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MADAME JUSTICE

by Nevil G. Henshaw
Author of "The Black Violin," "A Pair of Mules," etc.

I SAW her as she was driving into the little Louisiana village of Landry. She was a tall, rugged old woman of the type—half peasant, half small planter—which abounds in the French parishes; and even at a distance there was that about her which made one forget the squalidness of her battered jumper and small, rabbit-like pony. When she came closer and for an instant turned her strong, resolute face toward mine, I saw that this something was the dignity' of a great sorrow. I shall never forget her look. It was like exchanging glances with Fate.

After she had passed I asked the villagefolk about her.

"That was Madame Gerac—she whom we call Madame Justice," they replied. "It is only on this day that you will see her here. Tomorrow is her anniversary, and she is upon her way to the curé with money for a mass. She is as regular as the calendar—that one. Rain or shine, it is always the day before."

Later, and in the quaint patois of the Cajun, they told me this story:

EVEN in her youth Madame Gerac was possessed of a strong sense of justice. She was a fine, handsome girl, and she had many chances. Vet she did not marry early. Her lovers were all nice, manly fellows, she said, and there was little to choose between them. In fairness she could not make such a choice, and she would not many only for a home.

Later, when Louis Gerac came along, she accepted him at once. She could make her choice now, she declared, and, although it was not considered a good match, she made it without hesitation.

Gerac owned a small farm some twenty miles from Landry. It was in a remote, desolate section, and the buildings were old. The fields, bounded upon three sides by marsh and upon the fourth by a small wood, were always wet and boggy. No matter when you plowed them, the soil would stick to the plowshare like glue. It was the kind of a place upon which one is fortunate to make both ends meet.

For four years Madame Gerac worked the farm with her husband, and in that time two children came into her home. Of these children the first was born to her. It was a son, and it was given the father's name of Louis. Gerac, like most fathers, was proud of the child; Madame Gerac worshiped it. In affection, as in all else, she was not one to do things by halves.

The second child came into the Gerac family two years later. It was an orphan, the son of a sister of Gerac's, and at first its adoption met with much opposition upon the part of his wife. Perhaps, realizing her unfailing sense of justice, she caught some glimpse of what the future must hold for her. Perhaps it was only the natural jealousy of a mother for her only child.

But Gerac was firm. He could not abandon his nephew to charity, he said. Also it was good that the little Louis should have a playmate. Single children always became either dull or spoiled.

In the end Madame Gerac agreed, and the child was adopted. Its name was Paul, and its age was the same as that of the son of the house. Six months later, having exposed himself to the weather, Gerac took ill and died.

Her husband dead, Madame Gerac fell upon hard times. It was difficult enough to attend to the farm alone, but in addition to this she had the care and responsibility of two small children. Most women would have solved at least a part of the problem by turning the adopted child over to charity. When it is a question of mouths to feed, the difference between two and three is very great.

Madame Gerac, however, kept her small family intact. She would arrange, she said. Having accepted the care of the child, no matter how unwillingly, it was only just that she should go on with it.

It was now, with the growing up of the children, that the first great test of Madame Gerac's justice began. On the one hand was Louis, her beloved son, the one bit of her own flesh and bl...

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