THE SERPENT RING

Ruth wondered, what she really did know, and how could she tell him about that terrible night. No one believed her.

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Well, that wasn’t too bad, thought Ruth, he seemed to know what he was doing, in fact… She looked around, but John was lying face down next to her snoring. Typical, she thought.

She got up and looked around the hotel room. It was damp and dirty. John’s clothes lay in an untidy pile on the floor. She picked them up and folded them neatly and placed them over the back of a broken chair. As she did so, a ring fell out of John’s pocket and rolled on the floor. Ruth picked it up and looked at it. Now that she could see it more closely, she saw that it was shaped like a serpent coiling around and biting its own tail. Ruth stepped over to the window to look at it in the morning light. I think this is real gold, not just gilt, she thought. It’s very heavy and cold; I bet it’s worth a pretty penny.

Ruth glanced over at the bed where John lay snoring. He had not replaced his nightshirt, and his bare buttocks pointing up into the air. Where did he get something so valuable, she wondered? Ruth tried the ring on, but it was far too big for her delicate, little fingers. She did consider collecting her things, John’s purse of sovereigns and creeping out of the house, but while she was still debating the matter in her head, John woke and stood up.

More like a stallion than a greyhound, she thought as he stretched and yawned.

“Good morning,” said John, grinning at Ruth.

“Get dressed,” Ruth snapped. “Make yourself decent.”

“Too late for that,” laughed John.

“Here,” said Ruth and lifted John’s clothes from the chair and carried them to him. As she did so, John noticed the serpent ring on Ruth’s hand.

“What are you doing with that,” John shouted. He grabbed at her hand and prised the ring off her finger. “Don’t ever touch that again.”

“I was just trying it on,” said Ruth. “It fell out of your clothes when I picked them up of the floor. Really, you should fold up your clothes after you. I won’t be your skivvy. I had quite enough of that.”

John looked down at the ring. It seemed that he didn’t hear Ruth scold him.

“So what does that mean?” asked Ruth, pointing at the ring. “I’m sure I’ve seen something like that before.”

“Have you,” asked John? He stared at Ruth. “Where have you seen it before?”

“I can’t remember,” said Ruth. She wanted to change the subject. Something about the ring made her feel uncomfortable.

Now, she remembered. That night. The night it happened. She remembered that even though his face had been covered, she had seen a great hairy hand grasping at her and on the hand a ring, just like this one.  She didn’t want to think about those hands; cold and clammy, like a corpse.

“Where did you get the ring,” she asked?

“Never mind that,” said John.

He’s keeping something from me, thought Ruth.

“Don’t you trust me,” asked Ruth?

John looked at her as if trying to decide something.

“Alright,” he said. “I do trust you, but somethings are hard to talk about. Someone tried to kill me. I think it was because I won all that money at cards. You don’t win without someone else loosing, and a lots of people are sore losers.”

“It was not that long before we met. I was on the platform waiting when someone grabbed me and tried to push me in front of the train.”

“Really,” said Ruth. “How shocking. What happened?”

John’s voice dropped to a whisper. “He’s dead, we grappled, and he fell on to the line. I tried to grab his hand, and I came away with this ring. I ran off and hid and then jumped on the next train.”

“So that’s why my train was delayed,” said Ruth.

“I’m not a murderer. I didn’t mean to kill him,” said John.

“Of course not,” said Ruth.

“But the police,” said John. “I’m not sure they would see it my way. That’s why I’ve said nothing. You won’t tell will you?”

“A wife can’t testify against her husband,” said Ruth.

“Right.” John grinned. “We better get that licence sorted, especially after last night.”

“I hope you will never speak of last night again,” said Ruth, drawing herself up to her full height.

“Why?” John Laughed. “What happened last night?”

He reached over with his soft, long-fingered hands and taking her gently kissed her on the mouth.

“Will you behave,” snapped Ruth, and to her disappointment; he did.

“Anyway,” John said. “You never told me where you saw the ring before.”

“I’m not sure it’s the same ring,” said Ruth. “In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not.”

“Still tell me what you know.”

Ruth wondered, what she really did know, and how could she tell him about that terrible night. No one believed her. William hadn’t; she still remembered his letter. You always did have an imagination Ruth, that’s a great story. The Dunns hadn’t believed her either. No one had, except for Lottie, and she was simple.

“I saw a man wearing a ring like that once,” she said and looked away from John as she spoke.

“Really, what did he look like,” John asked.

Couldn’t he just leave it, thought Ruth?

“I didn’t get a good look at him,” said Ruth.

“But you noticed his ring,” John persisted. “You must remember something.”

“He was short,” said Ruth. That much was true. “Short and flabby, but still strong. It was his hands I noticed really, the backs of them were covered in hair. Does that sound like the man that…”

“No,” said John. “He was strong alright. But not short and I don’t remember him having hairy hands.”

“Will there be anything in the paper about him,” asked Ruth? “Usually when there’s an accident there’s something about it in the paper.”

“Good thinking,” said John. “Let me put some clothes on, and we’ll go out.”

“Well, I wasn’t going to let you go out like that,” said Ruth.

“Oh,” said John, blushing. Quickly he dressed.

Together they walked down the stairs.

“You’re too late for Breakfast,” snapped Mrs Quervish from the parlour. “We serve from 8:00 to 8:05.”

“Never mind that,” called John. “We’ll get something out.”

“Mind there’s no cooking in the rooms,” Mrs Quervish replied.

But Ruth and John had opened the front door and set off. The serpent ring door knocker rattled behind them.

The End

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