« AnteriorContinuar »
of singular enterprise, tact, and capacity for business. He is identical with the man whom we have already quoted as "the pioneer of New Salem as a business point," and who built the first storehouse there at the extravagant cost of fifteen dollars. He took boarding with Mr. Rutledge's friend and partner, James Cameron, and gave out his name as John McNeil. He came to New Salem with no other capital than good sense and an active and plucky spirit; but somehow fortune smiled indiscriminately on all his endeavors, and very soon as early as the latter part of 1832- he found himself a well-to-do and prosperous man, owning a snug farm seven miles north of New Salem, and a half-interest in the largest store of the place. This latter property his partner, Samuel Hill, bought from him at a good round sum; for McNeil now announced his intention of being absent for a brief period, and his purpose was such that he might need all his available capital.
In the mean time the partners, Hill and McNeil, had both fallen in love with Ann Rutledge, and both courted her with devoted assiduity. But the contest had long since been decided in favor of McNeil, and Ann loved him with all her susceptible and sensitive heart. When the time drew near for McNeil to depart, he confided to Ann a strange story, and, in the eyes of a person less fond, a very startling story. His name was not John McNeil at all, but John McNamar. His family was a highly respectable one in the State of New York; but a few years before his father had failed in business, and there was great distress at home. He (John) then conceived the romantic plan of running away, and, at some undefined place in the far West, making a sudden fortune with which to retrieve the family disaster. He fled accordingly, changed his name to avoid the pursuit of his father, found his way to New Salem, and she knew the rest. He was now able to perform that great act of filial piety which he set out to accomplish, would return at once to the relief of his parents, and, in all human probability, bring them back with him to his new home in Illinois. At all events, she might
look for his return as speedily as the journey could be made with ordinary diligence; and thenceforward there should be no more partings between him and his fair Ann. She believed this tale, because she loved the man that told it; and she would have believed it all the same if it had been ten times as incredible. A wise man would have rejected it with scorn, but the girl's instinct was a better guide; and McNamar proved to be all that he said he was, although poor Ann never saw the proof which others got of it.
McNamar rode away "on old Charley," an antiquated steed that had seen hard usage in the Black Hawk War. Charley was slow, stumbled dreadfully, and caused his rider much annoyance and some hard swearing. On this provoking animal McNamar jogged through the long journey from New Salem to New York, and arrived there after many delays, only to find that his broken and dispirited father was fast sinking into the grave. After all his efforts, he was too late: the father could never enjoy the prosperity which the long-absent and long-silent son had brought him. McNamar wrote to Ann that there was sickness in the family, and he could not return at the time appointed. Then there were other and still other postponements; "circumstances over which he had no control" prevented his departure from time to time, until years had rolled away, and Ann's heart had grown sick with hope deferred. She never quite gave him up, but continued to expect him until death terminated her melancholy watch. His inexplicable delay, however, the infrequency of his letters, and their unsatisfactory character, - these and something else had broken her attachment, and toward the last she waited for him only to ask a release from her engagement, and to say that she preferred another and a more urgent suitor. But without his knowledge and formal renunciation of his claim upon her, she did not like to marry; and, in obedience to this refinement of honor, she postponed her union with the more pressing lover until Aug. 25, 1835, when, as many persons believe, she died of a broken heart.
Lincoln's friend Short was in some way related to the Rutledges, and for a while Lincoln visited Ann two or three times a week at his house. According to him, "Miss Rutledge was a good-looking, smart, lively girl, a good housekeeper, with a moderate education, and without any of the so-called accomplishments." L. M. Greene, who knew her well, talks about her as "a beautiful and very amiable young woman;" and "Nult" Greene is even more enthusiastic. "This young lady," in the language of the latter gentleman," was a woman of exquisite beauty; but her intellect was quick, sharp, deep, and philosophic, as well as brilliant. She had as gentle and kind a heart as an angel, full of love, kindliness, and sympathy. She was beloved by everybody, and everybody respected and loved her, so sweet and angelic was she. Her character was more than good: it was positively noted throughout the county. She was a woman worthy of Lincoln's love." McNamar, her unfortunate lover, says, "Miss Ann was a gentle, amiable maiden, without any of the airs of your city belles, but winsome and comely withal; a blonde in complexion, with golden hair, cherry-red lips, and a bonny blue eye." Even the women of the neighborhood united with the men to praise the name of this beautiful but unhappy girl. Mrs. Hardin Bale "knew her well. She had auburn hair, blue eyes, fair complexion; was a slim, pretty, kind, tender, goodhearted woman; in height about five feet three inches, and weighed about a hundred and twenty pounds. She was beloved by all who knew her. McNamar, Hill, and Lincoln all courted her near the same time. She died as it were of grief. Miss Rutledge was beautiful." Such was Ann Rutledge, the girl in whose grave Mr. Lincoln said, "My heart lies buried." When Mr. Lincoln first saw Ann, she was probably the most refined woman with whom he had then ever spoken, modest, delicate creature, fascinating by reason of the mere contrast with the rude people by whom they were both surrounded. She had a secret, too, and a sorrow, the unexplained and painful absence of McNamar, — which no doubt made her all the more interesting to him whose spirit was often
even more melancholy than her own. It would be hard to trace the growth of such an attachment at a time and place so distant; but that it actually grew, and becaine an intense and mutual passion, the evidence before us is painfully abundant.
