Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories: Saving His Wind

Judge H. W. Beckwith of Danville, Ill., said that soon after the Ottawa debate between Lincoln and Douglas he passed the Chenery House, then the principal hotel in Springfield. The lobby was crowded with partisan leaders from various sections of the state, and Mr. Lincoln, from his greater height, was seen above the surging mass that clung about him like a swarm of bees to their ruler. The day was warm, and at the first chance he broke away and came out for a little fresh air, wiping the sweat from his face.

“As he passed the door he saw me,” said Judge Beckwith, “and, taking my hand, inquired for the health and views of his ‘friends over in Vermillion county.’ He was assured they were wide awake, and further told that they looked forward to the debate between him and Senator Douglas with deep concern. From the shadow that went quickly over his face, the pained look that came to give way quickly to a blaze of eyes and quiver of lips, I felt that Mr. Lincoln had gone beneath my mere words and caught my inner and current fears as to the result. And then, in a forgiving, jocular way peculiar to him, he said: ‘Sit down; I have a moment to spare, and will tell you a story.’ Having been on his feet for some time, he sat on the end of the stone step leading into the hotel door, while I stood closely fronting him.

“‘You have,’ he continued, ‘seen two men about to fight?’

“‘Yes, many times.’

“‘Well, one of them brags about what he means to do. He jumps high in the air, cracking his heels together, smites his fists, and wastes his wreath trying to scare somebody. You see the other fellow, he says not a word,’—here Mr. Lincoln’s voice and manner changed to great earnestness, and repeating—‘you see the other man says not a word. His arms are at his sides, his fists are closely doubled up, his head is drawn to the shoulder, and his teeth are set firm together. He is saving his wind for the fight, and as sure as it comes off he will win it, or die a-trying.’”