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By David S. Leonard
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 David S. Leonard
All right reserved.
David was busy rummaging in the attic brushing cobwebs aside with the whisk broom. Where was that box? It might well contain a fortune in Civil War letters, stamps and memorabilia. It might even supply enough money so he'd not need to get a summer job! He quickly pushed the thought away. Oh, he might sell them to help with college. He'd be graduating from high school in a couple of weeks and finances were a worry.
He set aside an old box and wiped his forehead of the beads of sweat. It sure was hot up here. And he was sick of bumping his head on rafters. Then, a gleam caught his eye. It was something sticking out of the old, dusty insulation. The attic must have been built nearly a hundred years earlier he thought as he made his way to the thing just visible in the insulation. He pulled it out seeing what looked like an old helmet. A fascinating helmet ...
Before leaving school that Friday afternoon he'd been asked at least three times what he planned to do this weekend. He wasn't sure and wasn't worried about it. That was half the fun ... no bells, no time schedule and no plans. It would take care of itself.
Reaching home—a really old and large structure—before his Mom, he turned to the baseball game. It was totally out of reach for the Cubs. He turned it off and walked out to the front porch and sat on the porch swing. His best friend, Jake, was off somewhere with his dad getting supplies for the new ramp. They had to build it for Jake's mom. So Jake would be busy most of Saturday.
Without Jake around he'd just study more on Lincoln and the Civil War. Today, though, he felt a need to be with someone.
Maybe he'd go over to Aunt Gin's place. Still, he was torn. The mystery of the Confederate battle plans prior to the battle of Sharpsburg—"Antietam" in Yankee-land—fascinated him. The plans had been found on a Reb camping ground wrapped around three cigars. A clearly authentic copy had been delivered to the Union Commander. Why hadn't McClellan taken advantage of his incredibly good fortune? He hadn't. Why? David would die to know. It was his secret plan to pursue this mystery!
His Aunt Gin lived just down the street in a similar house. He ate a stale donut and decided to see her. She was his favorite of all his family. His dad lived upstate, so it was just his Mom, himself and his Aunt Gin ... actually Great-aunt Gin. She had a full head of white hair—thin white hair. And, she was tiny with a wonderfully happy disposition. "Tiny" described her. "Small" was an inadequate description, David thought. And, she almost always had a wry smile. Somehow, she was fun to be around.
Her name was really Virginia, but, since earliest childhood, she had been Gin to David.
He knocked on the door, and walked in. Gin was watching her soap. He sat and watched. At the end, she turned it off and asked how the day had gone.
"What are your plans?"
"Don't have any."
"How about your summer job?"
"Haven't found one, yet."
"Well, then, would you mind going up to the attic and looking for some stuff for me?"
"Sure. What you looking for?"
"Somewhere I have a bundle of letters written by my great-great-grandmother, Julia. Let's see, that would be three or four greats for you."
"Ah! The one who got the President Lincoln letter which you're giving me!" He grinned and hoped he might jar some new memory out of Gin.
"She was married to the Civil War soldier who was killed. He did something special, and President Lincoln wrote that letter to her. You know all this."
David was fanatic about the Civil War. He read everything he Could get his hands on about the War and Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln had been America's greatest President, he thought. This was not the first he'd heard of the President Lincoln letter being sent to his great-great or greater-grandmother! And it was his! Well, it was his when he graduated in two weeks.
"Have you read the letter?"
"I think my grandmother read it to me when I was a little girl. Seemed to me there was something about cigars in it. But I can't remember what it was. It wasn't too short, as I recall. But, you'll read it yourself in two weeks!"
"Do you know what battle it was where he died?"
"It was a battle somewhere near Washington. I think it was in Maryland."
"Could it have been Antietam or Sharpsburg?"
"Why, I think it was called Antietam!"
"Is it still in the safe deposit box?" His heart was beating fast. Antietam and cigars and a Lincoln letter which wasn't too short! That was highly unusual for a Lincoln missive!
"Yes, but don't worry. I'll have it here when we cut your graduation cake!"
David had only found out about the letter a month before when Gin surprised him at his birthday saying she had a special gift for him when he graduated from high school.
David was amazed. How could anyone have a letter from Abraham Lincoln and not know what it said? Why wasn't it framed and hanging on the wall? Instead, it was in a safety deposit box! And how about ... those letters up in the attic! Civil War letters!
"Where should I look?" It was hard to take his mind off the Lincoln letter. What a prize that might be if it addressed what he hoped it might!
"The last I remember they were in a flat wooden box ... about the size of a case of soda. And, that's probably buried under a lot of other boxes and stuff. If you find them, I'll let you have some of the Civil War letters."
