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Title: Lincoln's Love Story
Author: Atkinson, Eleanor
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.

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  Illustration: Drawing by Jay Hambidge.

    “‘_I cannot bear to think of her out there alone in the storm._’”

                        LINCOLN’S LOVE STORY


                          ELEANOR ATKINSON

    _Author of “The Boyhood of Lincoln,” and “Mamzelle Fifine”_


  Illustration: Publisher’s Seal.

                              NEW YORK

                     DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY


                        TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES:

    Punctuation has been standardized.

    Non-printable characteristics have been given the following
            Italic text: --> _text_

    This book was written in a period when many words had not become
    standardized in their spelling. Words may have multiple spelling
    variations or inconsistent hyphenation in the text. These have
    been left unchanged unless indicated with a Transcriber’s Note.

    Footnotes are identified in the text with a number in
    brackets [2] and are displayed at the end of the paragraph.

    Transcriber Notes are used when making corrections to the
    text or to provide additional information for the modern
    reader. These notes are not identified in the text, but have
    been accumulated in a single section at the end of the book.




                       PUBLISHED, JANUARY, 1909





    “‘I cannot bear to think of her out
      there alone in the storm’”        _Frontispiece_

                                           FACING PAGE

    Above the dam at New Salem                       6

    The grammar which Lincoln studied
      as a young man                                16

    New Salem, Ill., where Lincoln was
      postmaster                                    20

    Squire Bowling Green’s cabin, near
      New Salem, Ill., as it is to-day              32

    The top of the hill, New Salem                  36

    Gutzon Borglum’s conception of Lincoln          46

    The grave of Ann Rutledge, Oakland
      Cemetery, Petersburg, Ill.                    56

                        Lincoln’s Love Story

In the sweet spring weather of 1835, Abraham Lincoln made a memorable
journey. It was the beginning of his summer of love on the winding
banks of the Sangamon. Only one historian has noted it as a happy
interlude in a youth of struggle and unsatisfied longings, but the
tender memory of Ann Rutledge, the girl who awaited him at the end
of it, must have remained with him to the day of his martyrdom.

He was returning from Vandalia, Illinois, then the capital, and his
first term in the state legislature, to the backwoods village of New
Salem that had been his home for four years. The last twenty miles of
the journey, from the town of Springfield, he made on a hired horse.
The landscape through which he rode that April morning still holds
its enchantment; the swift, bright river still winds in and out among
the wooded hills, for the best farming lands lie back of the gravelly
bluffs, on the black loam prairie. But three-quarters of a century
ago central Illinois was an almost primeval world. Settlements
were few and far apart. No locomotive awoke the echoes among the
verdant ridges, no smoke darkened the silver ribbon of the river, no
coal-mine gashed the green hillside. Here and there a wreath of blue
marked the hearth-fire of a forest home, or beyond a gap in the bluff
a log-cabin stood amid the warm brown furrows of a clearing; but for
the most part the Sangamon River road was broken through a sylvan

There were walnut groves then, as there are still oaks and maples.
Among the darker boles the trunks of sycamores gleamed. In the
bottoms the satin foliage of the cottonwood shimmered in the sun,
and willows silvered in the breeze. Honey-locusts, hawthorn and wild
crab-apple trees were in bloom, dogwood made pallid patches in the
glades and red-bud blushed. Wild flowers of low growth carpeted
every grassy slope. The earth exhaled all those mysterious fragrances
with which the year renews its youth. In April the mating season
would be over and the birds silent, a brooding stillness possess
an efflorescent Eden.

It was a long enough ride for a young man to indulge in memories
and dreams. A tall, ungainly youth of twenty-six was this rising
backwoods politician. He wore a suit of blue jeans, the trousers
stuffed in the tops of cowhide boots; a hat of rabbit-fur felt,
with so long a nap that it looked not unlike the original pelt, was
pushed back from his heavy black hair. But below primitive hat and
unruly hair was a broad, high forehead, luminous gray eyes of keen
intelligence, softened by sympathy and lit with humour, features of
rugged strength, and a wide mouth, full and candid and sweet. His
wardrobe was in his saddle-bags; his library of law books, most of
them borrowed, in a portmanteau on his saddle-bow; a hundred dollars
or so of his pay as a legislator in his belt, and many times that
amount pledged to debtors. His present living was precarious; his
only capital reputation, courage, self-confidence and a winning
personality; his fortune still under his shabby hat.

But this morning he was not to be dismayed. Difficulties dissolved,
under this fire of spring in his heart, as the snow had melted in the
sugar groves. The sordid years fell away from him; debts no longer
burdened his spirit. That sombre outlook upon life, his heritage from
a wistful, ill-fated mother, was dissipated in the sun of love.

  Illustration: From Menard-Salem-Lincoln Album.

    _Above the dam at New Salem, Illinois._

    _It was on the bank of the Sangamon, near the dam, that
    Lincoln first saw Ann Rutledge._

It was on such an April morning as this, four years before, that he
had first seen Ann Rutledge. She was in the crowd that had come down
to the mill to cheer him when he got the flat-boat he was taking to
New Orleans safely over New Salem dam. Ann was eighteen then, and
she stood out from the villagers gathered on the bank by reason of a
certain fineness of beauty and bearing. Her crown of hair was so pale
a gold as to be almost flaxen. Besides always being noted as kind
and happy, her eyes are described as a dark, violet-blue, with brown
brows and lashes. Her colouring was now rose, now pearl, changing
like the anemones that blow along the banks of the Sangamon.[1]

    [1] See Note at end of text.

