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stock to a chance passenger named Greene, the price being two hundred dollars-on paper. Lincoln was called in to make an inventory of the contents of the damaged building, and, being fascinated with the possibilities of the stock, he offered two hundred and fifty dollars for the lot. Greene gladly accepted the proposition, and gave full possession of the establishment to Lincoln, making fifty dollars on his bargain-also on paper. For not a cent of hard money changed hands, the consideration being, as usual, a note of hand.
In this venture Lincoln had a partner, one Berry, an idle and dissolute fellow, from whom he was soon obliged to separate, and in a very short time the enterprise, begun with so much promise and so many expectations, fell into ruin, and the goods were sold in lots to suit purchasers, to close out the concern. Lincoln was again on the world without occupation, and loaded down with debts incurred in this latest speculation. The store, as he expressed it, had “winked out,” and he had no immediate recourse. He had read law books in a desultory and unaided way, and now he tackled them with more energy than ever, dimly realizing that here, at least, was a gleam of leading light for him. He borrowed every book on law that he could find, the attorneys of the region round about good-naturedly lending him whatever they had. In his quest for information of this sort, he often walked from New Salem to Springfield, a distance of fourteen miles.
He also bought an old book of legal forms, and amused himself and his neighbors with drawing up
imaginary deeds, wills, and conveyances in which fictitious property was disposed of at tremendous prices; this by way of practice. But, whenever an opportunity occurred, the people went to "Abe Lincoln” for advice and assistance in the selling or mortgaging of real estate, and thus he gradually worked his way into something like a business. His fees, he used to say, were generally necessaries of life turned in to the family with whom he happened to board. He also undertook small cases on trial before the justice of the peace, and, to use his own figure of speech, “tried on a dog” his legal eloquence and lore. He was trying himself in these paths into which he was to enter for life by and by. And it is worthy of remark that Lincoln's friends and associates unite in saying that he never undertook a case that was not founded on justice and right, and that when he did argue to a jury, as he sometimes did, the impression was that he sincerely believed everything he said. He was making reputation, as well as preparing himself for work in his destined field. And, in the matter of counsel, he was, as well as in more violent quarrels and disputes, “everybody's friend.” About this time, too, that is to say, in 1833, he undertook the study of surveying, and, as in other undertakings, he succeeded so well that he soon became an expert. His instruments were few and simple; contemporaries have said that his first chain was a grape-vine. But maps and plots of land surveyed by Lincoln, still extant, show a neatness and semblance of accuracy that testify to the rigid care that he always exercised in all his work. Mr,
John Calhoun, county surveyor, was at this period a useful friend to young Lincoln. The region round about was full of mushroom cities springing up in a day; they had to be surveyed in order that their fortunate owners could describe to the guileless new arrivals the location of streets, public squares, and other features of future magnificence laid down-on paper. Lincoln became an assistant to Calhoun, and, when occasion required, was a surveyor “on his own hook."
In May, 1833, Andrew Jackson being President, Abraham Lincoln was appointed postmaster of New Salem. The office had very small revenues and no political importance. It was given to Lincoln because all his neighbors wanted him to have it, and he was the only man willing to take it and able to make out the necessary returns to the post-office department. The mail was light, and Lincoln, as tradition runs, generally carried the post-office in his hat. He could not keep at home, of course, and when a villager met him and asked if there were letters for him, the postmaster gravely searched through his hat for an answer.
But there were newspapers brought to New Salem by this weekly mail, and Lincoln religiously made it his duty to read them all before they could be called for; this, he used to say, made the office worth more to him than many times the amount of the money income could have been. In course of time, the population of New Salem migrated to other and more promising localities, and the post-office was discontinued. In later years, an agent of the Post-office Department
up the ex-postmaster and demanded the small balance due to the government; the amount was seventeen dollars and some odd cents. His friend and neighbor Dr. A. G. Henry happened to be present when the agent made this unexpected demand, and, knowing Lincoln's extreme poverty, took him aside and offered to lend him the sum required. “Hold on a minute,” said Lincoln, “and let 's see how we come out." Going to his sleepingroom, he brought out an old stocking and, untying it, poured on the table the exact amount, just as it had been paid to him in pennies and small silver pieces. Many a time had Lincoln been in bitter want, many a time hard-pressed for money; but the receipts of the little post-office were to him a sacred trust to be kept until required of him.
The debt incurred by the "winking out” of the store of Berry and Lincoln pressed upon him. So vast did it seem that he was accustomed to speak of it as “the national debt.” But, unlike most national debts, it was ultimately paid. In the course of business, the notes that he and Berry had given for the stock-in-trade fell into the hands of a person who was more than usually impatient; for every man's credit, in those days, was unlimited. The creditor in this case seized Lincoln's horse, saddle, and bridle, and sold them under a sheriff's execution. One of Lincoln's steadfast friends, Bolin Greene, attended the sale, from which Lincoln, greatly cast down in his mind, absented himself. Greene bought the outfit, and, to Lincoln's great surprise and relief, gave them to him with the in
junction: "Pay for them, Abe, when you get ready, and if you never get ready, it 's all the same to me. Not long after this, Bolin Greene, -long be his name remembered!—died, and Lincoln was asked by his townsmen of New Salem to deliver a eulogy at his burial. The rising young lawyer attempted the grateful task, but his voice failed him. The tears ran down his cheeks as he rose to speak, and, overcome with emotion, he sat down without saying a word. More eloquent than words, his tears spoke his affection for the man who had been his friend in need.