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- Jane Cable - 4/52 -
but there was a cruel, savage light in their depths. The nose and mouth were clean-cut and pitiless in their very symmetry. Shortly after leaving college to hang out his shingle, he had married the daughter of a minister. For two years her sweet influence kept his efforts along the righteous path, but he writhed beneath the yoke of poverty. His pride suffered because he was unable to provide her with more of the luxuries of life; in his selfish way, he loved her. Failure to advance made him surly and ill-tempered, despite her amiable efforts to lighten the shadows around their little home. When the baby boy was born to them, and she suffered more and more from the unkindness of privation, James Bansemer, by nature an aggressor, threw off restraint and plunged into the traffic that soon made him infamously successful. She died, however, before the taint of his duplicity touched her, and he, even in his grief, felt thankful that she never was to know the truth.
At this time Bansemer lived in comfort at one of the middle-class boarding houses uptown, and the boy was just leaving the kindergarten for a private school. Bansemer's calloused heart had one tender chamber, and in it dwelt the little lad with the fair hair and grey eyes of the woman who had died.
Late one November afternoon just before Bansemer put on his light topcoat to leave the office for the day, Droom tapped on the glass panel of the door to his private office. Usually, the clerk communicated with him by signal--a floor button by which he could acquaint his master with much that he ought to know, and the visitor in the outer office would be none the wiser. The occasions were rare when he went so far as to tap on the door. Bansemer was puzzled, and stealthily listened for sounds from the other side. Suddenly, there came to his ears the voices of women, mingled with Broom's suppressed but always raucous tones.
Bansemer opened the door; looking into the outer office, he saw Droom swaying before two women, rubbing his hands and smiling. One of the women carried a small babe in her arms. Neither she nor her companion seemed quite at ease in the presence of the lank guardian of the outer office.
"Lady to see you!" announced Droom. The shrewd, fearless genius of the inner room glanced up quickly and met the prolonged, uncanny gaze of his clerk; unwillingly, his eyes fell.
"Confound it, Lias! will you ever quit looking at me like that! There's something positively creepy in that stare of yours!"
"Lady to see you!" repeated the clerk, shifting about uneasily, and then gliding away to take his customary look at the long row of books in the wall cases. He had performed this act a dozen times a day for more than five years; the habit had become so strong that chains could not have restrained him. It was what he considered a graceful way of dropping out of notice, at the same time giving the impression that he was constantly busy.
"Are you Mr. Bansemer?" asked the woman with the babe in her arms, as he crossed into the outer office.
For a moment Bansemer purposely remained absorbed in the contemplation of his finger nails; then he shot a sudden comprehensive glance which took in the young woman, her burden and all the supposed conditions. There was no doubt in his mind that here was another "paternity case," as he catalogued them in his big, black book.
"I am," he replied shortly, for he usually made short, quick work of such cases. There was not much money in them at best. They spring from the lower and poorer classes. The rich ones who are at fault in such matters never permit them to go to the point where a lawyer is consulted. "Would you mind coming in to-morrow? I'm just leaving for the day."
"It will take but a few minutes, sir, and it would be very hard for me to get away again to-morrow," said the young woman nervously. "I'm a governess in a family 'way uptown and my days are not very free."
"Is this your baby?" asked Bansemer, more interested. The word governess appealed to him; it meant that she had to do with wealthy people, at least.
"No--that is--well, not exactly," she replied confusedly. The lawyer looked at her so sharply that she flinched under his gaze. A kidnapper, thought he, with the quick cunning of one who deals in stratagems. Instinctively he looked about as if to make sure that there were no unnecessary witnesses to share the secret.
"Come into this room," said he suddenly. "Both of you. See that we are not disturbed," he added, to Droom. "I think I can give you a few minutes, madam, and perhaps some very good advice. Be seated," he went on, closing the door after them. His eyes rested on Broom's face for an instant as the door closed, and he saw a particularly irritating grin struggling on his thin lips. "Now, what is it? Be as brief as possible, please. I'm in quite a hurry."
It occurred to him at this juncture that the young woman was not particularly distressed. Instead, her rather pretty face was full of eagerness and there was a certain lightness in her manner that puzzled him for the moment. Her companion was the older of the two and quite as prepossessing. Both were neatly dressed and both looked as though they were or had been bread-winners. If they had a secret, it was now quite evident to this shrewd, quick thinker that it was not a dark one. In truth, he was beginning to feel that something mischievous lurked in the attitude of the two visitors.
"I want to ask how a person has to proceed to adopt a baby," was the blunt and surprising remark that came from the one who held the infant. Bansemer felt himself getting angry.
"Who wants to adopt it?" he asked shortly.
"I do, of course," she answered, so readily that the lawyer stared. He scanned her from head to foot, critically; her face reddened perceptibly. It surprised him to find that she was more than merely good-looking; she was positively attractive!
"Are you a married woman?" he demanded.
"Yes," she answered, with a furtive glance at her companion. "This is my sister," she added.
"I see. Where is your husband?"
"He is at home--or rather, at his mother's home. We are living there now."
"I thought you said you were a governess?"
"That doesn't prevent me from having a home, does it?" she explained easily. "I'm not a nurse, you know."
"This isn't your child, then?" he asked impatiently.
"I don't know whose child it is." There was a new softness in her voice that made him look hard at her while she passed a hand tenderly over the sleeping babe. "She comes from a foundling's home, sir."
"You cannot adopt a child unless supported by some authority," he said. "How does she happen to be in your possession; and what papers have you from the foundling's home to show that the authorities are willing that you should have her? There is a lot of red tape about such matters, madam."
"I thought perhaps you could manage it for me, Mr. Bansemer," she said, plaintively. "They say you never fail at anything you undertake." He was not sure there was a compliment in her remark, so he treated it with indifference.
"I'm afraid I can't help you." The tone was final.
"Can't you tell me how I'll have to proceed? I must adopt the child, sir, one way or another." Her manner was more subdued and there was a touch of supplication in her voice.
"Oh, you go into the proper court and make application, that's all," he volunteered carelessly. "The judge will do the rest. Does your husband approve of the plans?"
"He doesn't know anything about it?"
"I can't tell him; it would spoil everything."
"My dear madam, I don't believe I understand you quite clearly. You want to adopt the child and keep the matter dark so far as your husband is concerned? May I inquire the reason?" Bansemer, naturally, was interested by this time.
"If you have time to listen, I'd like to tell you how it all comes about. It won't take long. I want someone to tell me just what to do and I'll pay for the advice, if it isn't too expensive. I'm very poor, Mr. Bansemer; perhaps you won't care to heip me after you know that I can't afford to pay very much."
"We'll see about that later," he said brusquely; "go ahead with the story."
The young woman hesitated, glanced nervously at her sister as if for support, and finally faced the expectant lawyer with a flash of determination in her dark eyes. As she proceeded, Bansemer silently and somewhat disdainfully made a study of the speaker. He concluded that she was scarcely of common origin and was the possessor of a superficial education that had been enlarged by conceitedness; furthermore, she was a person of selfish instincts, but without the usual cruel impulses. There was little if any sign of true refinement in the features, and yet, there was a strange strength of purpose that puzzled him. As her story progressed, he solved the puzzle. She had the strength to carry out a purpose that might
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