“Before I leave you to-day,” said she, “I should so much like to ask a favor of you.”
“A favor of me, mademoiselle?”
“Yes; oblige me by saying nothing of what has occurred to-day to any one; for should it come to my parents’ ears, they would undoubtedly deprive me of the little liberty that they now grant me.”
“Mademoiselle,” answered Norbert, “be sure that I will never mention the terrible accident that my awkwardness has caused.”
“Thank you, Marquis,” answered the girl, with a half-mocking courtesy. “Another time let me advise you, before you shoot, to look that no one is behind a hedge.”
With these words she tripped away, without her tiny feet showing any signs of lameness. She had read Norbert’s heart like the pages of a book, and felt that there was every chance of her winning the game. “I am sure of it now,” said she; “I shall be the Duchess of Champdoce.” How grateful she felt for that untimely shot! And she felt sure that Norbert had understood what she meant when she had said that she went along that path. She felt certain that the young man had not lost one word. She believed that the only opposition would come from his father. As she looked round for a moment, she saw Norbert standing fixed and motionless as the trees around him.
After Diana had departed, the unhappy lad felt as if she had taken half his life with her. Was it all a dream? He knelt down, and, after a slight search, discovered the little pellet, the cause of all the mischief; and, taking it up carefully, returned home. To his extreme surprise, he found the main gateway wide open, and from a window he heard his father’s voice calling out in kindly accents,—
“Come up quickly, my boy, for our guest has arrived.”
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.”