Matilda Johnston

“But It’s not all the Truth”

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In the Lincoln family, Matilda Johnston, or Tilda, as her mother called her, was the youngest child. After Abe had reached the estate of manhood, she was still in her ‘teens. It was Abe’s habit each morning one fall, to leave the house early, his axe on his shoulder, to clear a piece of forest which lay some distance from home. He frequently carried his dinner with him, and remained all day. Several times the young and frolicsome ‘Tilda sought to accompany him, but was each time restrained by her mother, who firmly forbade a repetition of the attempt. One morning the girl escaped maternal vigilance, and slyly followed after the young woodman, who had gone some distance from the house, and was already hidden from view behind the dense growth of trees and underbrush. Following a deer-path, he went singing along, little dreaming of the girl in close pursuit. The latter gained on him, and when within a few feet, darted forward and with a cat-like leap landed squarely on his back. With one hand on each shoulder, she planted her knee in the middle of his back, and dexterously brought the powerful frame of the rail-splitter to the ground. It was a trick familiar to every schoolboy. Abe, taken by surprise, was unable at first to turn around or learn who his assailant was. In the fall to the ground, the sharp edge of the axe imbedded itself in the young lady’s ankle, inflicting a wound from which there came a generous effusion of blood. With sundry pieces of cloth torn from Abe’s shirt and the young lady’s dress, the flow of blood was stanched, and the wound rudely bound up. The girl’s cries having lessened somewhat, her tall companion, looking at her in blank astonishment, knowing what an in-fraction the whole thing was of her mother’s oft-repeated instructions, asked; “‘Tilda, what are you going to tell mother about getting hurt?” “Tell her I did it with the axe,” she sobbed. “That will be the truth, won’t it?” To which last inquiry Abe manfully responded,    “Yes, that’s the truth, but it’s not all the truth. Tell the whole truth,’Tilda, and trust your good mother for the rest.”

By William H. Herndon,Jesse W. Weik “Herndon’s Lincoln: A True Story of a Great Life” Herndon-016-009-30