The Mystery of Orcival
All M. Lecoq's anticipations were realized. Laurence was not dead, and her letter to her
parents was an odious trick. It was really she who lived in the house as Mme. Wilson.
How had the lovely young girl, so much beloved by the old justice, come to such a
dreadful extremity? The logic of life, alas, fatally enchains all our determinations to each
other. Often an indifferent action, little wrongful in itself, is the beginning of an atrocious
crime. Each of our new resolutions depends upon those which have preceded it, and is
their logical sequence just as the sum-total is the product of the added figures. Woe to
him who, being seized with a dizziness at the brink of the abyss, does not fly as fast as
possible, without turning his head; for soon, yielding to an irresistible attraction, he
approaches, braves the danger, slips, and is lost. Whatever thereafter he does or attempts
he will roll down the faster, until he reaches the very bottom of the gulf.
Tremorel had by no means the implacable character of an assassin; he was only feeble
and cowardly; yet he had committed abominable crimes. All his guilt came from the first
feeling of envy with which he regarded Sauvresy, and which he had not taken the pains to
subdue. Laurence, when, on the day that she became enamoured of Tremorel, she
permitted him to press her hand, and kept it from her mother, was lost. The hand-pressure
led to the pretence of suicide in order to fly with her lover. It might also lead to
Poor Laurence, when she was left alone by Hector's departure to the Faubourg St.
Germain, on receiving M. Lecoq's letter, began to reflect upon the events of the past year.
How unlooked-for and rapidly succeeding they had been! It seemed to her that she had
been whirled along in a tempest, without a second to think or act freely. She asked herself
if she were not a prey to some hideous nightmare, and if she should not presently awake
in her pretty maidenly chamber at Orcival. Was it really she who was there in a strange
house, dead to everyone, leaving behind a withered memory, reduced to live under a false
name, without family or friends henceforth, or anyone in the world to help her feebleness,
at the mercy of a fugitive like herself, who was free to break to-morrow the bonds of
caprice which to-day bound him to her? Was it she, too, who was about to become a
mother, and found herself suffering from the excessive misery of blushing for that
maternity which is the pride of pure young wives? A thousand memories of her past life
flocked through her brain and cruelly revived her despair. Her heart sank as she thought
of her old friendships, of her mother, her sister, the pride of her innocence, and the pure
joys of the home fireside.
As she half reclined on a divan in Hector's library, she wept freely. She bewailed her life,
broken at twenty, her lost youth, her vanished, once radiant hopes, the world's esteem,
and her own self-respect, which she should never recover.
Of a sudden the door was abruptly opened.