Hero of the day, the raw youth was taken up the bluff and over the
ridge into the busy town of twenty log-houses and shops. He was
feasted in the eight-room tavern of hewn logs owned by her father,
James Rutledge, and for an hour entertained a crowd of farmers,
emigrants, and shopkeepers with droll stories--stories that, unknown
to him, would be repeated before nightfall over a radius of twenty
miles. He was beginning to discover that men liked to hear him talk,
and to wonder if this facility for making friends could be turned
to practical use. But as a young man whose fancy had fed on a few
books and many dreams, it may have meant more that this beautiful
girl waited on the table, laughed at his jokes--too kind of heart,
too gentle of breed, to laugh at his awkwardness--and praised his
wit and cleverness and strength.

When he pushed his boat off, Ann waved her kerchief from the bank. He
looked back at her outlined against the green bluff, to fix it in a
memory none too well-furnished with such gracious pictures. He might
never see her again. Poor, obscure, indifferently self-educated,
unaware of his own powers, he saw before him, at that time, only
the vagabond life of a river boatman, or the narrow opportunities
of a farm labourer. But he displayed such qualities on that voyage
as to win his employer. In July he returned to New Salem as a clerk
in Denton Offutt’s store.

It is not probable that Lincoln was conscious of a pang when he heard
that Ann Rutledge was engaged to marry John McNeill, proprietor of
the best store in the town and of rich farming lands. Daughter of
the mill and tavern owner, descended from a family of South Carolina
planters that boasted a Signer of the Declaration, a Chief Justice
of the Supreme Court under President Washington, and a leader in
an early Congress, she was far above the penniless, undistinguished
store-clerk. In the new West ability and worth could push itself
to the front as nowhere else in the world, but pioneer society was
not so democratic but that birth and wealth had their claims to

Most girls, at that time, were married at eighteen, but Ann was
still studying under the Scotch schoolmaster, Mentor Graham. Lincoln
met her often at the “spell-downs” with which the school closed the
Friday afternoon sessions. When he returned from an inglorious Indian
campaign the next year, he went to the Rutledge tavern to board. He
had risen rapidly in public esteem, had captained a local company in
the war, made a vigorous campaign for the legislature, and betrayed
a wide and curious knowledge of books and public questions. A
distinguished career was already predicted for him.

He and Ann were fast friends now, and for the next year and a half
he saw her daily in her most endearing aspects of elder sister and
daughter. It was a big, old-fashioned family of nine children, and
Ann did the sewing and much of the spinning and weaving. At meal
times she waited on the long tables, bringing platters of river fish,
game, and pork from the kitchen fire-place, corn and wheat bread and
hominy, milk and butter, honey and maple sugar, pots of coffee, and
preserves made from wild berries and honey. Amid the crowds of rough
men and the occasional fine gentleman, who could not but note her
beauty and sweetness, Ann held an air of being more protected and
sheltered in her father’s house than was often possible in a frontier

The meal over, she vanished into the family room. One chimney corner
was hers for her low chair of hickory splints, her spinning wheel,
and her sewing table, with its little drawer for thread and scissors.
About her work in the morning she wore a scant-skirted tight-fitting
gown of blue or brown linsey. But for winter evenings the natural
cream-white of flax and wool was left undyed, or it was coloured with
saffron, a dull orange that glorified her blond loveliness. She had
wide, cape-like collars of home-made lace, pinned with a cameo or
painted brooch, and a high comb of tortoise-shell behind the shining
coil of her hair, that made her look like the picture of a court
lady stepped out of its frame. Not an hour of privation or sorrow had
touched her since the day she was born. On the women whom Lincoln had
known and loved--his mother, his stepmother, and his sister--pioneer
life had laid those pitiless burdens that filled so many early,
forlorn graves. Ann’s fostered youth and unclouded eyes must have
seemed to him a blessed miracle; filled him with determination so
to cherish his own when love should crown his manhood.

The regular boarders at the tavern were a part of that patriarchal
family--Ann’s lover McNeill, Lincoln, and others. The mother was
at her wheel, the little girls had their knitting or patchwork, the
boys their lessons. The young men played checkers or talked politics.
James Rutledge smoked his pipe, read the latest weekly paper from
St. Louis or Kaskaskia, and kept a fond eye on Ann.

The beautiful girl sat there in the firelight, knitting lace or
sewing, her skilful fingers never idle; but smiling, listening to
the talk, making a bright comment now and then, wearing somehow, in
her busiest hour, an air of leisure, with all the time in the world
for others, as a lady should. In the country parlance Ann was always
spoken of as “good company.” Sweet-natured and helpful, the boys
could always go to her with their lessons, or the little sisters with
a dropped stitch or tangled thread. With the latest baby, she was
a virginal madonna. Lincoln attended the fire, held Mrs. Rutledge’s
yarn, rocked the cradle, and told his inimitable stories. When he
had mastered Kirkham’s Grammar he began to teach Ann the mysteries
of parsing and analysis.

