|CHAPTER VI. -- Willie Lincoln's Death-Bed.|
Mrs. Lincoln returned to Washington in November, and again duty called me to the White House. The war was now in progress, and every day brought stirring news from the front--the front, where the Gray opposed the Blue, where flashed the bright sabre in the sunshine, where were heard the angry notes of battle, the deep roar of cannon, and the fearful rattle of musketry; where new graves were being made every day, where brother forgot a mother's early blessing and sought the life-blood of brother, and friend raised the deadly knife against friend.
"Mrs. Keckley, you know Mrs. Lincoln?"
"You are her modiste; are you not?"
"You know her very well; do you not?"
"I am with her every day or two."
"Don't you think you would have some influence with her?"
"I cannot say. Mrs. Lincoln, I presume, would listen to anything I should suggest, but whether she would be influenced by a suggestion of mine is another question".
"I am sure that you could influence her, Mrs. Keckley. Now listen; I have a proposition to make. I have a great desire to become an inmate of the White House. I have heard so much of Mr. Lincoln's goodness that I should like to be near him; and if I can enter the
I looked at the woman in amazement. A bribe, and to betray the confidence of my employer! Turning to her with a glance of scorn, I said:
"Madam, you are mistaken in regard to my character. Sooner than betray the trust of a friend, I would throw myself into the Potomac river. I am not so base as that. Pardon me, but there is the door, and I trust that you will never enter my room again."
She sprang to her feet in deep confusion, and passed through the door, murmuring: "Very well; you will live to regret your action today."
"Never, never!" I exclaimed, and closed the door after her with a bang. I afterwards learned that this woman was an actress, and that her object was to enter the White House as a servant, learn its secrets, and then publish a scandal to the world. I do not give her name, for such publicity would wound the sensitive feelings of friends, who would have to share her disgrace, without being responsible for her faults. I simply record the incident to show how I often was approached by unprincipled parties. It is unnecessary to say that I indignantly refused every bribe offered.
The first public appearance of Mrs. Lincoln that winter was at the reception on New Year's Day. This reception was shortly followed by a brilliant levee. The day after the levee I went to the White House, and while fitting a dress to Mrs. Lincoln, she said:
"Lizabeth"--she had learned to drop the E-- "Lizabeth, I have an idea. These are war times,
"I think that you are right, Mrs. Lincoln."
"I am glad to hear you say so. If I can make Mr. Lincoln take the same view of the case, I shall not fail to put the idea into practice."
Before I left her room that day, Mr. Lincoln came in. She at once stated the case to him. He pondered the question a few moments before answering.
"Mother, I am afraid your plan will not work."
"But it will work, if you will only determine that it shall work."
"It is breaking in on the regular custom," he mildly replied.
"But you forget, father, these are war times, and old customs can be done away with for the once. The idea is economical, you must admit."
"Yes, mother, but we must think of something besides economy."
"I do think of something else. Public receptions are more democratic than stupid state dinners--are more in keeping with the spirit of the institutions of our country, as you would say if called upon to make a stump speech. There are a great many strangers in the city, foreigners and others, whom we can entertain at our receptions, but whom we cannot invite to our dinners."
"I believe you are right, mother. You argue the point well. I think that we shall have to decide on the receptions."
So the day was carried. The question was decided, and arrangements were made for the first reception. It now was January, and cards were issued for February.
The children, Tad and Willie, were constantly receiving presents. Willie was so delighted with a little pony, that he insisted on riding it every day. The weather was changeable, and exposure resulted in a severe cold, which deepened into fever. He was very sick, and I was summoned to his bedside. It was sad to see the poor boy suffer. Always of a delicate constitution, he could not resist the strong inroads of disease. The days dragged wearily by, and he grew weaker and more shadow-like. He was his mother's favorite child, and she doted on him. It grieved her heart sorely to see him suffer. When able to be about, he was almost constantly by her side. When I would go in her room, almost always I found blue-eyed Willie there, reading from an open book, or curled up in a chair with pencil and paper in hand. He had decidedly a literary taste, and was a studious boy. A short time before his death he wrote this simple little poem:
"WASHINGTON , D.C., October 30, 1861.
"DEAR SIR:--I enclose you my first attempt at poetry.
" Wm. W. LINCOLN.
To the Editor of the National Republican
ON THE DEATH OF COLONEL EDWARD BAKER.
THERE was no patriot like Baker,
So noble and so true;
He fell as a soldier on the field,
His face to the sky of blue.
His voice is silent in the hall
Which oft his presence graced;
No more he'll hear the loud acclaim
Which rang from place to place.
No squeamish notions filled his breast,
The Union was his theme;
No surrender and no compromise,"
His day-thought and night's dream.
His Country has her part to pay
To'rds those he has left behind;
His window and his children all,
She must always keep in mind.
Finding that Willie continued to grow worse, Mrs. Lincoln determined to withdraw her cards of invitation and postpone the reception. Mr. Lincoln thought that the cards had better not be withdrawn. At least he advised that the doctor be consulted before any steps were taken. Accordingly Dr. Stones was called in. He pronounced Willie better, and said that there was every reason for an early recovery. He thought, since the invitations had been issued, it would be best to go on with the reception. Willie, he insisted, was in no immediate danger. Mrs. Lincoln was guided by these counsels, and no postponement was announced. On the evening of the reception "Willie was suddenly taken worse. His mother say by his bedside a long while, holding his feverish hand in her own, and
"Whew! our cat has a long tail to-night."
