't it kind of her?' "

"Ma said, 'She's the prettiest girl in town.'

"He said, 'Yes'm isn't that nice?'



"Ma said, 'She's the smartest girl in town.'

He said, 'Yes'm it's worth while to be
smart ! ' '

"Ma told, him you was going to marry John
McNeil. He said, ' They all do it. ' And he never
even asked your name.

"I tell you what; you drop past to-morrow
afternoon before supper. He'll be there then.
He won't look at you, he 's so funny. But you can
see him. ' '

It was with as much interest as a person goes
to a show that Ann Rutledge went to the Came-
ron home the next, afternoon. She was doomed
to disappointment.

"He's gone," Nance informed her.


' * Gone out to split rails for some folks that
have come in from Indiana and are taking a
homestead near Turtle Ford. He 's going to split
enough rails to fence the clearing. He's to get
one yard of brown jeans dyed with white walnut
bark for every four hundred rails. It's to make
some new breeches. ' '

"That's an awful lot of work for a pair of

"Yes, but look at the length of his legs. A



fellow with legs like that will always have to
work extra to keep them covered. ' '

"I wanted to see him."

"He's coming back. I heard him telling Pa
he was going to open a store here for a man
named Offutt. His wares haven't come yet. They
will be here by the time the new breeches are
ready. Then you can see him. You'll think him
half -baboon and half -giraffe and he won't even
notice you only to say 'Yes'm' and pull off his

"Does he have any name? You didn't tell

"Name! yes, " and Nance laughed. "He's
named after Abraham, of the Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob family. The rest of his name is
Lincoln. ' '

"Abraham Lincoln," Ann repeated. "I
don't think that's such a bad sounding name."

John McNeil called at the Rutledge home the
night young Lincoln went to Turtle Ford to earn
his new pants. After the family had gone to bed
and Ann was left to say good-night to the young
man she was engaged to, he said, "Ann, I thought

that fellow was captain of the boat and maybe



owned some of the cargo. He's nothing but a
railsplitter. ' '

1 'He didn't use his hat like a railsplitter. ' *

"He's picked up a few lessons in manners
somewhere maybe saw somebody doing it in
New Orleans. "

' ' No because it was on his way down that he
lifted his hat."

"Well, I don't know where he got it, but
he's only a railsplitter just the same. Hasn't
a cent in the world. Didn't know it was a rail-
splitter waving to you, did you?"

' ' It wasn 't me he waved at. He never heard
of me and don't know yet that I am living. It
was the flowers he liked and I'm glad he likes
flowers if he is a railsplitter."

"I'd like to know, Ann, why you take on so
over flowers. What are they good for? ' '

"Good for? What a funny question. What
is the song of birds good for and the fragrance
of flowers and the beauty of ferns ? What is the
music of running brooks good for and the splen-
dor of gold and red sunsets what are any of
them good for?"

"That's just what I'm asking," John
McNeil said seriously. "What are they good



for? Can't eat them, can you? Can't wear
them, can you? Can't sell them, can you!
or trade them or swap them for anything?
Women are such funny folks and don't know a
thing about values. But I'm going to leave the
plum thicket another year and the corner in the
pasture where the blue flowers grow you like
to pick. ' '

" Thank you, John thank you a whole lot";
and happy because of his promise, Ann kissed
John McNeil good-night.



A FEW days after Abraham Lincoln had en-
tered service to split rails for a new pair of
breeches, he came to town late one afternoon to
get an ax.

After tarrying a short time to tell a story or
two, he started back about sun-down, his ax, on
the handle of which was swung a bundle, over
his shoulder.

As twilight gathered, the ungainly youth took
his way along the road that ran not far from the
smoothly flowing Sangamon. His strides were
long and easy, and, away from the small habita-
tions and contrivances of mankind, he seemed to
become one with the big things of nature, and
what was sometimes considered lack of grace
seemed now an easy expression of reserve force.

The roar of the mill-dam sounded musical as
if the twilight were softening its daytime bois-
terous tumult.

The falling dew seemed loosening up the
fragrance of the woods, the subtle breath of
tangled vines and trailing roses, with sometimes



a more decided fragrance, as when the full-sized
foot of the pedestrian brushed into a bed of
wild mint.