After the school debate one night a year before, Mentor Graham, one
of those scholarly pedagogues who leavened the West with learning,
had thrilled him with ambition by telling him he had a gift for
public speaking, but that he needed to correct many inaccuracies and
crudities of speech. Text books were scarce, but he knew of a grammar
owned by a farmer who lived seven miles in the country. Lincoln got
up at daylight, filled his pockets with corn dodgers, and went for
that grammar. He must have bought it, paying for it in work, for he
afterward gave it to Ann--his single gift to her, or at least the
only one that is preserved. Her brother Robert’s descendants have
to-day this little old text-book, inscribed on the title-page in
Lincoln’s handwriting:

_Ann M. Rutledge is now learning grammar._

  Illustration: _The grammar which Lincoln studied as a young man._

    _It is said that Lincoln learned this grammar by heart,
    and it is the only gift which he is known to have given
    to Ann Rutledge._

How eloquent that battered, faded, yellow-leafed little old grammar
is of the ambitions and attainments that set these two apart from the
unrecorded lives in that backwoods community! Ann was betrothed, and
her content and trust in her lover were something beautiful to see,
but McNeill’s figure is vague. There is no description of him, few
facts about him are remembered, except that he had prospered and
won Ann Rutledge’s love. In the stories of the region, that have
now taken on the legendary haze of cherished romance, Lincoln is the
hero, long before he appears in the character of chivalrous suitor.

Oh, those long, intimate evenings! Twenty people were in the big,
fire-lit family room, perhaps, storm outside and flames roaring
merrily in the chimney. But they two, with a special candle on
Ann’s little sewing-table, were outside the circle of murmurous talk
and laughter, the pale gold head and the raven one close together
over the hard-and-fast rules of the text book! Lincoln loved her
then, unconsciously, must have loved her from the first, but he
was incapable of a dishonourable thought, and Ann’s heart was all

After Mr. Rutledge sold the mill and tavern in 1833 and moved to a
farm, Lincoln lived much of the time at Squire Bowling Green’s, on a
farm a half-mile north of the town, under the brow of the bluff. The
jovial squire was a justice of the peace, a sort of local Solomon
whose decisions were based on common sense and essential justice,
rather than on the law or evidence. He had a copy of the Statutes
of Illinois that Lincoln was going through. William G. Greene was
there, too, much of the time, although he was in no way related to
the Squire. This most intimate friend of Lincoln’s among the young
men of New Salem was preparing to go to college. Aunt Nancy Green
adored Lincoln, and said he paid his board twice over in human
kindness and pure fun. Here he made his home most of the time until
he went away to Springfield to practise law. It was while he was
living at Squire Green’s, in the spring of 1834, that John McNeill
suddenly sold his store and left for his old home, indefinitely
“back East.” The event turned all Lincoln’s current of thought and
purposes into new and deeper channels.

The reason McNeill gave was that he wanted to bring his old father
and mother out West to care for them on his farm. When he returned
he and Ann were to be married. It was a long journey, not without its
perils--first across to Vincennes, Indiana, down the Wabash and up
the Ohio to Pittsburg, then over the Alleghanies into New York State.
It would be weeks between letters, a year at least before he could
return. Many said openly that a man who was worth twelve thousand
dollars, like John McNeill, could have his parents brought to him.
What Ann thought no one ever knew. If she was hurt, she hid it in her
loyal heart, not cherishing it against him, and James Rutledge did
not object. Of a race in which honour and chivalry were traditions,
it could not have occurred to him that any man lived so base as to
break faith with his beloved daughter.

So Ann packed John McNeill’s saddle-bags, putting in every little
comfort her loving heart could think of or her industrious fingers
contrive, stepped up on the toe of her lover’s riding-boot to kiss
him good-bye, then bade him God-speed and watched him ride away, not
knowing that he was riding out of her life.

  Illustration: From a fresco painting in the State House,
      Springfield, Illinois.

    _Main Street of New Salem, Illinois._

    _Where Lincoln was postmaster, store clerk, politician and

Lincoln was the New Salem postmaster. In his journeys about the
country--surveying, working in the harvest field, electioneering--he
carried the mail of such farms as he passed in his hat or his
saddle-bags. The pioneer postmaster was the confidant of those he
served, in the absence of ministers and doctors. People read to him
the letters they received, complained of neglect, demanded of him
sympathy in their private joys and sorrows. And so it was he came
close to the grief of Ann Rutledge.

Weeks went by, and there was no letter from the absent McNeill. Ann
wrote often herself, tying the missives in wrapping paper with stout
string, sealing them securely, and giving them to Lincoln to mail.
Cheerful at first, her face grew wistful, her colour fled, her
singing voice fell silent. Too loyal to suspect, too proud to
complain, what fears possessed the lonely watches of the night,
what hope awoke with each dawn, those who loved her best could only
dimly guess. Her head held high in the pride of a faith unshaken, she
asked for her letter only with a look, but such a look as one could
scarce endure and the heart must ache to deny. Afterward she said she
thought of her lover as dead. Steamboats often blew up in those days;
there were swamps along the Wabash and the Ohio where men died of
malarial fever; there were treacherous places in the mountains where
a stumbling horse could end, in unrecorded tragedy, the sweetest
human drama. In her heart she set up a shrine to a consecrated
memory. For the one blow fate held for her she was unprepared.

In early summer there was a letter. Lincoln must have leaped on the
nearest saddled horse and galloped out to the farm to give it to her.
He slipped it into her hand unseen, saw the happy colour flood her
face, and watched her speed away to the riverbank to read it. It was
evening when she crept home again, in the radiance of the harvest
moon, across the stubble of the wheat, like a dazed ghost.

