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professional knowledge. Thrall knew him-
self no wiser than the child.

" I don't know," he said simply, a genu-
ine distress in his voice. Lawyer that he
was, — and hardened, as a lawyer, to it^ fre-
quent recurrence, — it nevertheless seemed
to him a monstrous thing that a woman

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could thus voluntarily give up her child.
There were women in the world who would
go down on their knees in thankfulness to
God for a gift this woman was ready to
toss lightly to one side, like the fan she
was through toying with. There was his
own wife. Thrall recalled her, with a
strong rush of tenderness, as he had looked
back upon her from the door —the unac-
customed color in her cheeks, the sweet
wistfulness of her eyes.

" Is this all ? " he asked mechanically
and from mere force of habit Not that he
expected his clients had told him all ; edu-
cated or ignorant, guilty or not guilty,
there was invariably something withheld,
—but all that they would. The child
looked conscience-stricken. Clearly it was
not all. Thrall sat back in his chair and
waited. A big and painful secret was evi-
dently struggling for utterance.

By and by it came. Did n*t it some-
times happen that people got divorces
because somebody had done wrong— be-
cause somebody had been thinking about
somebody else than the somebody that
belonged? That was the way with her
papa. It had been— the child's voice sank
to an awed whisper— a lady with very
yellow hair, that was n't yellow at all, really,
her mama said. Now, Patricia, too, had
been thinking of a lady— she made the
confession with downcast eyes and shamed,
throbbing cheeks— a very beautiful lady,
and she had been fearing that she loved
the lady more than she loved her own

"Ah?" Thrall interjected, in helpful
interrogation, as the child paused, appa-
rently overwhelmed by the magnitude of
her crime.

The little girl caught her breath and
went on hurriedly, with a soft rush of
words, as if she were afraid her courage
might fail her before the story was out.
It was not the lady's fault, she assured
him anxiously. The lady did not know.
But it was impossible not to love her,
she had such beautiful eyes I And such
shiny, crinkly hair I And a smile— with

The child came to another pause, and
glanced shyly up into the lawyer's face.
It was a kind face and grave, as became
one listening to a weighty secret. But
there was a faint— the faintest flicker of
amusement in the eves.

" Where did you first see the lady ? " he
asked her, for the clearer establishing of

The child answered artlessly.

She had seen her first at the lawyer-
man's office. It was a very long time ago
—as much as a year. She had roses on
her hat.

" It was in the spring," said Thrall, with
a flash of recollection. " Well ? "

Afterward she had seen the lady in the
lady's own house. Patricia had never been
in the lady's house before— she meant, she
corrected herself with an air of fright, that
she had not been in the house then ; but
she could look down into it from her nur-
sery window. And in the evening, when
the lamp was lighted,— the child's eyes
swept with unconscious incrimination to
the fascinating red globe,— she could see
the lady very well. There was a cat, with
a ribbon on its neck, that sat sometimes on
the lady's lap, but never any little girl. It
had begun— the wrong of it— with Patri-
cia's thinking she would like to sit on the
lady's lap and be her little girl. Patricia's
mother did n't hold her very often ; she
was afraid of being mussed. But it had
come to Patricia that the lady would n't
mind being mussed. And so she had imag-
ined she was the lady's little girl, which
was very wrong, very wicked ; but she had
been so lonely, and the lady had looked
lonely, too, in spite of the cat with the
ribbon on its collar and the red lamp. It
was not wrong to love the lady, she ex-
plained, but to imagine herself the lady's
little girl was to put the lady in her mama's
place. She did not love the lady as she
loved her mama. Once she thought she
did— until she heard Thomas and Irene
talk ; but she knew then that she never had
loved, and never could love, anybody as
she loved her own mama.