As he rounded the skirt of the bluff, the rosy
tinted sky seemed suddenly to withdraw itself,
and the timbers upon the summit to move them-
selves slowly against the crimson and fading
gold, like a row of shadowy sentinels gathered
for the night.

A tinkling gurgle from an irregular, dark
spot against the foot of the bluff told of a ravine,
and the running stream, whose musical babble,
as it made its way to the river, sounded like the
prattle of a child compared to the river's volume
falling by the mill.

As he took his way in the gathering gray
of night, the long-limbed youth cast giant
shadows, subtle, indistinct shadows far across
the road and into other shadows, where they
merged into the formless gloom and were lost.

While yet rounding the bluff he heard the
barking of a dog and then the tinkle of a cow-
bell. Common sounds these were, but coming on
the stillness from the heights above they lent a
sort of musical enchantment to the quiet and the
enfolding mystery of night. Then a human voice



was heard, a woman 's voice that seemed to burst
suddenly into the flower of a full blown song.

The youth slowed up a bit and listened. The
words thrown out by the ringing voice sounded
clearly :

I'm a pilgrim

And I'm a stranger;

I can tarry, I can tarry but a, night.

The young man stopped. The song was to
him unusual. The clear voice took the notes
unhesitatingly and rolled them in melodious
movement as she sang the words "p-i-1-grim"
and ' ' s-t-r-a-n-ger, " and then hurrying on
gladly, as if it were a matter for great rejoicing
that she could tarry but a night.

The youth dropped his ax and bundle to the
ground and turned his face toward the bluff cast-
ing its long shadows. The bell tinkled a moment
in the gathering gloom. Then the voice rang out
again on the evening hush :

Do not detain me,

For I am going

To where the streamlets ore ever flowing.

Again there was the peculiar rolling fall and
rise on the syllables. Again the gladness of some
exultation, then the refrain "I'm a pilgrim"
with its confidence and its melody.



The voice was nearer now. There was no
sound or sight of any moving object on the bluff,
but she was somewhere there and seemed com-
ing nearer.

The tinkle of the cow-bell made an interlude.
Then again the voice of singing, whether nearer
or farther now he did not question. He was lis-
tening to the words :

Of that country

To which. I'm going

My Redeemer, my Redeemer is the light.

There is no sorrow

Nor any sighing

Nor any sin there, nor any dying.

The mysterious singer on the heights was
farther away now. The voice was growing
fainter as the refrain rang into the stillness,
"I'm a pilgrim and I'm a stranger I can
tarry I can tarry "

The youth leaned forward and listened,
breathlessly. But the voice was dying and the
tinkle of the bell came on the stillness, faint as a

After standing a moment, the listener in the
shadows made ready to go on. When he turned
to pick up his ax and bundle, he found his hat in
his hands. When he had removed it he did not



remember. Mechanically he placed it on his
head and started on his way.

The red and purple of the earlier evening
showing through the trunks of the trees crown-
ing the bluff was giving way now to the silvery
green of the rising moon.

"With his 1 ax over his shoulder the figure
paused a moment for a last look upward and
then moved on.

But he did not feel the same. He had under-
gone some change. What was it? Within his
breast the song had raised something intensely
alive something like hunger, fierce yet very ten-
der ; something 'like strange pain ; something like
wild joy; something like unsatisfied longing,
together with unmeasured satisfaction. What
was it? He did not know. Mysterious to him
as was the singer, was now the effect of the

Yet out of the mingled sensation of unrest
and satisfaction, suddenly stirred into life, there
came to the youth thoughts of .his mother.

His mother had been a pilgrim on a journey.
He had heard her say so many times. But the
burden of her song had been "Earth is a desert
drear." He had heard her sometimes try to



sing. But she did not go shouting. She suffered
on the way, endured, was patient, and at the last
she reached a groping hand for something strong
to hold her back from that country to which she
believed she was going. It was with a twitching
of his muscles and a quiver of the big strong
mouth he thought of the passing on of his

But here was a pilgrim happy, shouting, even
jubilant. Who was she ? What manner of per-
son could she be! His curiosity was aroused.