It was not a letter that Ann could speak of to her father and mother
with confidence and pride. McNeill had been ill on the journey--not
so ill, however, that he could not have written. And his name was
not McNeill, but McNamar. Family misfortunes had caused him to change
his name out West so dependent relatives could not find him, thus
giving the lie to his excuse for going back. He said nothing about
returning, showed no remorse for his neglect, did not speak of her
tender letters to him. Perhaps, in the old home, he had not cared
to claim them under the name by which she knew him. It was a strange
letter, heartless and without a spark of honour. But Ann had loved
the man for four years, plighting her troth with him at seventeen.
Although he had wounded her inrooted affections and faith, apparently
deserted her without a pang, placed her in an intolerable position
before a censorious world, she could not put him out of her mind and
heart. She wrote to him again, with no reproaches, and she kept her
own counsel.

Two more letters came at long intervals. Then they ceased altogether.
In every sparsely settled community there is much curiosity about
the unusual event, and some malice toward misfortune. Here offensive
gossip ran about. It was reported that McNamar was a fugitive from
justice--a thief, a murderer, that he already had a wife in the East.
The talk enraged her father, and enveloped sweet Ann Rutledge in an
atmosphere of blight. The truth--that he had tired of her--was surely
not so bad as these rumours of criminal acts. With that element of
the maternal that underlies the love of women for men, she came to
the defence of his good name. She showed her father the letters,
laying the sacrifice of her rejected self on the altar of a lost,
unworthy love.

But it had the opposite effect she intended. In James Rutledge’s
Southern code this was the blackest thing a man could do. A thousand
miles of wilderness separated him from the scoundrel who had broken
the heart of his daughter! Was John McNamar to go unpunished? Not
an old man, he seemed to break up physically under the blow. Public
sympathy was with him and with the deserted girl. Her father was
her lover now, surrounding her with every attention and tender care.
It was remarked in a day and place when family affection was not
demonstrative. Again, in the country parlance, it was said: “James
Rutledge is just wrapped up in Ann.”

A new element was added to this absorbing drama when Lincoln began
to pay open court to Ann, publishing it far and wide that he would
be proud to win what McNamar had not cared to keep. A wave of
enthusiastic admiration swept over the country-side. Nothing else
was talked of in the town and around the mill. His chivalrous love
may well have played its part in his spectacular campaign for the
legislature, and his triumphant election in August.

Ann gave no encouragement to his suit. To Lincoln, who was reading
Jack Kelso’s precious copy of Shakespeare’s plays at the time,
his love must have seemed another Ophelia, crushed by unkindness,
bewildered by a world in which men could break faith. As she shrank
from the blunt perception of curious neighbours she came to lean more
and more on Lincoln’s devotion. It had in it, permeating its human
quality, that divine compassion which, enlarged, was afterward to
free a race. He wanted to free her spirit from bonds of the past. In
the early days of his wooing his personal feeling and hopes were put
in the background.

He persuaded Ann to study with him again. All that long autumn, while
the walnuts turned to gold, the maples flamed across the world, and
the oaks poured their cascades of red wine over the bluffs, they
were together. Often the two were seen under a giant sycamore, on
a hill below the town and overlooking the river, Ann puzzling over
conjugations, Lincoln sprawled at her feet reading Blackstone’s
Commentaries. It was such an extraordinary thing in that unlettered
region that it was remarked ever after by those who saw it. It was an
affair of public interest, and now of publicly expressed satisfaction
at the happier turn of events. The world not only loves a lover,
but it loves wedding bells at the end of the story. The first frost
touched the forests with a magic wand, then Indian summer lay its
bloomy haze over the landscape like the diaphanous veil that parts
a waiting soul from Paradise. With the gales and snows of December
Lincoln rode away for his winter of lawmaking at Vandalia.

Now, indeed, letters came for Ann across the white silence that lay
in the valley of the Sangamon. Dated from the state capital they
were, written with the quill pens and out of the cork inkstands
the commonwealth provided. Not one of these letters is in existence
to-day. They could not have been love-letters in the conventional
sense, but eloquent of that large comradeship love holds for men and
women of rare hearts and minds. For the first time he had come into
contact with the men who were shaping the destinies of his state,
measuring his capacities with theirs, and finding that he did not
differ from them much in kind or degree. His ambition took definite
shape. He saw a future of distinction and service such as he would
be proud to ask Ann to share.

What pictures of men and the times he must have drawn for her!
In those pioneer days only a few of the public men were backwoods
lawyers like himself. Some, indeed, and many of the best, expressed
the native genius and crude force that were transforming the
wilderness. But there were old-world aristocrats, to whom the English
language even was exotic, from Kaskaskia and the French mission
towns, more than a century old, on the Mississippi. And there
were Southern planters of wealth, whose fiery code always held for
Lincoln an element of the absurd. Eastern men too, were there, with
traditions of generations of learning and public service, and some
“Yankees” with an over-developed shrewdness that the others agreed
in detesting. Chicago was only an upstart village; northern Illinois
just opened up to emigration from the East; southern Illinois was
of the South, in population and sentiment, with the added grace of
French manners. The capital was a tiny city, but it had high-bred
society into which Ann would fit so well. There would be humorous
anecdotes in those letters, too, to restore the gaiety of her heart,
for, much as he loved men, their foibles and failings furnished him
infinite amusement.

