Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon

Excerpt from George Saunders’ new novel, ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’

"Lincoln in the Bardo" by George Saunders.

"Lincoln in the Bardo" by George Saunders. Credit: Random House

Yesterday around three there came a considerable procession — perhaps twenty carriages and nowhere to put them — They stopped on the lawns of the houses and sat aslant on the cemetery land by the fence — And who should alight from the hearse but Mr. L. himself, whom I could recognize from his likeness — But sore bent down and sad in countenance, almost needing to be urged along, as if reluctant to enter that drear place — I had not yet heard the sad news & was momentarily puzzled but soon enough the situation being made clear I prayed for the boy & family — it has been much in the papers regarding his illness and it has had the unhappy outcome now — The carriages cont’d to arrive over the next hour until the street was impassable. The large crowd disappeared inside the chapel and from my open window I could hear the proceedings within: music, a sermon, weeping. Then the gathering dispersed & the carriages moved off, several becoming stuck & requiring unsticking, the street & lawns being left a considerable mess.

Then today, again wet & cold, and, around two, a single small carriage arrived & stopped at the cemetery gate & again the President got out, this time accompanied by three gentlemen: one young & two OLD. — they were met at the gate by Mr. Weston & his young assistant & all went off to the chapel — Before long, the assistant being joined by a helper, they were seen to be managing a small coffin on to a handcart & off the sad party went, cart in the lead, the President & his companions plodding along behind — their destination appeared to be to the northwest corner of the cemetery. The hill there being steep and the rain continuing, it made a strange joining of somber melancholy & riotous awkwardness, the assistants struggling to keep the tiny coffin upon the cart — & at the same time all parties, even Mr. L., diligently mincing to maintain their footing on the rainslick grass.

Anyway it appears the poor Lincoln child is to be left there across the road, contrary to reports in the newspapers, which ventured that he would be returning to Illinois forthwith. They have been loaned a place in the crypt belonging to Judge Carroll, & only imagine the pain of that, Andrew, to drop one’s precious son into that cold stone like some broken bird & be on your way.

Quiet tonight, & even the Creek seems to murmur along more quietly than usual, dear Brother. The moon came out just now & lit the stones in the cemetery — for an instant it appeared the grounds had been overrun with angels of various shapes and sizes: fat angels, dog-sized angels, angels upon horseback, etc.

I have grown comfortable having these Dead for company, and find them agreeable companions, over there in their Soil & cold stone Houses.

— In “Wartime Washington: The Civil War Letters of Isabelle Perkins,” compiled and edited by Nash Perkins III, entry of February 25, 1862.

From “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders. Copyright © 2017 by George Saunders. Published by Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

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