Chapter XXII. The Children's Court
 

Judge Cowles was a gentleman of what is called the "old-fashioned" type. He was always gentle, in spite of the difficult human questions he was constantly called upon to decide, and which necessarily could not always be decided to suit both parties involved in the legal dispute. But when Mrs. Salvey walked into his room and took a seat beside Cecilia Thayer he started up in surprise. He had known Mrs. Salvey long ago, when she lived by the sea with her father-in-law, Captain Salvey. Many a time had judge Cowles ridden in the little boat that the captain took such pride in demonstrating, for the boat was rigged up in an original way, and the captain was choice about his companions.

"Why, Mrs. Salvey!" he exclaimed, with the most cordial voice. "I am surprised to see you!"

Mrs. Salvey bowed, but did not trust herself to speak. She felt humiliated, wronged, and was now conscious of that deeper pang - stifled justice. Judge Cowles would be fair - and she would be brave.

Cecilia, young and inexperienced as she was, felt a glad surprise in the words of the judge; if he knew Mrs. Salvey he must know her to be a good mother.

A man of extremely nervous type, who continually rattled and fussed with the typewritten pages he held in his hand, represented the Children's Society. Evidently he had prepared quite an argument, Cecilia thought. Close to him sat Rob Roland, and the stout man whom the motor girls had met on the road after the robbery of the mailbag. Cecilia recognized him at once, and he had the audacity to bow slightly to her.

There were one or two young fellows down in the corner of the room, sitting so idly and so flagrantly unconcerned that Cecilia knew they must be newspaper men - time enough for them to show interest when anything interesting occurred.

The case just disposed of - that of a small boy who had been accused of violating the curfew law - was settled with a reprimand; and as the crestfallen little chap slouched past Cecilia, she could not resist the temptation of putting out her hand and tugging pleasantly at his coat sleeve.

"You'll be a good boy now," she said, with her most powerful smile. But the agent of the Children's Society, he with the threatening papers in his hand, called to the boy to sit down, and the tone of voice hurt Cecilia more than the insolent look turned fully upon her by Rob Roland.

The judge was ready for the next case - it was that of the Children's Society against Mrs. Salvey. Cecilia could hear the hum from the newspaper corner cease, she saw Mr. Reed, he of Roland, Reed & Company, and the same man who had just bowed to her, take some papers from his pocket.

Then the judge announced that he was ready to hear the case.

"This woman, your honor," began the nervous man, "is charged with wilfully neglecting her child in the matter of withholding the child from relatives who have for years been both supporting and rendering to the child necessary medical aid."

Mrs. Salvey's face flushed scarlet. Cecilia was almost upon her feet. But the others seemed to take the matter as the most ordinary occurrence, and seemed ,scarcely interested.

"This child," went on the agent, "is a cripple" - again Cecilia wanted to shout - "and mentally deficient."

"That is false!" cried Mrs. Salvey. "She is mentally brilliant."

"One minute, madam," said the judge gently.

"To prove that the child has hallucinations," pursued the man, reading from his papers, "I would like to state that for some years she has kept a book - called a promise book. In this she collected the names of all the persons she could induce to put them down, claiming that when the right person should sign she would recover some old, imaginary piece of furniture, which, she claimed, held the spirit of her departed grandfather."

The man stopped to smile at his own wit. Cecilia and Mrs. Salvey were too surprised to breathe - they both wanted to "swallow" every breath of air in the room at one gulp.

"And the specific charge?" asked the judge, showing some impatience.

"Well, your honor, we contend that a mother who will wilfully take such a child away from medical care, and hide her away from those who are qualified to care for her, must be criminally negligent."

The judge raised his head in that careful manner characteristic of serious thought.

"And what do you ask?" he inquired.

Cecilia thought she or Mrs. Salvey would never get a chance to speak - to deny those dreadful accusations.

"We ask, your honor," and the man's voice betrayed confidence, "that this child be turned over to the Children's Society. We will report to the court, and make any desired arrangements to satisfy the mother."

Turn Wren over to a public society! This, then, was the motive - those Rolands wanted to get the little one away from her own mother.

"Mrs. Salvey," called the judge, and the white-faced woman stood up. As she did so, Mr. Reed, the lawyer, advanced to a seat quite close to that occupied by the judge. Rob Roland shifted about with poorly - hidden anxiety.

"You have heard the charge," said the judge very slowly. "We will be pleased to hear your answer."

"One minute, your honor," interrupted Lawyer Reed. "We wish to add that on the day that our doctor had decided upon a hospital operation for the child, the child was secretly smuggled off in an automobile by a young girl, and a young sporting character of this town."

Had Cecilia Thayer ever been in a courtroom before, she might have known that lawyers resort to all sorts of tricks to confuse and even anger witnesses. But, as it was, she only felt that something had hit her - a blow that strikes the heart and threatens some dreadful thing. The next moment the blood rushed to her cheeks, relieved that pressure, and she was ready - even for such an insulting charge.

Mrs. Salvey was again called, and this time she was not interrupted. She told in a straight-forward manner of the illness of her little girl, of her own difficulty in obtaining sufficient money to have the child treated medically, and of how her husband's cousin, Wilbur Roland, senior member of the firm of Roland, Reed & Company, had come forward and offered her assistance.

