Abraham Lincoln: A story and a Play/Scene Four
War, fierce and bitter, sweeps our land,
Death and disaster's on every hand,
But Lincoln, now our President,
Shows wisdom great and calm judgment,
While even now, though cares of state
Bow down his mind with heavy weight,
His heart with pitying love takes heed
Of everyone who is in need.
Time,—1861, during the great Civil War.
Place,—Guard house at Chain Bridge Camp, near Washington, D. C.
William Scott, a "Green Mountain" boy, who has been sentenced to die the next morning for going to sleep while on duty.
(The boy looks very sad. His head is bent over as he sits thinking. A medal, with Lincoln's face engraved on it, hangs from his neck.)
He looks down at it and speaks softly to himself,—He was once a poor country boy like me, with work so hard that it would have broken the spirit of any other fellow. But he was always brave, always kind and thoughtful. And with it all, they say he had one thought. He was to be a great man some day. He never lost sight of that. And now he is a great man, but it has not made him proud. How sad his face is! It is as though he were always thinking of the suffering he longs to help.
(Lincoln enters and walks up to his side.)
Lincoln (gently),—My dear boy, I have come to see you. I hear that you are one of our Green Mountain boys.
Scott (in a frightened whisper),—Yes, sir.
Lincoln,—Tell me about your home, my boy; are you a farmer's son?
Lincoln,—And how did you spend your days in your Green Mountain home?
Scott,—When I wasn't at school, I helped my father on the farm. I was up with the sun in the morning, and was busy until it set. Then supper, and off to bed, for I would be so tired and sleepy that I couldn't keep awake another minute.
Lincoln,—Have you a mother, my boy?
Scott,—Yes, sir; and I love her very dearly. Here is her picture.
(The boy's voice chokes as he takes a picture out of his bosom and shows it to Lincoln.)
Lincoln (looking at the picture and speaking very softly),—How glad you must be that your mother is still living! If I were in your place, I would try to make your mother proud of you. Never give her cause to be sorrowful, my dear boy. Never let her shed one tear on your account.
Scott (aside),—Why does the President speak in this way to me, when he must know that I am to die to-morrow ? Ah I It is because he is so kind. (Looking up into the President's face.) Sir, I do not feel guilty. I did my best. Truly I did. It happened this way. One of my mates was on picket duty for the night. But he was so ill that he was not fit for it. "I will take your place," I told him. It was hard work, for I was not used to it, keeping awake all night. You see, mother didn't want me to go into the war, anyway. She said I was too young. But, sir, I did my duty on guard that night and did not close my eyes once.
Lincoln (tenderly),—Then what happened, my boy?
Scott,—The very next day, I was ordered on guard for the night. I tried my best, sir, indeed I did. But I couldn't keep awake, and went to sleep while I was walking back and forth. The other guard found me asleep at my post, and you know the rest. (The boy hesitates, and then goes on.) I want to ask you a favor, sir. Can you fix it up so that the firing party who are to shoot me to-morrow morning shall be picked from another regiment? It would be very hard to die at the hand of one's own comrades.
Lincoln,—My boy, stand up and look me in the face.
(Scott does so.)
Lincoln,—My boy, you are not going to be shot to-morrow morning. I believe you when you say that you could not keep awake. I am going to trust you and send you back to your regiment. But I have been put to a great deal of trouble on your account. I have had to come up here from Washington when I have a great deal to do; what I want to know is, how are you going to pay my bill?
Scott (with a choking voice),—I —I —I am grateful, Mr. Lincoln. I hope that I am as grateful to you as a man should be for saving my life. But it comes upon me sudden. I didn't lay out for it at all. There must be some way to pay you, and I will find it out after a while.
There is the bounty in the savings bank. Then, too, I guess I could borrow some money on the mortgage of the farm. There is my pay, and I am sure that if you can wait till pay-day the boys will help me out. We could do it if it isn't more than five or six hundred dollars.
Lincoln,—But it is a great deal more than that, my boy.
Scott,—Then I don't see now how it can be done, sir, but I am sure that I can find a way if I live.
Lincoln (putting his hands on Scott's shoulders and speaking sorrowfully),—My boy, my bill is a very large one. Your friends cannot pay it, nor your bounty, nor the farm, nor your comrades. Only one man in all the world can pay it, and his name is William Scott. If from this day, William Scott does his duty, so that, if I were there when he comes to die, he could look me in the face as he does now, and say, "I have kept my promise, and I have done my duty as a soldier," then my debt will be paid. Will you make that promise and try to keep it?
Scott,—I will make that promise, and with God's help I will keep it.
Lincoln (solemnly),—May God bless you.
I believe that, with his help, you will do your duty. I shall not forget you, my boy. Good-bye.