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The Champdoce Mystery by Emile Gaboriau

Part 2 out of 7

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times in the week he mounted his horse and rode to the town. After
changing his dress, he made haste to a certain garden wall in which
there was a small door. At an agreed hour this door would gently open,
and as Norbert slipped through he would find Diana ready to welcome
him, looking more bewitching than ever. This great passion, which now
enthralled his whole life, and the certainty that his love was
returned, had done away with a great deal of his bashfulness and
timidity. He had resumed his acquaintanceship with Montlouis, and had
often been with him to the Café Castille. Montlouis was only for a
short time at Poitiers, for as soon as spring began he was to join the
young Count de Mussidan, who had promised to find some employment for
him. The approaching departure was not at all to Montlouis' taste, as
he was madly in love with a young girl who resided in the town. He
told all to Norbert; and as confidence begets confidence, he more than
once accompanied the young Marquis to the door in the garden wall of
the Count de Laurebourg's town house.

April came at last. The gentry returned to their country houses, and
in time the happy day arrived when Diana de Laurebourg was to return
to her father's country mansion. The lovers had now every opportunity
to meet, and would exhort each other to have patience, and a week
after Diana's return they spent a long day together in the woods.
After this delicious day, Norbert, happy and light-hearted, returned
to his father's house.

"Marquis," said the Duke, plunging at once into the topic nearest his
heart, "I have found a wife for you, and in two months you will marry



The falling of a thunderbolt at his feet would have startled Norbert
less than these words did. The Duke took, or affected to take, no
notice of his son's extreme agitation, and in a careless manner he

"I suppose, my son, that it is hardly necessary for me to tell you the
young lady's name. Mademoiselle Marie de Puymandour cannot fail to
please you. She is excessively pretty, tall, dark, and with a fine
figure. You saw her at Mass one day. What do you think of her?"

"Think!" stammered Norbert. "Really I----"

"Pshaw," replied the old gentleman; "I thought that you had begun to
use your eyes. And look here, Marquis, you must adopt a different
style of dress. You can go over with me to Poitiers to-morrow, and one
of the tailors there will make you some clothes suitable to your rank,
for I don't suppose that you wish to alarm your future wife by the
uncouthness of your appearance."

"But, father--"

"Wait a moment, if you please. I shall have a suite of apartments
reserved for you and your bride, and you can pass your honeymoon here.
Take care you do not prolong it for too lengthened a period; and when
it is all over, we can break the young woman into all our ways."

"But," interrupted Norbert hastily, "suppose I do not fancy this young

"Well, what then?"

"Suppose I should beg you to save me from a marriage which will render
me most unhappy?"

The Duke shrugged his shoulders. "Why this is mere childishness," said
he. "The marriage is a most suitable one, and it is my desire that it
should take place."

"But, father," again commenced Norbert.

"What! Are you opposing my will?" asked his father angrily. "Pray, do
you hesitate?"

"No," answered his son coldly, "I do not hesitate."

"Very good, then. A man of no position can consult the dictates of his
heart when he takes a wife, but with a nobleman of rank and station it
is certainly a different matter, for with the latter, marriage should
be looked upon as a mere business transaction. I have made excellent
arrangements. Let me repeat to you the conditions. The Count will give
two-thirds of his fortune, which is estimated at five millions--just
think of that!--and when we get that, we shall be able to screw and
save with better heart. Think of the restoration of our house, and the
colossal fortune that our descendants will one day inherit, and
realize all the beauties of a life of self-denial."

While the Duke was uttering this string of incoherent sentences, he
was pacing up and down the room, and now he halted immediately in
front of his son. "You understand," said he; "to-morrow you will go to
Poitiers, and on Sunday we will dine at the house of your future

In this fearful crisis Norbert did not know what to say or how to act.

"Father," he once more commenced, "I have no wish to go to Poitiers

"What are you saying? What in heaven's name do you mean?"

"I mean that as I shall never love Mademoiselle de Puymandour, she
will never be my wife."

The Duke had never foreseen the chance of rebellion on the part of his
son, and he could not bring his mind to receive such an unlooked-for

"You are mad," said he at last, "and do not know what you are saying."

"I know very well."

"Think of what you are doing."

"I have reflected."

The Duke was making a violent effort to compose his ordinarily violent

"Do you imagine," answered he disdainfully, "that I shall be satisfied
with an answer of this kind? I hope that you will submit to my wishes,
for I think that, as the head of the family, I have conceived a
splendid plan for its future aggrandizement; and do you think that,
for the mere whim of a boy, I will be turned aside from my fixed

"No, father," answered Norbert, "it is no boyish whim that makes me
oppose your wishes. Tell me, have I not ever been a dutiful son to
you? Have I ever refused to do what I was ordered? No; I have obeyed
you implicitly. I am the son of the wealthiest man in Poitiers, and I
have lived like a laborer's child. Whatever your mandates were, I have
never complained or murmured at them."

"Well, and now I order you to marry Mademoiselle de Puymandour."

"Anything but that; I do not love her, and I shall never do so. Do you
wish my whole life to be blighted? I entreat you to spare me this

"My orders are given, and you must comply with them."

"No," answered Norbert quietly, "I will not comply with them."

A purple flush passed across the Duke's face, then it faded away,
leaving every feature of a livid whiteness.

"Great heavens!" said he in a voice before which Norbert, at one time,
would have quailed. "Whence comes the audacity that makes you venture
to dispute my orders?"

"From the feeling that I am acting rightly."

"How long is it that it has been right for children to disobey their
parents' commands?"

"Ever since parents began to issue unjust commands."

This speech put the finishing stroke to the Duke's rage. He made a
step across the room, towards his son, raising the stick that he
usually carried high in the air. For a moment he stood thus, and then,
casting it aside, he exclaimed,--

"No, I cannot strike a Champdoce."

Perhaps it was Norbert's intrepid attitude that restrained the Duke's
frenzy, for he had not moved a muscle, but stood still, with his arms
folded, and his head thrown haughtily back.

"No, this is an act of disobedience that I will not put up with,"
exclaimed the old man in a voice of thunder, and, springing upon his
son, he grasped him by the collar and dragged him up to a room on the
second floor, and thrust him violently through the doorway.

"You have twenty-four hours in which to reflect whether you will be
willing to accept the wife that I have chosen for you," said he.

"I have already decided on that point," answered Norbert quietly.

The Duke made no reply, but slammed the door, which was of massive
oak, and secured by a lock of enormous proportions.

Norbert gazed round; the only other exit from the room was by means of
a window some forty feet from the ground. The young man, however,
imagined that some one would surely come to make up his bed for the
night; that would give him two sheets; these he could knot together
and thus secure a means of escape. He might not be able to see Diana
at once, but he could easily send her a message by Daumon, warning her
of what had taken place. Having arranged his plans, he threw himself
into an armchair with a more easy mind than he had experienced for
many months past. The decisive step had been taken, and the relations
between his father and himself clearly defined, and thus he naturally
considered great progress had been made, and the task before him
seemed as nothing to what he had already performed.

"My father," thought he, "must be half mad with passion."

And Norbert was not wrong in his opinion. When the Duke, as usual,
took his place at the table, at which the farm laborers ate their
meals, not one of them had the courage to make a single observation.
Every one knew what a serious altercation had taken place between
father and son, and each one was devoured by the pangs of ungratified

As soon as the meal was concluded, the Duke called an old and
trustworthy servant, who had been in his employment for over thirty

"Jean," said he, "your young master is locked in the yellow room. Here
is the key. Take him something to eat."

"Very good, your Grace."

"Wait a little. You will spend the night in his room and keep a strict
watch upon him. He may design to make his escape. If he attempts it,
restrain him, if necessary, by physical force. Should he prove too
strong for you, call to me; I shall be near, and will come to your

This unexpected precaution upon the Duke's part upset all Norbert's
plans of escape. He endeavored to persuade Jean to allow him to go out
for a couple of hours, giving his word of honor that he would return
at the expiration of that time. Prayers and menaces, however, had no
effect. Had the young man gazed from the window, he would have seen
his father striding moodily up and down the courtyard, with the
thought gnawing at his heart that perhaps after all these many years
of waiting his plans might yet be frustrated.

"There is a woman at the bottom of all this," said he to himself. "It
is only woman's wiles that in this brief space of time would effect so
complete a change in a young man's disposition. Besides, he would not
have so obstinately declined to listen to the proposal I made him had
not his affections been engaged elsewhere. Who can she be? and by what
means shall I find her out?"

It would be absurd to question Norbert, and the Duke was excessively
unwilling to institute any regular inquiry into the matter. He passed
the whole night in gloomy indecision, but towards morning an
inspiration came to him which he looked upon as a special
interposition of Providence.

"Bruno," he exclaimed with a mighty oath. "The dog will show me the
place that his master frequents and perhaps lead me to the very woman
who had bewitched him."

The brilliant idea soothed him a great deal, and at one o'clock he
took his seat as usual at the head of the table, and ordered food to
be taken up to Norbert, but that none of the measures for his safe
custody were to be relaxed.

When he thought the moment was a favorable one, he whistled to Bruno,
and, though the dog rarely followed him, yet in the absence of his
master, he condescended to accompany the Duke down the avenue to the
front gates. Three roads branched off from here, but the dog did not
hesitate for a moment, and took the one to the left, like an animal
who knew his destination perfectly well. Bruno went ahead for nearly
half an hour, until he reached the exact spot where Diana had met with
her accident. He made a cast round, but finding nothing, sat down,
clearly saying,--

"Let us wait."

