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Illustration from What is the Full
Moon Full of

Shulamith Levey

Cricket Stories

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"Hurrah for Mr. Davis! Hurrah for Mr. Lincoln!" Part 3

Next morning, my cousin and Aunt Emilie were having breakfast in their room. Ma put down her teacup.  “So, Thomas Lincoln, another tutor has come and gone.  This one said it was a waste of his time and education to lecture to an empty desk, though perhaps the desk was a more serious student than you have shown yourself to be.”

She did look stern.  I stole a look at Pa.  He was studying something on his sleeve.  I sure knew why.  He never was too keen on my having tutors, even holding reading and writing mighty important.  “You need learning, Son, history and literature and such.  But you can learn a great deal just from living.  You need both, Son, both.”  He read to me a lot and helped me with my printing.  Well, he did, but not so much these war days.  Anyhow, I was glad this tutor was gone.  He never laughed and Jip made him sneeze.

“I have to see to Cousin Katherine, Ma. Don’t I?”  I gave her my best grin.  Ma shook her head.  “What am I to do with you?”

“There’s nothing we can do with him, Mother,”  Pa dusted off that sleeve and gave Ma a kiss, “except love him.”  He ruffed up my hair as usual.  “Of course, you have to take care of Katherine, Son.  If she leaves here even a little bit happier than when she arrived, you can be right proud.  Now, I have a Cabinet meeting in an hour.  We’ll meet at lunch.”

Ma followed Pa out the door.  “Taddy,” she called back at me, “Emilie told me she and Katherine want to be in Kentucky for Christmas.  So they’ll be leaving sometime tomorrow.  It’s been too short a stay.  I’ll send Katherine to the stable.  And no tricks, please.”

Law!  If Ma could see inside my head she’d not be worrying about tricks.  Last thing I wanted to happen was making Katherine cry and having Ma and Pa disappointed in me.  And Aunt Emilie.  I couldn’t explain it, but I felt as if Aunt Emilie and Katherine were wounded soldiers, like the ones I saw in the hospitals, only quiet-like, holding in the pain.  So I’d decided we wouldn’t go up in the attic and get all the bells in the house ringing at the same time.  I had to laugh, thinking how Willie and Holly and Bud and me got everyone running like scared goats.  No.  With Katherine and her Ma, things had to go just right.  Specially now, with them leaving so soon.

Outside the sky was blue-as-blue.  Cold, but no wind.  I called to Mr. Watt.  He was pushing a wheelbarrow near the goat pen.

“Mr. Watt, will you help me hitch up the goats to the cart, please.  I’m going to take my Cousin Katherine for a ride.”

Mr. Watt pushed back his cap.  He had a large head with lots of gray hair, some of it covering one eye.  “You wildcat gone to take that little miss for a drive with the goats in the open?”

“No, no, Mr. Watt.  I’m gonna stay on the grounds.  Just to give her some fresh air.”
“Why not the ponies?  They could use a bit o’ exercise.  Goats!  And after what happened at your mother’s tea party.”
Well!  Happenings flew round this place worse ‘n bullets on a battlefield.  I didn’t want to tell him I’d made an awful slip about Willie’s pony.  Whole of Washington, maybe New York, would know.
“Nanny and Nanka ‘ll be just fine, Mr. Watt.  And I’ll drive ‘em easy and slow ... I promise.”

I guess Mr. Watt liked girls better than boys ‘cause he hitched up the goats nice as you please.  Few minutes later Katherine came out with Aunt Emilie.  Mr. Watt lifted Katherine onto the seat of the cart.  “There you go, little Miss.  Have a fine ride.  And you, Master Tad,”  He gave me the same fierce look from when I ate the strawberries, “stay out of my flower beds, hear!”

Just as I lifted the reins, Jip came racing up and landed smack onto Katherine’s lap, knocking her sideways.  I threw out my arm to keep her from falling.  “Oh, Jip, ah love you.”  I turned to see her looking bright – and happy for the first time since she came.  If she does leave here even a smidgin happier, like Pa said, I’ll have Jip to thank, that’s for sure.

