She was one of those pretty and charming girls who are sometimes, as if
by a mistake of destiny, born in a family of clerks. She had no dowry,
no expectations, no means of being known, understood, loved, wedded, by
any rich and distinguished man; and she let herself be married to a
little clerk at the Ministry of Public Instruction.
She dressed plainly because she could not dress well, but she was as
unhappy as though she had really fallen from her proper station; since
with women there is neither caste nor rank; and beauty, grace, and
charm act instead of family and birth. Natural fineness, instinct for
what is elegant, suppleness of wit, are the sole hierarchy, and make
from women of the people the equals of the very greatest ladies.
She suffered ceaselessly, feeling herself born for all the delicacies
and all the luxuries. She suffered from the poverty of her dwelling,
from the wretched look of the walls, from the worn-out chairs, from the
ugliness of the curtains. All those things, of which another woman of
her rank would never even have been conscious, tortured her and made
her angry. The sight of the little Breton peasant who did her humble
housework aroused in her regrets which were despairing, and distracted
dreams. She thought of the silent antechambers hung with Oriental
tapestry, lit by tall bronze candelabra, and of the two great footmen
in knee breeches who sleep in the big armchairs, made drowsy by the
heavy warmth of the hot-air stove. She thought of the long
_salons_ fatted up with ancient silk, of the delicate furniture
carrying priceless curiosities, and of the coquettish perfumed boudoirs
made for talks at five o'clock with intimate friends, with men famous
and sought after, whom all women envy and whose attention they all
When she sat down to dinner, before the round table covered with a
tablecloth three days old, opposite her husband, who uncovered the soup
tureen and declared with an enchanted air, "Ah, the good
_pot-au-feu_! I don't know anything better than that," she thought
of dainty dinners, of shining silverware, of tapestry which peopled the
walls with ancient personages and with strange birds flying in the
midst of a fairy forest; and she thought of delicious dishes served on
marvelous plates, and of the whispered gallantries which you listen to
with a sphinx-like smile, while you are eating the pink flesh of a
trout or the wings of a quail.
She had no dresses, no jewels, nothing. And she loved nothing but that;
she felt made for that. She would so have liked to please, to be
envied, to be charming, to be sought after.
She had a friend, a former schoolmate at the convent, who was rich, and
whom she did not like to go and see any more, because she suffered so
much when she came back.
But, one evening, her husband returned home with a triumphant air, and
holding a large envelope in his hand.
"There," said he, "here is something for you."
She tore the paper sharply, and drew out a printed card which bore
"The Minister of Public Instruction and Mme. Georges Ramponneau request
the honor of M. and Mme. Loisel's company at the palace of the Ministry
on Monday evening, January 18th."
Instead of being delighted, as her husband hoped, she threw the
invitation on the table with disdain, murmuring:
"What do you want me to do with that?"
"But, my dear, I thought you would be glad. You never go out, and this
is such a fine opportunity. I had awful trouble to get it. Everyone
wants to go; it is very select, and they are not giving many
invitations to clerks. The whole official world will be there."
She looked at him with an irritated eye, and she said, impatiently:
"And what do you want me to put on my back?"
He had not thought of that; he stammered:
"Why, the dress you go to the theater in. It looks very well, to me."
He stopped, distracted, seeing that his wife was crying. Two great
tears descended slowly from the corners of her eyes toward the corners
of her mouth. He stuttered:
"What's the matter? What's the matter?"
But, by a violent effort, she had conquered her grief, and she replied,
with a calm voice, while she wiped her wet cheeks:
"Nothing. Only I have no dress, and therefore I can't go to this ball.
Give your card to some colleague whose wife is better equipped than I."
He was in despair. He resumed:
"Come, let us see, Mathilde. How much would it cost, a suitable dress,
which you could use on other occasions, something very simple?"
She reflected several seconds, making her calculations and wondering
also what sum she could ask without drawing on herself an immediate
refusal and a frightened exclamation from the economical clerk.
Finally, she replied, hesitatingly:
"I don't know exactly, but I think I could manage it with four hundred
He had grown a little pale, because he was laying aside just that
amount to buy a gun and treat himself to a little shooting next summer
on the plain of Nanterre, with several friends who went to shoot larks
down there of a Sunday.
But he said:
"All right. I will give you four hundred francs. And try to have a
The day of the ball drew near, and Mme. Loisel seemed sad, uneasy,
anxious. Her dress was ready, however. Her husband said to her one
"What is the matter? Come, you've been so queer these last three days."
