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´╗┐Title: The Perfect Tribute
Author: Andrews, Mary Raymond Shipman, 1860-1936
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Perfect Tribute" ***

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THE PERFECT TRIBUTE

[Illustration]



THE PERFECT TRIBUTE BY

Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews


1908



THE PERFECT TRIBUTE


On the morning of November 18, 1863, a special train drew out from
Washington, carrying a distinguished company. The presence with them
of the Marine Band from the Navy Yard spoke a public occasion to come,
and among the travellers there were those who might be gathered only
for an occasion of importance. There were judges of the Supreme
Court of the United States; there were heads of departments; the
general-in-chief of the army and his staff; members of the cabinet.
In their midst, as they stood about the car before settling for the
journey, towered a man sad, preoccupied, unassuming; a man awkward and
ill-dressed; a man, as he leaned slouchingly against the wall, of
no grace of look or manner, in whose haggard face seemed to be the
suffering of the sins of the world. Abraham Lincoln, President of the
United States, journeyed with his party to assist at the consecration,
the next day, of the national cemetery at Gettysburg. The quiet
November landscape slipped past the rattling train, and the
President's deep-set eyes stared out at it gravely, a bit listlessly.
From time to time he talked with those who were about him; from time
to time there were flashes of that quaint wit which is linked, as
his greatness, with his name, but his mind was to-day dispirited,
unhopeful. The weight on his shoulders seemed pressing more heavily
than he had courage to press back against it, the responsibility
of one almost a dictator in a wide, war-torn country came near to
crushing, at times, the mere human soul and body. There was, moreover,
a speech to be made to-morrow to thousands who would expect their
President to say something to them worth the listening of a people
who were making history; something brilliant, eloquent, strong. The
melancholy gaze glittered with a grim smile. He--Abraham Lincoln--the
lad bred in a cabin, tutored in rough schools here and there, fighting
for, snatching at crumbs of learning that fell from rich tables,
struggling to a hard knowledge which well knew its own limitations--it
was he of whom this was expected. He glanced across the car. Edward
Everett sat there, the orator of the following day, the finished
gentleman, the careful student, the heir of traditions of learning
and breeding, of scholarly instincts and resources. The self-made
President gazed at him wistfully. From him the people might expect and
would get a balanced and polished oration. For that end he had been
born, and inheritance and opportunity and inclination had worked
together for that end's perfection. While Lincoln had wrested from a
scanty schooling a command of English clear and forcible always,
but, he feared, rough-hewn, lacking, he feared, in finish and in
breadth--of what use was it for such a one to try to fashion a speech
fit to take a place by the side of Everett's silver sentences? He
sighed. Yet the people had a right to the best he could give, and he
would give them his best; at least he could see to it that the words
were real and were short; at least he would not, so, exhaust their
patience. And the work might as well be done now in the leisure of the
journey. He put a hand, big, powerful, labor-knotted, into first one
sagging pocket and then another, in search of a pencil, and drew out
one broken across the end. He glanced about inquiringly--there was
nothing to write upon. Across the car the Secretary of State had just
opened a package of books and their wrapping of brown paper lay on
the floor, torn carelessly in a zigzag. The President stretched a long
arm.

"Mr. Seward, may I have this to do a little writing?" he asked, and
the Secretary protested, insisting on finding better material.

But Lincoln, with few words, had his way, and soon the untidy stump
of a pencil was at work and the great head, the deep-lined face, bent
over Seward's bit of brown paper, the whole man absorbed in his task.

