The Champdoce Mystery
Part 1 out of 7
Etext prepared by Dagny, email@example.com
Emma Dudding, firstname.lastname@example.org
and John Bickers, email@example.com
This novel is a sequel to Caught in the Net. [Etext #2451]
The Champdoce Mystery
by Emile Gaboriau
A DUCAL MONOMANIAC.
The traveller who wishes to go from Poitiers to London by the shortest
route will find that the simplest way is to take a seat in the stage-
coach which runs to Saumur; and when you book your place, the polite
clerk tells you that you must take your seat punctually at six
o'clock. The next morning, therefore, the traveller has to rise from
his bed at a very early hour, and make a hurried and incomplete
toilet, and on arriving, flushed and panting, at the office, discover
that there was no occasion for such extreme haste.
In the hotel from whence the coach starts every one seems to be
asleep, and a waiter, whose eyes are scarcely open, wanders languidly
about. There is not the slightest good in losing your temper, or in
pouring out a string of violent remonstrances. In a small restaurant
opposite a cup of hot coffee can be procured, and it is there that the
disappointed travellers congregate, to await the hour when the coach
really makes a start.
At length, however, all is ready, the conductor utters a tremendous
execration, the coachman cracks his whip, the horses spring forward,
the wheels rattle, and the coach is off at last. Whilst the conductor
smokes his pipe tranquilly, the passengers gaze out of the windows and
admire the beautiful aspect of the surrounding country. On each side
stretch the woods and fields of Bevron. The covers are full of game,
which has increased enormously, as the owner of the property has never
allowed a shot to be fired since he had the misfortune, some twenty
years ago, to kill one of his dependents whilst out shooting. On the
right hand side some distance off rise the tower and battlements of
the Chateau de Mussidan. It is two years ago since the Dowager
Countess of Chevanche died, leaving all her fortune to her niece,
Mademoiselle Sabine de Mussidan. She was a kind-hearted woman, rough
and ready in her manner, but very popular amongst the peasantry.
Farther off, on the top of some rising ground, appears an imposing
structure, of an ancient style of architecture; this is the ancient
residence of the Dukes of Champdoce. The left wing is a picturesque
mass of ruins; the roof has fallen in, and the mullions of the windows
are dotted with a thick growth of clustering ivy. Rain, storm, and
sunshine have all done their work, and painted the mouldering walls
with a hundred varied tints. In 1840 the inheritor of one of the
noblest names of France resided here with his only son. The name of
the present proprietor was Caesar Guillaume Duepair de Champdoce. He
was looked upon both by the gentry and peasantry of the country side
as a most eccentric individual. He could be seen any day wandering
about, dressed in the most shabby manner, and wearing a coat that was
frequently in urgent need of repair, a leathern cap on his head,
wooden shoes, and a stout oaken cudgel in his hand. In winter he
supplemented to these an ancient sheepskin coat. He was sixty years of
age, very powerfully built, and possessing enormous strength. The
expression upon his face showed that his will was as strong as his
thews and sinews. Beneath his shaggy eyebrows twinkled a pair of
light-gray eyes, which darkened when a fit of passion overtook him,
and this was no unusual occurrence.
During his military career in the army of the Conde, he had received a
sabre cut across his cheek, and the cicatrice imparted a strange and
unpleasant expression to his face. He was not a bad-hearted man, but
headstrong, violent, and tyrannical to a degree. The peasants saluted
him with a mixture of respect and dread as he walked to the chapel, to
which he was a regular attendant on Sundays, with his son. During the
Mass he made the responses in an audible voice, and at its conclusion
invariably put a five-franc piece into the plate. This, his
subscription to the newspaper, and the sum he paid for being shaved
twice each week, constituted the whole of his outlay upon himself. He
kept an excellent table, however; plump fowls, vegetables of all
kinds, and the most delicious fruit were never absent from it.
Everything, however, that appeared upon his well-plenished board was
the produce of his fields, gardens, or woods. The nobility and gentry
of the neighborhood frequently invited him to their hospitable tables,
for they looked upon him as the head and chief of the nobility of the
county; but he always refused their invitations, saying plainly, "No
man who has the slightest respect for himself will accept
hospitalities which he is not in a position to return." It was not the
grinding clutch of poverty that drove the Duke to this exercise of
severe economy, for his income from his estates brought him in fifty
thousand francs per annum; and it was reported that his investments
brought him in as much more. As a matter of course, therefore, he was
looked upon as a miser, and a victim to the sordid vice of avarice.
His past life might, in some degree, offer an explanation of this
conduct. Born in 1780, the Duke de Champdoce had joined the band of
emigrants which swelled the ranks of Conde's army. An implacable
opposer of the Revolution, he resided, during the glorious days of the
Empire, in London, where dire poverty compelled him to gain a
livelihood as a fencing master at the Restoration. He came back with
the Bourbons to his native land, and, by an almost miraculous chance,
was put again in possession of his ancestral domains. But in his
opinion he was living in a state of utter destitution as compared to
the enormous revenues enjoyed by the dead-and-gone members of the
Champdoce family; and what pained him more was to see rise up by the
side of the old aristocracy a new race which had attached itself to
commerce and entered into business transactions. As he gazed upon the
new order of things, the man whose pride of birth and position almost
amounted to insanity, conceived the project to which he determined to
devote the remainder of his life. He imagined that he had discovered a
means by which he could restore the ancient house of Champdoce to all
its former splendor and position. "I can," said he, "by living like a
peasant and resorting to no unnecessary expense, treble my capital in
twenty years; and if my son and my grandson will only follow my
example, the race of Champdoce will again recover the proud position
that it formerly held. Faithful to this idea, he wedded, in 1820,
although his heart was entirely untouched, a young girl of noble birth
but utterly devoid of beauty, though possessed of a magnificent dowry.
Their union was an extremely unhappy one, and many persons did not
hesitate to accuse the Duke of treating with harshness and severity a
young girl, who, having brought her husband five hundred thousand
francs, could not understand why she should be refused a new dress
when she urgently needed it. After twelve months of inconceivable
unhappiness, she gave birth to a son who was baptized Louis Norbert,
and six months afterwards she sank into an untimely grave.
The Duke did not seem to regret his loss very deeply. The boy appeared
to be of a strong and robust constitution, and his mother's dowry
would go to swell the revenues of the Champdoce family. He made his
recent loss, too, the pretext for further retrenchments and economies.
Norbert was brought up exactly as a farmer's son would have been.
Every morning he started off to work, carrying his day's provisions in
a basket slung upon his back. As he grew older, he was taught to sow
and reap, to estimate the value of a standing crop at a glance, and,
last but not least, to drive a hard bargain. For a long time the Duke
debated the expediency of permitting his son to be taught to read or
write; and if he did so at last, it was owing to some severe remarks
by the parish priest upon the day on which Norbert took the sacrament
for the first time.
All went on well and smoothly until the day when Norbert, on his
sixteenth birthday, accompanied his father to Poitiers for the first
At sixteen years of age, Louis Norbert de Champdoce looked fully
twenty, and was as handsome a youth as could be seen for miles round.
The sun had given a bronzed tint to his features which was exceedingly
becoming. He had black hair, with a slight curl running through it,
and large melancholy blue eyes, which he inherited from his mother.
Poor girl! it was the sole beauty that she had possessed. He was
utterly uncultured, and had been ruled with such a rod of iron by his
father that he had never been a league from the Chateau. His ideas
were barred by the little town of Bevron, with its sixty houses, its
town hall, its small chapel, and principal river; and to him it seemed
a spot full of noise and confusion. In the whole course of his life he
had never spoken to three persons who did not belong to the district.
Bred up in this secluded manner, it was almost impossible for him to
understand that any one could lead a different existence to that of
his own. His only pleasure was in procuring an abundant harvest, and
his sole idea of excitement was High Mass on Sunday.
For more than a year the village girls had cast sly glances at him,
but he was far too simple and innocent to notice this. When Mass was
over, he generally walked over the farm with his father to inspect the
work of the past week, or to set snares for the birds. His father at
last determined to give him a wider experience, and one day said that
he was to accompany him to Poitiers.
At a very early hour in the morning they started in one of the low
country carts of the district, and under the seat were small sacks,
containing over forty thousand francs in silver money. Norbert had
long wished to visit Poitiers, but had never done so, though it was
but fifteen miles off. Poitiers is a quaint old town, with dilapidated
pavements and tall, gloomy houses, the architecture of which dates
from the tenth century; but Norbert thought that it must be one of the
most magnificent cities in the world. It was market day when they
drove in, and he was absolutely stupefied with surprise and
excitement. He had never believed there could be so many people in one
place, and hardly noticed that the cart had pulled up opposite a
lawyer's office. His father shook him roughly by the shoulder.
"Come, Norbert, lad, we are there," said he.
The young man jumped to the ground, and assisted mechanically to
remove the sacks. The servile manner of the lawyer did not strike him,
nor did he listen to the conversation between him and his father.
Finally, the business being concluded, they took their departure, and,
driving to the Market Place, put up the horse and cart at an old-
fashioned, dingy inn, where they took their breakfast in the public
room at a table where the wagoners were having a violent quarrel over
their meal. The Duke, however, had other business to transact than the
investment of his money, for he wanted to find the whereabouts of a
miller who was somewhat in his debt. Norbert waited for him in front
of the inn, and could not help feeling rather uncomfortable at finding
himself alone. All at once some one came up and touched him lightly on
the shoulder. He turned round sharply, and found himself face to face
with a young man, who, seeing his look of surprise, said,--
"What! have you entirely forgotten your old friend Montlouis?"
