The Champdoce Mystery
Husband And Lover
The writer of the anonymous communication had only known the secret too well,
for the Duchess de Champdoce was awaiting a visit that evening from George de
Croisenois; this was, however, the first time. Step by step she had yielded, and at
length had fallen into the snare laid for her by the treacherous woman whom she
believed to be her truest friend. The evening before this eventful night she had
been alone in Madame de Mussidan's drawing-room with George de Croisenois.
She had been impressed by his ardent passion, and had listened with pleasure
to his loving entreaties.
"I yield," said she. "Come to-morrow night, at half-past ten, to the little door in the
garden wall; it will only be kept closed by a stone being placed against it inside;
push it, and it will open; and when you have entered the garden, acquaint me
with your presence by clapping yours hands gently once or twice."
Diana had, from a secure hiding-place, overheard these words, and feeling
certain that the Duchess would repent her rash promise, she kept close to her
side until George's departure, to give her no chance of retracting her promise.
The next day she was constantly with her victim, and made an excuse for dining
with her, so as not to quit her until the hour for the meeting had almost arrived.
It was not until she was left alone that the Duchess saw the full extent of her folly
and rashness. She was terrified at the promise that she had given in a weak
moment, and would have given worlds had she been able to retract.
There was yet, however, one means of safety left her--she could hurry
downstairs and secure the garden gate. She started to her feet, determined to
execute her project; but she was too late for the appointed signal was heard
through the chill gloom of the night. Unhappy woman! The light sound of George
de Croisenois' palms striking one upon the other resounded in her ears like the
dismal tolling of the funereal bell. She stooped to light a candle at the fire, but her
hand trembled so that she could scarcely effect her object. She felt sure that
George was still in the garden, though she had made no answer to his signal.
She had never thought that he would have had the audacity to open a door that
led into the house from the garden, but this is what he had done. In the most
innocent manner imaginable, and so that her listener in no way suspected the
special reason that she had for making this communication, Diana de Mussidan
had informed George de Croisenois that upon this night all the domestics of the
Champdoce household would be attending the coachman's wedding, and that
consequently the mansion would be deserted. George knew also that the Duke
was away at his training establishment, and he therefore opened the door, and
walked boldly up the main staircase, so that when the Duchess, with the lighted
candle in her hand, came to the top steps she found herself face to face with
George de Croisenois, pallid with emotion and quivering with excitement.