“It does make me feel queer,” she said, closing the case. “I’ll put it away.”
“Is it a black feeling?” with interest.
“I think it is.”
“Then you are kin to it,” said Aunt Amy sagely. “Your mother never has any feeling about it at all. Except that she would like to wear it. She was looking at it when she was in. She was as cross as possible when I told her she could not take it with her.”
Esther gathered up the tea things without a word. Her curved mouth was set in a hard red line. At the door she paused and turning back as if upon impulse, said: “If it makes you feel like that, I would advise you not to look at it, Auntie. It will be quite safe. I’ll see to that. I’ll appoint myself ‘Guardian of the Ring.’”
Esther carried the tea-tray into the kitchen and stood for a moment beside the open window letting the sweet air from the garden cool the colour in her cheeks. Through the doorway into the hall she could see into the living room where Jane sat at the table in a little yellow pool of lamplight, busy with her school home work. Farther back, near the dusk of one of the veranda windows, Mrs. Coombe reclined in an easy chair. Her eyes were closed; in the half light she looked very pretty, very fragile; her relaxed pose suggested helplessness. Unconsciously Esther’s innate strength answered to the call; her hard gaze softened. To apply the terms liar and thief to that dainty figure in the chair seemed little short of brutality. Mary was weak, that was all—just weak!
At the sound of the girl’s step in the doorway Mrs. Coombe opened her eyes. They were very filmy to-night, blank, contented. Her nervousness seemed to have left her. Perhaps she was half asleep, for she yawned, an open, ugly yawn, which she did not trouble to raise her hand to hide.
“I have decided to take Jane with me, Esther.”
“I don’t want to go,” said Jane.
“Well, you are going—that’s enough.”
“If you have really decided to go,” began Esther slowly, “I think you are wise to take Jane. We cannot tell yet just how Aunt Amy may be.”
The child returned to her book with a discontented sigh. Esther came nearer and spoke in a lower tone. “But before you go,” she said, “please don’t forget to replace Aunt Amy’s ring. If she were to find it gone it would be no joke but a serious shock, as I suppose you know.”
Mrs. Coombe laughed. And Esther realised that a laugh was the last thing she had expected. For anger, evasion, denial, she had been prepared. Mary would probably storm and bluster in her ineffective way—and return the ring. Instead—
“How did you know I had it?” she asked good humouredly.
“I saw that it was gone.”
“And the deduction was obvious? Well, this time you are right. I did take it. I expect I have a right to borrow my own Aunt’s things if she is too mean to lend them. It’s a shame of her to want to keep the only decent jewel we have shut up. Amy gets more selfish every day.”