The lonely girl could not but be cheered by these letters and have
her outlook on life enlarged by them, so that her own experience
dwindled somewhat in the perspective. She wrote to him--girlish,
grateful letters--saying nothing of McNamar, and showing how
pathetically she leaned on him. On his homeward ride in the sweet
spring weather his mind dwelt on her with a tenderness no longer
forbidden, no longer hopeless of its reward.

Squire Green’s farm lay to the north of New Salem, so that, on this
day of his return, he must have avoided the village, its clamorous
welcome, its jesting surmises. In fancy he could imagine that lovable
vagabond, Jack Kelso, fishing from the pier below the dam, catching
sight of him out of the tail of a mischievous Irish eye, and
announcing his arrival with a tender stanza from “Annie Laurie.” The
sympathy of town and country-side was with him in his wooing, and it
warmed his heart; but to-day was sacred to love.

He turned from the road into the ravine toward the big cabin of hewn
logs that nestled under the brow of the bluff. We know that a grove
of forest trees surrounded it and a young apple orchard, in blossom
in April, concealed it from the highway and river. If it was after
the noon hour the men would have gone back to their ploughing, and
Aunt Nancy Green, in a gown of lilac print, be sitting with her
patchwork in the orchard, where she could smell the bloom, keep an
eye on strolling, downy broods, and watch the honey-bees fill her
hives. The Squire was there, too, very likely, tilted back in his
wide chair of hickory splints, asleep. He was a well-to-do man, and
as he weighed two hundred and fifty pounds he took life easy, and
was never far away from the slender shadow cast by busy “mother.”

  Illustration: Photograph by C. U. Williams, Bloomington, Ill.

    _Lincoln’s Old Home._

    _Squire Bowling Green’s Cabin, near New Salem, Illinois, as
        it appears to-day._

    _Lincoln lived here from 1834 to 1837. It was in this cabin
        that he mourned the death of Ann Rutledge._

“Yes, Bill was some’ers ’round,” but lively Aunt Nancy ventured an
affectionate joke, saying she “reckoned Abe wasn’t pinin’ to see Bill
as much as he was someone else.” She was willing to get his dinner in
the middle of the afternoon, but he had to pay for it with his best
new stories. A visit with Aunt Nancy, his books arranged on the shelf
he had built above his table in the chimney corner, a swim in a warm
shallow pool in the Sangamon, then up the ladder-like stair to the
loft chamber he often shared with the friend of his youth, to dress
for Ann!

Lincoln is described, about this time, by Harvey Ross, who carried
the mail over the star-route of central Illinois, as having a summer
suit of brown nankeen, with a white waistcoat sprigged with coloured
flowers. The wide, soft collar of his white shirt rolled back over a
neck-cloth made of a black silk, fringed handkerchief. His hat was of
brown buckeye splints, the pioneer’s substitute for straw. It was in
this fashion he must have appeared as he walked back along the river
and across the fields when he went to urge his love for Ann Rutledge.

In old patch-work quilts, cherished as the work of our
great-grandmothers, we may see to-day bits of cotton print--white
with coloured pin-dots, indigo blue and oil red, and violet and
pink grounds powdered with tiny, conventional figures and flowers
in white. They remind us of old-fashioned gardens of perennials where
lilacs, damask roses, and flowering almonds bloomed. A young girl
like Ann would have one such pink gown to wear on warm evenings;
and a quilted and ruffled sun-bonnet of sheer muslin, not to wear
seriously, but to hang distractingly by the strings around her white
neck. There was little self-consciousness about her, and no coquetry
at all. Ann never teased; she was just simple and sincere and sweet.
But it would be instinctive with her to pick up the grammar as an
excuse for the stroll along the bluff with her lover.

Of an oak or a maple, no matter how dense the foliage, one has a
distinct image of the individual leaf; but of the sycamore--the
American plane-tree--you may see thousands, and carry away only
an impression of a silvery column and an enormous dome of green
gossamer--a diaphanous mesh of vernal lace, whose pattern dissolves
momently in the sun, and frays and ravels in the wind. When they came
to where the sycamore was weaving its old faery weft in the sunset
light, she laid the bonnet on the grass, and listened to his stories
and comments on the new men and things he had seen, until he made
her laugh, almost like the happy girl of old tavern days; for Lincoln
was a wizard who could break the spell of bad dreams and revive dead
faiths. A pause, a flutter of hearts as light as the leaf-shadows,
and a hasty question to cover the embarrassment. There was a puzzling
point in her grammar lesson--how _can_ adverbs modify other adverbs?

  Illustration: Photograph by C. U. Williams, Bloomington, Ill.

    _The top of the hill, New Salem, Illinois._

    _The honey locust and sycamore, growing together from a slight
        depression that marks the site of Denton Offutt’s store,
        are known as the “Lincoln Trees.”_

Yes, he had been puzzled by that, too, and Mentor Graham had helped
him with an illustration.

I love you _very dearly_!

Oh yes, she understood now! A burning blush, a gasping sigh at
the shock of flooding memory! She still struggled to forget this
blighting thing. But could she ever again listen to such words
without pain or shame? She had the courage of a proud race. If
her lips trembled, she could at least lift her eyes to meet that
immemorial look of brooding tenderness, and she could ask timidly
if he would hear her recite the conjugation of the regular verb to
see if she had forgotten.