"This, then," muttered the Duke, "is the place where the lovers have
been in the habit of meeting each other."

The place was a very lonely one, and, standing on the rising ground,
commanded a view of the country for a long way round.

The Duke noticed this, and took up a position where the trunk of a
giant oak almost concealed him from observation. He was delighted at
his sagacity, and was almost in a good humor; for now that he had
reflected, the danger did not seem by any means so great, for to whom
could Norbert have lost his heart? To some little peasant girl,
perhaps, who, thinking that the lad was an easy dupe, had tried to
induce him to marry her. As these thoughts passed through the Duke's
brain, Bruno gave a joyous bark.

"Here she is,' muttered he, as he emerged from his hiding place, and
at that moment Diana de Laurebourg made her appearance; but as soon as
she saw the Duke she uttered a faint cry of alarm. She was inclined to
turn and fly, but her strength failed her, and, extending her hands,
she grasped the boughs of a slender birch tree that grew close by, to
prevent herself from falling. The Duke was quite as much astonished as
the young lady. He had expected to see a peasant girl, and here was
the daughter of the Marquis de Laurebourg. But anger soon succeeded to
surprise; for though he might have had nothing to fear from the
peasant, the daughter of the Marquis de Laurebourg was an utterly
different antagonist. He could not rely upon aid from her family, as,
for all he knew, they might be aiding and abetting her.

"Well, my child," began he, "you do not seem very glad to see me."

"Your Grace."

"Yes, when you come out to meet the son, it is annoying to meet the
father; but do not blame poor Norbert, for I assure you he is not in

Though Mademoiselle de Laurebourg had been startled at first, she was
possessed of too strong a will to give in, and soon recovered her

She never thought to screen herself by a denial of her reasons for
being on the spot, for such a course she would have looked on as an
act of treacherous cowardice.

"You are quite right," answered she. "I came here to meet your son,
and therefore you will pardon me if I take my leave of you."

With a deep courtesy she was about to move away, when the Duke laid a
restraining grip upon her arm.

"Permit me, my child," said he, endeavoring to put on a kind and
paternal tone,--"let me say a few words to you. Do you know why
Norbert did not come to meet you?"

"He has doubtless some very good reason."

"My son is locked up in a room, and my servants have my orders to
prevent his making his escape by force, if necessary."

"Poor fellow! He deserves the deepest commiseration."

The Duke was much surprised at this piece of impertinence, as he
considered it.

"I will tell you," returned he in tones of rising anger, "how it comes
that I treat my son, the heir to my rank and fortune, in this manner."

He looked savagely angry as he spoke, but Diana answered negligently,
"Pray go on; you quite interest me."

"Well then, listen to me. I have chosen a wife for Norbert; she is as
young as you are--beautiful, clever, and wealthy."

"And of noble birth, of course."

The sarcasm conveyed in this reply roused the Duke to fury.

"Fifteen hundred thousand francs as a marriage portion will outweigh a
coat of arms, even though it should be a tower argent on a field
azure." The Duke paused as he made this allusion to the Laurebourg
arms, and then continued, "In addition to this, she has great
expectations; and yet my son is mad enough to refuse the hand of this
wealthy heiress."

"If you think that this marriage will cause your son's happiness, you
are quite right in acting as you have done."

"Happiness! What has that to do with the matter, as long as it adds to
the aggrandizement of our house and name? I have made up my mind that
Norbert shall marry this girl; I have sworn it, and I never break my
oath. I told him this myself."

Diana suffered acutely, but her pride supported her, whilst her
confidence in Norbert was so great that she had the boldness to
inquire, "And what did he say to that?"

"Norbert will become a dutiful son once more when he is removed from
the malignant influence which has been so injurious to him," returned
the Duke fiercely.


"He will obey me, when I show him that though he may not value his
name and position, there are others who do so; and that many a woman
would fight a brave battle for the honor of being the Duchess of
Champdoce. Young lady, my son is a mere boy; but I have known the
world, and when I prove to the poor fool that it was only grasping
ambition which assumed the garb of love, he will renounce his folly
and resume his allegiance to me. I will tell him what I think of the
poverty-stricken adventuresses of high birth, whose only weapons are
their youth and beauty, and with which they think that they can win a
wealthy husband in the battle of life."

"Continue, sir," broke in Diana haughtily. "Insult a defenceless girl
with her poverty! It is a noble act, and one worthy of a high-born
gentleman like yourself!"

"I believed," said the Duke, "that I was addressing the woman whose
advice had led my son to break into open rebellion against my
authority. Am I right or wrong? You can prove me to be mistaken by
urging upon Norbert the necessity for submission."

She made no reply, but bent her head upon her bosom.

"You see," continued the Duke, "that I am correct, and that if you
continue to act as you have done, I shall be justified in retaliating
in any manner that I may deem fit. You have now been warned. Carry on
this intrigue at your peril."

He placed such an insulting emphasis upon the word "intrigue" that
Diana's anger rose to boiling point. At that instant, for the sake of
vengeance, she would have risked her honor, her ambition, her very
life itself.

Forgetting all prudence, she cast aside her mask of affected
indifference, and, with her eyes flashing angry gleams of fire, and
her cheeks burning, she said,--

"Listen to me. I, too, have sworn an oath, and it is that Norbert
shall be my husband; and I tell you that he shall be so! Shut him up
in prison, subject him to every indignity at the hands of your
menials, but you will never break his spirit, or make him go back from
his plighted word. If I bid him, he will resist your will even unto
the bitter end. He and I will never yield. Believe me when I tell you,
that before you attack a young girl's honor, you had better pause; for
one day she will be a member of your family. Farewell."

Before the Duke could recover his senses, Diana was far down the path
on her way homewards; and then he burst into a wild storm of menaces,
oaths, and insults. He fancied that he was alone, but he was mistaken;
for the whole of that strange scene had a hidden witness, and that
witness was Daumon. He had heard of the treatment of the young Marquis
from one of his servants at the Chateau, and his first thought had
been to acquaint Diana with it. Unfortunately he saw no means of doing
this. He dared not go to Laurebourg, and he would have died sooner
than put pen to paper. He was in a position of the deepest
embarrassment when the idea struck him of going to the lovers'
trysting place. The little cry that Diana had uttered upon perceiving
the Duke had put him upon his guard. Bruno had found him out; but, as
he knew him, merely fawned upon him. He was delighted at the fury of
the Duke, whom he hated with cold and steady malignity; but the
courage of Diana filled him with admiration. Her sublime audacity won
his warmest praises, and he longed for her as an ally to aid him in
his scheme of revenge. He knew that the girl would find herself in a
terribly embarrassing position, and thus she would be sure to call
upon him for advice before returning home.

"Now," thought he, "if I wish to profit by her anger, I ought to
strike while the iron is hot; and to do so, I should be at home to
meet her."

Without a moment's delay, he dashed through the woods, striving to get
home without the young girl's perceiving him. His movements in the
underwood caught the Duke's eye.

"Who is there?" exclaimed he, moving towards the spot from whence the
rustling came. There was no reply. Surely he had not been mistaken.
Calling to Bruno, he strove to put him on the scent, but the dog
showed no signs of eagerness. He sniffed about for a time, and seemed
to linger near one special spot. The Duke moved towards it, and
distinctly saw the impression of two knees upon the grass.

"Some one has been eavesdropping," muttered he, much enraged at his
discovery. "Who can it be? Has Norbert escaped from his prison?"

As he returned through the courtyard, he called one of the grooms to

"Where is my son?" asked he.

"Upstairs, your Grace," was the answer.

The Duke breathed more freely. Norbert was still in security, and
therefore could not have been the person who had been listening.

"But," added the lad, "the young master is half frantic."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, he declared that he would not remain in his room an instant
longer; so old Jean called for help. He is awfully strong, and it took
six of us to hold him. He said that if we would let him go, he would
return in two hours, and that his honor and life were involved."

The Duke listened with a sarcastic smile. He cared nothing about the
frantic struggles of his son, for his heart had grown cold and hard
from the presence of the fixed idea which had actuated his conduct for
so many years, and it was with the solemn face of a man who was
fulfilling a sacred duty that he ascended to the room in which his son
was imprisoned. Jean threw open the door, and the Duke paused for a
moment on the threshold. The furniture had been overturned, some of it
broken, and there were evident signs of a furious struggle having
taken place.

A powerful laborer stood near the window, and Norbert was lying on the
bed, with his face turned to the wall.

"Leave us," said the Duke, and the man withdrew at once.

"Get up, Norbert," he added; "I wish to speak to you."

His son obeyed him. Any one but the Duke would have been alarmed by
the expression of the young man's face.

"What is the meaning of all this?" asked the old nobleman in his most
severe voice. "Are not my orders sufficient to insure obedience? I
hear that absolute force has had to be used towards you during my
absence. Tell me, my son, what plans you have devised during these
hours of solitude, and what hopes you still venture to cherish."

"I intend to be free, and I will be so."

The Duke affected not to hear the reply, uttered as it was in a tone
of derision.

"It was very easy for me to discover, from your obstinacy, that some
woman had endeavored to entrap you, and by her insidious counsels
inducing you to disobey your best friend."

