The Ring of St. Vincent

Fiction By Timothy // 11/12/2005

It was a beautiful work of art. The sun glistened off its graceful curves of gold, and glimmered among the majestic shapes of the engraving etched into the face. It was big, bold and stunning, fit for the elite, and especially for Josiah Deacon.

Josiah Deacon was a big, bold man. He was exactly the kind of person that would wear such a ring. His forward and abrupt manner was magnified tenfold in the shimmering brightness of the huge diamond. The only thing more fearful and imposing than Josiah Deacon was Josiah Deacon wearing the ring of St. Vincent.

The only spot on this perfect picture was that the ring was probably stolen. Deacon had appeared in bustling Gold Rush-era San Francisco shrouded by mystery. Nobody knew him, and nobody knew where he had come from. The only information ever gleaned about his past was obtained when his tongue was loosened by whisky, and spoke of adventures and intrigue in Old Europe.

The general consensus among the saloon-goers was that Josiah Deacon had traveled to France early in life and had been caught up in political scandal with the elite. It was assumed that at some point, Deacon had stolen the beautiful ring of St. Vincent from a French nobleman and had barely escaped. The tightening noose of the law was undoubtedly what had brought him back to the United States, leaving a soiled name behind.

But the talk of crime and punishment went no further than talk. Nobody in San Francisco was willing to approach Deacon on the subject while he was sober. It had long ago been decided that what had gone on in France should stay in France. This was especially convenient, because Josiah Deacon had become one of the leading moguls in San Francisco. The city could hardly afford the scandal of crime involving one of their elites, so they chose to ignore the issue.

But one nippy autumn night changed all of this.
* * *

Josiah Deacon was wiling away the waning hours of the night in his mansion on the outskirts of the city. He relaxed in a large leather chair in front of a crackling fire, smoking his pipe and reading a book picked randomly from his extensive library. He was so absorbed that he failed to notice the sound of carriage wheels in the street pulling up at his door and stopping.

His butler, Raymond, answered the door when the bell rang. Deacon faintly heard Raymond talking to somebody at the door, then barely noticed when the door shut and the wheels clacked away into the night.

Presently, Raymond appeared in the room holding a tray, with a simple square envelope in the middle, “Letter for you, sir.” Deacon snapped out of his lethargy.

“Hmm? Oh, yes. Well, by all means, Raymond, bring it here. Quickly!” Then rising and taking the letter to his desk, “I wonder who could be sending me a letter at this unearthly hour. Strange that he couldn’t wait until the morning for the mail to bring it ‘round.”

The envelope was simple and unassuming. On the front, in an elegant, flowing hand, was written “Monsieur Josiah Deacon.” Deacon carefully opened the envelope and out slid a single piece of paper. He picked it up and put on his reading glasses. The letter read:

“Dear Monsieur Deacon,

I hope this letter finds you in good health and spirits, and if so, I hope the issue addressed in this letter will not change that.

I have heard a lot about you, Monsieur Deacon, and will probably hear even more the longer I stay in your fair city of San Francisco. Everywhere I have been, I have heard talk of your immense wealth and economic prowess. It has reached my ears that you are extremely influential in the local government, too. But, most importantly, I have heard tell of your most famous attribute, the ring of St. Vincent.”

Deacon stopped reading for a moment and smiled to himself. This wasn’t the first time he had received praise for owning the beautiful piece of jewelry, but he never got tired of it. Carefully, he removed the ring from his finger, set it down on the letter and marveled at its beauty once again. He stayed this way for some time, until his thoughts finally caught up with him and he began reading the letter again.

“This ring is precisely what has caused me to write you this brief letter. You must understand, my dear Monsieur Deacon, that my family is one of the wealthiest and most powerful in France. We have riches and influence that could rival your own, but this issue of the ring has prevented it.

This ring of St. Vincent, the very one that is probably on your finger right now, has been in my family for generations. One of my ancestors bought it many hundreds of years ago, and it has been in my family ever since then, handed down from father to son for generations.

I do not know the particulars, but many years ago, the ring of St. Vincent was stolen from my father. The criminal responsible was never caught nor seen again. Not a day has gone by since I heard of this that I haven’t searched for the ring. I have finally found it here.

My purpose in writing this letter is to discuss whether or not you would consider selling the ring. It is very precious to me and my family, and I am willing and able to pay whatever you ask for it. If you do not wish to part with the ring, I will understand, but I would appreciate the chance to discuss this matter face-to-face in whatever case. I am rooming at the Ivy Street Hotel. I have made arrangements with the clerk to show you to my room if you wish to contact me.

Sincerely,
Pierre Anton Lafayette”

Deacon sat silently for a moment after finishing the letter. Suddenly, he swore and snatched the letter off the table. “He’s found me! After all these years, I couldn’t shake him. He knows I stole the ring, and if I don’t sell it to him, he’ll take me to court. I’m sure he has evidence!” He swore again and hurled the letter into the fire. The flames licked at the edges of the paper, and glistened in Deacon’s eyes as he watched. Then suddenly he rose from his chair and stormed upstairs to his bedroom.

* * *

The sun could barely be seen above the horizon the next morning, but Josiah Deacon was already stirring in his bed. He groggily pushed himself up into a sitting position, and called for Raymond, who always got up much earlier.

Raymond was slow in coming, and Deacon was forced to call for him again, an inconvenience that Deacon did not appreciate. Finally, Raymond appeared just outside the doorway. He seemed tentative and unsure of himself, an unusual change. Deacon was not particularly happy. “Where have you been, Raymond? You should come the instant I call you, I don’t like having to wait.”

“Terribly sorry, sir,” Raymond mumbled, and he shifted his weight from foot to foot.

“What’s bothering you Raymond? You’re not yourself. Come on, what is it?”

“Well, sir,” he hesitated, then plunged on, “it’s about the ring. I . . .” Deacon cut him off mid-sentence.

“The ring! Has something gone wrong?” Suddenly, he remembered the letter the night before, and a frightening thought came into his mind. “It’s missing, isn’t it, Raymond?” The butler did not immediately answer, and Deacon became more sure of what had happened. “Well, answer me, Raymond!”

Raymond finally spoke, “Well, you see, sir . . .” but a flurry of panic caused Deacon to cut him off again.

“No! Don’t say it, Raymond. I know what happened. Quick! We must search the house and make sure we are right.” And suddenly Deacon was out of the room and down the stairs, dressing at the same time.

A hasty search of the house revealed nothing, and Deacon tried to calm down and not let his emotions get hold of himself. Meanwhile, Raymond followed Deacon around the house, attempting to say something, but Deacon would have nothing of it. He either kept interrupting his butler or completely ignored what he said. As far as Deacon was concerned, there was only one thing in the world that day, the ring, and he had to find it!

Finally calming himself enough to think clearly, Deacon began a more thorough search of the house. Raymond’s determination to get Deacon’s attention finally waned, and he sat down in a chair in the den and watched. But the search resulted in nothing again, and it became clear to Deacon what had happened. He suddenly spun on Raymond, finally noticing him, “Get a cab ready for me, quickly, Raymond!” The butler left without protest.
* * *

When the cab was ready, Deacon emerged from the house wearing a large coat with a conspicuous bulge on the hip. He clambered into the cab and shouted up at the driver, “Ivy Street Hotel, quickly!”

The ride was short, but it seemed much too long to Josiah Deacon. Finally, the cab pulled up in front of the Ivy Street Hotel. Deacon stepped out and slammed the cab door shut, yelling up to the driver to stay there until he came back.

It was still early in the morning, and few people could be seen in and around the hotel. Nobody noticed Deacon as he shoved through the doors into the hotel lobby. He approached the desk at one end and banged on the counter to wake up the sleeping clerk. He asked for the room number of Monsieur Pierre Anton Lafayette, and said that he had an appointment with him. The clerk drowsily leafed through his book and found the appointment. “Ah, yes, sir,” he yawned, “Monsieur Lafayette is in room 210, second floor.” Then, he dropped back into his chair and nodded off again.