I stayed on the back grounds, away from the front gate. “There’s Mama and Aunt Mary.”  Katherine was pointing in front of us, giving Jip great pats with her other hand.  In a minute we were alongside them.  I pulled on the reins.  Nanny and Nanka stopped without a jerk.

I had to ask Ma.  “Ma, had your drive with Aunt Emilie already?”  Ma fiddled with her bonnet ribbons.  Well, I might have trouble reading words, but I could sure read Ma’s eyes and they said, loud and clear, “Tadpole, you’re the end, you are!”  What she did say was, “I thought a walk would do us as much good.  There’s lots more air walking than in a half-closed carriage.”

“I love to walk, Tad,”  Aunt Emilie smiled the first smile since she’d come, “and your mother and father have been a great comfort to me, just as I can see you’ve been to Katherine.  I really sorry our visit is so short.”
I straightened up on the seat and said, “Giddap.”  I was feeling good.  But there was still a bit of time to go.

Dinner was very quiet.  Afterwards we all went into the family parlor.  Ma and Aunt Emilie sat together on the sofa, working on their embroidery.  Katherine and me sat on the floor in front of the fire.
Pa threw on two large split logs, then stirred up the embers, red hot.  “Pa, you ever think on your log-splitting days?”  Pa shook his head.  “No time, Tadpole.  I’m mighty busy with ...,” he picked up a short straw broom and wisked back a bit of ash that had gotten out, “with being president.”

All of a sudden-like, Katherine said, “Ah like this room, Mama.”  She jumped up and ran over to the round carved table by the sofa.  “Specially this.” I could see what she had in her hand.  It was a small china inkwell with tiny pink china roses winding all round it, and on top there was a red-as-red-could-be rose.

“It’s one of Ma’s favorites, too, Katherine.  Pa calls all these things flubdubs!”
“Mr. Lincoln is always teasing me, Emilie, about how I’m taken with lovely things, tableware and furniture and such.  But I have to admit,” she gave Pa one of his sad smiles, “it does make me feel, well, festive to be dressed in style and be surrounded by pretty objects.  At least it did, until ....”  She stopped and bent her head low over her embroidery hoop.

I held my breath.  But somehow I knew.  Ma wouldn’t say it.  No, sir.  Not just because Aunt Emilie and Cousin Katherine were there.  Cause of Pa.  I’d noticed, she tried to be cheery when Pa was there, cause he was most often sad.  So next thing she said was, “Katherine, hold the inkwell up to the firelight.  You’ll see, the china is so thin the glow comes right through.  It’s called bone china.”
Phew!  Aunt Emilie gave Ma a hug.  Pa stood still staring into the fire.  Katherine came back and held the inkwell.  Sure enough, the light came through, all rosy and bright.  Then, I couldn’t believe it, Katherine shut her eyes and gave that rose on top a kiss!  Girls are sure different from boys!
Pa saw her do it, too, and if I’m right, he looked between smiling and crying.  “I shall be in my study if anyone needs me,” he said, ever so quietly.

When Pa’d gone, I took a pile of photographs from the bookshelf behind me to show Katherine.  Pa and Ma said I could tell whoppers of stories, and there were always lots of stories with pictures.
The first photograph was Pa just when he became president.  “This,” I held it up high, “is the President of the United States.”  Law and oh my!  My cousin’s face turned bright pink.  She put down the inkwell and pulled in her chin.  And shook her head till that bow holding her curls slid sideways.

“No, Tad Lincoln, NO!  That man is not president!”  Next thing, I fair yelled out, “Hurrah for Abe Lincoln!”  Next thing that happened, small Katherine jumped up and stamped her feet.  “Hurrah for Jeff Davis!”  Now I jumped up and stamped as hard as I could.  “Jeff Davis is not the President of the United States.”  I put all my force into the United part, like I heard Pa do.  “My Pa was elected right and proper!”
“Well, Mr. Davis is President of the South.  My Papa said so and so does my Mama and that’s where ah come from and so does your Mama, too.”

