The girl was one of those pretty and charming young creatures who sometimes are born, as if by a slip of fate, into a family of clerks.
She had no dowry, no expectations, no way of being known, understood, loved, married by any rich and distinguished man; so she let herself be married to a little clerk of the Ministry of Public Instruction.
She dressed plainly because she could not dress well, but she was unhappy as if she had really fallen from a higher station; since with women there is neither caste nor rank, for beauty, grace and charm take the place of family and birth.
Natural ingenuity, instinct for what is elegant, a supple mind are their sole hierarchy, and often make women of the people the equals of the very greatest ladies.
She danced with rapture, with passion, intoxicated by pleasure, forgetting all in the triumph of her beauty, in the glory of her success, in a sort of cloud of happiness comprised of all this homage, admiration, these awakened desires and of that sense of triumph which is so sweet to woman's heart.
She left the ball 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 enjoying the ball.
He threw over her shoulders the wraps he had brought, the modest wraps of common life, the poverty of which contrasted with the elegance of the ball dress.
She felt this and wished to escape so as not to be remarked by the other women, who were enveloping themselves in costly furs.
Loisel held her back, saying: "Wait a bit. You will catch a cold outside. I will call a cab."
But she did not listen to him and rapidly descended the stairs. When they reached the street they could not find a carriage and began to look for one, shouting after the cabmen passing at a distance.
They went toward the Seine in despair, shivering with cold. At last they found on the quay one of those ancient night cabs which, as though they were ashamed to show their shabbiness during the day, are never seen round Paris until after dark.
It took them to their dwelling in the Rue des Martyrs, and sadly they mounted the stairs to their flat. All was ended for her.
As to him, he reflected that he must be at the ministry at ten o'clock that morning.
She removed her wraps before the glass so as to see herself once more in all her glory. But suddenly she uttered a cry. She no longer had the necklace around her neck!
"What is the matter with you?" demanded her husband, already half undressed.
She turned distractedly toward him.
"I have--I have--I've lost Madame Forestier's necklace," she cried. He stood up, bewildered.
They looked among the folds of her skirt, of her cloak, in her pockets, everywhere, but did not find it.
"You're sure you had it on when you left the ball?" he asked. "Yes, I felt it in the vestibule of the minister's house."
"But if you had lost it in the street we should have heard it fall. It must be in the cab."