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The Champdoce Mystery

A Ducal Monomaniac
The traveller who wishes to go from Poitiers to London by the shortest route will
find that the simplest way is to take a seat in the stage- coach which runs to
Saumur; and when you book your place, the polite clerk tells you that you must
take your seat punctually at six o'clock. The next morning, therefore, the traveller
has to rise from his bed at a very early hour, and make a hurried and incomplete
toilet, and on arriving, flushed and panting, at the office, discover that there was
no occasion for such extreme haste.
In the hotel from whence the coach starts every one seems to be asleep, and a
waiter, whose eyes are scarcely open, wanders languidly about. There is not the
slightest good in losing your temper, or in pouring out a string of violent
remonstrances. In a small restaurant opposite a cup of hot coffee can be
procured, and it is there that the disappointed travellers congregate, to await the
hour when the coach really makes a start.
At length, however, all is ready, the conductor utters a tremendous execration,
the coachman cracks his whip, the horses spring forward, the wheels rattle, and
the coach is off at last. Whilst the conductor smokes his pipe tranquilly, the
passengers gaze out of the windows and admire the beautiful aspect of the
surrounding country. On each side stretch the woods and fields of Bevron. The
covers are full of game, which has increased enormously, as the owner of the
property has never allowed a shot to be fired since he had the misfortune, some
twenty years ago, to kill one of his dependents whilst out shooting. On the right
hand side some distance off rise the tower and battlements of the Chateau de
Mussidan. It is two years ago since the Dowager Countess of Chevanche died,
leaving all her fortune to her niece, Mademoiselle Sabine de Mussidan. She was
a kind-hearted woman, rough and ready in her manner, but very popular
amongst the peasantry. Farther off, on the top of some rising ground, appears an
imposing structure, of an ancient style of architecture; this is the ancient
residence of the Dukes of Champdoce. The left wing is a picturesque mass of
ruins; the roof has fallen in, and the mullions of the windows are dotted with a
thick growth of clustering ivy. Rain, storm, and sunshine have all done their work,
and painted the mouldering walls with a hundred varied tints. In 1840 the
inheritor of one of the noblest names of France resided here with his only son.
The name of the present proprietor was Caesar Guillaume Duepair de
Champdoce. He was looked upon both by the gentry and peasantry of the
country side as a most eccentric individual. He could be seen any day wandering
about, dressed in the most shabby manner, and wearing a coat that was
frequently in urgent need of repair, a leathern cap on his head, wooden shoes,
and a stout oaken cudgel in his hand. In winter he supplemented to these an
ancient sheepskin coat. He was sixty years of age, very powerfully built, and
possessing enormous strength. The expression upon his face showed that his
will was as strong as his thews and sinews. Beneath his shaggy eyebrows
 
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