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At the time when the Civil War was at its height, and Abraham Lincoln, who was then President of the United States, was staggering under an almost crushing load of responsibility, because of his great anxiety for the future of his beloved country, there were many of his enemies, who were bitterly opposed to the continuance of the struggle between the North and the South for the freeing of the slaves, who used to call the good and great president "tyrant" a most unjust word to use in reference to the big-souled, tender-hearted Lincoln.
One day an eminent politician who was leaving the White House, met an acquaintance and in passing him said with a quizzical smile: "I have just had an interview with the tyrant of the White House."
Then noticing his companion's surprise at his making such a speech, he added: "Tad!" and passed on, chuckling over his little joke.
And to Tad the title really belonged--to President Lincoln's youngest son--who was a small whirlwind of impetuous despotism; and woe to the man, woman or child who resisted his tempestuous tyranny.
Few did, and the most willing of all his subjects was the great President, whom tyrant Tad ruled despotically.
Before President Lincoln's day there had been a succession of administrations when no children's voices rang through the stately rooms and corridors of the White House, so it was indeed a change when the three Lincoln boys arrived, in March of 1861, bringing with them all the clatter and chatter which belongs to normal healthy boyhood. Robert, who was then eighteen years old only stayed in the White House for his father's inauguration, then went back to Harvard to finish his education, and Willie, and Theodore or "Tad" as he was always called, from his own pronunciation of his name, (the little fellow had a serious defect in his speech which made it hard for him to pronounce words clearly) were left to make the dignified White House echo with their merry laughter and conversations, as they romped through its long passages, careless of the fact that they were on historic ground, as they scattered their balls, bats, kites and other treasures wherever they chose.
They had few playmates, with whom they were allowed to play frequently, except two boys, the sons of a government official, and the four boys' fertile brains were keen to think out all sorts of exciting and mischievous plans which kept their families on the alert to restrain their actions within the bounds of safety and propriety. The boys who were playmates of Tad and Willie were Budd and Hally Taft, and although they were older than the Lincoln boys, they were much like them in temperament and in looks, Budd was fair like Willie Lincoln, and Hally dark, and more like Tad, whose eyes were bright and brown, in keeping with his quick imperious disposition.
One evening in the spring, the four boys were taken to see a minstrel show in the city. They were thrilled by what they heard and saw, and decided on the spot that they would give a show themselves, and began between the numbers to plan when and where to give it. But, on the following day, when they discussed it again there seemed to be no room suited to their plans either in the White House or at the Taft's, but finally they decided that by having some partitions in the Taft attic, which was roughly divided into small bedrooms, taken down, they could be accommodated.
However, fortune favoured the preservation of the Taft home by a sudden shifting of the boys' interest in the direction of the White House. Mrs. Lincoln was called to New York for a week; Willie and Tad had such severe colds and the weather was so rainy, that she wished them to be amused in the house during her absence, and that could only be done by giving them the society of their playmates. Accordingly one day Hally and Budd were thrown into a state of feverish excitement by the arrival of a messenger with Mrs. Lincoln's invitation for them to spend a whole week at the White House.
Besides delivering the invitation, the messenger also asked whether Willie and Tad were there, as they had not been at home since breakfast time, although they had been traced to the Capitol, where they had been seen sitting in the gallery of the House of Representatives, and later treated to lunch in the restaurant of Congress by a gentleman whom the boys always amused, then they had been seen playing marbles with some of the pages in the Capitol, but now where were they? The messenger who was well acquainted with the truants, seemed more amused than alarmed over their disappearance, and soon carried back a note to Mrs. Lincoln accepting the invitation for Budd and Hally, provided the truants should be found! While Budd and Hally were excitedly helping to pack their clothes in a small valise, for the visit, in walked the wanderers. They carried a very large and much dilapidated umbrella which Tad said they had borrowed from the cook--doubtless a Southern mammy who took an endless delight in the boys' pranks, and aided them all she could in their mischievous plans. Tad's pockets were bulging with marbles, which showed how successfully he had played his game with the pages earlier in the day, and both boys had entirely forgotten that they had bad colds. All four soon set out in high glee together, while Tad gave a whoop of joy as they left the house.
