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THE WILDERNESS PREACHER
 "A LETTER for me, did you say?"
The speaker was a slender, unassuming man, far past
middle age. He was dressed in the homespun garb then
common in Kentucky, and the threadbare elbows of his
coat showed that his present suit had done long and
faithful duty. His hair, which was almost white, was
combed straight down over his ears. His blue eyes were
full of kindliness. His voice was soft and pleasant to
"A letter for me, did you say?"
"Well, I reckon it's for you," answered the
backwoodsman, who had brought it. "They say that your
name's on the back of it. That's as much as I know
The old man took the letter and read the
"To David Elkin, Kentucky"
"Yes, that is my name," he said; and he opened the
missive. It was merely a sheet of paper, folded, with
the ends tucked under. It had neither
en-  velope nor stamp, for envelopes and stamps had not then
come into use. It contained no postmark, for
postoffices were few in the western country, and it had
been carried by private hands and the hands of friends.
The place from which it had come was not more than a
hundred and fifty miles distant, and yet it had
traveled by a roundabout way, and had been on the road
David Elkin smoothed the crumpled sheet with his hands
and held it up to the light to make out the signature.
The writing was in a plain, delicate hand, and had been
done with a quill pen and pale home-make ink. We do
not know the exact words which that letter contained.
But David Elkin's eyes filled with tears as he read
them. Let us suppose that they were these:—
"DEAR FRIEND,—I take my pen to let you know that
mother is dead. She was buried yesterday. But oh, Mr.
Elkin, there is no preacher anywhere in this country,
and we could not have any religious services. Our
sorrow is too great to bear. Won't you please come
soon and preach her funeral sermon? I do not know
where you are,
 but I hope this will reach you somewhere in Kentucky,
and that you will come. "Your young friend,
"Little Pigeon Creek, Indiana, 1818."
David Elkin read the letter over and over, His hand
trembled. His lips quivered.
"Where did you get this letter, Isaac?" he asked.
"Well," answered the backwoodsman, "I was up in
Harrodsburg last week and a man asked me, 'Is there
anybody down your way by the name of David Elkin?' I
stopped to think a minute. Then I told him that there
was a preacher going through this section that folds
called Brother Elkin, and that perhaps his name was
David, but I wasn't sure. Then he said that he had a
letter for David Elkin, and wouldn't I carry it to you?
He said he guessed it had been all over Kentucky,
carried from hand to hand, and passed from this place
to that. I told him I'd try to find you and give it to
you; and that's what brought me here."
"And I thank you very much," said David.
"It is from the son of some dear friends of
 mine who used to live in the Knob-Creek settlement.
They moved to Indiana about two years ago, and this
letter tells me that the mother is dead;" and he
covered his face and sobbed aloud.
The next day the good preacher began to make ready for
a journey to Indiana. "Little Abe wants me to preach
her funeral sermon," he said, "and if God gives me
strength, I will do it."
He borrowed an old horse. In his saddlebags he packed
a shirt, a loaf of bread, a hymn book, and a Bible.
Then he mounted, and rode slowly away through the
The streams were swollen with recent rains, and, as
there were no bridges, he was often obliged to leave
the road and ride far around to some safe fording
place. Sometimes he stopped at a settler's cabin for a
bit of food or a night's lodging. Everybody was glad
to entertain him, for in that early day hospitality to
strangers was the first rule of life.
The roads grew worse. In some places there was not so
much as a bridle path through the forest. Night
sometimes fell while the lone
 traveler was far from any dwelling. Then he tethered
his horse to a tree, built a fire of sticks and brush,
and sat down by it to wait for the morning. At such
times the howling of wolves and the screeching of
panthers echoed around him; stealthy steps were heard
among the dead leaves; bright, savage eyes gleamed in
the darkness. What could an unarmed man do in the
midst of so many perils? David Elkin trusted in God.
WAITING FOR THE MORNING.
At length he reached the Ohio River and was rowed
across to the Indiana shore. Another day's journey
brought him to Pigeon Creek and the home of the
Lincolns. Imagine the joy of that sorrowing family,
and, especially, of the nine-year-old lad whose letter
had been the means of bringing him.
In sparsely settled districts news travels much faster
than you would suppose. It seems almost to fly by a
kind of wireless telegraphy from one lonely cabin to
another. In a very brief time the settlers for miles
around knew that a preacher had arrived among them, and
that on Sunday morning he would preach a funeral sermon
at the grave of Nancy Hanks Lincoln.
 Sunday morning came, and with it the greatest gathering
of neighbors that had ever been known in that section.
Some came so far that they had to start from home at
daybreak. They came afoot, on horseback, and in
wagons. All sorts and conditions of backwoods settlers
were there. Everybody was eager to hear what the
preacher would say.
At a little before noon the services began. David
Elkin, his kind face clouded with grief, stood at the
head of the grave. Mr. Lincoln and his two children
sat quite near him. The visitors and friends were
grouped around them. The preacher opened his hymn
book—there was not another at the meeting. He
turned to the hymn he had selected, and read it, two
lines at a time. At the end of each reading, the women
and girls joined him in singing the lines he had
pronounced. To the rude settlers, unaccustomed to
better things, this singing was most delightful,
impressive, and inspiring.
A brief prayer followed the hymn, and then David Elkin
began his sermon. We do not know what his text was.
We do not know what were the words he spoke. But we
may well surmise the
 substance of his discourse: the nobility, the
gentleness, the loving self-sacrifice of the poor woman
in whose honor they had met together. To Abraham
Lincoln it was doubtless fraught with inspiration,
urging him then and thereafter to a noble, manly life.
"My angel mother!" he afterward cried, "all that I am
and all that I shall ever be, I owe to her."
The sermon over, there was another prayer, another hymn
was sung, and then the benediction was pronounced. The
settlers tarried under the trees, to greet the minister
and one another, to talk about the sermon, to exchange
the gossip of the different neighborhoods. When at
last they separated and each took his homeward way,
there were but few who had not been made wiser and
gentler and more thoughtful than they had ever been
David Elkin did not remain long with the Lincolns. A
day or two later he saddled his horse, mounted, and
turned his face toward Kentucky.
"Good-by, Abraham, and may God bless you."
He shook the hand that was offered him, rode down the
woodland path into the great forest—and we hear
no word of him again.