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Chapter 14

THE WILL


The church was draped in black, and over the door a large escutcheon
surmounted by a coronet announced to the passers-by that a nobleman
was being buried. The ceremony was just over; those present went out
slowly, passing by the coffin, and by Count de Vaudrec's nephew, who
shook hands and returned salutations.

When Georges du Roy and his wife left the church, they walked along
side by side on their way home. They did not speak; they were both
preoccupied. At length Georges said, as if talking to himself:
"Truly it is very astonishing!"

Madeleine asked: "What, my friend?"

"That Vaudrec left us nothing."

She blushed and said: "Why should he leave us anything? Had he any
reason for doing so?" Then after several moments of silence, she
continued: "Perhaps there is a will at a lawyer's; we should not
know of it."

He replied: "That is possible, for he was our best friend. He dined
with us twice a week; he came at any time; he was at home with us.
He loved you as a father; he had no family, no children, no brothers
nor sisters, only a nephew. Yes, there should be a will. I would not
care for much--a remembrance to prove that he thought of us--that he
recognized the affection we felt for him. We should certainly have a
mark of friendship."

She said with a pensive and indifferent air: "It is possible that
there is a will."

When they entered the house, the footman handed Madeleine a letter.
She opened it and offered it to her husband.

"OFFICE OF M. LAMANEUR,
Notary.
17 Rue des Vosges,"

"Madame: Kindly call at my office at a quarter past two o'clock
Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, on business which concerns
you."

"Yours respectfully,"

"LAMANEUR."

Georges, in his turn, colored.

"That is as it should be. It is strange, however, that he should
write to you and not to me, for I am the head of the family
legally."

"Shall we go at once?" she asked.

"Yes, I should like to."

After luncheon they set out for M. Lamaneur's office.

The notary was a short, round man--round all over. His head looked
like a ball fastened to another ball, which was supported by legs so
short that they too almost resembled balls.

He bowed, as Du Roy and his wife were shown into his office, pointed
to seats, and said, turning to Madeleine: "Madame, I sent for you in
order to inform you of Count de Vaudrec's will, which will be of
interest to you."

Georges could not help muttering: "I suspected that."

The notary continued: "I shall read you the document which is very
brief."

"'I, the undersigned, Paul Emile Cyprien Gontran, Count de
Vaudrec, sound both in body and mind, here express my last
wishes. As death might take me away at any moment, I wish to
take the precaution of drawing up my will, to be deposited with
M. Lamaneur.'"

"'Having no direct heirs, I bequeath all my fortune, comprising
stocks and bonds for six hundred thousand francs and landed
property for five hundred thousand, to Mme. Claire Madeleine du
Roy unconditionally. I beg her to accept that gift from a dead
friend as a proof of devoted, profound, and respectful
affection.'"

The notary said: "That is all. That document bears the date of
August last, and took the place of one of the same nature made two
years ago in the name of Mme. Claire Madeleine Forestier. I have the
first will, which would prove, in case of contestation on the part
of the family, that Count de Vaudrec had not changed his mind."

Madeleine cast down her eyes; her cheeks were pale. Georges
nervously twisted his mustache.

The notary continued after a moment's pause: "It is of course
understood that Madame cannot accept that legacy without your
consent."

Du Roy rose and said shortly: "I ask time for reflection."

The notary smiled, bowed, and replied pleasantly: "I comprehend the
scruples which cause you to hesitate. I may add that M. de Vaudrec's
nephew, who was informed this morning of his uncle's last wishes,
expresses himself as ready to respect them if he be given one
hundred thousand francs. In my opinion the will cannot be broken,
but a lawsuit would cause a sensation which you would probably like
to avoid. The world often judges uncharitably. Can you let me have
your reply before Saturday?"

Georges bowed, and together with his wife left the office. When they
arrived home, Du Roy closed the door and throwing his hat on the
bed, asked: "What were the relations between you and Vaudrec?"

Madeleine, who was taking off her veil, turned around with a
shudder: "Between us?"

