She opened it, and then held it out to her husband. It ran as follows:
"Office of Maitre Lamaneur, Notary,
"17 Rue des Vosges.
"MADAME: I have the honor to beg you to favor me with a call here on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday between the hours of two and four, on business concerning you.--I am, etc.--LAMANEUR."
George had reddened in turn.
"That is what it must be," said he.
"It is strange, though, that it is you who are summoned, and not myself, who am legally the head of the family."
She did not answer at once, but after a brief period of reflection, said:
"Shall we go round there by and by?"
They set out as soon as they had lunched.
When they entered Maitre Lamaneur's office, the head clerk rose with marked attention and ushered them in to his master.
The notary was a round, little man, round all over.
His head looked like a ball nailed onto another ball, which had legs so short that they almost resembled balls too.
He bowed, pointed to two chairs, and turning towards Madeleine, said:
"Madame, I have sent for you in order to acquaint you with the will of the Count de Vaudrec, in which you are interested."
George could not help muttering: "I thought so."
The notary went on: "I will read to you the document, which is very brief."
He took a paper from a box in front of him, and read as follows:
"I, the undersigned, Paul Emile Cyprien Gontran, Count de Vaudrec, being sound in body and mind, hereby express my last wishes.
As death may overtake us at any moment, I wish, in provision of his attacks, to take the precaution of making my will, which will be placed in the hands of Maitre Lamaneur.
Having no direct heirs, I leave the whole of my fortune, consisting of stock to the amount of six hundred thousand francs, and landed property worth about five hundred thousand francs, to Madame Claire Madeleine Du Roy without any charge or condition.
I beg her to accept this gift of a departed friend as a proof of a deep, devoted, and respectful affection."
The notary added: "That is all.
This document is dated last August, and replaces one of the same nature, written two years back, with the name of Madame Claire Madeleine Forestier.
I have this first will, too, which would prove, in the case of opposition on the part of the family, that the wishes of Count de Vaudrec did not vary."
Madeleine, very pale, looked at her feet.
George nervously twisted the end of his moustache between his fingers.
The notary continued after a moment of silence: "It is, of course, understood, sir, that your wife cannot accept the legacy without your consent."
Du Roy rose and said, dryly: "I must ask time to reflect."
The notary, who was smiling, bowed, and said in an amiable tone:
"I understand the scruples that cause you to hesitate, sir.
I should say that the nephew of Monsieur de Vaudrec, who became acquainted this very morning with his uncle's last wishes, stated that he was prepared to respect them, provided the sum of a hundred thousand francs was allowed him.
In my opinion the will is unattackable, but a law-suit would cause a stir, which it may perhaps suit you to avoid.
The world often judges things ill-naturedly.
In any case, can you give me your answer on all these points before Saturday?"
George bowed, saying:
Then he bowed again ceremoniously, ushered out his wife, who had remained silent, and went out himself with so stiff an air that the notary no longer smiled.
As soon as they got home, Du Roy abruptly closed the door, and throwing his hat onto the bed, said:
"You were Vaudrec's mistress."
Madeleine, who was taking off her veil, turned round with a start, exclaiming:
A man does not leave the whole of his fortune to a woman, unless--"
She was trembling, and was unable to remove the pins fastening the transparent tissue.
After a moment's reflection she stammered, in an agitated tone: "Come, come--you are mad--you are--you are. Did not you, yourself, just now have hopes that he would leave us something?"
George remained standing beside her, following all her emotions like a magistrate seeking to note the least faltering on the part of an accused.
He said, laying stress on every word: "Yes, he might have left something to me, your husband--to me, his friend--you understand, but not to you--my wife. The distinction is capital, essential from the point of propriety and of public opinion."