A Little Lad of Long Ago
L ITTLE ABE hurried home as fast as his feet would carry him. Perhaps if he had worn soft wool stockings and finely fitting shoes, like yours, he could have run faster. But, instead of stockings, he wore deerskin leggings, and pulled over these were clumsy moccasins of bearskin that his mother had made for him.
Such a funny little figure as he was, trudging along across the rough fields! His suit was of warm, gray homespun. His odd-shaped cap had once been on the back of a coon. The coon's tail flew out behind as he walked—like a funny, furry tassel. But if you could have looked into the honest, twinkling, blue eyes of this little lad of long ago you would have liked him at once.
In one hand little Abe held something very precious. It wasn't a purse of gold, nor a bag of gold. It was only a book, but little Abe thought more of that book than he would of gold or precious stones. To know just what that book meant to little Abe, you must be very fond of reading. You must think how it would seem to live far away from all the schools, to have no books of your own, and to see no books anywhere, except two or three old ones of your mother's that you had read over and over until you knew them by heart.
So, when a neighbor had said that little Abe might take a book home and keep it until he had read it all through, do you wonder that his eyes shone like stars? A real book—a book that told about little boys and girls and the big world! Little Abe's heart beat fast; it seemed almost too good to be true.
Little Abe's home was built on a hillside. It was not much like your home. It was not built of stone or brick, not even of nice, smooth lumber, but of rough logs. When little Abe lay in his small bed, close to the roof, he could look through the chinks between the logs and see the great, white stars shining down on him. Sometimes the great yellow moon smiled at him as she sailed through the dark night sky. And sometimes, too, saucy raindrops pattered down on the little face on the coarse pillow.
One night he slipped the book away as usual and fell asleep to dream of the wonderful story. He awoke very early, but there were no golden sunbeams to peep through the chinks and play across his pillow. The loft was dark and little Abe could hear the wind whistling out in the trees. He reached out his hand for the book—and what do you think?—he put it into a pile of something white and cold lying on his bed! His little bed was covered with an outside blanket of soft, white snow!
He shivered and sat up, reaching again for the book. He pulled it out. Then the poor little fellow almost cried—for that precious book was wet from cover to cover, and its crisp leaves were crumpled and soaked from the heavy fall of snow. Poor little Abe! He sat up in his cold bed and brushed off the snow as best he could. He could scarcely keep the tears back. There was a big lump in his throat, and a big lump in his heart. What would the kind neighbor say?
As soon as he could, little Abe set off across the snowy fields to the kind neighbor's house. It was more than a mile away, but he trudged along, not thinking of the wind or the cold, but only of the book. When he found the neighbor he held out the poor, spoiled book, and, looking straight up into the man's face, with clear, honest eyes, he told his sad little story.
"Well, my boy," said the man, smiling down into the sober little face, "so my book is spoiled. Will you work for me to pay for it?"
"I will do anything for you," said the little fellow, eagerly.
"Well, then, I will ask you to pull fodder corn for me for three days," said the man.
Little Abe looked up into his kind face.
"Then, sir," he said, wistfully, "will the book be all mine?"
"Why, yes, of course," said the man, good-naturedly, "you may have the book; you will earn it."
So little Abe went to work for three days. He was cold, and his back ached as he pulled corn for the cattle, but he was too happy to mind, for was not that precious book to be soon his very own?
What do you suppose the book was, for which little Abe worked so long and faithfully? Was it a book of wonderful fairy tales, like yours? No; the book was the story of George Washington. And, long years afterward, when little Abe had grown to be a great man and the President of the United States, he used to tell the story of his first book.
"That book—the story of George Washington—helped me to become the President," he said.