Where could he be? Near Marie-Anne most assuredly—and at the thought a wild desire to wreak her vengeance on her rival took possession of her heart.
Martial, at Montaignac, had ended by going to sleep.
Blanche, when daylight came, exchanged the snowy bridal robes for a black dress, and wandered about the garden like a restless spirit.
She spent most of the day shut up in her room, refusing to allow the duke, or even her father, to enter.
In the evening, about eight o’clock, they received tidings from Martial.
A servant brought two letters; one, sent by Martial to his father, the other, to his wife.
For a moment or more Blanche hesitated to open the one intended for her. It would determine her destiny; she was afraid; she broke the seal and read:
“Madame la marquise—Between you and me all is ended; reconciliation is impossible.
“From this moment you are free. I esteem you enough to hope that you will respect the name of Sairmeuse, from which I cannot relieve you.
“You will agree with me, I am sure, in thinking a quiet separation preferable to the scandal of a divorce suit.
“My lawyer will pay you an allowance befitting the wife of a man whose income amounts to three hundred thousand francs.
“Martial de Sairmeuse.”
Blanche staggered beneath this terrible blow. She was indeed deserted, and deserted, as she supposed, for another.
“Ah!” she exclaimed, “that creature! that creature! I will kill her!”
The twenty-four hours which Blanche had spent in measuring the extent of her terrible misfortune, the duke had spent in raving and swearing.
He had not even thought of going to bed.
After his fruitless search for his son he returned to the chateau, and began a continuous tramp to and fro in the great hall.
He was almost sinking from weariness when his son’s letter was handed him.
It was very brief.
Martial did not vouchsafe any explanation; he did not even mention the rupture between his wife and himself.
“I cannot return to Sairmeuse,” he wrote, “and yet it is of the utmost importance that I should see you.
“You will, I trust, approve my determinations when I explain the reasons that have guided me in making them.
“Come to Montaignac, then, the sooner the better. I am waiting for you.”
Had he listened to the prompting of his impatience, the duke would have started at once. But how could he thus abandon the Marquis de Courtornieu, who had accepted his hospitality, and especially Blanche, his son’s wife?
He must, at least, see them, speak to them, and warn them of his intended departure.
He attempted this in vain. Mme. Blanche had shut herself up in her own apartments, and remained deaf to all entreaties for admittance. Her father had been put to bed, and the physician who had been summoned to attend him, declared the marquis to be at death’s door.