Irving Bacheller.

A man for the ages: a story of the builders of democracy online

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business and its relation to the character of Eliphalet
Biggs and to sundry infractions of law and order in
their community. Samson had declared that it was
wrong to sell liquor.

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

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

In this connection the New Englander wrote in his

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

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

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

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

"But I reckon you can learn it/' Simmons answered,
^*YouVe purty quick to learn."

Abe thought a moment. Calhoun was a Democrat

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

"Nary a one," said Simmons.

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

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

"No, sir — ^not if you can get it honest," Abe an-
swered. "I'm not so careless with my sneezing as
some men. Once when Eb Zane was out on the Ohio
in a row-boat Mike Fink the river pirate got after him.
Eb had a ten dollar gold piece in his pocket For fear
that he would be captured he clapped it into his mouth.

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Eb was a good oarsman and got away. He was no
sooner out of danger than he fetched a sneeze and
blew the gold piece into the river. After that he used
to say that he had sneezed himself poor and that if he
had a million dollars it wouldn't bother him to sneeze
*em away. Sneezing is a form of dissipation which has
not cost me a cent so far and I don't intend to yield to

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

In April Abe wrote another address to the voters
announcing that he was again a candidate for a seat
in the Legislature. Late that month Harry walked
with him to Pappsville where a crowd had assembled
to attend a public sale. When the auctioneer had fin-
ished Abe made his first stump speech. A drunken
man tried to divert attention to himself by sundry
interruptions. Harry asked him to be quiet, where-
upon the? ruffian and a friend pitched upon the boy
and began to handle him roughly. Abe Jumped down,
rushed into the crowd, seized the chief offender and
raising him off his feet flung him into the air. He hit
the ground in a heap some four yards from where
Abe stood. The latter resumed his place and went
on with his speech. The crowd cheered him and there

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-was no further disturbance at that meeting. The
speech was a modest, straightforward declaradon o{
his principles. When he was leaving several voices
called for a story. Abe raised a great laugh with a
humorous anecdote in which he imitated the dialect
and manners of a Kentucky backwoodsman. They
kept him on the auctioneer's block for half an hour
telling the wise and curious folk tales of which he
knew so many. He had won the crowd by his jMin-
ciples, his humor and good nature as well as by the
brave and decisive exhibition of his great strength.

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

In New Salem they were called the disappointed lov-
ers. It was known there that Abe was very fond of
Ann Rutledge although he had not, as yet, openly
confessed to any one — ^not even to Ann — ^there being
no show of hope for him. Ann was deeply in love
with John McNeil — ^the genial, handsome and success-
ful young Irishman. The affair had reached the stage

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of frankness, of an open discussion of plans, of fond
affection expressing itself in caresses quite indifferent
to ridicule.

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

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

"Oh, my pretty lass! Do you not hear the birds

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singing in the meadows?" said Jack Kelso. "ThinK
of the happiness all around you and of the greater
happiness that is coming when he returns. Shame on

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

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

So the event passed.

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

At odd times that summer he had been surveying ai

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new road with Harry Needles for his helper. In Sep-
tember they resumed their work upon it in the vicinity
of New Salem and Abe began to carry the letters in
his hat again. Every day Ann was looking for him
as he came by in the dim light of the early morning on
his way to work.

"Anything for me?" she would ask.

"No mail in since I saw you, Ann/' was the usual

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

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

"There'll be one next mail if I have to write it my-
self," Abe said one morning in October as he went

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

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

The mail stage was late that evening. As it had

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

"Please give me a letter," she said.

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

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

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

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

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

"Not since July tenth," she answered. Then she

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

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

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

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

A day or two later Abe and Harry went to Spring-
field. Their reason for the trip lay in a talk between

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the Postmaster and Jack Kelso the night before as they
sat by the latter's fireside.

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

"I'm glad to hear you declare in favor of external
improvements," said Kelso. "We've all been too much
absorbed by internal improvements. You're on the
right trail, Abe. You've been thinking of the public
car and too little of the public eye. We must show
some respect for both."

"Sometimes I think that comely dressi ought to
go with comely diction," said Abe. "But that's a
thing you can't learn in books. There's no gram-
marian of the language of dress. Then I'm so big
and awkward. It's a rather hopeless problem."

"You're in good company," Kelso assured hinr
"Nature guards her best men with some sort of singu-
larity not attractive to others. Often she makes them
odious with conceit or deformity or dumbness or gar*

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rulity. Dante was such a poor talker that no one
would ever ask him to dinner. If it had not been so I
presume his muse would have been sadly crippled by
indigestion. If you had been a good dancer and a
lady's favorite I wonder if you would have studied
Kirkham and Bums and Shakespeare and 'filackstone
and Greenleaf, and the science of surveying and been
elected to the Legislature. I wonder if you could even
have whipped Jack Armstrong."