"You bet we'll have a good time!" he exclaimed, and from all descriptions of that visit, they certainly must have had it.
On the following day there was a review, and the boys all rode in the President's carriage, looking as severe and dignified as if they had never had a mischievous idea, but, with a feeling of mistrust that such dignity might be only skin deep, a member of the Taft family went to the White House to find out what was going on. To her relief she saw that the building was still standing, but on being ushered in, she noticed that all the orderlies, soldiers and doorkeepers wore broad grins. Asking where the boys were, and being ushered upstairs she came upon Tad, who instantly called out:
"Oh, say, we've got a circus in the attic. We're minstrels. I've got to be blacked up and Willie can't get his dress on--it's too big. Pin it up, will you? Hurry!"
The horrified question, "Does the President know it?" was answered impatiently by Tad.
"Oh, yes, he knows it," said Tad. "He doesn't care. He's got some general or other in there. Come on--hurry!"
Willie was meanwhile struggling with the long, flowered skirt of a lilac silk reception dress of Mrs. Lincoln's, and Budd was getting into one of her ruffled morning wrappers, while Tad began to sing at the top of his voice:
"Old Abe Lincoln came out of the wilderness----"
"Hush," cautioned Budd, "the President will hear you."
"I don't care if pa does hear, and he don't care either," said Tad. "We're going to sing that in the show." And sing it they did!
Another day when Tad was shouting out a campaign song at the Tafts' about "Old Abe splitting rails," Willie asked Mrs. Taft if she did not think it was disrespectful of Tad to sing such a song. Tad overheard what he said, and kicked a chair, as he always did when displeased, and said:
"Well, everybody in this world knows Pa did use to split rails!" But when Mrs. Taft explained to him why she thought he ought not to say or sing this, Tad said with equal decision:
"Well, I'll sing John Brown's body then." However headstrong he seemed, he was really very affectionate, and willing to be convinced that he was wrong, if any one approached him in the right way.
There was much to occupy the boys' attention in Washington, and they were especially interested in the models of locomotives and steamboats in the Patent Office, where they spent much time, and they were also sometimes to be found making a survey of the White House grounds under the guidance of a good-natured engineer. At other times they invaded the McClellans' house, where they were allowed to play with the baby and where General and Mrs. McClellan were very kind to them, and of course they never missed a review, even riding in the staff, when the bridle of Willie's horse was held by the Duc de Chartres and Budd's by the Comte de Paris, while Hally and Tad rode in front of the aides, sitting as erect and stiff as if they were the chief features in the parade.
On another day, Tad was not allowed to go to the review, as he had not been well the day before. The review took place across the Long Bridge, and after the President's carriage had passed down the line, a rickety cart came clattering by, drawn by a shambling old horse, and driven by a grinning negro boy. In it were Tad, Willie, Budd and Hally in new Zouave uniforms, their swords at a salute! Many a soldier sighed and smiled as that cart passed by, but there was never a smile on the faces of the Zouaves, who had paid the negro a quarter from their precious circus money to drive that load of glory!
Having the uniform ready they formed themselves into a military company called "Mrs. Lincoln's Zouaves." Much amused by their military enthusiasm she presented them with a flag, and the President formally reviewed them. Willie was colonel, Budd, major, and Hally, captain, while Tad insisted on having the rank of drum-major or nothing, and all of them had old-fashioned swords which were given to them by General McClellan, who greatly enjoyed their pranks and sometimes suggested new ones. When other amusements failed, the quartet spent their time on the flat roof of the White House, which was perfectly safe, being surrounded by a strong balustrade. There they built a cabin, and the roof was in turn a quarter-deck, or a fort, and they used to raise and lower the flag with proper ceremony, and look off through a spy-glass for a "strange sail," and Budd's sister tells how one day when she ascended to the stronghold with a stern demand for her scissors, which had been missing for several days she was received at the "side" with such strict naval etiquette that she meekly retreated without the scissors.
That first year when President Lincoln was in office was a happy one for his boys and their companions, but all too soon the pleasures came to an end, for Willie Lincoln was stricken with typhoid fever, of which he died. Then the Tafts left Washington and moved to the north, so of the merry group of boys, "Tad" alone remained to enliven the White House, and to amuse himself as best he could in the long days which seemed so quiet in comparison to those which he and his companions had spent together.
But Tad, who was now ten years old, was equal to any emergency, and as resourceful as a dozen ordinary boys, and after the first bitter loneliness had worn off, he made as much commotion by himself as all four boys had made together, and soon became an object of popular attention, as he galloped madly around the grounds on his pony, driving him at break-neck speed, or training his team of dogs on the lawn, or urging his goats to do some impossible feat.
One of the stories told about him at that time was that on a certain day a party of dignified ladies were solemnly and with due reverence inspecting the famous East room, when they heard a deafening clatter at the end of the corridor where the Lincolns' private apartments were, then came a shout of "Get out of the way there!" and Tad the irrepressible, galloped into the room driving a tandem team of goats harnessed to a chair! Up the room and down again and out of the front entrance went the goats and Tad like a flash of lightning, leaving the ladies aghast at a spectacle to which they had found no reference in their guide books.
To his mother's great distress, an interested but not over-thoughtful friend, gave Tad a tool chest, which of course delighted him, and which at once suggested to him the idea of opening a cabinet shop to manufacture furniture for hospital use, but he fortunately discovered an old wagon to experiment on, and forgot the shop; turning his attention also to any and every object which he could bore, chisel, saw or hack with his tools. Nothing was said in remonstrance until he began to experiment on the old-fashioned mahogany furniture in the East room, when that tool chest mysteriously disappeared and no amount of searching ever brought it to light again.
As he was unable to exist without some new outlet for his feelings he decided to have a theatre and give shows, for which purpose he appropriated an unused room in the White House, and had a fine time fitting it up with a stage, seats, orchestra, drop-curtain and all. At that time, Mr. Carpenter, an artist, was at work on a portrait of President Lincoln and his Cabinet, and when it was found necessary to take several photographs of the room in the White House which was to be the background for the painting, Tad's theatre was offered to the photographers to use in developing their pictures, and Mr. Carpenter used to tell with a chuckle of delight how all went well till Tad suddenly discovered the invasion of his room, when he fell upon the artist and blamed him in a fiery burst of temper, for letting the men into his room, and then went up and calmly locked the door, pocketed the key and walked off, leaving the astonished photographers without occupation, as their apparatus and chemicals were in the room. But that made no difference to tyrant Tad--no one should go into his theatre, he said, and no amount of urging moved him. Finally the President was asked to deal with the young rebel, as was usual when Tad's behaviour presented impossibilities to the general public. Mr. Lincoln was sitting ready to be photographed at the time. He listened quietly to the story, and then called Tad and told him to go and open the door. Tad rushed off, muttering and shaking his head but he absolutely refused to obey, even though Mr. Carpenter made use of all the arguments he could think of, to make him yield. Reluctantly the artist went back to the room where the President sat and he at once asked:
"Has the boy opened that door?"
Mr. Carpenter was obliged to say that he had not, and Lincoln slowly rose, compressing his lips and strode out of the room. Soon he returned, carrying the key, which he handed to the artist saying apologetically:
"He is a peculiar child. He was violently excited when I went to him. I said 'Tad, do you know you are making your father a great deal of trouble?' He burst into tears and at once gave me the key."
This little incident shows the affectionate side of tyrant Tad who could always be led, but never driven, and it was to his father's gentle diplomacy that the fiery, impulsive little fellow always responded.
Often Tad would perch on his father's knee, or even on his shoulder, while weighty conferences were going on, and sometimes would insist on spending a whole evening in the executive mansion, finally falling asleep on the floor, when the President would tenderly pick him up and carry him off to bed.
