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- The Champdoce Mystery - 61/61 -

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 think--"

"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 equally disagreeable.

"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.

The Champdoce Mystery - 61/61

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