In the little box was the ring bought so long ago in Liverpool. It flashed, as if with the light of living eyes, as Lucia opened the lid. She regarded it for a moment almost with fear, then took it out and placed it on her finger—the third finger of her left hand. It fitted perfectly, and seemed to her like the embodiment of a watchful guardian who would keep her from wrong and from evil. She fancied this, though just then two or three drops fell heavily from her eyes, and one rested for a moment on the very diamonds themselves.
Mrs. Costello’s note was longer than Lucia’s, and she read it twice over, before she was sure that she comprehended it. Then she called sharply “Lucia!”
“Come here,” she said, as the girl turned her face reluctantly; and there was nothing to do but to obey. Lucia came to the side of the sofa, where her mother had raised herself up against the cushions, but she trembled so, that to steady herself she dropped down on her knees on a footstool. Her right arm rested on the table, but the other hand, where the ring was, lay hidden in the folds of her dress.
“What does this mean, Lucia?” Mrs. Costello asked in a tone which she had never in her life used to her daughter before. “Are you out of your senses?”
Lucia was silent. She could almost have said yes.
“You know of course that Maurice is gone?”
“Yes I know it,” she answered just audibly.
“Gone, and not likely to return?”
“He tells me so.”
“What have you said to him?”
“Nothing! That is absurd. Why did he wish to see you alone to-day?”
“To tell me something,” Lucia said with a little flash of opposition awakened by her mother’s anger.
“Yes—I thought so. To tell you something which, to any girl in the world who was not inconceivably blind or inconceivably vain, would have been the best news she ever heard in her life. And you said nothing?”
“Mamma, it is over. I can’t help it.”
“So he says—he, who is not much in the habit of talking nonsense, says this to me. Just listen. ’We have both made the mistake of reasoning about a thing with which reason has nothing to do. I see the error now too late for myself, but not, I hope, too late to leave her in peace. Pray do not speak to her about it at all.’ But it is my duty to speak.”
“Mamma, Maurice is right. It is too late.”
“It is not too late for him to get some little justice; and it is not too late for you to know what you have lost.”
“Oh! I do know,” she cried out. “But even if there had been no other reason, how could I have been different? He never told me till to-day.” And she clasped her two hands together on the edge of the table and hid her face on them.
Mrs. Costello leaned a little more forward, and touched her daughter’s arm.