The Little Iron Soldier by John Greenleaf Whittier

Story type: Literature


AMINADAB IVISON started up in his bed. The great clock at the head of the staircase, an old and respected heirloom of the family, struck one.

“Ah,” said he, heaving up a great sigh from the depths of his inner man, “I’ve had a tried time of it.”

“And so have I,” said the wife. “Thee’s been kicking and threshing about all night. I do wonder what ails thee.”

And well she might; for her husband, a well-to-do, portly, middle-aged gentleman, being blessed with an easy conscience, a genial temper, and a comfortable digestion, was able to bear a great deal of sleep, and seldom varied a note in the gamut of his snore from one year’s end to another.

“A very remarkable exercise,” soliloquized Aminadab; “very.”

“Dear me! what was it?” inquired his wife.

“It must have been a dream,” said Aminadab.

“Oh, is that all?” returned the good woman. “I’m glad it’s nothing worse. But what has thee been dreaming about?”

“It’s the strangest thing, Hannah, that thee ever heard of,” said Aminadab, settling himself slowly back into his bed. Thee recollects Jones sent me yesterday a sample of castings from the foundry. Well, I thought I opened the box and found in it a little iron man, in regimentals; with his sword by his side and a cocked hat on, looking very much like the picture in the transparency over neighbor O’Neal’s oyster-cellar across the way. I thought it rather out of place for Jones to furnish me with such a sample, as I should not feel easy to show it to my customers, on account of its warlike appearance. However, as the work was well done, I took the little image and set him up on the table, against the wall; and, sitting down opposite, I began to think over my business concerns, calculating how much they would increase in profit in case a tariff man should be chosen our ruler for the next four years. Thee knows I am not in favor of choosing men of blood and strife to bear rule in the land: but it nevertheless seems proper to consider all the circumstances in this case, and, as one or the other of the candidates of the two great parties must be chosen, to take the least of two evils. All at once I heard a smart, quick tapping on the table; and, looking up, there stood the little iron man close at my elbow, winking and chuckling. ‘That’s right, Aminadab!’ said he, clapping his little metal hands together till he rang over like a bell, ‘take the least of two evils.’ His voice had a sharp, clear, jingling sound, like that of silver dollars falling into a till. It startled me so that I woke up, but finding it only a dream presently fell asleep again. Then I thought I was down in the Exchange, talking with neighbor Simkins about the election and the tariff. ‘I want a change in the administration, but I can’t vote for a military chieftain,’ said neighbor Simkins, ‘as I look upon it unbecoming a Christian people to elect men of blood for their rulers.’ ‘I don’t know,’ said I, ‘what objection thee can have to a fighting man; for thee ‘s no Friend, and has n’t any conscientious scruples against military matters. For my own part, I do not take much interest in politics, and never attended a caucus in my life, believing it best to keep very much in the quiet, and avoid, as far as possible, all letting and hindering things; but there may be cases where a military man may be voted for as a choice of evils, and as a means of promoting the prosperity of the country in business matters.’ ‘What!’ said neighbor Simkins, ‘are you going to vote for a man whose whole life has been spent in killing people?’ This vexed me a little, and I told him there was such a thing as carrying a good principle too far, and that he night live to be sorry that he had thrown away his vote, instead of using it discreetly. ‘Why, there’s the iron business,’ said I; but just then I heard a clatter beside me, and, looking round, there was the little iron soldier clapping his hands in great glee. ‘That’s it, Aminadab!’ said he; ‘business first, conscience afterwards! Keep up the price of iron with peace if you can, but keep it up at any rate.’ This waked me again in a good deal of trouble; but, remembering that it is said that ‘dreams come of the multitude of business,’ I once more composed myself to sleep.”

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“Well, what happened next?” asked his wife.

“Why, I thought I was in the meeting-house, sitting on the facing-seat as usual. I tried hard to settle my mind down into a quiet and humble state; but somehow the cares of the world got uppermost, and, before I was well aware of it, I was far gone in a calculation of the chances of the election, and the probable rise in the price of iron in the event of the choice of a President favorable to a high tariff. Rap, tap, went something on the floor. I opened my eyes, and there was the little image, red-hot, as if just out of the furnace, dancing, and chuckling, and clapping his hands. ‘That’s right, Aminadab!’ said he; ‘go on as you have begun; take care of yourself in this world, and I’ll promise you you’ll be taken care of in the next. Peace and poverty, or war and money. It’s a choice of evils at best; and here’s Scripture to decide the matter: “Be not righteous overmuch.”‘ Then the wicked-looking little image twisted his hot lips, and leered at me with his blazing eyes, and chuckled and laughed with a noise exactly as if a bag of dollars had been poured out upon the meeting-house floor. This waked me just now in such a fright. I wish thee would tell me, Hannah, what thee can make of these three dreams?”

