Saturday, December 8, 2012

Freeing Lincoln

For two days Abraham Lincoln: Detective can be downloaded as a Kindle book for free. Merry Christmas.

The book is narrated by Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon. Here Herndon tells a story of their early days and Lincoln’s first meeting with Mary Todd.

We were at the home of Colonel Robert Allen with thirty of the young men and women of the town in attendance at a spring dance. The large ballroom, a rarity in Springfield at the time, had been elegantly decorated with sprigs of fresh spring flowers by the young ladies of the town. I engaged the newly arrived Mary Todd for a waltz, and while doing so I fancied I had never danced with a young lady who had such grace and ease. After the number we were promenading through the hall, and I decided to compliment her on her grace. "While I am well aware of my own awkward movements," I said, with what I thought of as charming self-deprecation, "You seem to glide through the waltz with the ease of a serpent." Of course as soon as the words left my mouth I knew that my strange comparison was as unfortunate as it was hideous. I can only plead youth and ignorance, not that it was so long ago. I am a veritable Lothario with women compared to Lincoln, but at the time I was far from experienced when dealing with the female sex. Even so, I knew that I had made a grievous error. She halted for a moment, drew back and retorted, frostily: "Mr. Herndon, comparison to a serpent is rather severe irony, especially to a newcomer."
            I'm damned if I understood what she meant about irony, but there was no mistaking her anger. I suppose I couldn't blame her, but it was only a small inadvertent mistake made by a flustered boy. Perhaps the few sips of whiskey I had taken to steel my courage to ask for a dance had also led to my error.
            I slunk out of the hall feeling about as high as that cursed serpent I had made the odious comparison to and stood at the back of the room while the others took a glass of punch and chatted. I could see Mary Todd regaling her friends with my stupidity, their pretty heads thrown back in laughter, glancing over at me, the oaf, with smiles of amused pity. Oh, how happy I am to now be married and away from such foolishness.
            After the company was refreshed with a cooling drink and some invigorating gossip it was back for more dancing, though I ventured not onto the floor. In fact, I made a silent vow never to dance nor open my mouth again. I might have remained a first-rate pariah forever had Lincoln not risen to that rank and relieved me of the dubious honor.
            It was almost enough to see Abraham approach the lady in question -- him being six-foot-four inches and her topping out at an easy foot less -- to sense that a disaster of some sort was in the offing. At least he had brushed his coat and shined his boots for the occasion. Soon enough they were on the floor amidst the others, Lincoln struggling to keep the three count of the waltz in mind as he ponderously maneuvered his dainty charge around the room. It was painful to watch as she extricated her tiny feet from beneath his giant clodhoppers over and over. After an eternity, the dance finished. Lincoln bent over -- I wanted to shout a warning to him, No! No! Whatever it is, don't say it! -- but I didn't, and he said something to her, and she replied. He looked pained, she assumed what I had now begun to think of as her patented air of superiority and they parted. Lincoln told me later what she had said, though by then I had already heard it from any number of ladies as it was considered the bon mot of the evening, to be repeated until my own sin was washed away in the torrent of Lincoln's clumsiness.
            It seems when the dance had finished Lincoln said to her, "Thank you, Mary Todd, I wanted to dance with you in the worst way." And the fair lady beamed up at him and replied, "Oh, you have, Mr. Lincoln, you have."

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