The False Gems by Guy de Maupassant
Monsieur Lantin had met the young girl at a reception at the house of the
second head of his department, and had fallen head over heels in love
She was the daughter of a provincial tax collector, who had been dead
several years. She and her mother came to live in Paris, where the
latter, who made the acquaintance of some of the families in her
neighborhood, hoped to find a husband for her daughter.
They had very moderate means, and were honorable, gentle, and quiet.
The young girl was a perfect type of the virtuous woman in whose hands
every sensible young man dreams of one day intrusting his happiness. Her
simple beauty had the charm of angelic modesty, and the imperceptible
smile which constantly hovered about the lips seemed to be the reflection
of a pure and lovely soul. Her praises resounded on every side. People
never tired of repeating: "Happy the man who wins her love! He could not
find a better wife."
Monsieur Lantin, then chief clerk in the Department of the Interior,
enjoyed a snug little salary of three thousand five hundred francs, and
he proposed to this model young girl, and was accepted.
He was unspeakably happy with her. She governed his household with such
clever economy that they seemed to live in luxury. She lavished the most
delicate attentions on her husband, coaxed and fondled him; and so great
was her charm that six years after their marriage, Monsieur Lantin
discovered that he loved his wife even more than during the first days of
He found fault with only two of her tastes: Her love for the theatre, and
her taste for imitation jewelry. Her friends (the wives of some petty
officials) frequently procured for her a box at the theatre, often for
the first representations of the new plays; and her husband was obliged
to accompany her, whether he wished it or not, to these entertainments
which bored him excessively after his day's work at the office.
After a time, Monsieur Lantin begged his wife to request some lady of her
acquaintance to accompany her, and to bring her home after the theatre.
She opposed this arrangement, at first; but, after much persuasion,
finally consented, to the infinite delight of her husband.
Now, with her love for the theatre, came also the desire for ornaments.
Her costumes remained as before, simple, in good taste, and always
modest; but she soon began to adorn her ears with huge rhinestones, which
glittered and sparkled like real diamonds. Around her neck she wore
strings of false pearls, on her arms bracelets of imitation gold, and
combs set with glass jewels.
Her husband frequently remonstrated with her, saying:
"My dear, as you cannot afford to buy real jewelry, you ought to appear
adorned with your beauty and modesty alone, which are the rarest
ornaments of your sex."
But she would smile sweetly, and say:
"What can I do? I am so fond of jewelry. It is my only weakness. We
cannot change our nature."
Then she would wind the pearl necklace round her fingers, make the facets
of the crystal gems sparkle, and say:
"Look! are they not lovely? One would swear they were real."
Monsieur Lantin would then answer, smilingly:
"You have bohemian tastes, my dear."
Sometimes, of an evening, when they were enjoying a tete-a-tote by the
fireside, she would place on the tea table the morocco leather box
containing the "trash," as Monsieur Lantin called it. She would examine
the false gems with a passionate attention, as though they imparted some
deep and secret joy; and she often persisted in passing a necklace around
her husband's neck, and, laughing heartily, would exclaim: "How droll you
look!" Then she would throw herself into his arms, and kiss him
One evening, in winter, she had been to the opera, and returned home
chilled through and through. The next morning she coughed, and eight days
later she died of inflammation of the lungs.
Monsieur Lantin's despair was so great that his hair became white in one
month. He wept unceasingly; his heart was broken as he remembered her
smile, her voice, every charm of his dead wife.
Time did not assuage his grief. Often, during office hours, while his
colleagues were discussing the topics of the day, his eyes would suddenly
fill with tears, and he would give vent to his grief in heartrending
sobs. Everything in his wife's room remained as it was during her
lifetime; all her furniture, even her clothing, being left as it was on
the day of her death. Here he was wont to seclude himself daily and think
of her who had been his treasure-the joy of his existence.
But life soon became a struggle. His income, which, in the hands of his
wife, covered all household expenses, was now no longer sufficient for
his own immediate wants; and he wondered how she could have managed to
buy such excellent wine and the rare delicacies which he could no longer
procure with his modest resources.
He incurred some debts, and was soon reduced to absolute poverty. One
morning, finding himself without a cent in his pocket, he resolved to
sell something, and immediately the thought occurred to him of disposing
of his wife's paste jewels, for he cherished in his heart a sort of
rancor against these "deceptions," which had always irritated him in the
past. The very sight of them spoiled, somewhat, the memory of his lost
To the last days of her life she had continued to make purchases,
bringing home new gems almost every evening, and he turned them over some
time before finally deciding to sell the heavy necklace, which she seemed
to prefer, and which, he thought, ought to be worth about six or seven
francs; for it was of very fine workmanship, though only imitation.
He put it in his pocket, and started out in search of what seemed a
reliable jeweler's shop. At length he found one, and went in, feeling a
little ashamed to expose his misery, and also to offer such a worthless
article for sale.
"Sir," said he to the merchant, "I would like to know what this is
The man took the necklace, examined it, called his clerk, and made some
remarks in an undertone; he then put the ornament back on the counter,
and looked at it from a distance to judge of the effect.
Monsieur Lantin, annoyed at all these ceremonies, was on the point of
saying: "Oh! I know well 'enough it is not worth anything," when the
jeweler said: "Sir, that necklace is worth from twelve to fifteen
thousand francs; but I could not buy it, unless you can tell me exactly
where it came from."
The widower opened his eyes wide and remained gaping, not comprehending
the merchant's meaning. Finally he stammered: "You say—are you
sure?" The other replied, drily: "You can try elsewhere and see if any
one will offer you more. I consider it worth fifteen thousand at the
most. Come back; here, if you cannot do better."