"Then why," asked the judge, "did you take the child away?"

Mrs. Salvey looked at Cecilia. Lawyer Reed was on his feet and ready to interrupt, but the judge motioned him to silence.

"I took her away because I feared the treatment was not what she needed, and I had others offered," replied Mrs. Salvey.

"Other medical treatment?" asked the judge.

"Yes," answered the mother.

"Then she is being cared for?" and judge Cowles looked sharply at the children's agent.

"Most decidedly," answered Mrs. Salvey with emphasis. "And not only is she better, but can now stand - she has not been able to do that in ten years."

"It's a lie!" shouted Rob Roland, so angered as to forget himself entirely. "She is a hopeless cripple."

"Have you any witness?" asked the attorney of Mrs. Salvey, while the judge frowned at Rob and warned him to be careful or he might be fined for contempt of court.

The mother turned to Cecilia. "This young girl can corroborate my statement," she answered.

As Cecilia stood up the reporters actually left their places and very quietly glided up to seats near the trembling girl.

"Would they make a scandal of it?" she was thinking. "That lawyer's remark about Jack Kimball "

"Your name?" asked the judge.

She replied in a steady voice.

"And your occupation?"

Cecilia hesitated. She was not yet ready to make public the ambition she had so earnestly worked for.

"A student," she replied finally.

"Of what?" asked Rob Roland.

"Young man," said the judge sternly, "I am hearing this case, and any further discourtesy from you will be considered as contempt."

The youth smiled ironically. He was already accustomed to such usage, and did not mind it in the least if only he could gain his point, but this time he had failed.

"You know the child - Wren Salvey?" asked the judge.

"Yes. I have been in close attendance upon her for some weeks," replied Cecilia.

"And you can state that she is improved in health since leaving her mother's house?"

"Very much improved. If she had not lost a very dear treasure, over which she grieves, I believe she would be almost well soon."

Cecilia looked very young and very pretty. She spoke with the conviction of candor that counts so much to honest minds, and judge Cowles encouraged her with a most pleasant manner. The newspaper men were scribbling notes rapidly. Rob Roland was looking steadily at the chandelier at the risk of injury to his neck - so awkward was his position.

"You are the young lady who removed the child?" questioned the magistrate.

"Yes," replied Cecilia.

"And her accomplice?" shouted Rob Roland questioningly.

"Leave the room!" ordered the judge. "I think there is a different case behind this than the one we are hearing. I shall inquire into it, and, for the good of the child and her wronged mother, I shall order a thorough investigation. What motive have those who brought up this alleged case? There is absolutely no grounds for this action. The case is dismissed."

So suddenly did the relief come to Cecilia that she almost collapsed. She looked at Mrs. Salvey, who was pressing her handkerchief to her eyes.

"It is all right," whispered Cecilia. "Oh, I am so glad!"

A stir in the room attracted their attention. Cecilia turned and faced Jack Kimball.

Jack was hurrying up to the judge's chair, and scarcely stopped to greet Cecilia.

"Mr. Robinson wishes you to detain these gentlemen a few minutes," said Jack to judge Cowles. "He is on his way here."

A messenger was sent to the corridor after Rob Roland. The other lawyers were discussing some papers, and in no hurry to leave.

Presently Mr. Robinson and two other gentlemen entered. The face of the twins' father was flushed, and he was plainly much excited.

"I have just heard from my daughters," he began, "who are away on a motor tour. They state that the day my papers were taken from the mailbag they met on the road a man answering the description of this gentleman," indicating Mr. Reed. "They described him exactly, his disfigured thumb being easily remembered. Now the young fellow who was `held-up' that day, and who has been sick since in consequence, also says he felt, while blindfolded, that same one-jointed thumb. Further than that," and Mr. Robinson was actually panting for breath, "my girls can state, and prove, that this same man was at a tea-house near Breakwater discussing papers, which the young girls who conduct the tea-house plainly saw. The papers were stamped with the seals of my patent lawyers."

Rob Roland was clutching the back of the seat he stood near. The lawyer accused, Mr. Reed, had turned a sickly pallor.

Jack Kimball stepped up. "There is present," he said, "one of the motor girls who was on the road at that time. She may be able to identify this man."

What followed was always like a dream to Clip - for, leaving off legalities, we may again call her by that significant name. She faced the man to whom she had talked on the road, he who had wanted to help her with her runabout when she was unable to manage it herself. It was directly after Paul Hastings left them, and within a short time of the happening which had meant so much to Hazel's brother. Clip told this, and, strange to say, the lawyer made no attempt to deny any part of her statement.

"We are prepared to answer when the case is called," he said. "But it seems to me, Robinson, you went a long way for detectives. Did not the motor girls also tell you that they met me on the road to Breakwater two days ago?"

"Judge, I demand those papers!" called Mr. Robinson. "This fellow does not deny he took them."

"When the ladies leave the room," said the judge quietly, with that courteous manner that made Clip want to run up to him and throw her arms about his neck, "we may discuss this further. We are indebted to the young motor girl for her identification."

When Clip took Mrs, Salvey out they went directly to the Kimball home, nor were they now afraid of being followed by the threatening and insulting Rob Roland.