After seeing the Count de Commarin safely in his carriage at the entrance of the Palais de Justice, Noel Gerdy seemed inclined to leave him. Resting one hand against the half-opened carriage door, he bowed respectfully, and said: “When, sir, shall I have the honour of paying my respects to you?”
“Come with me now,” said the old nobleman.
The advocate, still leaning forward, muttered some excuses. He had, he said, important business: he must positively return home at once.
“Come,” repeated the count, in a tone which admitted no reply.
“You have found your father,” said M. de Commarin in a low tone; “but I must warn you, that at the same time you lose your independence.”
The carriage started; and only then did the count notice that Noel had very modestly seated himself opposite him. This humility seemed to displease him greatly.
“Sit here by my side, sir,” he exclaimed; “are you not my son?”
The advocate, without replying, took his seat by the side of the terrible old man, but occupied as little room as possible.
He had been very much upset by his interview with M. Daburon; for he retained none of his usual assurance, none of that exterior coolness by which he was accustomed to conceal his feelings. Fortunately, the ride gave him time to breathe, and to recover himself a little.
On the way from the Palais de Justice to the De Commarin mansion, not a word passed between the father and son. When the carriage stopped before the steps leading to the principal entrance, and the count got out with Noel’s assistance, there was great commotion among the servants.
There were, it is true, few of them present, nearly all having been summoned to the Palais; but the count and the advocate had scarcely disappeared, when, as if by enchantment, they were all assembled in the hall. They came from the garden, the stables, the cellar, and the kitchen. Nearly all bore marks of their calling. A young groom appeared with his wooden shoes filled with straw, shuffling about on the marble floor like a mangy dog on a Gobelin tapestry. One of them recognised Noel as the visitor of the previous Sunday; and that was enough to set fire to all these gossip-mongers, thirsting for scandal.
Since morning, moreover, the unusual events at the De Commarin mansion had caused a great stir in society. A thousand stories were circulated, talked over, corrected, and added to by the ill-natured and malicious,—some abominably absurd, others simply idiotic. Twenty people, very noble and still more proud, had not been above sending their most intelligent servants to pay a little visit among the count’s retainers, for the sole purpose of learning something positive. As it was, nobody knew anything; and yet everybody pretended to be fully informed.