Monsieur Lantin meets and falls in love at first sight with a girl of modest means who was the ideal gem of a girl, giving off a "reflection of a pure and lovely soul." Their marriage was happy and prosperous; she had a way of managing the household that made it seem as though they had wealth instead of a "snug little salary." Her two faults were frequent evenings out to the theater (which tired and bored Lantin after his long days at work) and collecting imitation, or paste, jewelry, which she adored for their sparkle, shine, and radiant beauty. In despair at such regular trips to the theater, Lantin persuaded his wife to find a woman friend to accompany her to the theater.
On their evenings home together, she would bring out to the "tea table the morocco leather box" in which she kept her paste jewels. She would pour over their beauty like a miser pours over a secreted cache of gold. After her last trip to the theater, she came home chilled to the bone. Eight days later, she was dead. Deranged by grief, Lantin's hair turned white after one month; he broke into sobs when in public; he daily secluded himself in his wife's now-empty room, untouched, still the way she had left it. Suddenly, his snug salary was not enough to support him, living alone, and he wondered how her housekeeping could have been so skillful that they could live in comfort together but he alone fell into debt. Finally, he had not one cent in his pocket. He determined to sell some of her jewelry, even though they were only imitation pieces.
Expecting to get no more than "six or seven francs" from her false gems, he was astounded to have it valued, at the first jeweler at which he stopped, at 15,000 francs. Affronted by Lantin's stammered response of "You say—are you sure?" the jeweler suggested he have a second valuation made. The second jeweler stated it was originally sold there for 20,000 francs and was worth 18,000 if Lantin wanted to sell it back, but Lantin must comply with the law and state from where he got it. Leaving it for 24 hours, as requested, he learned the next day that his ownership of the piece was confirmed and that the jeweler could buy it and any others back at a generous price. Walking out of the jewelry shop with 143,000 francs, Lantin felt like a new man whose first act was to feed himself well, thinking about the "two hundred thousand francs" he was worth.
He next submitted his resignation, claiming an inheritance of "three hundred thousand francs." To celebrate, he bought a meal at the Cafe Anglais [English Cafe], where he stated he had received a gem of an inheritance of "four hundred thousand francs." Six months later, he married a "very virtuous woman" who made him very unhappy with her "violent temper." There are more false gems within and around Lantin than are found in the "paste" gemstones housed in his wife's "morocco leather box."