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The Champdoce Mystery

The Count De Puymandour
Since the death of the Duchess of Champdoce the greater portion of the Chateau
had been closed, but the reception rooms were always ready to be used at a
very short notice.
The dining-room was a really magnificent apartment. There were massive buffets
of carved oak, black with age, ornamented with brass mountings. The shelves
groaned beneath their load of goblets and salvers of the brightest silver,
engraved with the haughty armorial bearings of the house of Champdoce.
Standing near one of the windows, Norbert saw a man, stout, robust, bald and
red-faced, wearing a mustache and slight beard. His clothes were evidently
made by a first-rate tailor, but his appearance was utterly commonplace.
"This is my son," said the Duke, "the Marquis de Champdoce. Marquis, let me
introduce you to the Count de Puymandour."
This was the first time that his father had ever addressed Norbert by his title, and
he was greatly surprised. The great clock in the outer hall, which had not been
going for fifteen years, now struck, and instantly a butler appeared, bearing a
massive silver soup tureen, which he placed on the table, announcing solemnly
that his Grace was served, and the little party at once seated themselves. A
dinner in such a vast chamber would have been rather dull had it not been
enlivened by the amusing tales and witty anecdotes of the Count de
Puymandour, which he narrated in a jovial but rather vulgar manner, seasoned
with bursts of laughter. He ate with an excellent appetite, and praised the quality
of the wine, which the Duke himself had chosen from the cellar, which he had
filled with an immense stock for the benefit of his descendants. The Duke, who
was generally so silent and morose, smiled buoyantly, and appeared to enjoy the
pleasantries of his guest. Was this only the duty of the host, or did his geniality
conceal some hidden scheme? Norbert was utterly unable to settle this question,
for though not gifted with much penetration, he had studied his father's every look
as a slave studies his master, and knew exactly what annoyed and what pleased
him.
The Count de Puymandour lived in a magnificent house, with his daughter Marie,
about three miles from Champdoce, and he was exceedingly fond of entertaining;
but the gentry, who did not for a moment decline to accept his grand dinners, did
not hesitate to say that Puymandour was a thief and a rogue. Had he been
convicted of larceny, he could not have been spoken of with more disdainful
contempt. But he was very wealthy, and possessed at least five millions of
francs. Of course this was an excellent reason for hating him, but the fact was,
that Puymandour was a very worthy man, and had made his money by
speculation in wool on the Spanish frontier. For a long period he had lived happy
and respected in his native town of Orthez, when all at once he was tempted by
the thought of titular rank, and from that time his life was one long misery. He
 
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