The Mystery of Orcival
M. Plantat's house was small and narrow; a philosopher's house. Three large rooms on the
ground-floor, four chambers in the first story, an attic under the roof for the servants,
composed all its apartments. Everywhere the carelessness of a man who has withdrawn
from the world into himself, for years, ceasing to have the least interest in the objects
which surround him, was apparent. The furniture was shabby, though it had been elegant;
the mouldings had come off, the clocks had ceased to keep time, the chairs showed the
stuffing of their cushions, the curtains, in places, were faded by the sun. The library alone
betrayed a daily care and attention.
Long rows of books in calf and gilt were ranged on the carved oaken shelves, a movable
table near the fireplace contained M. Plantat's favorite books, the discreet friends of his
solitude. A spacious conservatory, fitted with every accessory and convenience, was his
only luxury. In it flourished one hundred and thirty-seven varieties of briars.
Two servants, the widow Petit, cook and house-keeper, and Louis, gardener, inhabited
the house. If they did not make it a noisy one, it was because Plantat, who talked little,
detested also to hear others talk. Silence was there a despotic law. It was very hard for
Mme. Petit, especially at first. She was very talkative, so talkative that when she found no
one to chat with, she went to confession; to confess was to chat. She came near leaving
the place twenty times; but the thought of an assured pension restrained her. Gradually
she became accustomed to govern her tongue, and to this cloistral silence. But she
revenged herself outside for the privations of the household, and regained among the
neighbors the time lost at home.
She was very much wrought up on the day of the murder. At eleven o'clock, after going
out for news, she had prepared monsieur's dinner; but he did not appear. She waited one,
two hours, five hours, keeping her water boiling for the eggs; no monsieur. She wanted to
send Louis to look for him, but Louis being a poor talker and not curious, asked her to go
herself. The house was besieged by the female neighbors, who, thinking that Mme. Petit
ought to be well posted, came for news; no news to give.
Toward five o'clock, giving up all thought of breakfast, she began to prepare for dinner.
But when the village bell struck eight o'clock, monsieur had not made his appearance. At
nine, the good woman was beside herself, and began to scold Louis, who had just come
in from watering the garden, and, seated at the kitchen table, was soberly eating a plate of
The bell rung.
"Ah, there's monsieur, at last."
No, it was not monsieur, but a little boy, whom M. Plantat had sent from Valfeuillu to
apprise Mme. Petit that he would soon return, bringing with him two guests who would