Earnestly, with that "capacity for taking infinite pains" which
has been defined as genius, he labored as the hours flew, building
together close-fitted word on word, sentence on sentence. As the
sculptor must dream the statue prisoned in the marble, as the artist
must dream the picture to come from the brilliant unmeaning of his
palette, as the musician dreams a song, so he who writes must have a
vision of his finished work before he touches, to begin it, a
medium more elastic, more vivid, more powerful than any
other--words--prismatic bits of humanity, old as the Pharaohs, new as
the Arabs of the street, broken, sparkling, alive, from the age-long
life of the race. Abraham Lincoln, with the clear thought in his mind
of what he would say, found the sentences that came to him colorless,
wooden. A wonder flashed over him once or twice of Everett's skill
with these symbols which, it seemed to him, were to the Bostonian a
key-board facile to make music, to Lincoln tools to do his labor. He
put the idea aside, for it hindered him. As he found the sword fitted
to his hand he must fight with it; it might be that he, as well as
Everett, could say that which should go straight from him to his
people, to the nation who struggled at his back towards a goal. At
least each syllable he said should be chiselled from the rock of his
sincerity. So he cut here and there an adjective, here and there a
phrase, baring the heart of his thought, leaving no ribbon or flower
of rhetoric to flutter in the eyes of those with whom he would be
utterly honest. And when he had done he read the speech and dropped
it from his hand to the floor and stared again from the window. It was
the best he could do, and it was a failure. So, with the pang of the
workman who believes his work done wrong, he lifted and folded the
torn bit of paper and put it in his pocket, and put aside the thought
of it, as of a bad thing which he might not better, and turned and
talked cheerfully with his friends.

At eleven o'clock on the morning of the day following, on November 19,
1863, a vast, silent multitude billowed, like waves of the sea, over
what had been not long before the battle-field of Gettysburg. There
were wounded soldiers there who had beaten their way four months
before through a singing fire across these quiet fields, who had
seen the men die who were buried here; there were troops, grave and
responsible, who must soon go again into battle; there were the rank
and file of an everyday American gathering in surging thousands; and
above them all, on the open-air platform, there were the leaders of
the land, the pilots who to-day lifted a hand from the wheel of the
ship of state to salute the memory of those gone down in the storm.
Most of the men in that group of honor are now passed over to the
majority, but their names are not dead in American history--great
ghosts who walk still in the annals of their country, their
flesh-and-blood faces were turned attentively that bright, still
November afternoon towards the orator of the day, whose voice held the
audience.

For two hours Everett spoke and the throng listened untired,
fascinated by the dignity of his high-bred look and manner almost as
much, perhaps, as by the speech which has taken a place in literature.
As he had been expected to speak he spoke, of the great battle, of
the causes of the war, of the results to come after. It was an oration
which missed no shade of expression, no reach of grasp. Yet there
were those in the multitude, sympathetic to a unit as it was with the
Northern cause, who grew restless when this man who had been crowned
with so thick a laurel wreath by Americans spoke of Americans as
rebels, of a cause for which honest Americans were giving their lives
as a crime. The days were war days, and men's passions were inflamed,
yet there were men who listened to Edward Everett who believed that
his great speech would have been greater unenforced with bitterness.

As the clear, cultivated voice fell into silence, the mass of people
burst into a long storm of applause, for they knew that they had heard
an oration which was an event. They clapped and cheered him again and
again and again, as good citizens acclaim a man worthy of honor
whom they have delighted to honor. At last, as the ex-Governor of
Massachusetts, the ex-ambassador to England, the ex-Secretary of
State, the ex-Senator of the United States--handsome, distinguished,
graceful, sure of voice and of movement--took his seat, a tall, gaunt
figure detached itself from the group on the platform and slouched
slowly across the open space and stood facing the audience. A stir
and a whisper brushed over the field of humanity, as if a breeze
had rippled a monstrous bed of poppies. This was the President. A
quivering silence settled down and every eye was wide to watch this
strange, disappointing appearance, every ear alert to catch the first
sound of his voice. Suddenly the voice came, in a queer, squeaking
falsetto. The effect on the audience was irrepressible, ghastly.
After Everett's deep tones, after the strain of expectancy, this
extraordinary, gaunt apparition, this high, thin sound from the huge
body, were too much for the American crowd's sense of humor, always
stronger than its sense of reverence. A suppressed yet unmistakable
titter caught the throng, ran through it, and was gone. Yet no one
who knew the President's face could doubt that he had heard it and
had understood. Calmly enough, after a pause almost too slight to be
recognized, he went on, and in a dozen words his tones had gathered
volume, he had come to his power and dignity. There was no smile now
on any face of those who listened. People stopped breathing rather,
as if they feared to miss an inflection. A loose-hung figure, six
feet four inches high, he towered above them, conscious of and
quietly ignoring the bad first impression, unconscious of a charm of
personality which reversed that impression within a sentence. That
these were his people was his only thought. He had something to say to
them; what did it matter about him or his voice?

