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A short story by Harriet S. Caswell

The Diamond Ring

Title:     The Diamond Ring
Author: Harriet S. Caswell [More Titles by Caswell]

"And has it indeed come to this," said Mrs. Harris, addressing her daughter Ellen, "must I part with my mother's last gift to obtain bread?" Mrs. Harris, as she spoke, held in her hand a costly diamond ring, and the tears gathered in her eyes, as the rays of light falling upon the brilliants caused them to glow like liquid fire. This costly ornament would have struck the beholder as strangely out of place in the possession of this poor widow, in that scantily furnished room; but a few words regarding the past history of Mrs. Harris and her daughter will explain their present circumstances. Mrs. Harris was born and educated in England, and when quite young was employed as governess in a gentleman's family. Circumstances at length caused the family with whom she resided to cross the Atlantic and take up their abode in the ancient city of Quebec. The young governess had no remaining ties to bind her to England. Her parents had been dead for many years; she had no sisters, and her only brother, soon after the death of their parents, went to seek his fortune in the gold regions of California. Some years had passed since she heard any tidings from him, and she feared he was no longer among the living, and when the family with whom she had so long resided left England for America, they persuaded her to accompany them. In process of time she was married to a wealthy merchant, and removed to Western Canada. Their union was a very happy one, and for some years, they lived in the enjoyment of worldly prosperity and happiness. But it often happens that sad and unlooked-for reverses succeed a season of long continued prosperity; and it was so in this case. I am not aware that Mr. Harris's failure in business was brought about through any imprudence on his part; but was owing to severe and unexpected losses. He had entered into various speculations, which bid fair to prove profitable, but which proved a complete failure, and one stroke of ill fortune followed another in rapid succession, till the day of utter ruin came. He gave up every thing; even his house and furniture was sacrificed to meet the clamorous demands of his hard-hearted creditors; and his family was thus suddenly reduced from a state of ease and affluence to absolute poverty. Mr. Harris possessed a very proud spirit, and his nature was sensitive, and he could not endure the humiliation of remaining where they had formerly been so happy. He knew the world sufficiently well to be aware that they would now meet with coldness and neglect even from those who had formerly been proud of their notice, and shrank from the trial, and with the small amount he had been able to secure out of the general wreck, he removed to the city of Toronto, some three hundred miles from their former home. They had but little money remaining when they reached the city, and Mr. Harris felt the necessity of at once seeking some employment, for a stranger destitute of money in a large city is in no enviable position. For some time he was unsuccessful in every application he made for employment, and he was glad at length to accept the situation of copyist in a Lawyer's Office, till something better might offer. His salary barely sufficed for their support, yet they were thankful even for that. His constitution had never been robust, and the anxiety of mind under which he labored told severely upon his health. He exerted himself to the utmost, but his health failed rapidly; he was soon obliged to give up work, and in a little more than a year from the time of their removal to Toronto, he died, leaving his wife and daughter friendless and destitute. Their situation was extremely sad, when thus left alone; they had made no acquaintances during the year they had resided in the city, and had no friend to whom they could apply for aid. After paying her husband's funeral expenses, Mrs. Harris found herself well-nigh destitute of money, and she felt the urgent necessity of exerting herself to obtain employment by which they at least might earn a subsistence. The widow and her daughter found much difficulty at first in obtaining employment. Some to whom they applied had no work; others did not give out work to strangers; and for several days Mrs. Harris returned weary and desponding to her home, after spending a large portion of the day in the disagreeable task of seeking employment from strangers; but after a time she succeeded in obtaining employment, and as their work proved satisfactory they had soon an ample supply; but just when their prospects were beginning to brighten Mrs. Harris was visited by a severe illness. They had been able to lay by a small sum previous to her illness, and it was well they had done so, for during her sickness she required almost the constant attention of her daughter, which deprived them of any means of support; but after several weeks of severe illness she began slowly to recover, and this brings us to the time where our story opens. The ring which Mrs. Harris held in her hand had been for many, many years an heir-loom in the English family to which she belonged. To her it was the dying gift of her mother, and the thoughts of parting with it cost her a bitter pang. But she had no friends to whom she might apply for aid; and to a refined and sensitive nature, almost anything else is preferable to seeking charity from strangers. The ring was the only article of value which she retained, and sore as was the trial, she saw no other way of meeting their present wants, than by disposing of this her only relic of former affluence and happiness; and she trusted, that by the time the money which the sale of the ring would bring should be expended, they would be again able to resume their employment. With a heavy heart Ellen Harris set out to dispose of this cherished memento. She remembered an extensive jewelry shop, which she had often passed, as she carried home parcels of work, and thither she made her way. The shop-keeper was an elderly man with daughters of his own, and he had so often noticed this pale sad-looking young girl as she passed his window, that he recognized her countenance the moment she entered the shop; and when in a low timid voice she enquired if he would purchase the ring, he was satisfied that he was correct in his former conjecture, that she belonged to a family of former wealth and respectability. But young as she was there was a certain reserve and dignity in her manner, which forbade any questions on his part. The man had for many years carried on a lucrative business in his line and he was now wealthy; and knowing that he could afford to wait till the ring should find a purchaser he had no fears of losing money on so valuable an article; and, as is not often the case in such transactions, he paid her a fair price for the ring, although less than its real value. Ellen returned, much elated by her success; the money she had received for the ring seemed to them in their present circumstances a small fortune. "Little did once I think," said the widow, as she carefully counted the bank-notes, "that a few paltry pounds would ever seem of so much value to me; but perhaps it is well that we should sometimes experience the want of money, that we may learn how to make a proper use of it; and be more helpful to those less favored than ourselves." The money they obtained more than sufficed for their support, till Mrs. Harris so far recovered, as to allow them again to resume their employment. They now had no difficulty in obtaining work, and although obliged to toil early and late, they became cheerful and contented; although they could not but feel the change in their circumstances, and often contrast the happy past, with their present lot of labor and toil.