And she answered:
"It annoys me not to have a single jewel, not a single stone, nothing
to put on. I shall look like distress. I should almost rather not go at
"You might wear natural flowers. It's very stylish at this time of the
year. For ten francs you can get two or three magnificent roses."
She was not convinced.
"No; there's nothing more humiliating than to look poor among other
women who are rich."
But her husband cried:
"How stupid you are! Go look up your friend Mme. Forestier, and ask her
to lend you some jewels. You're quite thick enough with her to do
She uttered a cry of joy:
"It's true. I never thought of it."
The next day she went to her friend and told of her distress.
Mme. Forestier went to a wardrobe with a glass door, took out a large
jewel box, brought it back, opened it, and said to Mme. Loisel:
"Choose, my dear."
She saw first of all some bracelets, then a pearl necklace, then a
Venetian cross, gold and precious stones of admirable workmanship. She
tried on the ornaments before the glass, hesitated, could not make up
her mind to part with them, to give them back. She kept asking:
"Haven't you any more?"
"Why, yes. Look. I don't know what you like."
All of a sudden she discovered, in a black satin box, a superb necklace
of diamonds, and her heart began to beat with an immoderate desire. Her
hands trembled as she took it. She fastened it around her throat,
outside her high-necked dress, and remained lost in ecstasy at the
sight of herself.
Then she asked, hesitating, filled with anguish:
"Can you lend me that, only that?"
"Why, yes, certainly."
She sprang upon the neck of her friend, kissed her passionately, then
fled with her treasure.
* * * * *
The day of the ball arrived. Mme. Loisel made a great success. She was
prettier than them all, elegant, gracious, smiling, and crazy with joy.
All the men looked at her, asked her name, endeavored to be introduced.
All the attaches of the Cabinet wanted to waltz with her. She was
remarked by the minister himself.
She danced with intoxication, with passion, made drunk by pleasure,
forgetting all, in the triumph of her beauty, in the glory of her
success, in a sort of cloud of happiness composed of all this homage,
of all this admiration, of all these awakened desires, and of that
sense of complete victory which is so sweet to woman's heart.
She went away about four o'clock in the morning. Her husband had been
sleeping since midnight, in a little deserted anteroom, with three
other gentlemen whose wives were having a very good time.
He threw over her shoulders the wraps which he had brought, modest
wraps of common life, whose poverty contrasted with the elegance of the
ball dress. She felt this and wanted to escape so as not to be remarked
by the other women, who were enveloping themselves in costly furs.
Loisel held her back.
"Wait a bit. You will catch cold outside. I will go and call a cab."
But she did not listen to him, and rapidly descended the stairs. When
they were in the street they did not find a carriage; and they began to
look for one, shouting after the cabmen whom they saw passing by at a
They went down toward the Seine, in despair, shivering with cold. At
last they found on the quay one of those ancient noctambulent coupes
which, exactly as if they were ashamed to show their misery during the
day, are never seen round Paris until after nightfall.
It took them to their door in the Rue des Martyrs, and once more,
sadly, they climbed up homeward. All was ended for her. And as to him,
he reflected that he must be at the Ministry at ten o'clock.
She removed the wraps, which covered her shoulders, before the glass,
so as once more to see herself in all her glory. But suddenly she
uttered a cry. She had no longer the necklace around her neck!
Her husband, already half undressed, demanded:
"What is the matter with you?"
She turned madly toward him:
"I have--I have--I've lost Mme. Forestier's necklace."
He stood up, distracted.
And they looked in the folds of her dress, in the folds of her cloak,
in her pockets, everywhere. They did not find it.
"You're sure you had it on when you left the ball?"
"Yes, I felt it in the vestibule of the palace."
"But if you had lost it in the street we should have heard it fall. It
must be in the cab."
"Yes. Probably. Did you take his number?"
"No. And you, didn't you notice it?"
They looked, thunderstruck, at one another. At last Loisel put on his
"I shall go back on foot," said he, "over the whole route which we have
taken, to see if I can't find it."
And he went out. She sat waiting on a chair in her ball dress, without
strength to go to bed, overwhelmed, without fire, without a thought.
Her husband came back about seven o'clock. He had found nothing.
He went to Police Headquarters, to the newspaper offices, to offer a
reward; he went to the cab companies--everywhere, in fact, whither he
was urged by the least suspicion of hope.
