Again Mrs. Coombe arose; this time without flurry. The little excitement had done her good. The dull eyes were actually sparkling, the sallow cheeks were flushed. She looked just as she used to look in one of her little rages before the great change came.
“That’s enough, Esther. I’ll take no more from you. I did what seemed to me right. If Amy were in her right mind I should not have had to take the ring, she would have offered it. Under the circumstances I did the only sensible thing. Amy will never discover the loss. I am getting a very good price for it from Jessica Bremner. It is a valuable jewel. She snatched at the chance of getting it.”
Behind its whiteness Esther’s face seemed to glow with pale flame. “Is it possible that you have forgotten the history of that ring?” she asked. “That it was poor Auntie’s engagement ring and that, although she can’t remember anything about it, she knows it means something more than life to her. And that she always says that she cannot die without the ruby on her finger?”
Mrs. Coombe looked uncomfortable, but kept her poise.
“It’s all rubbish. She’ll forget all about it. Dying people don’t think of ruby rings. And anyway, she will probably outlive all of us. If not—we can easily divert her attention.”
The girl looked at her step-mother in horror, half believing that this must be some cruel joke. The callousness of the words seemed unbelievable. But the reality of them could no longer be doubted and the pale glow died out of her face, leaving it white and hard.
“I do not understand you,” she said slowly. “Somehow you do not seem quite—human. But be sure of this, Aunt Amy shall have back her lover’s ring. Jane says it has not all been paid for. How much did you receive?”
“I shall not tell you. And I warn you, Esther, not to waste your money. If you buy it back, I shall sell it again.”
They were standing now facing each other. Esther took a step forward and looked down steadily into her step-mother’s face. Her own curious eyes were wide open, they looked like blue stars, bright, cold and powerful as flame.
“No! You shall not.”
For a space Mary Coombe met that sword-like look, then her weaker will gave way. Her eyes shifted and fell. Her hands began to pluck nervously at the embroidery of her dress. She laughed, a little, affected laugh with no mirth in it, turned and entered the house.
We have stated elsewhere that Coombe was conservative, but by this we do not mean to imply that it was benighted. Far from it! True, it talked a great deal before it ventured upon anything strange or new, referred constantly to the tax rate and ran no risks, but at the time of which we write it had decided to take a plebescite upon the matter of Local Option and, a little later, the council wished to go so far as to present Andrew MacCandless, who had served them five times as mayor, with an address and a purse of fifty dollars.