The Champdoce Mystery is an Emile Gaboriau classic featuring Monsieur Lecoq. The book is divided into 35 chapters, although no chapter numbers were given. Among the classics that I’ve read so far, this one’s not so hard to read.
It’s almost like reading two stories in one. The first half of the book is dedicated to the sad story between Norbert de Champdoce and Diana de Mussidan (nee de Laurebourg). Circumstances just didn’t favor their love for each other which turned Diana bitter and scorned. Instead of marrying Diana, Norbert married Desiree Anne Marie Palouzet out of duty. Diana, on the other hand, found herself marrying Octave de Mussidan, but marriage didn’t change Diana’s desire to avenge herself against Norbert. In the end, she got what she wanted. Somehow, Diana drove Norbert to murder Marie’s former lover in the belief that Marie and George de Croisenois are having an affair. Worse still, Norbert disowned his own child with Marie because he thought the child wasn’t his. In the first part of the story, readers will see just how well Diana played Norbert.
Fast forward to the second part of the story and readers are introduced to the next generation of Champdoce and Mussidan. Diana’s marriage to Octave resulted in a beautiful daughter, Sabine. On Norbert’s side, his disowned son grew up to be a well-respected artist in the character of Andre. Andre and Sabine are in love with each other but what comes between them is a band of thieves aiming for a share of the Champdoce and Mussidan fortune. What follows is an elaborate scheme involving blackmail, arranged marriages, a bogus company, and even attempted murder. As readers follow the adventures of Andre, Monsieur Lecoq remains in the background. I assume that while Andre’s story unfolds, Monsieur Lecoq is sleuthing his way to the truth. It was only near the end of the book that Monsieur Lecoq was actively introduced to the readers. Just like any other detective story, Monsieur Lecoq saved the day by uncovering the plot of the evil Mascarin and his cohorts.
The Champdoce Mystery is a well-told tale of love and crime. As with the previous stories featured in Clues, the story provides readers with life lessons that readers can relate to. Combing through 248 pages of Gaboriau’s story, I managed to pick out 12 truths that this tale teaches us and here they are in no particular order:
WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
1. Austerity is fine, as long as it’s not overdone.
At the beginning of the tale, Gaboriau introduces his readers to Caesar Guillaume Duepair de Champdoce. Before his death, Caesar Guillaume was the reigning Duke de Champdoce. With such a lofty title as Duke, one would think that Caesar Guillaume will be dressed in garbs of silk and finest linens. No, Ceasar Guillaume differs from most noble men because he prefers frugality over flaunting his wealth. He lived like a peasant and raised his only son, Louis Norbert, like a farmer’s son.
There is a logical explanation for this frugality. Caesar Guillaume felt that the Champdoce wealth was thinning. At least, that’s how he felt. In reality, the Champdoce wealth is still more than enough, even among the noble class. He just felt less rich compared to his ancestors. This feeling of poverty gave birth to his dream. He wanted to rebuild the Champdoce wealth to what it was before. It was the legacy that he wanted to leave for the future generations of Champdoce. So it was essential for him to work hard and save up as much as he can to re-accumulate the wealth that was.
It’s not really such a bad dream. In fact, his readiness to sacrifice some luxuries in life
can even be commendable. The only problem is that he took it to the extreme. His frugality included depriving his own son of the basic need for education as well as some comforts in life. Up to some point, austerity is fine. When it borders on deprivation, then it’s already overdone and that is no longer okay.
2. Ignorance is bliss, well, almost.
There is some truth to what you don’t know won’t hurt you. Norbert is a Marquis by birth but he wasn’t aware of this. Just as Caesar Guillaume chose to live in austerity, so did Norbert, although Norbert wasn’t given much of a choice in this situation. Even at a young age, he was already working in the Champdoce lands to ensure a bountiful harvest. Norbert lived a very secluded life with much of his time devoted to work and occasionally hearing mass on Sundays. He was happy the way that he was, until that day that he chanced upon Montlouis while on an errand for Caesar Guillaume.