As he strode on toward Turtle Ford the fall-
ing waters of the dam softened their roar into
an indistinct murmur, and then like the voice
of the singer and the tinkle of the bell, blended
into the quiet, broken only by the call of a whip-
poor-will or the whirr of a bat's wing.

The moon rose above the lacey darkness of the
timber-line. The railsplitter had had no supper.
Once he stopped and gathered some berries.
But he was not thinking of food. The eternal
mystery of the awakening of one's other self had
both breathed through and enfolded him. He
was not hungry. He tossed the berries down by
the roadside. His pace quickened as he neared
the clearing. He did not understand, but for

some reason he himself experienced a lifted-up



sensation. It was as if the conquering 1 confi-
dence and joy of the unknown singer had been

At the edge of the clearing he stopped. The
shack and pig-pen and few rail-fences stood out
in the moonlight like the skeleton of something
to be clothed with a body. The dogs came out
and barked, but crept back satisfied at sight of
the tall figure. He stepped up to the door of the
shack. The snoring of a man told him his ap-
proach had not disturbed the sleeping family.

He turned toward the end of the cabin where
a ladder stood, which he mounted. At the square
opening which served as door and window to
the loft, he paused and looked in, and by the
moon's indistinct light he saw the three boys
of the family lying on a pallet. The dull hum
of mosquitoes sounded.

He turned back to the ladder, and on its top,
with his back resting against the cabin, he sat
and looked out into the night. In the light all
was beautiful; even the piles of brush were
softened until they looked like the gray and
silver tendrils of giant vines piled by titanic fair-
ies, and the trunks of trees were columns in some
mysterious and endless cathedral canopied with
silvered green.



Across the wilds of the forest, which in the
magic of night and the moon were so beautiful,
the thoughts of the youth again traveled back
to his childhood and its mysteries, and he seemed
to see again a very small grave in a lonesome
spot beside which his mother cried and declared
with tears and choking voice that she could not
go away and leave it forever. To the boy who
looked on, this had seemed strange. "Why should
she weep because she could not take a grave from
Kentucky to Indiana, the new home, and such a
tiny little grave ? It had been a mystery. Later
he came to answer the mystery of it by calling it
"mother love.'* He thought of that grave, far
away in Kentucky, as he sat on the ladder. Then
he thought of the grave of the mother who had
wept beside the little grave two graves.

Some time he too would fill a grave some-
where and so would the singer on the heights.
"What was life after all? Its end was the same
for all whether a tiny grave or one long enough
even for him? The question seemed to mock
itself and laugh.

Then the voice of the singer rang clear again
a pilgrim rejoicing, shouting such a glad pil-
grim, and again he felt himself impelled to the
heights from which it had come felt himself a



creature of some fresh-born force lie could no
more fathom than explain.

A wild cat screamed down the creek. The
three boys thumped the floor, seeking in their
sleep to destroy the mosquitoes. The dogs
scratched under the house. The man snored.
Once the baby cried and the mother soothed it.

These voices and sounds seemed a part of
the secrets of the night and of the strange awak-
ening that possessed him with the pleasure and
pain of its mystery.

There was a sound, however, that came with
the first pink of the morning that seemed in some
unknown way to hold the key to the mystery of
his strangely aroused hunger a hunger born
whether for good or ill he knew not.

With the first stirring of life at the new day,
a song bird just at the edge of the clearing sent
out its call, clear as the voice of the singer on the
bluff and, in the imagination of the inquiring
youth, like it, glad and unafraid.

But the bird was calling for a mate one of
its own kind one which would answer its call.

Again the call rang out penetrating and

The young man listened. Then a smile of
satisfaction lit his homely face, for from some-



where down in the tangle of the creek banks, one
of its own kind was answering the call.

The hidden singer in the clearing called
again, even throwing more life and gladness into
the song. Again the answer came from the un-
seen one of like kind, a little closer now. They
were moving toward each other. The silent lis-
tener had not made a study of birds. Yet now
he was quite sure that somewhere they would
meet in the wide expanse of over-laced branches
and would mate.

