Quennebert, who, without a smile, was absorbed in reflections on the happiness at last within his grasp, heard the noise from the next room, and rushing in, picked up his wife. Catching sight of the paper, he also uttered a cry of anger and astonishment, but in whatever circumstances he found himself he was never long uncertain how to act. Placing Madame Quennebert, still unconscious, on the bed, he called her maid, and, having impressed on her that she was to take every care of her mistress, and above all to tell her from him as soon as she came to herself that there was no cause for alarm, he left the house at once. An hour later, in spite of the efforts of the servants, he forced his way into the presence of Commander de Jars. Holding out the fateful document to him, he said:
“Speak openly, commander! Is it you who in revenge for your long constraint have done this? I can hardly think so, for after what has happened you know that I have nothing to fear any longer. Still, knowing my secret and unable to do it in any other way, have you perchance taken your revenge by an attempt to destroy my future happiness by sowing dissension and disunion between me and my wife?”
The commander solemnly assured him that he had had no hand in bringing about the discovery.
’Then if it’s not you, it must be a worthless being called Trumeau, who, with the unerring instinct of jealousy, has run the truth to earth. But he knows only half: I have never been either so much in love or so stupid as to allow myself to be trapped. I have given you my promise to be discreet and not to misuse my power, and as long as was compatible with my own safety I have kept my word. But now you must see that I am bound to defend myself, and to do that I shall be obliged to summon you as a witness. So leave Paris tonight and seek out some safe retreat where no one can find you, for to-morrow I shall speak. Of course if I am quit for a woman’s tears, if no more difficult task lies before me than to soothe a weeping wife, you can return immediately; but if, as is too probable, the blow has been struck by the hand of a rival furious at having been defeated, the matter will not so easily be cut short; the arm of the law will be invoked, and then I must get my head out of the noose which some fingers I know of are itching to draw tight.”
“You are quite right, sir,” answered the commander; “I fear that my influence at court is not strong enough to enable me to brave the matter out. Well, my success has cost me dear, but it has cured me for ever of seeking out similar adventures. My preparations will not take long, and to-morrow’s dawn will find me far from Paris.”
Quennebert bowed and withdrew, returning home to console his Ariadne.
The accusation hanging over the head of Maitre Quennebert was a very serious one, threatening his life, if proved. But he was not uneasy; he knew himself in possession of facts which would enable him to refute it triumphantly.