"Yes, between you and him! One does not leave one's entire fortune
to a woman unless--"

She trembled, and could scarcely take out the pins which fastened
the transparent tissue. Then she stammered in an agitated manner:
"You are mad--you are--you are--you did not think--he would leave
you anything!"

Georges replied, emphazing each word: "Yes, he could have left me
something; me, your husband, his friend; but not you, my wife and
his friend. The distinction is material in the eyes of the world."

Madeleine gazed at him fixedly: "It seems to me that the world would
have considered a legacy from him to you very strange."

"Why?"

"Because,"--she hesitated, then continued: "Because you are my
husband; because you were not well acquainted; because I have been
his friend so long; because his first will, made during Forestier's
lifetime, was already in my favor."

Georges began to pace to and fro. He finally said: "You cannot
accept that."

She answered indifferently: "Very well; it is not necessary then to
wait until Saturday; you can inform M. Lamaneur at once."

He paused before her, and they gazed into one another's eyes as if
by that mute and ardent interrogation they were trying to examine
each other's consciences. In a low voice he murmured: "Come, confess
your relations."

She shrugged her shoulders. "You are absurd. Vaudrec was very fond
of me, very, but there was nothing more, never."

He stamped his foot. "You lie! It is not possible."

She replied calmly: "It is so, nevertheless."

He resumed his pacing to and fro; then pausing again, he said:
"Explain to me, then, why he left all his fortune to you."

She did so with a nonchalant air: "It is very simple. As you said
just now, we were his only friends, or rather, I was his only
friend, for he knew me when a child. My mother was a governess in
his father's house. He came here continually, and as he had no legal
heirs, he selected me. It is possible that he even loved me a
little. But what woman has never been loved thus? He brought me
flowers every Monday. You were never surprised at that, and he never
brought you any. To-day he leaves me his fortune for the same
reason, because he had no one else to leave it to. It would on the
other hand have been extremely surprising if he had left it to you."

"Why?"

"What are you to him?"

She spoke so naturally and so calmly that Georges hesitated before
replying: "It makes no difference; we cannot accept that bequest
under those conditions. Everyone would talk about it and laugh at
me. My fellow-journalists are already too much disposed to be
jealous of me and to attack me. I have to be especially careful of
my honor and my reputation. I cannot permit my wife to accept a
legacy of that kind from a man whom rumor has already assigned to
her as her lover. Forestier might perhaps have tolerated that, but I
shall not."

She replied gently: "Very well, my dear, we will not take it; it
will be a million less in our pockets, that is all."

Georges paced the room and uttered his thoughts aloud, thus speaking
to his wife without addressing her:

"Yes, a million--so much the worse. He did not think when making his
will what a breach of etiquette he was committing. He did not
realize in what a false, ridiculous position he was placing me. He
should have left half of it to me--that would have made matters
right."

He seated himself, crossed his legs and began to twist the ends of
his mustache, as was his custom when annoyed, uneasy, or pondering
over a weighty question.

Madeleine took up a piece of embroidery upon which she worked
occasionally, and said: "I have nothing to say. You must decide."

It was some time before he replied; then he said hesitatingly: "The
world would never understand how it was that Vaudrec constituted you
his sole heiress and that I allowed it. To accept that legacy would
be to avow guilty relations on your part and an infamous lack of
self-respect on mine. Do you know how the acceptance of it might be
interpreted? We should have to find some adroit means of palliating
it. We should have to give people to suppose, for instance, that he
divided his fortune between us, giving half to you and half to me."

She said: "I do not see how that can be done, since there is a
formal will."

He replied: "Oh, that is very simple. We have no children; you can
therefore deed me part of the inheritance. In that way we can
silence malignant tongues."

She answered somewhat impatiently: "I do not see how we can silence
malignant tongues since the will is there, signed by Vaudrec."

He said angrily: "Do you need to exhibit it, or affix it to the
door? You are absurd! We will say that the fortune was left us
jointly by Count de Vaudrec. That is all. You cannot, moreover,
accept the legacy without my authority; I will only consent on the
condition of a partition which will prevent me from becoming a
laughing-stock for the world."

She glanced sharply at him: "As you will. I am ready."

