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“Your letter!" exclaimed Parson Elkins, inquiringly. “I got your father's letter.” Abraham did not stop to think that the letter went in his father's name.
“I wrote it,” he said.
"Oh, yes; I do remember now that he couldn't write ; and so you did it ? Not many boys can write like that."
“ It was the first letter I ever wrote.”
“Better still is that—the first one? Well, you needn't be ashamed of that.”
They were advancing towards the cabin during this conversation, Abraham running alongside the horse, and the parson looking kindly upon him.
“There's our house !” exclaimed Abraham, as they came in sight of it. “We live there," pointing with his finger.
“Ah! that's a pleasant place to live. And there's your father, I think, too."
“Yes, that's him. He'll be glad to see you." “And I shall be glad to see him.”
By this time they came near Mr. Lincoln, who recognized Parson Elkins, and gave him a most cordial greeting. He was really taken by surprise, although he had not relinquished all expectation of the parson coming.
“You find me in a lonely condition," said Mr. Lincoln. “Death has made a great change in my family."
“Very great indeed,” responded Mr. Elkins. “I know how great your loss is; but 'whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.'”
Assenting to this, Mr. Lincoln continued, “Now, let me say that, while you are here, I want you should preach a funeral sermon. You know all about my wife. You will stay over next Sunday, won't you?” It was now Wednesday.
“Why, yes, I can stay as long as that, though I must be about my Master's work.”
“You will be about your Master's work if you stay and preach a funeral sermon; and it may do a great sight of good.”
“Very true; and I shall be glad to stay; for if any one ever deserved a funeral sermon, it is your wife. But where shall I preach it ?"
"At her grave. I've had that arranged in my mind for a long time; and we'll notify the people; there will be a large attendance. The people thought a deal of her here."
It was arranged that Mr. Elkins should preach the funeral sermon at the grave of Mrs. Lincoln on the following Sabbath. . Accordingly, notice was sent abroad to the distance of twelve or fifteen miles, and a platform was erected near the grave. Every preparation was made for the solemn event. Although nearly a year had elapsed since Mrs. Lincoln died, yet a sermon to her memory was no less interesting to her surviving friends.
In the meantime, Mr. Elkins busied himself in intercourse with the family; and he visited some of the neighbours, and conversed with them on spiritual things. Abraham, too, received his special attention. The boy had improved rapidly since he left Kentucky, and his remarkable precocity was suited to draw the attention of such a preacher.
The Sabbath arrived, — a bright, beautiful day. From a distance of twelve or fifteen miles the settlers came to listen to the sermon. Entire families assembled, parents and children, from the oldest to the youngest. Hoary age and helpless childhood were there. They came in carts, on horseback, and on foot, any way to get there. As they had preaching only when one of these pioneer preachers visited that vicinity, it was a treat to most of the inhabitants, and they manifested their interest by a general turn-out. The present occasion, however, was an unusual one, as the funeral sermon of Mrs. Lincoln was to be preached.
Parson Elkins was an earnest man, and the occasion inspired him with unusual fervour. None of the people had ever listened to him before, except the Lincoln family, and they were delighted with his services. His tribute to the memory of Mrs. Lincoln was considered just and excellent. None thought that too much was said in her praise. On the other hand, the general feeling was rather, as one of the number expressed it, that, “say what he might in praise of her, he couldn't say too much."
Abraham was deeply interested in the sermon, and it brought all his mother's tenderness and love afresh to his mind. To him it was almost like attending her funeral over again. Her silent dust was within a few feet of him, and vivid recollection of her worth was in his heart.
He drank in the sentiments of the discourse, too. He usually did this, as he was accustomed to think for himself. A few years later he often criticised the sermons to which he listened, much to the amusement of those with whom he conversed. He sometimes called in question the doctrines preached. This was one of the things in which his precocity appeared. It was at this point that his mental activity and power were often seen. But the sentiments of the aforesaid funeral sermon especially impressed his mind.
At this time of his life he was a close listener to the
conversation of the neighbours; and he would become almost vexed over the conversation of some of them, who talked so unintelligibly, through ignorance, that he could not understand them. His active brain laboured to compass every subject, and he sometimes fretted over unlettered talkers whose meaning he failed to comprehend. After he came into the possession of additional books, he was wont to discuss their subject-matter, and express his own views freely.
In this respect he was unlike most boys, who are superficial in their views of things. They read, and that is the end of it. They think no more about it,at least, they do not inquire into the why and wherefore of matters stated; and so the habit of sliding over things loosely is formed. They do not think for themselves. They accept things as true, because others say they are true. They are satisfied with knowing that things are, without asking why they are. But Abraham was not so. He thought, reflected ; and this developed his mental powers faster than even school could do it.
The reader should understand more about these pioneer preachers, in order to appreciate the influences that formed Abraham's character, and therefore we will stop here to give some account of them.
They were not generally men of learning and culture, though some of them were men of talents. Few, if any of them, were ever in college, and some of them were never in school. But they had a call to preach, as they believed, and good and true hearts for doing it. Many of them preached almost every day, travelling from place to place on horseback, studying their sermons in the saddle, and carrying about with them all the library they had in their saddle-bags. They stopped where night overtook them, and it was sometimes miles away from any human habitation, with no bed but the earth, and no covering but the canopy of heaven. They laboured without a salary, and were often poorly clothed and scantily fed, being constrained to preach by the love of Christ. The following account of two pioneer preachers, by Milburn, will give the reader a better idea of this class of useful men than any description of ours, and it will be read with interest :
“One of these preachers, who travelled all through the North-western Territory, a tall, slender, graceful man, with a winning countenance and kindly eye, greatly beloved by all to whom he ministered, was presented by a large landholder with a title-deed of three hundred and twenty acres. The preacher was extremely poor, and there had been many times when he received scarcely enough support to keep soul and body together. Yet he laboured on, and did much good. He seemed pleased with his present of land, and went on his way with a grateful heart. But in three months he returned, and met his benefactor at the door, saying, 'Here, sir, I want to give you back your title-deed.
“What's the matter?' said his friend, surprised. Any flaw in it?' « No “Isn't it good land ?' “yGood as any in the State.' "Sickly situation ?' “Healthy as any other.' “. Do you think I repent my gift?'.
“I haven't the slightest reason to doubt your generosity.'
“Why don't you keep it, then ?'
"Well, sir,' said the preacher, "you know I am very fond of singing, and there's one hymn in my