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purpose; but it “was a sight to behold,” as one reliable witness declared. When they “rushed down through Beardstown,” the craft presented such a comical appearance that “the people came out and laughed at them.”
“Let them laugh and take it out in laughing, so long as the thing works well,” said Abraham, rather enjoying the singular exhibition because it attracted attention.
They stopped only at Memphis, Vicksburg, and Natchez, after leaving Salt Creek, during the whole distance to New Orleans, where they arrived without another drawback. Offutt disposed of his goods readily, and made a very profitable trip of it. At the same time he obtained such an insight into Abraham's character and abilities that he resolved to make the best use of him possible in future.
"Inhuman,” exclaimed Abraham, one day, when they saw a gang of slaves chained together, and a merciless driver cracking his whip about their heads. “A nation that tolerates such inhumanity will have to pay for it some day."
" They are used to it," replied Offutt, “and mind no more about it than cattle."
“What if they don't ?" retorted Abraham. “You can't make cattle of men without being inhuman. I tell you the nation that does it will be cursed.”
"Not in our day,” remarked Offutt.
"In somebody's day, though,” responded Abraham, promptly.
That Abraham's visits to New Orleans served to increase his hostility to slavery there can be no doubt, especially his visit in 1831. For John Hanks said, thirty years afterwards, recalling the incidents of that memorable trip :
“There it was we saw negroes chained, maltreated, whipped, 'and scourged. Lincoln saw it, and his heart bled. It made him sad, he looked bad, felt bad, was thoughtful and abstracted. I can say, knowing it, that it was on this trip that he formed his opinions of slavery. It ran its iron into him then and there, May 1831. I have heard him say so, often and often.”
Providence was leading Abraham in a way that he knew not, disciplining him for the day when he would be forced to grapple with the system of American slavery, to overthrow it. All such incidents as these become more interesting and important in their providential connection with his future public career.
In June, Offutt, with his men, was ready to return, and he engaged passage for all on a steamer up the Mississippi to St. Louis. On the way up the river Offutt surprised Abraham by saying,
“ Abe, I think you can sell goods for me; how would you like it?”
“What kind of goods ?" Abraham asked.
"Store goods, such as country stores keep," Offutt answered. “How would you like to run my store at New Salem ?”
"I should like it well enough, provided I could do it.”
“You can do it well enough ; I have no fear of that. If you'll say the word, I will put you in charge of my store at New Salem.”
“I'll say the word, then,” continued Abraham, “ if we can agree on the terms."
They did agree upon the terms, and, before they parted company at St. Louis it was arranged to transform Abraham into a "storekeeper." Offutt had so exalted an idea of Abraham's tact and ability that he was prepared to commit almost any trust to his keeping. Abraham was to return home, visit his parents, and then repair to New Salem to be installed over a country store. At St. Louis, Offutt's business made it necessary for him to separate from his efficient trio; so Abraham, Hanks, and Johnston started on foor for the interior of Illinois. When they reached Edwardsville, twentyfive miles from St. Louis, Hanks took the road to Springfield, and Abraham and Johnston took that to Cole's County, whither Thomas Lincoln removed after Abraham left home.
A few days after Abraham reached his father's house in Cole's County, a famous wrestler, by the name of Daniel Needham, called to see him. Needham had heard of Abraham's great strength, and that he was an expert wrestler, and he desired to see him.
“S'pose we try a hug,” suggested Needham.
"No doubt you can throw me," answered Abraham. “You are in practice, and I am not.”
"Then you'll not try it?" continued Needham.
“Not much sport in being laid on my back," was Abraham's evasive answer.
"It remains to be seen who will lay on his back," suggested Needham. “S'pose you make the trial.”
By persistent urging Abraham finally consented to meet Needham, at a specified place and time, according to the custom that prevailed. Abraham was true to his promise, met the bully, and threw him twice with no great difficulty.
Needham was both disappointed and chagrined. His pride was greatly humbled, and his wrath was not a little exercised.
“You have thrown me twice, Lincoln, but you can't whip me," he said.
"I don't want to whip you, whether I can or not," Abraham replied magnanimously; "and I don't want to get whipped ;” and the closing sentence was spoken jocosely.
“Well, I stump you to whip me," Needham cried, thinking that Lincoln was unwilling to undertake it. " Throwing a man is one thing and thrashing him is another.”
“You are right, my friend; and I've no special desire to do either," answered Abraham.
Needham continued to press him, whereupon Lincoln said,
“Needham, are you satisfied that I can throw you? If you are not, and must be convinced through a thrashing, I will do that, too, for your sake.”
This was putting the matter practically enough to open the bully's eyes, which was all Abraham hoped to accomplish. He was willing to show his strength by wrestling to please his companions and get a little sport out of it; but he despised a bully like Needham, and considered such encounters for any purpose but sport as beneath his notice. Needham put the proper interpretation upon Abraham's words, and, considering “discretion the better part of valour,” he withdrew as gracefully as possible.
We shall turn next to Abraham's success as a country merchant.
IN A PIONEER STORE.
ABOUT the ist of August, 1831, Abraham met H Offutt at New Salem as previously arranged. His employer had collected a quantity of goods at Beardstown, awaiting transportation. Until the goods arrived Abraham had nothing to do, but loitered about the town, then numbering only from twelve to fifteen habitations. Some of the people recognized him as the ingenious fellow who engineered the boat over Rutledge's dam a few months before; and they scraped acquaintance with him at once.
On the day of the election he was loitering about the polling place, when one of the judges remarked to Minter Graham, the schoolmaster, “We are short of a clerk; what shall we do?”
The schoolmaster replied, “ Perhaps the tall stranger yonder can write ; and maybe he will serve in that capacity.”
"Possibly," responded the judge, as he advanced towards Abraham, and said,
“ Can you write ?” It must be remembered that at that time, in that region, many people could neither read nor write, so that getting a clerk was not an easy matter.
“Yes, a little," answered Abraham.
“Yes, I'll try,” was Abraham's modest reply. “I will do the best I can, if you so request.”