He paused, but there was no reply.

"This woman--this dangerous woman--I have been in search of, and as
you can conceive, I easily found her. I went to the Forest of Bevron,
and there I need not tell you I found Mademoiselle de Laurebourg."

"Did you speak to her?"

"I did so, certainly. I told her my opinion of those manoeuvring women
who fascinate the dupes they intend to take advantage of--"


"Can it be possible that you, simple boy even as you are, could have
been deceived by the pretended love of this wily young woman? It is
not you, Marquis, that she loves, but our name and fortune; but /I/
know if /she/ does not that the law will imprison women who contrive
to entrap young men who are under age."

Norbert turned deadly pale.

"Did you really say that to her?" asked he, in a low, hoarse voice,
utterly unlike his own. "You dare to insult the woman I love, when you
knew that I was far away and unable to protect her! Take care, or I
shall forget that you are my father."

"He actually threatens me," said the Duke, "my son threatens me;" and,
raising the heavy stick he held in his hand, he struck Norbert a
violent blow. By a fortunate movement the unhappy boy drew back, and
so avoided the full force of the stroke, but the end of the stick
struck him across the temple, inflicting a long though not a serious
wound. In his blind rage Norbert was about to throw himself upon his
father, when his eyes caught sight of the open door. Liberty and
safety lay before him, and, with a bound, he was on the stairs, and
before the Duke could shout for aid from the window, his son was
tearing across the park with all the appearance and gesture of a



In order to avoid being seen by Mademoiselle de Laurebourg, Daumon had
to take a much longer route to regain his home than the one that Diana
had followed. This, however, he could not help. As soon as he arrived
at his home he ran hastily upstairs and took from a cleverly concealed
hiding-place in the wainscoting of his bedroom a small bottle of dark
green glass, which he hastily slipped into his pocket. When he had
once more descended to his office, he again took it out and examined
it carefully to see that it had in no way been tampered with; then,
with a hard, cruel smile, he placed it upon his desk among his ledgers
and account books. Diana de Laurebourg might pay him a visit as soon
as she liked, for he was quite prepared for her, for he had slipped on
his dressing-gown and placed his velvet skull cap upon his head, as if
he had not quitted the house that day.

"Why on earth does she not come?" muttered he.

He began to be uneasy. He went to the window and glanced eagerly down
the road; then he drew out his watch and examined the face of it, when
all at once his ears detected a gentle tapping at the door of the

"Come in," said he.

The door opened, and Diana entered slowly, without uttering a word,
and took no notice of the servile obsequiousness of the Counsellor;
indeed, she hardly seemed to notice his presence, and with a deep sigh
she threw herself into a chair.

In his inmost heart Daumon was filled with the utmost delight; he now
understood why Diana had taken so long in reaching his house; it was
because her interview with the Duke had almost overcome her.

She soon, however, recovered her energy, and shook off the languor
that seemed to cling to her limbs, and turning towards her host, said

"Counsellor, I have come to you for advice, which I sorely need. About
an hour ago--"

With a gesture of sympathy Daumon interrupted her,--

"Alas!" said he; "spare me the recital, I know all."

"You know----"

"Yes, I know that M. Norbert is a prisoner at the Chateau. Yes,
mademoiselle, I know this, and I know, too, that you have just met the
Duke de Champdoce in the Forest of Bevron. I know, moreover, all that
you said to the old nobleman, for I have heard every word from a
person who has just left."

In spite of her strong nerves, Diana was unable to restrain a movement
of dismay and terror.

"But who told you of this?" murmured she.

"A man who was out cutting wood. Ah! my dear young lady, the forest is
not a safe place to tell secrets in, for you never know whether
watchful eyes and listening ears are not concealed behind every tree.
This man, and I am afraid some of his companions, heard every word
that was spoken, and as soon as you left the Duke the man scampered
off to tell the story. I made him promise not to say a word, but he is
a married man and is sure to tell it to his wife. Then there are his
companions; dear me! it is most annoying."

"Then all is lost, and I am ruined," murmured she.

But her despair did not last long, for she was by no means the woman
to throw down her arms and sue for mercy. She grasped the arm of the

"The end has not come yet, surely? Speak! What is to be done? You must
have some plan. I am ready for anything, now that I have nothing to
lose. No one shall ever say that that cowardly villain, the Duke de
Champdoce, insulted me with impunity. Tell me, will you help me?"

"In the name of heaven!" cried he, "do not speak so loud. You do not
know the adversary that you have to contend with."

"Are you afraid of him?"

"Yes, I do fear him; and what is more, I fear him very much. He is a
determined man, and will gain his object at any cost or risk. Do you
know that he did his best to crush me because I summoned him to court
on behalf of one of my clients? So that now, when any one comes to me
and wishes to proceed against the Duke, I am glad to decline to take
up the matter."

"And so," returned the young girl in a tone of cold contempt, "after
leading us to this compromising position, you are ready to abandon us
at the most critical moment?"

"Can you think such a thing, mademoiselle?"

"You can act as you please, Counsellor; Norbert is still left to me;
he will protect me."

Daumon shook his head with an air of deep sorrow.

"How can we be sure that at this very moment the Marquis has not given
in to all his father's wishes?"

"No," exclaimed the girl; "such a supposition is an insult to Norbert.
He would sooner die than give in. He may be timid, but he is not a
coward; the thoughts of me will give him the power to resist his
father's tyranny."

Daumon allowed himself to fall into his great armchair as though
overcome by the excitement of this interview.

"We can talk coolly enough here and with no one to threaten us; but
the Marquis, on the other hand, is exposed to all his father's
violence and ill treatment, moral as well as physical, without any
defence for aid from a soul in the world, and in such times as these
the strongest will may give way."

"Yes, I see it all; Norbert may give in, he may marry another woman,
and I shall be left alone, with my reputation gone, and the scorn and
scoff of all the neighborhood."

"But, mademoiselle, you still have--"

"All I have left is life, and that life I would gladly give for

There was something so terribly determined in the young girl's voice
that again Daumon started, and this time his start was sincere and not

"Yes, you are right," said he, "and there are many besides myself who
have vowed to have revenge on the Duke, and their time will come, have
no fear. A quiet shot in the woods in the dusk of the evening would
settle many a long account. It has been tried, but the old man seems
to have the luck of the evil one; and if the gun did not miss fire,
the bullets flew wide of the mark. A judge might take a very serious
view of such a matter, and term a crime what was merely an act of
justice. Who can say whether the death of the Duke de Champdoce might
not save him from the commission of many acts of tyranny and
oppression and render many deserving persons happy?"

The face of Diana de Laurebourg turned deadly pale as she listened to
these specious arguments.

"As things go," continued Daumon, "the Duke may go on living to a
hundred; he is wealthy and influential, and to a certain degree looked
up to. He will die peacefully in his bed, there will be a magnificent
funeral, and masses will be sung for the repose of his soul."

While he spoke the Counsellor had taken the little bottle from beside
his account books and was turning it over and over between his

"Yes," murmured he, thoughtfully; "the Duke is quite likely to outlive
us all, unless, indeed----"

He took the cork from the bottle, and poured a little of the contents
into the palm of his hand. A few grains of fine white powder,
glittering like crystal, appeared on the brown skin of the Counsellor.

"And yet," he went on, in cold, sinister accents, "let him take but a
small pinch of this, and no one need fear his tyranny again in this
world. No one is much afraid of a man who lies some six feet under
ground, shut up in a strong oak coffin, with a finely carved
gravestone over his head."

He stopped short, and fixed his keen eyes upon the agitated girl, who
stood in front of him. For at least two minutes the man and the girl
stood face to face, motionless, and without exchanging a word. Through
the dead, weird silence, the pulsations of their hearts were plainly
audible. It seemed as if before speaking again each wished to fathom
the depths of guilt that lay in the other's heart. It was a compact
entered into by look and not by speech; and Daumon so well understood
this, that at length, when he did speak, his voice sank to a hoarse
whisper, as though he himself feared to listen to the utterance of his
own thoughts.

"A man taking this feels no pain. It is like a heavy, stunning blow on
the forehead--in ten seconds all is over, no gasp, no cry, but the
heart ceases to beat forever; and, best of all, it leaves no trace
behind it. A little of this, such a little, in wine or coffee, would
be enough. It is tasteless, colorless, and scentless, its presence is
impossible to be detected."

"But in the event of a /post-mortem/ examination?"

"By skilful analysts in Paris or the larger towns, there would be a
chance; but in a place like this, never! Never, in fact, anywhere,
unless there had been previous grounds for suspicion. Otherwise only
apoplectic symptoms would be observed; and even if it was traced there
comes the question, By whom was it administered?"

He stopped short, for a word rose to his lips which he did not dare
utter; he raised his hands to his mouth, coughed slightly, and went

"This substance is not sold by chemists; it is very rarely met with,
difficult to prepare, and terribly expensive. The smallest quantity
might be met with in the first-class laboratories for scientific
purposes, but it is most unlikely for any one in these parts to
possess any of this drug, or even to know of its existence."

"And yet you----"

"That is quite another matter. Years ago, when I was far away from
here, it was in my power to render a great service to a distinguished
chemist, and he made me a present of this combination of his skill. It
would be impossible to trace this bottle; I have had it ten years, and
the man who gave it to me is dead. Ten years? No, I am wrong, it is
now twelve."

"And in all these years has not this substance lost any of its
destructive powers?"

"I tried it only a month ago. I threw a pinch of it into a basin of
milk and gave it to a powerful mastiff. He drank the milk and in ten
seconds fell stark and dead."

"Horrible!" exclaimed Diana, covering her face with her hand, and
recoiling from the tempter.

A sinister smile quivered upon the thin lips of the Counsellor.

"Why do you say horrible?" asked he; "the dog had shown symptoms of
/rabies/, and had he bitten me, I might have expired in frightful
torture. Was it not fair self-defence? Sometimes, however, a man is
more dangerous than a dog. A man blights the whole of my life; I
strike him down openly, and the law convicts me and puts me to death;
but I do not contemplate doing so, for I would suppress such a man

Diana placed her hands on the man's mouth and stopped a further
exposition of his ideas.

"Listen to me," said she. But at this moment a heavy step was heard
outside. "It is Norbert," gasped she.

"Impossible! It is more likely his father."

"It is Norbert," cried Mademoiselle de Laurebourg, and snatching the
little bottle from the Counsellor's hands, she thrust it into her
bosom. The door flew open, and Norbert appeared on the threshold.
Diana and the Counsellor both uttered a shriek of terror. His livid
countenance seemed to indicate that he had passed through some
terrible scene; his gait was unsteady, his clothes torn and
disordered, and his face stained with blood, which had flowed from a
cut over his temple. Daumon imagined that some outrage had taken

"You have been wounded, Marquis?" said he.

"Yes, my father struck me."

"Can it be possible?"

"Yes, he struck me."

Mademoiselle Diana had feared this, and she trembled with the terror
of her vague conjectures as she made a step towards her lover.

"Permit me to examine your wound," said she.

She placed both her hands at the side of his head and stood on tip-
toe, the better to inspect the cut. As she did so, she shuddered; an
inch lower, and the consequences might have been fatal.

"Quick," she said, "give me some rags and water."

Norbert gently disengaged himself. "It is a mere nothing," said he,
"and can be looked after later on. Fortunately I did not receive the
whole weight of the blow, which would otherwise have brought me
senseless to the ground, and perhaps I should have been slain by my
father's hand."

"By the Duke? and for what reason did he strike you?"

"Diana, he had grossly insulted you, and he dared to tell me of it.
Had he forgotten that the blood of the race of Champdoce ran in my
veins as well as in his?"

Mademoiselle de Laurebourg burst into a passion of tears.

"I," sobbed she, "I have brought all this upon you."

"You? Why, it is to you that he owes his life. He dared to strike me
as if I had been a lackey, but the thoughts of you stayed my hand. I
turned and fled, and never again will I enter that accursed house. I
renounce the Duke de Champdoce, he is no longer my father, and I will
never look upon his face again. Would that I could forget that such a
man existed; but, no, I would rather that I remembered him for the
sake of revenge."

Again the heart of Daumon overflowed with joy. All his deeply
malignant spirit thrilled pleasantly as he heard these words.

"Marquis," said he, "perhaps you will now believe with me that in all
misfortunes there is an element of luck, for your father has committed
an act of imprudence which will yet cost him dear. It is very strange
that so astute a man as the Duke de Champdoce should have allowed his
passion to carry him away."

"What do you mean?"

"Simply that you can be freed from the tyranny of your father whenever
you like now. We now have all that is necessary for lodging a formal
plaint in court. We have sequestration of the person, threats and
bodily violence by the aid of third parties, and words and blows which
have endangered life; our case is entirely complete. A surgeon will
examine your wound, and give a written deposition. We can produce
plenty of evidence, and the wound on the head will tell its own story.
As a commencement we will petition that we may not be ordered back to
our father's custody, and it will further be set forth that our reason
for this is that a father has assaulted a son with undue and
unnecessary violence. We shall be sure to gain the day, and--"

"Enough," broke in Norbert; "will the decision give me the right to
marry whom I please without my father's consent?"

Daumon hesitated. Under the circumstances, it seemed to him very
likely that the court would grant Norbert the liberty he desired; he,
however, thought it advisable not to say so, and answered boldly, "No,
Marquis, it will not do so."

"Well, then, the Champdoce family have never exposed their differences
to the public, nor will I begin to do so," said Norbert decisively.

The Counsellor seemed surprised at this determination.

"If, Marquis," he began, "I might venture to advise you--"

"No advice is necessary, my mind is entirely made up, but I need some
help, and in twenty-four hours I require a large sum of money--twenty
thousand francs."

"You can have them, Marquis, but I warn you that you will have to pay
heavily for the accommodation."

"That I care nothing for."

Mademoiselle de Laurebourg was about to speak, but with a gesture of
his hand Norbert arrested her.

"Do you not comprehend me, Diana?" said he; "we must fly, and that at
once. We can find some safe retreat where we can live happily, where
no one will harm us."

"But this is mere madness!" cried Diana.

"You will be pursued," remarked the Counsellor; "and most likely

"Can you not trust your life to me?" asked Norbert reproachfully. "I
swear that I will devote everything to you, life, thought, and will.
On my knees I entreat you to fly with me."

"I cannot," murmured she; "it is impossible."

"Then you do not love me," said he in desponding accents. "I have been
a thrice-besotted fool to believe that your heart was mine, for you
can never have loved me."

"Hear him, merciful powers! he says that I, who am all his, do not
love him."

"Then why cast aside our only chance of safety?"

"Norbert, dearest Norbert!"

"I understand you too well; you are alarmed at the idea of the world's
censure, and----"

He paused, checked by the gleam of reproach that shone in Diana's

"Must it be so?" said she; "must I condescend to justify myself? You
talk to me of the world's censure? Have I not already defied it, and
has it not sat in judgment upon me? And what have I done, after all?
Every act and word that has passed between us I can repeat to my
mother without a blush rising to my cheek; but would any one credit my
words? No, not a living soul. Most likely the world has come to a
decision. My reputation is gone, is utterly lost, and yet I am
spotless as the driven snow."

Norbert was half-mad with anger.

"Who would dare to treat you with anything save the most profound
respect?" said he.

"Alas! my dear Norbert," replied she, "to-morrow the scandal will be
even greater. While your father was talking to me with such brutal
violence and contempt, he was overheard by a woodcutter and perhaps by
some of his companions."

"It cannot be."

"No, it is quite true," returned Daumon. "I had it from the man

Mademoiselle de Laurebourg shot one glance at the Counsellor; it was
only a glance, but he comprehended at once that she wished to be left
alone with her lover.

"Pardon me," said he, "but I think I have a visitor, and I must hinder
any one from coming in here."

He left the room as he spoke, closing the door noisily behind him.

"And so," resumed Norbert when alone, "it seems that the Duke de
Champdoce did not even take the ordinary precaution of assuring
himself that you were in privacy before he spoke as he did, and was so
carried away by his fury that he never thought that in casting
dishonor upon you, he was heaping infamy on me. Does he think by these
means to compel me to marry the heiress whom he has chose for me, the
Mademoiselle de Puymandour?"

For the first time Diana learned the name of her rival.

"Ah!" moaned she between her sobs, "so it is Mademoiselle de
Puymandour that he wants you to marry?"

"Yes, the same, or rather her enormous wealth; but may my hand wither
before it clasps hers. Do you hear me, Diana?"

She gave a sad smile and murmured, "Poor Norbert!"

The heart of the young man sank; so melancholy was the tone of her

"You are very cruel," said he. "What have I done to deserve this want
of confidence?"

Diana made no reply, and Norbert, believing that he understood the
reason why she refused to fly with him, said, "Is it because you have
no faith in me, that you will not accompany me in my flight?"

"No; I have perfect faith in you."

"What is it, then? Do I not offer you fortune and happiness? Tell me
what it is then."

She drew herself up, and said proudly, "Up to this time, my conscience
has enabled me to hold my own against all the scandalous gossip that
has been flying about, but now it says, 'Halt, Diana de Laurebourg!
You have gone far enough.' My burden is heavy, my heart is breaking,
but I must draw back now. No, Norbert; I cannot fly with you."

She paused for a moment, as though unable to proceed, and then went on
with more firmness, "Were I alone and solitary in the world, I might
act differently; but I have a family, whose honor I must guard as I
would my own."

"A family indeed, which sacrifices you to your elder brother."

"It may be so, and therefore my task is all the greater. Who ever head
of virtue as something easy to practise?"

Norbert never remembered what an example of rebellion she had set.

"My heart and my conscience dictate the same course to me. The result
must ever be fatal, when a young girl sets at defiance the rules and
laws of society; and you would never care to look with respect on one
upon whom others gazed with the eye of contempt."

"What sort of an opinion have you of me, then?"

"I believe you to be a man, Norbert. Let us suppose that I fly with
you, and that the next day I should hear that my father has been
killed in a duel fought on my account; what then? Believe me, that
when I tell you to fly by yourself, I give you the best advice in my
power. You will forget me, I know; but what else can I hope for?"

"Forget you!" said Norbert angrily. "Can you forget me?"

His face was so close to hers that she felt the hot breath upon her

"Yes," stammered she, with a violent effort, "I can."

Norbert drew a pace back, that he might read her meaning more fully in
her eyes.

"And if I go away," asked he, "what will become of you?"

A sob burst from the young girl's breast, and her strength seemed to
desert her limbs.

