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The Stray Lamb


Thorne Smith



FOR some weeks now Mr. Lamb had been quite himself. This morning he wished he was not, for he was presently due at court to defend himself in a divorce suit brought against him by the revengeful Sapho. That gracious lady was at last striking for freedom. And she was striking in the worst possible way as far as Mr. Lamb was concerned. The summons had informed him that he should be both ready and willing to defend himself against charges of aggravated adultery, witchcraft, animalism, mental anguish, attempted murder, torture, and non-support. When Lamb read the official wording of the disagreeable document his brain swam. He had never before realised he had been such a versatile blackguard. How that woman must have suffered! And how she was going to let the world know about it!

Sandra Rush had been named as the other half of the adultery charge, and although she was most uninterestingly innocent, she was highly satisfied with the trend of events. Her conduct greatly added to Mr. Lamb's uneasiness. She assumed that she was an adultress and acted the part so well that the poor man began to believe it must be true. Frequently she spoke of their guilty love with downcast eyes and generously declared that she fully intended to share at least half of the blame. When Mr. Lamb appealed to her better nature she accused him of trying to cast her aside like a broken reed, and swore violently to God that she would sue him for chronic assault, seduction, and breach of promise. As his own daughter stoutly supported Sandra's charges he held his peace and relapsed into sweating silence. It was all terribly upsetting.

Mr. Lamb had received notice of the divorce on the morning after his return from the mountains. He had awakened that morning quite himself and fully clad. His clothes were in a state of great disorder, and a week's growth of whiskers decorated his face. When he had finished reading the document he somehow wished himself back on the quiet, wind-fanned summit of that mountain retreat, where life had been so pleasantly natural and simplified. Already the news-papers were beginning to discuss the amazing charges brought by the wife of a prominent financier against her husband. Apparently this much-sinned-against woman was willing to take the reporters into her confidence at any hour of the day or night. Almost overnight Mr. Lamb had become a national figure. His picture appeared in various papers, but not so large as Mrs. Lamb's.

Only one ray of light penetrated the encircling gloom. Nothing had developed from the bootlegging charge. It seemed that the recorder's report must have been of a nature to discourage further investigation. Flare backs of this episode also appeared in print. Mr. Lamb's name and that of Sandra Rush were still more firmly linked. The fact that the woman in the case was an underwear model was not neglected. News was scarce at that time, and Mr. Lamb and his affairs were received with thanks by the press.

Hebe and Melville Long accompanied Mr. Lamb to the court. Sandra refused to appear, feeling that her absence would give the impression of an admission of guilt. Looking insinuatingly at Mr. Lamb she assured him that she could never face the world after all that had taken place between them. An expression of indignant protest escaped Mr. Lamb's lips.

"That night you escaped from my window," whispered Sandy. "Wow!"

"Ah!" said Hebe with a deep intake of breath.

"For God's sake, Hebe," her father pleaded. "Don't you see that this girl, this female snake in the grass, intends deliberately to ruin me?"

"She'll be the making of you, major," said Hebe calmly.

"And I wouldn't call people snakes and things," put in Sandra. "It doesn't sound well coming from you, and besides, you're not out of the woods yet."

"I wish to heaven I was back in them," fervently replied the much beset man.

Now the judge was regarding Mr. Lamb with amused interest. Mr. Lamb was aware that the judge was not alone in his scrutiny. Mrs. Lamb at her lawyer's table alone refused to look upon her husband. She was artistically dressed for the occasion. Her lawyer was addressing the court.

"Your honour," he said a little self-consciously, because of the ridiculous nature of the charges he had to press, " I shall prove that my client's husband not only turned into a horse, a seagull, a kangaroo, a goldfish, a dog, a cat, in order named, but also that he actually had the temerity to assume the form of a lion—a dangerous and destructive animal."

The judge's smile of amusement deepened.

"Sounds like a lot of bedtime stories to me," he observed. "Why don't you establish adultery and call it a day?"

"My client insists on justice," replied the lawyer. "We have made no charge in our brief that we are not able to prove."