At other times, with affairs of the gravest importance awaiting his consideration, President Lincoln would sit with his arms around the boy, telling him anecdotes and stories of which he had an endless fund, until the boy's drowsy eyes closed, when President Lincoln would gently carry him to his room, and then go back to ponder on weighty matters of national importance far into the night, but never retiring for the night without a last look at the little fellow who was the supreme joy and comfort of his life.
He was very fond of animals, and for a long while goats were his special favourites, during which time a large and flourishing family of them decorated the lawns and roads about the White House, and that the goats were very important members of the family is shown by the fact that at a time when Mrs. Lincoln and Tad had gone away for a week and the family were living at the Soldiers' Home, Lincoln wrote to his wife: "Tell dear Tad that poor Nanny Goat is lost and we are in distress about it. The day you left, Nanny was found resting herself and chewing her little cud on the middle of Tad's bed, but now she's gone! The gardener kept complaining that she spoilt the flowers, till it was decided to bring her down to the White House, which was done, but on the second day she disappeared and has not been heard of since."
Tad was evidently consoled for this tragic event by not one goat, but a whole family of them, for about a year later Mr. Lincoln ended a business telegram to his wife in New York with the words: "Tell Tad the goats and father are very well," and with a gleam of that humour for which he was famous, the great-hearted, patient man added, "especially the goats!"
Again a friend of the Lincolns' sent them a fine live turkey to be used for the President's Christmas dinner, but long before that time the turkey and Tad had become bosom friends. Tad named him Jack and used more patience in trying to teach him tricks than he could ever be persuaded to give to his lessons. One day just before the holiday, while President Lincoln was discussing a matter of gravest importance with his cabinet ministers, Tad burst into the room as if shot out of a cannon and sobbing as if nothing could ever comfort him. Of course, business came to a standstill while Tad explained; Jack was about to be killed, he must not be killed, it was wicked, and Tad had forced the executioners to stay their hands while he laid the case before the President. Jack should not be killed! sobbed out the indignant little tyrant.
"But," said the President quietly, "Jack was sent to be killed and eaten for this very Christmas."
"I can't help it," roared Tad, between his sobs. "He's a good turkey and I don't want him killed."
The President of the United States paused in the midst of the important business under discussion, and with the gravity due to a solemn occasion, took a card and wrote on it an order of reprieve for the turkey, which Tad seized, and fled with all speed, and Jack's life was saved. He became very tame, and roamed peacefully about the grounds at will, enduring petting and teasing alternately, from his capricious young master.
At that time the White House was guarded by a company of soldiers from Pennsylvania with whom the turkey was a great favourite. The tents of these soldiers were on the Potomac side of the White House, at the end of the South lawn, and in the summer of 1864 a commission was sent down from Pennsylvania to take the votes of the Pennsylvania soldiers in Washington for the coming election. Tad was, as usual, much interested in what was going on, and dragged his father to the window to see the soldiers voting, while Jack stalked around among them, apparently intelligent and interested.
"Does Jack vote?" asked Lincoln with a roguish twinkle in his eye.
For a moment Tad was nonplussed by the unexpected question, but he was as quick as he was keen, and rallying, he answered:
"Why no, of course not. He isn't of age yet!"
Another of Tad's great diversions was to stand around among the crowd of office-seekers who daily filled the corridors leading to President Lincoln's office, for their turn to see the President. Tad used to talk with them, while they waited, asking them all sorts of impertinent questions which were always taken in good faith, because he was the President's son, and known to be such a favourite that he might be a valuable ally. Some of the office-seekers came day after day without ever obtaining an interview with Lincoln, and with these Tad grew quite intimate; some of them he shrewdly advised to go home and chop wood for a living, others he tried to dismiss by promising them that he would speak to his father of their case, if they would not come back again unless they were sent for, and with one and all he was a great favourite, he was so bright and cunning, and too, all were eager to have the good will of the little fellow, for motives not always the highest. This, shrewd little Tad discovered, and he decided to put his popularity to use, so one morning when the line of callers began to form, they found Tad standing at the foot of the staircase, where he made every one who passed up pay him five cents for the benefit of the Sanitary Fund, as he explained while he was gathering in the nickels.
