Abraham Lincoln: A story and a Play/Scene Five
Still raging is the cruel war,
Thousands are slain, from near and far
Comes news of battle, and the air
With grief is fraught, and heavy care.
Our President with sorrow's bowed,
While still his hope and faith speak loud:
Victory will come, the storm pass by,
Light will appear, for God is nigh.
Time,—1863, during the great Civil War.
Scene,—War office in Washington.
(Two telegraph operators sitting by their instruments, papers beside them.)
Officer (entering hurriedly),—Any news?
First Operator,—Yes. (Hands him a telegram).
Officer (reading),—Battle still raging around Gettysburg. Great loss of life on both sides. Confederates pressing on.
(Half to himself),—Please God that things take a turn in our favor. They have looked black enough for us lately.
(Second officer entering),—I hope that there is good news this morning. Old Abe has been feeling terribly discouraged, though he is still ever ready with his jokes. We must have a victory, or the country will be lost. What's this ? (Reads telegram that first officer has handed him.) This can't be all. There must have been more fighting to-day. See (points to a map on the table), we have just learned from a prisoner caught this morning that Lee is pushing ahead only a part of his army. He has no idea of the number of our men behind these hills. May God grant that General Mead will use his chance.
First Officer,—Old Abe is counting so much on him.
First Operator (who has been busy telegraphing, jumps up and cries),—Lines cut again, sir.
First Officer,—But the lines are guarded.
Operator,—Not in Washington, sir. I was just sending a message to Secretary Seward, and the lines have been cut not four blocks away.
Second Officer (rings a bell and a sergeant appears), turning to him,—Send men to find the cut in the line to Seward's office. Quick!
Sergeant,—Yes, sir. (Goes out.)
Second Officer (in a low voice to first officer),—There are traitors right here in the city. The President must be guarded, but he must not know of the danger. Sh-h.
(President Lincoln, entering),—Good morning, gentlemen.
(Officers salute him.)
Lincoln walks over to the table and picking up the first of the telegrams, smiles. Listen to this, gentlemen. (Reads aloud). Massa Lincoln, my boy, Jim, done run away to fight in this cruel war. Please send him home. Aunt Chloe.
Lincoln, talking on, as he glances at one telegram after another,—I have just come from a lively talk with one of my advisers. (Laughs and looks keenly from one officer to the other.)
Lincoln,—You see, he blames me for being too soft-hearted. Too many pardons, he declares. The soldiers aren't held up to their duty. If they get scared and run from danger, they think that a word from me will save them. Well, my good friend had worked himself into a rage when he came to me, but bless you, he went away smiling.
First Officer,—How did you bring it about?
Lincoln (with a drawl in his voice and a twinkle in his eye),—Perhaps you never heard of the farmer who was troubled by a big log in the middle of his field?
(The officers shake their heads.)
Lincoln,—Well, one day the old fellow told his neighbor that he had got rid of it. "But how did you do it?" asked the man. "It was too knotty to split, too wet and soggy to burn." "Now, I'll tell ye," said the farmer, "if you will promise to keep it a secret." (The man promised.) Then the farmer said very solemnly, "I ploughed around it."
Now that is just what I did, gentlemen. I ploughed around my good friend, but it took me two hours of good hard work.
Officers laugh, and Lincoln goes on reading the telegrams. Suddenly he looks up and begins to speak again.—Gentlemen, it has been looking pretty black lately, hasn't it?
But I have a great hope. We shall hear good news shortly. I am sure of it. I had the same dream last night that has come to me before when great things were to happen. It was this (he speaks almost in a whisper) : I was in a strange ship that I cannot describe, and I was moving fast, very fast, towards a dark shore beyond. (Lincoln sighs, and then goes on.) That was all,—but, gentlemen, it means good news, great news.
First Operator (excitedly holding out a telegram he has just been taking down),—Mr. President, read this, please.
Lincoln (reads aloud),—Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln, A three days' fight is over. Great loss of life, but victory is with us. Enemy in full flight. Scout A.
Lincoln,—Praise to the good God. (He buries his face in his hands.)