These Honored Dead (A Lincoln and Speed Mystery #1) - Jonathan F. Putnam


My general store still bore the name A. Y. Ellis & Co., though Ellis had departed long ago. It was one of a dozen stores that stood around the perimeter of Springfield’s central square and served its two thousand inhabitants. We sold dry goods, patent medicines, bedclothes, groceries, books—everything the village needed.

Springfield was thick with lawyers, frequent customers of our more expensive items. The senior member of the local bar was Stephen Logan, a fellow son of Kentucky who had moved to Illinois a decade earlier and built a thriving law practice around the many real estate transactions in the growing village. Nearly forty years of age now, he had magnificent whiskers and an aquiline nose.

Logan bustled into the store one morning in March 1837 and barked out a question that proved to be life changing.

“Aware of any unused beds in town, Speed?”

“Has Mrs. Logan thrown you out again?” I returned.

“Would that I were so lucky,” Logan said with a harsh laugh and a shake of his head. “I’m sponsoring a young lawyer who’s moving here from New Salem. Not so young a fellow, in point of fact, but new to the bar, and he’s nowhere to sleep when he arrives. You seem to keep a close company with the other unmarried men about town. I thought you might have some idea.”

I looked up from the stack of pantaloons I had been counting behind the counter. “There may be an empty berth in my bed just now,” I replied cautiously. Since my own arrival in Springfield almost three years earlier, I had lived in the narrow second-floor room perched atop the Ellis store proper. The room contained space for little besides two double beds, each barely the width of side-by-side pillows, and a decrepit dressing table. Hurst and Herndon shared one of the beds. I slept in the other with what had been a rotating rogues’ gallery of disreputables: most recently, a weasel-faced man from Georgia named Simpson who talked to his mother in his sleep and had decamped for the Michigan Territory the week prior. None of us had been sorry to see him go.

“Is the berth available to my man or not?” asked Logan impatiently.

“You say the fellow’s a lawyer?” I was hoping, upon Simpson’s opportune departure, to exercise some discretion when picking his successor.

“He’s tried a few trades,” Logan replied. “Now he’s trying the law, though his legal career’s yet to be written. He has managed to last two terms in the legislature. I’ll bring him by and see if you two can’t get along well enough to share a bed at night.”

Several weeks later, Logan returned as promised with his acquaintance. I stared at the newcomer as he ducked to enter the storeroom. He was several years my senior, very tall, and very thin, indeed close enough to the point of emaciation that I would have kept him away from my mother, were she nearby, lest she swoon from maternal concern. He had wide-set gray eyes, deep brows, a strong nose, and a lantern jaw. He wore his hair long, curling over his ears and parted rather severely at the high peak of his forehead. He was dressed in the black frockcoat, shiny vest, and thin bow tie of his new profession.

“Joshua Speed, Abraham Lincoln,” said Logan, introducing us.

Lincoln put down two small saddlebags and gripped my hand.

“How are you?” he said cordially. “As I was telling Logan, I am in need of bedding but not a bed, as I’ve recently contracted with a carpenter to have made a single-frame one.” His voice was reedy and higher pitched than one would have expected to emerge from so large a being.

“What do you need, then?” I asked, feeling relieved. The stranger’s size, if nothing else, marked him as a poor candidate for a bedmate.

“A mattress, blankets, sheets, coverlid, and the hardest, cheapest pillow you’ve got,” Lincoln replied.

I did the figures quickly in my head. “For a good friend of Logan’s, I can let you have the lot for seventeen dollars.” As I saw his face start to fall, I hastened to add, “You’ll not find a better price anywhere on the square. I’m sure of it.”

“It is perhaps cheap enough,” said Lincoln, “but small as it is, I’m unable to pay it. If you’ll credit me until Christmas, I’ll pay you then if I do well. But if I fail in this, I do not know that I can ever pay you.”

As I looked up at him,