Room 210 was easy to find, and Deacon was outside the door in only a few minutes. He stopped and composed himself, fingering the bulge under his jacket. Then, he banged loudly on the door with his fist.

He waited for a few minutes, then banged again. Finally, he heard sounds of somebody stirring inside. The lock was released from the inside, and the door popped wide open, revealing Monsieur Pierre Anton Lafayette.

Lafayette was a small man, with sharp features. He seemed groggy and tired, but snapped awake as soon as Deacon roughly introduced himself.

“I am Josiah Deacon, and I’ve come to discuss my ring.”

“Oh, yes. Well, I guess we can do that,” Lafayette replied slowly, trying to take in this new turn of events.

“Actually,” Deacon interjected, “I would like to discuss the theft of my ring, and I would like to persuade you to give it back right away!”

Lafayette was definitely wide awake now. He reacted slowly to the accusation, but soon gathered his wits about him and responded, “What? Certainly you don’t think I stole your ring, do you? Why, just yesterday I proposed to buy it from you!”

“Yes, you did, didn’t you? But that was just a cover-up. Now, I want you to give me my ring right this instant or I’ll be forced to make you!

“What a preposterous accusation! How can I give you something I don’t have?”

But Deacon would have none of it. He shouldered his way past Lafayette into the room. He started to tear into the Frenchman’s luggage, but then stopped. In a louder, more menacing town of voice, he yelled, “Give me that ring, now or I will kill you!” and from the bulge under his coat he produced a revolver and pointed it at Lafayette.

The Frenchman froze, and started to speak, but Deacon had had enough. He jerked the trigger and the gun went off, the shot hitting the wall to the left of Lafayette. Suddenly, before Deacon could fire again, Lafayette strode purposefully to the dresser nearby, opened the top drawer, and spun around holding a revolver of his own. Deacon brought his gun back up and took aim, but the other gun shot first. Lafayette was a better shot than Deacon, and the bullet hit Deacon square in the chest. Another flash from the Frenchman’s gun, and Deacon stumbled backwards against the wall. With his last strength, Deacon brought his gun up and pulled the trigger. He was too weak to contain the recoil, and the gun jerked out of his hand, but the bullet found its mark. Lafayette fell backwards, holding his throat, and then collapsed.

The residents of the hotel were in a panic after the shooting, and at first nobody even bothered finding the cause. But suddenly the clerk remembered Deacon, and he ran up the stairs to Room 210. Inside, he found the dead bodies of both men.

The police were called, the bodies were removed, and the investigation began. Nobody could imagine what would cause the deaths of San Francisco's most influential businessman and most illustrious guest.

Later that day, a reporter outside the hotel noticed an old man wandering aimlessly on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. He approached the man and recognized him as Raymond, Josiah Deacon’s butler. The butler seemed sad and distracted, and he seemed to be clutching something in his hand. The reporter came close and touched him on the shoulder. “What’s wrong, old boy?”

Raymond slowly turned and stared at the reporter absently, then suddenly spoke, “Look at this. What do you think it is?” He handed the reporter the object he had been hiding in his hand.

The reporter took the item and observed that it was a small chunk of what appeared to be gold. It was warped and rippled and had no apparent shape. “Why, this looks like melted gold,” the reporter exclaimed, “I wonder what it could be from.”

“A ring?” Raymond blurted out. Then, without waiting for an answer, he suddenly grabbed the object from the reporter and held it tightly in his fist. He looked thoughtfully at the reporter and then abruptly asked, “Sir, what would you do with a letter that angered you?”

“Why, I’d throw it into the fire!” the reporter answered.

Raymond nodded, hung his head, and turned away. “It is just as I feared.”

Comments

Wow...

You wrote this over four years ago, but I've never read it until now.  A very brilliant short story idea, although kind of sad too.

James | Tue, 01/05/2010

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"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

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