The day of the ball drew near and Madame Loisel seemed sad, uneasy, anxious. Her frock was ready, however. Her husband said to her one evening:
"What is the matter? Come, you have seemed very queer these last three days."
And she answered:
"It annoys me not to have a single piece of jewelry, not a single ornament, nothing to put on. I shall look poverty-stricken. I would almost rather not go at all."
"You might wear natural flowers," said her husband. "They're very stylish at this time of 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."
"How stupid you are!" her husband cried. "Go look up your friend, Madame Forestier, and ask her to lend you some jewels. You're intimate enough with her to do that."
She uttered a cry of joy:
"True! I never thought of it."
The next day she went to her friend and told her of her distress.
Madame Forestier went to a wardrobe with a mirror, took out a large jewel box, brought it back, opened it and said to Madame Loisel:
"Choose, my dear."
She saw first some bracelets, then a pearl necklace, then a Venetian gold cross set with precious stones, of admirable workmanship. She tried on the ornaments before the mirror, hesitated and 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 further; I don't know what you like."
Suddenly she discovered, in a black satin box, a superb diamond necklace, and her heart throbbed with an immoderate desire. Her hands trembled as she took it. She fastened it round her throat, outside her high-necked waist, and was lost in ecstasy at her reflection in the mirror.
Then she asked, hesitating, filled with anxious doubt:
"Will you lend me this, only this?"
"Why, yes, certainly."
She threw her arms round her friend's neck, kissed her passionately, then fled with her treasure.
The night of the ball arrived. Madame Loisel was a great success. She was prettier than any other woman present, elegant, graceful, smiling and wild with joy. All the men looked at her, asked her name, sought to be introduced. All the attaches of the Cabinet wished to waltz with her. She was remarked by the minister himself.
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 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."
"Yes, probably. Did you take his number?"
"No. And you--didn't you notice it?"
They looked, thunderstruck, at each other. At last Loisel put on his clothes.
"I shall go back on foot," said he, "over the whole route, to see whether I can find it."