"Fourscore and seven years ago," spoke the President, "our fathers
brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and
dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we
are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any
nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on
a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of
it as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that
that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we
should do this.

"But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate,
we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who
struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or
to detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say
here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the
living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they
who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us
to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from
these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which
they here gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly
resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation,
under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of
the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the
earth."

There was no sound from the silent, vast assembly. The President's
large figure stood before them, at first inspired, glorified with the
thrill and swing of his words, lapsing slowly in the stillness into
lax, ungraceful lines. He stared at them a moment with sad eyes full
of gentleness, of resignation, and in the deep quiet they stared at
him. Not a hand was lifted in applause. Slowly the big, awkward man
slouched back across the platform and sank into his seat, and yet
there was no sound of approval, of recognition from the audience; only
a long sigh ran like a ripple on an ocean through rank after rank. In
Lincoln's heart a throb of pain answered it. His speech had been, as
he feared it would be, a failure. As he gazed steadily at these his
countrymen who would not give him even a little perfunctory applause
for his best effort, he knew that the disappointment of it cut into
his soul. And then he was aware that there was music, the choir was
singing a dirge; his part was done, and his part had failed.

When the ceremonies were over Everett at once found the President.
"Mr. President," he began, "your speech--" but Lincoln had
interrupted, flashing a kindly smile down at him, laying a hand on his
shoulder.

"We'll manage not to talk about my speech, Mr. Everett," he said.
"This isn't the first time I've felt that my dignity ought not to
permit me to be a public speaker."

He went on in a few cordial sentences to pay tribute to the orator
of the occasion. Everett listened thoughtfully and when the chief had
done, "Mr. President," he said simply, "I should be glad if I could
flatter myself that I came as near the central idea of the occasion in
two hours as you did in two minutes."

But Lincoln shook his head and laughed and turned to speak to a
newcomer with no change of opinion--he was apt to trust his own
judgments.

The special train which left Gettysburg immediately after the
solemnities on the battle-field cemetery brought the President's party
into Washington during the night. There was no rest for the man at the
wheel of the nation next day, but rather added work until, at about
four in the afternoon, he felt sorely the need of air and went out
from the White House alone, for a walk. His mind still ran on the
events of the day before--the impressive, quiet multitude, the serene
sky of November arched, in the hushed interregnum of the year, between
the joy of summer and the war of winter, over those who had gone from
earthly war to heavenly joy. The picture was deeply engraved in his
memory; it haunted him. And with it came a soreness, a discomfort of
mind which had haunted him as well in the hours between--the chagrin
of the failure of his speech. During the day he had gently but
decisively put aside all reference to it from those about him; he had
glanced at the head-lines in the newspapers with a sarcastic smile;
the Chief Executive must he flattered, of course; newspaper notices
meant nothing. He knew well that he had made many successful speeches;
no man of his shrewdness could be ignorant that again and again he
had carried an audience by storm; yet he had no high idea of his own
speech-making, and yesterday's affair had shaken his confidence more.
He remembered sadly that, even for the President, no hand, no voice
had been lifted in applause.

"It must have been pretty poor stuff," he said half aloud; "yet I
thought it was a fair little composition. I meant to do well by them."

His long strides had carried him into the outskirts of the city, and
suddenly, at a corner, from behind a hedge, a young boy of fifteen
years or so came rushing toward him and tripped and stumbled against
him, and Lincoln kept him from falling with a quick, vigorous arm. The
lad righted himself and tossed back his thick, light hair and stared
haughtily, and the President, regarding him, saw that his blue eyes
were blind with tears.

