These Honored Dead (A Lincoln and Speed Mystery #1) - Jonathan F. Putnam Page 0,1
I realized I had never seen a sadder face.
“See here, Lincoln,” Logan interjected, “I told you you were better off sharing a bed. And this fellow Speed is not your usual frontier shopkeeper. He’s a regular gentleman to the manor born. On his father’s side he’s descended from the sixteenth-century English historian of renown, John Speed. And his great-grandfather on his mother’s side was Dr. Thomas Walker, the tutor of young Thomas Jefferson.”
“I’m quite sure he has some illustrious forebears,” Lincoln said to Logan. “Most men these days do. Or claim to, at least.” He gave me a toothy grin. “But you’ll pardon me if I’m interested at the moment in more practical matters.”
“Which bothers you more, the tuneless playing of a violin or the butchery of a mouth organ?”
I smiled and said, “I can stand either, I suppose, if played with a pure heart.”
“And do you thrash about greatly in your sleep?”
“My bedmates have aired many grievances about me but never that one.”
“Only cigars, and then only after a few draughts.” As he nodded, I added, “And what are your shortcomings?”
Lincoln laughed and shook his head. “There are many, as you’ll discover for yourself soon enough. You can hardly expect me to admit to them at the outset. Where’s this bed of yours?”
I pointed to a pair of narrow winding stairs leading from the far corner of the store. Without another word, Lincoln grabbed his saddlebags and ascended, the wooden steps squeaking loudly in protest. I asked Logan, “You said he was new to the bar. How long has he been practicing law?”
Logan pulled out a gleaming gold pocket watch and gave it a few winds. “About thirty minutes,” he said. “We’ve come from the courthouse directly. Judge Thomas swore him in this very morning.”
The ceiling above us creaked. Lincoln was pacing back and forth, as if measuring out the room. Then the footsteps sounded on the staircase again, and the long, ungainly figure gradually reappeared. The saddlebags were nowhere in sight, and his face was obscured by a broad grin.
“Well, Speed,” Lincoln said. “I am moved.”
That evening, Lincoln and I sprawled in front of the great stone fireplace in the back room of the store. I set a good-sized blaze to warm us from the April chill and swiped two bottles of mash from underneath my counter. I offered one to my new room-mate but he declined. The fire roared and hissed and spit.
“Logan said you come from New Salem,” I said after I’d taken a few pulls from my bottle. The town was a commercial village on a high bluff above the swirling waters of the Sangamon River, about twenty miles downstream from Springfield itself. “What landed you there?”
“The current, as much as anything,” said Lincoln. He was lying on his back, his hands interlocked behind his head. “I was a piece of floating driftwood after I reached majority and left my father’s house. I was piloting a flatboat with some fellows back in ’31, bound for New Orleans with bacon and corn and such, when we got snagged on the milldam at New Salem. We caused such a commotion and it took so long for us to float loose that by the time we left, I felt like I knew half the town. A man named Offutt told me that once I completed the trip down the Mississippi I should return and manage his store for him.”
“So you did?”
Lincoln raised himself up on his elbows and laughed. “I returned all right,” he said. “Only problem was, there was no store. Offutt was well-meaning, but he was a windy, brain-rattling man when it came down to it. Eventually he did manage to open a store, for a few months, but just as quickly it petered out.”
Lincoln watched the playing flames before continuing. “After that, I tried pretty much anything I could to stay clothed and fed. I had a group of fellows there in New Salem who’d treated with me with much generosity, and I desired to remain in their company. I was a storekeeper again and failed at it again. I was an indifferent postmaster. I surveyed land—that was enjoyable enough, except for the brambles. At least it was, until my surveying instruments got seized by the sheriff for failure to pay my overdue notes on the store that’d gone out of business.” He chuckled ruefully.
“You must have done something right,” I said, “to have been elected twice to the state legislature.”
“As I said,