The great tears were welling from the
child's eyes when she finished her story-
Thrall wheeled abruptly to the window to
hide the mist in his own, and stood, with
his back to the Morris chair, looking down
into the darkening street. The child
touched him profoundly with her odd
mixture of innocency and worldly shrewd-
ness that hit near the truth ; for what is at
bottom of most divorces save the putting
of somebody into the place that ought to
have been sacred to another ? He felt a
curious sense of personal responsibOitT,

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partly because of his own share in the
situation, partly that he recognized the in-
adequacy of the law he represented to
deal with the abuses which spring from its
own system. It struck him with sudden
shame that the opposing sides in this game
at law had played with reckless disregard
of the fact that the ball struck between
them was the sweetest and tenderest of all
sentient creatures, — a little child, — and
with still deeper shame that the law itself,
which vaunts its protection of the father-
less and the oppressed, should have such
small tenderness for the orphans of its
own making, the oppressed of its own

He turned suddenly from the window
and came back to the child. This was no
case for the court ; the court's verdict was
recorded. What if he appeal it to the
mother's heart and rest it there ?

** I will do what I can," he said kindly,
but in a tone of finality. He did not sit
down again, and the child understood that
she was to go. She closed the picture-book
and laid it carefully on the table. Then
she rose.

" Thank you very much," she said ear-
nestly. There was a sweet, shy gratitude
in her wet eyes. Involuntarily Thrall
stooped ; but he remembered in the nick of
time that this was a client, not a little girl,
and straightened.

" I am very glad to be of service," he
assured her. If he had entertained any
doubt of the professional character of the
call, it was dispelled at the door, where she
extracted a five-dollar gold piece from a
bright little purse of silver beads, and
gravely proffered it.

" If it should cost more than this," she
said, with manifest anxiety, " I have more
money in the bank ; only I can't get it of

Thrall hesitated a minute, then he took
the gold piece.

"As a retainer," he said, smiling.

He saw the child to the door, and
bowed her out with grave politeness. When
he came back to the library he found his
wife sitting where the child had sat, the
picture-book on her knees. A flash of
humor lightened the gravity of his eyes.
He came around behind her and rumpled
her hair with an affectionate hand.

"Renewing your youth, Cecily?" he
asked her.

She looked up with a Httle telltale flush
and a wistful smile.

" I was trying to imagine which pictures
she liked best," she told him.

Thrall smothered a laugh.

"Oh, you were, were you?" he said.
" Well, I guess there 's no doubt of your

"My compHcity?" echoed his wife,

Thrall laughed again.

" I *m not at all sure that it is n't a pro-
fessional secret," he told her. " Neverthe-
less, as you seem to be implicated, I think
you ought to know." And, leaning over
her chair, looking deep into her eyes, he
watched their tears spring, as, with the rare
blending of humor and pathos that made
a jury one with him, he told the little story.
He was sure of his listener; he knew what
chords to touch ; he made her smile even
while the tears sparkled in her eyes; yet
under both smiles and tears he read a
deepening question— a sort of passionate
protest against the ruling of the Supreme
Judge who had given this other woman,
who would not live with her husband, a
lovely child to drag through the mire of
divorce courts. He wondered if he could
reverse his plea and make the mother feel
with the childless woman. In a flash he
had his argument. But when she asked,
with curiously intimate interest, as if the
case nearly touched her, "What are you
going to do about it, Dan ? " he tiwned
the question professionally away from the

"Oh, I shall defend you," he assured
her humorously. "I *m retained by the

But his first listener was possessed of
rather more than usual feminine intuition ;
it approached legal perspicacity and came,
no doubt, of close association with the
legal mind. She measured him with re-
flective eyes.

"If you should say to that woman what
you have just said to me," she suggested,
"what do you suppose the effect would

It was said of Thrall by his craft that
no one had ever taken him unawares. His
hand went to his beard in a habitual ner-
vous gesture of dubitation.

" I don't know," he answered, with pro-
foimd seriousness. " I 'm inclined to think
that she would change lawyers."