"Or have enjoyed the friendship of Bill Berry
and acquired a national debt, or have saved my
imperiled country in the war with Black Hawk," Abe

In the matter of dress the Postmaster had great con-*
iidence in the taste and knowledge of his young friend,
Harry Needles, whose neat appearance Abe regarded
with serious admiration. So he asked Harry to go
with him on this new mission and help to choose
the goods and direct the tailoring, for it seemed to him
a highly important enterprise.

"It's a difficult problem," said Abe. "Given a big
man and a small sum and the large amount of re-
spectability that's desired. We mustn't make a mis-

They got a ride part of the way with a farmer go-
ing home from Rutledge's Mill.

"Our appropriation is only fifteen dollars," said Abe
as they came in sight of "the big village" on a warm

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bright day late in October. "Of course I can't expect
to make myself look like the President of the United
States with such a sum but I want to look like a re-
spectable citizen of the United States if that is possi-
ble, m give the old Abe and fifteen dollars to boot
for a new one and we'll see what comes of it."

Springfield had been rapidly changing. It was stiU
small and crude but some of the best standards of
civilization had been set up in that community. Fami-
lies of wealth and culture in the East had sent their
sons and a share of their capital to this little metropolis
of the land of plenty to go into business. The Ed-
wardses in their fine top boots and ruffled shirts were
there. So were certain of the Ridgleys of Maryland —
well known and successful bankers. The Logans and
the Conklings and the Stuarts who had won reputa-
tions at the bar before they arrived were now settled
in Springfield. Handsome, well groomed horses, in
silver mounted harness, drawing carriages that shone
"so you could see your face in them," to quote from
Abe again, were on its streets.

"My conscience ! What a lot of jingling and high
stepping there is here in the street and on the side-
walk," said Abe as they came into the village. "I
reckon there's a mile of gold watch chains in this

A public sale was on and the walks were thronged.
Women in fine silks and millinery; men in tall beavec

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hats and broadcloth and fine linen touched elbows
with the hairy, rough clad men of the prairies and
their worn wives in old-fashioned bonnets and faded

The two New Salem men stopped and studied a
big sign in front of a large store on which this an-
nouncement had been lettered :

"Cloths, cassinettes, cassimeres, velvet silks, satins,
Marseilles waistcoating, fine, calf boots, seal and mo-
rocco pumps for genUemen, crepe lisse, lace veils.
Thibet shawls, fine prunella shoes."

"Reads like a foreign language to me," said Abe.
"The pomp of the East has got here at last. I'd like
to know what seal and morocco pumps are. I reckon
they're a contrivance that goes down into a man's
pocket and sucks it dry. I wonder what a cassinette
is like, and a prunella shoe. How would you like a
little Marseilles waistcoating?"

Suddenly a man touched his shoulder with a hearty
"Howdy, Abe?"

It was Eli, "the wandering Jew," as he had been
wont to call himself in the days when he carried a pack
on the road through Peter's Bluff and Clary's Grove
and New Salem to Beardstown and back*

"Dis is my store," said Eli.

"Your store !" Abe exclaimed.

"Ya, look at de sign."

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The Jew pointed to his sign-board, some fifty feet
long under the cornice, on which they read the legend;

"Eli Fredenberg's Emporium."

Abe looked him over from head to foot and ex-
claimed :

"My conscience! You look as if you had been fixed
up to be sold to the highest bidder."

The hairy, dusty, bow-legged, threadbare peddler
had been touched by some miraculous hand. The lav-
ish hand of the West had showered her favors on him.
They resembled in some degree the barbaric pearl and
gold of the East. He glowed with prosperity. Dia-
monds and ruffled linen and Scotch plaid and red
silk on hia neck and a blue band on his hat and a
smooth-shorn face and perfumery were the glittering
details that surrounded the person of Eli.

"Come in," urged the genial proprietor of the Em-
porium. "I vould like to show you my goots and in-
troduce you to my brudder."

They went in and met his brother and had their
curiosity satisfied as to the look and feel of cassinettes
and waistcoatings and seal and morocco pumps and
prunella shoes.

In the men's department after much thoughtful dis-
cussion they decided upon a suit of blue jeans — ^that
being the only goods which, in view of the amount

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of cloth required, came within the appropriation. Eli
advised against it.

