Abraham Lincoln: A story and a Play/Scene Three
Years have passed by; the backwoods boy
Has grown to manhood, now, forsooth,
No longer poor, with fame unearned,
But Lincoln the lawyer, great and learned,
Wise in his craft, given honor and praise,
Yet never forgetting the friends of old days.
Place,—A court room in Beardstown, Illinois.
Judge, jury, Lawyer Lincoln, William Armstrong, accused of murder, witnesses, crowd of on-lookers.
Crowd (excitedly talking together),—Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
Man In The Crowd,—Look at Armstrong's face. He turns away his eyes. Of course he is guilty.
Second Man,—But as one of the witnesses shows, Metzger might have been hit by the yoke on his oxen. That is, if he got in the way and stumbled.
Crowd (laughing),—Ha, ha, ha! But the last witness! Of course he is guilty.
Judge,—Order! Will the court please come to order? William Armstrong, you may speak in your own defense.
Armstrong (speaking to the judge),—I am charged with a terrible deed. I am innocent, sir, indeed I am. It is true that I struck Metzger in anger. I struck him with my fist. But the blow was not a hard one. It did not harm. I am sure of it.
Crowd (jeering),—Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
Judge,—Let the last witness speak.
Witness,—I saw Armstrong and Metzger when they were quarrelling together that last night. Armstrong pounded Metzger in the face with a sling shot which he had prepared with great care. That settled Metzger.
Lincoln,—At what time did this happen?
Witness,—About eleven o'clock at night.
Lincoln,—How could you see so clearly at that time of night?
Witness (promptly),—By the light of the moon.
Lincoln,—Was there light enough to see everything that happened?
Witness,—The moon was about in the same place as the sun would be at ten o'clock in the morning, and nearly full.
Lincoln (turning to an officer of the court),—Bring me an almanac.
Officer (coming forward and placing an almanac in Lincoln's hand),—Here it is, sir.
Lincoln (opening the almanac and speaking very slowly),—This almanac shows that at the time you speak, the moon was not shining. There was utter darkness. What you have said, then, cannot be true.
Crowd (excitedly),—Innocent! Innocent! poor boy! Of course he's innocent.
Lincoln,—Gentlemen of the jury, I came here to-day to defend this young man, William Armstrong, not for pay, but because I owe a great debt to his parents. They were kind to me when I was poor, and had but few friends. The father of this boy who has been unjustly accused, has gone to his long rest. His mother, now a weak, gray-haired old woman, is broken down with sorrow. But, years ago, when young and happy, these two welcomed me to their humble log cabin. They were poor, but they gladly shared what they had with the homeless boy who came to their door. They were father and mother to me. Now it is my privilege to plead for the life of their own son, whom I once rocked in his cradle while his gentle mother mended my ragged clothing.
Gentlemen of the jury, think of this poor boy's mother. Think also how young he is, and how unjustly he has been accused. Decide this case as you think it right and just, bearing in mind, that by this almanac, the words of the last witness are proved to be untrue.
(The jury wipe tears from their eyes. Sobs are heard in the crowd.)
Judge (turning to the jury),—Gentlemen, you have heard the case. We wait for your decision. (The jury go out of the room, but return very shortly.)
Judge (speaking to the jury),—Gentlemen ot the jury, what is your decision?
Foreman Of The Jury (handing paper to the judge),—Guilty, or not guilty?
Judge (reading the paper),—Not guilty! Release the prisoner at the bar.
(The crowd rises. Talking together and laughing, they leave the court-room.)
Hannah Armstrong, the boy's mother, enters by another door, shaking with excitement, and rushes towards Lincoln, after the jury have all shaken hands with her.
Lincoln (tears running down his cheeks),—Hannah, what did I tell you? The boy is as free as I said that he should be, and I pray to God that he may be a good boy hereafter, and that this may prove in the end to be a good lesson to him and to others.
Hannah,—May God reward you as you deserve, Mr. Lincoln. You have a great heart, as well as a wise head. May you live to do great deeds for your country.