She waited all day, in the same condition of mad fear before this
Loisel returned at night with a hollow, pale face; he had discovered
"You must write to your friend," said he, "that you have broken the
clasp of her necklace and that you are having it mended. That will give
us time to turn round."
She wrote at his dictation.
At the end of a week they had lost all hope.
And Loisel, who had aged five years, declared:
"We must consider how to replace that ornament."
The next day they took the box which had contained it, and they went to
the jeweler whose name was found within. He consulted his books.
"It was not I, madame, who sold that necklace; I must simply have
furnished the case."
Then they went from jeweler to jeweler, searching for a necklace like
the other, consulting their memories, sick both of them with chagrin
and with anguish.
They found, in a shop at the Palais Royal, a string of diamonds which
seemed to them exactly like the one they looked for. It was worth forty
thousand francs. They could have it for thirty-six.
So they begged the jeweler not to sell it for three days yet. And they
made a bargain that he should buy it back for thirty-four thousand
francs in case they found the other one before the end of February.
Loisel possessed eighteen thousand francs which his father had left
him. He would borrow the rest.
He did borrow, asking a thousand francs of one, five hundred of
another, five louis here, three louis there. He gave notes, took up
ruinous obligations, dealt with usurers, and all the race of lenders.
He compromised all the rest of his life, risked his signature without
even knowing if he could meet it; and, frightened by the pains yet to
come, by the black misery which was about to fall upon him, by the
prospect of all the physical privations and of all the moral tortures
which he was to suffer, he went to get the new necklace, putting down
upon the merchant's counter thirty-six thousand francs.
When Mme. Loisel took back the necklace, Mme. Forestier said to her,
with a chilly manner:
"You should have returned it sooner, I might have needed it."
She did not open the case, as her friend had so much feared. If she had
detected the substitution, what would she have thought, what would she
have said? Would she not have taken Mme. Loisel for a thief?
Mme. Loisel now knew the horrible existence of the needy. She took her
part, moreover, all on a sudden, with heroism. That dreadful debt must
be paid. She would pay it. They dismissed their servant; they changed
their lodgings; they rented a garret under the roof.
She came to know what heavy housework meant and the odious cares of the
kitchen. She washed the dishes, using her rosy nails on the greasy pots
and pans. She washed the dirty linen, the shirts, and the dish-cloths,
which she dried upon a line; she carried the slops down to the street
every morning, and carried up the water, stopping for breath at every
landing. And, dressed like a woman of the people, she went to the
fruiterer, the grocer, the butcher, her basket on her arm, bargaining,
insulted, defending her miserable money sou by sou.
Each month they had to meet some notes, renew others, obtain more time.
Her husband worked in the evening making a fair copy of some
tradesman's accounts, and late at night he often copied manuscript for
five sous a page.
And this life lasted ten years.
At the end of ten years they had paid everything, everything, with the
rates of usury, and the accumulations of the compound interest.
Mme. Loisel looked old now. She had become the woman of impoverished
households--strong and hard and rough. With frowsy hair, skirts askew,
and red hands, she talked loud while washing the floor with great
swishes of water. But sometimes, when her husband was at the office,
she sat down near the window, and she thought of that gay evening of
long ago, of that ball where she had been so beautiful and so feted.
What would have happened if she had not lost that necklace? Who knows?
who knows? How life is strange and changeful! How little a thing is
needed for us to be lost or to be saved!
But, one Sunday, having gone to take a walk in the Champs Elysees to
refresh herself from the labors of the week, she suddenly perceived a
woman who was leading a child. It was Mme. Forestier, still young,
still beautiful, still charming.
Mme. Loisel felt moved. Was she going to speak to her? Yes, certainly.
And now that she had paid, she was going to tell her all about it. Why
She went up.
"Good day, Jeanne."
The other, astonished to be familiarly addressed by this plain
good-wife, did not recognize her at all, and stammered:
"But--madame!--I do not know--You must have mistaken."
"No. I am Mathilde Loisel."
Her friend uttered a cry.
"Oh, my poor Mathilde! How you are changed!"
"Yes, I have had days hard enough, since I have seen you, days wretched
enough--and that because of you!"
"Of me! How so?"
"Do you remember that diamond necklace which you lent me to wear at the
"Well, I lost it."
"What do you mean? You brought it back."