This enterprise was so satisfactory that he decided to give one of the Sanitary Commission Fairs which were then being held all over the country, and placing a table in the entrance hall of the White House he stocked it with all the odds and ends which his amused friends could be made to contribute, as well as with some food begged from the pantry, and some of his own broken toys. One can well imagine the difficulty of getting in or out of the White House that day with any change in one's pocket, and when night came Tad's accounts made him chuckle with delight, and decide on a still bolder enterprise. This required capital, however, but that did not daunt him, for he had quite an amount of pocket money saved up, and with it he bought out the entire stock of an old woman who sold gingerbread and apples near the Treasury Building, wheedled a pair of trestles and a board from a carpenter, and set up shop in the very shadow of the stately portico of the White House, to the horror of some who saw the performance, and to the intense amusement of others who were always watching to see what Tad would do next.
As long as his stock lasted, he did a heavy business, for it was an excellent chance for those who wished to buy his favour, to do so, and his pockets were well lined with bills when he shut up shop that night, but being as generous as he was shrewd, capital and profit were soon squandered, and it is said the little merchant went penniless to bed.
In vain were all attempts to make Tad study. He never had any time for such dull things as books, when there was all out-of-doors for his restless self to rove in, and his father did not seem grieved or worried when tutors came and went, shaking their heads over a boy who was such a whirlwind of activity that they had no chance to become acquainted with him, although he was keener than they, and weighed them each in the balance and found them wanting before any one of them had been with him twenty-four hours.
When appealed to in regard to the matter, the President would say:
"Let him run. There's time enough yet for him to learn his letters and get poky." And so the boy followed out his own impetuous desires, and although so backward in regard to books, he understood far more about mechanics and trade than other boys of his own age, and for all his impetuosity and despotism, he had a very tender conscience and a loving nature. A friend of Lincoln's tells of sitting with the President once when Tad tore into the room in search of some lost treasure, and having found it, flung himself on his father like a small whirlwind, gave him a wild fierce hug, and without a word, or even giving his father time to do or say anything, rushed out as impetuously as he had come in.
It is needless to say that he was no respecter of persons, young Tyrant Tad; he knew no law, he had no restraint that barred him from any part of the house at any time, but came and went, and did and said whatever pleased his vagrant fancy. Frequently while the President was occupied with his cabinet, Tad would burst into the room bubbling over with some personal grievance which demanded immediate attention or with some pathetic story about a shabbily dressed caller who was being sent away by the ushers, to Tad's great anger. At other times he would become deeply interested in some young person who had come to the President with a request which Tad had heard first himself, and insist on dragging him into the President's presence at once to tell the story, and make his request, and so thoroughly was the President in sympathy with this tender-hearted trait of his son, that he always received such proteges of Tad's with interest and helped them if he could.
Tad had his likes and dislikes, and took no pains to conceal them, and one morning when he broke in on his father's privacy and found with him a Cabinet officer for whom he had no liking, he cried out:
"Why are you here so early? What do you want?" probably to the chagrin of his father, who doubtless talked with him seriously later in the day about showing such discourtesy to an elder.
Quick to take up a new interest, and as quick to throw it aside, one day when the Secretary of War, Mr. Stanton, found Tad fussing around his office, Mr. Stanton, just for the fun of it, commissioned Tad a lieutenant of the United States Volunteers; this excited Tad so greatly that he hurried off and on his own responsibility ordered a quantity of muskets sent up to the White House at once, and then gathered together the house-servants and gardeners, and organized them into a company, drilled them for service, and then actually dismissed the regular sentries on the premises, and ordered his new recruits on duty as guards. Robert Lincoln, who was then at home, having discovered Tad's scheme, thought that the men who had been at work all day, ought to be free at night, and told Tad so, but Tad would not listen to him, so Robert appealed the case to his father, who only laughed, as he generally did at Tad's pranks, thought the whole thing a good joke, and gave no orders to the refractory young lieutenant. Tad, however, soon grew tired of being on watch himself, and went to bed, when his recruits were quietly relieved from duty, and there was no guard over the President's house that night.