"Do you want all of the public highway? Can't a gentleman from the
South even walk in the streets without--without--" and the broken
sentence ended in a sob.

The anger and the insolence of the lad were nothing to the man who
towered above him--to that broad mind this was but a child in trouble.
"My boy, the fellow that's interfering with your walking is down
inside of you," he said gently, and with that the astonished youngster
opened his wet eyes wide and laughed--a choking, childish laugh that
pulled at the older man's heart-strings. "That's better, sonny," he
said, and patted the slim shoulder. "Now tell me what's wrong with the
world. Maybe I might help straighten it."

"Wrong, wrong!" the child raved; "everything's wrong," and launched
into a mad tirade against the government from the President down.

Lincoln listened patiently, and when the lad paused for breath, "Go
ahead," he said good-naturedly. "Every little helps."

With that the youngster was silent and drew himself up with stiff
dignity, offended yet fascinated; unable to tear himself away from
this strange giant who was so insultingly kind under his abuse, who
yet inspired him with such a sense of trust and of hope.

"I want a lawyer," he said impulsively, looking up anxiously into the
deep-lined face inches above him. "I don't know where to find a lawyer
in this horrible city, and I must have one--I can't wait--it may be
too late--I want a lawyer _now_" and once more he was in a fever
of excitement.

"What do you want with a lawyer?" Again the calm, friendly tone
quieted him.

"I want him to draw a will. My brother is--" he caught his breath with
a gasp in a desperate effort for self-control. "They say he's--dying."
He finished the sentence with a quiver in his voice, and the brave
front and the trembling, childish tone went to the man's heart. "I
don't believe it--he can't be dying," the boy talked on, gathering
courage. "But anyway, he wants to make a will, and--and I reckon--it
may be that he--he must."

"I see," the other answered gravely, and the young, torn soul felt
an unreasoning confidence that he had found a friend. "Where is your
brother?"

"He's in the prison hospital there--in that big building," he pointed
down the street. "He's captain in our army--in the Confederate army.
He was wounded at Gettysburg."

"Oh!" The deep-set eyes gazed down at the fresh face, its muscles
straining under grief and responsibility, with the gentlest, most
fatherly pity. "I think I can manage your job, my boy," he said. "I
used to practise law in a small way myself, and I'll be glad to draw
the will for you."

The young fellow had whirled him around before he had finished the
sentence. "Come," he said. "Don't waste time talking--why didn't
you tell me before?" and then he glanced up. He saw the ill-fitting
clothes, the crag-like, rough-modelled head, the awkward carriage of
the man; he was too young to know that what he felt beyond these was
greatness. There was a tone of patronage in his voice and in the
cock of his aristocratic young head as he spoke. "We can pay you, you
know--we're not paupers." He fixed his eyes on Lincoln's face to watch
the impression as he added, "My brother is Carter Hampton Blair, of
Georgia. I'm Warrington Blair. The Hampton Court Blairs, you know."

"Oh!" said the President.

The lad went on:

"It would have been all right if Nellie hadn't left Washington
to-day--my sister, Miss Eleanor Hampton Blair. Carter was better this
morning, and so she went with the Senator. She's secretary to Senator
Warrington, you know. He's on the Yankee side"--the tone was full of
contempt--"but yet he's our cousin, and when he offered Nellie the
position she would take it in spite of Carter and me. We were so
poor"--the lad's pride was off its guard for the moment, melted in the
soothing trust with which this stranger thrilled his soul. It was a
relief to him to talk, and the large hand which rested on his shoulder
as they walked seemed an assurance that his words were accorded
respect and understanding. "Of course, if Nellie had been here she
would have known how to get a lawyer, but Carter had a bad turn half
an hour ago, and the doctor said he might get better or he might die
any minute, and Carter remembered about the money, and got so excited
that they said it was hurting him, so I said I'd get a lawyer, and I
rushed out, and the first thing I ran against you. I'm afraid I wasn't
very polite." The smile on the gaunt face above him was all the answer
he needed. "I'm sorry. I apologize. It certainly was good of you to
come right back with me." The child's manner was full of the assured
graciousness of a high-born gentleman; there was a lovable quality in
his very patronage, and the suffering and the sweetness and the pride
combined held Lincoln by his sense of humor as well as by his soft
heart. "You sha'n't lose anything by it," the youngster went on. "We
may be poor, but we have more than plenty to pay you, I'm sure. Nellie
has some jewels, you see--oh, I think several things yet. Is it very
expensive to draw a will?" he asked wistfully.

