American Boys' Life of William McKinley/Chapter 13


A First Case and its Result—The Miserly Soldier and the Trick he played—How McKinley squared the Account—The Man with the Twisted Leg

For the rest of that day William McKinley locked himself in his "den," thus to deny himself to all possible callers. He read the documents intrusted to him carefully, and then began to study all the details of the case, until he had them at his fingers' ends. Then he took down his volumes on law and went deeper and deeper into the matter. Night came on, and he lit his lamp and continued to study. All the other lawyers in the big building went home and the place became as quiet as a graveyard.

It was two o'clock before he threw down the pen with which he had been making notes on his line of argument. The case was now clear to him, and he was ready, nay eager, to present it to the court. Utterly tired out, he lay down and took a much-needed sleep.

Ten o'clock of the next day found him in court. When the case was called, many were surprised to see him come forward, for they had expected to see Judge Belden appear.

"Humph! McKinley can't handle such a case as that," said one. "He will lose it, sure." Others said nothing, but shook their heads.

Presently the case was called, and the young lawyer arose and presented his argument. It was so clear and forceful that everybody was surprised. At a glance the case had appeared very much mixed up, now McKinley straightened out every difficulty, and showed plainly that his client was in the right and ought to have a decision in his favor. Then the papers were submitted, and all waited for the result.

It was not long in coming. The decision was in McKinley's favor, and the wording of the paper showed that the judge sitting in the case fully agreed with the young lawyer in every point he had raised.

It was a great triumph, and McKinley went back to his office in a happy frame of mind. Not long after that Judge Belden came in, smiling broadly.

"They tell me you won it, after all," he said.

"We won, yes, sir," was the answer, modestly delivered.

"Nonsense, McKinley, it was you won it and nobody else," cried the older lawyer. "Do you know what I thought when I left you? I thought, sir, that it was next to a hopeless case,—that it had gotten into a snarl that couldn't be straightened out. Here is your fee."

The judge handed out twenty-five dollars—more cash than the young lawyer had seen in several weeks. McKinley hesitated about accepting it.

"You are sure my services are worth that much?" he questioned.

"Yes, sir, they were worth every cent of it. Take it, and if I need outside help again, you can rest assured that I shall come to you first."

This important case broke the ice, and soon McKinley began to pick up a fair practice. Among the first to patronize him were several old soldiers. For some of these comrades of the battlefield the young lawyer worked for next to nothing, just to help them along. Hearing of this, another soldier who was very well-to-do but also very miserly, came to McKinley for advice.

"I own a little house out in the country," he said. "There is a matter of eighty dollars due me for rent. I can't afford to spend much on going to law. How can I get my money?"

"Is the man who is indebted to you worth anything?" asked McKinley.

"Oh, yes, he is worth a good deal."

"Then I'll get the money for you."

"But it will cost a good deal," whined the miser. "Can't you get it for me without going to law?"

"I will try it."

So the young lawyer wrote a stiff letter to the man in the country, stating that he must pay at once or he would be sued. A short correspondence ensued, and presently the man paid up in full. When the miserly old soldier came to get the amount he said he hoped the lawyer wouldn't charge him much for the collection, for he needed the rent money to live on.

"If that's the case, you need only pay me my expenses," answered McKinley, and footed them up, a total of less than a dollar. The miserly soldier expressed himself as being very thankful and went away chuckling, no doubt, in his sleeve over the way he had outwitted McKinley.

But the incident was not yet finished. Shortly after that time the young lawyer, in looking up some mortgage records, discovered that the old soldier owned considerable property and also several first-class mortgages. It chagrined him greatly to think how he had been deceived, but he kept the matter to himself.

One day the old soldier got into a legal difficulty over one of the mortgages he held. He wanted McKinley' s aid, but hated to go to the young lawyer about it, thinking his seeming poverty would be exposed as a sham. However, at last he went to the young lawyer and stated the case.

"I know you can win this case," said he. "And I suppose you'll do it very reasonably for me."

"I will look the case over first and see what it's about," was the brief reply.

The young lawyer did look the case over, and the next day offered his services to the opposite side, should the case be brought to court. At this the miserly old soldier was furious.

"You deceived me!" he cried. "You said you would take the case for me."

"Not at all. I said I would look the case over," answered McKinley.

"I will get another lawyer, who is much smarter than you," roared the unreasonable man.

"You can do as you please about that," was the calm answer, "only be sure and pay the other lawyer a fair fee."

