Five Hundred Francs
by Tony Noland
“Oh, my poor Mathilde. But mine were false. At most they were worth five hundred francs!”
The proud and joyful look did not leave Mme. Loisel's face. Her expression did not change at all, even as Mme. Forester repeated, "My poor Mathilde!" They stood for a time, the one unmoving, the other moved all too deeply.
At length, Mme. Loisel, her face still frozen, removed her hands from those of the woman who had once been her friend. Without another word, she turned and slowly walked across the Champs Elysees, the morning sun lending her an air of almost nobility as she moved through the Jardin de Tuileries toward the dark, cold Seine.
Mme. Forester fell to her knees and held her child to her bosom, controlling her weeping with only the greatest of human effort.
"Ah, Mme. Forester. I trust I find you well?"
She lifted her eyes to see the tall, thin man that she had known would be nearby. His black coat and beaver hat were immaculate, as always. She tried to speak, but was unable to find words.
"So, Madame, you see how much can be accomplished with one small falsehood? And told so convincingly! Of course, our bargain will not actually be sealed until..." He paused, his head cocked as though listening for something. For a time, he stood so. Then, as if hearing a bell tower chime the hour, he broke into a smile.
"There, 'tis done. The Seine runs swiftly at this time of year. Look, see how the bloom returns to your daughter's cheeks. As I promised, her illness has now left her and she will grow to full womanhood."
It was true. Even as she beheld her darling Colette, the little girl seemed to grow stronger with every breath. Ah! But at what cost! Mme. Forester broke into open sobs and covered her child's head with kisses. She knew not whether her tears were those of joy or of fright and horror at what she had done. She lifted her eyes to the man in the black coat and whispered, "I hate you."
"As does most of the world, Madame, I assure you." The man in the black coat smiled as long as her tears lasted. Then, with the air of a man who has concluded a piece of business, he tipped his hat to her.
"Good day, Mme. Forester." He made to turn, but paused, dipping a hand into his coat pocket. "Ah, one last little matter nearly slipped my mind. I won't be needing it anymore, so I return it to you, perhaps as a present for your daughter. A piece almost as fine as the one in your right-hand jewelry case. You recognize it, I trust?" He held out his hand to her.
Her heart fluttered and leapt to see her necklace, her own necklace from so long ago, the pure white diamonds sparkling in the sunshine. She clutched at her child, as though he offered her a scorpion.
"Naturally, it was I who took the necklace in the first place. It proved to be a very productive enterprise. Good day, Madame."
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