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and allow a further offset against his client. His purpose was to establish “exact justice.” Sometimes, however, his sympathy for a poor fellow who was in danger of the penitentiary or gallows caused him to overlook “exact justice," as we have seen.
A woman called upon him to secure his services to prosecute a real-estate claim; and she put a cheque for two hundred and fifty dollars into his hand as a retaining fee.
“I will look the case over, and see what can be done,” said Mr. Lincoln. “You may call to-morrow.”
The woman called as requested on the next day. “I am obliged to say that there is not a peg on which to hang your claim,” Mr. Lincoln said to her.
“How so?” she inquired, with not a little disappointment.
He explained the case to her satisfaction, and she started to go.
“Wait a minute,” he urged, fumbling in his pocket; “here is the cheque you left with me.”
“ But, Mr. Lincoln, that belongs to you; you have earned it,” she answered.
“No, no, no!” responded Mr. Lincoln; “that would not be right. I can't take pay for doing my duty.” And he insisted that she should take the cheque.
The testimony of his legal associates, at this point, is interesting. Mr. Gillespie says: “Mr. Lincoln's love of justice and fair play was his predominating trait. I have often listened to him when I thought he would state his case out of court. It was not in his nature to assume, or to attempt to bolster up, a false position. He would abandon his case first. He did so in the case of Buckmaster for the use of Denham vs. Beenes and Arthur, in our Supreme Court, in which I happened to be opposed to him. Another gentleman, less fastidious, took Mr. Lincoln's place, and gained the case.”
S. C. Parks, Esq., says: “I have often said, that for a man who was for a quarter of a century both a lawyer and politician, he was the most honest man I ever knew. He was not only morally honest, but intellectually so He could not reason falsely ; if he attempted it he failed. In politics he never would try to mislead. At the bar, when he found he was wrong, he was the weakest lawyer I ever saw."
His old friend, Jack Armstrong, of New Salem, whose kind, good wife darned his stockings, made his shirts, and “got him something to eat while he rocked the baby," died not long after Lincoln settled in Springfield. The baby whom he rocked had grown into a stout but profligate young man of twenty-two years,—William D. Armstrong,—and he was arrested for murder. The circumstances were as follows :-At a camp meeting in Mason County several fast young men became intoxicated, and then engaged in a “free fight,” in which one Metzgar was killed. Armstrong and James H. Norris were charged with the murder. Norris was “tried in Mason County, convicted of manslaughter, and sentenced to the penitentiary for the term of eight years.”
“Aunt Hannah," as Lincoln used to call his old benefactress, was plunged into terrible sorrow for her misguided son. She scarcely knew what to do. But, in her great grief, she recalled one who would come to her aid if possible—“the noble, good Abe," who rocked her Billy when he was a baby in the cradle. She sat down and wrote to Lincoln, telling him of her anguish, and beseeching him to help her boy if possible. The appeal brought tears to Lincoln's eyes, and enlisted his whole soul to save the accused for the sake of his mother. Now was the time for him to requite the many kindnesses " Aunt Hannah” showed him under her humble roof. He sat down and wrote to her an affirmative answer, at the same time encouraging her to hope for the best, and asking her to come to Springfield at once. He pledged his services also gratuitously.
Lincoln's letter was like a promise from the skies to “Aunt Hannah.” Her almost broken heart took courage, and away she hastened to Springfield, the benefactress seeking a benefactor in the once poor boy she helped in her humble abode.
“Aunt Hannah” believed that her boy was not guilty of murder—that the fatal blow was not struck by him, but by another—that others sought to fasten the crime upon him because of his bad reputation. At the close of the interview Lincoln was of the same opinion, or, at least, thought there was no positive evidence that her son was the murderer. His heart was so thoroughly moved for the old lady that he resolved 'to save her boy from the gallows if possible. The excitement was intense, and everybody seemed willing to believe that Armstrong killed Metzgar. Lincoln saw that it would be well-nigh impossible to secure an impartial jury in these circumstances, and he said to Mrs. Armstrong,
“We must have the case put off if possible, until the excitement dies away."
“And let my son lie in prison all the while,” Mrs. Armstrong answered, as if horrified by the thought that he should be incarcerated so long.
“There is no other alternative. Better that than to be condemned and executed in advance,” Lincoln rejoined calmly.
“True, very true ; but I'm impatient to see him free again.”
“That is not strange at all, but I am satisfied that the case cannot be conducted so favourably for him now, when the public mind is so excited.”
“I understand you exactly,” responded Mrs. Armstrong, “and shall agree to any decision you make. The case is in your hands, and you will conduct it as you think best.”
“Another thing too,” added Lincoln, “I need more time to unravel the affair. I want to produce evidence that shall vindicate William to the satisfaction of every reasonable man."
Lincoln secured the postponement of the trial until the following spring; and he spent much time, in the interval, in tracing evidence, labouring as assiduously to pay his old debt of gratitude as he would have done under the offer of a fee of five thousand dollars.
The time for the trial arrived, and it drew together a crowd of interested people, nor were they under so much excitement as they were when the case was postponed. The “sober second thought” had moderated their feelings, and they were in a better frame of mind to judge impartially.
The witnesses for the State were introduced ; some to testify of Armstrong's previous vicious character, and others to relate what they saw of the affair on the night of the murder. His accuser testified in the most positive manner that he saw him make the dreadful thrust that felled his victim.
“ Could there be no mistake in regard to the person who struck the blow ?” asked the counsel for the defence.
“None at all: I am confident of that,” replied the witness.
“What time in the evening was it ? ” “Between ten and eleven o'clock.” “Well, about how far between? Was it quarter-past ten or half-past ten o'clock, or still later ? Be more exact, if you please.”
"I should think it might have been about half-past ten o'clock,” answered the witness.
“And you are confident that you saw the prisoner at the bar give the blow ? Be particular in your testimony, and remember that you are under oath.”
“I am; there can be no mistake about it.”
" Then it was not very dark, as there was a moon?”
“No; the moon made it light enough for me to see the whole affair.”
“Be particular on this point. Do I understand you to say that the murder was committed about half-past ten o'clock, and that the moon was shining brightly at the time ?"
“Yes, that is what I testify." “Very well; that is all.”
His principal accuser was thus positive in his testimony, and the sagacious attorney saw enough therein to destroy his evidence.
After the witnesses for the State had been called, the defence introduced a few, to show that young Armstrong had borne a better character than some of the witnesses gave him, and also that his accuser had been his personal enemy, while the murdered young man was his personal friend.
The counsel for the Commonwealth considered that the evidence was too strong against Armstrong to admit of a reasonable doubt of his guilt; therefore, his plea was short and formal.
All eyes were now turned to Lincoln. What could he say for the accused, in the face of such testimony ?