"If she insists on proving all her charges this case will become a permanent institution I'm afraid," said the judge. "Hurry on with the animal business, and don't make me feel too silly. I'm a serious-minded man in spite of the things to which I occasionally have to listen."

To Mr. Lamb's horror and surprise his daughter was asked if she would voluntarily take the stand. In his desperation he clung to her skirt as the young lady rose eagerly to go to the chair.

"Steady, major," she whispered, "or you'll be having your daughter testifying in the flimsiest excuse for a breach-clout."

Mr. Lamb released her, and the girl, swinging herself into the chair, sat smiling innocently upon the judge, after she had taken an oath she had no intention of keeping. The lawyer for Mrs. Lamb addressed her.

"Miss Lamb," he asked with the utmost politeness, "what did you first think when you discovered a horse in your father's bed?"

"Why I naturally drew the conclusion that Sapho had invited him in," she replied, with compelling candour.

The judge coughed discreetly behind his hand and looked at the astounded lawyer with eyebrows slightly elevated. The lawyer was in a state of painful confusion. He would willingly have asked the witness to step down, but was afraid of the impression such a move would make. Mrs. Lamb had half risen in her chair and was staring at her daughter with murder in her eyes.

"I'm a little astray," remarked the judge. "You mentioned someone by the name of Sapho. I thought your mother's name was Tilly, Miss Lamb?"

"It really is Mary," Hebe explained with painstaking patience, "but mother never liked that name. So father always called her Tilly. She thought Tilly wasn't romantic enough, so to humour her whim I called her Sapho, because she was always play-acting in father's best pyjamas, and lying on the floor with—"

The hands of the plaintiff's lawyer were churning about in the air. His client sat white and trembling at her table. Behind her she could hear the sound of suppressed laughter.

"I protest," the lawyer spluttered. "The witness is introducing a lot of irrelevant evidence. Whether Mrs. Lamb's pyjamas—"

"They weren't Mrs. Lamb's pyjamas," broke in Hebe. "I distinctly told you she sneaked them from my father."

Then the lawyer lost all control.

"Why quibble about it?" he demanded furiously of Hebe. "What earthly difference does it make whether the pyjamas belong to your father or your mother?"

"All the difference in the world," replied Hebe,looking pityingly upon the lawyer. "You see, a woman's pyjamas are built according to an altogether different method of construction than a man's. For one thing a woman's pyjamas—"

Laughter in the court-room was now quite general, and, so far as the judge was concerned, uninterrupted.

"Your honour," said Mr. Wilson, with a hopeless droop of his shoulders, "if I hear any more about those pyjamas I'll have to withdraw from the case."

"Very well," replied the judge agreeably. "Let's talk about something else."

Mr. Wilson revived a little and turned once more to the willing and anxious Hebe. For a certain reason he wanted to establish a date.

"Miss Lamb," he asked, "please answer this question as briefly as possible: after the appearance of the horse do you remember the exact date when you next found your father in bed?"

"On the morning of the twenty-fourth," the young girl answered without a moment's hesitation. "I remember because Leonard Gray was visiting mother over the week-end, and although she didn't know that I knew it and—"

"You may step down, Miss Lamb," interrupted the lawyer in a dead voice, "unless the defence wishes to question you."

The defence did.

"Miss Lamb," asked the legal representative of Hebe's father, "you can't possibly think of any reason for the viciously conceived rumour of some innocent intimacy existing between your father and the woman, Sandra Rush?"

'Hold on," exclaimed the judge, momentarily interrupting work on a picture he was drawing. "I never heard such a perniciously worded question in all my born days. Ask it all over again, Mr. Hedges, and this time don't try to be so subtly leading, or rather, misleading."

"Gladly, your honour," said Mr. Hedges smoothly. "Miss Lamb, there is, of course, no foundation in fact in the childish gossip that your father and Miss Rush were ever anything more than nodding acquaintances —almost hostile?"

"Hold on again," interrupted the judge. "You might be trying to spare our feelings, Mr. Hedges, but you're not improving a bit. I'm afraid you'll have to ask that question as if you desired information rather than confirmation."