He almost ran up the creaking old stairs to the attic. Once, he'd looked in at it but turned away. It was dusty with lots of cobwebs and had only the one light bulb hanging down in the center of the dark room.
He opened the small door and stooped to enter. His tall six-foot frame would be a handicap in these quarters. He could just see the light bulb suspended on a cord from the center of the ceiling. It was as he'd remembered. He brushed the cobwebs aside and pulled the cord. The light failed to come on. Swatting at cobwebs, he retraced his way back to the small door.
Gin directed him to a closet in the kitchen where he selected a 100 watt bulb thinking he'd want as much light as possible. Then he thought of all the cobwebs he'd battled and looked for something with which to brush them away.
"where can I get something to knock down the cobwebs?"
There was a moment of silence as she thought. "There's a whisk broom on the floor by the refrigerator."
Picking up the small broom he went back up the stairs thinking it might be nice to have a flashlight. He changed the bulb and it gave a bright glow but failed to illuminate the dark places among the boxes, furniture and trunks. He briefly wondered if he might get one of the old windows open to get fresh air but knew he'd not even be able to get to a window without moving a ton of stuff.
He looked with dismay at the huge assortment of cardboard boxes, trunks, suitcases, old furniture and miscellaneous goods in the room. It was a large house, and the attic extended the lenth of the house which he estimated to be at least forty feet. And the width must have been thirty feet or more. Whew! Maybe he should go into the antique business.
Without much thought about where to begin, he started pushing and stacking furniture, open boxes of paint brushes and rollers, old books, old dishes, and junk into the center area which was already cluttered. This was going to be a job. The walls were lined with more boxes and furniture. The ceiling slanted down to two or three feet from the floor on each side. There were windows on each end of the long room but with so much dirt that little light came into the room. And, the bottom half of the windows was obscured by boxes and junk stacked on the floor.
He worked hard for at least two hours pushing and carrying boxes to the stack he'd started in the center area. At last he had an eight foot area cleared down the wall. But still no wooden box. He wiped his forehead. Then, he saw the gleam in the insulation.
It looked like an old helmet like ones he'd seen in his history books.
David turned the light off and made his way downstairs with helmet in hand.
"No luck, yet, Gin. But, what is this? Looks like an old helmet."
"Let's see." She peered closely at it and shook her head. "I have no idea. Never saw it before." After a pause, she said "Maybe it was left here by the old man who owned the house before me. You can have it."
Later, he would shake his head in wonder at how casual she had been.
David shrugged and carried it home.
"Hey, Mom," David yelled as soon as he got through the door.
"Guess what Aunt Gin's giving me?"
"What?" she replied, and continued unpacking groceries.
"She's giving me some Civil War letters, if I can find them."
"She's already giving you that Abraham Lincoln letter. What's that in your hand?"
"Well, the letters are somewhere in her attic. If I can find them, she wants to give me some."
"Well, if you get something valuable, we may have to talk about it. And, there's the Lincoln letter. How much is that worth?" She turned to look at her son. He had her height, was actually taller at a good six feet, and was thin. He was handsome and quite mature, she thought.
"What's to talk about? She giving it to me."
"I understand, David, but that letter was written by Abraham Lincoln; it could be worth a lot of money. No, Aunt Virginia is nearly eighty-eight and needs to be made aware what she is giving away. I mean aware of how much it is worth. She is your great-aunt and may have need of money. We don't know how she may feel if you can get a large sum of money for the letter."
David couldn't imagine why someone of that age would need money for anything, but what the heck! He had no objection to sharing with Gin. He had no desire to sell any of the letters if he could find them. And, he's never sell the Lincoln Letter!
No one realized how he felt about the letter. Maybe they never would. His secret wish was to do extensive research and write about Lincoln's dealings with General McClellan.
Now, that letter might be of far more significance than he'd ever dreamed. He had to have it! The Lincoln letter he'd receive could be the start; he might launch himself into a search for the truth about some of the mysteries which surrounded McClellan and his relationship to his Commander-In-Chief. One of the greatest mysteries was that which surrounded the lost Confederate Battle Plans regarding the Battle at Sharpsburg.
But, he wasn't worried about Aunt Gin. She gave him money every Saturday to buy her groceries. She was not one to care about wealth. He knew Gin as no one else seemed too. And, she owned the old house, so how much money did she need?
"You look like you need to clean up for supper." And so ended the conversation about letters. He tossed the helmet on his bed before washing for supper.
David was up early, found a flashlight and a pair of Dad's old leather gloves and was ready for the day's work. After a fast bowl of cereal, he walked across to Gin's. Mom was sleeping-in but knew what his plans were, so he'd not be missed.
