To receive his fortune in that way would be an acknowledgment on your part of a guilty connection, and on mine of a shameful complaisance. Do you understand now how our acceptance of it would be interpreted?
It would be necessary to find a side issue, some clever way of palliating matters.
To let it go abroad, for instance, that he had divided the money between us, leaving half to the husband and half to the wife."
She observed: "I do not see how that can be done, since the will is plain."
"Oh, it is very simple.
You could leave me half the inheritance by a deed of gift.
We have no children, so it is feasible.
In that way the mouth of public malevolence would be closed."
She replied, somewhat impatiently: "I do not see any the more how the mouth of public malevolence is to be closed, since the will is there, signed by Vaudrec?"
He said, angrily: "Have we any need to show it and to paste it up on all the walls? You are really stupid.
We will say that the Count de Vaudrec left his fortune between us. That is all. But you cannot accept this legacy without my authorization.
I will only give it on condition of a division, which will hinder me from becoming a laughing stock."
She looked at him again with a penetrating glance, and said:
"As you like.
I am agreeable."
Then he rose, and began to walk up and down again.
He seemed to be hesitating anew, and now avoided his wife's penetrating glance.
He was saying: "No, certainly not. Perhaps it would be better to give it up altogether. That is more worthy, more correct, more honorable. And yet by this plan nothing could be imagined against us--absolutely nothing.
The most unscrupulous people could only admit things as they were."
He paused in front of Madeleine.
"Well, then, if you like, darling, I will go back alone to Maitre Lamaneur to explain matters to him and consult him.
I will tell him of my scruples, and add that we have arrived at the notion of a division to prevent gossip.
From the moment that I accept half this inheritance, it is plain that no one has the right to smile.
It is equal to saying aloud:
'My wife accepts because I accept--I, her husband, the best judge of what she may do without compromising herself.
Otherwise a scandal would have arisen.'"
Madeleine merely murmured:
"Just as you like."
He went on with a flow of words:
"Yes, it is all as clear as daylight with this arrangement of a division in two.
We inherit from a friend who did not want to make any difference between us, any distinction; who did not wish to appear to say:
'I prefer one or the other after death, as I did during life.'
He liked the wife best, be it understood, but in leaving the fortune equally to both, he wished plainly to express that his preference was purely platonic.
And you may be sure that, if he had thought of it, that is what he would have done.
He did not reflect. He did not foresee the consequences.
As you said very appropriately just now, it was you to whom he offered flowers every week, it is to you he wished to leave his last remembrance, without taking into consideration that--"
She checked him, with a shade of irritation: "All right; I understand.
You have no need to make so many explanations.
Go to the notary's at once."
He stammered, reddening: "You are right. I am off." He took his hat, and then, at the moment of going out, said: "I will try to settle the difficulty with the nephew for fifty thousand francs, eh?"
She replied, with dignity: "No.
Give him the hundred thousand francs he asks.
Take them from my share, if you like."
He muttered, shamefacedly:
"Oh, no; we will share that.
Giving up fifty thousand francs apiece, there still remains to us a clear million."
He added: "Good-bye, then, for the present, Made."
And he went off to explain to the notary the plan which he asserted had been imagined by his wife.
They signed the next day a deed of gift of five hundred thousand francs, which Madeleine Du Roy abandoned to her husband.
On leaving the notary's office, as the day was fine, George suggested that they should walk as far as the boulevards.