From Mr. Loscombe to Mrs. Noel Vanstone.
"Lincoln's Inn, November 15th.
"DEAR MADAM -- In compliance with your request, I now proceed to communicate to you in writing what (but for the calamity which has so recently befallen you) I should have preferred communicating by word of mouth. Be pleased to consider this letter as strictly confidential between yourself and me.
"I inclose, as you desire, a copy of the Will executed by your late husband on the third of this month. There can be no question of the genuineness of the original document. I protested, as a matter of form, against Admiral Bartram's solicitor assuming a position of authority at Baliol Cottage. But he took the position, nevertheless; acting as legal representative of the sole Executor under the second Will. I am bound to say I should have done the same myself in his place.
"The serious question follows, What can we do for the best in your interests? The Will executed under my professional superintendence, on the thirtieth of September last, is at present superseded and revoked by the second and later Will, executed on the third of November. Can we dispute this document?
"I doubt the possibility of disputing the new Will on the face of it. It is no doubt irregularly expressed; but it is dated, signed, and witnessed as the law directs; and the perfectly simple and straightforward provisions that it contains are in no respect, that I can see, technically open to attack.
"This being the case, can we dispute the Will on the ground that it has been executed when the Testator was not in a fit state to dispose of his own property? or when the Testator was subjected to undue and improper influence?
"In the first of these cases, the medical evidence would put an obstacle in our way. We cannot assert that previous illness had weakened the Testator's mind. It is clear that he died suddenly, as the doctors had all along declared he would die, of disease of the heart. He was out walking in his garden, as usual, on the day of his death; he ate a hearty dinner; none of the persons in his service noticed any change in him; he was a little more irritable with them than usual, but that was all. It is impossible to attack the state of his faculties: there is no case to go into court with, so far.
"Can we declare that he acted under undue influence; or, in plainer terms, under the influence of Mrs. Lecount?
"There are serious difficulties, again, in the way of taking this course. We cannot assert, for example, that Mrs. Lecount has assumed a place in the will which she has no fair claim to occupy. She has cunningly limited her own legacy, not only to what is fairly due her, but to what the late Mr. Michael Vanstone himself had the intention of leaving her. If I were examined on the subject, I should be compelled to acknowledge that I had heard him express this intention myself. It is only the truth to say that I have heard him express it more than once. There is no point of attack in Mrs. Lecount's legacy, and there is no point of attack in your late husband's choice of an executor. He has made the wise choice, and the natural choice, of the oldest and trustiest friend he had in the world.
"One more consideration remains -- the most important which I have yet approached, and therefore the consideration which I have reserved to the last. On the thirtieth of September, the Testator executes a will, leaving his widow sole executrix, with a legacy of eighty thousand pounds. On the third of November following, he expressly revokes this will, and leaves another in its stead, in which his widow is never once mentioned, and in which the whole residue of his estate, after payment of one comparatively trifling legacy, is left to a friend.
"It rests entirely with you to say whether any valid reason can or can not be produced to explain such an extraordinary proceeding as this. If no reason can be assigned -- and I know of none myself -- I think we have a point here which deserves our careful consideration; for it may be a point which is open to attack. Pray understand that I am now appealing to you solely as a lawyer, who is obliged to look all possible eventualities in the face. I have no wish to intrude on your private affairs; I have no wish to write a word which could be construed into any indirect reflection on yourself.
"If you tell me that, so far as you know, your husband capriciously struck you out of his will, without assignable reason or motive for doing so, and without other obvious explanation of his conduct than that he acted in this matter entirely under the influence of Mrs. Lecount, I will immediately take Counsel's opinion touching the propriety of disputing the will on this ground. If, on the other hand, you tell me that there are reasons (known to yourself, though unknown to me) for not taking the course I propose, I will accept that intimation without troubling you, unless you wish it, to explain yourself further. In this latter event, I will write to you again; for I shall then have something more to say, which may greatly surprise you, on the subject of the Will.