“I think you must leave me to decide, after hearing you—”
“I believe I will. I am not in the least afraid to do so. Miss Weyland, Henry G. Surface is alive.”
Her face showed how completely taken back she was by the introduction of this topic, so utterly remote from the subject she had expected of him.
“Not only that,” continued Queed, evenly—“he is within reach. Both he—and some property which he has—are within reach of the courts.”
“Oh! How do you know?... Where is he?”
“For the present I am not free to answer those questions.”
There was a brief silence. Sharlee looked at the fire, the stirrings of painful memories betrayed in her eyes.
“We knew, of course, that he might be still alive,” she said slowly. “I—hope he is well and happy. But—we have no interest in him now. That is all closed and done with. As for the courts—I am sure that he has been punished already more than enough.”
“It is not a question of punishing him any more. You fail to catch my meaning, it seems. It has come to my knowledge that he has some money, a good deal of it—”
“But you cannot have imagined that I would want his money?”
“His money? He has none. It is all yours. That is why I am telling you about it.”
“Oh, but that can’t be possible. I don’t understand.”
Sitting upright in his chair, as businesslike as an attorney, Queed explained how Surface had managed to secrete part of the embezzled trustee funds, and had been snugly living on it ever since his release from prison.
“The exact amount is, at present, mere guesswork. But I think it will hardly fall below fifty thousand dollars, and it may run as high as a hundred thousand. I learn that Mr. Surface thinks, or pretends to think, that this money belongs to him. He is, needless to say, wholly mistaken. I have taken the liberty of consulting a lawyer about it, of course laying it before him as a hypothetical case. I am advised that when Mr. Surface was put through bankruptcy, he must have made a false statement in order to withhold this money. Therefore, that settlement counts for nothing, except to make him punishable for perjury now. The money is yours whenever you apply for it. That—”
“Oh—but I shall not apply for it. I don’t want it, you see.”
“It is not a question of whether you want it or not. It is yours—in just the way that the furniture in this room is yours. You simply have no right to evade it.”
Through all the agitation she felt in the sudden dragging out of this long-buried subject, his air of dictatorial authority brought the blood to her cheek.
“I have a right to evade it, in the first place, and in the second, I am not evading it at all. He took it; I let him keep it. That is the whole situation. I don’t want it—I couldn’t touch it—”
“Well, don’t decide that now. There would be no harm, I suppose, in your talking with your mother about it—even with some man in whose judgment you have confidence. You will feel differently when you have had time to think it over. Probably it—”