Montlouis is a son of a farmer who worked for Caesar Guillaume. Both Norbert and Montlouis were playmates when they were younger. Unlike Caesar Guillaume, Montlouis’ father sent his son to college because he wanted his son to amount to more than a farmer someday. When Norbert and Montlouis saw each other again, Norbert became aware of how different they were to each other. I can’t exactly blame Norbert for feeling so bad about his own situation. After all, Montlouis rubbed in his more superior lifestyle than Norbert’s. You see, Montlouis’ father is quite the opposite of Caesar Guillaume which is why Montlouis was never materially deprived of anything in life.
That conversation with Montlouis opened Norbert’s eyes to the truth. He was the son of a Duke and he belongs to a noble class of citizens. He should live a life of comfort and pleasure. Instead, he has to toil hard in the fields just like an ordinary farmer. He felt bitter, envious, and ashamed of himself, whereas before, he was quite content with the way that he was. In a way, we can see that ignorance is bliss. Yet in his misery, Norbert found a profound drive to educate himself. In his rebellion, he broke the lock to their once forbidden library and perused the numerous books of their collection. His enlightenment may have made him miserable, but it motivated him to correct the mistake that his father did in depriving him of an education.
3. Your dreams are not always your children’s dreams.
Caesar Guillaume had a dream and in this dream he saw his old Chateau back in its former glory. His vision goes way beyond himself and his son. He wanted to build the best future for his descendants. He worked hard. He saved like a miser. He deprived himself of the luxuries of the noble class. Little by little, he rebuilt the Champdoce fortune with the help of his son. At the pinnacle of all his efforts, Caesar Guillaume thought it best to choose a wife for his son. The wife has to be just right. Well, at least she had to be rich enough to afford the dowry that he is demanding for the marriage to commence.
On the other side of the fence, we see Rene Augustus Palouzet who goes by the title of Count de Puymandour. The Count de Puymandour was not born into nobility, but was rich enough to buy himself into it. I didn’t know that they can do that. In contrast to Caesar Guillaume, the noble title mattered more to him than his riches. He tried his best to act and speak like nobility, but the noble class still looked down on him. One thing about this class of society is that you’re either born into it or you marry someone with a title. Likewise, the Count saw that the best solution to fully belong to this elite class is by finding a husband for his daughter. Only one qualification is needed for the husband. He’s got to have a title.
Both Duke Caesar Guillaume’s and Count de Puymandour’s dreams blended well with each other. Count de Puymandour can supply the wife for Duke Caesar Guillaume while the Duke can supply the husband for the Count. It sounds callous but this is exactly what the two required for their offspring. Both Norbert and Marie (daughter of the Count) got married to fulfill Duke Caesar’s and Count de Puymandour’s dreams.
Let’s pause for a while here. Do Norbert and Marie share those dreams too? At that time, Norbert was deeply infatuated with Diana de Laureborg while Marie was in love with George de Croisenois. They only got married out of obedience. Marie doesn’t care much about the noble title of Duchess because she loves George so much. Norbert, on the other hand, already felt deprived because of his father’s penny pinching ways. Duke Caesar Guillaume and the Count de Puymandour assumed that their own children shared the same dreams that they had. The sad situation of Norbert and Marie’s marriage shows otherwise. Possibly the best parenting tip that The Champdoce Mystery can give us is that your children may have their own dreams that are quite different from yours. If you truly love your children, you will respect that.
4. When your gut feeling says no, better listen to it.
There are two ways to accumulate wealth. One is to raise it by honest means, like Duke Caesar Guillaume and Count de Puymandour. The other is to resort to wily means, like Daumon. Just like Caesar Guillaume, Daumon owned lands which provided him some income. To diversify, he also got into the business of lending money with very high interest rates. He never got in trouble with the law because he knew enough loopholes to work around it. When there are no loopholes to take advantage of, he resorts to bribing. As a matter of fact, it was through bribing witnesses that he dodged the charges that Duke Caesar Guillaume brought to court. Daumon might have gotten away with it, but he never forgot what Caesar Guillaume did. Asides from being a slippery con man, Daumon is also vindictive in nature. It was in the spirit of vengeance when he acquainted himself with Norbert.