"No, sonny; it's one of the cheapest things a man can do," was the
hurried answer, and the child's tone showed a lighter heart.

"I'm glad of that, for, of course, Carter wants to leave--to leave
as much as he can. You see, that's what the will is about--Carter is
engaged to marry Miss Sally Maxfield, and they would have been married
now if he hadn't been wounded and taken prisoner. So, of course, like
any gentleman that's engaged, he wants to give her everything that he
has. Hampton Court has to come to me after Carter, but there's some
money--quite a lot--only we can't get it now. And that ought to go
to Carter's wife, which is what she is--just about--and if he doesn't
make a will it won't. It will come to Nellie and me if--if anything
should happen to Carter."

"So you're worrying for fear you'll inherit some money?" Lincoln asked
meditatively.

"Of course," the boy threw back impatiently. "Of course, it would be a
shame if it came to Nellie and me, for we couldn't ever make her take
it. We don't need it--I can look after Nellie and myself," he said
proudly, with a quick, tossing motion of his fair head that was like
the motion of a spirited, thoroughbred horse. They had arrived at the
prison. "I can get you through all right. They all know me here," he
spoke over his shoulder reassuringly to the President with a friendly
glance. Dashing down the corridors in front, he did not see the guards
salute the tall figure which followed him; too preoccupied to wonder
at the ease of their entrance, he flew along through the big building,
and behind him in large strides came his friend.

A young man--almost a boy, too--of twenty-three or twenty-four,
his handsome face a white shadow, lay propped against the pillows,
watching the door eagerly as they entered.

"Good boy, Warry," he greeted the little fellow; "you've got me a
lawyer," and the pale features lighted with a smile of such radiance
as seemed incongruous in this gruesome place. He held out his hand to
the man who swung toward him, looming mountainous behind his brother's
slight figure. "Thank you for coming," he said cordially, and in his
tone was the same air of a _grand seigneur_ as in the lad's.
Suddenly a spasm of pain caught him, his head fell into the pillows,
his muscles twisted, his arm about the neck of the kneeling boy
tightened convulsively. Yet while the agony still held him he
was smiling again with gay courage. "It nearly blew me away," he
whispered, his voice shaking, but his eyes bright with amusement.
"We'd better get to work before one of those little breezes carries
me too far. There's pen and ink on the table, Mr.--my brother did not
tell me your name."

"Your brother and I met informally," the other answered, setting
the materials in order for writing. "He charged into me like a young
steer," and the boy, out of his deep trouble, laughed delightedly. "My
name is Lincoln."

The young officer regarded him. "That's a good name from your
standpoint--you are, I take it, a Northerner?"

The deep eyes smiled whimsically. "I'm on that side of the fence. You
may call me a Yankee if you'd like."

"There's something about you, Mr. Lincoln," the young Georgian
answered gravely, with a kindly and unconscious condescension, "which
makes me wish to call you, if I may, a friend."

He had that happy instinct which shapes a sentence to fall on its
smoothest surface, and the President, in whom the same instinct was
strong, felt a quick comradeship with this enemy who, about to die,
saluted him. He put out his great fist swiftly. "Shake hands," he
said. "Friends it is."

"'Till death us do part,'" said the officer slowly, and smiled, and
then threw back his head with a gesture like the boy's. "We must do
the will," he said peremptorily.