“It don’t need a Daniel to interpret them,” answered Hannah. “Thee ‘s been thinking of voting for a wicked old soldier, because thee cares more for thy iron business than for thy testimony against wars and fightings. I don’t a bit wonder at thy seeing the iron soldier thee tells of; and if thee votes to-morrow for a man of blood, it wouldn’t be strange if he should haunt thee all thy life.”

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Aminadab Ivison was silent, for his conscience spoke in the words of his wife. He slept no more that night, and rose up in the morning a wiser and better man.

When he went forth to his place of business he saw the crowds hurrying to and fro; there were banners flying across the streets, huge placards were on the walls, and he heard all about him the bustle of the great election.

“Friend Ivison,” said a red-faced lawyer, almost breathless with his hurry, “more money is needed in the second ward; our committees are doing a great work there. What shall I put you down for? Fifty dollars? If we carry the election, your property will rise twenty per cent. Let me see; you are in the iron business, I think?”

Aminadab thought of the little iron soldier of his dream, and excused himself. Presently a bank director came tearing into his office.

“Have you voted yet, Mr. Ivison? It ‘s time to get your vote in. I wonder you should be in your office now. No business has so much at stake in this election as yours.”

“I don’t think I should feel entirely easy to vote for the candidate,” said Aminadab.

“Mr. Ivison,” said the bank director, “I always took you to be a shrewd, sensible man, taking men and things as they are. The candidate may not be all you could wish for; but when the question is between him and a worse man, the best you can do is to choose the least of the two evils.”

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“Just so the little iron man said,” thought Aminadab. “‘Get thee behind me, Satan!’ No, neighbor Discount,” said he, “I’ve made up my mind. I see no warrant for choosing evil at all. I can’t vote for that man.”

“Very well,” said the director, starting to leave the room; “you can do as you please; but if we are defeated through the ill-timed scruples of yourself and others, and your business pinches in consequence, you need n’t expect us to help men who won’t help themselves. Good day, sir.”

Aminadab sighed heavily, and his heart sank within him; but he thought of his dream, and remained steadfast. Presently he heard heavy steps and the tapping of a cane on the stairs; and as the door opened he saw the drab surtout of the worthy and much-esteemed friend who sat beside him at the head of the meeting.

“How’s thee do, Aminadab?” said he. “Thee’s voted, I suppose?”

“No, Jacob,” said he; “I don’t like the candidate. I can’t see my way clear to vote for a warrior.”

“Well, but thee does n’t vote for him because he is a warrior, Aminadab,” argued the other; “thee votes for him as a tariff man and an encourager of home industry. I don’t like his wars and fightings better than thee does; but I’m told he’s an honest man, and that he disapproves of war in the abstract, although he has been brought up to the business. If thee feels tender about the matter, I don’t like to urge thee; but it really seems to me thee had better vote. Times have been rather hard, thou knows; and if by voting at this election we can make business matters easier, I don’t see how we can justify ourselves in staying at home. Thou knows we have a command to be diligent in business as well as fervent in spirit, and that the Apostle accounted him who provided not for his own household worse than an infidel. I think it important to maintain on all proper occasions our Gospel testimony against wars and fightings; but there is such a thing as going to extremes, thou knows, and becoming over-scrupulous, as I think thou art in this case. It is said, thou knows, in Ecclesiastes, ‘Be not righteous overmuch: why shouldst thou destroy thyself?’”

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“Ah,” said Aminadab to himself, “that’s what the little iron soldier said in meeting.” So he was strengthened in his resolution, and the persuasions of his friend were lost upon him.

At night Aminadab sat by his parlor fire, comfortable alike in his inner and his outer man. “Well, Hannah,” said he, “I’ve taken thy advice. I did n’t vote for the great fighter to-day.”

“I’m glad of it,” said the good woman, “and I dare say thee feels the better for it.”

Aminadab Ivison slept soundly that night, and saw no more of the little iron soldier.

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