Why is it that these sober old grammars, full of hard-and-fast
rules--and bewildering exceptions--strewing the path of learning with
needless thorns and obstructions of every sort, still instinctively
chose the one verb ardent youth conjugates with no teaching at all?
First person, singular number, present tense, declarative mood--_I
love_, transitive, requiring an object to complete its meaning, as
life itself requires one--_you_.

No pause! The story neither begins there, nor ends. How tireless that
confession; how thrilling that mutual self-analysis; what glamour
over every aspect! Past, to the beginning of things, future to
Eternity; the insistent, pleading interrogative, _do you love_; the
absurd potential, as if there ever was any may or might about it; the
inevitable, continuing state, _loving_; the infinitive _to love_--all
the meaning and purpose of life; and the crown of immortality _to
have loved_. Then that strange, introspective subjunctive, wild
with vain regret, that youth ponders with disbelief that Fate could
ever so defraud--that a few lonely souls have had to con in the sad
evening of empty lives:

_If we had loved!_

O, sweet Ann Rutledge, could you endure to look back across such arid
years and think of this lover denied? No! No matter what life yet
held for them of joy or sorrow, the conjugation is to be finished
with the first person plural, future-perfect, declarative. At the
very worst--and best--and last, robbing even death of its sting, at

_We shall have loved._

And so they sat there long, in the peaceful evening light, looking
out across the river with the singing name, that purls and ripples
over its gravelly bars and sings the story of their love, forever!

No one who saw the two together that summer ever forgot it. Pioneer
life was too often a sordid, barren thing, where men and women
starved on bread alone. So Lincoln’s mother had dwindled to an early
grave, lacking nourishment for the spirit. Courtship, even, was
elemental, robbed of its hours of irresponsible idleness, its faery
realm of romance. To see anyone rise above the hard, external facts
of life touched the imagination of the dullest. In his public aspect
a large part of Lincoln’s power, at this time, was that he expressed
visibly community aspirations that still lay dormant and unrecognized.
Now, he and Ann expressed the capacities of love of the disinherited.
To the wondering, wistful eyes that regarded them, they seemed to
have escaped to a fairer environment of their own making--of books,
of dreams, of ambitions, of unimagined compatibilities.

He borrowed Jack Kelso’s Burns and Shakespeare again, to read with
Ann. Together they read of Mary, loved and lost; of Bonnie Doon,
and Flow Gently, Sweet Afton, that plea to old mother-earth for
tenderness for one gone beyond loving. With no prescience of disaster
they read that old love tragedy of Verona.

The young and happy can read these laments without sadness. They
sound the depths of passion and the heights of consecration. They
sing not only of dead loves, but of deathless love, and they contract
the heart of youth with no fear of bereavement. Young love is always
secure, thrice ringed around with protecting spells and enchantment;
death an alien thing in some distant star. The banks of the Sangamon
bloomed fresh and fair that golden summer, the meadow-lark sang
unreproached, the flowing of the river accompanied only dreams of
fuller life.

They knew Italy for the first time, think of the wonder of it!--as
something more than a pink peninsula in the geography--felt the
soft air of moon-lit nights of love throb with the strain of the
nightingale. There are no nightingales in America, but when he
took the flat-boat down to New Orleans--Did she remember waving
her kerchief from the bank? When the boat was tied up in a quiet
Louisiana bayou one night, he heard the dropping-song of the
mockingbird. That was like Juliet’s plea: “Oh love, remain!”

What memories! What discoveries! What searching self-revelations by
which youth leads love back through an uncompanioned past, finding
there old experiences, trivial and forgotten until love touches and
transforms them. Life suddenly becomes spacious and richly furnished.
Lincoln’s old ties of affection were Ann’s now, dear and familiar;
his old griefs. In tender retrospect she shared that tragic mystery
of his childhood, his mother’s early death. And, like all the other
women who ever belonged to him, she divined his greatness--had a
glimpse of the path of glory already broadening from his feet.

She set her own little feet in that path, determined that he should
not outdistance her if she could keep up with his strides. They could
not be married until he was admitted to the bar, so she took up her
old plan of going to Jacksonville Academy. Her brother David was
going to college there, and then was to study law with Lincoln. What
endearing ties were beginning to bind him to her family! They spent
long afternoons studying, and Lincoln made rapid progress, for his
mind was clear and keen, freed from its old miasma of melancholy.

But they seemed curiously to have changed characters. Ann had been
the one of placid temperament, dwelling on a happy level of faith
in a kind world. Lincoln had, by turns, been hilarious and sunk in
gloom. Privations and loss had darkened his youth; promise lured his
young manhood only to mock; powers were given him only to be baffled.
But now life was fair, the course open, the goal in sight, happiness
secure! For Ann had the quiet ways, the steadfast love, and the
sweet, sweet look, in which a man, jaded and goaded by the world of
struggle, could find rest. Surely fate had played all her malicious
tricks! It was enough for him, that summer, to lie at his lady’s
feet, his elbows in the grass, his shock head in his hands, absorbed
in Chitty’s “Pleadings.”

Ann studied fitfully, often looking off absently across field and
river, starting from deep reverie when he spoke to her. Her mother
noticed her long, grave silences, but thought of them as the pensive
musings of a young girl in love. This impression was increased by her
absorption in her lover. When with him, talking with him, a subtle
excitement burned in her eye and pulsed in her cheek; but when he was
gone the inner fire of her spirit seemed to turn to ashes. She clung
desperately, visibly, to this new love--so infinitely more precious
and satisfying than the old. She did not doubt its reality, but
happiness, in the nature of things, was to her, now, evanescent
and escaping.