Montlouis was the son of one of the Duke's farmers, and he and Norbert
had often played together in past years. They had driven their cows to
the meadows together, and had spent long days together fishing or
searching for birds' nests. The dress now worn by Montlouis had at
first prevented Norbert from recognizing him, for he was attired in
the uniform of the college at which his father had placed him, being
desirous of making something more than a mere farmer of his son.
"What are you doing here?" asked Norbert.
"I am waiting for my father."
"So am I. Let us have a cup of coffee together."
Montlouis led his playmate into a small wine shop near at hand. He
seemed a little disposed to presume upon the superior knowledge of the
world which he had recently acquired.
"If there was a billiard-table here," said he, "we could pass away the
time with a game, though, to be sure, it runs into money."
Norbert never had had more than a few pence in his pocket at one time,
and at this remark the color rose to his face, and he felt much
"My father," added the young collegian, "gives me all I ask for. I am
certain of getting one, if not two prizes at the next examination; and
when I have taken my degree, the Count de Mussidan has promised to
make me his steward. What do you think that you will do?"
"I--I don't know," stammered Norbert.
"You will, I suppose, dig and toil in the fields, as your father has
done before you. You are the son of the noblest and the richest man
for miles round, and yet you are not so happy as I am."
Upon the return of the Duke de Champdoce some little time after this
conversation, he did not detect any change in his son's manner; but
the words spoken by Montlouis had fallen into Norbert's brain like a
subtle poison, and a few careless sentences uttered by an
inconsiderate lad had annihilated the education of sixteen years, and
a complete change had taken place in Norbert's mind, a change which
was utterly unsuspected by those around him, for his manner of
bringing up had taught him to keep his own counsel.
The fixed smile on his features entirely masked the angry feelings
that were working in his breast. He went through his daily tasks,
which had once been a pleasure to him, with utter disgust and
loathing. His eyes had been suddenly opened, and he now understood a
host of things which he had never before even endeavored to
comprehend. He saw now that his proper position was among the nobles,
whom he never saw except when they attended Mass at the little chapel
in Bevron. The Count de Mussidan, so haughty and imposing, with his
snow-white hair; the aristocratic-looking Marquis de Laurebourg, of
whom the peasants stood in the greatest awe, were always courteous and
even cordial in their salutations, while the noble dames smiled
graciously upon him. Proud and haughty as they were, they evidently
looked upon his father and himself as their equals, in spite of the
coarse garments that they wore. The realization of these facts
effected a great change in Norbert. He was the equal of all these
people, and yet how great a gulf separated him from them. While he and
his father tramped to Mass in heavy shoes, the others drove up in
their carriages with powdered footmen to open the doors. Why was this
extraordinary difference? He knew enough of the value of crops and
land to know that his father was as wealthy as any of these gentlemen.
The laborers on the farm said that his father was a miser, and the
villagers asserted that he got up at night and gazed with rapture upon
the treasure that was hidden away from men's eyes.
"Norbert is an unhappy lad," they would say. "He who ought to be able
to command all the pleasures of life is worse off than our own
He also recollected that one day, as his father was talking to the
Marquis de Laurebourg, an old lady, who was doubtless the Marchioness,
had said, "Poor boy! he was so early deprived of a mother's care!"
What did that mean unless it was a reflection upon the arbitrary
behavior of his father? Norbert saw that these people always had their
children with them, and the sight of this filled him with jealousy,
and brought tears of anguish to his eyes. Sometimes, as he trudged
wearily behind his yoke of oxen, goad in hand, he would see some of
these young scions of the aristocracy canter by on horseback, and the
friendly wave of the hand with which they greeted him almost appeared
to his jaundiced mind a premeditated insult. What could they find to
do in Paris, to which they all took wing at the first breath of
winter? This was a question which he found himself utterly unable to
solve. To drink to intoxication offered no charms to him, and yet this
was the only pleasure which the villagers seemed to enjoy. Those young
men must have some higher class of entertainment, but in what could it
consist? Norbert could hardly read a line without spelling every word;
but these new thoughts running through his mind caused him to study,
so as to improve his education. His father had often told him that he
did not like lads who where always poring over books; and so Norbert
did not discontinue his studies, but simply avoided bringing them
under his father's notice. He knew that there was a large collection
of books in one of the upstairs rooms of the Chateau. He managed to
force the lock of the door, and he found some thousands of volumes, of
which at least two hundred were novels, which had been the solace of
his mother's unhappy life. With all the eagerness of a man who is at
the point of starvation and finds an unexpected store of provisions,
Norbert seized upon them. At first he had great difficulty in dividing
fact from fiction.
He arrived at two conclusions from perusing this heterogeneous mass of
literature--one was, that he was most unhappy; and the other was, that
he hated his father with a cold and determined loathing. Had he dared,
he would have shown this feeling openly, but the Duke de Champdoce
inspired him with an unconquerable feeling of terror. This state of
affairs continued for some months, and at the end of that time the
Duke felt that he ought to make his son acquainted with his projects.
One Sunday, after supper, he commenced this task. Norbert had never
seen his father so animated as he was at this moment, when all his
ancestral pride blazed in his eyes. He explained at length the acts
and deeds of those heroes who had been the ornament of their house,
and enumerated the influential marriages which had been made by them
in the days when their very name was a power in the land. And what
remained of all their power and rank, save their Parisian domicile,
their old Chateau, and some two hundred thousand francs of income?
Norbert could hardly credit what he heard; he had never believed that
his father possessed such enormous wealth. "Why, it is inconceivable!"
he muttered. And yet, as he looked round, he saw that the surroundings
were those of a peasant's cottage. How could he endure so many
discomforts and wounds to his pride? In his anger he absolutely
started to his feet with the intention of reproaching his father, but
his courage failed him, and he fell back into a chair, quivering with
The Duke de Champdoce was pacing up and down the room.
"Do you think it so little?" asked he angrily.
Norbert knew that not one of the neighboring nobility who had the
reputation of being wealthy possessed half this annual income, and it
was with a feeling of bitter anger in his heart that he listened to
the broken words which fell from his father's lips. All at once the
Duke halted in front of his son's chair.
"What fortune I have now," said he in a hoarse voice, "is little or
nothing in times like these, when the tradesman contrives to make an
almost unlimited income, and, setting up as a gentleman, imitates, not
our virtues, but our vices; while the nobles, not understanding the
present hour, are in poverty and want. Without money, nothing can be
done. To hold his own against these mushroom fortunes, a Champdoce
should possess millions. Neither you nor I, my son, will see our
coffers overflowing with millions, but our descendants will reap the
benefit of our toil. Our ancestors gained their name and glory by
their determination; let us show that we are their worthy offspring."
As he approached the subject which had occupied his mind entirely for
years, the old noble's voice quivered and shook.
"I have done my duty," said he, calming himself by a mighty effort,
"and it is now your turn to do yours. You shall marry some wealthy
heiress, and you shall bring up your son as I have reared and nurtured
you. You will be able to leave him fifteen millions; and if he will
only follow in our footsteps, he will be able to bequeath to his heir
a fortune that a monarch might envy. And this shall and will come to
pass, because it is my fixed determination."
The strange outburst of confidence petrified Norbert.
"The task is heavy and painful," continued the Duke, "but it is one
that several scores of illustrious houses have accomplished. He who
wishes to revive the fallen fortunes of some mighty house must live
only in the future, and have no thought but for the prosperity of his
descendants. More than once I have faltered and hesitated, but I have
conquered my weakness, and now only live to make the line of Champdoce
the most wealthy in France. You have seen me haggle for an hour over a
wretched louis, but it was for the reason that at a future day one of
our descendants might fling it to a beggar from the window of his
magnificent equipage. Next year I will take you to Paris and show you
our house there. You will see in it the most wonderful tapestry,
pictures by the best masters, for I have ornamented and embellished it
as a lover adorns a house for a beloved mistress, and that house,
Norbert, is the home that your grandchildren will dwell in."
The Duke uttered these words in a tone of jubilant triumph.
"I have spoken to you thus," resumed he, after a short pause, "because
you are now of an age to listen to the truth, and because I wished you
to understand the rules by which you are to regulate your life. You
have now arrived at years of discretion, and must do of your own free
will what you have up to this time done at my bidding. This is all
that I have to say. To-morrow you will take twenty-five sacks of wheat
to the miller at Bevron."
Like all tyrannical despots, the Duke never contemplated for a moment
the possibility of any one disobeying his commands; yet at this very
moment Norbert was registering a solemn mental oath that he would
never carry out his father's wishes. His anger, which his fears had so
long restrained, now burst all bounds, and it was in the broad
chestnut tree avenue, behind the Chateau, far from any listening ear,
that he gave way to his despair. So long as he had only looked upon
his father as a mere miser, he had permitted himself to indulge in
hope; but now he understood him better, and saw that life-long plans,
such as the Duke had framed, were not to be easily overruled.
"My father is mad," said he; "yes; decidedly mad."
He had made up his mind that for the present he would yield to his
despotism, but afterwards, in the future, what was he to do?
It is an easy thing to find persons to give you bad advice, and the
very next day Norbert found one at Bevron in the shape of a certain
man called Daumon, a bitter enemy of the Duke.
A DANGEROUS ACQUAINTANCE.
Daumon was not a native of this part of the country, and no one knew
from whence he came. He said that he had been an attorney's clerk, and
had certainly resided for a long time in Paris. He was a little man of
fifty years of age, clean shaved, and with a sharp and cunning
expression of countenance. His long nose, sharp, restless eyes, and
thin lips, attracted attention at first sight. His whole aspect
aroused a feeling of distrust. He had come to Bevron, some fifteen
years before, with all his provisions in a cotton handkerchief slung
over his shoulder. He was willing to make money in any way, and he
prospered and rose. He owned fields, vineyards, and a cottage, which
is at the juncture of the highway to Poitiers and the cross road that
leads to Bevron. His aim and object were to be seen everywhere, to
know everybody, and to have a finger in every pie in the neighborhood
around. If any of the farmers or the laborers wanted small advances,
they went to him, and he granted them loans at exorbitant rates of
interest. He gave most disputants counsel, and had every point of law
at his fingers' ends. He could teach people how to sail as close to
the wind as possible, and yet to be beyond the reach of the law. He
affected to be only too anxious to ameliorate the lot of the peasant
class, and yet he was drawing heavy sums from them by way of interest.