Monsieur Lantin, beside himself with astonishment, took up the necklace
and left the store. He wished time for reflection.
Once outside, he felt inclined to laugh, and said to himself: "The fool!
Oh, the fool! Had I only taken him at his word! That jeweler cannot
distinguish real diamonds from the imitation article."
A few minutes after, he entered another store, in the Rue de la Paix. As
soon as the proprietor glanced at the necklace, he cried out:
"Ah, parbleu! I know it well; it was bought here."
Monsieur Lantin, greatly disturbed, asked:
"How much is it worth?"
"Well, I sold it for twenty thousand francs. I am willing to take it back
for eighteen thousand, when you inform me, according to our legal
formality, how it came to be in your possession."
This time, Monsieur Lantin was dumfounded. He replied:
"But—but—examine it well. Until this moment I was under the
impression that it was imitation."
The jeweler asked:
"What is your name, sir?"
"Lantin—I am in the employ of the Minister of the Interior. I live
at number sixteen Rue des Martyrs."
The merchant looked through his books, found the entry, and said: "That
necklace was sent to Madame Lantin's address, sixteen Rue des Martyrs,
July 20, 1876."
The two men looked into each other's eyes—the widower speechless
with astonishment; the jeweler scenting a thief. The latter broke the
"Will you leave this necklace here for twenty-four hours?" said he; "I
will give you a receipt."
Monsieur Lantin answered hastily: "Yes, certainly." Then, putting the
ticket in his pocket, he left the store.
He wandered aimlessly through the streets, his mind in a state of
dreadful confusion. He tried to reason, to understand. His wife could not
afford to purchase such a costly ornament. Certainly not.
But, then, it must have been a present!—a present!—a present,
from whom? Why was it given her?
He stopped, and remained standing in the middle of the street. A horrible
doubt entered his mind—She? Then, all the other jewels must have
been presents, too! The earth seemed to tremble beneath him—the
tree before him to be falling; he threw up his arms, and fell to the
ground, unconscious. He recovered his senses in a pharmacy, into which
the passers-by had borne him. He asked to be taken home, and, when he
reached the house, he shut himself up in his room, and wept until
nightfall. Finally, overcome with fatigue, he went to bed and fell into a
The sun awoke him next morning, and he began to dress slowly to go to the
office. It was hard to work after such shocks. He sent a letter to his
employer, requesting to be excused. Then he remembered that he had to
return to the jeweler's. He did not like the idea; but he could not leave
the necklace with that man. He dressed and went out.
It was a lovely day; a clear, blue sky smiled on the busy city below. Men
of leisure were strolling about with their hands in their pockets.
Monsieur Lantin, observing them, said to himself: "The rich, indeed, are
happy. With money it is possible to forget even the deepest sorrow. One
can go where one pleases, and in travel find that distraction which is
the surest cure for grief. Oh if I were only rich!"
He perceived that he was hungry, but his pocket was empty. He again
remembered the necklace. Eighteen thousand francs! Eighteen thousand
francs! What a sum!
He soon arrived in the Rue de la Paix, opposite the jeweler's. Eighteen
thousand francs! Twenty times he resolved to go in, but shame kept him
back. He was hungry, however—very hungry—and not a cent in
his pocket. He decided quickly, ran across the street, in order not to
have time for reflection, and rushed into the store.
The proprietor immediately came forward, and politely offered him a
chair; the clerks glanced at him knowingly.
"I have made inquiries, Monsieur Lantin," said the jeweler, "and if you
are still resolved to dispose of the gems, I am ready to pay you the
price I offered."
"Certainly, sir," stammered Monsieur Lantin.
Whereupon the proprietor took from a drawer eighteen large bills,
counted, and handed them to Monsieur Lantin, who signed a receipt; and,
with trembling hand, put the money into his pocket.
As he was about to leave the store, he turned toward the merchant, who
still wore the same knowing smile, and lowering his eyes, said:
"I have—I have other gems, which came from the same source. Will
you buy them, also?"
The merchant bowed: "Certainly, sir."
Monsieur Lantin said gravely: "I will bring them to you." An hour later,
he returned with the gems.
The large diamond earrings were worth twenty thousand francs; the
bracelets, thirty-five thousand; the rings, sixteen thousand; a set of
emeralds and sapphires, fourteen thousand; a gold chain with solitaire
pendant, forty thousand—making the sum of one hundred and
forty-three thousand francs.
The jeweler remarked, jokingly:
"There was a person who invested all her savings in precious stones."
Monsieur Lantin replied, seriously:
"It is only another way of investing one's money."
That day he lunched at Voisin's, and drank wine worth twenty francs a
bottle. Then he hired a carriage and made a tour of the Bois. He gazed at
the various turnouts with a kind of disdain, and could hardly refrain
from crying out to the occupants:
"I, too, am rich!—I am worth two hundred thousand francs."
Suddenly he thought of his employer. He drove up to the bureau, and
entered gaily, saying:
"Sir, I have come to resign my position. I have just inherited three
hundred thousand francs."
He shook hands with his former colleagues, and confided to them some of
his projects for the future; he then went off to dine at the Cafe
He seated himself beside a gentleman of aristocratic bearing; and, during
the meal, informed the latter confidentially that he had just inherited a
fortune of four hundred thousand francs.
For the first time in his life, he was not bored at the theatre, and
spent the remainder of the night in a gay frolic.
Six months afterward, he married again. His second wife was a very
virtuous woman; but had a violent temper. She caused him much sorrow.