People remembered afterward, as the days lengthened, how fragile
Ann looked, as if withered by hot, sleepless nights--how vivid and
tremulous. She had spells of wild gaiety, her laughter bubbling up
like water from a spring, and she grew lovelier, day by day. And
there were times, when Lincoln was away in the harvest-field or on
surveying trips, that she sat pale and listless and brooding for
hours, with hands that had always been so busy and helpful, clasped
idly in her lap.

Like Juliet, she must often have cried in her secret heart, “Oh,
love, remain!” Left alone, she became the prey of torturing thoughts.
Life had dealt Ann Rutledge but one blow, but that had struck to the
roots of her physical and spiritual life. Her world still tottered
from the shock. If she had confessed all her first vague, foolish
fears, her mind might have been freed of their poison. But she came
of brave blood and tried to fight her battle alone.

  Illustration: Copyright, 1907, by Gutzon Borglum.

    _Gutzon Borglum’s conception of Abraham Lincoln._

    _Considered the most inspired head of Lincoln ever modelled._

    From the memorial head in the Capitol, Washington, D. C.

At last, worn out with mental and moral wrestlings, she turned to her
father for help. Lincoln was working at high pressure and he had some
perplexities of debts. She shrank from troubling him.

Her heart must have beat in slow, suffocating throbs when she crept
to her father’s arms and confessed her fears:

What if McNamar should come back!

She need not trouble her golden head about that! The country would be
too hot to hold him. Lincoln had thrashed the breath out of a man for
swearing before women in his store.

But what if he still loved her, trusted her, was on his way back,
confident and happy, to claim her? What if he could lift this veil
of mystery and stand forth clear and manly?

McNamar would never appear in such guise, bless her innocent heart.
He was a black-hearted scoundrel. In the old days, in South Carolina,
men of the Rutledge breed would have killed such a hound. But he was
alarmed now, surely, at this strange obsession, and questioned her.
And then the whole piteous truth was out.

She was _afraid_ he would come back--shuddering at the thought--come
back to reproach her with pale face and stricken eyes. And she loved
him no longer. She had been so happy this summer, and then it began
to seem all wrong. Love forsaken was such pain and bewilderment.
Could she endure happiness purchased at the price of another’s

McNamar had come back, indeed, and love was impotent to defend this
hapless innocence! She had never understood his behaviour. Incapable
of such baseness herself, she had never comprehended his. Like a
flower she had been blighted by the frost of his desertion, and had
revived to brief, pale life in a new sun; but the blight had struck
to the root.

But what beauty of soul was here revealed, adding poignancy to grief!
No one had quite known her. Physically so perfect, no one had divined
those exquisite subtleties of the heart that made her hold on life
tenuous. Lincoln was sent for but he was not found at once, for
his employments kept him roving far afield. Round and round, in
constantly contracting circles, her inverted reason, goaded by an
accusing conscience ran until, at last, her sick fancy pictured
herself as the faithless one. The event was forgotten--she remembered
only the agony of love forsaken. And so she slipped away into the
delirium of brain fever.

Lincoln had one anguished hour with her in a brief return to
consciousness. It was in the living-room of a pioneer log-cabin,
untouched by grace or beauty; homely, useful things about them, the
light on her face coming through a clapboard door open to the sun and
wind of an unspoiled landscape. The houses of the wealthiest farmers
were seldom more than two big rooms and a sleeping loft, and privacy
the rarest, most difficult privilege. Her stricken family was in the
kitchen, or out of doors, to give them this hour of parting alone.
What was said between them is unrecorded. When she fell into a coma,
Lincoln stumbled out of that death-chamber like a soul gone blind
and groping. Two days later Ann Rutledge died.

As a pebble falling from a peak in the Alps may start an avalanche on
its path of destruction, so one man’s unconsidered sin may devastate
many lives. The tragedy shocked the country for twenty miles around.
It had the elements and proportions of a classic tale, so that
to-day, when it is three-quarters of a century gone by, the
great-grandchildren of those who witnessed it speak of it with
hushed voices. Lincoln’s mission and martyrdom imbued it with those
fates that invest old Greek drama. James Rutledge died three months
later, at the age of fifty-four, it was currently believed of a
broken heart.[2] The ambitious young brother David, who was to have
been Lincoln’s partner, died soon after being admitted to the bar.
The Rutledge farm was broken up, the family scattered. Lincoln came
to the verge of madness.

    [2] Ida M. Tarbell’s “Early Life of Lincoln.”

A week after the funeral William G. Greene found him wandering in the
woods along the river, muttering to himself. His mind was darkened,
stunned by the blow. He sat for hours in a brooding melancholy
that his friends feared would end in suicidal mania. Although some
one always kept a watchful eye upon him, he sometimes succeeded
in slipping away to the lonely country burying ground, seven miles
distant. There he would be found with one arm across her grave,
reading his little pocket Testament. This was the only book he
opened for months.