He endeavored by every means in his power to rouse their feelings of
animosity against both the priesthood and the gentry. His artful way
of talking, and the long black coat which he wore, had given him the
nickname of the "Counsellor" in the district. The reason why he
disliked the Duke was because the latter had more than once shown
himself hostile to him, and had taken him before the court of justice,
from which Daumon only escaped by means of bribery of suborned
witnesses. He vowed that he would be revenged for this, and for five
years had been watching his opportunity, and this was the man whom
Norbert met when he went to deliver his corn to the miller. As he was
coming back with his empty wagon, Daumon asked for a lift back as far
as the cross road that led to his cottage.
"I trust, sir," said he with the most servile courtesy, "that you will
excuse the liberty I take, but I am so utterly crippled with
rheumatism that I can hardly walk, Marquis."
Daumon had read somewhere that the eldest son of a Duke was entitled
to be styled /Marquis/, and it was the first time that Norbert had
been thus addressed. Before this he would have laughed at the
appellation, but now his wounded vanity, and his exasperation at the
unhappy condition in which he found himself, tempted him to accept the
title without remonstrance.
"All right, I can give you a lift," said he, and the Counsellor
clambered into the cart.
All the time that he was showering thanks upon Norbert for his
courtesy he was watching the young man's face carefully.
"Evidently," thought the Counsellor to himself, "something unusual has
taken place at the Chateau de Champdoce. Was not the opportunity for
Long since he had decided that through the son he could strike the
father. But he must be cautious.
"You must have been up very early, Marquis," said he.
The young man made no reply.
"The Duke," resumed Daumon, "is most fortunate in having such a son as
you. I know more than one father who says to his children, 'See what
an excellent example the young Marquis de Champdoce sets to you all.
He is not afraid of hard work, though he is noble by birth, and should
not soil his hands by labor.' "
A sudden lurch brought the Counsellor's eloquence to a sudden close,
but he speedily resumed again.
"I was watching you as you hefted the sacks. Heavens! what muscles!
what a pair of shoulders!"
At any other moment Norbert would have gloried in such laudation, but
now he felt displeased and annoyed, and vented his anger by a sharp
cut at his team.
"When people say that you are as innocent as a girl," continued
Daumon, "I always say that you are a sensible young fellow after all,
and that if you choose to lead a regular life, it is far better than
wasting your future fortune in wine, billiards, cards, or women."
"I don't know that I might not do something of the kind," returned
"What did you say?" answered his wily companion.
"I said that if I were my own master, I would live as other young
The lad paused abruptly, and Daumon's eyes gleamed with joy.
"Aha," murmured he to himself; "I have the game in my own hands. I
will teach his Grace to interfere with me."
Then, in a voice which could reach Norbert's ears, he continued,--
"Of course some parents are far too strict."
An impatient gesture from Norbert showed him that he had wounded him
"Yes, yes," put in the wily Counsellor, "as the head grows bald, and
the blood begins to stagnate, they forget,--they forget the days when
all was so different. They forget the time when they were young, and
when they sowed their wild oats with so lavish a hand. When your
father was twenty-five, he was precious wild. Ask your father, if you
do not believe me."
At this moment the wagon passed the cross road, and Norbert pulled up.
"I cannot thank you enough, Marquis," said the Counsellor as he
alighted with difficulty; "but if you would condescend to come and
taste my brandy, I would esteem it a great honor."
Norbert hesitated for an instant: his reasoning powers urged him to
decline the offer, but he refused to listen to them, and, fastening
his horses to a tree, he followed Daumon down the by-road. The cottage
was an excellent one, and extremely well furnished. A woman, who acted
as Daumon's housekeeper, served the refreshments. The office--for he
called his room an office, just as if he was a professional man--was a
strange-looking place. On one side was a desk covered with account
books, and against the wall were sacks of seed. A number of books on
legal matters crowded the shelves, and from the ceiling hung a
quantity of dried herbs. The Counsellor welcomed the heir to the
dukedom of Champdoce with the greatest deference, seated him in his
own capacious leathern arm-chair, and pressed the brandy which he had
refused upon him.
"I got this brandy from a man down Arcachon way in return for a
kindness that I did him; for, without boasting, I may say that I have
done kindnesses for many people in my time." He raised his glass to
his lips as he spoke. "It is good, is it not?" said he. "You can't get
stuff with an aroma like that hereabouts."
The extreme deference of the man, coupled with the excellence of the
spirit, opened Norbert's heart in a very short space of time. Up to
the present the conduct of poor Norbert had been blameless, but now,
without knowing anything of the Counsellor's character or reputation,
he poured out all the secret sorrows of his heart, while Daumon
chuckled secretly, preserving all the time the imperturbable face of a
physician called in to visit a patient.
"Dear me! dear me!" said he; "this is really too bad. Poor fellow! I
really pity you. Were it not for the deep respect that I have for the
Duke, your father, I should feel inclined to say that he was not quite
in his right senses."
"Yes," continued Norbert, the tears starting to his eyes, "this is
just how I am situated. My destiny has been marked out for me, and I
am helpless to alter it. I had better a thousand times be lying under
the cold greensward, than vegetate thus above ground."
The peculiar smile on Daumon's lips caused him to pause in his
"Perhaps," he went on, "you think that I am childish in talking thus?"
"Not at all, Marquis, you have suffered too deeply; but forgive me if
I say that you are foolish to despond so much over the future that
lies before you."
"Future!" repeated Norbert angrily, "what is the use of speaking to me
of the future, when I may be kept in this horrible servitude for the
next thirty years? My father is still hale and hearty."
"What of that? You will be of age soon, and then you will have full
right to claim your mother's fortune."
The extreme surprise displayed by Norbert at this intelligence
convinced the Counsellor that he was much more unsophisticated than he
had supposed him to be.
"A man," continued he, "can, when he attains his majority, dispose of
his inheritance as he thinks fit, and your mother's fortune will
render you independent of your father."
"But I should never dare to claim it; how could I venture to do so?"
"You need not make the application personally; your solicitor would
manage all that for you; but, of course, you must wait until you are
"But I cannot wait until then," said Norbert; "I must at once free
myself from this tyranny."
"Luckily there are ways."
"Do you really think so, Daumon?"
"Yes, and I will show you what is done every day. Nothing is more
common in noble families. Would you like to be a soldier?"
"No, I do not care for that, and yet----"
"That is your last resource, Marquis. First, then, we could lay a
plaint before the court."
"Certainly. Do you suppose that our laws do not provide for such a
case as a father exceeding the proper bounds of parental authority?
Tell me, has the Duke, your father, ever struck you?"
"Well, that is almost a pity. We will say that your father's property
is worth two millions, and yet you derive so slight a benefit from
this that you are known everywhere as the 'Young Savage of
Norbert started to his feet.
"Who dares speak of me like that?" said he furiously. "Tell me his
This outburst of passion did not in the smallest degree discompose
"Your father has many enemies, Marquis," he resumed, "for his manners
are overbearing and exacting; but you have many friends, and among
them all you will find none more devoted than myself, humble though my
position may be. Many ladies of high rank take a great interest in
you. Only a day or two ago some persons were speaking of you in the
presence of Mademoiselle de Laurebourg, and she blushed crimson at
your name. Do you know Mademoiselle Diana?"
"Ah, I understand," replied Daumon. "And when you have broken the
fetters that now bind you, we shall see something one of these days.
But at this moment Norbert's eyes caught a glimpse of the old-
fashioned cuckoo clock that hung on the wall in one corner of the
room. He started to his feet.
"Why, it is dinner-time!" said he. "What upon earth will my father
"What, does he keep you in such order as that?"
But, never heeding the sarcastic question of the Counsellor, Norbert
had regained his cart, and was driving off at full speed.
A BOLD ADVENTURE.
Daumon had in no way exaggerated when he said that Norbert was spoken
of as the "Young Savage of Champdoce," though no one used this
appellation in an insulting form. Public opinion had changed
considerably regarding the Duke of Champdoce. The first time that he
had made his appearance, wearing wooden shoes and a leathern jacket,
every one had laughed, but this did not affect him at all, and in the
end people began to term his dogged obstinacy indomitable
perseverance. The gleam that shone from his hoarded millions imparted
a brilliant lustre to his shabby garments. Why should they waste their
pity upon a man who would eventually come into a gigantic fortune, and
have the means of gratifying all his desires?
Mothers, with daughters especially, took a great interest in the young
man, for to get a girl married to the "Young Savage of Champdoce"
would be a feat to be proud of; but unluckily his father watched him
with all the vigilance of a Spanish duenna. But there was a young girl
who had long since secretly formed a design of her own, and this bold-
hearted beauty was Diana de Laurebourg. It was with perfect justice
that she had received the name of the "Belle of Poitiers." She was
tall and very fair, with a dazzling complexion and masses of lustrous
hair; but her eyes gleamed with a suppressed fire, which plainly
showed the constitution of her nature. She had been brought up in a
convent, and her parents, who had wished her to take the veil, had
only been induced to remove her owing to her obstinate refusal to
pronounce the vows, coupled with the earnest entreaties of the lady
superior, who was kept in a constant state of ferment owing to the
mutinous conduct of her pupil. Her father was wealthy, but all the
property went over to her brother, ten years older than herself; and
so Diana was portionless, with the exception of a paltry sum of forty
"My child!" said her father to her the first day of her return, "you
have come back to us once more, and now all you have to do is to
fascinate some gentleman who is your equal in position and who has
plenty of money. If you fail in that, back you go to the convent."
