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 with her.
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 their honeymoon.
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 tête-à-tête 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 affectionately.