The shopkeeper burnished up the setting of the diamonds and placed the ring among many others in the show-case upon his counter. But so expensive an ornament as this does not always find a ready purchaser, and for some months it remained unsold. One afternoon a gentleman entered the shop to make some trifling purchase, and, as the shopkeeper happened to be engaged with a customer, he remained standing at the counter, till he should be at leisure, and his eye wandered carelessly over the articles in the show-case. Suddenly he started, changed countenance, and when the shopkeeper came forward to attend to him he said in voice of suppressed eagerness, "will you allow me to examine that ring," pointing as he spoke to the diamond ring sold by Ellen Harris. "Certainly, Sir, certainly," said the obliging shop-keeper, who, hoping that the ring had at last found a purchaser, immediately placed it in his hand for inspection. The gentleman turned the ring in his hand, and carefully examined the sparkling diamonds as well as the antique setting; and when he observed the initials, engraved upon the inside, he grew pale as marble, and hurriedly addressed the astonished shopkeeper saying, "In the name of pity, tell me where you obtained this ring?" "I am very willing to inform you," said the man "how this ring came into my possession. Several months ago a young girl, of very delicate and lady-like appearance, brought this ring here and desired me to purchase it. She seemed very anxious to dispose of the ornament, and, thinking I could easily sell it again, I paid her a fair price and took the ring, and that is all I can tell you about the matter." "You do not know the lady's name?" said the gentleman anxiously. "I do not," replied the man, "but I have frequently seen her pass in the street. The circumstance of her selling me this valuable ring caused me to notice her particularly, and I recognized her countenance ever after." "Name your price for the ring," said the gentleman,--"I must purchase it at any price; and the next thing, I must, if possible, find the young lady who brought it here, I have seen this ring before, and that is all I wish to say of the matter at present; but is there no way in which you can assist me in obtaining an interview with this young lady?" "I have no knowledge of her name or residence; but if you were in my shop when she chanced to pass here I could easily point her out to you in the street." "You may think my conduct somewhat strange," said the gentleman, "but believe me my reasons for seeking an interview with this young lady are most important and if you can point her out to me in the street I will endeavour to learn her residence, as that will be something gained." Before the gentleman left the shop he paid for the ring, and placed it in his pocket. For several days, he frequented the shop of the jeweller with the hope of gaining a view of the lady. At length one morning the shop-keeper suddenly directed his attention to a lady passing in the street, saying, "there, Sir, is the young lady from whom I purchased the ring." He waited to hear no more, but, stepping hastily into the street, followed the lady at a respectful distance; but never losing sight of her for a moment till she entered her home two streets distant from the shop of the jeweller. He approached the door and rang the bell. The door was opened by the same young lady, whose manner exhibited not a little embarrassment, when she beheld a total stranger; and he began to feel himself in an awkward position. He was at a loss how to address her till, recollecting that he must explain his visit in some way, he said: "Pardon the intrusion of a stranger; but, by your permission, I would like to enter the house, and have a word of conversation with you." The young girl regarded the man earnestly for a moment; but his manner was so gentlemanly and deferential that she could do no less than invite him to enter the little sitting-room where her mother was at work, and ask him to be seated. He bowed to Mrs. Harris on entering the room, then seating himself he addressed the young lady, saying: "The peculiar circumstances in which I am placed must serve as my apology for asking you a question which you may consider impertinent. Are you the young lady who, some months since, sold a diamond ring to a jeweller on Grafton street?" Mrs. Harris raised her eyes to the stranger's face, and the proud English blood which flowed in her veins mantled her cheek as she replied, "before I permit my daughter to answer the questions of a stranger, you will be so kind as to explain your right to question." The stranger sprang from his seat at the sound of her voice, and exclaimed, in a voice tremulous from emotion, "don't you know me Eliza, I am your long lost brother George." The reader will, doubtless, be better able to imagine the scene which followed, than I am to describe it. Everything was soon explained, many letters had been sent which never reached their destination; he knew not that his sister had left England, and after writing again and again, and receiving no reply, he ceased altogether from writing. During the first years of his sojourn in California, he was unfortunate, and was several times brought to the brink of the grave by sickness. After a time fortune smiled upon his efforts, till he at length grew immensely rich, and finally left the burning skies of California to return to England. He landed at New York and intended, after visiting the Canadas, to sail for England. The brother and sister had parted in their early youth, and it is no wonder that they failed to recognize each other when each had passed middle age. The brother was most changed of the two. His complexion had grown very dark, and he had such a foreign look that, when convinced of the fact, Mrs. Harris could hardly believe him to be one and the same with the stripling brother from whom she parted in England so many years ago. He was, of course, not aware of his sister's marriage, and he listened with sorrow to the story of her bereavement and other misfortunes. "You must now place a double value upon our family ring," said he, as he replaced the lost treasure upon his sister's hand; "for it is this diamond ring which has restored to each other the brother and sister who otherwise might never have met again on earth. And now, both you and your daughter must prepare for a voyage to dear old England. You need have no anxiety for the future; I have enough for us all and you shall want no more." Before leaving the City, accompanied by her brother, Mrs. Harris visited the grave of her husband; and the generous brother attended to the erection of a suitable tombstone, as the widow had before been unable to meet the expenses of it. Passing through the Upper Province they reached Montreal, whence they sailed for England. After a prosperous voyage they found themselves amid the familiar scenes of their childhood, where they still live in the enjoyment of as much happiness as usually falls to the lot of mortals.

[The end]
Harriet S. Caswell's short story: Diamond Ring