In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to theyoung, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares.
--Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to Fanny McCullogh December 23rd, 1862
The boy had been crouched so long that his legs had fallen asleep beneath him--but he dared not move now. For here, in a small clearing in the frostbitten forest, were the creatures he had waited so long to see. The creatures he’d been sent to kill. He bit down on his lip to keep his teeth from chattering, and aimed his father’s flintlock rifle exactly as he’d been taught. The body, he remembered. The body, not the neck. Quietly, carefully he pulled the hammer back and pointed the barrelat his target, a large male who’d fallen behind the others. Decades later, the boy would recall what happened next.
I hesitated. Not out of a conflict of conscience, but for the fear that my rifle had gotten too wet, and thus wouldn’t fire. However, this fear proved unfounded, for when I pulled the trigger, the stock hit my shoulder with such force as to knock me clean onto my back.
Turkeys scattered in every direction as Abraham Lincoln, seven years old, picked himself off the snow-covered ground. Rising to his feet, he brought his fingers to the strange warmth he felt on his chin. “I’d bitten my lip clean through,” he wrote. “But I hardly gave a holler. I was desperate to know if I had hit the poor devilor not.
He had. The large male flapped its wings wildly, pushing itself through the snow in small circles. Abe watched from a distance, “afraid it might somehow rise up and tear me to pieces.” The flapping of wings; the dragging of feathers through snow. These were the only sounds in the world. They were joined by the crunching beneath Abe’s feet as he found his nerve and approached. The wings beat less forcefully now.
It was dying.
He had shot it clean through the neck. The head hung at an unnaturalangle--dragged across the ground as the bird continued to thrash. The body, not the neck . With every beat of its heart, blood poured from the wound and onto the snow, where it mixed with the dark droplets from Abe’s bleeding lip and the tears that had already begun to fall down his face.
It gasped for breath, but could draw none, and its eyes wore a kind of fear I had never seen. I stood over the miserable bird for what seemed a twelvemonth, pleading with God to make its wings fall silent. Begging His forgiveness for so injuring a creature that had shown me no malice; presented no threat to my person or prosperity. Finally it was still, and, plucking up my courage, I dragged it through a mile of forest and laid it at my mother’s feet--my head hung low so as to hide my tears.
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