He started by looking around the entire attic for the wooden box. There was no sign of it, so he figured he'd no choice but follow the plan he had started. He put down a strip of black electrical tape on the floor out from the boxes on the left where he'd found the old helmet. His idea was to begin by moving the boxes and other items to the left from the stuff on the right. There was just no room left in the center.
The old helmet had him fascinated. It was beautiful. It seemed to be made of inlaid silver and gold. It was exquisite. David knew about cleaning antiques and carefully avoided rubbing dirt and grime off. He'd take it somewhere for an expert to examine it.
By Saturday evening he'd reached the windows at the end of the attic and figured he'd searched maybe a fifth of the stuff. He was beginning to wonder if there even was a wooden box. Or, maybe, he was just too tired.
Sunday, after church, he considered returning to the attic, but Jake had appeared and wanted to go fishing. It was just too tempting. Fly fishing was his newest passion. They would ride out to the river with Jake's uncle Bob, an inveterate fly fisher. His collection of flies was enormous. It was amazing what he'd pay for a fly. He even had one fly that had cost him more than a hundred bucks! Maybe he even had ones that cost more. He'd taught the boys how to cast dry flies and even how to do roll casts.
Evening brought them together at the truck each with an assortment of trout. Jake's uncle Bob released most of his fish but kept a couple for supper. After comparing their fishing episodes, they headed home. It was only then that David thought about the Civil War letters and excitedly told Jake and Bob. They expressed interest but not the excitement that David expected. Well, they'd get interested when he found them and had them appraised. He'd forgotten the helmet.
Bob was a short man of middle age with graying hair. His mustache was white. His blue eyes were intense above a perpetual smile. He liked Jake and David and loved to show them the intricacies of the cast and the mysteries of flies for each season. He laughed easily and found no fault in the boys. The trip home with Jake and his uncle was always a joy with funny stories and humorous episodes of the day's fishing.
It was too late for any work up in the attic, so David put his fish in the freezer and caught a quick shower. Then, he laid out his clothes for school, caught a late game on TV, and thought about the end of his senior year. It would come next week. Then, he'd have his Lincoln Letter.
The end of the school year always brought worry about what he'd be doing during summer. Last summer he'd worked with Jake's uncle Bob planting trees and shrubs. It had been good work, and he'd enjoyed it except for the really hot days. He hated hot, humid days. He hoped he could find an inside job this summer with air conditioning.
Jake was just the opposite. He loved the heat and talked about moving to Arizona one day. He had a new radio in his old Ford pickup and had the station set to the Oldie Goldies of Rock and Roll. Buddy Holly was his favorite and the "King" as far as he was concerned. He just died young or he'd share the limelight with Elvis. Anyone in the truck with him while Buddy sang "That'll Be The Day" had best remain quiet. But, Jake had a streak of humor like his uncle Bob. He had brown hair like his dad and planned to study wildlife in one field or the other. He thought he might move to the southwest where he might find an appropriate curriculum in his junior and senior years.
His pug nose, short stature and good humor made him a popular boy who contrasted with his tall and handsome friend.
Monday after school David stopped and visited with Gin before going back to work in the attic. He figured he could get in a couple of hours before supper. He had stacked more than he thought was possible before knocking off for supper. He was just taking his gloves off when a piece of wood caught his eye. It was something just behind the next box in the stack. He pulled it out. Yes! It looked like the right box and it was loaded with old letters.
David stopped and showed his find to Gin who immediately began sorting through letters.
"I think you've got it!" She happily held the open box on her lap. I'll find it before too long," she said.
"The letter from Julia's sister."
"What was her name?"
"I don't remember, but I'll know it when I see it."
"Oh. Are there any letters written by Julia's husband?"
"Oh, sure. Don't worry. I'll set some out for you." So saying, she continued looking in each letter.
David watched for at least an hour before running out of patience and heading home for supper. He had to finish his long paper on "The Causes of the Civil War".
Some scholars were trying to sell the idea that it wasn't slavery which brought about the War. To David that was like saying that WWII was not fought because of Hitler's tyranny. Some scholars were trying to appear more erudite in saying the war was really about having as president a man determined to end slavery, or that it was just about money. This in spite of the fact that it was Secretary of State Seward who was most vehemently antislavery and Lincoln who—though opposed to slavery—was willing to do anything to preserve the Union. The South had had their men in the White House for many years and, now, the southern fire-brands used Lincoln and the new Republican Party as their excuse for separation. They saw the real threat to slavery was the growth of the Republic into new "free" territories such as Kansas, Nebraska and the far west.
David was vehement regarding his views and backed these with facts. Lincoln had done the same in his First Inaugural Address.
Excerpted from LINCOLN'S LETTER by David S. Leonard Copyright © 2012 by David S. Leonard. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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