Daumon was friendly enough to Norbert upon their first meeting. In fact, he was too friendly, the kind of friendly that hides a malicious intent. Norbert may have been fooled because he was prone to flattery at that time, but he can still be observant enough to see some strangeness in one of Daumon’s smile. Had he interpreted this red flag correctly, he might have stayed away from Daumon for good. As it is, he continued heeding Daumon’s counsels even if the reports on Daumon’s character check were negative in nature. At some point, his spider sense was already warning him against Daumon, but he chose to ignore those instincts.
5. Anger and action are not good bedfellows.
Norbert’s biggest flaw is that he can be too impulsive for his own good. That was how Diana and Daumon manipulated him to make the most regrettable decisions of his life. His impulsive nature almost made him a murderer of his own father. It was also at the height of his anger that he challenged George de Croisenois to a duel. Mind you, this is the real thing, a duel to the death. He was also angry when he decided to place his own son to a Foundling Hospital and replace him with someone else’s son. Imagine that. He’d rather raise a stranger’s son just because he suspected Marie of cheating on him. In truth, Marie never did. She had a chance, but she changed her mind. Had Norbert pacified himself a bit, he might have realized Marie’s innocence.
This weakness in his character is known to Diana. That was how she played him. She knew that if she set up the right condition, he’d fall for the trap. Norbert is not one who would compose himself first before acting on his anger. It was immediate action when angry. What happened to Norbert may have been too dramatic, but we’ve all been in that situation too. When we act on our anger, we can also make the most regrettable decisions in our life. Truly, anger and action are not good bedfellows.
6. True loyalty knows no bounds.
Possibly the most overlooked character of all is Jean. Gaboriau didn’t even give him a distinctive name nor a last name. Maybe because he plays a very minor role in the story. He only appeared in the first half of the book as the faithful servant of Caesar Guillaume. Upon Caesar Guillaume’s death, Jean served Norbert with the same loyalty that he gave to his former master.
Jean had been with the Champdoce family for more than 30 years. This is probably the reason why of all the servants within the Chateau, Caesar Guillaume trusted Jean the most. Jean knew everything that happened within the walls of the Chateau. Even Norbert’s attempt at killing his own father was known to Jean. Instead of using this truth against Norbert, Jean hid all evidence that might implicate Norbert in the attempted crime. He covered up for Norbert and he was willing to go as far as to admit guilt if such an inquiry was made. In his service under Norbert, he also covered up for Norbert in the death of George de Croisenois. Against his better judgment, he also placed Andre in the Foundling Hospital and took home an infant from a stranger as replacement for Marie’s real son, all done in obedience to Norbert’s wish.
Jean exhibited unlimited loyalty to the Champdoce family. It’s not just his years of service that makes him a loyal servant; it is how he serves his masters. When Jean obeyed Norbert even when he did not totally agree with Norbert’s decisions, he showed full trust to his master. He is even willing to go the extra mile to protect the Champdoce name, as readers saw when he covered up for Norbert’s attempted crime. You just know that Jean has unwavering loyalty to Duke Caesar Guilaume when even the family’s enemy is wary of him. Of all the servants within the Chateau, it is Jean that Daumon dreaded to cross. Daumon was smart enough to realize that Jean will not hesitate to expose him to Caesar Guillaume if he got careless. This is true loyalty at its best, not just in the years of service but in how the service was done.
7. Leave the past and live in the present.
Marie and Norbert’s marriage may have been arranged by their parents but it doesn’t mean that love cannot blossom within their marital bonds. Norbert just didn’t give it a chance. After their wedding, both Norbert and Marie settled in Paris with Norbert mostly spending his time away from his wife. I can just imagine the adjustment that Marie made for herself, being away from home and forbidden to see her old friends. It didn’t help Marie much that she had to break off her relationship with George de Croisenois because of this marriage. To make things worse, Norbert was still too hung up with Diana for him to enjoy Marie’s company. It was only after George’s death that he saw how passionate Marie can be when she loves someone. In a very brief moment, Norbert saw the contrast between Marie and Diana. Whereas Diana can be a tease, he saw in Marie a possibility of true love. Sadly, it was too late. Marie never got herself to love Norbert after George’s death, especially when the death was brought about by Norbert’s own hands.