"You are like Eli already," he said. "You haf
got de pack off your back. Look at me. Don't you
hear my clothes say something?"

"They are very eloquent," said Abe.

**Vell dey make a speech. Dey say *Eli Fredenberg
he IS no more a poor devil. You can not sneeze at
him once again. Nefer. He has climb de ladder up.'
Now you let me sell you something vat makes a
good speech for you."

"If you'll let me dictate the speech I'll agree," said

"Veil— vat is it?" Eli asked.

**I would like my clothes to say in a low tone of
voice: 'This is humble Abraham Lincoln about the
Bame length and breadth that I am. He don't want
to scare or astonish anybody. He don't want to look
like a beggar or a millionaire. Just put him down for
a hard working man of good intentions who is hadlyi
in debt.' "

That ended all argument The suit of blue jeans
was ordered and the measures taken. As they were
about to go Eli said :

"I forgot to tell you dot I haf seen Bim Kelso de
odder day in St. Louis. I haf seen her on de street
She has been like a queen so grand I De hat and gown
from Paris and she valk so proud! But she look

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not so hippy like she usit to be. I speak to her. Oh
my, she vas glad and so surprised! She tolt me dot
she vould like to come home for a visit but her husband
he does not vant her to go dere — nefer again. My
jobber haf tolt me dot Mr. Biggs is git drunk efery
day. Bim she t'ink de place no good. She haf tolt
me dey treat de niggers awful. She haf cry ven she
tolt me dot.'*

"Poor child!" said Abe. "I'm afraid she's in trou-

"I've been thinking for some time that I'd go down
there and try to see her," said Harry as they were leav-
ing the store. "Now, I'll have to go."

"Maybe I'll go with you," said Abe.

They got a ride part of the way back and had a
long tramp again under the starlight.

"I don't believe you had better go down to St
Louis/' Abe remarked as they walked along. "It
might make things worse. I'm inclined to think that
I'd do better alone with that problem."

"I guess you're right," said Harry. "It would be
like me to do sometliing foolish."

"And do it very thoroughly," Abe suggested.
"You're in love with the girl, I wouldn't trust your
judgment in St. Louis."

"She hasn't let on to her parents that she's unhap-
py. Mother Traylor told me that they got a letter

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from her last week that told of the good times she was

"We know what that means. She can't bear to
acknowledge to them that she has made a mistake and
she don't want to worry them. Her mother is in part
responsible for the marriage. Bim don't want her to
be blamed. Eli caught her off her guard and her heart
and her face spoke to him."

In a moment Abe added: "Her parents have be-
gun to suspect that something is wrong. They have
never been invited to go down there and visit the girl.
I reckon we'd better say nothing to any one of what
we have heard at present'*

They reached New Salem in the middle of the night
and went into Rutledge's barn and lay down on the
hajrmow between two buffalo hides until morning.

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The next day after his return, Abe received a letter
for Ann. She had come over to the store on the ar-
rival of the stage and taken her letter and run home
with it That Saturday's stage brought the new suit
of clothes from Springfield. Sunday morning Abe
put it on and walked over to Kelso's. Mrs. Kelso was
sweeping the cabin.

**We shall have to stand outside a moment," said
Jack. 'T have an inappeasable hatred of brooms. A
lance in the hand of the Black Knight was not more
terrible than a broom in the hands of a righteous
woman. I had to flee from The Life and Adventures
of Duncan Campbell when I saw the broom flashing in
a cloud of dust and retreated."

He stepped to the door and said : "A truce, madam !
Here is the Honorable Abraham Lincoln in his new

Mrs. Kelso came out-of-doors and she and her
husband surveyed the tall young Postmaster.

"Well it is, at least sufficient" said Kelso.

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"The coat ought to be a little longer," Mrs. Kelso

"It will be long enough before I get another," said

**lt is not what one would call an elegant suit but
it's all right," Kelso added.

"The fact is, elegance and I wouldn't get along well
together," Abe answered. "It would be like going into
partner^ip with Bill Berry."

"Next month you'll be off at the capital and we shall
be going to Tazewell County," said Kelso.

"To Tazewell County!"

"Aye. It's a changing world! We should always
remember that things can not go on with us as they
are. The Governor has given me a job."

"And me a great sadness," said Abe. "You must
always let me know where to find you."

"Aye I Many a night you and I shall hear the cock

It was an Indian summer day of the first week in
November. That afternoon Abe went to the tavern

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Online LibraryIrving BachellerA man for the ages: a story of the builders of democracy → online text (page 12 of 23)