"Time enough to talk about that some years hence," answered the girl
with a smile; "at present I am quite contented with being at home with
M. de Laurebourg had commented with some severity upon the conduct of
the Duke de Champdoce towards his son, but he was perfectly willing to
sacrifice his daughter's heart for a suitable marriage.
"I shall gain my end," murmured the girl, "I am sure of it."
She had heard a friend of her father's speaking of Norbert and his
"Why should I not marry him?" she asked of her own heart; and, with
the utmost skill, she applied herself to the execution of her design;
for the idea of being a duchess, with an income of two hundred
thousand francs, was a most fascinating one. But how was she to meet
Norbert? And how bring over the money-raking Duke to her side? Before,
however, she could decide on any plan, she felt that she must see
Norbert. He was pointed out to her one day at Mass, and she was struck
by his beauty and by an ease of manner which even his shabby dress
could not conceal. By the quick perception which many women possess,
she dived into Norbert's inmost soul; she felt that he had suffered,
and her sympathy for him brought with it the dawn of love, and by the
time she had left the chapel she had registered a solemn vow that she
would one day be Norbert's wife. But she did not acquaint her parents
with this determination on her part, preferring to carry out her plans
without any aid or advice. Mademoiselle Diana was shrewd and
practical, and not likely to err from want of judgment. The frank and
open expression of her features concealed a mind of superior calibre,
and one which well knew how to weigh the advantages of social rank and
position. She affected a sudden sympathy with the poor, and visited
them constantly, and might be frequently met in the lanes carrying
soup and other comforts to them. Her father declared, with a laugh,
that she ought to have been a Sister of Charity, and did not notice
the fact that all Diana's pensioners resided in the vicinity of
Champdoce. But it was in vain that she wandered about, continually
changing the hour of her visits. The "Savage of Champdoce" was not to
be seen, nor was he even a regular attendant at Mass. At last a mere
trifle changed the whole current of the young man's existence; for, a
week after the conversation in which the Duke had laid bare his scheme
to his son, he again referred to it, after their dinner, which they
had partaken of at the same table with forty laborers, who had been
hired to get in the harvest.
"You need not, my son," began the old gentleman, "go back with the
"Allow me to continue, if you please. My confidential conversation
with you the other night was merely a preliminary to my telling you
that for the future I did not expect you to toil as hard as you had
hitherto done, for I wish you to perform a duty less laborious, but
more responsible; you will for the future act as farm-bailiff."
Norbert looked up suddenly into his father's face.
"For I wish you to become accustomed to independent action, so that at
my death your sudden liberty may not intoxicate you."
The Duke then rose from his seat, and took a highly finished gun from
"I have been very much pleased with you for some time past," said he,
"and this is a sign of my satisfaction. The gamekeeper has brought in
a thoroughly trained dog, which will also be yours. Shoot as much as
you like, and, as you cannot go about without money in your pocket,
take this, but be careful of it; for remember that extravagance on
your part will procrastinate the day upon which our descendants will
resume their proper station in the world."
The Duke spoke for some time longer, but his son paid no heed to his
words, and was too much astonished to accept the six five-franc pieces
which his father tendered to him.
"I suppose," said the Duke at last in angry accents, "that you will
have the grace to thank me."
"You will find that I am not ungrateful," stammered Norbert, aroused
by this reproach.
The Duke turned away impatiently.
"What has the boy got into his head now?" muttered he.
It was owing to the advice of the priest of Bevron that the Duke had
acted as he had done; but this indulgence came too late, for Norbert's
detestation of his tyrant was too deeply buried in his heart to be
A gun was not such a wonderful present after all--a matter of a few
francs, perhaps. Had the Duke offered him the means of a better
education, it would be a different matter; but as it was, he would
still remain the "Young Savage of Champdoce."
However, Norbert took advantage of the permission accorded to him, and
rambled daily over the estate with his gun and his dog Bruno, to which
he had become very much attached. His thoughts often wandered to
Daumon; but he had made inquiries, and had heard that the Counsellor
was a most dangerous man, who would stick at nothing; but for all
that, he had made up his mind to go back to him again for further
advice, though his better nature warned him of the precipice on the
brink of which he was standing.
A FINANCIAL TRANSACTION.
Daumon was expecting a visit from the young man, and had been waiting
for him with the cool complacency of a bird-catcher, who, having
arranged all his lines and snares, stands with folded arms until his
feathered victims fall into his net. The line that he had displayed
before the young man's eyes was the sight of liberty. Daumon had
emissaries everywhere, and knew perfectly well what was going on at
the Chateau de Champdoce, and could have repeated the exact words made
use of by the Duke in his last conversation with his son, and was
aware of the leave of liberty that had been granted to Norbert, and
was as certain as possible that this small concession would only
hasten the rebellion of the young Marquis.
He often took his evening stroll in the direction of Champdoce, and,
pipe in mouth, would meditate over his schemes. Pausing on the brow of
a hill that overlooked the Chateau, he would shake his fist, and
"He will come; ah, yes, he must come to me!"
And he was in the right, for, after a week spent in indecision,
Norbert knocked at the door of his father's bitterest enemy. Daumon,
concealed behind the window curtain, had watched his approach, and it
was with the same air of deference that he had welcomed the Marquis,
as he took care to call him; but he affected to be so overcome by the
honor of this visit that he could only falter out,--
"Marquis, I am your most humble servant."
And Norbert, who had expected a very warm greeting, was much
disconcerted. For a moment he thought of going away again, but his
pride would not permit him to do so, for he had said to himself that
it would be an act of a fool to go away this time without having
"I want to have a bit of advice from you, Counsellor," said he; "for
as I have but little experience in a certain matter, I should like to
avail myself of your knowledge."
"You do me too much honor, Marquis," murmured the Counsellor with a
"But surely," said the young man, "you must feel that you are bound to
assist me after all you told me a day or two back. You mentioned two
means by which I could regain my freedom, and hinted that there was a
third one. I have come to you to-day to ask you what it was."
Never did any man more successfully assume an air of astonishment than
did Daumon at this moment.
"What," said he, "do you absolutely remember those idle words I made
use of then?"
"I do most decidedly."
The villain's heart of Daumon was filled with delight, but he
"Oh, Marquis! you must remember that we say many things that really
have no special meaning, for between act and intention there is a
tremendous difference. I often speak too freely, and that has more
than once got me into trouble."
Norbert was no fool, in spite of his want of education, and the hot
blood of his ancestors coursed freely through his veins. He now struck
the butt-end of his gun heavily upon the floor.
"You treated me like a simpleton, then, it appears?" remarked he
"My dear Marquis--"
"And imagined that you could trifle with me. You managed to learn my
real feelings for your own amusement; but, take care; this may cost
you more than you think."
"Ah, Marquis, can you believe that I would act so basely?"
"What else can I think?"
Daumon paused for a moment, and then said,--
"You will be angry when you hear what I have to say, but I cannot help
speaking the truth."
"I shall not be angry, and you can speak freely."
"I am but a very poor and humble man. What have I to gain by securing
any note, and by encouraging you to brave your father's anger? Just
think what must happen if I opposed the all-powerful Duke de
Champdoce; why, I might find myself in prison in next to no time."
"And for what reason, if you please?" asked Norbert.
"Have you never studied law in the slightest degree, Marquis? Dear me,
how neglectful some parents are! You are not of age, and there is a
certain article, 354 in the code, that could be so worked that a poor
humble creature like me could be locked up for perhaps five years. The
law deals very hardly when any one has dealings with a minor, the more
especially when the father is a man of untold wealth. If the Duke
should ever discover----"
"But how could he ever do so?"
Daumon made no reply, and his silence so plainly showed Norbert that
the Counsellor did not trust him, that he repeated the question in an
"Your blind subservience to your father is too well known."
"You believe that I should confess everything to him?"
"You yourself told me that when his eyes were fixed on yours you could
not avoid yielding to his will."
Norbert's anger gradually died away, as he replied in accents of
"I may be a savage, but I am not likely to become a traitor. If I once
promised to keep a secret, no measures or tortures would tear it from
me. I may fear my father, but I am a Champdoce, and fear no other
mortal man. Do you understand me?"
"No other mortal man," interrupted Norbert sternly, "will ever know
from me that we have ever exchanged words together."
An expression passed over the features of the Counsellor which cast a
ray of hope upon the young man's heart.
"Upon my word," said he, "any one would judge from my hesitation that
I had some wrong motive in acting as I am doing, but I never give bad
advice, and any one will tell you the same about me, and this is the
breviary by which I regulate all my actions."
As he spoke, he took a book from his desk, and waved it aloft.
Norbert looked puzzled and angry.
"What do you mean?" asked he.
"Nothing, Marquis, nothing; have patience; your majority is not far
off, and you have only a few years to wait. Remember that your father
is an old man; let him carry out his plan for a few years longer,
Norbert struck his fist savagely upon the table, crying out furiously.
"It was not worth my coming here if this was all that you had to say;"
and, whistling to Bruno, the young man prepared to quit the room.
"Ah, Marquis! you are far too hasty," said the Counsellor humbly.
Norbert paused. "Speak then," answered he roughly.
In a low, impressive voice, Daumon went on.
"Remember, Marquis, that though I should like to see you have a better
understanding with your father, yet, at the same time, I should like
to work for the happiness of you both. I am like a judge in court, who
endeavors to bring about a compromise between the litigants. Can you
not, while affecting perfect submission, live in a manner more suited
to you? There are many young men of your age in a precisely similar
Norbert took a step forward and began to listen earnestly.