Again his mind went back to the singer of the
bluff and her challenging call. Who or what
manner of woman was she f He wondered.

When the man who had been snoring awoke
with the first streaks of day, the ringing of an
ax sounded on his ear. "If he don't beat any-
thing to bite them trees down and eat them up,
I'm a liar. He must have been at it all night."

"He needs breeches needs them powerful
bad," his wife replied.

"Must want! to go a courtin'," was his

"Courtin' or no courtin', he'll be ketched by
the sheriff if he don't git some new breeches
right soon. His is fixin' to leave him. I'm
skeered every time he jumps over the fence. ' '



NOT more than a fortnight after Windy Batts
had been weighed in the balance by the Clary
Grove boys, Mrs. Mirandy Benson ran over to
Butledge's to discuss a few news items.

Mrs. Benson was Phoebe Jane Benson's
mother. Phoebe Jane Benson had never been
kissed by a human man her mother the author-
ity for the statement. "No start, no finish, "
was Mrs. Benson's oft-quoted statement as
touching the delicate question of the preserva-
tion of female virtue. "For this reason, Mis'
Rutledge, I 'm dead set against huggin '. There 's
never no tellin' where huggin' will end, and
Phoebe Jane shan't get no opportunity."

But it was not of hugging that she now talked.
"Mis' Rutledge," she said, "Windy Batts has
been dipped and is going to set out preachin' for
the Hard Shells and will hold a meetin' near
New Salem. It's set to his credit, I say, that
he chose to unite with the Hard Shells instead of
the Clary Grove gang. Since Windy Batts has
been keepin' company with Phoebe Jane, I've



been uncommon interested. He has a powerful
flow of language, and will make a famous
exhorter. ' '

A second topic of conversation was the tall
clerk who was in charge of the new store opened
by Offutt. "He's the one that helped Mentor
Graham election day and has been chopping rails
since on Turtle Ford.

"Everybody in town's been in the store, and
the men hang around every evenin'. Phoebe
Jane, she's been, too. He's an awful friendly
fellow, scraped up a speakin' with Phoebe Jane
and asked her who in these parts could sing.
She told him she could sing, bass or tenor, either
he liked. Phoebe Jane was quite took up with
him and wanted to ask him to meetin'. But he's
too friendly. These friendly young fellows must
be watched. He might be all right. Then again
he mightn't, and if he should take a huggin' spell
like some young fellows takes, with them arms
no tellin' what might happen. I told Phoebe
Jane not to let out too much rope, especially since
Windy Batts got religion. ' '

It was true the new clerk at Offutt 's store had
inquired who about New Salem could sing. Hav-
ing been unable to learn anything satisfactory



from the girl he nad asked, he put the question
to several men who chanced to be in the store.
The only result of his questioning was to bring
out a story about a girl in New Salem who had
a "singin' " in her head for which a plaster of
"psalm tunes," applied to the feet to draw the
singing down, had been prescribed. Unsatisfied,
young Lincoln determined to keep his ears open
and try to discover for himself.

Meantime there were many to get acquainted
with, and when Bill Clary himself invited the
new man to the Grove, he at once accepted the

Ole Bar, Buck Thompson, Jo Kelsy and sev-
eral others had gathered early and were discus-
sing the guest that was to arrive shortly. Buck
Thompson was especially interested. He was in
possession of a horse with a head three times too
large and legs four times too small for his bony
body. Some fatal defect in the horse made him,
as Buck Thompson confidently told the crowd,
"not worth a chaw," and this horse he was
going to try to swap Lincoln, "sights unseen."

Speculation has just started as to the out-
come of Buck's horse-trade when Clary and the
tall stranger arrived.



"His name is Abe Lincoln," Clary advised.

" 'Linkhorn' is what they called me over in
Indiana, ' '

"Paws, Abry Linkhorn," Ole Bar said, ex-
tending his hand and casting his one good eye
with approval on the stranger.

The few brief formalities having been dis-
pensed with, the group settled down to stories
and discussions, Ole Bar leading off with a
graphic description of many of the wonders of

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Online LibraryBernie BabcockThe soul of Ann Rutledge, Abraham Lincoln's romance → online text (page 2 of 14)