"Yes, now we'll fix this will business, Captain Blair," the big man
answered cheerfully. "When your mind's relieved about your plunder you
can rest easier and get well faster."

The sweet, brilliant smile of the Southerner shone out, his arm drew
the boy's shoulder closer, and the President, with a pang, knew that
his friend knew that he must die.

With direct, condensed question and clear answer the simple will was
shortly drawn and the impromptu lawyer rose to take his leave. But the
wounded man put out his hand.

"Don't go yet," he pleaded, with the imperious, winning accent which
was characteristic of both brothers. The sudden, radiant smile broke
again over the face, young, drawn with suffering, prophetic of close
death. "I like you," he brought out frankly. "I've never liked a
stranger as much in such short order before."

His head, fair as the boy's, lay back on the pillows, locks of hair
damp against the whiteness, the blue eyes shone like jewels from the
colorless face, a weak arm stretched protectingly about the young
brother who pressed against him. There was so much courage, so much
helplessness, so much pathos in the picture that the President's great
heart throbbed with a desire to comfort them.

"I want to talk to you about that man Lincoln, your namesake," the
prisoner's deep, uncertain voice went on, trying pathetically to make
conversation which might interest, might hold his guest. The man who
stood hesitating controlled a startled movement. "I'm Southern to the
core of me, and I believe with my soul in the cause I've fought for,
the cause I'm--" he stopped, and his hand caressed the boy's shoulder.
"But that President of yours is a remarkable man. He's regarded as
a red devil by most of us down home, you know," and he laughed,
"but I've admired him all along. He's inspired by principle, not by
animosity, in this fight; he's real and he's powerful and"--he lifted
his head impetuously and his eyes flashed--"and, by Jove, have you
read his speech of yesterday in the papers?"

Lincoln gave him an odd look. "No," he said, "I haven't."

"Sit down," Blair commanded. "Don't grudge a few minutes to a man in
hard luck. I want to tell you about that speech. You're not so busy
but that you ought to know."

"Well, yes," said Lincoln, "perhaps I ought." He took out his watch
and made a quick mental calculation. "It's only a question of going
without my dinner, and the boy is dying," he thought. "If I can give
him a little pleasure the dinner is a small matter." He spoke again.
"It's the soldiers who are the busy men, not the lawyers, nowadays,"
he said. "I'll be delighted to spend a half hour with you, Captain
Blair, if I won't tire you."

"That's good of you," the young officer said, and a king on his throne
could not have been gracious in a more lordly yet unconscious way.
"By the way, this great man isn't any relation of yours, is he, Mr.
Lincoln?"

"He's a kind of connection--through my grandfather," Lincoln
acknowledged. "But I know just the sort of fellow he is--you can say
what you want."

"What I want to say first is this: that he yesterday made one of the
great speeches of history."

"What?" demanded Lincoln, staring.

"I know what I'm talking about." The young fellow brought his thin
fist down on the bedclothes. "My father was a speaker--all my uncles
and my grandfather were speakers. I've been brought up on oratory.
I've studied and read the best models since I was a lad in
knee-breeches. And I know a great speech when I see it. And when
Nellie--my sister--brought in the paper this morning and read that
to me I told her at once that not six times since history began has a
speech been made which was its equal. That was before she told me what
the Senator said."

"What did the Senator say?" asked the quiet man who listened.

"It was Senator Warrington, to whom my sister is--is acting as
secretary." The explanation was distasteful, but he went on, carried
past the jog by the interest of his story. "He was at Gettysburg
yesterday, with the President's party. He told my sister that the
speech so went home to the hearts of all those thousands of people
that when it was ended it was as if the whole audience held its
breath--there was not a hand lifted to applaud. One might as well
applaud the Lord's Prayer--it would have been sacrilege. And they
all felt it--down to the lowest. There was a long minute of reverent
silence, no sound from all that great throng--it seems to me, an
enemy, that it was the most perfect tribute that has ever been paid by
any people to any orator."

The boy, lifting his hand from his brother's shoulder to mark the
effect of his brother's words, saw with surprise that in the strange
lawyer's eyes were tears. But the wounded man did not notice.

