The count thanked Madame de Reybert coldly, bestowing upon her the holy-water of courts, for he despised backbiting; but for all that, he remembered Derville’s doubts, and felt inwardly shaken. Just then he saw his steward’s letter and read it. In its assurances of devotion and its respectful reproaches for the distrust implied in wishing to negotiate the purchase for himself, he read the truth.
“Corruption has come to him with fortune—as it always does!” he said to himself.
The count then made several inquiries of Madame de Reybert, less to obtain information than to gain time to observe her; and he wrote a short note to his notary telling him not to send his head-clerk to Presles as requested, but to come there himself in time for dinner.
“Though Monsieur le comte,” said Madame de Reybert in conclusion, “may have judged me unfavorably for the step I have taken unknown to my husband, he ought to be convinced that we have obtained this information about his steward in a natural and honorable manner; the most sensitive conscience cannot take exception to it.”
So saying, Madame de Reybert, nee de Corroy, stood erect as a pike-staff. She presented to the rapid investigation of the count a face seamed with the small-pox like a colander with holes, a flat, spare figure, two light and eager eyes, fair hair plastered down upon an anxious forehead, a small drawn-bonnet of faded green taffetas lined with pink, a white gown with violet spots, and leather shoes. The count recognized the wife of some poor, half-pay captain, a puritan, subscribing no doubt to the “Courrier Francais,” earnest in virtue, but aware of the comfort of a good situation and eagerly coveting it.
“You say your husband has a pension of six hundred francs,” he said, replying to his own thoughts, and not to the remark Madame de Reybert had just made.
“You were born a Corroy?”
“Yes, monsieur—a noble family of Metz, where my husband belongs.”
“In what regiment did Monsieur de Reybert serve?”
“The 7th artillery.”
“Good!” said the count, writing down the number.
He had thought at one time of giving the management of the estate to some retired army officer, about whom he could obtain exact information from the minister of war.
“Madame,” he resumed, ringing for his valet, “return to Presles, this afternoon with my notary, who is going down there for dinner, and to whom I have recommended you. Here is his address. I am going myself secretly to Presles, and will send for Monsieur de Reybert to come and speak to me.”
It will thus be seen that Monsieur de Serizy’s journey by a public conveyance, and the injunction conveyed by the valet to conceal his name and rank had not unnecessarily alarmed Pierrotin. That worthy had just forebodings of a danger which was about to swoop down upon one of his best customers.
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