The church was draped in black, and over the door a large escutcheo_urmounted by a coronet announced to the passers-by that a nobleman was bein_uried. The ceremony was just over; those present went out slowly, passing b_he coffin, and by Count de Vaudrec's nephew, who shook hands and returne_alutations.
When Georges du Roy and his wife left the church, they walked along side b_ide on their way home. They did not speak; they were both preoccupied. A_ength 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 fo_oing so?" Then after several moments of silence, she continued: "Perhap_here 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 u_wice a week; he came at any time; he was at home with us. He loved you as _ather; 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 prov_hat he thought of us—that he recognized the affection we felt for him. W_hould certainly have a mark of friendship."
She said with a pensive and indifferent air: "It is possible that there is _ill."
When they entered the house, the footman handed Madeleine a letter. She opene_t 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,"
Georges, in his turn, colored.
"That is as it should be. It is strange, however, that he should write to yo_nd 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 bal_astened to another ball, which was supported by legs so short that they to_lmost 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 yo_f 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 bot_n body and mind, here express my last wishes. As death might take me away a_ny moment, I wish to take the precaution of drawing up my will, to b_eposited with M. Lamaneur.'"
"'Having no direct heirs, I bequeath all my fortune, comprising stocks an_onds for six hundred thousand francs and landed property for five hundre_housand, to Mme. Claire Madeleine du Roy unconditionally. I beg her to accep_hat gift from a dead friend as a proof of devoted, profound, and respectfu_ffection.'"
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 o_me. Claire Madeleine Forestier. I have the first will, which would prove, i_ase of contestation on the part of the family, that Count de Vaudrec had no_hanged his mind."
Madeleine cast down her eyes; her cheeks were pale. Georges nervously twiste_is mustache.
The notary continued after a moment's pause: "It is of course understood tha_adame 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 scruple_hich cause you to hesitate. I may add that M. de Vaudrec's nephew, who wa_nformed this morning of his uncle's last wishes, expresses himself as read_o respect them if he be given one hundred thousand francs. In my opinion th_ill cannot be broken, but a lawsuit would cause a sensation which you woul_robably like to avoid. The world often judges uncharitably. Can you let m_ave your reply before Saturday?"
Georges bowed, and together with his wife left the office. When they arrive_ome, Du Roy closed the door and throwing his hat on the bed, asked: "Wha_ere the relations between you and Vaudrec?"
Madeleine, who was taking off her veil, turned around with a shudder: "Betwee_s?"
"Yes, between you and him! One does not leave one's entire fortune to a woma_nless—"
She trembled, and could scarcely take out the pins which fastened th_ransparent tissue. Then she stammered in an agitated manner: "You are mad—yo_re—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. Th_istinction is material in the eyes of the world."
Madeleine gazed at him fixedly: "It seems to me that the world would hav_onsidered a legacy from him to you very strange."
"Because,"—she hesitated, then continued: "Because you are my husband; becaus_ou were not well acquainted; because I have been his friend so long; becaus_is 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 unti_aturday; you can inform M. Lamaneur at once."
He paused before her, and they gazed into one another's eyes as if by tha_ute and ardent interrogation they were trying to examine each other'_onsciences. 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, w_ere his only friends, or rather, I was his only friend, for he knew me when _hild. My mother was a governess in his father's house. He came her_ontinually, and as he had no legal heirs, he selected me. It is possible tha_e even loved me a little. But what woman has never been loved thus? H_rought me flowers every Monday. You were never surprised at that, and h_ever 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 hav_een extremely surprising if he had left it to you."
"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 ar_lready too much disposed to be jealous of me and to attack me. I have to b_specially careful of my honor and my reputation. I cannot permit my wife t_ccept a legacy of that kind from a man whom rumor has already assigned to he_s 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 _illion less in our pockets, that is all."
Georges paced the room and uttered his thoughts aloud, thus speaking to hi_ife without addressing her:
"Yes, a million—so much the worse. He did not think when making his will wha_ 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 t_e—that would have made matters right."
He seated himself, crossed his legs and began to twist the ends of hi_ustache, as was his custom when annoyed, uneasy, or pondering over a weight_uestion.
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 worl_ould never understand how it was that Vaudrec constituted you his sol_eiress and that I allowed it. To accept that legacy would be to avow guilt_elations on your part and an infamous lack of self-respect on mine. Do yo_now how the acceptance of it might be interpreted? We should have to fin_ome 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 an_alf 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 therefor_eed me part of the inheritance. In that way we can silence malignan_ongues."
She answered somewhat impatiently: "I do not see how we can silence malignan_ongues since the will is there, signed by Vaudrec."
He said angrily: "Do you need to exhibit it, or affix it to the door? You ar_bsurd! 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; _ill only consent on the condition of a partition which will prevent me fro_ecoming 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'_iercing gaze, he said: "No—decidedly no—perhaps it would be better t_enounce it altogether—it would be more correct—more honorable. From th_ature of the bequest even charitably-disposed people would suspect illici_elations."
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 tel_im of my scruples and I will add that we have agreed to divide it in order t_void any scandal. From the moment that I accept a portion of the inheritanc_t will be evident that there is nothing wrong. I can say: 'My wife accepts i_ecause I, her husband, accept'—I, who am the best judge of what she can d_ithout compromising herself."
Madeleine simply murmured: "As you wish."
He continued: "Yes, it will be as clear as day if that is done. We inherit _ortune from a friend who wished to make no distinction between us, thereb_howing that his liking for you was purely Platonic. You may be sure that i_e had given it a thought, that is what he would have done. He did no_eflect—he did not foresee the consequences. As you said just now, he offere_ou 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 th_ephew 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 thousan_rancs each we will still have a million net." Then he added: "Until later, m_ittle Made."
He proceeded to the notary's to explain the arrangement decided upon, which h_laimed originated with his wife. The following day they signed a deed fo_ive 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 _troll along the boulevards. He was very tender, very careful of her, an_aughed joyously while she remained pensive and grave.
It was a cold, autumn day. The pedestrians seemed in haste and walked alon_apidly.
Du Roy led his wife to the shop into the windows of which he had so ofte_azed 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, o_arrings?"
The sight of the brilliant gems made her eyes sparkle in spite of herself, a_he 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 _ifferent 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 g_omewhere 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 ar_uite 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. The_hey repaired to Mme, de Marelle's at Georges' suggestion, to invite her t_pend the evening with them. Georges rather dreaded the first meeting wit_lotilde, but she did not seem to bear him any malice, or even to remembe_heir disagreement. The dinner, which they took at a restaurant, wa_xcellent, and the evening altogether enjoyable.
Georges and Madeleine returned home late. The gas was extinguished, and i_rder to light the way the journalist from time to time struck a match. O_eaching the landing on the first floor they saw their reflections in th_irror. Du Roy raised his hand with the lighted match in it, in order t_istinguish their images more clearly, and said, with a triumphant smile: