Celia had been calling on a newly married friend of hers. They had been schoolgirls together; they had looked over the same algebra book (or whatever it was that Celia learnt at school–I have never been quite certain); they had done their calisthenics side by side; they had compared picture post cards of Lewis Waller. Ah, me! the fairy princes they had imagined together in those days … and here am I, and somewhere in the City (I believe he is a stockbroker) is Ermyntrude’s husband, and we play our golf on Saturday afternoons, and go to sleep after dinner, and–Well, anyhow, they were both married, and Celia had been calling on Ermyntrude.
“I hope you did all the right things,” I said. “Asked to see the wedding-ring, and admired the charming little house, and gave a few hints on the proper way to manage a husband.”
“Rather,” said Celia. “But it did seem funny, because she used to be older than me at school.”
“Isn’t she still?”
“Oh, no! I’m ever so much older now…. Talking about wedding-rings,” she went on, as she twisted her own round and round, “she’s got all sorts of things written inside hers–the date and their initials and I don’t know what else.”
“There can’t be much else–unless perhaps she has a very large finger.”
“Well, I haven’t got anything in mine,” said Celia, mournfully. She took off the offending ring and gave it to me.
On the day when I first put the ring on her finger, Celia swore an oath that nothing but death, extreme poverty or brigands should ever remove it. I swore too. Unfortunately it fell off in the course of the afternoon, which seemed to break the spell somehow. So now it goes off and on just like any other ring. I took it from her and looked inside.
“There are all sorts of things here too,” I said. “Really, you don’t seem to have read your wedding-ring at all. Or, anyhow, you’ve been skipping.”
“There’s nothing,” said Celia in the same mournful voice. “I do think you might have put something.”
I went and sat on the arm of her chair, and held the ring up.
“You’re an ungrateful wife,” I said, “after all the trouble I took. Now look there,” and I pointed with a pencil, “what’s the first thing you see?”
“Twenty-two. That’s only the–“
“That was your age when you married me. I had it put in at enormous expense. If you had been eighteen, the man said, or–or nine, it would have come much cheaper. But no, I would have your exact age. You were twenty-two and that’s what I had engraved on it. Very well. Now what do you see next to it?”
“Yes. And what does that mean? In the language of–er–crowns it means ‘You are my queen.’ I insisted on a crown. It would have been cheaper to have had a lion, which means–er–lions, but I was determined not to spare myself. For I thought,” I went on pathetically, “I quite thought you would like a crown.”
“Oh, I do,” cried Celia quickly, “if it really means that.” She took the ring in her hands and looked at it lovingly. “And what’s that there? Sort of a man’s head.”
I gazed at her sadly.
“You don’t recognize it? Has a year of marriage so greatly changed me? Celia, it is your Ronald! I sat for that, hour after hour, day after day, for your sake, Celia. It is not a perfect likeness; in the small space allotted to him the sculptor has hardly done me justice. And there,” I added, “is his initial ‘r.’ Oh, woman, the amount of thought I spent on that ring!”
She came a little closer and slipped the ring on my finger.
“Spend a little more,” she pleaded. “There’s plenty of room. Just have something nice written in it–something about you and me.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps it’s ‘Mizpah,’ or ‘Ichabod,’ or ‘Habakkuk.’ I’m sure there’s a word you put on rings–I expect they’d know at the shop.”
“But I don’t want what they know at shops. It must be something quite private and special.”
“But the shop has got to know about it when I tell them. And I don’t like telling strange men in shops private and special things about ourselves. I love you, Celia, but–“
“That would be a lovely thing,” she said, clasping her hands eagerly.
“‘I love you, Celia.’”
I looked at her aghast.
“Do you want me to order that in cold blood from the shopman?”
“He wouldn’t mind. Besides, if he saw us together he’d probably know. You aren’t afraid of a goldsmith, are you?”
“I’m not afraid of any goldsmith living–or goldfish either, if it come to that. But I should prefer to be sentimental in some other language than plain English. I could order ‘Cars sposa,’ or–or ‘Spaghetti,’ or anything like that, without a tremor.”
“But of course you shall put just whatever you like. Only–only let it be original. Not Mizpahs.”
“Right,” I said.
For three days I wandered past gold and silversmiths with the ring in my pocket … and for three days Celia went about without a wedding-ring, and, for all I know, without even her marriage-lines in her muff. And on the fourth day I walked boldly in.
“I want,” I said, “a wedding-ring engraved,” and I felt in my pockets. “Not initials,” I said, and I felt in some more pockets, “but–but–” I tried the trousers pockets again. “Well, look here, I’ll be quite frank with you. I–er–want–” I fumbled in my ticket-pocket, “I want ‘I love you’ on it,” and I went through the waistcoat pockets a third time. “‘I–er–love you.’”
“Me?” said the shopman, surprised.
“I love you,” I repeated mechanically. “I love you. I love you, I–Well, look here, perhaps I’d better go back and get the ring.”
On the next day I was there again; but there was a different man behind the counter.
“I want this ring engraved,” I said.
“Certainly. What shall we put?”
I had felt the question coming. I had a sort of instinct that he would ask me that. But I couldn’t get the words out again.
“Well,” I hesitated, “I–er–well.”
“Ladies often like the date put in. When is it to be?”
“When is what to be?”
“The wedding,” he smiled.
“It has been,” I said. “It’s all over. You’re too late for it.”
I gave myself up to thought. At all costs I must be original. There must be something on Celia’s wedding-ring that had never been in any other’s….
There was only one thing I could think of.
* * * * *
The engraved ring arrived as we were at tea a few days later, and I had a sudden overwhelming fear that Celia would not be pleased. I saw that I must explain it to her. After all, there was a distinguished precedent.
“Come into the bath-room a moment,” I said, and I led the way.
She followed, wondering.
“What is that?” I asked, pointing to a blue thing on the floor.
“The bath-mat,” she said, surprised.
“And what is written on it?”
“Why–‘bath-mat,’ of course.”
“Of course,” I said … and I handed her the wedding-ring.