Part 7 out of 7
"You have suffered terribly," said he tenderly.
"Yes," answered she, "and I should have died had it lasted much
Andre had the greatest difficulty in refraining from telling his
secret to his beloved, and it was with even more difficulty that he
tore himself away at half-past three.
He had not been five minutes in his studio when there was a knock at
the door, and Lecoq entered, followed by an elderly gentleman of
aristocratic and haughty appearance. It was the Duke of Champdoce.
"This gentleman," said the Duke, with a gesture of his hand towards
Lecoq, "will have told you that certain circumstances rendered it
expedient, according to my ideas, that I should not acknowledge you as
my heir, but my son. The fault that I then committed has been cruelly
expiated. I am not forty-eight; look at me."
The Duke looked at least sixty.
"My sins," continued the Duke, "still pursue me. To-day, in spite of
all my desires, I cannot claim you as my legitimate son, for the law
only permits me to give you my name and fortune by exercising the
right of adoption."
Andre made no reply, and the Duke went on with evident hesitation,--
"You can certainly institute proceedings against me for the recovery
of your rights, but--"
"Ah!" interrupted the young man, "really, what sort of person do you
think I am? Do you believe me capable of dishonoring your name before
I assumed it?"
The Duke drew a deep breath of relief. Andre's manner had checked and
restrained him, for it was frigid and glacial to a degree. What a
difference there was between the haughty mien of Andre and the gushing
effusiveness of Paul!
"Will you permit me," asked Andre, "to address a few words to you?"
"A few words?"
"Yes. I do not like to use the word 'conditions,' but I think that you
will understand what I mean. My daily toil for bread gave me neither
the means nor the leisure which I required to cultivate my art, for
that is a profession that I could never give up."
"You will be certainly your own master."
Andre paused, as if to reflect.
"This is not all I had to say," he continued at last. "I love and am
loved by a pure and beautiful girl; our marriage is arranged, and I
"I think," broke in the Duke, "that you could not love any one who was
not a fit bride for a member of our family."
"But I did not belong to this family yesterday. Be at ease, however,
for she is worthy of a Champdoce. I am engaged to Sabine de Mussidan."
A deadly paleness overspread the Duke's face as he heard this name.
"Never," said he. "Never; I would rather see you dead at my feet."
"And I would gladly suffer ten thousand deaths than give her up."
"Suppose I refuse my consent? Suppose that I forbid----"
"You have no claim to exercise paternal authority over me; this can
only be purchased by years of tender care. Duke de Champdoce, I owe
you nothing. Leave me to myself, as you have hitherto done, and all
will be simplified."
The Duke reflected. Must he give up his son, who had been restored to
him by such a series of almost miraculous chances, or must he see him
married to Diana's daughter? Either alternative appeared to him to be
"I will not yield on the point," said he. "Besides, the Countess would
never give her consent. She hates me as much as I hate her."
M. Lecoq, who had up to this moment looked on in silence, now thought
it time to interpose.
"I think," remarked he blandly, "that I shall have no difficulty in
obtaining the consent of Madame de Mussidan."
The Duke, at these words, threw open his arms.
"Come, my son!" said he. "All shall be as you desire."
That night, Marie, Duchess de Champdoce, experienced happiness for the
first time in the affection and caresses of a son who had been so long
lost to her, and seemed to throw off the heavy burden that had so
heavily pressed her down beneath its own weight.
When Madame de Mussidan heard that Andre was Norbert's son, she
declared that nothing could induce her to give her consent to his
marriage with her daughter; but among Mascarin's papers Lecoq had
discovered the packet containing the compromising correspondence
between the Duke de Champdoce and herself. The detective handed this
over to her, and, in her gratitude, she promised to give up all
further opposition to the match.
Lecoq always denied that this act came under the head of blackmailing.
Andre and Sabine took up their residence after marriage at the Chateau
de Mussidan, which had been magnificently restored and decorated. They
seldom leave it, for they love it for its vicinity to the leafy
groves, in which they first learned that they had given their hearts
to each other. And Andre frequently points out the unfinished work on
the balcony, which was the occasion of his first visit to the Chateau
de Mussidan. He says that he will complete it as soon as he has time,
but it is doubtful whether he will ever find leisure to do this for a
long time, for before the new year comes there is every chance of
there being a baptism at the little chapel at Bevron.