In honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, here’s a short historical fiction story written from the POV of a girl with romance on her mind.

MR. LINCOLN

By Beth E. Westcott

     On a sunny April day in 1837, a tall, thin stranger rode into Springfield, Illinois.

Mama had sent Jonas and me out into the yard to play, although it was mud season. After three days of rain, she couldn’t stand us underfoot for one minute more.

We tried not to get too muddy, but Jonas had fallen three times, and the hem of my skirt was soggy.

“Catch it this time, Rebecca,” my seven-year-old brother yelled. “You’re ten. You should be able to catch it.”

He threw the sloppy red ball to me. I held out my hands, but I really didn’t want to touch the muddy old thing.

Then I saw the stranger.

Smack! The ball hit the picket fence. The stranger’s horse jumped, and the man’s eyes rested on us. What secret lay behind the deep sadness on his face?

Jonas stepped closer to me. “Look at his face, all bones and wrinkles,” he whispered.

I poked him in the ribs with my elbow.

The man’s face broke into the most beautiful smile. Why, he looked almost handsome when he smiled.

“Howdey, childrun,” he said as he touched his hat brim. The horse jogged on down the street.

“Look at his legs.” Jonas pointed. “They almost touch the ground.”

I pushed his hand down. “Oh, Jonas, that poor man. His suit is patched all over. His arms stick right out of his sleeves.”

Actually, he looked like he would be more comfortable in a homespun shirt and overalls, like the ones Jonas wore.

“I wonder who he is,” I said.

Jonas shrugged and picked up his ball. He wiped it on the front of his shirt.

“Jonas!”

“What?” When he saw my frown, he looked down at his shirt. “Oh.”

***

     By the time Papa came home for supper, Jonas and I were scrubbed from top to toe. Because Mama and Papa entertained no dinner guests this evening, we children ate with them in the dining room.

Papa said grace. Polly, our maid, served the food.

“Jonas, stop squirming,” Mama scolded. “Take small bites and eat slowly.”

Jonas lowered his eyes to his lap. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Well.” Papa cleared his throat.

We all looked in his direction, knowing he expected our attention.

“Well,” he said again. “Mr. John Todd Stuart has a new junior law partner. I heard he was looking for one.”

“Oh, who is he, Mr. Whitcomb?” Mamma always called Papa ‘Mr. Whitcome’ in public, even in front of Jonas and me.

“His name is Abraham Lincoln. He is a member of the State Legislature, a farm boy from Indiana. Stuart claims he is a good lawyer, though you would not think so by his appearance.”

Papa paused to enjoy a few bites of Mama’s steaming chicken and biscuits.

Since children should be seen and not heard at the table, I had to wait for Mama to ask,

“Why, what’s wrong with him?” Daintily, she wiped her lips with a pure white linen napkin.

“I suppose there’s nothing wrong with him.” Papa chuckled. “However, when looks were passed out, he was certainly short ended. He’s long-legged and bony, trouser legs to the top of his boots. Most mournful face you ever did see. Looks like he lost his best friend.”

I glanced at Jonas.

Papa continued. “Poorer than a church mouse too. He had to borrow a horse to get to Springfield. Carries everything he owns in two saddlebags.”

Mama shook her head and clucked her tongue. “I am sure Mr. Stuart must have known what he was doing when he took on this Mr. Lincoln.”

I squirmed. Jonas kicked his legs under the table. (Mama did not notice.) We had seen Mr. Lincoln ride into town.

***

     Soon, all of Springfield was talking about Mr. Lincoln. When Mama’s friends came for tea, they gossiped about him something awful. He was so awkward. He always looked down at the toe of his boot when a lady spoke to him. And those stories he told! (Papa said Mr. Lincoln was quite a storyteller. The men always enjoyed having him around.) He had unspeakable manners, Mama and her friends said.

Whenever Mr. Lincoln passed the schoolhouse, he always looked straight down or straight ahead. But if he noticed any of us young scholars outside at recess, a big smile would light his face.

“Howdey, childrun.” He spoke with a slow, high-pitched drawl.

He would sit right on the ground with his back to a tree and his long, bony lets bent up. He would pass around a sack of peppermints. We all loved listening to his stories about animals and people. We did not realize he was teaching us about fairness and kindness.

One day, he told us about an exciting riverboat trip.

“Wow!” Jonas’s eyes got big. “Did you really travel all the way down the Mississippi?”

“Yup. Me and my partner, we took a load of goods all the way to New Orleans. Twelve hundred miles.”

“New Orleans.” I heard stories about the wonders of New Orleans and dreamed about visiting there one day. “Is it a fine place?”

“Shore is. Many interestin’ things to see. Ladies dressed in fine clothes. People speakin’ different languages.” He suddenly stopped talking, sadness filling his face again.

“What’s the matter, Mr. Lincoln?” I placed my hand on his shoulder.

“Well, I was thinkin’ about the slave market there.”

I shivered. “There’s a slave market in New Orleans?”

“Yes, and it’s not a purty sight. I do not understand how human beings can buy and sell other human beings like cattle. Just because of the color of their skin.”

“When I grow up, I’m going to Washington.” I pushed my shoulders back. “I’m going to join Congress and pass a law to stop slavery.”