"You have more liberty now," continued Daumon. "Pray, does your father
know how you employ your time?"
"He knows that I can do nothing but shoot."
"Well, I know what I would do if I were your age."
"And what would that be?"
"First of all, I would stay at home sufficiently often not to arouse
papa's suspicions, and the rest of my leisure I would spend in
Poitiers, which is a very pleasant town. I could take nice rooms in
which I could be my own master. At Champdoce I could keep to my
peasant's clothes, but in Poitiers I would be dressed by the best
tailor. I should pick up a few boon companions amongst the jolly
students, and have plenty of friends, ladies as well as gentlemen. I
would dance, sing, and drink, and would dip into every kind of life,
He paused for a second and then said, "There ought to be a fast horse
or so in your father's stables, eh? Well then, if there are, why not
take one for your own riding? Then at night, when you are supposed to
be snug between the sheets, creep down to the stable, clap a bridle on
the horse, and, hey, presto! you are in Poitiers. Put on the clothes
suitable to the handsome young noble you are, and have a joyous
carouse with your many companions; and if you do, next day, not choose
to go back until the morning, the servants will only tell your father
that you are out shooting."
Norbert was a thoroughly strong, honest youth, and the idea of
meanness and duplicity were most repugnant to his feelings in general;
and yet he listened eagerly to this proposition, for oppression had
utterly changed his nature. The career of dissipation and pleasure
proposed so adroitly by Daumon dazzled his imagination and his eyes
began to sparkle.
"Well," asked the Counsellor invidiously, "and, pray, what is there to
prevent you doing all this?"
"Want of funds," returned Norbert, with a deep sigh; "I should want a
great deal, and I have hardly any; if I were to ask my father for any,
he would refuse me, and wonder----"
"Have you no friends who would find you such a sum as you would
require until you came of age?"
"None at all;" and, overwhelmed with the sense of his utter
helplessness, Norbert sank back upon a chair.
After a brief period of reflection, Daumon spoke with apparent
"No, Marquis, I cannot see you so miserably unhappy without doing my
best to help you. A man is a fool who puts out his hand to interfere
between father and son, but I will find money to lend you what you
"Will you do so, Counsellor?"
"Unluckily I cannot, I am only a poor fellow, but some of the
neighboring farmers intrust me with their savings for investment. Why
should I not use them to make you comfortable and happy?"
Norbert was almost choked with emotion. "Can this be done?" asked he
"Yes, Marquis; but you understand that you will have to pay very heavy
interest on account of the risk incurred in lending money to a minor.
For the law does not recognize such transactions, and I myself do not
like them. If I were in your place, I would not borrow money on these
terms, but wait until some friend could help me."
"I have no friends," again answered the young man.
Daumon shrugged his shoulders with the air of a man who says: "Well, I
suppose I must give in, but at any rate I have done my duty." Then he
began aloud, "I am perfectly aware, Marquis, that, considering the
wealth that must one day be yours, this transaction is a most paltry
He then went on to enumerate the conditions of the loan, and at each
clause he would stop and say, "Do you understand this?"
Norbert understood him so well that at the end of the conversation, in
exchange for the thousand francs, he handed to the Counsellor the
promissory notes for four thousand francs each, which were made
payable to two farmers, who were entirely in Daumon's clutches. The
young man, in addition, pledged his solemn word of honor that he would
never disclose that the Counsellor had anything to do with the
"Remember, Marquis, prudence must be strictly observed. Come here to
me only after the night has set in."
This was the last piece of advice that Daumon gave his client; and
when he was again left alone, he perused with feelings of intense
gratification, the two notes that Norbert had signed. They were
entirely correct and binding, and drawn up in proper legal form. He
had made up his mind to let the young man have all his savings,
amounting to some forty thousand francs, and not to press for payment
until the young man come into his fortune.
All this, however, hinged upon Norbert's silence and discretion, for,
at the first inkling of the matter, the Duke would scatter all the
edifice to the winds; but of this happening Daumon had no fear.
As Norbert walked along, followed by his dog, he could not resist
putting his hands into his pockets and fingering the tempting, crisp
banknotes which lurked there, and making sure that it was a reality
and not a dream. That night seemed interminable; and the next morning,
with his gun on his shoulder and his dog at his heels, he walked
briskly along the road to Poitiers. He had determined to follow
Daumon's advice,--to have suitable rooms, and to make the acquaintance
of some of the students. On his arrival at Poitiers, which he had only
once before visited, Norbert felt like a half-fledged bird who knows
not how to use its wings. He wandered about the streets, not knowing
how to commence what he wanted. Finally, after a sojourn in the town
of a very brief duration, he went to the inn where he had breakfasted
with his father on his former visit, and, after an unsatisfactory
meal, returned to Champdoce, as wretched as he had been joyful and
hopeful at his early start in the morning. But later on he went to
Daumon, who put him in communication with a friend who, for a
commission, took the unsophisticated lad about, hired some furnished
rooms, and finally introduced him to the best ladies in the town,
while Norbert ordered clothes to the tune of five hundred francs. He
now thought himself on the high road to the full gratification of his
desires; but, alas! the reality, compared with what his imagination
had pictured, appeared rank and chilling. His timidity and shyness
arrested all his progress; he required an intimate friend, and where
could he hit upon one?
One evening he entered the Café Castille. He found a large number of
students collected there, and was a little disgusted at their
turbulent gayety, and, hastily withdrawing, he spent the rest of the
weary evening in his own rooms with Bruno, who, for his part, would
have much preferred the open country. He had really only enjoyed the
four evenings on which he had visited the Martre; but these limited
hours of happiness did not make up for the web of falsehood in which
he had enmeshed himself, or the daily dread of detection in which he
The Duke had noticed his son's absence, but his suspicions were very
wide of the truth. One morning he laughed at Norbert on the continued
non-success of his shooting.
"Do your best to-day, my boy," said he, "and try and bring home some
game, for we shall have a guest to dinner."
"To dinner, here?"
"Yes," answered the Duke suppressing a smile. "Yes, actually here; M.
Puymandour is coming, and the dining-room must be opened and put into
"I will try and kill some game," answered Norbert to himself as he
started on his errand.
This, however, was more easily resolved on than executed. At last he
caught sight of an impudent rabbit near a hedge; he raised his gun and
fired. A shriek of anguish followed the report, and Bruno dashed into
the hedge, barking furiously.
A BAD START.
Diana de Laurebourg was a strange compound; under an appearance of the
most artless simplicity she concealed an iron will, and had hidden
from every one of her family, and even from her most intimate friends,
her firm resolve to become the Duchess of Champdoce. All her rambles
in the neighborhood had turned out of no avail; and as the weather was
now very uncertain, it seemed as if her long strolls in the country
roads and fields would soon come to an end. "The day must eventually
come," murmured she, "when this invisible prince must make his
appearance." And at last the long-expected day arrived.
It was in the middle of the month of November, and the weather was
exceedingly soft and balmy for the time of year. The sky was blue, the
few remaining leaves rustled on the trees, and an occasional bird
whistled in the hedgerows. Diana de Laurebourg was walking slowly
along the path leading to Mussidan, when all at once she heard a
rustling of branches. She turned round sharply, and all the blood in
her body seemed to rush suddenly to her heart, for through an opening
in the hedge she caught sight of the man who for the past two months
had occupied all her waking thoughts. Norbert was waiting for
something with all the eagerness of a sportsman, his finger on the
trigger of his gun.
Here was the opportunity for which she had waited so long, and with
such ill-concealed impatience; and yet she could derive no advantage
from it, for what would happen? Simply this: Norbert would bow to her,
and she would reply with a slight inclination of her head, and perhaps
two months might pass away before she met him again. Just as she was
about to take some bold and decisive step she saw Norbert raise his
gun and point it in her direction. She endeavored to call out to him,
but her voice failed her, and in another moment the report rang out,
and she felt a sharp pang, like the touch of a red-hot iron upon her
ankle. With a wild shriek she threw up her arms and fell upon the
pathway. She did not lose her senses, for she heard a cry in response
to her own, and the crashing of something forcing its way through the
hedge. Then she felt a hot breath upon her face, and then something
cold and wet touched her cheek. She opened her eyes languidly, and saw
Bruno licking her face and hands.
At the same moment Norbert dashed through the hedge and stood before
her. At once she realized the advantage of her position and closed her
eyes once more. Norbert, as he hung over the seemingly unconscious
form of this fair young creature, felt that his senses were deserting
him, for he greatly feared that he had killed Mademoiselle de
Laurebourg. His first impulse was to fly precipitately, and his second
to give what aid he could to his victim. He knelt down by her, and, to
his infinite relief, found that life was not extinct. He raised her
"Speak to me, mademoiselle, I entreat you," cried he.
All this time Diana was returning thanks to kind Providence for the
fulfillment of her wishes. After a time she made a slight move, and
Norbert uttered an exclamation of joy. Then, opening her beautiful
eyes, she gazed upon the young man with the air of a person just
awaking from a dream.
"It is I," faltered the distracted young man. "Norbert de Champdoce.
But forgive me, and tell me if you are in pain?"
Pity came over the wounded girl. She gently drew herself away from the
arm that encircled her, and said softly,--
"It is I who ought to apologize for my foolish weakness; for I am
really more frightened than hurt."
Norbert felt that heaven had opened before his very eyes. "Let me go
for help," exclaimed he.
"No, no; it was a mere scratch." And, raising her skirt, she displayed
a foot that might have turned a steadier head than Norbert's. "See,"
said she, "it is there that I am in pain."
And she pointed to a spot of blood upon the delicate white stocking.
At the sight of this the young man's terror increased, and he started
to his feet.