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Mrs. Seymour waited with visible impa-
tience. The lawyer's summons had come
at an unwelcome time : just when, in fact,
her tailor and her dressmaker were halving
her attention. Had it not been for a fear
that her late husband was somehow con-
nected with the summons, she would not
have obeyed it so promptly; but certain
dark threats of his that continued to in-
habit her memory had brought her carriage
at the appointed hour to the attorney's
door. Nevertheless, as she sat in the wait-
ing-room, she expended her impatience in
a mental diatribe on the presumption of
men of law. Time had been when a lawyer
was really your man of business and waited
deferentially upon you in your own home
—at least she had read of such in Dick-
ens, or was it Scott?— a sleek, black-
garbed, learned man that glided as mys-
teriously as a Jesuit in and out of stately
English houses. But nowadays the roles
were exchanged : banker or manufacturer,
or wife of either, you were bid to the
lawyer's office with as little ceremony as
you ordered about your servants. Her own
summons had been brief, pointed, and
peremptory :

Dear Madam : Please call at my office to-
day, between four and five, on a matter of im-

DanielJ, ThralL

She was still revolving the summons and
wondering what it might presage when the
client with whom the attorney had been
closeted left the office and her own turn
came. She went in with a little more than
her usual dignity, because she had just
been meditating upon the contrast between
the past and the present status of the pro-

She sank into the client's chair oppo-
site the window and lifted inquiring eyes.
It struck the lawyer forcibly that they
were very like her daughter's, only older,

" You wished to see me ? " she began,
with haughty tolerance.

The man of law bowed and answered
with equal tolerance— the amused toler-
ance of conscious mental superiority.

"I wish to see you—" he began, then
checked himself. He was repeating her
daughter's words with almost as painful a

gravity. Well, according to his wife, there
might be a worse preface. He went on
with them, smiling slightly,— "about a

The woman who faced him suddenly
forgot her loftiness in astonishment. Was
the man mad ?

" I don't understand you," she said.

" About a divorce," the lawyer repeated,
still smiling with his lips, while his eyes,
alert and smileless, looked her through,
" that I am requested not to get."

Mrs. Seymour's mystification was com-

" I shall have to ask you to explain,"
she stammered, she knew not what fear
choking her voice. The lawyer went on

" The divorce, should it take place, will
touch you closely I may as well tell you,
to begin with, that in case of any action I
am already retained by the respondent."

A quick alarm shone in the woman's
eyes. Thrall observed it with a glimmer
of satisfaction in his own.

" You can't mean that my divorce is n't
legal," she said blankly. Of course not,
yet what else could he mean? She had
feared from the first that this was some
new move of Jack Seymoiur*s. She was
certain of it now.

The lawyer allayed her anxiety by a
slight negative movement of his head.

" In point of law, Mrs. Seymour," he
assured her, bearing slightly on the word
" law," " it is perfectly correct."

A little embarrassed pink crept up into
her cheeks. She had long suspected that
her lawyer had scant respect for divorcees ;
he made her feel it now, and she was too
shaken by her fright of the minute before
to resent that slight, stinging emphasis on.
the moral aspect of her action. She was
constrained to an apology.

" He was such a brute," she murmured.

Thrall assented, or appeared to assent.
He nodded slightly ; but that may mean
with a lawyer that he has taken note of
your remark and reserved his decision.
Forthwith he proceeded to business.

"Mrs. Seymour," he said, "your little
daughter came to me last night in great
distress." He leaned over the table be-
tween them, his voice softened, and his
keen eyes lost their uncompromising sharp-
ness. " She imagines that you are about to
procure a divorce from her."

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Mrs. Seymour stared ; then she burst into
a little scream of laughter.

" Pat ! " she exclaimed, on a high note
of relief. " What a ridiculous idea ! "

Apparently the attorney had not found
it so. He did not laugh with her. The
profound gravity of his countenance
hushed the woman's mirth.

" If you will recall your decree of di-
vorce," he said, " you will remember that
the custody of your daughter was given
you conditionally."

The woman looked at him with dismay.
It was impossible to escape his conclusion.
He had meant, though he had not said,
that if she followed her own free will, if
she fulfilled that partial promise of a night
or so ago to the man who had sat beside
her in die carriage on the too short drive
home from the Burton-Grange assembly,
she was voluntarily putting her child away.
The idea was, of coiu-se, as she had said,
ridicidous ; and yet-— She sat uneasily, her
self-poise for the moment gone.

" But that was not what I wanted," she
objected weakly, under the necessity of
speech. " I wanted to keep the child. It
was Mr. Seymoiu^s lawyers who forced
this other— this preposterous arrangement
I don't know what they were afraid of,"
she concluded, with a little air of bravado.

