“Bailiff, call the matter of Catherine Margret Dean and Ada Mae Dean.”
I open the small gate and usher the girls and Lura to chairs next to Mr. Brandies and me. “Sit here ladies.” I’ve represented hundreds of clients over the years, but I’ve never been so personally involved in a matter. It is a warm summer day, but I shiver from an unexplained chill. My stomach acts as though I will be sick. Control yourself. Lura and the girls are depending on me.
The judge speaks, “Who represents the interests of the two children?”
Taking a deep breath, the chill leaves me. My stomach relaxes. “I do, Joseph Myer assisted my Mr. Louis Brandies.”
The judge addresses Louis. “It is an honor to have you in our humble courtroom Mr. Brandies. Welcome.”
Louis stands and says, “The honor is mine. Thank you.”
“Who represents Mrs. Lura Myer in this matter?”
I remained standing in anticipation of this question. “I do your honor with the assistance of Mr. Brandies.”
“Fine let us begin. I have read the petition. I find it to be in order. Mr. Myer, do you have any additional evidence or witnesses to present?”
“No your honor.”
“Do your young clients understand what is transpiring here today?”
“Yes sir they do.”
“Mr. Myers I wish to examine your clients. Please have the elder child, I believe Catherine Margaret Dean take the stand.”
I whisper to Katie, “This is where you sit in that chair and I will ask you some questions. When I finish, the judge may ask you a few. Are you ready?”
When Katie takes the stand, the judge surprises me. Instead of having her swear on a bible, he speaks to her in a gentle tone. “Good day Ms. Dean. I understand your friends call you Katie.”
“Yes sir, everyone calls me Katie.”
“Well Miss Dean is it alright with you if I call you Katie?”
Twisting and fidgeting in her chair Katie flattens her dress by pushing down and away before answering. “Yes sir.”
“Katie are you frightened?” With eyes large, she shakes her head up and down while biting her lip. “You don’t need to be, I just want to find out if you want to go home with Mrs. Myer.”
“Yes sir, I really want to be with Miss Lura.”
“Fine. I need to ask you a few questions. Do you know the difference between the truth and a lie?”
“Yes sir. I must always tell the truth. A lie is bad, and my father told me that liars go to hell.”
The judge smiles at her and continues. “I think we can assume that Miss Dean will truthfully answer our questions. Katie, do you know what it means to be adopted?”
“If Miss Lura adopts us, me and Ada Mae, we will be her daughters and live with her forever.”
“Do you want to be adopted by Mrs. Myer?”
“Yes sir, I want to be Miss Lura’s daughter, so does Ada Mae.”
“Mr. Myer, do you or Mr. Brandies have any questions of this witness?”
“No your honor.”
“Please have the younger child take the stand.”
The only difference between Katie and Ada Mae is when the judge asks her if she is frightened. In a strong clear voice, she says, “No sir, I’m not.”
Neither Louis nor I had any questions for Ada Mae.
It is time for Lura to take the stand. When the judge asks, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” Her answer is loud and clear.
“Yes sir, I do.”
“You may begin your examination of Mrs. Myer.”
We had decided that Louis would examine Lura, but when we returned from lunch, she said to Louis, “If you don’t mind, I would feel much better if Joseph questioned me today. I can’t explain it, but that is my wish.”
Louis said, “I think that’s a good idea Mrs. Myer.” I was taken aback when he said nothing further about the matter.
“Mrs. Myer, would you explain to the court how the children came to be in your care?”
Lura’s voice shakes noticeably for the first minute of her testimony and then she settles down. Turning in the witness chair she addresses the judge directly pausing only when he has a question or asks for clarification. In ten minutes or less, she ends with, “and that is how I came to love these girls.”
“Thank you Mrs. Myer. You may step down.”
Once Lura returns to her seat, the judge looks at his notes before looking up. It is as if he was noticing Delacroix for the first time. “Captain Delacroix. Welcome. I’m glad to see you here today.”
Delacroix stands at attention. “Your honor?”
“Captain I don’t intend to put you at a disadvantage, but can you tell me if your governments position has changed since we last we spoke.”
Julien does not look at all uncomfortable. “No sir, it has not.”
“Thank you captain.”
Returning to his notes, the judge frowns as he taps his gavel against a stack of papers. His gaze wanders to some secret spot over the door at the rear of the chamber as he continues to tap his gavel. After what seems minutes, but is only seconds, he shakes his head as if wakening from a dream. “The court will take a brief recess. Mr. Myer, Mr. Brandies, please join me in chambers.”