"Let me run to the Chateau," said he, "and in less than an hour--"
"Do nothing of the kind," interrupted the girl; "it is a mere nothing.
Look, I can move my foot with ease."
"But let me entreat you--"
"Hush! we shall soon see what it is that has happened." And she
inspected what she laughingly termed his terrible wound.
It was, as she had supposed, a mere nothing. One pellet had grazed the
skin, another had lodged in the flesh, but it was quite on the
"A surgeon must see to this," said Norbert.
"No, no." And with the point of a penknife she pulled out the little
leaden shot. The young man remained still, holding his breath, as a
child does when he is putting the topmost story on a house of cards.
He had never heard so soft a voice, never gazed on so perfectly lovely
a face. In the meantime Diana had torn up her handkerchief and
bandaged the wound. "Now that is over," exclaimed she, with a light
laugh, as she extended her slender fingers to Norbert, so that he
might assist her to rise.
As soon as she was on her feet, she took a few steps with the
prettiest limp imaginable.
"Are you in pain?" said he anxiously.
"No, I am not indeed; and by this evening I shall have forgotten all
about it. But confess, Marquis," she added, with a coquettish laugh,
"that this is a droll way of making an acquaintance."
Norbert started at the word Marquis, for no one but Daumon had ever
addressed him thus.
"She does not despise me," thought he.
"This little incident will be a lesson to me," continued she. "Mamma
always has told me to keep to the highroad; but I preferred the by-
paths because of the lovely scenery."
Norbert, for the first time in his life, realized that the view was a
"I am this way nearly every day," pursued Diana, "though I am very
wicked to disobey my mother. I go to see poor La Berven. She is dying
of consumption, poor thing, and I take her a little soup and wine
every now and then."
She spoke like a real Sister of Mercy, and, in Norbert's opinion,
wings only were lacking to transform her into a perfect angel.
"The poor woman has three children, and their father does nothing for
them, for he drinks what he earns," the young girl went on.
Berven was one of the identical men to whom Norbert had given his
promissory note for four thousand francs, for he was one of the two
men who had intrusted Daumon with their savings for investment; but
the young man was not in a condition to notice this. Diana had
meantime slung her basket on her arm.
"Before I leave you to-day," said she, "I should so much like to ask a
favor of you."
"A favor of me, mademoiselle?"
"Yes; oblige me by saying nothing of what has occurred to-day to any
one; for should it come to my parents' ears, they would undoubtedly
deprive me of the little liberty that they now grant me."
"Mademoiselle," answered Norbert, "be sure that I will never mention
the terrible accident that my awkwardness has caused."
"Thank you, Marquis," answered the girl, with a half-mocking courtesy.
"Another time let me advise you, before you shoot, to look that no one
is behind a hedge."
With these words she tripped away, without her tiny feet showing any
signs of lameness. She had read Norbert's heart like the pages of a
book, and felt that there was every chance of her winning the game. "I
am sure of it now," said she; "I shall be the Duchess of Champdoce."
How grateful she felt for that untimely shot! And she felt sure that
Norbert had understood what she meant when she had said that she went
along that path. She felt certain that the young man had not lost one
word. She believed that the only opposition would come from his
father. As she looked round for a moment, she saw Norbert standing
fixed and motionless as the trees around him.
After Diana had departed, the unhappy lad felt as if she had taken
half his life with her. Was it all a dream? He knelt down, and, after
a slight search, discovered the little pellet, the cause of all the
mischief; and, taking it up carefully, returned home. To his extreme
surprise, he found the main gateway wide open, and from a window he
heard his father's voice calling out in kindly accents,--
"Come up quickly, my boy, for our guest has arrived."
THE COUNT DE PUYMANDOUR.
Since the death of the Duchess of Champdoce the greater portion of the
Chateau had been closed, but the reception rooms were always ready to
be used at a very short notice.
The dining-room was a really magnificent apartment. There were massive
buffets of carved oak, black with age, ornamented with brass
mountings. The shelves groaned beneath their load of goblets and
salvers of the brightest silver, engraved with the haughty armorial
bearings of the house of Champdoce.
Standing near one of the windows, Norbert saw a man, stout, robust,
bald and red-faced, wearing a mustache and slight beard. His clothes
were evidently made by a first-rate tailor, but his appearance was
"This is my son," said the Duke, "the Marquis de Champdoce. Marquis,
let me introduce you to the Count de Puymandour."
This was the first time that his father had ever addressed Norbert by
his title, and he was greatly surprised. The great clock in the outer
hall, which had not been going for fifteen years, now struck, and
instantly a butler appeared, bearing a massive silver soup tureen,
which he placed on the table, announcing solemnly that his Grace was
served, and the little party at once seated themselves. A dinner in
such a vast chamber would have been rather dull had it not been
enlivened by the amusing tales and witty anecdotes of the Count de
Puymandour, which he narrated in a jovial but rather vulgar manner,
seasoned with bursts of laughter. He ate with an excellent appetite,
and praised the quality of the wine, which the Duke himself had chosen
from the cellar, which he had filled with an immense stock for the
benefit of his descendants. The Duke, who was generally so silent and
morose, smiled buoyantly, and appeared to enjoy the pleasantries of
his guest. Was this only the duty of the host, or did his geniality
conceal some hidden scheme? Norbert was utterly unable to settle this
question, for though not gifted with much penetration, he had studied
his father's every look as a slave studies his master, and knew
exactly what annoyed and what pleased him.
The Count de Puymandour lived in a magnificent house, with his
daughter Marie, about three miles from Champdoce, and he was
exceedingly fond of entertaining; but the gentry, who did not for a
moment decline to accept his grand dinners, did not hesitate to say
that Puymandour was a thief and a rogue. Had he been convicted of
larceny, he could not have been spoken of with more disdainful
contempt. But he was very wealthy, and possessed at least five
millions of francs. Of course this was an excellent reason for hating
him, but the fact was, that Puymandour was a very worthy man, and had
made his money by speculation in wool on the Spanish frontier. For a
long period he had lived happy and respected in his native town of
Orthez, when all at once he was tempted by the thought of titular
rank, and from that time his life was one long misery. He took the
name of one of his estates, he bought his title in Italy, and ordered
his coat-of-arms from a heraldic agent in Paris, and now his ambition
was to be treated as a real nobleman. The mere fact of dining with the
eccentric Duke de Champdoce, who never invited any one to his table,
was to him, as it were, a real patent of nobility.
At ten o'clock he rose and declared he must leave, and the Duke
escorted him the length of the avenue to the great gates opening on
the main road, and Norbert, who walked a few paces in the rear, caught
now and then a few words of their conversation.
"Yes," remarked Puymandour, "I will give a million down."
Then came a few words from the Duke, of which Norbert could only catch
the words, "thousands and millions."
He paid, however, but little attention, for his mind was many miles
away. Since the unlooked-for meeting with that fair young face, he had
thought of nothing else, and he mechanically shook hands with, and
bade his guest "Good-night" when his father did.
When the Duke was sure that M. de Puymandour could not hear his voice,
he took his son by the arm, and the bitterness of feeling which he had
so long repressed burst forth in words.
"This," said he, "is a specimen of the mushroom aristocracy that has
sprung up, and not a bad sample either; for though he is puffed up by
ridiculous vanity, the man is shrewd and intelligent enough, and his
descendants, who will have the advantages of a better education than
their progenitors, will form a new class, with more wealth and as much
influence as the old one."
For more than an hour the Duke de Champdoce enlarged on his favorite
topic; but he might as well have been alone, for his son paid no
attention to what he said, for his mind was still dwelling upon his
adventures of the morning. Again that sweet, soft laugh, and that
modulated voice rang in his ears. How foolish he must have seemed to
her! and what a ridiculous figure he must have cut in her eyes! He had
by no means omitted to engrave on the tablet of his memory the fact
that Diana passed daily down the little path on her errand of bounty,
and that there he had the chance of again seeing her. He fancied that
he had so much to say to her; but as he found that his bashfulness
would deprive him of the power of utterance, he determined to commit
his sentiments to paper. That night he composed and destroyed some
fifty letters. He did not dare to say openly, "I love you," and yet
that was exactly what he wanted to express, and he strove, but in
vain, to find words which would veil its abruptness and yet disclose
the whole strength of his feelings. At last, however, one of his
efforts satisfied him. Rising early, he snatched up his gun, and
whistling to Bruno, made his way to the spot where he had the day
before seen Diana stretched upon the ground. But he waited in vain,
and hour after hour passed away, as he paced up and down in an agony
of suspense. Diana did not come. The young lady had considered her
plans thoroughly and kept away. The next day he might have been again
disappointed but for a lucky circumstance. Norbert was seated on the
turf, awaiting with fond expectation the young girl's approach and as
Diana passed the opening to the pathway Bruno scented her, and rushed
forward with a joyous bark. She had then no option but to walk up to
the spot where Norbert was seated. Both the young people were for the
moment equally embarrassed, and Norbert stood silent, holding in his
hand the letter which had caused him so much labor to indite.
"I have ventured to wait for you here, mademoiselle," said he in a
voice which trembled with suppressed emotion, "because I was full of
anxiety to know how you have been. How did you contrive to return home
with your wounded foot?"
He paused, awaiting a word of encouragement, but the girl made no
reply, and he continued,--
"I was tempted to call and make inquiries at your father's house, but
you had forbidden me to speak of the accident, and I did not dare to
"I thank you sincerely," faltered Diana.
"Yesterday," the young man went on, "I passed the whole day here. Are
you angry with me for my stupidity? I had thought that perhaps you had
noticed my anxiety, and might have deigned to----"
He stopped short, terrified at his own audacity.
"Yesterday," returned Diana with the most ingenuous air in the world,
and not appearing to perceive the young man's embarrassment, "I was
detained at home by my mother."