Thrall offered no opinion. He thrummed
the table lightly with expressive finger-tips.

" You have the right of choice," he re-
minded her.

She made a gesture, as if she would ex-
cuse herself from it.

"What does it amount to? The law
gives with one hand and takes back with
the other. It says I am free, but if I use
my freedom it takes my child away."

She faced him in petty triumph. She
had been quick to see the law's inconsis-
tency and to shelter her selfishness behind
it. But there was something in the strong,
deeply lined countenance into which she
looked that belittled her argument. She
awaited its refutation with a swift passing
of assurance, a premonition of defeat.

Thrall did not answer for a minute. He
was balancing his estimate of the woman
against her own testimony. Selfish to the
core of her, nothing was so likely to touch
her as an appeal to that same selfishness.
It was without much hope, but from a
strong sense of duty, that he forced her to
confront the higher issue.

"It amounts to exactly this," he said,
with the sharp definiteness of a man ac-
customed to plain statement, " that you are
a free moral agent. No decree of any
court can set aside that fact. You are at
liberty to elect your own course — to re-
main a mother or to become again a wife ;
but in choosing you cannot escape the
obligation that has been given you with
your daughter— or, Mrs. Seymour, the
penalty for its non-fulfilment."

Mrs. Seymour gave a little nervous
shudder of apprehension. The lawyer's
manner was so exactly that of a judge
charging a jury ; it seemed to throw upon
her an immense burden of responsibility.
Panic seized her— sudden fear of him,
coupled with trembling for the man in the
carriage. She lifted eyes of entreaty.

" In deciding for yourself," he went on
inexorably, " you will be compelled to re-
member that, by the peculiar circumstances
of the case, you are deciding also for one
who has not, legally considered, the right
of choice. Have you ever thought what
it would mean to your child to be deprived
of her mother ? "

Mrs. Seymour had not thought. It was
a painful thing to think about, and she
hated pain. It had always seemed to her
that she would have chance enough to
think about it when the time really came.
Yet when the time came there would be
something else to think of. The lawyer
put it plainly.

"Have you ever asked yourself what
she will ask of you in the moment of
parting ? What explanation can you give
that will satisfy her ? How are you going
to make this separation appear to her any
different from your separation from her

Mrs. Seymour did not know. The lawyer
had dealt his questions with the sharp
rapidity of so many blows. Before she
could rally from the one, she had felt the
force of another. In the confusion of her
mind one thing only was clear — that she
could not answer unto her child. She
could see the wide blue eyes fixed in re-
proachful wonder on her own. She could
hear the innocent question : " But why,
mama, should you want anybody to love
you better than me ? " She fell back in
utter rout on her first position.

"But it is so absurd," she faltered— "a
divorce from a child ! "

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The lawyer sat forward again and rested
his elbow on the table. There was some-
thing compelling in the glance that
searched her face. It held her gaze fas-

" What would you call it ? " he asktd',
with swift directness.

Mrs. Seymour was not sure. She blun-
dered like a school-girl over her definition.
It was really, she supposed, in some sort
a separation— an enforced separation, for
which the law, not herself, wasTesponsible.

" Oh ! A legal separation ! '* he observed
with irony.

The woman sat aghast.

" I don't see how she ever thought of
it! ** she exclaimed.

Thrall did not enlighten her. He went
on as if there had been no interruption.

"It will be hard to explain," he said
thoughtfully, as though he were arguing
the matter with himself; "in fact, I should
not wish "—strong repugnance to a pos-
sible future duty spoke in his voice— "to
try to explain it to her. She will not
understand, because she knows that she
never has loved and never could"— the
hard legal tone softened unconsciously
under the childish words— "love anybody
as she loves her own mother. Her loyalty
expects of you a like loyalty. You would
not, I presume, have her told that you
love her less."

" Oh, no, no ! " said the mother, hastily,
a little catch of tears in her voice. The
perspective of the man in the carriage was
growing dim, just as she had known it
would. Was it that the personality of the
man before her was so much the stronger,
the more full of color? Or was it that
Pat, poor, funny, distressed little Pat,
really held first place in her heart ?