While he sported his commission as lieutenant Tad looked the part, having from some source got a uniform suitable for the occasion, and in that proud costume he had himself photographed to the great delight of his admiring circle of friends.
Tad's tenth birthday was celebrated by a visit which he made with his father and a party of friends to the Army of the Potomac, which was then encamped on the banks of the Rappahannock, opposite Fredericksburg, the visit being made because the President thought a glimpse of the Nation's Chief Executive might put fresh courage into the weary soldiers. The visit was five days long and a more restless member of a party than Tad was, cannot be imagined.
By the end of the first day he had exhausted all the resources of the encampment, and begged to go home, but there were any number of reviews and parades for which the President was obliged to stay, and these somewhat diverted Tad, for a handsome young soldier was detailed as the boy's special escort, and a little grey horse consoled him partially for the beloved pony left at home. It is said that those reviews and the part Tad played in them will never be forgotten by the men who saw or took part in them, and this is the way they have been described.
"Over hill and dale dashed the general-in-chief with his company of officers in bright uniforms, sparkling with gold lace, and escorted by the Philadelphia Lancers, a showy troop of soldiers. At their head, seen afar, rose the tall form of Lincoln, conspicuous always by his great height and lean awkward figure, and as they passed, ever on the flanks of the hurrying column flew, like a flag or a small banner, Tad's little grey riding coat. His short legs stuck out straight from his saddle, and sometimes there was danger that he would be shot out of his seat at some sharp turn in the road, but much to the astonishment of everybody, the hard-riding reckless youngster turned up at headquarters safe and sound every night, exhausted but flushed with the excitement of the day. Everywhere they went on horse-back he divided the honours with his father, and whenever the soldiers saw the tall figure of their much loved President, and fresh-faced merry Tad, they cheered themselves hoarse, but in response to the cheers Tad firmly refused to salute as he was told to do, saying:
"That's the way General Hooker and father do, but I am only a boy," and paid no attention to the notice he attracted.
Even with the excitement of the reviews, so restless was Tad during those days with the army of the Potomac, and so steadily did he plead with his father to go home, that finally to quiet him, the President said:
"Tad, I'll make a bargain with you. If you will agree not to say anything more about going home until we are ready to go, I will give you that dollar you want so badly."
The teller of that story who was on the spot at the time, says, that although having a great desire for the dollar, Tad did murmur a few times after this, and when they were ready to go back to Washington, Lincoln held up a dollar bill before Tad, asking:
"Now, Taddie, my son, do you think you have earned this?"
Tad hung his head and said nothing, but the President handed it to him, saying:
"Well, my son, although I don't think you have kept your part of the bargain, I will keep mine, and you cannot reproach me with breaking faith, anyway!" Tad's face showed that he understood the value of that greenback, as well as his father's reproof.
The long terrible months of the War of Secession wore slowly away, now illuminated by the joy of a victory, now overshadowed by the gloom of defeat, and meanwhile President Lincoln was criticized by friends and foes, alike by those who did not understand, and by those who would not appreciate the vastness of the ideal underlying the pain and tragedy of the war. But the President struggled on, wearing out his heart and his strength, but his courage and his faith never failed, and through all the suspense and responsibility of those years, Abraham Lincoln stood firm, Captain of the Ship of State, steering her safely into the desired haven.
The war came to an end. The armies of the Union had crushed out the great rebellion. Peace came to the troubled land, and Lincoln felt that he had fulfilled his mission,--that he could now enjoy in unclouded happiness that second term on which he was just entering.
