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- The Champdoce Mystery - 5/61 -
A FINANCIAL TRANSACTION.
Daumon was expecting a visit from the young man, and had been waiting for him with the cool complacency of a bird-catcher, who, having arranged all his lines and snares, stands with folded arms until his feathered victims fall into his net. The line that he had displayed before the young man's eyes was the sight of liberty. Daumon had emissaries everywhere, and knew perfectly well what was going on at the Chateau de Champdoce, and could have repeated the exact words made use of by the Duke in his last conversation with his son, and was aware of the leave of liberty that had been granted to Norbert, and was as certain as possible that this small concession would only hasten the rebellion of the young Marquis.
He often took his evening stroll in the direction of Champdoce, and, pipe in mouth, would meditate over his schemes. Pausing on the brow of a hill that overlooked the Chateau, he would shake his fist, and mutter,--
"He will come; ah, yes, he must come to me!"
And he was in the right, for, after a week spent in indecision, Norbert knocked at the door of his father's bitterest enemy. Daumon, concealed behind the window curtain, had watched his approach, and it was with the same air of deference that he had welcomed the Marquis, as he took care to call him; but he affected to be so overcome by the honor of this visit that he could only falter out,--
"Marquis, I am your most humble servant."
And Norbert, who had expected a very warm greeting, was much disconcerted. For a moment he thought of going away again, but his pride would not permit him to do so, for he had said to himself that it would be an act of a fool to go away this time without having accomplished anything.
"I want to have a bit of advice from you, Counsellor," said he; "for as I have but little experience in a certain matter, I should like to avail myself of your knowledge."
"You do me too much honor, Marquis," murmured the Counsellor with a low bow.
"But surely," said the young man, "you must feel that you are bound to assist me after all you told me a day or two back. You mentioned two means by which I could regain my freedom, and hinted that there was a third one. I have come to you to-day to ask you what it was."
Never did any man more successfully assume an air of astonishment than did Daumon at this moment.
"What," said he, "do you absolutely remember those idle words I made use of then?"
"I do most decidedly."
The villain's heart of Daumon was filled with delight, but he replied,--
"Oh, Marquis! you must remember that we say many things that really have no special meaning, for between act and intention there is a tremendous difference. I often speak too freely, and that has more than once got me into trouble."
Norbert was no fool, in spite of his want of education, and the hot blood of his ancestors coursed freely through his veins. He now struck the butt-end of his gun heavily upon the floor.
"You treated me like a simpleton, then, it appears?" remarked he angrily.
"My dear Marquis--"
"And imagined that you could trifle with me. You managed to learn my real feelings for your own amusement; but, take care; this may cost you more than you think."
"Ah, Marquis, can you believe that I would act so basely?"
"What else can I think?"
Daumon paused for a moment, and then said,--
"You will be angry when you hear what I have to say, but I cannot help speaking the truth."
"I shall not be angry, and you can speak freely."
"I am but a very poor and humble man. What have I to gain by securing any note, and by encouraging you to brave your father's anger? Just think what must happen if I opposed the all-powerful Duke de Champdoce; why, I might find myself in prison in next to no time."
"And for what reason, if you please?" asked Norbert.
"Have you never studied law in the slightest degree, Marquis? Dear me, how neglectful some parents are! You are not of age, and there is a certain article, 354 in the code, that could be so worked that a poor humble creature like me could be locked up for perhaps five years. The law deals very hardly when any one has dealings with a minor, the more especially when the father is a man of untold wealth. If the Duke should ever discover----"
"But how could he ever do so?"
Daumon made no reply, and his silence so plainly showed Norbert that the Counsellor did not trust him, that he repeated the question in an angry voice.
"Your blind subservience to your father is too well known."
"You believe that I should confess everything to him?"
"You yourself told me that when his eyes were fixed on yours you could not avoid yielding to his will."
Norbert's anger gradually died away, as he replied in accents of intense bitterness,--
"I may be a savage, but I am not likely to become a traitor. If I once promised to keep a secret, no measures or tortures would tear it from me. I may fear my father, but I am a Champdoce, and fear no other mortal man. Do you understand me?"
"No other mortal man," interrupted Norbert sternly, "will ever know from me that we have ever exchanged words together."
An expression passed over the features of the Counsellor which cast a ray of hope upon the young man's heart.
"Upon my word," said he, "any one would judge from my hesitation that I had some wrong motive in acting as I am doing, but I never give bad advice, and any one will tell you the same about me, and this is the breviary by which I regulate all my actions."
As he spoke, he took a book from his desk, and waved it aloft.
Norbert looked puzzled and angry.
"What do you mean?" asked he.
"Nothing, Marquis, nothing; have patience; your majority is not far off, and you have only a few years to wait. Remember that your father is an old man; let him carry out his plan for a few years longer, and----"
Norbert struck his fist savagely upon the table, crying out furiously. "It was not worth my coming here if this was all that you had to say;" and, whistling to Bruno, the young man prepared to quit the room.
"Ah, Marquis! you are far too hasty," said the Counsellor humbly.
Norbert paused. "Speak then," answered he roughly.
In a low, impressive voice, Daumon went on.
"Remember, Marquis, that though I should like to see you have a better understanding with your father, yet, at the same time, I should like to work for the happiness of you both. I am like a judge in court, who endeavors to bring about a compromise between the litigants. Can you not, while affecting perfect submission, live in a manner more suited to you? There are many young men of your age in a precisely similar position."
Norbert took a step forward and began to listen earnestly.
"You have more liberty now," continued Daumon. "Pray, does your father know how you employ your time?"
"He knows that I can do nothing but shoot."
"Well, I know what I would do if I were your age."
"And what would that be?"
"First of all, I would stay at home sufficiently often not to arouse papa's suspicions, and the rest of my leisure I would spend in Poitiers, which is a very pleasant town. I could take nice rooms in which I could be my own master. At Champdoce I could keep to my peasant's clothes, but in Poitiers I would be dressed by the best tailor. I should pick up a few boon companions amongst the jolly students, and have plenty of friends, ladies as well as gentlemen. I would dance, sing, and drink, and would dip into every kind of life, so that----"
He paused for a second and then said, "There ought to be a fast horse or so in your father's stables, eh? Well then, if there are, why not take one for your own riding? Then at night, when you are supposed to be snug between the sheets, creep down to the stable, clap a bridle on the horse, and, hey, presto! you are in Poitiers. Put on the clothes suitable to the handsome young noble you are, and have a joyous carouse with your many companions; and if you do, next day, not choose to go back until the morning, the servants will only tell your father that you are out shooting."
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