"I," answered she, in the calm, resigned voice of a Christian virgin
about to be cast to the lions that roared in the arena, "I have my
destiny. To-day is the last time that we shall ever meet. I shall
return to my home, where everything will shortly be known. I shall
find my father angry and menacing. He will place me in a carriage, and
the next day I shall find myself within the walls of the hated

"But that life would be one long, slow agony to you. You have told me
this before."

"Yes," answered she, "it would be an agony, but it would also be an
expiation; and when the burden grows too heavy, I have this."

And as she spoke, she drew the little bottle from its hiding-place in
her bosom, and Norbert too well understood her meaning. The young man
endeavored to take it from her, but she resisted. This contest seemed
to exhaust her little strength, her beautiful eyes closed, and she
sank senseless into Norbert's arms. In an agony of despair, the young
man asked himself if she was dying; and yet there was sufficient life
in her to enable her to whisper, soft and low, these words, "My only
friend--let me have it back, dear Norbert." And then, with perfect
clearness, she repeated all the deadly properties of the drug, and the
directions for its use that the Counsellor had given to her.

On hearing the woman whom he loved with such intense passion confess
that she would sooner die than live apart from him, Norbert's brain

"Diana, my own Diana!" repeated he, as he hung over her.

But she went on, as though speaking through the promptings of

"The very day after such a fair prospect! Ah, Duke de Champdoce! You
are a hard and pitiless man. You have robbed me of all I held dear in
the world, blackened my reputation, and tarnished my honor, and now
you want my life."

Norbert uttered such a cry of anger, that even Daumon in the passage
was startled by it. He placed Diana tenderly in the Counsellor's arm-
chair, saying,--

"No, you shall not kill yourself, nor shall you leave me."

She smiled faintly, and held out her arms to him. Her magic spells
were deftly woven.

"No," cried he; "the poison which you had intended to use on yourself
shall become my weapon of vengeance, and the instrument of punishment
of the one who has wronged you."

And with the gait of a man walking in his sleep, he left the
Counsellor's office.

Hardly had the young man's footsteps died away, than Daumon entered
the room. He had not lost a word or action in the foregoing scene, and
he was terribly agitated; and he could scarcely believe his eyes when
he saw Diana, whom he had supposed to be lying half-sensible in the
arm-chair, standing at the window, gazing after Norbert, as he walked
along the road leading from the Counsellor's cottage.

"Ah! what a woman!" muttered he. "Gracious powers, what a wonderful

When Diana had lost sight of her lover, she turned round to Daumon.
Her face was pale, and her eyelids swollen, but her eyes flashed with
the conviction of success.

"To-morrow, Counsellor," said she, "to-morrow I shall be the Duchess
de Champdoce."

Daumon was so overwhelmed that, accustomed as he was to startling
events and underhand trickery, he could find no words to express his

"That is to say," added Diana thoughtfully, "if all goes as it should

Daumon felt a cold shiver creep over him, but summoning up all his
self-possession, he said, "I do not understand you. What is this that
you hope will be accomplished to-night?"

She turned so contemptuous and sarcastic a look on him, that the words
died away in his mouth, and he at once saw his mistake in thinking
that he could sport with the girl's feelings as a cat plays with a
mouse; for it was she who was playing with him, and she, a simple
girl, had made this wily man of the world her dupe.

"Success is, of course, a certainty," answered she coldly; "but
Norbert is impetuous, and impetuous people are often awkward. But I
must return home at once. Ah, me!" she added, as her self-control gave
way for a moment, "will this cruel night never pass away, and give way
to the gentle light of dawn? Farewell, Counsellor. When we meet again,
all matters will be settled, one way or other."

The Parthian dart which Mademoiselle de Laurebourg had cast behind her
went true to the mark; the allusion to Norbert's impetuosity and
awkwardness rendered the Counsellor very unhappy. He sat down in his
arm-chair, and, resting his head on his hands, and his elbows on his
desk, he strove to review the position thoroughly. Perhaps by now all
might be over. Where was Norbert, and what was he doing? he asked

At the time that Daumon was reflecting, Norbert was on the road
leading to Champdoce. He had entirely lost his head, but he found that
his reason was clear and distinct. Those who have been accustomed to
the treatment of maniacs know with what startling rapidity they form a
chain of action, and the cloud that veiled Norbert's brain appeared to
throw out into stronger relief the murderous determination he had
formed. He had already decided how the deed was to be done. The common
wine of the country was always served to the laborers at the table,
but the Duke kept a better quality for his own drinking, and the
bottle containing this was after meals placed on a shelf in a cupboard
in the dining-room. It was thus within every one's reach, but not a
soul in the household would have ventured to lay a finger upon it.
Norbert's thoughts fell upon this bottle, and in his mind's eye he
could see it standing in its accustomed place. He crossed the
courtyard, and the laborers, engaged in their tasks, gazed at him
curiously. He passed them, and entered the dining-room, which was
untenanted. With a caution that was not to be expected from the
agitation of his mind, he opened each door successively, in order to
be certain that no eyes were gazing upon him. Then, with the greatest
rapidity, he took down the bottle, drew the cork with his teeth, and
dropped into the wine, not one, but two or three pinches of the
contents of the little vial. He shook the bottle gently, to facilitate
the dissolution of the powder. A few particles of the poison clung to
the lip of the bottle; he wiped off these, not with a napkin, a pile
of which lay on the shelf beside him, but with his own handkerchief.
He replaced the bottle in its accustomed place, and seating himself by
the fire, awaited the course of events.

At this moment the Duke de Champdoce was coming up the avenue at a
rapid pace. For the first time, perhaps, in his life, this man
perceived that one of his last acts had been insensate and foolish in
the extreme. All the possibilities of the law to which Daumon had
alluded struck the Duke with over-whelming force, and he at once saw
that his violent conduct had given ample grounds upon which to base a
plaint, with results which he greatly feared. If the court entertained
the matter, his son would most likely be removed from his control. He
knew that such an idea would never cross Norbert's brain, but there
were plenty of persons to suggest it to him. The danger of his
position occurred to him, and at the same time he felt that he must
frame his future conduct with extreme prudence. He had not given up
his views regarding his son's marriage with Mademoiselle de
Puymandour. No; he would sooner have resigned life itself, but he felt
that he must renounce violence, and gain his ends by diplomacy. The
first thing to be done was to get Norbert to return home, and the
father greatly doubted whether the son would do so. While thinking
over these things, with a settled gloom upon his face, one of the
servants came running up to him with the news of Norbert's return.

"I hold him at last," muttered he, and hastened on to the Chateau.

When the Duke entered the dining-room, Norbert did not rise from his
seat, and the Duke was disagreeably impressed by this breach of the
rules of domestic etiquette.

"On my word," thought he, "it would appear that the young booby thinks
that he owes me no kind of duty whatever."

He did not, however, allow his anger to be manifest in his features;
besides, the sight of the blood, with which his son's face was still
smeared, caused him to feel excessively uncomfortable.

"Norbert, my son," said he, "are you suffering? Why have you not had
that cut attended to?"

The young man made no reply, and the Duke continued,--

"Why have you not washed the blood away? Is it left there as a
reproach to me? There is no need for that, I assure you; for deeply do
I deplore my violence."

Norbert still made no answer, and the Duke became more and more
embarrassed. To give himself time for reflection, more than because he
was thirsty, he took a glass, and filled it from his own special

Norbert trembled from head to foot as he saw this act.

"Come, my son," continued the Duke, "just try if you cannot find some
palliation for what your old father has done. I am ready to ask your
forgiveness, and to apologize, for a man of honor is never ashamed to
acknowledge when he has been in the wrong."

He raised his glass, and raised it up to the light half mechanically.
Norbert held his breath; the whole world seemed turning round.

"It is hard, very hard," continued the Duke, "for a father thus to
humiliate himself in vain before his son."

It was useless for Norbert to turn away his head; he saw the Duke
place the glass to his lips. He was about to drink, but the young man
could endure it no longer, and with a bound he sprang forward,
snatched the glass from his father's hand, and hurled it from the
window, shouting in a voice utterly unlike his own,--

"Do not drink."

The Duke read the whole hideous truth in the face and manner of his
son. His features quivered, his face grew purple, and his eyes filled
with blood. He strove to speak, but only an inarticulate rattle could
be heard; he then clasped his hands convulsively, swayed backwards and
forwards, and then fell helplessly backwards, striking his head
against an oaken sideboard that stood near. Norbert tore open the

"Quick, help!" cried he. "I have killed my father."



The account that the Duke of Champdoce had given of M. de Puymandour's
mad longing for rank and title was true, and afforded a melancholy
instance of that peculiar kind of foolish vanity. He was a much
happier man in his younger days, when he was known simply as Palouzet,
which was his father's name, whose only wish for distinction was to be
looked upon as an honest man. In those days he was much looked up to
and respected, as a man who had possessed brains enough to amass a
very large fortune by strictly honest means. All this vanished,
however, when the unhappy idea occurred to him to affix the title of
Count to the name of an estate that he had recently purchased.

From that moment, all his tribulations in life may have been said to
have commenced. The nobility laughed at his assumption of hereditary
rank, while the middle classes frowned at his pretensions to be
superior to them, so that he passed the existence of a shuttlecock,
continually suspended in the air, and struck at and dismissed from
either side.