On Diana’s side, her marriage to Octave was also arranged by her parents, but there was love on Octave’s side. Just like Norbert, Octave was smitten by Diana. Diana, on the other hand, did not return the love. She too was hung up with what happened between her and Norbert. After nearly poisoning his own father (under Diana’s influence), Norbert just couldn’t get himself to be mesmerized to Diana like he was before. Twice, Norbert spurned Diana’s attempt at a reconciliation which hurt Diana so much. She obeyed her parents’ wish to marry Octave because there was no hope of marrying Norbert. Octave may have truly loved her, but Diana was too focused on finding ways to avenge herself from Norbert’s rejections.
Diana and Norbert made the same mistake. They were both too focused on their past that they didn’t see what the present has in store for them. Norbert had in his hands a possibility to find real love. All he had to do was show some effort to win Marie’s heart. He never did that because his mind is still too full of Diana. On Diana’s side, she was too focused on vengeance to appreciate the love that Octave has in store for her. At some point, Octave found out about Diana’s past with Norbert and suspected her of infidelity, but he never said anything. Octave loved Diana so much that he chose to forgive her, rather than condemn her. Too bad that Diana never saw that.
What Diana and Norbert had at the beginning may have made them happy back then. It’s just sad that it didn’t last. It’s really clear that there’s no point in holding on to the past. There’s nothing else that both of them can do but move on. Norbert had a chance to be happily married to Marie if he had accepted the fact that what he had with Diana was no more. I think that Diana could have learned to love Octave back if she wasn’t too busy plotting revenge. The past belongs to the past. Each one of us is meant to live in the present.
8. Dogs don’t lie.
In Norbert’s rebellious days, he often disappeared from the Chateau accompanied by his faithful dog, Bruno. He towed along the gun that his father gave him and pretended to hunt for wild game. In truth, he was following Daumon’s advice to squander away some money and have as much fun as he can. On one particular day that he finally decided to go hunting, he was unfortunate enough to accidentally shoot Diana. Thankfully, it wasn’t a fatal shot. That was how Norbert and Diana first met. Since then, they met each other in secret with Bruno tagging along. So along with Norbert, Bruno also got acquainted with Diana.
Weeks after Diana’s marriage to Octave, both husband and wife took a walk along a wooded path. Unknown to Diana, Bruno was also around the area. Bruno must have been really excited to see her that he started licking her face. She pretended not to know the dog and faked her fear. Octave wasn’t fooled. From the way that Bruno greeted Diana, it was obvious that the dog knew her and she knew Bruno too. When Octave found out that the dog belonged to Norbert, his suspicions about Diana and Norbert were formed.
I like how Gaboriau captured this moment so accurately. I can almost believe that this happened in real life. Diana may have been a good liar, but Bruno’s reaction is a giveaway. The dog wasn’t lying. They both knew each other. Diana’s denials were all in vain. Too bad dogs react instinctively. That’s how honest they can be.
9. Be careful what you sign.
The second part of The Champdoce Mystery introduces readers to Gaston de Gandelu, son of Governor de Gandelu. In addition to being an artist, Andre is also an ornamental sculptor and a house decorator. It wasn’t clearly spelled out, but it’s safe to assume that Andre was employed to work on the Governor’s house.
Gaston is another minor character of the story who was unfortunate enough to entangle himself in Andre’s misadventures with Mascarin and company. You see, Gaston made the mistake of borrowing some money from the Mutual Loan Society. From the way that organization worked, the Mutual Blackmail Society may be a more fitting name for them. Gaston, with his reckless behavior, just made it easy for the society to set him up for blackmail.
We all know how it is with loans. It must be sealed by a signed document. Verminet, the head of the Mutual Loan Society, provided the document that Gaston had to sign. It was strange that Verminet asked Gaston to sign it as Martin Rigal. Gaston thought it strange too, but he signed it anyway because he badly needed the money. It was only through Andre’s interference that Gaston found out the purpose of the name switch. Verminet meant to blackmail Gaston with it by asserting that Gaston committed forgery on the loan. It doesn’t matter if Verminet asked Gaston to do it. Verminet can easily deny any responsibility on the matter. Gaston’s goose is cooked. All because he wasn’t careful enough to reconsider before signing the document.
