ePub 版

husband and her little nephew, Dennis Hanks, had followed the Lincolns into Indiana and were settled not far away in the half-faced camp. Dennis Hanks was Abraham's playmate and distant cousin, for Mrs. Sparrow was Nancy Lincoln's aunt. The Sparrows, man and wife, were taken down with “the milksick” and were removed to the Lincoln cabin, with little Dennis Hanks, for better attendance. With plague-stricken Thomas and Betsy Sparrow and Mrs. Lincoln, the cares of housekeeping and nursing, and the duty of providing for this feeble household, poor Thomas Lincoln, unthrifty that he was, had his hands full. The children were all small, and thus early in life did Abraham find how hard was the lot

of the poor.

Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow first died, and were buried on a little knoll in the forest within seeing distance of the cabin. On the 5th of October, a few days later, Nancy Lincoln died; and she too was buried in the forest, under the shade of a spreading and majestic sycamore. There were no funeral ceremonies, for there was no man of God to conduct them. And when the wayworn form of the mother was lowered into the grave, enclosed in the rude casket of wood shaped by the hands of Thomas Lincoln, and all was over, little Abraham Lincoln, sitting alone on the mound of fresh earth until the shadows grew deep and dark in the forest, and the sound of night-birds began to echo through the dim aisles, wept his first bitter tears. Doubtless, he thought of all that his mother, the faithful teacher and devoted Christian guide and friend, had been to him. Long after,

when the spot where she was buried 1 had been covered by the wreck of the forest and almost hidden, her son was wont to say, with tear-dimmed eyes, "All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother."

It was the custom of those days, and of that country, to have a funeral sermon preached by way of memorial, any time within the year following the death of a person. So, as soon as the good mother was buried, Abraham Lincoln composed what he used to say was his first letter, and addressed it to Parson Elkin, the Kentucky Baptist preacher who had sometimes tarried with the Lincolns in their humble home in Kentucky. It was a great favor to ask of the good man; for his journey to preach a sermon over the grave of Nancy Lincoln would take him one hundred miles or more, far from his customary “stamping-ground.” But, in due time, Abraham received an answer to his letter, and the parson promised to come when his calls of duty led him near the Indiana line.

Early in the following summer, when the trees were in the greenest and the forest was most beautiful, the preacher came on his errand of kindness. It was a bright and sunny Sabbath morning, when, due notice having been sent around through all the region, men, women, and children gathered from far and near to hear the funeral sermon of Nancy Lincoln. There was the hardy forest ranger, come in

· A stone has been placed over the site of the grave by Mr. P. E. Studebacker of South Bend, Indiana. The stone bears the following inscription: “Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died October 5th, A.D. 1818, aged 35 years. Erected by a friend of her martyred son, 1879.”

from his far-wandering quests to hear. There were the farmers and their families, borne hither in rude and home-made carts, new-comers some of them, and homesick for their distant birthplaces—two hundred of them, all told, some on foot, and some on horseback, and others drawn in ox-carts. All were intent on the great event of the season—the preaching of Nancy Lincoln's funeral sermon.

The waiting congregation was grouped around on “downtrees,” stumps, and knots of bunch-grass, or on wagon-tongues, waiting for the coming of the little procession. Thu preacher led the way from the Lincoln cabin, followed by Thomas Lincoln, his son Abraham, his daughter Sarah, and little Dennis Hanks, bereft now of father and mother and a member of the Lincoln household. Tears shone on the sun-browned cheeks of the silent settlers as the good preacher told of the virtues and the patiently borne sufferings and sorrows of the departed mother of Abraham Lincoln. And every head was bowed in reverential solemnity as he lifted up his voice in prayer for the motherless children and the widowed man. To Abraham, listening as he did to the last words that should be said over the grave of his mother, this was a very memorable occasion. He had fulfilled a pious duty in bringing the preacher to the place where she was laid. And as the words, wonderful to him, dropped from the speaker's lips, he felt that this was the end, at last, of a lovely and gentle life. He might be drawn into busy and trying scenes hereafter, and he might have many and mighty cares laid on him, but that scene in the forest

by the lonely grave of his mother was never to be forgotten.

It was a miserable household that was left for the three youngsters when shiftless Thomas Lincoln was the only reliance of the little brood. We can imagine how unkempt and ragged the three became, left almost wholly to th-mselves. Sarah, scarcely twelve years old, was the housekeeper. Abe, two years younger, came next, and Dennis Hanks, eighteen months younger

than young Lincoln, was the infant of the family. Thomas Lincoln did not brood long over his loneliness. His was a cheerful temper, and he hoped that the good Lord would send them help, somehow and some day; but how and when, he never stopped to think. Deer-flesh and the birds of the forest, broiled on the coals, were the staple of their daily food. The father knew better than Sarah did how to mix an ash-cake of corn-meal, and with milk from the cow, and an occasional slab of “side-meat,' or smoked side of pork, the family was never long hungry. It was primitive and hard fare. But a boy might nourish himself on that and live to be President.

Little Abraham had what was more to him than meat and drink-books. Boys of the present age, turning over languidly the piles of books at their command, beautiful, entertaining, instructive, and fascinating, gay with binding and pictures, would stand aghast at the slimness of the stock that made Abraham Lincoln's heart glad. The first books he read were the Bible, Æsop's Fables, and The Pilgrim's Progress. On these three books was formed the

literary taste of Abraham Lincoln. He might have fared worse. He thought himself the most fortunate boy in the country, and so good use did he make of these standard works that he could repeat from memory whole chapters of the Bible, many of the most striking passages of Bunyan's immortal book, and every one of the fables of Æsop.

He early took to the study of the lives and characters of eminent men, and a life of Henry Clay, which his mother had managed to buy for him, was one of his choicest treasures. From the day of his first reading the biography of the great Kentuckian, Lincoln dated his undying admiration for Henry Clay. Ramsay's Life of Washington was another book early found among the settlers and devoured with a book-hunger most pathetic. Hearing of another life of Washington, written by Weems, young Lincoln went in pursuit of it and joyfully carried it home in the bosom of his hunting shirt. Reading this by the light of a “tallow-dip,” or home-made candle, until the feeble thing had burned down to its end, Abraham tucked the precious volume into a chink in the log wall of the cabin and went to sleep. A driving storm came up in the night, and the book was soaked through and ruined when the eager boy sought for it in the early morning light. Here was a great misfortune! It was a borrowed book, and honest Abe was in despair over its destruction in his hands. With a heavy heart, he took it back to its owner. Mr. Crawford, who had lent it, looked at Abraham with an assumed severity, and asked him what he proposed to do about it. The lad offered

« 上一頁繼續 »