« AnteriorContinuar »
could load and fire off a gun if necessary. In common with her sex, she was accustomed to such things, and adapted herself to circumstances.
Marvellous stories are told about the skill of the pioneers in the use of the rifle, and good authority substantiates their truthfulness. One writer says: “Several individuals who conceive themselves adepts in the management of the rifle, are often seen to meet for the purpose of displaying their skill; and they put up a target, in the centre of which a common-sized nail is hammered for about two-thirds its length. The marksmen make choice of what they consider a proper distance, and which may be forty paces. Each man clears the interior of his tube, places a ball in the palm of his hand, and pours as much powder from his horn as will cover it. This quantity is supposed to be sufficient for any distance short of a hundred yards. A shot that comes very close to the nail is considered that of an indifferent marksman : the bending of the nail is of course somewhat better; but nothing less than hitting it right on the head is satisfactory. One out of three shots generally hits the nail ; and should the shooters amount to half-a-dozen, two nails are frequently needed before each can have a shot.”
The same writer continues: “The snuffing of a candle with a ball I first had an opportunity of seeing near the banks of Green River, not far from a large pigeon-roost, to which I had previously made a visit. I had heard many reports of guns during the early part of a dark night, and knowing them to be those of rifles, I went forward toward the spot to ascertain the cause. On reaching the place, I was welcomed by a dozen tall, stout men, who told me they were exercising for the purpose of enabling them to shoot under night, at the reflected light from the eyes of a deer or wolf by torchlight. A fire was blazing near, the smoke of which rose curling among the thick foliage of the trees. At a distance which rendered it scarcely distinguishable, stood a burning candle, but which, in reality, was only fifty yards from the spot on which we all stood. One man was within a few yards of it to watch the effects of the shots, as well as to light the candle, should it chance to go out, or to replace it, should the shot cut it across. Each marksman shot in his turn. Some never hit either the snuff or the candle, and were congratulated with a loud laugh, while others actually snuffed the candle without putting it out, and were recompensed for their dexterity by numerous hurrahs. One of them, who was particularly expert, was very fortunate, and snuffed the candle three times out of seven, while all the other shots either put out the candle or cut it immediately under the light.”
Such was the skill of riflemen at that day. Hence it was of considerable importance that boys should learn how to fire accurately. Not as a pastime was it valued, but as a means of gaining subsistence. In addition to procuring game for the table, furs were in great demand, and there were many animals valuable on this account. It was necessary, therefore, that Abraham should learn the art.
The summer of 1817 passed away, and early in the autumn the loneliness of their wilderness-life was somewhat relieved by the coming of old friends. Thomas and Betsy Sparrow, who reared Nancy Hanks (Mrs. Lincoln), came to settle by their side. Mr. Lincoln had just removed into his new cabin, so the Sparrows at once began housekeeping in the half-face camp. Dennis Hanks, also, had a home with the Sparrows, and Betsy was his aunt; so Dennis removed to Indiana with them.
It was a happy day for the Lincolns when the
Sparrows became their neighbours. "Sparrows on the house-top” had often regaled them with song, but the human Sparrows from Kentucky were to them more than song—they were society. To Abraham especially was their coming a real Godsend; for now he had an intimate and constant companion in his jolly cousin, Dennis Hanks. Such an acquisition to a boy in the woods was more of a boon than language can describe.
ABRAHAM continued to peruse the three books of A the family library,—the Bible, Catechism, and spelling-book. There was no prospect that another book of any sort would be added to the number. The thirst for knowledge begotten in his soul already was forced to find its aliment in this narrow compass. The result was that he knew the spelling-book and Catechism by heart; and he could repeat much of the Bible. His mind was hungry for knowledge, but could not find enough to eat. It was daily put upon “short allowance.”
In these circumstances he longed for other books. He began to tire of the Bible. “I don't want to read the Bible all the time,” he often remarked; “I wish I could have some other book to read.” He did not know what other books were in existence. His parents were not wiser than he in that respect. But his mind was ravenous, and would have accepted almost any sort of a literary dish, good, bad, or indifferent. It pleaded for books.
While he was in this famishing intellectual state a fearful disease broke out among the settlers, called “the milk disease.” Cows that gave the milk, and the people who drank it, became sick, suffered, and died. The first case was fifteen or twenty miles away, but near enough to create alarm in the Lincoln cabin. It was not long, however, before the dreaded visitor came to their door. Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow were stricken down by the disease nearly at the same time. It was in the summer of 1818. Consternation now turned the attention of Abraham from books to the perils of the hour. His longing for other books was exchanged for fear of sudden death.
The Sparrows were very sick, and no doctor within thirty or forty miles. Mr. Lincoln and his wife, together with other settlers, rendered all the assistance in their power to the ill-fated couple. Week after week their sufferings were prolonged, sometimes worse, sometimes better, hope rising or waning accordingly.
“We must remove them into our cabin," said Mrs. Lincoln to her husband; "they must have better quarters and care." Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow were as father and mother to Mrs. Lincoln, and her love for them was like that of a daughter.
“ Perhaps it will be best; they can't live long anywhere in my opinion,” Mr. Lincoln replied.
“I can look after them much better here," continued Mrs. Lincoln ; “and whether they live or die, we shall have the satisfaction of knowing that we did everything in our power for them.”
The sick couple were removed into the Lincoln cabin in September, and no one was more rejoiced over the event than Dennis Hanks, to whom, also, the Sparrows were as father and mother. Dennis emphasized his joy over the removal by saying he was glad "to get out of the darned little half-face camp."
The removal brought no relief to the sinking patients. In a few days both of them died, spreading gloom over the neighbourhood, and creating the saddest experience Abraham and Dennis ever knew.
A spot was selected for the burial-place of the dead,