My meeting with Captain Delacroix does not go as expected. He assures me that France’s demand for the return of Katie and Ada Mae is not a frivolous claim. “Monsieur Myer, my government has strong feelings about the sovereignty of the nation and the sanctity of our laws. My instructions are to oppose any attempt you contemplate that does not coincide with our demands.”
“Captain Delacroix, do you think that any court in my country will allow another country to take two of our citizens from our hands for anything less than a capital offense?”
“Please do me the honor of calling me by my given name when we are out of the public’s eye. Please call me Julien.”
“Julien, only if you return the favor by addressing me as Joseph.”
“It is agreed Joseph. It matters not what I believe. I have my orders which I shall obey. I cannot do otherwise.”
“Then we have an understanding. I will keep you informed of my intended court actions, but I will not share with you or your government, my strategy to facilitate the adoption of the girls and the squashing of your governments demand.”
“Thank you Joseph. I will accord you the same courtesy. If there is a change in my orders, I will notify you before taking action. Now can we eat, all this legal talk has left me famished?”
The next day I spend researching the laws related to adoption in Connecticut. The laws are straightforward. Any kin to the orphaned children is granted first and almost exclusive custody and adoptive rights. Based upon my conversations with Katie and Ada Mae I’m certain they have no living relatives. As to the demands of the French Government, I telegraph Louis Brandies with all I can recall about my meeting with Captain Delacroix. Exchanging telegraphs, we agree that Louis will come to Ridgefield the following week. We will discuss strategy and meet with Delacroix.
“Lura, I know you’re sure that the girls have no living relatives, but we need to prove that to the Connecticut courts before your petition to adopt can move forward.”
“How do we do that?”
“It shouldn’t be that difficult. I’ll begin by interviewing the girls.”
“But Joseph, I’ve already talked to them. They have no relatives.”
“Not that I doubt you or the girls, but we have to document our efforts. There is always the chance that there is an aunt, uncle, or another distant relative out there that they don’t know exists.”
“How can that be?”
I can’t help a titter. “I’m the perfect example. Not even Walter’s father knew of my existence.”
Lura slumps, sighing as she says, “Oh my God. What if there is someone out there? What can we do? I cannot face losing the girls.”
I understand how Lura feels and try to provide her relief, hope. “It is unlikely that there are any relatives, but we have to do what we can to either find them, or prove that none exist. There is a new requirement in the law in which a party to the action proves they have investigated to show that one has tried diligently to obtain information. We will do that.”
“How does one go about that? I know that we must comply with the law, but I won’t have a stranger taking the girls from me.”
“Here is how I propose to address this issue. We’ll hire Mr. Donald White, of the Pinkerton detectives to conduct the investigation.”
“How will he do that without jeopardizing my chances of adopting the girls?”
“Lura, you cannot think that way, nor can you ever say anything like that. If you do, it could be used against you in court if a relative is found who wants custody of the girls.”
“Aren’t you my lawyer? Can’t I say anything I want to you?”
“To a degree that is true. But there are exceptions and we have to be prepared. When the adoption is being decided by a judge, you will testify. If there is a challenge to the adoption, the other party’s attorney will examine you, that means question you under oath. You cannot lie.”
“Joseph, I would never lie.” Offended I ask him, “Why would you suggest such a thing?”
“I’m not suggesting that you would lie. But if you told another person anything that could jeopardize the adoption and the other attorney learned of it, he could ask you a direct question. You would have to answer it.”
“Except for me or Louis, you must not discuss the adoption with anyone. Do you understand that?”
“What about the girls?”
“I will explain to them that I represent you and them, if they tell me they want to be adopted by you.”
“They do. Why would you say something so foolish?”
“If I’m to represent the girls, I have to ask them many things. Some of what they say, I might not be able to discuss with you. You have to trust me in this. I know what I’m doing. It is in the best interests of you and the girls.”
“How can I not talk with the girls? I’m caring for them. They live in my house.”
“Talk with Katie and Ada Mae as much as you like and about anything you wish, except the adoption. When the four of us are together, we can talk more. Our conversations while I represent the three of you are protected, to a degree, by what is called attorney-client privilege. We have to be careful. The privilege does not apply when I’m not acting as your attorney for the adoption.”
“What do you mean, acting as my attorney for the adoption?”
“Let us say for example, Louis Brandies and Giovanni Bartolini are discussing the sale of one of your holdings, and I’m working with them on that matter. If you’re present, and we slip into conversation about the adoption, or the related investigation, the privilege is waived. Waived is a term that means that any of us can be questioned about that conversation.”
I am sitting behind the desk in George Myer’s study when Katie arrives for her interview. I have to question her about the adoption.
“Miss Lura told me I have to talk to you and answer all your questions, even if I don’t want to. Is that true Uncle Joseph?”
Katie is reluctant to talk. “Why? Why can’t Miss Lura or Ada Mae sit with me?”
“I’ll try to explain. Do you know that Miss Lura wants to adopt you and Ada Mae?”
“Do you know what adoption means?”
“I think so.”
“Can you tell me what adoption means to you?”
“It means we get to stay with Miss Lura.”
“That’s right Katie, but there is much more to it than just staying with Miss Lura.”
