When one generally proposed to a girl, especially the love of one’s life, the goal was usually to do so with a nice engagement ring of some kind to announce the engagement and to make the girl feel her value. One did not generally slide one’s signet ring onto her finger before packing off to Rome.
On the other hand—to be quite fair to everyone concerned, Peter had proposed (47th in line) to Harriet at their first less-than-illustrious meeting and had proceeded to do so no less than two dozen more times over the course of their acquaintance before finally securing a yes. Given that the two individuals concerned were one Lord Peter Wimsey and one Harriet Vane, anyone could be forgiven for the lack of surprise that anything was done between them at all in the conventional manner. Had the two of them said hang it all, whipped up a Regency elopement, and gone to Gretna Green, most who knew them would not have batted an eye.
Now, however, Peter was back from Rome, and quite determined to get Harriet something proper, since Harriet was only just now beginning to let him gift her things and met those gifts with a sort of glowing, energetic and yet private joy that he never could have expected and only in his wildest dreams had dared to imagine.
He went to Abrahams, who had been trusted for some years with the family jewelry, including taking care of the engagement ring for Helen, although Helen—being Helen—had dispatched a list of what she called ‘suggestions’ for Abrahams to follow no matter what her fiancé might have said otherwise.
“Are you sure that you don’t want to put your stamp on it?” Peter had asked.
Harriet had shaken her head, giving him one of those smiles that he tucked into a pocket of his heart, like pressed flowers in a book. “You handled the chessmen so well, and I know I’ll like whatever you get me.”
Harriet had even suggested that she didn’t need a ring at all, but since she’d given him permission to gift her one, Peter wasn’t going to let the opportunity slip by.
Selecting a stone had not troubled him—he had known at once what to get her. Others might select a more demure stone, and some would want a ruby since it would flash fire in the light and become a centerpiece of conversation, but Harriet was neither. It was the idea of indistinguishable flame that drew him to it, and the ancient feeling that a ruby banished sadness and foolish thoughts. Although if anyone asked he would’ve been the first to say that he thought up enough foolish thoughts for the both of them, and perhaps he ought to be the one wearing a ruby.
The setting had to be simple. Harriet was not one for much jewelry on her hands, since it could interfere with her writing. Silver, he thought, went better with her coloring than gold.
Peter thought it turned out rather nice, overall. A solitaire ruby, no other stones around it, possessing the sort of unusual elegance that had—among other qualities—so captured him about Harriet even across the room in the dock.
Harriet knew it was coming, of course, but she hadn’t said he ought to oblige her on precisely when. It gave him an unabashed relief–knowing she’d already said yes—although sometimes he half-dreamt she’d changed her mind. But now he could plan—back in his rooms after a night of theatre—Bunter helped to arrange it all—without the expectation of dejectedness that had marked his last few attempts.
The play was good, and the food must have been as well, but Peter couldn’t recall any of it when he went to put it in his diary after Harriet had gone. There was only coming back to the rooms–only taking the ring out of its spot in his desk drawer–only her dark, proud head as she’d looked out the window–only her.
He couldn’t remember moving, only that he was drawn as always, and all the words he prepared were gone. They always were gone when the time came to speak to her. There was never anything left but the bare and open heart, the curtain drawn back.
“I hope it’s not too much. I had half a mind to get rid of a stone after all. I don’t suppose it’ll catch on the typewriter.”
“Even if it did—Peter—”
Several minutes passed in passionate occupation. At last he remembered the curtains should be drawn in case some poor night watchman or other should look up and see more than he’d bargained for.
“It matches you,” said Peter, curtains secured.
“Oh, it’s a ruby! I was—I forgot to look at it.”
“An easy enough mistake to make.”
“I was watching you. I’m sorry—I’m afraid I never will learn to behave like other people.”
There was quite a lot said in the space in between, although no words were exchanged. When they at last parted for breath Peter said, “I have had many things said about my features, but this is the first time they have ever been prized above rubies.”
“If everyone prized your features like that I would have had a worser time of it.”
It was only fair that he make it plain that had his face been compared to rubies, diamonds, emeralds, or otherwise, nobody else could have sent him on this errand and nobody else ever would.
It was a good thing, Peter thought much later, that he’d had the foresight to tell Bunter not to wait up.