Quennebert was well aware of the zeal with which the indefatigable Trumeau sought to injure him. But he regarded the manoeuvres of his rival with supreme unconcern, for he knew that he could at any time sweep away the network of cunning machinations, underhand insinuations, and malicious hints, which was spread around him, by allowing the widow to confer on him the advantages she was so anxious to bestow. The goal, he knew, was within his reach, but the problem he had to solve was how to linger on the way thither, how to defer the triumphal moment, how to keep hope alive in the fair one’s breast and yet delay its fruition. His affairs were in a bad way. Day by day full possession of the fortune thus dangled before his eyes, and fragments of which came to him occasionally by way of loan, was becoming more and more indispensable, and tantalising though it was, yet he dared not put out his hand to seize it. His creditors dunned him relentlessly: one final reprieve had been granted him, but that at an end, if he could not meet their demands, it was all up with his career and reputation.
One morning in the beginning of February 1660, Trumeau called to see his cousin. He had not been there for nearly a month, and Quennebert and the widow had begun to think that, hopeless of success, he had retired from the contest. But, far from that, his hatred had grown more intense than ever, and having come upon the traces of an event in the past life of his rival which if proved would be the ruin of that rival’s hopes, he set himself to gather evidence. He now made his appearance with beaming looks, which expressed a joy too great for words. He held in one hand a small scroll tied with a ribbon. He found the widow alone, sitting in a large easy-chair before the fire. She was reading for the twentieth time a letter which Quenriebert had written her the evening before. To judge by the happy and contented expression of the widow’s face, it must have been couched in glowing terms. Trumeau guessed at once from whom the missive came, but the sight of it, instead of irritating him, called forth a smile.
“Ah! so it’s you, cousin?” said the widow, folding the precious paper and slipping it into the bosom of her dress. “How do you do? It’s a long time since I saw you, more than a fortnight, I think. Have you been ill?”
“So you remarked my absence! That is very flattering, my dear cousin; you do not often spoil me by such attentions. No, I have not been ill, thank God, but I thought it better not to intrude upon you so often. A friendly call now and then such as to-day’s is what you like, is it not? By the way, tell me about your handsome suitor, Maitre Quennebert; how is he getting along?”
“You look very knowing, Trumeau: have you heard of anything happening to him?”
“No, and I should be exceedingly sorry to hear that anything unpleasant had happened to him.”
Now you are not saying what you think, you know you can’t bear him.”