“Monseigneur’s arms are there,” replied the valet.
“Monseigneur! Come and take a glass,” said Pierrotin, nodding toward the Cafe de l’Echiquier, whither he conducted the valet. “Waiter, two absinthes!” he said, as he entered. “Who is your master? and where is he going? I have never seen you before,” said Pierrotin to the valet as they touched glasses.
“There’s a good reason for that,” said the footman. “My master only goes into your parts about once a year, and then in his own carriage. He prefers the valley d’Orge, where he has the most beautiful park in the neighborhood of Paris, a perfect Versailles, a family estate of which he bears the name. Don’t you know Monsieur Moreau?”
“The steward of Presles?”
“Yes. Monsieur le Comte is going down to spend a couple of days with him.”
“Ha! then I’m to carry Monsieur le Comte de Serizy!” cried the coach-proprietor.
“Yes, my land, neither more nor less. But listen! here’s a special order. If you have any of the country neighbors in your coach you are not to call him Monsieur le comte; he wants to travel ‘en cognito,’ and told me to be sure to say he would pay a handsome pourboire if he was not recognized.”
“So! Has this secret journey anything to do with the affair which Pere Leger, the farmer at the Moulineaux, came to Paris the other day to settle?”
“I don’t know,” replied the valet, “but the fat’s in the fire. Last night I was sent to the stable to order the Daumont carriage to be ready to go to Presles at seven this morning. But when seven o’clock came, Monsieur le comte countermanded it. Augustin, his valet de chambre, attributes the change to the visit of a lady who called last night, and again this morning—he thought she came from the country.”
“Could she have told him anything against Monsieur Moreau?—the best of men, the most honest of men, a king of men, hey! He might have made a deal more than he has out of his position, if he’d chosen; I can tell you that.”
“Then he was foolish,” answered the valet, sententiously.
“Is Monsieur le Serizy going to live at Presles at last?” asked Pierrotin; “for you know they have just repaired and refurnished the chateau. Do you think it is true he has already spent two hundred thousand francs upon it?”
“If you or I had half what he has spent upon it, you and I would be rich bourgeois. If Madame la comtesse goes there—ha! I tell you what! no more ease and comfort for the Moreaus,” said the valet, with an air of mystery.
“He’s a worthy man, Monsieur Moreau,” remarked Pierrotin, thinking of the thousand francs he wanted to get from the steward. “He is a man who makes others work, but he doesn’t cheapen what they do; and he gets all he can out of the land—for his master. Honest man! He often comes to Paris and gives me a good fee: he has lots of errands for me to do in Paris; sometimes three or four packages a day—either from monsieur or madame. My bill for cartage alone comes to fifty francs a month, more or less. If madame does set up to be somebody, she’s fond of her children; and it is I who fetch them from school and take them back; and each time she gives me five francs—a real great lady couldn’t do better than that. And every time I have any one in the coach belonging to them or going to see them, I’m allowed to drive up to the chateau—that’s all right, isn’t it?”
“They say Monsieur Moreau wasn’t worth three thousand francs when Monsieur le comte made him steward of Presles,” said the valet.
“Well, since 1806, there’s seventeen years, and the man ought to have made something at any rate.”
“True,” said the valet, nodding. “Anyway, masters are very annoying; and I hope, for Moreau’s sake, that he has made butter for his bread.”
“I have often been to your house in the rue de la Chaussee d’Antin to carry baskets of game,” said Pierrotin, “but I’ve never had the advantage, so far of seeing either monsieur or madame.”
“Monsieur le comte is a good man,” said the footman, confidentially. “But if he insists on your helping to keep up his cognito there’s something in the wind. At any rate, so we think at the house; or else, why should he countermand the Daumont—why travel in a coucou? A peer of France might afford to hire a cabriolet to himself, one would think.”
“A cabriolet would cost him forty francs to go there and back; for let me tell you, if you don’t know it, that road was only made for squirrels—up-hill and down, down-hill and up!” said Pierrotin. “Peer of France or bourgeois, they are all looking after the main chance, and saving their money. If this journey concerns Monsieur Moreau, faith, I’d be sorry any harm should come to him! Twenty good Gods! hadn’t I better find some way of warning him?—for he’s a truly good man, a kind man, a king of men, hey!”
“Pooh! Monsieur le comte thinks everything of Monsieur Moreau,” replied the valet. “But let me give you a bit of good advice. Every man for himself in this world. We have enough to do to take care of ourselves. Do what Monsieur le comte asks you to do, and all the more because there’s no trifling with him. Besides, to tell the truth, the count is generous. If you oblige him so far,” said the valet, pointing half-way down his little finger, “he’ll send you on as far as that,” stretching out his arm to its full length.
This wise reflection, and the action that enforced it, had the effect, coming from a man who stood as high as second valet to the Comte de Serizy, of cooling the ardor of Pierrotin for the steward of Presles.
“Well, adieu, Monsieur Pierrotin,” said the valet.
A glance rapidly cast on the life of the Comte de Serizy, and on that of his steward, is here necessary in order to fully understand the little drama now about to take place in Pierrotin’s vehicle.
Monsieur Huguet de Serisy descends in a direct line from the famous president Huguet, ennobled under Francois I.
This family bears: party per pale or and sable, an orle counterchanged and two lozenges counterchanged, with: “i, semper melius eris,”—a motto which, together with the two distaffs taken as supporters, proves the modesty of the burgher families in the days when the Orders held their allotted places in the State; and the naivete of our ancient customs by the pun on “eris,” which word, combined with the “i” at the beginning and the final “s” in “melius,” forms the name (Serisy) of the estate from which the family take their title.
The father of the present count was president of a parliament before the Revolution. He himself a councillor of State at the Grand Council of 1787, when he was only twenty-two years of age, was even then distinguished for his admirable memoranda on delicate diplomatic matters. He did not emigrate during the Revolution, and spent that period on his estate of Serizy near Arpajon, where the respect in which his father was held protected him from all danger. After spending several years in taking care of the old president, who died in 1794, he was elected about that time to the Council of the Five Hundred, and accepted those legislative functions to divert his mind from his grief. After the 18th Brumaire, Monsieur de Serizy became, like so many other of the old parliamentary families, an object of the First Consul’s blandishment. He was appointed to the Council of State, and received one of the most disorganized departments of the government to reconstruct. This scion of an old historical family proved to be a very active wheel in the grand and magnificent organization which we owe to Napoleon.
The councillor of State was soon called from his particular administration to a ministry. Created count and senator by the Emperor, he was made proconsul to two kingdoms in succession. In 1806, when forty years of age,