French author Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893), pictured at
left, was one of the greatest short-story writers of all time.
His more than 200 tales demonstrate both his wit and cynicism.
In "The False Gems", Maupassant presents us with a
prostitute who uses her earnings to bring happiness to the man
she loves--and provide for him in the event of catastrophe.
Maupassant, who visited brothels regularly, knew whereof he
wrote: it is not uncommon for a prostitute, in a reversal of
traditional gender roles, to support her husband. His health
or a disability may prevent him from holding a job, or she may
simply wish not to see him slowly destroyed by years of stress
and long hours. Countless unsung hooker heroes have worked
selflessly to protect the men they loved.
M. Lantin had met the
young woman at a soiree, at the home of the assistant chief of his
bureau, and at first sight had fallen madly in love with her.
She was the daughter of a
country physician who had died some months previously. She had come to
live in Paris, with her mother, who visited much among her
acquaintances, in the hope of making a favorable marriage for her
daughter. They were poor and honest, quiet and unaffected.
The young girl was a
perfect type of the virtuous woman whom every sensible young man
dreams of one day winning for life. Her simple beauty had the charm of
angelic modesty, and the imperceptible smile which constantly hovered
about her lips seemed to be the reflection of a pure and lovely soul.
Her praises resounded on every side. People were never tired of
saying: "Happy the man who wins her love! He could not find a
Now M. Lantin enjoyed a
snug little income of $700, and, thinking he could safely assume the
responsibilities of matrimony, proposed to this model young girl and
He was unspeakably happy
with her; she governed his household so cleverly and economically that
they seemed to live in luxury. She lavished the most delicate
attentions on her husband, coaxed and fondled him, and the charm of
her presence was so great that six years after their marriage M.
Lantin discovered that he loved his wife even more than during the
first days of their honeymoon.
He only felt inclined to
blame her for two things: her love of the theater, and a taste for
false jewelry. Her friends (she was acquainted with some officers'
wives) frequently procured for her a box at the theater, often for the
first representations of the new plays; and her husband was obliged to
accompany her, whether he willed or not, to these amusements, though
they bored him excessively after a day's labor at the office.
After a time, M. Lantin
begged his wife to get some lady of her acquaintance to accompany her.
She was at first opposed to such an arrangement; but, after much
persuasion on his part, she finally consented--to the infinite delight
of her husband.
Now, with her love for the
theater came also the desire to adorn her person. True, her costumes
remained as before, simple, and in the most correct taste; but she
soon began to ornament her ears with huge rhinestones which glittered
and sparkled like real diamonds. Around her neck she wore strings of
false pearls, and on her arms bracelets of imitation gold.
Her husband frequently
remonstrated with her, saying: "My dear, as you cannot afford to
buy real diamonds, 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 natures."
Then she would roll the
pearl necklaces around her fingers, and hold up the bright gems for
her husband's admiration, gently coaxing him: "Look! are they not
lovely? One would swear they were real."
M. Lantin would then
answer, smilingly: "You have Bohemian tastes, my dear."
Often of an evening, when
they were enjoying a tete-a-tete by the fireside, she would place on
the tea table the leather box containing the "trash," as M.
Lantin called it. She would examine the false gems with a passionate
attention as though they were in some way connected with a deep and
secret joy; and she often insisted on 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
One evening in winter she
attended the opera, and on her return was chilled through and through.
The next morning she coughed, and eight days later she died of
inflammation of the lungs.
M. Lantin's despair was so
great that his hair became white in one month. He wept unceasingly;
his heart was torn with grief, and his mind was haunted by the
remembrance, the smile, the voice--by every charm of his beautiful,
Time, the healer, 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 before her decease; and 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 had 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 wines, and such rare delicacies, things 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. He cherished in his heart a sort of rancor against the
false gems. They had always irritated him in the past, and the very
sight of them spoiled somewhat the memory of his lost darling.
To the last days of her
life, she had continued to make purchases; bringing home new gems
almost every evening. He decided to sell the heavy necklace which she
seemed to prefer, and which, he thought, ought to be worth about six
or seven francs; for although paste it was, nevertheless, of very fine
He put it in his pocket and
started out in search of a jeweler's shop. He entered the first one he
saw--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 worth."
The man took the necklace,
examined it, called his clerk and made some remarks in an undertone;
then he put the ornament back on the counter, and looked at it from a
distance to judge of the effect.
M. Lantin was annoyed by
all this detail and 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 tell me now whence it
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 dryly: "You can search elsewhere and see if anyone will
offer you more. I consider it worth fifteen thousand at the most. Come
back here if you cannot do better."
M. 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! Had I only
taken him at his word! That jeweler cannot distinguish real diamonds
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."
M. Lantin was disturbed,
and 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
comes to be in your possession."
This time M. Lantin was
dumfounded. He replied: "But--but--examine it well. Until this
moment I was under the impression that it was paste."
Said the jeweler:
"What is your name, sir?"
"Lantin--I am in the
employ of the Minister of the Interior. I live at No. 16 Rue des
The merchant looked through
his books, found the entry, and said: "That necklace was sent to
Mme. Lantin's address, 16 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 silence by saying:
"Will you leave this
necklace here for 24 hours? I will give you a receipt."
answered M. Lantin, hastily. 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 gems must have been presents, too! The
earth seemed to tremble beneath him,--the tree before him was
falling--throwing up his arms, he fell to the ground, unconscious. He
recovered his senses in a pharmacy into which the passers-by had taken
him, and was then taken to his home. When he arrived he shut himself
up in his room and wept until nightfall. Finally, overcome with
fatigue, he threw himself on the bed, where he passed an uneasy,
The following morning he
arose and prepared to go to the office. It was hard to work after such
a, shock. 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. So
he dressed and went out.
It was a lovely day; a
clear blue sky smiled on the busy city below, and men of leisure were
strolling about with their hands in their pockets.
Observing them, M. Lantin
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 began to feel 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 had not a cent in his pocket. He decided
quickly, ran across the street in order not to have time for
reflection, and entered the store.
The proprietor immediately
came forward, and politely offered him a chair; the clerks glanced at
"I have made
inquiries, M. Lantin," said the jeweler, "and if you are
still resolved to dispose of the gems, I am ready to pay you the price
stammered M. Lantin.
Whereupon the proprietor
took from a drawer eighteen large bills, counted and handed them to M.
Lantin, who signed a receipt and with a 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 I have received from the same source. Will you buy them
The merchant bowed:
M. Lantin said gravely:
"I will bring them to you." An hour later he returned with
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 earnings in
M. Lantin replied,
seriously: "It is only another way of investing one's
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, and as he scanned the various
turn-outs with a contemptuous air he could hardly refrain from crying
out to the occupants: "I, too, am rich!--I am worth two hundred
Suddenly he thought of his
employer. He drove up to the office, 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; then he went off to dine at the Cafe Anglais.
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 theater, 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, with a
violent temper. She caused him much sorrow.