“I found her affairs in a very different condition from what she seemed to think. The estate was mostly in securities which had not been properly looked after, and they had depreciated until they were some of them not worth the paper they were printed on. The house in Boston is mortgaged up to its full value, I should say; and I should say that Mrs. Lander did not know where she stood. She seemed to think that she was a very rich woman, but she lived high, and her lawyer said he never could make her understand how the money was going. Mr. Lander seemed to lose his grip, the year he died, and engaged in some very unfortunate speculations; I don’t know whether he told her. I might enter into details—”
“Oh, that is not necessary,” said Clementina, politely, witless of the disastrous quality of the facts which Mr. Orson was imparting.
“But the sum and substance of it all is that there will not be more than enough to pay the bequests to her own family, if there is that.”
Clementina looked with smiling innocence at the vice-consul.
“That is to say,” he explained, “there won’t be anything at all for you, Miss Claxon.”
“Well, that’s what I always told Mrs. Lander I ratha, when she brought it up. I told her she ought to give it to his family,” said Clementina, with a satisfaction in the event which the vice-consul seemed unable to share, for he remained gloomily silent. “There is that last money I drew on the letter of credit, you can give that to Mr. Orson.”
“I have told him about that money,” said the vice-consul, dryly. “It will be handed over to him when the estate is settled, if there isn’t enough to pay the bequests without it.”
“And the money which Mrs. Landa gave me before that,” she pursued, eagerly. Mr. Orson had the effect of pricking up his ears, though it was in fact merely a gleam of light that came into his eyes.
“That’s yours,” said the vice-consul, sourly, almost savagely. “She didn’t give it to you without she wanted you to have it, and she didn’t expect you to pay her bequests with it. In my opinion,” he burst out, in a wrathful recollection of his own sufferings from Mrs. Lander, “she didn’t give you a millionth part of your due for all the trouble she made you; and I want Mr. Orson to understand that, right here.”
Clementina turned her impartial gaze upon Mr. Orson as if to verify the impression of this extreme opinion upon him; he looked as if he neither accepted nor rejected it, and she concluded the sentence which the vice-consul had interrupted. “Because I ratha not keep it, if there isn’t enough without it.”
The vice-consul gave way to violence. “It’s none of your business whether there’s enough or not. What you’ve got to do is to keep what belongs to you, and I’m going to see that you do. That’s what I’m here for.” If this assumption of official authority did not awe Clementina, at least it put a check upon her headlong self-sacrifice. The vice-consul strengthened his hold upon her by asking, “What would you do. I should like to know, if you gave that up?”