SENTIMENT AND CLUES
In my criminal work anything that wears skirts is a lady, until the law proves her otherwise. From the frayed and slovenly petticoats of the woman who owns a poultry stand in the market and who has grown wealthy by selling chickens at twelve ounces to the pound, or the silk sweep of Mamie Tracy, whose diamonds have been stolen down on the avenue, or the staidly respectable black and middle-aged skirt of the client whose husband has found an affinity partial to laces and fripperies, and has run off with her—all the wearers are ladies, and as such announced by Hawes. In fact, he carries it to excess. He speaks of his wash lady, with a husband who is an ash merchant, and he announced one day in some excitement, that the lady who had just gone out had appropriated all the loose change out of the pocket of his overcoat.
So when Hawes announced a lady, I took my feet off my desk, put down the brief I had been reading, and rose perfunctorily. With my first glance at my visitor, however, I threw away my cigar, and I have heard since, settled my tie. That this client was different was borne in on me at once by the way she entered the room. She had poise in spite of embarrassment, and her face when she raised her veil was white, refined, and young.
"I did not send in my name," she said, when she saw me glancing down for the card Hawes usually puts on my table. "It was advice I wanted, and I—I did not think the name would matter."
She was more composed, I think, when she found me considerably older than herself. I saw her looking furtively at the graying places over my ears. I am only thirty-five, as far as that goes, but my family, although it keeps its hair, turns gray early—a business asset but a social handicap.
"Won't you sit down?" I asked, pushing out a chair, so that she would face the light, while I remained in shadow. Every doctor and every lawyer knows that trick. "As far as the name goes, perhaps you would better tell me the trouble first. Then, if I think it indispensable, you can tell me."
She acquiesced to this and sat for a moment silent, her gaze absently on the windows of the building across. In the morning light my first impression was verified. Only too often the raising of a woman's veil in my office reveals the ravages of tears, or rouge, or dissipation. My new client turned fearlessly to the window an unlined face, with a clear skin, healthily pale. From where I sat, her profile was beautiful, in spite of its drooping suggestion of trouble; her first embarrassment gone, she had forgotten herself and was intent on her errand.
"I hardly know how to begin," she said, "but suppose"—slowly—"suppose that a man, a well-known man, should leave home without warning, not taking any clothes except those he wore, and saying he was coming home to dinner, and he—he—"
She stopped as if her voice had failed her.
"And he does not come?" I prompted.
She nodded, fumbling for her handkerchief in her bag.
"How long has he been gone?" I asked....