This time there is no offer of a cigar. The judge sits behind his desk and gestures for us to take chairs. He is quiet. Finally, “Gentlemen, I’m having a great deal of difficulty making a decision in this matter.”
“Do you not believe that Mrs. Myer loves and wants to care for the children?”
“No Mr. Myer. That is not my problem. I’ve no doubt she loves the children and that they love her.”
“I’m confused your honor, if you believe that they love each other and she can provide for them, what is your concern?”
“Mrs. Myer is a widow, a single woman. That concerns me. Precedent, in Connecticut, dictates that a child be adopted by two parents, a mother and a father.”
Louis responds to the judge. “Mrs. Myer is not your typical widow. She isn’t typical in any manner. She is educated, a woman of the world, and she may well be the third or fourth wealthiest woman in America. If there ever was a time for breaking precedent this is the case.”
“I don’t dispute what you say. Mrs. Myer is all that and more. My fear is that someone could dispute my decision and take it up on appeal. I would not want to have my decision overturned, reversed. Where she married I’d have no qualms, I would grant the petition at once.”
Both Louis and I object to no avail. The only concession he grants is to stay his final decision for forty-eight hours. I point out to him that would require a decision on Saturday. After more strenuous argument, he agrees to withhold judgment until the following Monday.
“Gentlemen please return to the courtroom. I will be there presently. I wish to research a case decision.”
Lura can see by our expressions that something is amiss. I decide that now is not a good time. I tell her only that the judge will make his decision on Monday.
The carriage ride back to Ridgefield is strained. Even the girls are subdued. Leaving Brandies at his hotel, we continue on to Grisham Manor. For once, I’m glad that Emily and Delacroix are travelling in their own carriage. Neither Lura nor I are in the mood for company. I try to engage Lura in conversation, but shaking her finger in my face she snaps, “There is something you’re not telling me. Until you’re ready to speak, I wish to be alone with my thoughts.”
I’m angry at the judge, but I cannot allow it to show. Lura means too much to me and to the girls. I must overcome his hesitancy and convince him to approve the adoption. If I lose this case, it will be more than the case I lose. I will lose this woman who I’ve come to admire. Be honest, you’re in love with her.
As we pull to a halt under the portico, Lura throws the carriage door open with such force it slams against the side. The girls wait until she has entered the house before alighting. Inside, she seems to have calmed somewhat. In a controlled voice, hollow and stilted, Lura says, “Please come to the study.” She gives me no chance to answer before turning and walking away. The girls look at me with a question in their eyes.
Earl appears. “Mr. Joseph. I will take the girls. Katie, Ada Mae, come, Cook is baking and she could use your help.”
“Thank you Earl.”
In the study, I find Lura sitting behind her father’s desk. She is stiff, rigid, with her chin drawn in. My God, she looks formidable.
“Don’t tell me. I know. I’m to lose the girls. Please…” The facade disappears and she is crying. I rush to her. I want to take her into my arms. I don’t. Instead, I place one hand on her shoulder and utter false assurances. She knows I’m lying.
“Tell me the truth. Stop trying to protect me. All you’re doing is making this more difficult.”
After I explain what the judge said, Lura is apoplectic. “Because I’m a widow? That is his only justification. The man is a coward.”
“Yes that is true. He is a coward. However, the decision is in his hands.”
“There has to be something we can do. Can you appeal his decision? There must be a way.”
I hesitate before answering her. “Yes we can appeal his decision, but that could take years. You could probably care for the girls during the process, but you might have to give them up.”
“There must be a way around this. Joseph you must have an idea. What can we do?”
I hesitate before saying, “Yes, there is a way around his objection.”
“Tell me, whatever is it?”
“Lura it has long been the custom for a man to marry his brother’s widow and care for her and any children. I would be honored if you would allow me to become your husband.”
Lura slaps me, drops her hand, and begins to cry. “Honor? That might be honor to you. But I would never marry you or any man for some false sense of honor. I’ll marry only for love.”
Before she can slap me a second time, I grab her arms and hold her away from me. “Lura, I love you. I think that you love me in return.”
She stiffens and for an instant, I think she is going to pull away. She doesn’t. Her resistance fades as she looks into my eyes. “Do you love me?”
“With all my heart and soul.”
Lura smiles. “And I love you Joseph Myer. If you’ll have me, I will be your wife.”