Then she saw that Dennis was only teasing. “You wait!” she went on. “It won’t be long before Abe will be running around in buckskin breeches and a coonskin cap.”
The door opened, and Tom Lincoln, the baby’s father, came in. With him was Aunt Betsy Sparrow. She kissed Nancy and carried the baby over to a stool by the fireplace. Making little cooing noises under her breath, she dressed him in a white shirt and a yellow flannel petticoat. Sally Lincoln, two years old, who did not know quite what to make of the new brother, came over and stood beside her. Dennis drew up another stool and watched.
Aunt Betsy looked across at him and smiled. Dennis, an orphan, lived with her and she knew that he was often lonely. There weren’t many people living in Kentucky in the year 1809, and Dennis had no boys to play with.
“I reckon you’re mighty tickled to have a new cousin,” she said.
“I—I guess so,” said Dennis slowly.
“Want to hold him?”
Dennis was not quite sure whether he did or not. Before he could answer, Aunt Betsy laid the baby in his arms. Sally edged closer. She started to put out her hand, but pulled it back. Abraham was so small that she was afraid to touch him.
“Don’t you fret, Sally,” said Dennis. “Cousin Nancy said that he is going to grow. And when he does, do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to teach him to swim.”
Looking down into the tiny red face, Dennis felt a sudden warm glow in his heart. “Yes, and we can go fishing down at the creek. When I go to the mill to get the corn ground, he can come along. He can ride behind me on the horse, and when it goes cloppety-clop—”
Dennis swung the baby back and forth. It puckered up its face and began to cry. Dennis caught his breath in dismay. How could such a large noise come out of such a small body?
“Here, Aunt, take him quick!”
He looked at Cousin Nancy out of the corner of his eye. “I reckon he’ll never come to much.”
“Now, Dennis Hanks, I want you to behave,” said Aunt Betsy, but this time Nancy paid no attention to his teasing. She held out her arms for her son and cuddled him against her breast.
“As I told you,” she said gaily, “you have to give him a chance to grow.”
It was almost dark by the time Aunt Betsy had tidied the one-room cabin. She cooked some dried berries for Nancy, and fed Sally. Dennis begged to spend the night. After his aunt had put on her shawl and left for her own cabin, he curled up in a bearskin on the floor.
“Denny,” asked Nancy, “what day is this?”
“I mean what day of the month.”
“I don’t rightly know, Cousin Nancy.”
“I remember now,” she went on. “It is the twelfth day of February. February 12, 1809! Little Abe’s birthday!”
Outside the wind rose, whistling through the bare branches of the trees. There was a blast of cold air as the door opened. Tom came in, his arms piled high with wood. He knelt on the dirt floor to build up the fire, and the rising flames lit the log walls with a faint red glow.