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Excerpt from Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Courting Mr. Lincoln

by Louis Bayard

Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard X
Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2019, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2020, 416 pages

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Courting Mr. Lincoln

had a notion of running upstairs to Mary's bedroom and mending themselves before the looking glass. But the back stairs were blocked by kegs, and Mercy was anxious about leaving Mr. Conkling alone for too long, and so they were just inching back into the main hall when a gentleman guest, leaning indolently against the wall, chose that moment to swivel round.

"Why, there you are, Miss Todd," he said.

Joshua Speed's coat fit him as lightly as feathers. His boots looked as if they had been blacked at the door. But what struck Mary most forcibly was his hair, which had lain hidden from view during their last encounter and which now rippled in chestnut waves down to his collar. A prodigal mane that had the effect of both lengthening and poeticizing his face. Yes, she thought, this must have been how Lord Byron looked, training his gaze upon some Alpine lass.

"Good evening," she remembered to say. She slid a damp tendril off her face and glanced into the empty space where Mercy had just stood.

"I fear I've come too late to make it onto your program," he said.

"Oh." She stared at the tiny book still dangling from her wrist. "I believe I have a waltz open... ."

"Then," he said, "the night is not lost." He bent over the program, wrote out his name in a light, casual hand. "How those flowers become you."

"I regret to inform you they are silk. Give me a few more weeks, and I shall have real ones to conjure with."

"I hope you will set one aside for me, then."

She smiled and shifted her eyes just to the west of him. An attitude of maidenly abstraction, refined over some years, that had the usual effect of calling out another compliment, more lavish than the previous. In this case, Mr. Speed said only: "There's someone you should meet."

He swung his head around in an arc of expectation—only no one was there. With no great delicacy, he leaned in the direction of the foyer and beckoned with his arm. Against all expectations, a figure came lumbering toward them.

Her first impressions arrived singly, refusing to be reconciled. An El Greco frame, stretched beyond sufferance. A mournful well of eye. A face of bones, all badgering to break through.

From here, all was confusion. Mr. Speed, who gave every sign of wanting to remain, was being called away, and Mary was reaching out a hand to stay him, and at the same time, this other man's hand—massive and elemental—was extending toward her, and it was this hand in which her hand now unaccountably rested, like a starfish on a boulder, and Mr. Speed was already slipping from view, and Mr. Speed's friend, scarcely audible, was saying something to her. He was saying ...

"I know who you are."

But the effect of being recognized was not so tonic as it had been with Mr. Speed. Now it only discomposed her.

"You must forgive me," she said. "I failed to catch your name."

"Lincoln."

"Ah ."

Her brain went scrambling; her smile, by way of compensation, stood still.

"I believe you are known to me as well. By repute... ."

Think.

"I mean my cousin has spoken of you. John Stuart, yes?"

He nodded, with such an emphatic motion that his chin came nearly to his chest.

"You ..." She ventured an inch further on the limb. "If I'm not mistaken, you are partners, are you not? In Cousin John's law practice... ."

"Guilty." He was silent for a time, then roused himself enough to add, "I'm glad you mention Congressman Stuart. I owe him a great deal."

"Well, he—speaks very highly of you, Mr. Lincoln." Was that true? "He tells me ..." What? "He says you are quite the force. In the courtroom, I think."

"Oh. Well." He gave the punch bowl a stare. "I don't have a great deal of book learning, so I expect I'm able to speak to juries at their own level."

Excerpted from Courting Mr. Lincoln by Pierre Bayard. Copyright © 2019 by Pierre Bayard. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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