Another Assassination, Another Widow, Another Embattled Book


At last everything was packed, and the day for departure for the West came. I can never forget that day; it was so unlike the day when the body of the President was borne from the hall in grand and solemn state. Then thousands gathered to bow the head in reverence as the plumed hearse drove down the line. There was all the pomp of military display—drooping flags, battalions with reversed arms, and bands playing dirge-like airs. Now, the wife of the President was leaving the White House, and there was scarcely a friend to tell her good-by. She passed down the public stairway, entered her carriage, and quietly drove to the depot where we took the cars. The silence was almost painful. …

The trip was devoid of interest. We arrived in Chicago without accident or delay, and apartments were secured for us at the Tremont House, where we remained one week. At the expiration of this time Mrs. Lincoln decided that living at the hotel was attended with too much expense, so it was arranged that we should go to the country. Rooms were selected at Hyde Park, a summer resort.

Robert and Tad accompanied their mother to Hyde Park. We arrived about three o’clock in the afternoon of Saturday. The place had just been opened the summer before, and there was a newness about everything. The accommodations were not first-class, the rooms being small and plainly furnished. It was a lively day for us all. Robert occupied himself unpacking his books, and arranging them on the shelves in the corner of his small but neat room. I assisted him, he talking pleasantly all the while. When we were through, he folded his arms, stood off a little distance from the mantel, with an abstracted look as if he were thinking of the great change in his fortunes—contrasting the present with the past. Turning to me, he asked: “Well, Mrs. Keckley, how do you like our new quarters?”

“This is a delightful place, and I think you will pass your time pleasantly,” I answered.

He looked at me with a quizzical smile, then remarked: “You call it a delightful place! Well, perhaps it is. Since you do not have to stay here, you can safely say as much about the charming situation as you please. I presume that I must put up with it, as mother’s pleasure must be consulted before my own. But candidly, I would almost as soon be dead as be compelled to remain three months in this dreary house.”

He seemed to feel what he said, and going to the window, he looked out upon the view with moody countenance. I passed into Mrs. Lincoln’s room, and found her lying upon the bed, sobbing as if her heart would break.

“What a dreary place, Lizzie! and to think that I should be compelled to live here, because I have not the means to live elsewhere. Ah! what a sad change has come to us all.” I had listened to her sobbing for eight weeks, therefore I was never surprised to find her in tears. Tad was the only cheerful one of the party. He was a child of sunshine, and nothing seemed to dampen the ardor of his spirits.

On Monday morning, Robert was getting ready to ride into Chicago, as business called him to the city.

“Where you goin’, Brother Bob?”—Tad generally called Robert “Brother Bob.”

“Only into town!” was the brief reply.

“Mayn’t I go with you?”

“Ask Mother. I think that she will say no.”

Just then Mrs. Lincoln came in, and Tad ran to her, with the eager question:

“Oh, Ma! can’t I go to town with Brother Bob? I want to go so badly.”

“Go to town! No; you must stay and keep me company. Besides, I have determined that you shall get a lesson every day, and I am going to commence to-day with you.”

“I don’t want to get a lesson—I won’t get a lesson,” broke in the impetuous boy. “I don’t want to learn my book; I want to go to town!”

“I suppose you want to grow up to be a great dunce. Hush, Tad; you shall not go to town until you have said a lesson”; and the mother looked resolute.

“May I go after I learn my book?” was the next question.

“Yes; if Robert will wait for you.”

“Oh, Bob will wait; won’t you, Bob?”

“No, I cannot wait; but the landlord is going in this afternoon, and you can go with him. You must do as Mother tells you, Tad. You are getting to be a big boy now, and must start to school next fall; and you would not like to go to school without knowing how to read.”

“Where’s my book, Ma? Get my book quick. I will say my lesson,” and he jumped about the room, boisterously, boylike.

“Be quiet, Tad. Here is your book, and we will now begin the first lesson,” said his mother, as she seated herself in an easy chair.

Tad had always been much humored by his parents, especially by his father. He suffered from a slight impediment in his speech, and had never been made to go to school; consequently his book knowledge was very limited. I knew that his education had been neglected, but had no idea he was so deficient as the first lesson at Hyde Park proved him to be.

Drawing a low chair to his mother’s side, he opened his book, and began to slowly spell the first word, “a-p-e.”

“Well, what does a-p-e spell?”

“Monkey,” was the instant rejoinder. The word was illustrated by a small woodcut of an ape, which looked to Tad’s eyes very much like a monkey; and his pronunciation was guided by the picture, and not by the sounds of the different letters.

“Nonsense!” exclaimed his mother. “A-p-e does not spell monkey.”

“Does spell monkey! Isn’t that a monkey?” and Tad pointed triumphantly to the picture.

“No, it is not a monkey.”

“Not a monkey! what is it, then?”

“An ape.”

“An ape! ‘taint an ape. Don’t I know a monkey when I see it?”

“No, if you say that is a monkey.”

“I do know a monkey. I’ve seen lots of them in the street with the organs. I know a monkey better than you do, ‘cause I always go out into the street to see them when they come by, and you don’t.”