網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

package of tea for a woman, the night before, he saw that he had given her too little for her money; he weighed out what was due and carried it to her, much to the surprise of the woman, who had not known that she was short in the amount of her purchase. Innumerable incidents of this sort are related of Lincoln; and we should not have space to tell of the alertness with which he sprung to protect defenceless women from insult, or feeble children from tyranny; for in the rude community in which he lived the rights of the defenceless were not always respected as they should have been. There were bullies then, as now.

Lincoln soon had a taste of the quality of some of these. Not far from New Salem was a group of farms in what was known as Clary's Grove. The

Clary's Grove boys," as the overgrown young men of the settlement were called, were rude, boisterous, swaggering, and tremendous fighters. They cast their eyes on the young stranger at Offutt's store, so well liked by the women, and resolved that he should be "taken down a peg. Stories of young Lincoln's prowess in wrestling had gone abroad, perhaps, and the conceit which the boys of Clary's Grove thought was in the stranger was to be taken out of him, Jack Armstrong, the bully of the band, was pitched upon to lay low Abe Lincoln. The crowd gathered around to see the sport, but the stalwart young Kentuckian soon showed that he was more than a match for the champion of Clary's Grove. Jack Armstrong was slowly sinking under the vigorous wrestling of the long-limbed Lincoln, and the entire

gang were ready to break in and overwhelm him. Jack resorted to foul play, in his desperation, and Lincoln, stung by this meanness, seized the bully by the throat, with both hands, and, putting forth all his giant strength, flung him in the air, shaking him as though he were a child, the legs of the champion whirling madly over his head. At this astounding performance, the gang of Clary's Grove broke into the circle, and Lincoln, backing against the store, calmly waited their onset; but Jack Armstrong, with what breath remained to him, warned off his comrades, and, touched by a feeling of chivalry, shook his adversary by the hand, crying: “Boys, Abe Lincoln is the best fellow that ever broke into this settlement! He shall be one of us!” That settled it. Out of the fight that he had tried to avoid, Lincoln emerged as champion. Thenceforth, no truer friend, no more devoted ally than Jack Armstrong to Abraham Lincoln ever lived. In later days, when Lincoln was out of money, out of work, all that Jack had was his. And when, at very rare intervals, some reckless fellow disregarded Lincoln's claim to championship, he quickly learned from the patient, long-suffering young giant, when he had been pressed too far, that this man was the toughest athlete in that settlement.

The reader should not be misled with a notion that Lincoln loved fighting and strife; far from it, he was always a man of peace. It was only when he was pushed and provoked beyond endurance that he burst upon his tormentor and punished him so thoroughly and speedily that, as the saying is, he did

not know what hurt him, and when the punishment was over, the good-natured young giant was ready to soothe the feelings of the vanquished. When he had knocked down and mauled a bully, and had rubbed his face with smart-weed, by way of ridiculous discipline, he let him up, helped him to compose his disorder and brought him water to assuage the woes of his irritated countenance. Lincoln was no fighter. He was brave, absolutely unafraid of anybody or anything. He never played cards, nor gambled, nor smoked, nor used profane language, nor addicted himself to any of the rude vices of the times. But far and wide he was reckoned a hero, worshipped by the stalwart wrestlers and runners of the region, cordially liked by the women, respected as a rising and brave young fellow by the elders, and earning for himself the title that stuck to him through life, "honest Abe."

Abe Lincoln became, by general consent, the peacemaker, the arbitrator of all the petty quarrels of the neighborhood. Shunning vulgar brawls himself, he attempted to keep others out of them. An absolutely honest man, he advised exact justice to all who sought his advice; and, whenever there was too much violence developed in debate around Offutt's store door, the tall form of the young manager was sure to be seen towering over the conflict; and when argument failed to quell the disturbance, the terrific windmill of those long arms invariably brought peace. In all his activities, however, Lincoln never for one moment knew what it was to "let up" on his reading and studies. There is some

thing saddening in the record of his struggles to master everything that he thought worth knowing that was within his reach. Very poor he was, but he skimped himself and .went without what many boys would call necessary clothing to subscribe to the Louisville Courier, then edited by that famous Whig George D. Prentice, a witty and most brilliant man. This was, as he afterwards said, his greatest luxury. He read every word, and some of its articles were committed to memory by sheer force of habit. Pondering over the editorial articles of his favorite newspaper, he attempted to discover how they were constructed, and what were the rules by which language was composed and sentences framed. Application to the village schoolmaster gave him a hint as to grammar, and he was not satisfied until he had hunted down, somewhere in the region, a copy of “Kirkham's Grammar.” This he carried home, borrowed, in great triumph, nor did he pause until he had mastered its contents. Speaking of it, long afterwards, he said that he was surprised to find how little there was in a work that was made so much of by the schoolmaster. He had “collared” it in a week, and had returned the book to its owner.

CHAPTER V.

A PLUNGE INTO POLITICS.

Young Lincoln's Growing Passion for Knowledge-Candidate for the

State Legislature-Captain in the Black Hawk War–A Gather-
ing of Men Sing famous-Hardships of the Volunteer Soldiers
-Stump-Speaking and Defeat-Lincoln as a Country Merchant
-Lawyer and Surveyor.

UP

P to this time, Lincoln had never held any office,

except that of an occasional clerk of election. So far as we know, he never had any ambition for office-holding. But the spring of 1832 found him out of business, out of work. Offutt's store had gone to pieces, that gentleman's numerous irons in the fire having at last proved too many for him. If ever Lincoln was at liberty to try his hand at politics, this was the time. He had been trained, or rather had grown up, in the backwoods, had gradually made the acquaintance of mankind, had meditated and read as no young man ever before had meditated and read, and had accustomed himself to speak extemporaneously. He was a good story-teller, alert, quickwitted, full of apt illustration and anecdote, was so close a student of human nature that he was always able to adapt himself to his little audience, whether it was the group of loungers about the blacksmith's shop at the crossroads, or the knot of farm laborers that gathered about to hear him "make a speech”

« 上一頁繼續 »