He seemed to hesitate again, rose, paced the floor, and avoiding his
wife's piercing gaze, he said: "No--decidedly no--perhaps it would
be better to renounce it altogether--it would be more correct--more
honorable. From the nature of the bequest even charitably-disposed
people would suspect illicit relations."

He paused before Madeleine. "If you like, my darling, I will return
to M. Lamaneur's alone, to consult him and to explain the matter to
him. I will tell him of my scruples and I will add that we have
agreed to divide it in order to avoid any scandal. From the moment
that I accept a portion of the inheritance it will be evident that
there is nothing wrong. I can say: 'My wife accepts it because I,
her husband, accept'--I, who am the best judge of what she can do
without compromising herself."

Madeleine simply murmured: "As you wish."

He continued: "Yes, it will be as clear as day if that is done. We
inherit a fortune from a friend who wished to make no distinction
between us, thereby showing that his liking for you was purely
Platonic. You may be sure that if he had given it a thought, that is
what he would have done. He did not reflect--he did not foresee the
consequences. As you said just now, he offered you flowers every
week, he left you his wealth."

She interrupted him with a shade of annoyance:

"I understand. No more explanations are necessary. Go to the notary
at once."

He stammered in confusion: "You are right; I will go." He took his
hat, and, as he was leaving the room, he asked: "Shall I try to
compromise with the nephew for fifty thousand francs?"

She replied haughtily: "No. Give him the hundred thousand francs he
demands, and take them from my share if you wish."

Abashed, he murmured: "No, we will share it. After deducting fifty
thousand francs each we will still have a million net." Then he
added: "Until later, my little Made."

He proceeded to the notary's to explain the arrangement decided
upon, which he claimed originated with his wife. The following day
they signed a deed for five hundred thousand francs, which Madeleine
du Roy gave up to her husband.

On leaving the office, as it was pleasant, Georges proposed that
they take a stroll along the boulevards. He was very tender, very
careful of her, and laughed joyously while she remained pensive and
grave.

It was a cold, autumn day. The pedestrians seemed in haste and
walked along rapidly.

Du Roy led his wife to the shop into the windows of which he had so
often gazed at the coveted chronometer.

"Shall I buy you some trinket?" he asked.

She replied indifferently: "As you like."

They entered the shop: "What would you prefer, a necklace, a
bracelet, or earrings?"

The sight of the brilliant gems made her eyes sparkle in spite of
herself, as she glanced at the cases filled with costly baubles.

Suddenly she exclaimed: "There is a lovely bracelet."

It was a chain, very unique in shape, every link of which was set
with a different stone.

Georges asked: "How much is that bracelet?"

The jeweler replied: "Three thousand francs, sir."

"If you will let me have it for two thousand five hundred, I will
take it."

The man hesitated, then replied: "No, sir, it is impossible."

Du Roy said: "See here--throw in this chronometer at fifteen hundred
francs; that makes four thousand, and I will pay cash. If you do not
agree, I will go somewhere else."

The jeweler finally yielded. "Very well, sir."

The journalist, after leaving his address, said: "You can have my
initials G. R. C. interlaced below a baron's crown, engraved on the
chronometer."

Madeleine, in surprise, smiled, and when they left the shop, she
took his arm quite affectionately. She thought him very shrewd and
clever. He was right; now that he had a fortune he must have a
title.

They passed the Vaudeville on their way arid, entering, secured a
box. Then they repaired to Mme, de Marelle's at Georges' suggestion,
to invite her to spend the evening with them. Georges rather dreaded
the first meeting with Clotilde, but she did not seem to bear him
any malice, or even to remember their disagreement. The dinner,
which they took at a restaurant, was excellent, and the evening
altogether enjoyable.

Georges and Madeleine returned home late. The gas was extinguished,
and in order to light the way the journalist from time to time
struck a match. On reaching the landing on the first floor they saw
their reflections in the mirror. Du Roy raised his hand with the
lighted match in it, in order to distinguish their images more
clearly, and said, with a triumphant smile:

"The millionaires are passing by."


Guy de Maupassant

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