Abe, as they called him, was a very tall boy for his age: his long legs were always in his way, and they seemed to get longer every day. He never wore stockings until he was a young man, but moccasins, such as the Indians wear—shoes of leather, with a fringe round the top—and long deerskin leggings; a deerskin shirt which his mother had made him, and a cap which was seldom on his head, it being covered enough by his thick black hair. His hair was never tidy; always in his eyes, and having to be pushed back. Abe was clever with his axe, and a good workman; his mother had taught him to spell, but there was little chance of learning in Pigeon’s Creek.
For a year the little family lived there very happily; then a mysterious sickness broke out in the place, no one knew why or how to cure it. They called it the milk sickness; many people fell ill of it, and… Mrs. Lincoln sickened and died too. To her children this was a terrible grief. Abraham, though a boy when she died, never forgot his mother: she had taught him his first lessons, and from her came that sweetness of nature, that power of thinking first of others, that made every one who knew him love him. It was at the time of his mother’s death that the sadness which never left him came upon him. In later life, people who really knew him said that, in spite of his fun and power of making other people laugh, he was the saddest man they ever knew.
….. He was indeed the sunshine of the house; but in many ways he was very lonely. He was hungry for knowledge, for books and teaching. All the schooling he ever had was a month now and then with a travelling teacher who passed through Pigeon’s Creek on his way to somewhere else; but none of these teachers knew much beyond the three R’s: one who knew Latin was regarded as a sort of magician. In all, he had not so much as one year at school, taught by five different teachers.
But Abe was not the sort of boy to learn nothing because there was nobody to teach him. He had a few books that had been his mother’s, and he read them again and again until he knew everything that was in them. …. He thought over every word until he understood it. In this way he learned more from a few books than many people do from whole libraries, because he learned to think. He questioned everything, and asked himself if he thought so too, and why he thought so.
One day he borrowed the life of George Washington from a farmer who lived near; as he lay in the loft he read it with eagerness. In the middle he was called away to work, and in the meantime the rain came in and ruined the book. Abraham went in despair to the farmer and told him what had happened. “Never mind,” said the farmer. “You do three days’ work for me for nothing and you may keep the book; I don’t want it.” To his joy he thus became possessed of a new treasure to be studied again and again. This book more than any other made him a patriot: he longed to get out into the great big world where he could serve his country.
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