Mr. Lincoln smiled at me and took my hand. “Miss Rebecca, I hope you do.”

Mr. Lincoln did not always talk. Sometimes he played tag with us in the school yard. Soon, we children would be a squealing jumble on the ground with Mr. Lincoln on the bottom.

Miss Kelly, our teacher, would ring the bell. “Recess is over children!” She never expressed any opinion of our play or Mr. Lincoln.

“Go, childrun, git all the eddication you can.” He would stand and brush off his clothes.

Mr. Lincoln did not say much about his upbringing. I heard he had very little schooling.

***

     However, Mr. Lincoln was a fine lawyer. He traveled all around Illinois helping people. “Honest Abe” folks called him, although he referred to himself as Abraham or A. Lincoln. He made stirring speeches at political rallies, giving his opinion about how the country should be run. And people listened to him. He was re-elected to the State Legislature. Papa called him a good Whig, whatever that meant.

“Mr. Lincoln is a fine man. I would be proud to have him court me,” I said to my friends. Of course, I was too young. But a girl could dream.

While their mothers visited with my mother in the parlor, Emily, Lucy, and I sat out under the apple tree in my yard having a tea party. Mr. Lincoln had been in town for three years now.

“Why, Becca, how can you say such a thing?” Emily said. “Mr. Lincoln is so old, and he certainly is not a gentleman.”

Lucy giggled. “Mama says he has no name, no money, and no manners. I would rather marry Mr. Stephen Douglas. He is a gentleman.”

“Mr. Lincoln is kind and sincere. He tells wonderful stories.” I reached for a tea cake. “Why, Mary Todd says he will be president of the United States one day.”

Emily tossed her head. “My mama says Mary Todd is too educated for her own good. She will never get a husband.”

Lucy nodded. “My mama says that a woman should know about how to keep house and take care of children, not about political candidates.”

I liked Mary Todd. She was smart, pretty, and fun to be around. Although from Lexington, Kentucky, Mary now lived with her sister, Mrs. Ninian Edwards, in Springfield. Mrs. Edwards had found husbands for two sisters already. Now it was Mary’s turn.

***

     Everyone knew that Mr. Lincoln called on Mary Todd, except when he forgot. He danced with her at parties when he remembered there was a party. Sometimes, she waited for him for hours. “What did a lady see in such a man?” many people wondered.

One evening I came in from the front porch where I had been reading the latest issue of Youth’s Companion. I overheard Mama and Papa talking in the sitting room. Mama frowned on eavesdropping, but I stopped in the hallway and listened.

“Mrs. Elizabeth Edwards is fit to be tied. She has all but forbidden Mary to see him. But that headstrong girl just will not listen,” Mama said.

“Now, now, my dear,” Papa said, “Lincoln is a little rough around the edges, but he is a fine lawyer. And he certainly admires Miss Todd.”

“But how can he ever give a lady the things she is used to having?” Mama and her friends all said this.

Mr. Lincoln needed a wife to take care of him, to wash and mend his clothes and to keep his papers straight. Then maybe he would not look so sad.

I heard rumors that they were engaged, and I was tickled. Mrs. Edwards did not look happy at all.

I waited, but the official engagement announcement never came. Mr. Lincoln looked sadder, Mary pale and miserable. When they met on the street, they nodded and said, “Good day.”

Some people said that Mary’s family had told her, “No!” Some said that Mr. Lincoln felt he was too poor and unmannerly to ever get married.

Perhaps Mr. Stephen Douglas would be a better husband for Mary. He had good manners and nice clothes, and he was a good dancer. Surely, he would make a name for himself, adults said.

***

     One afternoon as I approached the sitting room, I again heard Mr. Lincoln’s name. I stopped and leaned against the wall.

“Seems that Lincoln is paying court to Mary Todd again,” Papa said.

“Oh, my, where did you hear that, dear?” Mama asked.

“From Edwards himself. His wife is very upset. Miss Todd is quite determined and insists on having her way, however.”

I hurried down the hall and out the door. I could hardly wait to tell Emily and Lucy.

One gray November morning not long after that, Mama stopped me on my way out. “I have news for you, Rebecca.”

“Yes, Mama?” I stood on first one foot, then the other. I had plans to meet Emily and Lucy to go shopping for fabric for a new gown.

“Please don’t fidget, Rebecca. Young ladies of fifteen do not fidget.”

“Yes, Mama.” I stilled my feet and clasped my hands in front of me.

She cleared her throat. “Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln said their marriage vows last evening in the Edward’s parlor.”

“Really?” A smile stretched across my face. Love won.

“Yes.” Mama sighed. “Mrs. Edwards herself told me.”

I recorded the date in my diary—November 4, 1842.

The End

     ******************************************

Here are the books I used to research the lives of Abraham and Mary Lincoln.

Bibliography

Baker, Jean H. Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1987.

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Freedman, Russell. LINCOLN: A Photobiography. New York: Clarion Books, 1987.

Oates, Stephen B. With Malice Toward None: The life of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Harper &

Row Publishers, 1977.

Plowden, David, ed. Lincoln and His America 1809-1865. New York: Viking Press, 1970.

Randall, Ruth Painter. Mary Lincoln: Biography of a Marriage. Boston: Little, Brown, and

Company, 1963.

 

                             

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