Abe and Molly:
The Lincoln Courtship
A novel with
extensive historical notes about this true story.
wonderful book" -- James M. McPherson, Historian and
Pulitzer Prize winner for Battle Cry Of Freedom
- From Chapter 1 - Abraham and Molly meet
- From Chapter 2 - What Molly first thought of
- From Chapter 4 - What Abraham first thought of
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By herself while a waltz played in the ballroom, she quite unexpectedly
found herself thinking of the scarecrow Lincoln. Fanny had dared
her. Should she talk with him?
Downstairs, she found Elizabeth and said, "Present me to Abraham
Lincoln, will you, please? He must be miserable. He's been standing
all evening like a stork at the edge of a pond, afraid to get his
"He's awkward around women. And does not dance," said
"For religious reasons? Is he one of those?"
"Mr. Lincoln is not religious," said Elizabeth. Then she
whispered, "I am quite sure Mr. Lincoln does not dance because
he does not know how to dance."
"Does he smile?" Molly asked. "I want to get him
to smile. Surely he smiles."
"Tells stories not fit for a lady's ears, so Ninian says. And
cackles while he tells them."
"Perhaps I can get him to tell one to me," said Molly.
"I declare, Molly," said Elizabeth, smiling and shaking
her head. "You are that limb of Satan Miss Betsey always contends
"Present me to him. He's just across the room."
The two sisters circled the dance floor and ap-proached Lincoln.
He glanced at them, gave them a half-smile and moved back beneath
a candle sconce to let them pass. They stopped be-fore him. "Mr.
Lincoln," said Elizabeth, "I don't know that you've had
a chance to talk with my sister Molly. She's a new arrival from
Lexington. She thinks our prairie countryside suits her taste."
Having provided these bits of information, Elizabeth smiled at Lincoln
expecting him to take the cue, ask a question or make a comment.
He only nodded, a look of mild appre-hension on his face, and held
his hands more tightly behind his back. Elizabeth turned to Molly,
a smile frozen on her lips, and waited for her sister's Lexington
social graces, well learned at the knee of Madame Mentelle from
Paris, to come to the rescue.
"Are you a preacher, Mr. Lincoln?" Molly chirped brightly.
Lincoln looked surprised at this suggestion and shook his head.
"Excuse me," Elizabeth said. "A hostess must never
be still." She moved off, leaving Molly to cope with this fellow
famous for his gawkiness, odd clothes and black hair that seemed
always to escape the discipline of a comb.
"I ask," said Molly, "because the evening I ar-rived
here I saw you baptizing."
"In a horse trough." Lincoln smiled sheepishly. "You
must be a very fine Christian yourself."
Lincoln watched her, leaning back, smiling quizzically as if uncertain
what was happening. Molly supposed no woman had ever talked to him
She continued, "I believe you're one of the fa-mous young men
of this community."
Lincoln looked surprised at these words coming from this vivacious
young woman with soft brown hair and flashing eyes. He, a famous
man of the town?
"Are you not famous, Mr. Lincoln?" Molly teased. "Did
you not get a murderer acquitted because he was threatened by a
Lincoln gave a guilty half-smile and said nothing.
Molly appraised him. "You are so tall, Mr. Lincoln!" she
burbled. "Longest of the 'Long Nine,' I've heard. Is that so?"
Lincoln shrugged as if his tongue were tied in knots.
The "Long Nine" were a group of legislators from Sangamon
County, all standing over six feet tall. The group's signal achievement
had been to lead the wheeling, dealing and conniving needed to get
the state capital moved from Vandalia to Sangamon County's own Springfield,
an effort consuming several years.
Molly leaned back exaggeratedly, mocking Lincoln, setting her small
hand across her brow. "Well, you must be the tallest of them.
You're seven or eight feet, I daresay. I can hardly see your brow.
How's the weather up there?"
Lincoln smiled, but was still too uncertain of himself to speak.
"You mustn't be discombobulated that I called you famous. Fame
comes and goes."
"Does it? I haven't made its acquaintance."
"You will, Mr. Lincoln. I assure you. I have a sense about
these things and I'm never wrong."
Lincoln shrugged, pleased with this flattery, and stole a look at
"You're the partner of my cousin, Congressman Stuart, are you
"You served together in the Black Hawk War, I believe I heard.
And chased those Injuns right across the Mississippi River. And
became a hero. Am I right?"
Lincoln grinned sheepishly and stared at his feet. Molly leaned
backwards exaggeratedly, her fingertips at the middle of her back
as if to keep her erect.
"I hardly know what to say, Miss Molly." His voice was
strangely high-pitched for a man with such a long throat in which
his sound could resonate.
"You're not a war hero?" Molly asked.
"We did have a fine time soldiering. Maybe 'cause we hardly
saw an Injun."
"Really?" Molly grinned at him flirtatiously. It was always
amusing to see how men reacted to flirting. Douglas reveled in it;
this one seemed hardly to know what to do. She chirped on, "All
these Kentucky cousins of mine who served with you tell me the fighting
got as hot as the Revolu-tionary War."
Lincoln looked uncertain of what to say. She was so bright, so full
of wit, that if he were not careful he would say the wrong thing.
Certainly he must not contradict the boasts of those Ken-tucky cousins.
"Maybe it was the sun that was hot," Molly suggested,
"and not the fighting." She appraised him. "You serve
on the Town Board, do you not?"