" Mrs. Seymour ! " There was an abrupt
change in the lawyer's manner. He sat
where he had been sitting ever since she
had come into the room, but his voice
sounded less remote, as if the distance be-
tween them had all at once lessened. From
being brusque and formal, it became gentle
and almost friendly. He touched a new
theme with a note of persuasiveness.
"There is yet another person than the
motherless child to be considered, and
that is—" he held the words an instant
before he let them fall, righteously, yet in
kindness—" the woman who has repudiated
her obligation and incurred its just penalty.

of which she cannot complain that it was
not 'so nominated in the bond.' You
don't know, because you have not yet
experienced her lack, what a childless
woman feels. However she may try to
disguise it from those who love her, — from
herself, even,— she is always listening for a
step that never comes, a little voice that
is always silent. She sees in a hundred
places here and there about her house the
child that is not; she imagines it at its
play, poring- over a picture-book, perhaps,
or resting in her arms, its head against her
breast. Or, if she has sometime been a
mother, she sees the child that has been
—a little presence, no longer real, which
haunts her house. She sees it just where
she was used to see her, on this chair, by
that window, on those stairs ; but she can-
not clasp that evasive little ghost to her
breast. It is less real than the empty
nursery, the toys that are no longer played
with, the doll without a mother. She can
shut the door on the empty room, it is
true ; but her heart is not the less empty.
No other love whatsoever can fill her

Thrall ended with deep conviction, to
which the woman thrilled. She had lis-
tened to him in the court-room, been swayed
with the crowd around her by the power
of his eloquence; but this appeal, both
personal and intimate, was to herself alone
as judge and jury to decide whether the
mother should be childless, the child
motherless. Sympathy with herself and
with Pat— poor, lovelorn little Pat-
welled in her breast. That was how it
would be, she knew. She would always
be seeing the child where she was not,
always listening for the light, tripping little
step, the high, sweet voice. And the doll
without a mother would forever stare re-
proachfully up at her from the nursery
floor. Mrs. Seymour caught her breath
sharply in an unmistakable sob.

Thrall rose abruptly. He was wont to
curtail an interview if a woman cried.

"You think this over," he said, in his
usual curt legal manner, " and let me know
in a couple of days, so that I can com-
municate with my client," — a mirthful
flash showed for an instant in his eyes,—
" or communicate with her yourself, Mrs.

He swept the papers on the table before
him up under his hand, and bowed his

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Drawn by Albert Sterner. Ilalf-toDe plate eut^raved by C. W. Chadwick


client out. She went in a little flurry of
smiles and tears. He walked over to the
window and watched her carriage down
the street, a strong satisfaction on his face.
Then he put on his hat and went home to
his wife.

She was sitting near the red lamp in the
library, bending over some needlework,
her sweet face a little sober. Thrall thought.
He came up to her and tossed a gold piece
into her lap, then flung himself into the
Morris chair with the abandon of a man
who is always tired.

" I think it must belong to you," he said,
in answer to her look of astonishment. "It
has been burning my pocket."

" A fee you wish you had n't taken ? "
she inquired of him, dubiously.

"Oh, I earned it," he reassured her —
" with your help. It came from my young-
est client."

A pleased interest brightened his wife's

" I was just thinking of th^t little girl,"
she told him. " Did you talk to her mother ?
What did you say ? "

Thrall turned his face for an instant
toward the window.

"I should think," he suggested, with
humorous point, " that you would be more
interested in learning what sA^ said."

She threw him a proud smile, in which
there was not a little wifely wisdom. As
if she should not know from what he said !
But she forbore to answer him. After a
little, as he sat apparently absorbed in
thought, she got up and went over to the
window and stood looking out between the
curtains, tapping absently with the gold
piece against the pane. There was a light
high up in the Seymour house. Behind
the bars of the nursery window a golden-
haired woman— it had always been a
white-capped nurse before — was putting
the child to bed. By and by the woman
came over to the window, the child in her
arms, a little billowy mass of lace and
muslin and tumbled yellow curls, and sat
down, rocking gently to and fro like a
very young mother hushing her baby to

As Mrs. Thrall watched, two drowsy

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Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Barton) RendleThe Century → online text (page 91 of 120)