"It will live, that speech. Fifty years from now American schoolboys
will be learning it as part of their education. It is not merely my
opinion," he went on. "Warrington says the whole country is ringing
with it. And you haven't read it? And your name's Lincoln? Warry, boy,
where's the paper Nellie left? I'll read the speech to Mr. Lincoln
myself."

The boy had sprung to his feet and across the room, and had lifted
a folded newspaper from the table. "Let me read it, Carter--it might
tire you."

The giant figure which had crouched, elbows on knees, in the shadows
by the narrow hospital cot, heaved itself slowly upward till it loomed
at its full height in air. Lincoln turned his face toward the boy
standing under the flickering gas-jet and reading with soft, sliding
inflections the words which had for twenty-four hours been gall and
wormwood to his memory. And as the sentences slipped from the lad's
mouth, behold, a miracle happened, for the man who had written them
knew that they were great. He knew then, as many a lesser one has
known, that out of a little loving-kindness had come great joy; that
he had wrested with gentleness a blessing from his enemy.

"'Fourscore and seven years ago,'" the fresh voice began, and the
face of the dying man stood out white in the white pillows, sharp with
eagerness, and the face of the President shone as he listened as if to
new words. The field of yesterday, the speech, the deep silence which
followed it, all were illuminated, as his mind went back, with new
meaning. With the realization that the stillness had meant, not
indifference, but perhaps, as this generous enemy had said, "The most
perfect tribute ever paid by any people to any orator," there came
to him a rush of glad strength to bear the burdens of the nation. The
boy's tones ended clearly, deliberately:

"'We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain,
that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and
that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not
perish from the earth.'"

There was deep stillness in the hospital ward as there had been
stillness on the field of Gettysburg. The soldier's voice broke it.
"It's a wonderful speech," he said. "There's nothing finer. Other men
have spoken stirring words, for the North and for the South, but never
before, I think, with the love of both breathing through them. It is
only the greatest who can be a partisan without bitterness, and only
such to-day may call himself not Northern or Southern, but American.
To feel that your enemy can fight you to death without malice, with
charity--it lifts country, it lifts humanity to something worth dying
for. They are beautiful, broad words and the sting of war would be
drawn if the soul of Lincoln could be breathed into the armies. Do
you agree with me?" he demanded abruptly, and Lincoln answered slowly,
from a happy heart.

"I believe it is a good speech," he said.

The impetuous Southerner went on: "Of course, it's all wrong from
my point of view," and the gentleness of his look made the words
charming. "The thought which underlies it is warped, inverted, as I
look at it, yet that doesn't alter my admiration of the man and of his
words. I'd like to put my hand in his before I die," he said, and the
sudden, brilliant, sweet smile lit the transparency of his face like
a lamp; "and I'd like to tell him that I know that what we're all
fighting for, the best of us, is the right of our country as it is
given us to see it." He was laboring a bit with the words now as if
he were tired, but he hushed the boy imperiously. "When a man gets so
close to death's door that he feels the wind through it from a larger
atmosphere, then the small things are blown away. The bitterness
of the fight has faded for me. I only feel the love of country, the
satisfaction of giving my life for it. The speech--that speech--has
made it look higher and simpler--your side as well as ours. I would
like to put my hand in Abraham Lincoln's--"

The clear, deep voice, with its hesitations, its catch of weakness,
stopped short. Convulsively the hand shot out and caught at the great
fingers that hung near him, pulling the President, with the strength
of agony, to his knees by the cot. The prisoner was writhing in an
attack of mortal pain, while he held, unknowing that he held it, the
hand of his new friend in a torturing grip. The door of death had
opened wide and a stormy wind was carrying the bright, conquered
spirit into that larger atmosphere of which he had spoken. Suddenly
the struggle ceased, the unconscious head rested in the boy's arms,
and the hand of the Southern soldier lay quiet, where he had wished to
place it, in the hand of Abraham Lincoln.





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