"Yes, ma'am, I do."
"And in the Legislature?"
"Why, Mr. Lincoln! We've only met and you're already saying
'I do' to me!"
Lincoln laughed and blushed.
"Is that all you have to say for yourself?"
"I could say this, Miss Molly. I want to dance with you in
the worst way."
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Brilliant sunlight spilled from the window. Molly smelled the aroma
of fresh-baked bread rising from the kitchen; the Irish girls would
have already returned from mass. Molly stretched, wondering whom
she'd been dancing with when she woke earlier, and was grateful
to Elizabeth for not badgering her to attend church. She lay with
her eyes closed, feeling a breeze stirring through the open window.
When she heard the carriage leave the yard, she sat up in bed, took
pencil and paper from the bedside table and, resting against the
pillows, began to list the potential beaux she had danced with.
She wrote the first name . . .
Stephen Douglas. Never had she seen such an enormous personality
crammed inside so diminutive a package. Still, there was something
magnetic about him: the sparkle in his eyes, his easy laughter,
the resonance of his deep voice. He exuded self-confidence in a
way that drew people to him. She had felt drawn to him herself-like
a willing subject to a mesmerist. Hmm. She stared across the room
at the spring sunlight flooding through the window. She would be
careful about Douglas. She laughed: he was so tiny! Why, any one
of the Long Nine could toss him half way to Lexington! She smiled
at the idea of his flying through the air, trying to regain his
self-possession. Then she realized, of course, that he would not
have lost his self-possession. He would turn that flight to his
She wrote: James Shields. The blarneying, hand-squeezing Irishman.
Hard to tell if there was any heft of personal qualities. Shields
claimed to have taught French to farmers' sons in Kaskaskia. She
giggled, shuddering to think of quelle sorte de français
it was, effroyable, probably. At least she'd been smart enough not
to start chattering away to him in the society French Mme. Mentelle
had taught her.
She wrote: ______ Webb. She couldn't remem-ber the first name. A
widower. Also small. Much too old. With children. That tempted her
to cross him off. Around the Long Nine it was hard to be impressed
by small, wispy men.
James Shields was good-looking. Too bad he was so aware of the fact.
She wrote: Joshua Speed. The truly good-looking man was Speed. Also
very personable. Think of having him across the breakfast table
for thirty years! There'd never been a spark be-tween them. Too
bad. But then he was a storekeeper. Without the intellectual weight
or mental cunning of the lawyers.
She wrote: Elias Merryman. Anson Henry. Both doctors. She barely
She wrote: Abraham Lincoln. The so very tall Mr. Lincoln. She stared
at the ceiling. Surely it was a mistake: boasting to him about all
the ge-ometry she knew. Certainly Fanny was right. Not a good idea
to remind men on the edge of a frontier that was still being settled
that she was smarter and better educated than they were.
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Renting a horse at the livery stable, Abraham Lincoln threw across
his saddle the large leather bags that carried legal papers and
texts. He rode out of town on Jefferson Street, headed toward Carthage,
some one hundred fifteen miles distant. On Monday the Hancock Circuit
Court would convene there. On Tuesday he and Lyle Dickey would defend
Billy Fraim on a charge of murder. Riding along, he thought fleetingly
of Molly Todd, of her vivacity and wit. Most of the time he thought
about Billy Fraim. The young man had worked as a laborer on steamboats
until the night fourteen months before when, drunk, he had stabbed
a man to death. It would not be easy, Lincoln knew, to convince
the Carthage jury that a young drunk with a long-bladed knife was
acting in self-defense.
If he had appeared at Elizabeth Edwards's ball in a satin waistcoat
and silk tie, this Saturday morning he wore pantaloons that rode
well up his calves when he sat in the saddle. His coat and vest
were too loose. His coarse black hair, cus-tomarily in rebellion
against whatever comb he had recently pulled through it, was hidden
by a rust-colored hat. The hat itself looked as if its owner had
sat on it continually since its purchase. His expression was melancholy.
Fraim's case worried him.
Leaving the town, Lincoln noticed a haze of green enveloping the
trees. Buds were beginning to open on twigs. Grass shoots obscured
the dead gray-brown vegetation that had lain across the prairie
all winter. A hint of coming warmth was in the air, a taste of spring,
but only hints and tastes of it this early in the day. Barely two
months beyond his thirtieth birthday, Lincoln huddled into his coat
and pulled the woolen muffler tighter around his neck.
Seven years before when he had captained vo-lunteers from the village
of New Salem in the Black Hawk War, the prairie had seemed wilder-ness.
Peopled by savages. Hostile in its silence, in its deceptive emptiness.
It had harbored un-knowns, all the dangers and threats of violence
that people who had lived in wilderness knew from their struggles,
It was no longer wilderness now, no longer si-lent. It was purged
of savages. Now its grasses sang. Its birds and insects gave forth
music. Its emptiness was only illusion, for the prairie had been
surveyed. Lincoln himself had done some of the surveying. Lines
that no one could see, but were nonetheless real, divided the prairie
into counties; they platted parts of the counties into town lots.
Lincoln looked across the prairie. Its dark loam, black as a man's
hat after rain, lay a foot and a half thick beneath him. Sometimes
it was three feet thick. The soil seemed to cry out: "Buy my
plots. Make me farms. Lay roads across me. My soil is the richest
in the world. It will give you food; it will give you fortune!"
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