Best short stories for intermediate English learners: Why Lincoln Grew a Beard?
Though he wore his beard only four years, today we can hardly think of Abraham Lincoln without it. He often talked about the little girl in Westfield, New York, who suggested in a letter that he grow the famous the famous beard.
Few know the girl’s name; there is no mention of 11-years old Grace Bedell in some of the thickest books published about Lincoln. But he enjoyed telling the story and would add with a quiet chuckle, “Sometime a small thing can change our lives!”
The girl’s advice
Grace Bedell sat in her attic room looking at a picture which her father had given her. It was not a drawing and it was not a painting, yet you could see every hair on Lincoln’s head and all the details of his clothing. It was the first photograph Grace had ever seen. It gave her a strange feeling that the tall, lean man himself was looking at her.
Grace little lamp threw shadows on the black-and-white photograph. The features seemed to come alive. A series of small shadows lay around the thin face and covered the hollow cheeks. “Whiskers!” she thought. “How becoming!” she said to herself. “Somebody should tell him. If he really had whiskers, all the ladies would like him. They would ask their husbands to vote for him, and he would become president. I must tell him.” She reached for a pen and began to write a letter:
Chautauqua County, N.Y.
October 15, 1860
Mr. Abraham Lincoln
I am a little girl 11 years old, but I want you to be president of the United States very much. So I hope you won’t think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are.
Have you a little girl about as large as I am? If so, give her my love and tell her to write me if you cannot answer this letter. I have four brothers and some of them will vote for you. If you will let your whiskers grow, I will try to get the others to vote for you. You would look a good deal better, for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers, and they would ask their husbands to vote for you. Then you would become President.
At that time about 50 letters a day arrived at the Lincoln campaign headquarters.
Lincoln saw only those from friends and from very important people. His two secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay, considered all the other mail unimportant and usually did not give it to Lincoln.
Hay picked up a group of letters from his desk and began to read them. “Now,” he said, “a little girl tells the Chief how he can be elected.” “Put it in the wastebasket,” answered Nicolay. “She has an original idea,” Hay smiled. “She thinks he should grow whiskers,” “throw the letter away, Hay. We have plenty of other work to do,” “No, Nicolay. Maybe the Chief should – ‘
A large, blue-eyed, bearded man walked into the office without knocking. He said, “Good morning, young fellows,” and Hay spoke to him. “Mr. Herndon, I think –“Nicolay became impatient. “Hay let’s forget about the whisker, let’s forget about the little girl,” he said.
“Little girl?” Herndon’s eyes suddenly turned gentle as he looked toward the door of Lincoln’s office.
It was not completely closed, so Herndon lowered his voice, “The Chief loves little girls. When he meets one on the street, he always stops to talk to her. What were you saying about a little girl?”
Nicolay was angry by this time. “Hay, I said drop that letter in the wastebasket! And after that, you’ll have to rush a reply to this letter from the Governor of Pennsylvania. This is really important.”
“Why?” said Lincoln’s calm voice as he walked through the door. “The Governor’s old enough to be patient.”
A few days later Grace Bedell received this letter:
October 19, 1860
Miss Grace Bedell
Westfield, New York
My dear little Miss,
Your very agreeable letter of October 15 has been received. I regret the necessity of saying that I have no daughters. I have three sons: one seventeen, one nine and one seven years of age. They, with their mother, constitute my entire family. As to whiskers, I have never had any. Do you think people would consider it a silly thing to do if I began to grow some now?
Your very good friend,
On February 16 of the following year a special train carried the newly elected President Lincoln to the White House. The people of west field learned that the train would stop briefly at a station near their town. The Bedell family arrived at the station and found a large sign with the words “Hail to the Chief” above the tracks and the Star-Spangled Baner flying from the roof of the station.
As Grace looked around at the many strange faces, there was a sudden silence. A thousand ears strained to listen. “Here comes the train!” someone in the crowd shouted. Grace raised her eyes as high as she could and saw the top of a black railway engine pass slowly beyond the heads of the people in front of her. Then came the flat roof of a railway car, and another, and a third with the Stars and Stripes waving from the back of it.
A very tall, black hat stood a little higher than a lot of other black hats – that was all Grace could see. Some of the people were shouting “ speech! Speech!” and Grace held her breath. All around her everyone became quiet. “Ladies and gentlemen,” someone said, “I have no speech to make and no times to make it. I appear before you so that I may see you and you may see me.”
Grace felt ice-cold. It was he-his voice. He was up there on the platform. She tried hard to see him, but all she could see was the black hat.
Lincoln was speaking again. “I have but one question, standing here beside the flag: will you give me the support a man needs to be president of out country?”
Hands and hats rose into the air along with loud voices: “Yes- yes- we certainly will, Abe!”
Once more Graces heard Lincoln. “I have a little correspondent in this place,” he said. “This little lady told me how to improve my appearance, and I want to thank her. If she present, I would like to speak to her.”
“My little Friend”
“Tell us her name,” someone shouted. “The name!” And Lincoln replied: “Her name is Grace Bedell.”
Her father took Grace’s hand and led her forward. She went without noticing that a path was opened for them and that they were trailed by pointing fingers and whispers. She went to the one who had asked for her by name.
There were steps ahead, so her father lifted her up to the platform in sight of a thousand people, up to a pair of big feet.
Somewhere above her she heard s slow chuckle. “She wrote me that thought I would look better if I wore whiskers”
He stooped. Grace felt strong hands under her arms. Then, as if she had no weight at all, she was raised high in the air, kissed on both cheeks and gently set down again. The beard was good to look a, but it did not feel good against her checks.
The thousand people were forgotten. Grace looked and laughed happily, for up there on the rugged face were the whiskers.
“You see, I let them grow for you, Grace,” said Lincoln. Grace could do nothing but look at the tall, plain, great man. She would have been happy to stand and look forever and ever.
He took her hand. She heard him say that he hoped to see his little friend again sometime; she understood that this moment had to end. He helped her down the steps of the railway car, and she went obediently, like a good girl, back to her proud father.
Grace heard the train whistle and the loud noise of the engine starting again on it journey. People cheered and waved after the train until it was far down the tracks. But in her mind Grace heard only three words repeated over and over: “My little friend…”
If you visit Springfield, Illinois, today you will see where Abraham Lincoln used to live. It is a plain, white, two-story house with a fence around it. People say it looks just as it did then, outside and inside. On the wall of a room hangs a piece of paper covered with a child’s handwriting: “Dear Sir – I am a little girl 11 years old…”
Beard, long hair growing on sides and lower parts of a man’s face
Chuckle, a low, quiet laugh
Attic, a room at the top of a house, just under the roof
Photograph, a picture made with a camera
Whiskers, pleasingly suitable to one's appearance
Campaign headquarters, a place where a man seeking to be elected to public office plans his activities and directs his helpers. The effort to win the election is called a campaign.
Wastebasket, a basket or box in which to throw wastepaper or other useless material
Regret, be sorry about
Constitute, make up, form
White House, a large white house in Washington, D.C., where the president of the United States lives.
Hail, greetings, welcome. “Hail to the Chief’ means “welcome to the chief”
Star-Spangled Banner, a name for the United States flag
Stars and Stripes, another name for the United States flag
Platform, a raised floor, usually made of wood. In this story, the platform is a kind of porch on the end of a railway car.
Abe, a short form of the name Abraham
Correspondent, a person with whom one exchanges letters
Stooped, bent his body forward and down
Rugged, deeply lined