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about one half mile from the cabin, on a beautiful knoll that nestled under the shadow of mammoth trees. Mr. Lincoln was the only settler in the vicinity capable of making a coffin; and he set about the sorrowful work, making them out of "green lumber, cut with a whipsaw.” They were rough and heavy, like everything else connected with pioneer life; but answered their purpose well. Without funeral ceremonies, the neighbours gathered from far and near, and tearfully committed their deceased friends to the dust.
A few days only elapsed after the burial before Mrs. Lincoln was attacked, much more violently than the Sparrows, with the same dreaded disease. It was about three o'clock in the morning. Abraham was awakened out of a sound sleep, and hurried away for the nearest neighbour, Mrs. Woods, and, at the same time, Dennis, who became a permanent member of Lincoln's family after the death of the Sparrows, and was Abraham's bed-fellow in the loft, made his appearance, to render any assistance within his power. In the absence of physicians, a strong bond of sympathy united pioneer families, and the feminine members were always ready to tender their best nursing abilities to the sick. Nor were they altogether unsuccessful in their treatment. Some of them exhibited much skill in managing diseases, having been thrown upon their own resources for a long period, reflecting and studying for themselves. As physicians could not be had, they were compelled to do the best thing possible for themselves.
Mrs. Woods was not long in coming to her relief, and before the close of that day several other neighbours, who were notified of Mrs. Lincoln's sickness, came to proffer assistance. The tidings of her sudden attack spread so rapidly, that, within two or three days, all the pioneer families in the vicinity heard of it, and their proffers of assistance were prompt and tender. But the patient steadily grew worse, and soon became satisfied that her sickness would prove fatal. Some persons attacked with that singular disease lingered for weeks, as the Sparros did ; but Mrs. Lincoln's sickness was violent and brief. On the fifth day of October she expired, leaving the Lincoln cabin more desolate than ever. Coming so speedily after the Sparrows passed away, death had additional terrors to the living. Dennis Hanks remembers the woe-begone appearance of Abraham from the time his mother's life was despaired of until weeks after she was laid in her grave. He was nine years old, thoughtful and sensible, not much inclined to talk about the event, but ever looking as if a pall were drawn over his heart. The reader can imagine, perhaps, what no language can convey—the loss of a good mother to a bright, obedient, and trusting boy, hid away in the woods, where a mother's presence and love must be doubly precious. The bitter experience was well suited to make the loneliness of pioneer life vastly more lonely, and its real hardships vastly harder.
Preparations were made for the burial. With his own hands Thomas Lincoln constructed a rough coffin for his wife, and she was laid beside the Sparrows on the knoll. One party thinks that one neighbour read the Scriptures and another offered prayer ; but it is probable that she was buried, as her foster-parents were, without any ceremonies-silently deposited in the ground with no special tribute, save honest tears.
Here, better than elsewhere, we can describe an event that is worthy of record. It occurred several months after the death of Mrs. Lincoln.
“You must write a letter for me, Abe, to Parson Elkins," said his father, one evening. “You can write
well enough now to do that." Abraham had passed his tenth birthday.
"If you can tell me what to write, I can do it,” answered the boy.
“That I will do. It will be your first letter, you know, and you must remember that your father never wrote one-never knew enough to write one."
“What do you want I should write about?” inquired Abraham.
“Write about the death of your mother. He knows nothin' about it yet; and I want to ask him to visit us, and preach a funeral sermon.”
“When do you want he should come ?”
“When he can, I s'pose. He'll take his own time for it, though I hope he'll come soon.”
“He may be dead,” suggested Abraham. “What makes you think so ?”
“He's as likely to die as mother, ain't he ? and he may be dead when we don't know it, the same as she's dead when he don't know it.”
“Well, there's somethin' in that," answered his father; “but we'll see how you can make out writin' a letter."
Pen and paper were provided, and Mr. Lincoln proceeded to dictate the letter. He directed him to write about the death of Mrs. Lincoln, when it occurred, and under what circumstances, and to invite him to visit them, and preach a funeral sermon. He also gave a description of their new home, and their journey thither, and wrote of their future prospects. “Now read it over,” said Mr. Lincoln. “ The whole of it ?”
"Of course; I want to hear it all. I may think of. somethin' else by that time.”
Abraham commenced to read it, while his father sat the very picture of satisfaction. There was genuine
happiness to him in having his son prepared to write a letter. Never before had there been a member of his family who could perform this feat. It was a memorable event to him.
"See how much it is wuth to be able to write,” said he, as Abraham finished reading the letter. “It's wuth ten times as much as it cost to be able to write only that one letter."
"It ain't much work to learn to write,” said Abraham; “I'd work as hard again for it before I'd give it up."
“You'd have to give it up if you was knocked about as I was when a boy.”
"I know that."
“You don't know it as I do; and I hope you never will. But it's wuth more than the best farm to know how to write a letter as well as that.”
“I shall write one better than that yet,” said Abraham. “But how long will it take for the letter to go to Parson Elkins ?”
“That's more than I can tell; but it will go there some time, and I hope it will bring him here.”
“He won't want to come so far as this,” suggested Abraham.
“ It ain't so far for him as it was for us." “Why ain't it?”
“Because he lives nearer the line of Indiana than we did. It ain't more than seventy-five miles for him to come, and he often rides as far as that.”
The letter went on its errand, and Abraham was impatient to learn the result. On the whole, it was rather an important event in his young life,—the writing of that first letter. Was it strange that he should query whether it would reach the good minister to whom it was sent ? Would it be strange if the writing of it proved one of the happy influences that started him
off upon a career of usefulness and fame? We shall see.
Mr. Lincoln had much to say to his neighbours about the letter that his son had written, and they had much to say to him. It was considered remarkable for a boy of his age to do such a thing. Not one quarter of the adults in all that region could write; and this fact rendered the ability of the boy in this regard all the more marvellous. It was noised abroad, and the result was that Abraham had frequent applications from the neighbours to write letters for them. Nor was he indisposed to gratify their wishes. One of his traits of character was a generous disposition to assist others, and it prompted him to yield to their wishes in writing letters for them. Nor was it burdensome to him, but the opposite. He delighted to do it. And thus, as a consequence of his acquiring the art of penmanship, fardistant and long-absent friends of the pioneer families heard from their loved ones.
The letter brought the parson. After the lapse of about three months he came. The letter reached him in Kentucky, after considerable delay, and he embraced the first opportunity to visit his old friends. Abraham had almost concluded that his letter was lost, as the favourite minister did not come. But one day, when the lad was about two miles from home, who should he see coming but Parson Elkins, on his old bay horse ! He recognized him at once, and was delighted to see him.
"Why, Abe, is that you ?” exclaimed the parson. “Am I so near your home?”
“Yes, sir; did you get my letter?" Abraham thought of the memorable letter the first thing. He had good evidence before him that the letter reached its destination, but he would know certainly.