"I brought you back another just like it. And for this we have been ten
years paying. You can understand that it was not easy for us, us who
had nothing. At last it is ended, and I am very glad."
Mme. Forestier had stopped.
"You say that you bought a necklace of diamonds to replace mine?"
"Yes. You never noticed it, then! They were very like."
And she smiled with a joy which was proud and naive at once.
Mme. Forestier, strongly moved, took her two hands.
"Oh, my poor Mathilde! Why, my necklace was paste. It was worth at most
five hundred francs!"
_The Man with the Pale Eyes_
Monsieur Pierre Agenor De Vargnes, the Examining Magistrate, was the
exact opposite of a practical joker. He was dignity, staidness,
correctness personified. As a sedate man, he was quite incapable of
being guilty, even in his dreams, of anything resembling a practical
joke, however remotely. I know nobody to whom he could be compared,
unless it be the present president of the French Republic. I think it
is useless to carry the analogy any further, and having said thus much,
it will be easily understood that a cold shiver passed through me when
Monsieur Pierre Agenor de Vargnes did me the honor of sending a lady to
await on me.
At about eight o'clock, one morning last winter, as he was leaving the
house to go to the _Palais de Justice_, his footman handed him a card,
on which was printed:
DOCTOR JAMES FERDINAND,
_Member of the Academy of Medicine,
Chevalier of the Legion of Honor._
At the bottom of the card there was written in pencil:
_From Lady Frogere._
Monsieur de Vargnes knew the lady very well, who was a very agreeable
Creole from Hayti, and whom he had met in many drawing-rooms, and, on
the other hand, though the doctor's name did not awaken any
recollections in him, his quality and titles alone required that he
should grant him an interview, however short it might be. Therefore,
although he was in a hurry to get out, Monsieur de Vargnes told the
footman to show in his early visitor, but to tell him beforehand that
his master was much pressed for time, as he had to go to the Law
When the doctor came in, in spite of his usual imperturbability, he
could not restrain a movement of surprise, for the doctor presented
that strange anomaly of being a negro of the purest, blackest type,
with the eyes of a white man, of a man from the North, pale, cold,
clear, blue eyes, and his surprise increased, when, after a few words
of excuse for his untimely visit, he added, with an enigmatical smile:
"My eyes surprise you, do they not? I was sure that they would, and, to
tell you the truth, I came here in order that you might look at them
well, and never forget them."
His smile, and his words, even more than his smile, seemed to be those
of a madman. He spoke very softly, with that childish, lisping voice,
which is peculiar to negroes, and his mysterious, almost menacing
words, consequently, sounded all the more as if they were uttered at
random by a man bereft of his reason. But his looks, the looks of those
pale, cold, clear, blue eyes, were certainly not those of a madman.
They clearly expressed menace, yes, menace, as well as irony, and,
above all, implacable ferocity, and their glance was like a flash of
lightning, which one could never forget.
"I have seen," Monsieur de Vargnes used to say, when speaking about it,
"the looks of many murderers, but in none of them have I ever observed
such a depth of crime, and of impudent security in crime."
And this impression was so strong, that Monsieur de Vargnes thought
that he was the sport of some hallucination, especially as when he
spoke about his eyes, the doctor continued with a smile, and in his
most childish accents: "Of course, Monsieur, you cannot understand what
I am saying to you, and I must beg your pardon for it. To-morrow you
will receive a letter which will explain it all to you, but, first of
all, it was necessary that I should let you have a good, a careful look
at my eyes, my eyes, which are myself, my only and true self, as you
With these words, and with a polite bow, the doctor went out, leaving
Monsieur de Vargnes extremely surprised, and a prey to this doubt, as
he said to himself:
"Is he merely a madman? The fierce expression, and the criminal depths
of his looks are perhaps caused merely by the extraordinary contrast
between his fierce looks and his pale eyes."
And absorbed in these thoughts, Monsieur de Vargnes unfortunately
allowed several minutes to elapse, and then he thought to himself
"No, I am not the sport of any hallucination, and this is no case of an
optical phenomenon. This man is evidently some terrible criminal, and I
have altogether failed in my duty in not arresting him myself at once,
illegally, even at the risk of my life."
