He had begun little by little to pick up the course of his life once more, and on a certain Wednesday morning was looking listlessly through the morning paper as he sat in his window-seat. The room was delightful, flooded with the morning sun, the Assyrian bas-reliefs just touched with a ruddy light, the Renaissance portraits looking down at him through a fine golden haze; a little fire, just enough to blunt the keenness of the early morning air, snapping in the famous tiled and flamboyant stove. All about the room was a pleasant fragrance of coffee and good tobacco.
Vandover caught sight of the announcement of the suit with a sudden sharp intake of breath that was half gasp, half cry, starting up from the window-seat, reading it over again and again with staring eyes.
It was a very short paragraph, not more than a dozen lines, lost at the bottom of a column, among the cheap advertisements. It made no allusion to any former stage of the affair; from its tone Ida might have killed herself only the day before. It seemed hardly more than a notice that some enterprising reporter, burrowing in the records at the City Hall, had unearthed and brought to light with the idea that it might be of possible interest to a few readers of the paper. But there was his name staring back at him from out the gray blur of the type, like some reflection of himself seen in a mirror. Insignificant as the paragraph was, it seemed to Vandover as though it was the only item in the whole paper. One might as well have trumpeted his crime through the streets.
“But twenty-five thousand dollars!” exclaimed Vandover, terrified. “Where will I find twenty-five thousand dollars?” And at once he fell to wondering as to whether or no in default of payment he could be sent to the penitentiary. The idea of winning the suit did not enter his mind an instant; he did not even dream of fighting it.
For the moment it was like fire driving out fire. He forgot the loss of his art, his mind filled only with the sense of the last disaster. What could he do? Twenty-five thousand dollars! It would ruin him. A cry of exasperation, of rage at his own folly, escaped him. “Ah, what a fool I’ve been!”
For an hour he raged to and fro in the delightful sunlit room, pacing back and forth in its longest dimension between the bamboo tea-table and the low bookcase, a thousand different plans and projects coming and going in his head. As his wits steadied themselves he began to see that he must consult at once with some lawyer—Field, of course—perhaps something could be done; a clever lawyer might make out a case for him after all. But all at once he became convinced that Field would not undertake his defence; he knew he had no case; so what could Field do for him? He would have to tell him the truth, and he saw with absolute clearness that the lawyer would refuse to try to defend him. The thing could not honourably be done. But, then, what should he do? He must have legal advice from some quarter.