The Man of Last Resort/Mrs. Van Bartan/Chapter 3

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III

On a certain bleak Thursday of January, Randolph Mason sat in his office, absorbed in the study of a great map which was spread out on his table. The day was so dark and lowering that the electric light above the table had been turned on. Presently the door opened and the little clerk Parks looked in. He watched the lawyer for a few moments intently; then he withdrew his head. A few minutes later, the door again opened and a woman entered, and closed it behind her. She stopped and looked at the counsellor, bending over his map. The picture was not a pleasant one. The man's streaked, gray hair was rumpled, and his heavy-muscled face under the glare of the light was rather more brutal than otherwise. Then she crossed to the table and threw a newspaper down on the map.

“Will you kindly read that marked paragraph?” she said.

Randolph Mason looked up. For a moment he did not recall the woman, her face was so very white. Then he recognized his client, Mrs. Van Bartan.

“You will pardon me, madam,” he said. “I am deeply engaged. Kindly come here tomorrow.”

“I have to regret,” said the woman, “that I ever came here at all. Will you please read that paragraph?” And she put her finger down on the newspaper.

The counsellor looked at the paper.

“We notice by to-day's Herald,” it ran, “that Robert Dalton, Esq., has sailed for Japan, where it is said he will become a legal instructor in one of the national universities. Mr. Dalton, it will be remembered, is the attorney whose stupid blunder invalidated the Van Bartan will, and it is to be hoped that he will prove more efficient in the service of the Mikado. The bar of the Virginias cannot be said to regret Mr. Dalton's departure. He was grossly incompetent, and just such men bring the legal profession into disrepute.”

“What of all this?” said Mason. “You obtained what you desired. Why do you harass me with this nonsense?”

“I obtained it,” repeated the woman, bitterly. “Yes, thanks to your devilish ingenuity, I obtained it, but at what a cost! I have the money, but it is daubed over with the blood of a man's heart. It has the price of a man's honor stamped on the face of every coin. I hate it all. Everything I see, every thread that touches me, taunts me with the shame of such a sacrifice.”

The woman's voice was firm, but her figure trembled like a tense wire.

“Madam.” said Randolph Mason, “you annoy me. I have no interest in this drivel.”

“No interest in it?” cried the woman. “You, you have no interest in it? Was it not you who did it? You and the devil himself? You concocted this plan. You said go to him, and tell him, and he would know what to do. Your fiendish ingenuity saw what would result, but you did not tell me. You did not tell me that this man would be compelled to rip his life in two like a cloth to save me, and that he would do it. If I had known this, do you suppose that I would have gone on for a moment? Do you suppose that I wanted wealth, or ease, or luxury, at the cost of a man's hope and fame and honor? I tell you, you miserable blunderer, this thing cost too much.”

“Chatter,” said Mason, rising.

“Chatter!” cried the woman, beating her hards on the table. “Do you call this chatter? I charge you,—do you hear me, I charge you with the ruin of this man's life.”

“Madam,” said Randolph Mason, “the vice of your error lies in the fact that you should have consulted a priest. I am not concerned with the nonsense of emotion.”

Then he turned abruptly and walked out of the room.