"Yes," replied he, "for the past two days your form, lying senseless
and bleeding on the ground, has ever been before my eyes, for I felt
as if I were a murderer. I shall always see your pale, white face, and
how, when I raised up your head it rested on my arm for a moment, and
all the rapture--"
"You must not talk like that, Marquis," interrupted Diana, but she
spoke in such a low tone that Norbert did not hear her and went on,--
"When I saw you yesterday my feelings so overpowered me that I could
not put them into words; but as soon as you had left me, it appeared
as if all grew dark around me, and throwing myself on my knees, I
searched for the tiny leaden pellet that might have caused your death.
I at last found it, and no treasure upon earth will ever be more
prized by me."
To avoid showing the gleam of joy that flashed from her eyes, Diana
was compelled to turn her head on one side.
"Forgive me, mademoiselle," said Norbert, in despair, as he noticed
this movement; "forgive me if I have offended you. Could you but know
how dreary my past life has been, you would pardon me. It seemed to
me, the very moment that I saw you, I had found a woman who would feel
some slight interest in me, and that for her sweet compassion I would
devote my whole life to her. But now I see how mad and foolish I have
been, and I am plunged into the depths 'of despair.' "
She accompanied these words with a glance sufficiently tender to
restore all Norbert's courage.
"Ah, mademoiselle," said he; "do not trifle with me, for that would be
She let her head droop on her bosom, and, falling upon his knees, he
poured a stream of impassioned kisses upon her hands. Diana felt
herself swept away by this stream of passion; she gasped, and her
fingers trembled, as she found that she was trapped in the same snare
that she had set for another. Her reason warned her that she must
bring this dangerous interview to a conclusion.
"I am forgetting all about my poor pensioners," said she.
"Ah, if I might but accompany you!"
"And so you may, but you must walk fast."
It is quite true that great events spring from very trivial sources;
and had Diana gone to visit La Besson, Norbert might have heard
something concerning Daumon that would have put him on his guard; but,
unfortunately, to-day Diana was bound on a visit to an old woman in
another part of the parish.
Norbert looked on whilst this fair young creature busied herself in
her work of charity, and then he silently placed two louis from the
money he had borrowed, on the table, and left the cottage. Diana
followed him, and, laying her finger upon her lips with the
significant word "to-morrow," turned down the path that led to her
father's house. Norbert could hardly believe his senses when he found
himself again alone. Yes, this lovely girl had almost confessed her
affection for him, and he was ready to pour out his life blood for
her. He tore up the letter which had cost him so much trouble to
compose, for he felt that he could make no use of it. He had now no
anxieties regarding the future, and he thanked Providence for having
caused him to meet Diana de Laurebourg. It never entered his brain
that this apparently frank and open-hearted girl had materially
furthered the acts of Providence. At supper that night he was so gay,
and in such excellent spirits, that even his father's attention was at
"I would lay a wager, my boy," remarked the Duke, "that you have had a
good day's sport."
"You would win your wager," answered the young man boldly.
His father did not pursue the subject; but as Norbert felt that he
must give some color to his assertion, he stopped the next day, and
purchased some quails and a hare. He waited fully half an hour for
Diana; and when she did appear, her pale face and the dark marks under
her eyes showed that anxiety had caused her to pass a sleepless night.
No sooner had she parted from Norbert than she saw the risk that she
was running by her imprudent conduct. She was endangering her whole
future and her reputation,--all indeed that is most precious to a
young girl. For an instant the thought of confiding all to her parents
entered her brain; but she rejected the idea almost as soon as she had
conceived it, for she felt that her father would believe that the
parsimonious Duke de Champdoce would never consent to such a marriage,
and that her entire liberty would be taken from her, and that she
might even be sent back to the convent.
"I cannot stop now," she murmured, "and must be content to run all
risks to effect an object in which I am now doubly interested."
Diana and Norbert had a long conversation together on this day in a
spot which had become so dear to them both, and it was only the
approach of a peasant that recalled the girl to the sense of her rash
imprudence, and she insisted on going on her ostensible errand of
charity. Norbert, as before, escorted her, and even went so far as to
offer his arm, upon which she pressed when the road was steep or
These meetings took place daily, and after a few short minutes spent
in conversation, the young lovers would set off on a ramble. More than
once they were met by the villagers, and a little scandal began to
arise. This was very imprudent on Diana's side; but it had been a part
of her plan to permit her actions to be talked of by the tongue of
scandal. Unfortunately the end of November was approaching, and the
weather growing extremely cold. One morning, as Norbert arose from his
couch, he found that a sharp icy blast was swaying the bare branches
of the trees, and that the rain was descending in torrents. On such a
day as this he knew that it was vain to expect Diana, and, with his
heart full of sadness, he took up a book and sat himself down by the
huge fire that blazed in the great hall.
Mademoiselle de Laurebourg had, however, gone out, but it was in a
carriage, and she had driven to a cottage to see a poor woman who had
broken her leg, and who had nothing but the scanty earnings of her
daughter Francoise upon which to exist. As soon as Diana entered the
cottage she saw that something had gone wrong.
"What is the matter?" asked she.
The poor creature, with garrulous volubility, exhibited a summons
which she had just received, and said that she owed three hundred
francs, and that as she could no longer pay the interest, she had been
summoned, and that her little property would be seized, and so a
finishing stroke would be put to her troubles.
"It is the Counsellor," said she, "that rogue Daumon, who has done all
The poor woman went on to say that when she went to her creditor to
implore a little delay, he had scoffingly told her to send her pretty
daughter to him to plead her cause.
Mademoiselle de Laurebourg was disgusted at this narrative, and her
eyes gleamed with anger.
"I will see this wicked man," said she, "and will come back to you at
She drove straight to the Counsellor's house. Daumon was engaged in
writing when the housekeeper ushered Diana into the office. He rose to
his feet, and, taking off his velvet skull cap, made a profound bow,
advancing at the same time a chair for his visitor's accommodation.
Though Diana knew nothing of this man, she was not so unsophisticated
as Norbert, and was not imposed upon by the air of servile
obsequiousness that he assumed. With a gesture of contempt, she
declined the proffered seat, and this act made Daumon her bitter
"I have come," said she in the cold, disdainful words in which young
girls of high birth address their inferiors,--"I have come to you from
"Ah! you know the poor creature then?"
"Yes, and I take a great interest in her."
"You are a very kind young lady," answered the Counsellor with a
"The poor woman is in the most terrible distress both of mind and
body. She is confined to her bed with a fractured limb, and without
any means of support."
"Yes, I heard of her accident."
"And yet you sent her a summons, and are ready to seize all she
possesses in the world."
Daumon put on an air of sympathy.
"Poor thing!" said he. "How true it is that misfortunes never come
Diana was disgusted at the man's cool effrontery.
"It seems to me," answered she, "that her last trouble is of your
"Is it possible?"
"Why, who is it but you who are the persecutor of this poor lone
"I!" answered he in extreme astonishment; "do you really think that it
is I? Ah! mademoiselle, why do you listen to the cruel tongues of
scandal-mongers? To make a long story short, this poor woman bought
barley, corn, potatoes, and three sheep from a man in the
neighborhood, who gave her credit to the extent of I daresay three
hundred francs. Well, in time, the man asked--most naturally--for his
money, and failing to get it, came to me. I urged him to wait, but he
would not listen to me, and vowed that if I did not do as he wished he
would go to some one else. What was I to do? He had the law on his
side too. Ah!" continued he, as though speaking to himself, "if I
could only see a way of getting this poor creature out of her trouble!
But that cannot be done without money."
He opened a drawer and pulled out about fifty francs.
"This is all my worldly wealth," said he sadly. "But how foolish I am!
For, of course, when poor Widow Rouleau has a wealthy young lady to
take an interest in her, she must have no further fear."
"I will speak to my father on the matter," answered Diana in a voice
which showed that she had but little hope of interesting him in the
Daumon's face fell.
"You will go to the Marquis de Laurebourg?" asked he. "Now, if you
would take my advice, I should say, go to some intimate friend,--to
the Marquis de Champdoce, for instance. I know," he went on, "that the
Duke does not make his son a very handsome allowance; but the young
gentleman will find no difficulty in raising whatever he may desire--
as it will not be long before he is of age--without counting his
marriage, which will put an enormous sum at his disposal even before
Diana fell in an instant into the trap the wily Daumon had laid for
"A marriage!" exclaimed she.
"I know very little about it; only I know that if the young man wishes
to marry without his father's consent, he will have to wait at least
"Yes; the law requires that a young man who marries against his
father's desire should be twenty-five years of age."
This last stroke was so totally unexpected, that the girl lost her
"Impossible!" cried she. "Are you not making a mistake?"
The Counsellor gave a quiet smile of triumph.
"I am not mistaken," said he, and calmly pointed out in the code the
provision to which he had alluded. As Diana read the passage to which
his finger pointed, he watched her as a cat watches a mouse.
"After all, what does it matter to me?" remarked Diana, making an
effort to recover herself. "I will speak about this poor woman's case
to my father;" and, with her limbs bending under her, she left the
As Daumon returned from accompanying her to the door, the Counsellor
rubbed his hands.
"Things are getting decidedly warm," muttered he.
He felt that he must gain some further information, and this he could
not get from Norbert. It would be also as well, he thought, to tell
the sheriff to stay proceedings relative to the Widow Rouleau. By this
means he might secure another interview with Mademoiselle de
Laurebourg, and perhaps win the poor girl's confidence.
As Diana rode home, she abandoned herself to the grief which the
intelligence that she had just heard had caused her, for the foresight
of the framers of the law had rendered all her deeply laid plans of no
"The Duke of Champdoce," murmured she to herself, "will never consent
to his son's marriage with so scantily a dowered woman as I am; but as
soon as Norbert is of age he can marry me, in spite of all his
father's opposition; but, oh! 'tis a dreary time to wait."