I had to say she sure had spunk for six years.  And she sure could holler.

“Children, children.”  Ma and Aunt Emilie were near to hollering themselves, but I knew exactly what to do.
“Come on, Katherine, we’ll ask my Pa!”  And I fair swung her down the stairs to Pa’s private room.  There he was, sitting alone in his high-back chair, his Bible on the floor beside him.
“Pa!”  Katherine was crying something fierce now, but I had to settle this.  Two full days I’d been biting my tongue, scared to death I’d make a slip I couldn’t fix.  “Pa, Katherine says Mr. Davis is president and I say it’s you.  You’re president of all the states, aren’t you?”

Pa didn’t say anything, not for what I thought was a long time.  Katherine and me, we just stood there.  She was still crying, but more like sobbing.  I was beginning to feel awful!  I’d done just what I prayed I wouldn’t do, and them leaving tomorrow ....

Finally, Pa took Katherine on his right knee, ever so gentle-like, and me on his left.  “Well, well,” he spoke his words slow and soft, “well, well, Tad.  It seems you know who your president is and Katherine knows hers, which is fine, because I am her Uncle Lincoln.”  And he gave both of us a hug, near to smothering us against each other.
How did Pa do it?  Making things right and easy with just a few words?  Katherine stopped sniffling and I, well, I felt maybe, just a bit less awful.

That night, after dinner, I heard Pa tell Ma what happened in his study and then he sighed and said something that put the ache right back into my heart.  “I wish I might settle the question of this North and South as easily, Mary.  I feel as if I shall never be glad again.”

Next afternoon, when I was saying goodbye to Katherine, she opened up a little cloth bag to show me – the inkwell.  She picked the rose on top of the cover and smiled up at me.  “Thank you, Tad Lincoln.  Ah’ll neva forget this visit.”
I’ll sure not forget this visit either.  As Pa said, “You can learn many things from just living.”  Still, I plan to try harder with my reading and printing. .  Ma and Pa deserve to be happy, even before this terrible war is over.

* * * * *

Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of President Lincoln, and her family living in the South, held very different ideas during the Civil War.  It was like the country itself, the North against the South.  The South had withdrawn from the Union, all the United States of which Lincoln was president, and elected Jefferson Davis as their president.  This caused Mrs. Lincoln great sadness, as it did for the others in her family.  She had three half-brothers, one brother, and three brothers-in-law in the Confederate Army, fighting for the South.  Her younger half-sister Emilie Todd Helm lost her husband Ben at the Battle of Chattanooga, in Tennessee, in the summer of 1863.

So there was Emilie, a widow with three small children.  In December 1863 President Lincoln and his wife invited Emilie to visit them in the White House, on the way to Kentucky.  (They themselves had suffered a terrible loss when their son Willie died of typhoid fever the year before, at the age of twelve.)

Emilie agreed, bringing her daughter Katherine, six years old.  Tad Lincoln, or Tadpole as his parents often called him, ten years old, was very excited about the visit of his Aunt Emilie and his cousin Katherine.

I have taken a number of true incidents in the life of the Lincoln family and woven them into my own story, or rather, Tad’s story.

Tad was a very lively, intelligent ten-year-old at the time he and his cousin Katherine Helm met.  But he was unschooled, speaking plain, ungrammatical country English.  Probably he dropped the ‘ings’ from his  words, but we have no way of knowing. He had a lisp, which may have been, in part, the reason for his difficulty in learning to read.

What we do know is that he and his father were very, very close.  They both adored animals and playing pranks.  Abe Lincoln was very indulgent with his children.  We also know that the war alienated Mary Todd Lincoln from her southern family, not at all because she desired it.  It was a great sorrow to her.

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