Maurice is a Consul at Genes, a Mediterranean town where he has married Onorina the daughter of the only wealthy man into the town, although it seems he was originally extremely reluctant to get married. They are having a dinner party with guests from Paris, and Maurice recounts some of his history. When Maurice was young, he became secretary to Count Octave. The count was very good to him but seemed very sad and mysterious as if hiding some past misfortune. Eventually Maurice discovers that he had been married, but his wife had left him. She, Honorine, had been brought up with him from a very early age, having been adopted by his parents, and they were devoted to each other. They had become married almost as a matter of course. However after a few months she just disappeared. Octave then discovered she had gone off with an adventurer who had abandoned her, pregnant. She had the child but lived full of remorse, and resisted all attempts of Octave to get in touch with her. Octave is still devoted to her and secretly helps her in her business of flower arranging.