At that time, when though men were jubilant over the end of the great struggle, there was still in some hearts a revengeful spirit towards the conquered, and when in one of his speeches Lincoln asked:
"What shall we do with the rebels?"
A man in the audience cried:
The President's elbow received a violent jerk and Lincoln looked hastily down before replying. As usual Tad was close beside his father, and had taken the only means of attracting his attention:
"No, father," he said, "don't hang them--hang on to them!"
"Tad's got it," said Mr. Lincoln, beaming with pleasure at the little fellow's idea. "He's right, we'll hang on to them!"--and that remark of Tad's with the response it brought out, has become one of the most famous memories of Tad.
In another historic scene we find him figuring. It was the night of President Lincoln's last long speech, that of April 11, 1865. News had just come of the fall of Richmond and Petersburg, and the White House was a blaze of lights from attic to cellar, in honour of the occasion, while all over the country a wave of joy swept, for now it was felt that the end of the long struggle was in sight. A great crowd of people had gathered outside the White House and the sound of their cheers and shouts was like the roar of the ocean, and the clamour of brass bands and the explosion of fireworks, added to the general confusion and noise.
Inside the White House, the President and some friends sat long at dinner, after which the President would be expected to make a speech to the expectant crowd, but he lingered at the table, as though loath to end its pleasant intercourse, while Tad grew impatient at such a long period of inaction, and crept away. Soon he was discovered at a front window, out of which he was frantically waving a Confederate flag, which someone had given him. The impatient crowd outside, eagerly watching for something to happen, when they saw the little figure with the big rebel flag, applauded uproariously, for Tad and his pranks were one of the features of the White House. But when the dignified old family butler discovered the youngster he was horrified. After a long struggle with him which delighted the crowd, Tad was captured and dragged in, and his flag confiscated while the old servant exclaimed:
"Oh, Master Tad, the likes of it, the likes of a rebel flag out of the windows of the White House.--Oh, did I ever!"
Struggling out of his conqueror's clutches, Tad rushed tempestuously to his father to complain about such treatment, but Mr. Lincoln, having finished dinner, had just stepped into a centre window, from which he could look out on the great crowd of people below him, and was waiting for the mighty cheer that welcomed him to die away. Then he spoke, and as the first words:
"We meet to-night, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart,"--fell on the ears of the throng, a mighty hush enveloped the surging mass of human beings whom he was addressing.
His speech was written on loose sheets of paper, which as he finished, fluttered one by one from his hand to the ground. The candle which should have given him light, was not where he could see to read by it, so he took it from its place, and held it in one hand, while he continued with his reading, and still the pages fluttered to the ground one by one.
Tad, meanwhile, finding his father occupied, had seized the chance of despoiling the forsaken dinner table of all the dainties still on it, but after this diversion began to pall, he looked about for some new excitement. Hearing the President's voice addressing the crowd, Tad crept behind his father, and amused himself by picking up the fluttering pages as they fell. The President was reading slowly and the pages dropped too seldom to suit impatient Tad.
"Come, give me another!" he whispered loudly, pulling the leg of his father's trousers. The President made a little motion of his foot towards Tad, but gave no other sign that he heard the whispered command, and continued to voice his grave and wise thoughts on Reconstruction.
Below was that vast sea of upturned faces--every eye fixed on the face of the much loved President. At the window, his face radiant with patriotic joy stood Abraham Lincoln--that heroic figure, reading the speech which was to be his last word to the people.
Beside him, creeping back and forth on his hands and knees after the fluttering pages, and sometimes lifting an eager face to his father, was Tad, the boy of the White House, and there let us leave him, close beside that father to whom he was both comfort and joy, through dark years of storm and stress. Let us leave Abraham Lincoln, and Tad, his cherished son, together there in the sight of the people to whom they were so dear, before the black curtain of sorrow falls over them, that Tad's merry face may linger in our memory untouched by the sorrow of a nation's tragedy.
from Ten Boys Of History by Kate Dickinson Sweetser.
Feb 21, 24 01:20 PM
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