The old soldier did get another lawyer, a man with whom McKinley happened to be well acquainted. Just before the trial the two lawyers met and passed a few words about the case.

"Whether you win or lose, be sure to make your client pay you fairly for your services," cautioned McKinley, and then told of what had before occurred. The other listened attentively to the story, and thanked his legal rival for the information.

The miserly old soldier had really a poor case, and McKinley won the suit with little trouble, much to the satisfaction of the man who had engaged him. Shortly after that he met the counsel for the losing party.

"I am glad that you told me what manner of man my client was," said the other lawyer. "As soon as I saw how poor his case really was, and heard how he had treated you, I made him pay me a retainer almost equal to my whole bill for services. He was furious when the case was lost, and he wanted me to pay back the money. He called me a swindler, and I couldn't shut him up until I threatened to sue him for blackmail. Then he sneaked off scared to death. I want nothing more to do with such a man."

"Nor do I," answered McKinley.

As the days slipped by, Judge Belden kept his eyes on the young lawyer, and presently placed another case in his hands. Again the rising young advocate did his best, and won the suit.

"You are just the young man I am looking for," said the judge. "How would you like to go into partnership with me?"

"I'd like that very well—if I am equal to it," was the quick answer, and shortly after that a partnership was formed which continued until the able judge's death.

The forming of this partnership increased McKinley's income, but it likewise increased his work, until it was said that he was one of the busiest lawyers in Stark County. He was conscientious to the last degree, and had the fullest confidence of all who placed their cases in his hands. Said one merchant of him:—

"During his law career McKinley and his partner took up three cases for our firm. They won two and lost the other. At first we were angry at losing that last case, but looking back, I am satisfied that McKinley did all that any lawyer could do, and more than many would do. A similar case was tried in Philadelphia by the leading lawyers of that city and fell through just as ours did."

As a general thing law cases make rather dry reading, but there was one case which McKinley tried which was full of humor. A doctor was sued for malpractice, his patient claiming that the physician had set his broken leg in such a fashion that the limb was bow-legged to the point of positive deformity.

The doctor was well known, and when the case came to trial, the court-room was crowded. The plaintiff's lawyer made a long argument, stating that previous to the time when his client had injured his limb the leg had been perfectly straight, and that it would now be straight if it had been properly set, but that the doctor had performed an operation which had done more harm than good, and left the man in such a condition that he was the laughing-stock of the whole community. Heavy damages were demanded, and the jury could not do anything but give the poor, suffering plaintiff his just due.

"I will now have my client show the twisted limb," continued the lawyer, and had the man roll up his trouser leg. "There, did you ever see anything more frightful? It is an outrage, positively an outrage!" he cried loudly. "If my client had been rich, this would never have happened, but as he was poor, he was treated worse than a dog in this matter. Gentlemen of the jury, he asks for justice at your hands, and I know you will not deny it to him."

Judge and jury looked at the twisted limb, and saw that it was certainly in a frightfully bowed shape. Then the jurymen looked at each other. Plainly it was a clear case, and the doctor must suffer for it.

But before coming to the trial McKinley had made several inquiries about the plaintiff, and now when the man was on the stand he looked him over with great care. When it came his turn to speak, he turned to the judge.

"May it please your honor, I would like to have the plaintiff bare his other leg," he said.

"No! no!" cried the opposing lawyer. "I object."

At this the judge looked up in curiosity.

"Upon what grounds?" he asked.

"Upon the grounds that the other leg is not in the case. We are suing for damages on the leg that was twisted out of shape by the doctor."

"I cannot allow the objection," said the judge, who perhaps began to see the point. "The plaintiff will show the other limb, as the defendant demands."

The man tried to demur, and wanted to leave the witness chair. But the judge was stern, and in the end the other limb was exposed to view,—and was found to be even more bowed than that which had been set!

A long and loud laugh went up, which the judge found himself unable to suppress; indeed, he himself laughed behind his handkerchief. But he pounded for silence, and when it was restored, McKinley spoke:—

"Your honor, I move this case against my client be dismissed," he said gravely. "And I would suggest," he went on slowly and pointedly, "that the dismissal be accompanied by a recommendation to the plaintiff to have his other leg broken and set by our worthy doctor, who has already done so much to improve on nature."

At this another laugh went up, lasting longer than the other. The case was dismissed, and the bow-legged man left the court-room never to reappear.