"All right," said Mr. Hedges, with ill-humour. "Did this Rush woman and your father ever misconduct themselves?"

"Jointly or individually?" asked the literal-minded Hebe.

"Jointly," replied the lawyer. "In each other's company and at the same time and place."

"Well, I wouldn't be surprised," the girl admitted. "Now that you've made yourself clear I'll have to say that I wouldn't be a bit surprised. Not before me, of course, but my father is only human and the Rush woman is so laissez faire. Then again, mother was always so busy. Can't sit up all night and twirl your thumbs, you know."

"She can step down so far as I'm concerned," said Mr. Hedges, turning his back on the young lady.

The judge removed a handkerchief from his face and looked at Hebe with brimming eyes.

"They don't seem to want to play with you any more, Miss Lamb," he told her. "You may step down with the satisfaction of knowing that you have been perfectly disastrous to both sides."

Hebe was popular with neither Mrs. nor Mr. Lamb when she returned to her chair beside the latter.

"What did you want to go and tell lies for?" her father demanded, his whispered words laden with indignation.

"Wasn't telling lies," replied Hebe. "How do I know what you and Sandy do with your spare time? I didn't say you did and I didn't say you didn't."

"No," muttered Mr. Lamb sarcastically. "You did everything but draw a diagram. And why did you call her that Rush woman?"

"Sounded more desperate," said Hebe. "Anyway, Sandy told me not to spare her feelings. She wanted to shoulder half the blame for everything."

Mr. Lamb choked down his wrath. He would have preferred to choke his imp of a daughter. He turned his eyes on the next witness and started. The witness was the man who had bought him at the horse show.

"Mr. Rudd," the opposing lawyer was asking, "did you purchase a horse at a horse show on the twenty-fourth of last month?"

"I thought I did at the time," replied Mr. Rudd.

"Did you notice anything peculiar about the horse when you purchased him?" continued the lawyer.

"I did, sir," said the witness. " That horse was drunk, dead-drunk and snoring."

"And where is that horse now, Mr. Rudd?"

Mr. Rudd looked long and searchingly at Mr. Lamb, while that gentleman returned the look with an ironical eye. Then the farmer pointed an earthy-looking finger at him.

"Wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't the horse I bought," said Mr. Rudd.

At this the judge slapped his leg and leaned over his desk.

"Pardon me," he remarked, " but did I understand you to say the horse was dead-drunk?"

"He was, your honour."

"And how about yourself, Mr. Rudd?"

"Sober as a judge, your honour."

"Thanks for the compliment, Mr. Rudd, but do you mean to tell me you didn't know the difference between that gentleman and a horse?"

"Well, I found him between the shafts, your honour, and the thing I'd bought for a horse had clean disappeared. Ain't never seen it since."

Mr. Wilson intervened at this point.

"How did the gentleman explain his presence between the shafts of your cart, Mr. Rudd?" the lawyer asked.

"Said he was playing horse," replied Mr. Rudd. "Told me a long cock-and-bull story about how he couldn't break himself of the habit of playing horse."

Mr. Wilson laughed scornfully and turned to the judge.

"You can see for yourself, your honour," he said, "what a lame excuse that was under the circumstances."

"There's nothing wrong under the law in playing horse," observed the judge mildly. "It's rather an odd sort of amusement for a great, tall man like Mr. Lamb. Still, if he wants to ride a broom or even to pull a cart he has a perfect right to do so."

He paused for a moment and looked curiously at Mr. Wilson. "Do you actually believe in this man's story?" asked the judge.

"Certainly, your honour," Mr. Wilson replied. "The witness is on his oath."