All that long autumn he noticed nothing. He was entirely docile,
pitifully like a child who waits to be told what to do. Aunt Nancy
kept him busy about the house, cutting wood for her, picking apples,
digging potatoes, even holding her yarn; the men took him off to
the fields to shock and husk corn. All of them tried, by constant
physical employment, to relieve the pressure on his clouded mind,
love leading them to do instinctively what the wisest doctors do
to-day. In the evenings he sat outside the family circle, sunk in a
brown study from which it was difficult to rouse him. It was a long
and terrible strain to those devoted friends who protected and loved
him in that anxious, critical time. Not until the first storm of
December was there any change.

It was such a night of wind and darkness and snow, as used to cause
dwellers in pioneer cabins, isolated from neighbours at all times,
but now swirled about, shut in, and cut off other from human life by
the tempest, to pile the big fireplace with dry cord-wood, banking
it up against the huge back-log, and draw close together around the
hearth, to watch the flames roar up the chimney. There would be hot
mulled cider to drink, comforting things to eat, and cheerful talk.

Lincoln was restless and uneasy in his shadowy corner. His eyes
burned with excitement. When he got up and wandered about the room
William followed him, fearing he might do himself harm. He went to
the door, at last, threw it open and looked out into the wild night.
Turning back suddenly, his hands clenched above his head, he cried
out in utter desolation:

“I cannot bear to think of her out there alone, in the cold and
darkness and storm.”

The ice of his frozen heart was unlocked at last, and his reason
saved. But there were months of bitter grief and despair that wore
him out physically. His fits of melancholy returned, a confirmed
trait that he never lost. In time he went back to his old occupations,
bearing himself simply, doing his duty as a man and a citizen. His
intellect was keener, his humour kindlier; to his sympathy was added
the element of compassion. And on his face--in his eyes and on his
mouth--was fixed the expression that marks him as our man of sorrows
deep and irremediable.

Until he went away to Springfield a year later to practise law, he
disappeared at times. Everyone knew he was with Ann, sitting for
hours by the grassy mound that covered her. Once he said to William
G. Greene: “My heart is buried in the grave with that dear girl.”

The place was in a grove of forest trees on the prairie at that
time, but afterward the trees were cut down or neglected, and it
became choked with weeds and brambles--one of those forlorn country
burying-grounds that marked the passing of many pioneer settlements.
For in 1840 New Salem was abandoned. The year after Ann Rutledge
died, Lincoln surveyed and platted the city of Petersburg, two miles
farther north on the river. A steam mill built there drew all the
country patronage. Most of the people of New Salem moved their houses
and shops over to the new town, but the big tavern stood until it
fell and the logs were hauled away for firewood. The dam was washed
out by floods, the mill burned. To-day, the bluff on which the town
stood has gone back to the wild, and the site is known as Old Salem
on the Hill.

The Bowling Green farm passed into the possession of strangers. Many
years ago the cabin of hewn logs was moved from under the brow of
the bluff down to the bank of the river and turned into a stable.
More than eighty years old now, this primitive structure that was
Lincoln’s home for three years, still stands. Every spring it is
threatened by freshets. You look across the flooded bottom land
to where it stands among cottonwoods and willows, and think--and
think--that this crumbling ruin, its squared logs worn and shrunken
and parted, its clapboard roof curled, its crazy door sagging from
the post, rang to that cry of desolation of our country’s hero-martyr.
He lies under a towering marble monument at Springfield, twenty miles
away. There is his crown of glory; here his Gethsemane.

  Illustration: Photograph by C. U. Williams, Bloomington, Ill.

    _The grave of Ann Rutledge, Oakland Cemetery, Petersburg,

Twenty years ago Ann Rutledge was brought in from the country
burying-ground and laid in Oakland Cemetery, in Petersburg. Only a
field boulder marks the mound to-day, but the young girls of the city
and county, who claim her as their own, are to celebrate Lincoln’s
centennial year by setting up a slender shaft of Carrara marble over
the grave of Lincoln’s lost love. Around her, on that forest-clad
bluff, lie Old Salem neighbours. It is a cheerful place, where
gardeners mow the grass and sweep the gravelled roadways, where
carriages drive in the park-like enclosure on Sunday afternoons and
flowers are laid lavishly on new-made graves. Bird-haunted, robins
chirp in the blue grass and woodpeckers drum on the tree-trunks;
bluebirds, tanagers and orioles, those jewels of the air with souls,
flash across the sunlit spaces, and the meadow-lark trills joyously
from a near-by field of clover.

No longer is she far away and alone, in cold and darkness and storm,
where he could not bear to think of her, but lying here among old
friends, in dear familiar scenes, under enchantment of immortal youth
and deathless love, on this sunny slope, asleep....

Flow gently, sweet Sangamon; disturb not her dream.


There are two descriptions of Ann Rutledge, one by W. H. Herndon.
The other, not so well known, is by T. G. Onstot, son of Henry
Onstot, the New Salem cooper, in his “Pioneers of Mason and Menard.”
Mr. Onstot is still living, at the age of eighty in Mason City,
Illinois, the sole survivor of the historic settlement on the
Sangamon, and an unquestioned authority on the history of the region.
He was six years old when Ann Rutledge died. He does not profess to
remember her personally, but to have got her description from his
father and mother. The families were next-door neighbours for a
dozen years, and life-long friends. Herndon lived in Springfield.
Mr. Onstot’s description is used here as, in all probability, the
correct one, for this reason, and also because it is more in keeping
with the character of Ann Rutledge, as revealed in her tragic story.

                        TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES:

    Pg 51, paragraph 2
      - ‘yath’ replaced with ‘path’
        (an avalanche on its path)

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