10. When money talks, scammers listen.
Here I thought that scam artists are scum of the latest century. Gaboriau just showed me how wrong I was. I was wondering why this book had a chapter entitled Tafila Copper Mines, Limited. After reading about a vindictive ex and an arranged marriage between Sabine de Mussidan and Henri de Croisenois, I felt that the introduction of a business seems out of place. I was wrong. Tafila Copper Mines is a very significant addition to the story.
Tafila is supposed to be a start-up company pioneered by Henri de Croisenois. Henri is George’s brother and he is the exact opposite of George. Whereas George can be considered a model citizen, Henri got himself involved with scumbags like Mascarin, Dr. Hortebise, Paul Violaine, and Catenac. As a start-up, Tafila needed an initial capital for the operations of the company. It is implied that part of the capital will be coming from the dowry that Henri will get out of his marriage to Sabine. The rest of the capital will be coming from other investors wishing for a nice return for their investment.
All plans were already in place. The list of investors is already available. The amount of dividend was already agreed upon. The only problem is that the company doesn’t really exist. The real plan is to convince people to part with their money in the hope of a nice return from Tafila. When the right time comes, Tafila will mysteriously go out of business and will be unable to pay back their investors. In truth, George and company will just pocket the investors’ money for their own benefit. It is also the scammers’ way of laundering the stolen dowry from the Mussidans.
If this sounds familiar, it is because we’ve read this so many times in the news already. It can be disturbing to realize that Tafila is not just fiction, but is already happening to us in real life. One thing we have to realize about scammers is that they are drawn to people who have money. The more you have of it, the more these scammers are attracted to you just as bees are attracted to honey. When money talks, it is very unfortunate that scammers will be your biggest fans.
11. Hope saves lives.
Gaston can sometimes be melodramatic that I’m not often sure if I can believe his despair or not. When he found out that his forged signature is a prelude to blackmail, he thought of killing himself over it. Andre managed to convince Gaston out of it by assuring Gaston that he’d do everything he can to help. Near the end of the book, Gaston attempted to kill himself again. This time, I think it’s real. Gaston finally received the blackmail threat. Once more, Andre came to the rescue by assuring Gaston that he’s got a plan to make things right. Well, Andre was telling the truth. He had a plan.
A few pages later, I found Andre figuring in an “accident” set up by Tantaine and Toto Chupin. The thugs of this tale really wanted to get rid of Andre. He’s just so much in the way of their plans to dupe Norbert and the Mussidans. Andre did not die from the so-called accident, but he was badly injured because of it. He had to stay in the hospital for a while. What may have pained him more was the feeling of helplessness. When he was out there, he was doing everything he can to save Sabine from a sham marriage. Inside the hospital, his hands were tied. His injuries may not be fatally serious, but a person who feels despair might languish if he feels no hope out of his dire situation. This time, it was Monsieur Lecoq who did the saving. Monsieur Lecoq personally visited Andre in the hospital to assure Andre that their investigation is nearing an end. The culprits will be apprehended. It was what Andre needed to hear. The thought that everything will be alright in the end gave him hope.
It’s really just words, but very powerful words. Andre’s soothing words of comfort to Gaston gave Gaston some hope. In the same manner, Monsieur Lecoq’s assurances told Andre that all is not lost. Words of assurances, when uttered at the right time means a lot to someone. In some situations, it can even save a life.
12. Good intentions do not justify evil deeds.
Martin Rigal may be a con man, but I have to give him credit for trying his best to become a good father. All he really wanted for Flavia (his daughter) is a good life. Can we blame him for wishing a rich husband for his daughter? Probably not. For Flavia to marry Duke Norbert’s son is a dream for a loving father like Martin Rigal, and he knew that he can make this happen. The only catch here is that Flavia will not be marrying Andre. Instead, Martin set up a marriage between Flavia and Paul Violaine. If the plan worked, he would have deceived Norbert in believing that Paul is his real son. In so doing, Martin Rigal would have robbed Andre of his birthright.
On one side, we see here Martin Rigal’s pure intention. On the other side, we see his evil method to get what he wants. Does Martin’s good intention justify the crime he just committed? Fortunately for Andre and Duke Norbert, the law doesn’t see it that way. Good intentions don’t justify evil deeds.