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A Simple Gift

Inspired by a True Event

by Sandra Havriluk

2017

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Sandra Havriluk has written for Highlights. In this short story, inspired by true events, a boy goes to the train station to see President Abraham Lincoln.

 As you read, take notes on what the boy thinks about the president.
"A Simple Gift" by Jamie Smith is used with permission.

Jack wondered if the 5:02 evening train would ever arrive. Standing between his parents, he peered down the curve of the track, cupping one hand over his eyes to shade them from November’s late afternoon sun. In his other hand, he held a red apple from their family orchard. He’d chosen it carefully from the apple barrel in the root cellar.[1]

It was not just any red apple. Jack had searched for the largest, handsomest one. He planned to give it to a special passenger traveling on the B&O train that would stop in Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania.

Jack glanced over at the Hanover Branch Express train sitting on the opposite track. The brass trim on its red-and-green engine car shone. The passenger-car windows gleamed. The engine sent billows[2] of steam rising from its stack.

The B&O passengers would transfer to the Express and travel the remaining miles to Gettysburg. Among the travelers was a very special one: President Abraham Lincoln! He was headed to Gettysburg for the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery tomorrow.Q1

Jack had overheard his parents’ comments when they learned of the President’s trip.

“The war makes traveling difficult for him,” Pa had said.

Ma had replied, “And his son Tad is so ill. Smallpox,[3] they say.”

Smallpox! Jack knew that smallpox could be a death sentence, like the typhoid[4] that had claimed the life of the President’s son Willie. The poor President! Jack had felt a sadness creep over him like a fog’s mist.

Jack had felt this sadness before, in July, after the battle at Gettysburg.[5] The wounded soldiers had been carried from the battlefield to Hanover Junction, where they’d been transported by train to hospitals. Everyone helped care for the soldiers until the trains arrived. Pa pitched tents. Ma cooked meals. Jack offered apples to the soldiers. He was surprised at how such a simple gift brought them cheer.

The B&O’s piercing whistle broke through Jack’s thoughts. The wooden depot[6] platform rumbled as the train approached. In the near distance, smoke wafted[7] in the breeze, and Jack’s rapid heartbeat matched the train’s wheels rolling clackity-clack on the track. Gritty soot from the engine flew into the air. The brakes squealed, and the train came to a stop with a steamy hiss.

The crush of the excited, noisy crowd surrounded Jack and his parents, pushing them toward the tracks. Jack tightened his hold on the apple, wondering how he’d be able to see the President through all these people. Would he get a chance to act on his special plan?

“Up you go, son!”

Perfect! Hoisted up by his father’s strong arms, Jack balanced himself on Pa’s broad shoulders. He now had a bird’s-eye view[8] of the station!Q2

Everyone cheered when President Lincoln stepped from the train wearing his stovepipe hat.[9] Jack thought him to be the most unusual-looking man he’d ever seen! Yet when the President smiled, the kindness in his worried eyes made him handsome.

Walking through the throng[10] toward the Hanover Express, the President shook hands and patted children’s heads. Jack said, “Move closer, Pa! Please!”

Before they could get nearer, President Lincoln disappeared into the train’s passenger car. The conductor climbed onto the engine’s step and announced, “Pulling out!”

Everyone kept calling for the President. Jack joined in. After a moment, the door to the railcar slid open. The President ducked through it and stood on the car’s narrow ledge. Pa hurried toward him.

“Mr. President!” Jack held out the apple. “For your son!”

The President took Jack’s gift in his large hand.

“I hope Tad feels better,” Jack added.

The tired worry in President Lincoln’s eyes softened. “Thank you, young man.”

With one last wave, the President ducked back into the railcar. The train began chugging toward Gettysburg. Jack scrambled from his father’s hold and trotted beside the train. Through its window, Jack saw President Lincoln polishing the apple, a smile on his face.Q3

Copyright © Highlights for Children, Inc., Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

Notes

  1. a room below ground that keeps food from freezing during the winter and cool during the summer
  2. a large mass of something, typically smoke or steam
  3. a disease that causes a high fever and sores on the body
  4. a disease that causes red spots and serious stomach problems
  5. one of the most important battles of the American Civil War that took place in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
  6. railroad station
  7. Waft (verb): to pass gently through the air
  8. a good view of something from high above
  9. a very tall hat
  10. a large, tightly packed crowd
  1. a room below ground that keeps food from freezing during the winter and cool during the summer x
  2. a large mass of something, typically smoke or steam x
  3. a disease that causes a high fever and sores on the body x
  4. a disease that causes red spots and serious stomach problems x
  5. one of the most important battles of the American Civil War that took place in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania x
  6. railroad station x
  7. Waft (verb): to pass gently through the air x
  8. a good view of something from high above x
  9. a very tall hat x
  10. a large, tightly packed crowd x

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