It may, therefore, be easily imagined how excessively anxious he was
to bring about the marriage between his daughter Marie and the son of
that mighty nobleman, the Duke of Champdoce. He had offered to
sacrifice one-third of his fortune for the honor of forming this
connection, and would have given up the whole of it, could he but have
seen a child in whose veins ran the united blood of Palouzet and the
Champdoce seated upon his knee. A marriage of this kind would have
given him a real position; for to have a Champdoce for a son-in-law
would compel all scoffers to bridle their tongues.

The day after he had received a favorable reply from the Duke, M. de
Puymandour thought that it was time to inform his daughter of his
intentions. He never thought that she would make any opposition, and,
of course, supposed that she would be as delighted as he was at the
honor that awaited her. He was seated in a magnificently furnished
room which he called his library when he arrived at this conclusion,
and ringing the bell, ordered the servant to inquire of mademoiselle's
maid if her mistress could grant him an interview. He gave this
curious message, which did not appear to surprise the servant in the
least, with an air of the utmost importance. The communication between
the father and daughter was always carried on upon this basis; and
scoffers wickedly asserted that M. de Puymandour had modelled it upon
a book of etiquette, for the guidance of her household, written by a
venerable arch-duchess.

Shortly after the man had departed on his errand, a little tap came to
the door.

"Come in," exclaimed M. de Puymandour.

And Mademoiselle Marie ran in and gave her father a kiss upon each
cheek. He frowned slightly, and extricated himself from her embrace.

"I thought it better to come to you, my dear father," said she, "than
to give you the trouble of coming all the way to me."

"You always forget that there are certain forms and ceremonies
necessary for a young lady of your position.

Marie gave a little gentle smile, for she was no stranger to her
father's absurd whims; but she never thwarted them, for she was very
fond of him. She was a very charming young lady, and in the
description that the Duke had given of her to his son, he had not
flattered her at all. Though she differed greatly in appearance from
Mademoiselle de Laurebourg, Marie's beauty was perfect in a style of
its own. She was tall and well proportioned, and had all that easy
grace of movement, characteristic of women of Southern parentage. Her
large soft dark eyes offered a vivid contrast to her creamy
complexion; her hair, in utter disregard of the fashionable mode of
dressing, was loosely knotted at the back of her head. Her nature was
soft and affectionate, capable of the deepest devotion, while she had
the most equable temper that can be imagined.

"Come, my dear papa," said she; "do not scold me any more. You know
that the Marchioness of Arlanges has promised to teach me how to
behave myself according to all the rules of fashionable society next
winter, and I declare to you that I will so practise them up in
secret, that you will be astonished when you behold them."

"How woman-like!" muttered her father. "She only scoffs at matters of
the most vital importance."

He rose from his seat, and, placing his back to the fireplace, took up
an imposing position, one hand buried in his waistcoat, and the other
ready to gesticulate as occasion required.

"Oblige me with your deepest attention," commenced he. "You were
eighteen years of age last month, and I have an important piece of
intelligence to convey to you. I have had an offer of marriage for

Marie looked down, and endeavored to hide her confusion at these

"Before coming to a conclusion upon a matter of such importance,"
continued he, "it was, of course, necessary for me to go into the
question most thoroughly. I spared no means of obtaining information,
and I am quite certain that the proposed connection would be conducive
to your future happiness. The suitor for your hand is but little older
than yourself; he is very handsome, very wealthy, and is a Marquis by
hereditary right."

"Has he spoken to you then?" inquired Marie in tones of extreme

"He! Whom do you mean by he?" asked M. de Puymandour; and as his
daughter did not reply, he repeated his question.

"Who? Why, George de Croisenois."

"Pray, what have you to do with Croisenois? Who is he, pray? Not that
dandy with a mustache, that I have seen hanging about you this

"Yes," faltered Marie; "that is he."

"And why should you presume that he had asked me for your hand? Did he
tell you that he was going to do so?"

"Father, I declare----"

"What, the daughter of a Puymandour has listened to a declaration of
love unknown to her father? Ten thousand furies! Has he written to
you? Where are those letters?"

"My dear father--"

"Silence; have you those letters? Let me see them. Come, no delay; I
will have those bits of paper, if I turn the whole house upside down."

With a sigh Marie gave the much prized missives to her father; there
were four only, fastened together with a morsel of blue ribbon.

He took one out at random, and read it aloud, with a running fire of
oaths and invectives as a commentary upon its contents.


"Though there is nothing upon earth that I dread so much as your
anger, I dare, in spite of your commands to the contrary, to write
to you once again. I have learned that you are about to quit Paris
for several months. I am twenty-four years of age. I have neither
father nor mother, and am entirely my own master. I belong to an
ancient and honorable family. My fortune is a large one, and my
love for you is of the most honorable and devoted kind. My uncle,
M. de Saumeuse, knows your father well; and will convey my
proposals to him upon his return from Italy, in about two or three
weeks' time. Once more intreating you to forgive me,

"I remain,
"Yours respectfully,

"Very pretty indeed," said M. de Puymandour, as he replaced the letter
in its envelope. "This is sufficient, and I need not read the others;
but pray, what answer did you give?"

"That I must refer him to you, my dear father."

"Indeed, on my word, you do me too much honor; and did you really
think that I would listen to such proposals? Perhaps you love him?"

She turned her lovely face towards her father, with the great tears
rolling down her cheeks for her sole reply.

This mute confession, for as such he regarded it, put the finishing
touch to M. de Puymandour's exasperation.

"You absolutely love him, and have the impudence to tell me so?"

Marie glanced at her father, and answered,--

"The Marquis de Croisenois is of good family."

"Pooh! you know nothing about it. Why, the first Croisenois was one of
Richelieu's minions, and Louis XIII. conferred the title for some
shady piece of business which he carried out for him. Has this fine
Marquis any means of livelihood?"

"Certainly; about sixty thousand francs a year."

"Humbug! What did he mean by addressing you secretly? Only to
compromise your name, and so to secure your fortune, and perhaps to
break off your marriage with another."

"But why suppose this?"

"I suppose nothing; I am merely going upon facts. What does a man of
honor do when he falls in love?"

"My dear father--"

"He goes to his solicitor, acquaints him with his intentions, and
explains what his means are; the solicitor goes to the family
solicitor of the young lady, and when these men of the law have found
out that all is satisfactory, then love is permitted to make his
appearance upon the scene. And now you may as well attend to me.
Forget De Croisenois as soon as you can, for I have chosen a husband
for you, and, having pledged my word of honor, I will abide by it. On
Sunday the eligible suitor will be introduced to you, and on Monday we
will visit the Bishop, asking him to be good enough to perform the
ceremony. On Tuesday you will show yourself in public with him, in
order to announce the betrothal. Wednesday the marriage contract will
be read. Thursday a grand dinner-party. Friday an exhibition of the
marriage presents; Saturday a day of rest; Sunday the publication of
the banns, and at the end of the following week the marriage will take

Mademoiselle Marie listened to her father's determination with intense

"For pity's sake, my dear father, be serious," cried she.

M. de Puymandour paid no attention to her entreaty, but added, as an

"Perhaps you would wish to know the name of the gentleman I have
selected as a husband for you. He is the Marquis Norbert, the son and
heir of the Duke de Champdoce."

Marie turned deadly pale.

"But I do not know him; I have never seen him," faltered she.

"/I/ know him, and that is quite sufficient. I have often told you
that you should be a duchess, and I mean to keep my word."

Marie's affection for George de Croisenois was much deeper than she
had told her father, much deeper even than she had dared to confess to
herself, and she resented this disposal of her with more obstinacy
than any one knowing her gentle nature would have supposed her capable
of; but M. de Puymandour was not the man to give up for an instant the
object which he had sworn to attain. He never gave his daughter an
instant's peace, he argued, insisted, and bullied until, after three
days' contest, Marie gave her assent with a flood of tears. The word
had scarcely passed her lips, before her father, without even thanking
her for her terrible sacrifice, exclaimed in a voice of triumph:

"I must take these tidings to Champdoce without a moment's delay."

He started at once, and as he passed through the doorway said:

"Good-by, my little duchess, good-by."

He was most desirous of seeing the Duke, for, on taking leave of him,
the old nobleman had said, "You shall hear from me to-morrow"; but no
letter had as yet reached him from Champdoce. This delay however, had
suited M. de Puymandour's plans, for it had enabled him to wring the
consent from his daughter; but now that this had been done, he began
to feel very anxious, and to fear that there might be some unforeseen
hitch in the affair.

When he reached Bevron, he saw Daumon talking earnestly with
Francoise, the daughter of the Widow Rouleau. M. de Puymandour bowed
graciously, and stopped to talk with the man, for he was just now
seeking for popularity, as he was a candidate, and the elections would
shortly take place; and, besides, he never failed to talk to persons
who exercised any degree of influence, and he knew that Daumon was a
most useful man in electioneering.

"Good morning, Counsellor," said he gayly. "What is the news to-day?"

Daumon bowed profoundly.

"Bad news, Count," answered he. "I hear that the Duke de Champdoce is
seriously indisposed."

"The Duke ill--impossible!"

"This girl has just given me the information. Tell us all about it,

"I heard to-day at the Chateau that the doctors had quite given him

"But what is the matter with him?"

"I did not hear."

M. de Puymandour stood perfectly aghast.

"It is always the way in this world," Daumon philosophically said. "In
the midst of life we are in death!"

