The Champdoce Mystery
A Dangerous Acquaintance
Daumon was not a native of this part of the country, and no one knew from
whence he came. He said that he had been an attorney's clerk, and had certainly
resided for a long time in Paris. He was a little man of fifty years of age, clean
shaved, and with a sharp and cunning expression of countenance. His long nose,
sharp, restless eyes, and thin lips, attracted attention at first sight. His whole
aspect aroused a feeling of distrust. He had come to Bevron, some fifteen years
before, with all his provisions in a cotton handkerchief slung over his shoulder.
He was willing to make money in any way, and he prospered and rose. He
owned fields, vineyards, and a cottage, which is at the juncture of the highway to
Poitiers and the cross road that leads to Bevron. His aim and object were to be
seen everywhere, to know everybody, and to have a finger in every pie in the
neighborhood around. If any of the farmers or the laborers wanted small
advances, they went to him, and he granted them loans at exorbitant rates of
interest. He gave most disputants counsel, and had every point of law at his
fingers' ends. He could teach people how to sail as close to the wind as possible,
and yet to be beyond the reach of the law. He affected to be only too anxious to
ameliorate the lot of the peasant class, and yet he was drawing heavy sums from
them by way of interest. He endeavored by every means in his power to rouse
their feelings of animosity against both the priesthood and the gentry. His artful
way of talking, and the long black coat which he wore, had given him the
nickname of the "Counsellor" in the district. The reason why he disliked the Duke
was because the latter had more than once shown himself hostile to him, and
had taken him before the court of justice, from which Daumon only escaped by
means of bribery of suborned witnesses. He vowed that he would be revenged
for this, and for five years had been watching his opportunity, and this was the
man whom Norbert met when he went to deliver his corn to the miller. As he was
coming back with his empty wagon, Daumon asked for a lift back as far as the
cross road that led to his cottage.
"I trust, sir," said he with the most servile courtesy, "that you will excuse the
liberty I take, but I am so utterly crippled with rheumatism that I can hardly walk,
Daumon had read somewhere that the eldest son of a Duke was entitled to be
styled Marquis, and it was the first time that Norbert had been thus addressed.
Before this he would have laughed at the appellation, but now his wounded
vanity, and his exasperation at the unhappy condition in which he found himself,
tempted him to accept the title without remonstrance.
"All right, I can give you a lift," said he, and the Counsellor clambered into the
All the time that he was showering thanks upon Norbert for his courtesy he was
watching the young man's face carefully.