“I know. We will be like her children, but Mama and Father will still be our mama and father. We can love them and Miss Lura.”
“There is much more about adoption and what grown up people must do before they can adopt a child.”
Katie is fidgeting. I see her face contorting as her eyebrows almost come together. She is biting her lip. “I don’t understand why are you asking so many questions? I want Miss Lura.” She sobs, her body shakes. I’ve frightened the poor child.
“I’m sorry Katie. I’ll get Lura.”
Opening the study door, I see Lura sitting in a straight back chair under a portrait of her father and mother. She rises with a look of concern. “What is it? You look upset and I can hear Katie crying. What have you done to the poor child?”
Without waiting for an answer, she pushes by me and rushes to Katie. “Oh my darling. What is wrong?” Katie throws herself in Lura arms, buries her face in her hair, and sobs loudly.
Lura looks at me with a look that sends shivers down my spine. “What have you done? Can’t you see the poor child is terrified?”
I start to reply but am cut short when Lura says with a glare, “Leave us alone. Get out.” Her look and the tone of her voice leave no room for discussion. I retreat to the dining room where Earl offers me pastries and coffee which I gladly accept.
When Earl arrives with a tray, Ada Mae trails him into the room. Sitting across the table from me, she says, “Why did you make Katie cry?” I almost cry at this. She is a brave girl demanding that a grown up tell her what he did to upset her older sister.
“I don’t know. I didn’t mean to.”
“Are you sorry?” My God, I’m being interrogated by a ten-year-old girl.
Ada Mae gets out of her chair, walks around the table and takes my hand. “Well, then you need to tell her you’re sorry. Come.” She pulls me and I stand and follow her lead. She does not release my hand.
At the door to the study, I say, “Miss Lura told me to leave. I don’t think she wants me in there. She’ll be mad.”
Shaking her head at me, Ada Mae says, “It is alright. You’re with me,” and opens the door.
An angry Lura looks up but when she sees Ada Mae leading me by the hand, the anger vanishes. “Ada Mae?”
“Joseph is sorry he made Katie cry. He wants to tell her he is sorry.” She pulls me close to Katie, takes her hand, and joins our hands together. It is all I can do to keep from crying as Katie hugs me and I babble nonstop. Soon the four of us are in a giant hug, all laughing and crying.
Lura is the first to break the revelry. “It is no wonder you frightened the poor girl. This room is dark and can be intimidating. You might have opened the curtains and let a little sunlight brighten it up.” With that, she pulls the heavy drapes open allowing the sunlight to stream into the room. She is right. With the sun warming the room, it is no longer threatening, it becomes a welcome haven.
Once we are comfortable, Lura takes control of the conversation. “Girls, as you know, I wish to adopt you and make you my daughters. If I adopt you, your last name will become Myer but your mother and your father will always be your mother and father. Katie do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Yes Miss Lura.”
“Yes Miss Lura.”
“Joseph is a lawyer. He will ask a judge to let me adopt you. The judge will ask you each questions, maybe many questions. Joseph must ask you those questions now before we ever talk to the judge. That is why he tried to talk with Katie. He didn’t do it very well. He doesn’t understand girls, so we have to forgive him.” Both girls agree to forgive me and give me another hug and kiss.
“If Joseph asks you a question you don’t understand or that frightens you, please tell him. Now I have one more question for each of you. Katie you’re the oldest, so I’ll ask you first.”
Ada Mae is indignant. “Why does Katie always get to be the first? I’m bigger.” We all share a laugh, well not all. Ada Mae sits with her fists and jaw clenched.
Katie says, “It is alright. Let Ada Mae go first.”
“No Katie. Not this time. Next time Ada Mae can go first.” Ada Mae reluctantly agrees to remain silent long enough for my question to Katie.
“Katie, do you want me to adopt you?”
“Oh yes. I want you to adopt me and make me your daughter.”
Ada Mae doesn’t wait. “I want you to adopt me too. I love you Miss Lura.”
“And I love you girls and cannot wait until you are my daughters and this is our home forever.”
Not wanting to subject Katie or Ada Mae to any further questions, I suggest, “Why don’t we wait until after dinner, or even until after breakfast tomorrow for any more questions?”
Over lunch, Captain Delacroix tells me he has no new orders. I have the distinct impression that the captain is sympathetic to Lura. However, he is an honorable man who will do his duty. That said; I doubt he will go further than what is required of him to fulfill that obligation.
“Monsieur Myer, I’m authorized to tell you that my government, while not dropping our claim, will suspend our demands until the question of adoption is settled. Once settled, France will reevaluate her position.”
“Ah Julien, that is good news. It will make my task easier knowing I will not be looking over my shoulder whilst litigating the adoption. Please extend my gratitude to your superiors.”
“Our governments have been allies for much too long to allow such an incident to cause a rift between us. This path allows us to postpone, maybe even avoid an unfortunate international incident, one that came about only because of the good intentions of Mrs. Myer.”
“We have a saying here about such an event. I don’t recall the exact words, but we like to say that sometimes it makes sense to let the smoke settle, maybe the fire will die down enough that we won’t have to fight it.”
“Joseph, we French have a saying with a similar meaning.”