"Good morning, Counsellor," said De Puymandour; "I must try and find
out something more about this."

Breathless, and with his mind filled with anxiety, he hurried on.

All the servants and laborers on the Champdoce estate were gathered
together in a group, talking eagerly to each other, and as soon as M.
de Puymandour appeared, one of the servants, disengaging himself from
his fellows, came towards him. This was the Duke's old, trustworthy

"Well?" exclaimed M. de Puymandour.

"Oh, sir," cried the old man, "this is too horrible; my poor master
will certainly die."

"But I do not know what is the matter with him; no one has told me
anything, in fact."

"It was terribly sudden," answered the man. "It was about this time
the day before yesterday that the Duke was alone with M. Norbert in
the dining-room. All at once we heard a great outcry. We ran in and
saw my poor master lying senseless on the ground, his face purple and

"He must have had a fit of apoplexy."

"Not exactly; the doctor called it a rush of blood to the brain; at
least, I think that is what he said, and he added that the reason he
did not die on the spot was because in falling he had cut open his
head against the oaken sideboard, and the wound bled profusely. We
carried him up to his bed; he showed no signs of life, and now----"

"Well, how is he now?"

"No one dare give an opinion; my poor master is quite unconscious, and
should he recover--and I do not think for a moment that he will--the
doctor says his mind will have entirely gone."

"Horrible! Too horrible! And a man of such intellectual power, too. I
shall not ask you to let me look at him, for I could do no good, and
the sight would upset me. But can I not see M. Norbert?"

"Pray, do not attempt to do so, sir."

"I was his father's intimate friend, and if the condolences of such a
one could assuage the affliction under which--"

"Impossible!" answered the man in a quick, eager manner. "M. Norbert
was with his father at the time of his seizure, and has given strict
orders that he is not to be disturbed on any account; but I must go to
him at once, for we are expecting the physicians who are coming from

"Very well, then I will go now, but to-night I will send up one of my
people for news."

With these words, M. de Puymandour walked slowly away, absorbed in
thought. The manner and expression of the servant had struck him as
extremely strange. He noted the fact that Norbert was alone with his
father at the time of the seizure, and, recalling to mind the
opposition he had met with from his daughter, he began to imagine that
the Duke had found his son rebellious, and that the apoplectic fit had
been brought on by a sudden access of passion. Interest and ambition
working together brought him singularly near the truth.

"If the Duke dies, or becomes a maniac," thought he to himself, "the
end as regards us will be the same for Norbert will break off the
match to a certainty."

He felt that such a proceeding would cause him to be more jeered at
and ridiculed than ever, and that the only path of escape left open to
him was to marry his daughter to the Marquis de Croisenois, which was
a most desirable alliance, in spite of all he had said against it. A
voice close to his ear aroused him from his reflections: it was that
of Daumon, who had come up unperceived.

"Was the girl's information correct, Count?" asked he. "How are the
Duke and M. Norbert, for of course you have seen them both?"

"M. Norbert is too much agitated by the sad event to see any one."

"Of course that was to be looked for," returned the wily Counsellor;
"for the seizure was terribly sudden."

M. de Puymandour was too much occupied with his own thoughts to spare
much pity for Norbert. He would have given a great deal to have known
what the young man was doing, and especially what he was thinking of
at the present moment.

The poor lad was standing by the bedside of his dying father, watching
eagerly for some indication, however slight, of returning life or
reason. The hours of horror and self-reproach had entirely changed his
feelings and ideas; for it was only at the instant when he saw his
father raise the poisoned wine to his lips that he saw his crime in
all its hideous enormity. His soul rose up in rebellion against his
crime, and the words, "Parricide! murderer!" seemed to ring in his
ears like a trumpet call. When his father fell to the ground, his
instinct made him shout for aid; but an instant afterwards terror took
possession of him, and, rushing from the house, he sought the open
country, as though striving to escape from himself.

Jean, the old servant, who had noticed Norbert's strange look, was
seized with a terrible fear. Trusted as he was by both the Duke and
his son, he had many means of knowing all that was going on in the
household, and was no stranger to the differences that had arisen
recently between father and son. He knew how violent the tempers of
both were, and he also knew that some woman was urging on Norbert to a
course of open rebellion. He had seen the cruel blow dealt by the
Duke, and had wondered greatly when he saw Norbert return to the
Chateau. Why had he done so? He had been in the courtyard when Norbert
threw the glass from the window. Putting all these circumstances
together, as soon as the inanimate body of the Duke had been laid upon
a bed, Jean went into the dining-room, feeling sure that he should
make some discovery which would confirm his suspicions. The bottle
from which the Duke had filled his glass stood half emptied upon the
table. With the greatest care, he poured a few drops of its contents
into the hollow of his hand, and tasted it with the utmost caution.
The wine still retained its customary taste and scent. Not trusting,
however, to this, Jean, after making sure that he was not observed,
carried the bottle to his own room, and concealed it. After taking
this precaution, he ordered one of the other servants to remain by the
side of the Duke until the arrival of the doctor, and then went in
search of Norbert.

For two hours his efforts were fruitless. Giving up his search in
despair, he turned once more to regain the Chateau, and, taking the
path through the wood, suddenly perceived a human form stretched on
the turf beneath a tree. He moved cautiously towards the figure, and
at once recognized Norbert. The faithful servant bent over his young
master, and shook him by the arm to arouse him from his state of
stupor. At the first touch, Norbert started to his feet with a shriek
of terror. With mingled fear and pity, Jean noticed the look that
shone in the young man's eyes, more like that of some hunted animal
than a human being.

"Do not be alarmed, M. Norbert; it is only I," said he.

"And what do you want?"

"I came to look for you, and to entreat you to come back with me to

"Back to Champdoce?" repeated Norbert hoarsely; "no, never!"

"You must, Master Norbert; for your absence now would cause a terrible
scandal. Your place at this critical time is by the bedside of your

"Never! never!" repeated the poor boy; but he yielded passively when
Jean passed his arm through his, and led him away towards the Chateau.
Supported thus by the old man's arm, he crossed the courtyard, and
ascended the staircase; but at his father's door he withdrew his hand,
and struggled to get away.

"I will not; no, no, I cannot," gasped he.

"You must and you shall," returned the old man firmly. "Whatever your
feelings may be, no stain shall rest on the family honor."

These words roused Norbert; he stepped across the room, and dropped on
his knees by the bed, placing his forehead upon his father's icy hand.
He burst into a passion of tears and sobs, and the simple peasants,
who surrounded the couch of the insensible nobleman, breathed a sigh;
for, from his pallid face and burning eyes, they believed he must be
mad. They were not far out in this surmise; but the tears relieved his
over-wrought brain, and with this relief came the sense of intense
suffering. When the physician arrived, he was able to appear before
him merely as a deeply anxious son.

"There is no hope for the Duke, I regret to say," said the medical
man, who felt that it was useless to keep Norbert in suspense. "There
is a feeble chance of saving his life; but even should we succeed in
doing so, his intellect will be irretrievably gone. This is a sad
truth, but I feel it my duty to inform you of it. I will come again

As the doctor left the room, Norbert threw himself into a chair, and
clasped his hands round his head, which throbbed until it seemed as if
it would burst. For more than half an hour he sat motionless, and then
started to his feet with a stifled cry; for he remembered the bottle
into which he had poured the poison, and which had been left on the
table. Had any one drunk from it? What had become of it? The agony of
his mind gave him the necessary strength to descend to the dining-
room; but the bottle was not on the table, nor was it in its customary
place in the cupboard. The unhappy boy was looking for it everywhere,
when the door silently opened, and Jean appeared on the threshold. The
expression upon his young master's face so startled the faithful old
man that he nearly dropped the lighted candle that he carried in his

"Why are you here, Master Norbert?" asked he in a voice that trembled
with emotion.

"I was looking for---- I wanted to find----," faltered Norbert.

Jean's suspicions at once became certainties; he walked up to his
young master, and whispered in his ear,--

"You are looking for the Duke's bottle of wine, are you not? It is
quite safe; for I have taken it to my room. To-morrow the contents
shall be emptied away, and there will be no proof existing."

Jean spoke in such a low voice that Norbert guessed rather than heard
his words, and yet it seemed that the accusing whisper resounded like
thunder through the Chateau, filling the old house from cellar to

"Be quiet," said he, laying his hand on the old man's lips, and gazing
around him with wild and affrighted glances.

A more complete confession could hardly have been made.

"Fear nothing, Master Norbert," answered Jean; "we are quite alone. I
know that there are words which should never be even breathed; and if
I have ventured to speak, it was because it was my duty to warn you,
and to inculcate on you the necessity of caution."

Norbert was filled with horror when he saw that the old man believed
him to be really guilty.

"Jean," cried he, "you are wrong in your suspicions. I tell you that
my father never tasted that wine. I snatched the glass from him before
his lips had touched it. I flung it out into the courtyard, and, if
you search, you will find its scattered fragments there still."

"I am not sitting in judgment upon you; what you tell me to believe I
am ready to accept."

"Ah!" cried Norbert passionately, "he does not believe me; he thinks
that I am guilty. I swear to you by all that I hold most sacred in
this world, that I am innocent of this deed."

The attached servant shook his head with a melancholy air.

