The Mystery of Orcival
The judge of instruction, the doctor, and M. Plantat exchanged a significant look. What
misfortune had befallen M. Courtois, this worthy, and despite his faults, excellent person?
Decidedly, this was an ill-omened day!
"If we are to speak of Bertaud's allusions," said M. Lecoq," I have heard two very curious
stories, though I have been here but a few hours. It seems that this Mademoiselle
Laurence - "
M. Plantat abruptly interrupted the detective.
"Calumnies! odious calumnies! The lower classes, to annoy the rich, do not hesitate to
say all sorts of things against them. Don't you know it? Is it not always so? The gentry,
above all, those of a provincial town, live in glass houses. The lynx eyes of envy watch
them steadily night and day, spy on them, surprise what they regard as their most secret
actions to arm themselves against them. The bourgeois goes on, proud and content; his
business prospers; he possesses the esteem and friendship of his own class; all this while,
he is vilified by the lower classes, his name dragged in the dust, soiled by, suppositions
the most mischievous. Envy, Monsieur, respects nothing, no one."
"If Laurence has bee slandered," observed Dr. Gendron, smiling, "she has a good
advocate to defend her."
The old justice of the peace (the man of bronze, as M. Courtois called him) blushed
slightly, a little embarrassed.
"There are causes," said he, quietly, "which defend themselves. Mademoiselle Courtois is
one of those young girls who has a right to all respect. But there are evils which no laws
can cure, and which revolt me. Think of it, monsieurs, our reputations, the honor of our
wives and daughters, are at the mercy of the first petty rascal who has imagination
enough to invent a slander. It is not believed, perhaps; but it is repeated, and spreads.
What can be done? How can we know what is secretly said against us; will we ever know
"Eh! " replied the doctor, "what matters it? There is only one voice, to my mind, worth
listening to - that of conscience. As to what is called 'public opinion,' as it is the aggregate
opinion of thousands of fools and rogues, I only despise it."
This discussion might have been prolonged, if the judge of instruction had not pulled out
his watch, and made an impatient gesture.
"While we are talking, time is flying," said he. "We must hasten to the work that still