"I know all about that," replied the judge impatiently. "I'm not suggesting perjury, but I've known men who would have taken an oath that they were seeing snakes and pink elephants and green devils that existed only in their feverish imaginations. The judge that Mr. Rudd said he was as sober as, must have been a judge of whisky. That's the only way to justify his obviously impossible statements. Now, Mr. Wilson, let's get down to cases. If you can't prove that the defendant was a horse, you're going to have a great deal harder time trying to prove that he was a goldfish or a lion. And so far as I'm concerned it's going to be practically impossible for you to convince me that that gentleman sitting there with his sweet, innocent young daughter was ever a kangaroo. This is the silliest divorce case so far that I've ever tried. It has its amusing side, but I'm not here to be amused. Why don't you drop all this animal business and press a charge that you can get your teeth into—something more homelike and understandable—adultery, for instance?"

"One moment, your honour," said Mr. Wilson hastily. "Listen to this."

The lawyer drew near the rail and spoke in a low voice to the judge. Both of them looked with interest at Mr. Lamb, who, under the combined gaze of the two legal minds, began to grow decidedly uncomfortable.

Suddenly the judge broke down and buried his face in his hands, his shoulders shook and strangling noises came from between his fingers. Presently he mopped his face with his handkerchief and fixed his tearful eyes on the lawyer.

"You're only guessing, Mr. Wilson," said the judge. "And, besides, you haven't even established the fact that he was a horse. You'll have to do better than that, or I'll throw this case out of court."

Mr. Lamb's face was flaming. Strange things were going on inside him. If his wife had wished to humiliate him her wish was amply gratified. Through hot eyes he saw that Mr. Rudd's place in the witness-box had been taken by the woman in charge of Sandra's underwear shop. His heart sank. Was that scene to be repeated for the benefit of the public? Mr. Lamb wanted very badly to be somewhere else. He would gladly have turned to a stone or to any other inanimate object for a change. Madame was gorgeously arrayed. She seemed to regard the occasion in the light of a pleasant diversion.

"It was an assault partial," she was saying in answer to some question the opposing lawyer had put to her. "Not an assault complete. A moment more and it might have been utter."

"How was the victim of this brutal attack clad?" continued Mr. Wilson.

"The assaulted one was clad in a costume most revealing," explained Madam. "An irresistible creation of my own. Should you remove all of your outer garments, m'sieur, and cut the little that remained into ribbons, retaining only the smallest possible protection, you would arrive at something of the same effect."

"Don't try it, Mr. Wilson," put in the judge. "I've stood about enough for one day."

"What was Mr. Lamb doing?" continued Mr. Wilson, striving to maintain his dignity in the face of the quietly mirthful court-room.

Madame seemed completely surprised by this question. She elevated her shoulders eloquently and seemed to be taking the court-room into her confidence.

"Why, m'sieur," she protested. "What would you do? What would the judge do? What would any man do under the circumstances?"

"I hate the way that woman talks," observed the judge. "The situation is sufficiently clear, don't you think, Mr. Wilson?"

But Madame was well launched on her description and would not be denied. "When I re-entered the room—"

At this point the human elements contained in Mr. Lamb seemed to crash and to fall into disorder. The little russet man had at last surpassed all his previous efforts. Either out of pity for Mr. Lamb or through some caprice of his own, he had changed him into what might be roughly termed "a combination animal." Lamb had the feathered head of a large rooster, the body of some strangely designed pre-historic animal and the tail of a lizard. Not knowing what a sight he presented, he was able to gain some slight conception from the fact that even his own daughter shrank from him. The opposing lawyers leaped the rail at the same instant and took refuge with the judge behind his desk. Their bulging eyes slanted across its surface as if the three gentlemen were being strangled. Mrs. Lamb appeared to have swooned. The court-room was in an uproar. With a strange, whistling gasp Mr. Lamb looked uneasily about him, then turned and shuffled awkwardly down the aisle. No one raised a finger to stay his progress.

"I take everything back," said the judge when order had been restored. "It seems I was all wrong. Do you know what that thing was, Mr. Wilson?"

"I doubt if anyone does," replied the gentleman.

"Well, whatever it was," continued the judge, "I'm sure your client cannot be expected to live with it. I wouldn't do so myself for the world. The papers will be drawn up immediately. This court is officially adjourned, but those who care to remain until they have collected their scattered wits are at liberty to do so."

With dignity befitting his exalted office, the judge gathered his robe about him and withdrew.

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