"Of course, of course," said he; "but it is for us two to save the
honor of the house of Champdoce. Should it happen that any suspicions
should be aroused, put all the guilt upon my shoulders. I will defend
myself in a manner which will only fix the crime more firmly upon me.
I will not throw away the bottle, but will retain it in my room, so
that it may be found there, and its contents will be a damnatory
evidence against me. What matters it how a poor man like me is sent
out of the world? but with you it is different. You--"

Norbert wrung his hands in abject despair; the sublime devotion of the
old servant showed how firmly Jean believed in his criminality. He was
about to assert his innocence further, when the loud sound of a
closing door was heard above stairs.

"Hush!" said the old man; "some one approaches; we must not be seen
whispering together like two plotters, for their suspicions would be
certainly awakened; and I fear that my face or your eyes will reveal
the secret. Quick, go upstairs, and endeavor, as soon as possible, to
resume your calmness. I beg you not to compromise the honor of your
name, which is in deadly peril."

Without another word Norbert obeyed. His father was alone, and only
the man to whom Jean had delegated the task of watcher remained by his
bedside. At the sight of his young master he rose.

"The prescription which the doctor ordered to be made up has arrived,"
said he. "I have administered a dose to the Duke, and it seems to me
that the result has been favorable."

Norbert drew up a heavy arm-chair to the foot of the bed, and took his
seat upon it. From this position he could see his father's face. His
brain was dazed, and it was with the utmost difficulty that he could
recall the chain of events which had drawn him towards the abyss into
which he had so nearly been precipitated.

The veil had been taken from his eyes, and he now saw with perfect
clearness and seemed again to hear his father's voice as it roughly
warned him that the woman he loved was a mere plotter, who cared not
for him, but was scheming for his fortune and his name. Then he had
been furiously indignant and looked upon the words as almost
blasphemous, but now he saw that his father was right. How was it that
he had not before seen that Diana was flinging herself in his way, and
that all her affected openness and simplicity were merely the
perfections of art, and that step by step she had led him to the brink
of the terrible precipice which yawned before him? The whole hideous
part as played by Daumon was no longer a sealed book to him. She whom
he had looked on as a pure and innocent girl was merely the accomplice
of a scheming villain like the Counsellor, and after exciting his
hatred and anger almost to madness, had placed the poison which was to
take his father's life in his hands. A cold shiver ran through him as
he realized this, and all his ardent love for Diana de Laurebourg was
changed into a feeling of loathing and disgust.

At last the first pale rays of dawn broke through the casement, but
before that Norbert, worn out with conflicting emotions, had fallen
into a restless and uneasy sleep, and when he awoke the doctor was
standing by the bedside of the sick man. At the first sound made by
Norbert as he stirred in the chair, the doctor came towards him,
saying, "We shall preserve his life."

This prognostication was complete, for that very evening the Duke de
Champdoce was able to move in his bed, the next day he uttered some
incoherent words, and later on asked for food; but the will of iron
had passed away, the features had lost their expression of
determination, and the eye the glitter of pride and power. Never again
would the Duke be able to exert that keen, stern intellect which had
enabled him to influence all those around him; and in this terrible
state of imbecility the haughty nobleman would ever remain, fed and
looked after like a child, with no thought beyond his desires and his
warm fire, and without a care for anything that was going on in the
world around him.

After the enormity of his crime had been brought before him, the
greatness of the punishment that he must endure now came across
Norbert's mind. It was only now that Jean had ventured to tell him of
M. de Puymandour's visit; and such a change had taken place in Norbert
that he looked upon this visit as a special arrangement made by

"My father's will shall be carried out in every respect," said he to
himself, and without an hour's delay he wrote to M. de Puymandour,
begging him to call, and hoping that the grief which had fallen upon
him had in no way altered the plan which had already been arranged.



As the miner, who sets fire to the fuse and seeks shelter from the
coming explosion, so did Diana de Laurebourg return to her father's
house after her visit to Daumon. During dinner it was impossible for
her to utter a word, and it was with the greatest difficulty that she
succeeded in swallowing a mouthful. Fortunately neither her father nor
mother took any notice of her. They had that day received a letter
announcing the news that their son, for whose future prosperity they
had sacrificed Diana, was lying dangerously ill in Paris, where he was
living in great style. They were in terrible affliction, and spoke of
starting at once, so as to be with him. They therefore expressed no
surprise when, on leaving the table, Diana pleaded a severe headache
as an excuse for retiring to her own room. When once she was alone,
having dismissed her maid, she heaved a deep sigh of relief. She never
thought of retiring to bed, but throwing open her window, leaned out
with her elbow on the window-sill.

It seemed to her that Norbert would certainly make some effort to see
her, or at any rate by some means to let her know whether he had
succeeded or failed.

"But I must be patient," murmured she, "for I can't hear anything
until the afternoon of to-morrow."

In spite, however, of her resolutions, patience fled from her mind,
and as soon as the servants had begun moving about, she went out into
the garden and took up a position which commanded a view of the
highroad, but no one appeared. The bell rang for breakfast. Again she
had to seat herself at table with her parents, and the terrible
penance of the past evening had to be repeated. At three o'clock she
could endure the suspense no longer, and making her escape from the
Chateau, she went over to Daumon, who, she felt, must have obtained
some intelligence. Even if she found that he knew nothing, it would be
a relief to speak to him and to ask him when he thought that this
terrible delay would come to an end. But she got no comfort at
Daumon's, for he had passed as miserable a night as herself, and was
nearly dead with affright. He had remained in his office all the
morning, starting at the slightest sound, and though he was as anxious
as Diana for information, he had only gone out a little before her
arrival. He met Mademoiselle Laurebourg on his return at the door of
his cottage, and taking her inside, he informed her that at a late
hour the night before the doctor had been sent for to Champdoce to
attend the Duke, who was supposed to be dying. Then he reproved her
bitterly for her imprudence in visiting him.

"Do you wish," said he, "to show all Bevron that you and I are
Norbert's accomplices?"

"What do you mean?" asked she.

"I mean that if the Duke does not die, we are lost. When I say we, I
mean myself, for you, as the daughter of a noble family, will be sure
to escape scot free, and I shall be left to pay for all."

"You said that the effect was immediate."

"I did say so, and I thought so too. Ah, if I had but reflected a
little! You will however see that I do not intend to give in without a
fight. I will defend myself by accusing you. I am an honest man, and
have been your dupe. You have thought to make me a mere tool; your
fine Norbert is a fool, but he will pay for his doings with his head
all the same."

At these gross insults Mademoiselle de Laurebourg rose to her feet and
attempted to speak, but he cut her short.

"I can't stop to pick and choose my words, for I feel at the present
moment as if the axe of the guillotine were suspended over my head.
Now just oblige me by getting out of this, and never show your face
here again."

"As you like. I will communicate with Champdoce."

"You shall not," exclaimed Daumon with a gesture of menace. "You might
as well go and ask how the Duke enjoyed the taste of the poison."

His words, however, did not deter Diana, for any risk seemed
preferable to her than the present state of suspense.

With a glance of contempt at the Counsellor she left the cottage,
determined to act as she thought fit.

After Diana's departure, Daumon felt too that he must learn how
matters were going on, and going over to the Widow Rouleau's, he
despatched her daughter Francoise to the Chateau de Champdoce, under
the pretext that he wanted some money which he had lent to one of the
Duke's servants. He had instructed the girl so cunningly that she had
no suspicion of the real end and object of her mission, and set out on
it with the most implicit confidence. He had not long to wait for her
return, for in about half an hour his messenger returned.

"Well," said he anxiously, "has the scamp sent my money?"

"No, sir, I am sorry to say that I could not even get to speak to

"How was that? Was he not at Champdoce?"

"I cannot even tell you that. Ever since the Duke has been ill, the
great gates of the Chateau have been bolted, for it seems that the
poor old gentleman is at his last gasp."

"Did you not hear what was the matter with him?"

"No, sir, the little I have told you I got from a stable boy, who
spoke to me through a grating in the gate, but before he could say ten
words Jean came up and sent him off."

"Do you mean Jean, the Duke's confidential man?"

"Just so," returned the girl, "and very angry he was. He abused the
lad and told him to be off to the stables, and then asked, 'Well, my
girl, and pray what do you want?' I told him that I had come with a
message to the man Mechenit; but before I could say any more he broke
in with, 'Well, he isn't here, you can call again in a month.' "

"You silly little fool, was that all you said?"

"Not quite, for I said that I must see Mechenit. Then, looking at me
very suspiciously, he said, 'And who sent you here, you little spy?' "

The Counsellor started.

"Indeed! and what did you say in return?" asked he.

"Why, of course I said that you had sent me."

"Yes, yes, that was right."

"And then Jean rubbed his hand over his chin, and looking at me very
curiously, said sternly,--

" 'So you have come from the Counsellor, have you? Ah, I see it all,
and so shall he one of these days.' "

At these words Daumon felt his knees give way under him; but all
further questioning was stopped by the appearance of M. de Puymandour
on his way to Champdoce. He therefore dismissed Francoise, and awaited
the return of this gentleman, from whom he hoped to gain the fullest
information regarding the Duke's malady. The intelligence which he
received calmed him a little, and repenting of his treatment of Diana,
he went and hung about the gates of the Chateau de Laurebourg, until
he was lucky enough to catch sight of the girl in the garden, for her
anxiety would not permit her to remain in the house. He beckoned to
her, and then said,--

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