The judge ran downstairs in pursuit of the doctor, but it was too late;
he had disappeared. In the afternoon, he called on Madame Frogere, to
ask her whether she could tell him anything about the matter. She,
however, did not know the negro doctor in the least, and was even able
to assure him that he was a fictitious personage, for, as she was well
acquainted with the upper classes in Hayti, she knew that the Academy
of Medicine at Port-au-Prince had no doctor of that name among its
members. As Monsieur de Vargnes persisted, and gave descriptions of the
doctor, especially mentioning his extraordinary eyes, Madame Frogere
began to laugh, and said:
"You have certainly had to do with a hoaxer, my dear monsieur. The eyes
which you have described are certainly those of a white man, and the
individual must have been painted."
On thinking it over, Monsieur de Vargnes remembered that the doctor had
nothing of the negro about him, but his black skin, his woolly hair and
beard, and his way of speaking, which was easily imitated, but nothing
of the negro, not even the characteristic, undulating walk. Perhaps,
after all, he was only a practical joker, and during the whole day,
Monsieur de Vargnes took refuge in that view, which rather wounded his
dignity as a man of consequence, but which appeased his scruples as a
The next day, he received the promised letter, which was written, as
well as addressed, in letters cut out of the newspapers. It was as
"MONSIEUR: Doctor James Ferdinand does not exist, but the man whose
eyes you saw does, and you will certainly recognize his eyes. This man
has committed two crimes, for which he does not feel any remorse, but,
as he is a psychologist, he is afraid of some day yielding to the
irresistible temptation of confessing his crimes. You know better than
anyone (and that is your most powerful aid), with what imperious force
criminals, especially intellectual ones, feel this temptation. That
great Poet, Edgar Poe, has written masterpieces on this subject, which
express the truth exactly, but he has omitted to mention the last
phenomenon, which I will tell you. Yes, I, a criminal, feel a terrible
wish for somebody to know of my crimes, and when this requirement is
satisfied, my secret has been revealed to a confidant, I shall be
tranquil for the future, and be freed from this demon of perversity,
which only tempts us once. Well! Now that is accomplished. You shall
have my secret; from the day that you recognize me by my eyes, you will
try and find out what I am guilty of, and how I was guilty, and you
will discover it, being a master of your profession, which, by the by,
has procured you the honor of having been chosen by me to bear the
weight of this secret, which now is shared by us, and by us two alone.
I say, advisedly, _by us two alone_. You could not, as a matter of
fact, prove the reality of this secret to anyone, unless I were to
confess it, and I defy you to obtain my public confession, as I have
confessed it to you, _and without danger to myself_."
Three months later, Monsieur de Vargnes met Monsieur X---- at an
evening party, and at first sight, and without the slightest
hesitation, he recognized in him those very pale, very cold, and very
clear blue eyes, eyes which it was impossible to forget.
The man himself remained perfectly impassive, so that Monsieur de
Vargnes was forced to say to himself:
"Probably I am the sport of an hallucination at this moment, or else
there are two pairs of eyes that are perfectly similar in the world.
And what eyes! Can it be possible?"
The magistrate instituted inquiries into his life, and he discovered
this, which removed all his doubts.
Five years previously, Monsieur X---- had been a very poor, but very
brilliant medical student, who, although he never took his doctor's
degree, had already made himself remarkable by his microbiological
A young and very rich widow had fallen in love with him and married
him. She had one child by her first marriage, and in the space of six
months, first the child and then the mother died of typhoid fever, and
thus Monsieur X---- had inherited a large fortune, in due form, and
without any possible dispute. Everybody said that he had attended to
the two patients with the utmost devotion. Now, were these two deaths
the two crimes mentioned in his letter?
But then, Monsieur X---- must have poisoned his two victims with the
microbes of typhoid fever, which he had skillfully cultivated in them,
so as to make the disease incurable, even by the most devoted care and
attention. Why not?
"Do you believe it?" I asked Monsieur de Vargnes.
"Absolutely," he replied. "And the most terrible thing about it is,
that the villain is right when he defies me to force him to confess his
crime publicly, for I see no means of obtaining a confession, none
whatever. For a moment, I thought of magnetism, but who could magnetize
that man with those pale, cold, bright eyes? With such eyes, he would
force the magnetizer to denounce himself as the culprit."
And then he said, with a deep sigh:
"Ah! Formerly there was something good about justice!"
And when he saw my inquiring looks, he added in a firm and perfectly
"Formerly, justice had torture at its command."
"Upon my word," I replied, with all an author's unconscious and simple
egotism, "it is quite certain that without the torture, this strange
tale will have no conclusion, and that is very unfortunate, as far as
regards the story I intended to make out of it."
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