For a moment she dared to think of the possible death of the old man;
but she shuddered as she remembered how strong and healthy he was, and
felt that the frail edifice of her hope had been crushed into ten
thousand atoms. For all this, however, she did not lose courage. She
was not one of those women who, at the first check, beat a retreat.
She had not yet decided upon a fresh point of departure, but she had
fully made up her mind that she would gain the victory. The first
thing was to see Norbert with as little delay as possible. Just then
the carriage pulled up at the widow's cottage, which she entered
"I have seen Daumon," said she. "Do not be alarmed; all matters will
be arranged shortly."
Then, without listening to the thanks and blessings which the poor
woman showered upon her, she said,--
"Give me a piece of paper to write on," and, standing near the
casement, she wrote in pencil on a soiled scrap of paper the following
"Diana would, perhaps, have been at the usual meeting place to-day, in
spite of the weather, had she not been compelled to visit a poor woman
in a contrary direction. Upon the same business, she will have to call
to-morrow at the house of a man called Daumon."
She folded the note and said,--
"This letter must be taken at once to M. Norbert de Champdoce. Who
will carry it?"
Francoise had made a smock frock for one of the farm servants at
Champdoce, and the delivery of it formed a good excuse for going up to
the Chateau, and she willingly undertook the errand.
The next day, in the midst of a heavy shower of rain, Norbert made his
appearance at Daumon's office, saying, as a pretext for his visit,
that he had exhausted his stock of money, and required a fresh supply.
He too was feeling very unhappy, for he feared that this father might
entertain matrimonial designs for him which would be utterly opposed
to his passion for Mademoiselle de Laurebourg.
Had not the inexorable old man once said, "You will marry a woman of
wealth"? But in the event of this matter being brought up, Norbert
swore that he would no longer be obedient, but would resist to the
last; and he calculated on receiving assistance from Daumon. He was on
the point of referring to this matter, when a carriage drew up at the
door of the cottage, and Mademoiselle de Laurebourg descended from it.
Daumon at once saw how matters stood, and wasted no time in addressing
"The sheriff will stop proceedings," said he. "I can show you his
letter to that effect."
He turned away, and searched as diligently for the letter as if it had
existed anywhere except in his own imagination.
"Dear me," said he at length. "I cannot find it. I must have left it
in the other room. I have so much to do, that really there are times
when I forget everything. I must find it, however. Excuse me, I will
be back immediately."
His sudden departure from the room had been a mere matter of
calculation; for, guessing that an assignation had been planned, he
thought that he might know what took place at it by a little
eavesdropping. He therefore applied first his ear and then his eye to
the keyhole, and by these means acquired all the information he
A moment of privacy with the object of his affections seemed to
Norbert an inestimable boon. When Diana had first entered, he was
horrified at the terrible alteration that had taken place in the
expression of her face. He seized her hand, which she made no effort
to withdraw, and gazed fixedly into her eyes.
"Tell me," murmured he in accents of love and tenderness, "what it is
that has gone wrong."
Diana sighed, then a tear coursed slowly down her cheek. Norbert was
in the deepest despair at these signs of grief.
"Great heavens!" cried he. "Will you not trust me? Am not I your
truest and most devoted friend?"
At first she refused to answer him, but at length she yielded to his
entreaties, and confessed that the evening before her father had
informed her that a young man had sought her hand in marriage, and one
who was a perfectly eligible suitor.
Norbert listened to this avowal, trembling from head to foot, with a
sudden access of jealousy.
"And did you make no objections?" asked he.
"How could I?" retorted she. "What can a girl do in opposition to the
will of all her family, when she has to choose between the alternative
that she loathes, or a life-long seclusion in a convent?"
Daumon shook with laughter, as he kept his ear closely to the keyhole.
"Good business," muttered he. "Not so bad. Here's a little girl from a
convent. She has a clever brain and a glib tongue, and under my
tuition would be a perfect wonder. If this country booby does not make
an open declaration at once, I wonder what her next move will be?"
"And you hesitated," said Norbert reproachfully. "Remember you may
escape from the walls of the convent, but not from the bonds of an
Diana, who looked more beautiful than ever in her despair, wrung her
"What reason can I give to my father for declining this offer?" said
she. "Every one knows that I am almost portionless, and that I am
sacrificed to my brother, immolated upon the altar erected before the
cruel idol of family pride; and how dare I refuse a suitable offer
when one is made for my hand?"
"Have you forgotten me?" cried Norbert. "Have you no love for me?
"Ah, my poor friend, you are no more free than I am."
"Then you look on me as a mere weak boy?" asked he, biting his lips.
"Your father is very powerful," answered she in tones of the deepest
resignation; "his determination is inflexible, and his will
inexorable. You are completely in his power."
"What do I care for my father?" cried the young man fiercely. "Am not
I a Champdoce too? Woe be to any one, father or stranger, who comes
between me and the woman I love devotedly; for I do love you, Diana,
and no mortal man shall take you from me."
He clasped Diana to his breast, and pressed a loving kiss upon her
"Aha," muttered Daumon, who had lost nothing from his post of espial,
"this is worth fifty thousand francs at least to me."
For a moment Diana remained clasped in her lover's embrace, and then,
with a faint cry, released herself from him. She then felt that she
loved him, and his kiss and caresses sent a thrill like liquid fire
through her veins. She was half pleased and half terrified. She feared
him, but she feared herself more.
"What, Diana! Would you refuse me?" asked he, after a moment's pause.
"Do you refuse me, when I implore you to be my wife, and to share my
name with me? Will you not be the Duchess of Champdoce?"
Diana only replied with a glance; but if her eyes spoke plainly, that
look said "Yes."
"Why, then," returned Norbert, "should we alarm ourselves with empty
phantoms? Do you not trust me? My father may certainly oppose my
plans, but before long I shall escape from his tyrannical sway, for I
shall be of age."
"Ah, Norbert," returned she sadly, "you are feeding upon vain hopes.
You must be twenty-five years of age before you can marry and give the
shelter of your name to the woman whom you have chosen for your wife."
This was exactly the explanation for which Daumon had been waiting.
"Good again, my young lady," cried he. "And so this is why she came
here. There is some credit in giving a lesson to so apt a pupil."
"It is impossible," cried Norbert, violently agitated; "such an
iniquitous thing cannot be."
"You are mistaken," answered Diana calmly. "Unfortunately I am telling
you exactly how matters stand. The law clearly fixes the age at
twenty-five. During all this time will you remember that a broken-
"Why talk to me of law? When I am of age, I shall have plenty of
money," broke in Norbert; "and do you think that I will tamely submit
to my father's oppression? No, I will wrest his consent from him."
During this conversation the Counsellor was carefully removing the
dust from the knees of his trousers.
"I will pop in suddenly," thought he, "and catch a word or two which
will do away with the necessity of all lengthy explanations."
He suited the action to the word, and appeared suddenly before the
lovers. He was not at all disconcerted at the effect his entrance
produced upon them, and remarked placidly, "I could not find the
sheriff's letter, but I assure you that Widow Rouleau's matter shall
be speedily and satisfactorily arranged."
Diana and Norbert exchanged glances of annoyance at finding their
secret at the mercy of such a man. This evident distrust appeared to
wound Daumon deeply.
"You have a perfect right," remarked he dejectedly, "to say, 'Mind
your own business;' but the fact is, that I hate all kinds of
injustice so much that I always take the side of the weakest, and so,
when I come in and find you deploring your troubles, I say to myself,
'Doubtless here are two young people made for each other.' "
"You forget yourself," broke in Diana haughtily.
"I beg your pardon," stammered Daumon. "I am but a poor peasant, and
sometimes I speak out too plainly. I meant no harm, and I only hope
that you will forgive me."
Daumon looked at Diana; and as she made no reply, he went on: "'Well,'
says I to myself, 'here are two young folks that have fallen in love,
and have every right to do so, and yet they are kept apart by
unreasonable and cruel-minded parents. They are young and know nothing
of the law, and without help they would most certainly get into a
muddle. Now, suppose I take their matter in hand, knowing the law
thoroughly as I do, and being up to its weak as well as its strong
He spoke on in this strain for some minutes, and did not notice that
they had withdrawn a little apart, and were whispering to each other.
"Why should we not trust him?" asked Norbert. "He has plenty of
"He would betray us; he would do anything for money."
"That is all the better for us then; for if we promise him a handsome
sum, he will not say a word of what has passed to-day."
"Do as you think best, Norbert."
Having thus gained Diana's assent, the young man turned to Daumon. "I
put every faith in you, and so does Mademoiselle de Laurebourg. You
know our exact situation. What do you advise?"
"Wait and hope," answered the Counsellor. "The slightest step taken
before you are of age will be fatal to your prospects, but the day you
are twenty-one I will undertake to show you several methods of
bringing the Duke on his knees."
Nothing could make this speech more explicit; but he was so cheerful
and confident, that when Diana left the office, she felt a fountain of
fresh hope well up in her heart.
This was nearly their last interview that year, for the winter came on
rapidly and with increased severity, so that it was impossible for the
lovers to meet out of doors, and the fear of spying eyes prevented
them from taking advantage of Daumon's hospitality. Each day, however,
the widow's daughter, Francoise, carried a letter to Laurebourg, and
brought back a reply to Champdoce. The inhabitants of the various
country houses had fled to more genial climates, and only the Marquis
de Laurebourg, who was an inveterate sportsman, still lingered; but at
the first heavy fall of snow he too determined to take refuge in the
magnificent house that he owned in the town of Poitiers. Norbert had
foreseen this, and had taken his measures accordingly. Two or three
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