“It was the only thing that could. We trembled lest the idea should occur to you. But we were reasonably safe, for there has only been one other case of the same kind before the courts.” She leaned back, the sight of his perplexity checking her quick rush of words. “You didn’t know,” she began again, “that in that case, on the remarriage of the mother, the courts instantly restored the child to the father, though he had—well, given as much cause for divorce as my unfortunate brother?”
Durham gave an ironic laugh. “Your French justice takes a grammar and dictionary to understand.”
She smiled. “_ We_ understand it—and it isn’t necessary that you should.”
“So it would appear!” he exclaimed bitterly.
“Don’t judge us too harshly—or not, at least, till you have taken the trouble to learn our point of view. You consider the individual—we think only of the family.”
“Why don’t you take care to preserve it, then?”
“Ah, that’s what we do; in spite of every aberration of the individual. And so, when we saw it was impossible that my brother and his wife should live together, we simply transferred our allegiance to the child—we constituted him the family.”
“A precious kindness you did him! If the result is to give him back to his father.”
“That, I admit, is to be deplored; but his father is only a fraction of the whole. What we really do is to give him back to his race, his religion, his true place in the order of things.”
“His mother never tried to deprive him of any of those inestimable advantages!”
Madame de Treymes unclasped her hands with a slight gesture of deprecation.
“Not consciously, perhaps; but silences and reserves can teach so much. His mother has another point of view—”
“Thank heaven!” Durham interjected.
“Thank heaven for her—yes—perhaps; but it would not have done for the boy.”
Durham squared his shoulders with the sudden resolve of a man breaking through a throng of ugly phantoms.
“You haven’t yet convinced me that it won’t have to do for him. At the time of Madame de Malrive’s separation, the court made no difficulty about giving her the custody of her son; and you must pardon me for reminding you that the father’s unfitness was the reason alleged.”
Madame de Treymes shrugged her shoulders. “And my poor brother, you would add, has not changed; but the circumstances have, and that proves precisely what I have been trying to show you: that, in such cases, the general course of events is considered, rather than the action of any one person.”
“Then why is Madame de Malrive’s action to be considered?”
“Because it breaks up the unity of the family.”
“_ Unity—!_” broke from Durham; and Madame de Treymes gently suffered his smile.
“Of the family tradition, I mean: it introduces new elements. You are a new element.”