Mrs. Lincoln did not reply. The President added:
"Mother, it is my opinion, if some of that tail was nearer the head, it would be in better style;" and he glanced at her bare arms and neck. She had a beautiful neck and arm, and low dresses were becoming to her. She turned away with a look of offended dignity, and presently
The reception was a large and brilliant one, and the right notes of the Marine Band in the apartments below came to the sick-room in soft, subdued murmurs, like the wild, faint sobbing of far-off spirits. Some of the young people had suggested dancing, but Mr. Lincoln met the suggestion with an emphatic veto. The brilliance of the scene could not dispel the sadness that rested upon the face-off Mrs. Lincoln. During the evening she came up-stairs several times, and stood by the bedside of the suffering boy. She loved him with a mother's heart, and her anxiety was great. The night passed slowly; morning came, and Willie was worse. He lingered a few days, and died. God called the beautiful spirit home, and the house of joy was turned into the house of mourning. I was worn out with watching, and was not in the room when Willie died,
Great sobs choked his utterance. He buried his head in his hands, and his tall frame was convulsed with emotion. I stood at the foot of the bed, my eyes full of tears, looking at the man in silent, awe-stricken wonder. His grief unnerved him, and made him a weak, passive child. I did not dream that his rugged nature could be so moved. I shall never forget those solemn moments--genius and greatness weeping over love's idol lost. There is a grandeur as well as a
Mrs. Lincoln's grief was inconsolable. The pale face of her dead boy threw her into convulsions. Around him love's tendrils had been twined, and now that he was dressed for the tomb, it was like tearing the tendrils out of the heart by their roots. Willie, she often said, if spared by Providence, would be the hope and stay of her old age. But Providence had not spared him. The light faded from his eyes, and the death-dew had gathered on his brow.
In one of her paroxysms of grief the President kindly bent over his wife, took her by the arm, and gently led her to the windows. With a stately, solemn gesture, he pointed to the lunatic asylum.
"Mother, do you see that large white building on the hill yonder? Try and control your grief,
Mrs. Lincoln was so completely overwhelmed with sorrow that she did not attend the funeral. Willie was laid to rest in the cemetery, and the White House was draped in mourning. Black crape everywhere met the eye, contrasting strangely, with the gay and brilliant colors of a few days before. Party dresses were laid aside, and every one who crossed the threshold of the presidential mansion spoke in subdued tones when they thought of the sweet boy at rest--
"Under the sod and the dew."
Previous to this I had lost my son. Leaving Wilberforce, he went to the battle-field with the three months troops, and was killed in Missouri--found his grave on the battle-field where the gallant General Lyon fell. It was a sad blow to me, and the kind womanly letter that Mrs. Lincoln wrote to me when she heard of my bereavement was full of golden words of comfort.
Nathaniel Parker Willis, the genial poet, now sleeping in his grave, wrote this beautiful sketch of Willie Lincoln, after the sad death of the bright-eyed boy:
"This little fellow had his acquaintances among his father's friends, and I chanced to be one of them. He never failed to seek me out in the crowd, shake hands, and make some pleasant remark; and this, in a boy of ten years of age, was, to say the least, endearing to a stranger. But he had more than mere affectionateness. His self-possession-- aplomb , as the French call it--was extraordinary. I was one day passing the White House, when he was outside with a play-fellow on the side-walk. Mr. Seward drove in, with Prince Napoleon and two of his suite in the carriage; and, in a mock-heroic way--terms of intimacy evidently existing between the boy and the Secretary--the official gentleman took off his hat, and the Napoleon did the same, all making the young Prince President a ceremonious
"With all the splendor that was around this little fellow in his new home, he was so bravely and beautifully himself --and that only. A wild flower transplanted from the prairie to the hothouse, he retained his prairie habits, unalterably pure and simple, till he died. His leading trait seemed to be a fearless and kindly frankness, willing that everything should be as different as it pleased, but resting unmoved in his own conscious
"On the day of the funeral I went before the hour, to take a near farewell look at the dear boy; for they had embalmed him to send home to the West--to sleep under the sod of his own valley--and the coffin-lid was to be closed before the service. The family had just taken their leave of him, and the servants and nurses were seeing him for the last time--and with tears and sobs wholly unrestrained, for he was loved like an idol by every one of them. He lay with eyes closed--his brown hair parted as we had known it--pale in the slumber of death; but otherwise unchanged, for he was dressed as it for the evening, and held in one of his hands,
"The funeral was very touching. Of the entertainments in the East Room the boy had been--for those who now assembled more especially--a most life-giving variation. With his bright face, and his apt greetings and replies, he was remembered in every part of that crimson-curtained hall, built only for pleasure--of all the crowds, each night, certainly the one least likely to be death's first mark. He was his father's favorite. They were intimates--often seen hand in hand. And there sat the man, with a burden on his brain at which the world marvels--bent now with the load at both heart and brain--staggering under a blow like the taking from him of his child! His men of power sat around
This sketch was very much admired by Mrs. Lincoln. I copy it from the scrap-book in which she pasted it, with many tears, with her own hands.