Mr. Lincoln was always welcome at the little tavern, at Short's on the Sand Ridge, or at the farm, half a mile from Short's, where the Rutledges finally abode. Ann's father was his devoted friend, and the mother he called affectionately "Aunt Polly." It is probable that the family looked upon McNamar's delay with more suspicion than Ann did herself. At all events, all her adult relatives encouraged the suit which Lincoln early began to press; and as time, absence, and apparent neglect, gradually told against McNamar, she listened to him with augmenting interest, until, in 1835, we find them formally and solemnly betrothed. Ann now waited only for the return of McNamar to marry Lincoln. David Rutledge urged her to marry immediately, without regard to any thing but her own happiness; but she said she could not consent to it until McNamar came back and released her from her pledge. At length, however, as McNamar's re-appearance became more and more hopeless, she took a different view of it, and then thought she would become Abe's wife as soon as he found the means of a decent livelihood. "Ann told me once," says James M. in a letter to R. B. Rutledge, in coming from camp-meeting on Rock Creek, "that engagements made too far ahead sometimes failed; that one had failed (meaning her engagement with McNamar), and gave me to understand, that, as soon as certain studies were completed, she and Lincoln would be married."
In the summer of 1835 Ann showed unmistakable symptoms of failing health, attributable, as most of the neighborhood believed, to the distressing attitude she felt bound to maintain between her two lovers. On the 25th of August, in that year, she died of what the doctors chose to call "brain-fever." In a letter to Mr. Herndon, her brother says, "You suggest that the probable cause of Ann's sickness was her conflicts, emotions, &c. As to this I cannot say. I, however, have my
own private convictions. The character of her sickness was brain-fever." A few days before her death Lincoln was summoned to her bedside. What happened in that solemn conference was known only to him and the dying girl. But when he left her, and stopped at the house of John Jones, on his way home, Jones saw signs of the most terrible distress in his face and his conduct. When Ann actually died, and was buried, his grief became frantic: he lost all self-control, even the consciousness of identity, and every friend he had in New Salem pronounced him insane, mad, crazy. "He was watched with especial vigilance," as William Green tells us, during storms, fogs, damp, gloomy weather, for fear of an accident." At such times he raved piteously, declaring, among other wild expressions of his woe, I can never be reconciled to have the snow, rains, and storms to beat upon her grave!'"
About three-quarters of a mile below New Salem, at the foot of the main bluff, and in a hollow between two lateral bluffs, stood the house of Bowlin Greene, built of logs and weather-boarded. Thither the friends of Lincoln, who apprehended a total abdication of reason, determined to transport him, partly for the benefit of a mere change of scene, and partly to keep him within constant reach of his near and noble friend, Bowlin Greene. During this period of his darkened and wavering intellect, when "accidents" were momentarily expected, it was discovered that Bowlin Greene possessed a power to persuade and guide him proportioned to the affection that had subsisted between them in former and better times. Bowlin Greene came for him, but Lincoln was cunning and obstinate: it required the most artful practices of a general conspiracy of all his friends to "disarm his suspicions,' and induce him to go and stay with his most anxious and devoted friend. But at last they succeeded; and Lincoln remained down under the bluff for two or three weeks, the object of undisguised solicitude and of the strictest surveillance. At the end of that time his mind seemed to be restored, and it was thought safe to let him go back to his old haunts,