The jewel fell to the floor and cracked and for an instant everyone was frozen: James, half bent forward, hands reaching out in a last desperate grab for the gem; Thoreau, who’d come so far to see it, aghast near the doorway; and poor Mr. Peabody, who’d dropped it, his hands slippery with sweat in his excitement. Light seemed to pour from the cracks and play over their faces, etching their mingled horror and surprise forever into muscle, bone, and skin. Then the instant shivered and was gone.
“My God, Peabody,” whispered Thoreau, “what have you done?”
“I, I, I,” said Peabody, his stutter back with a vengeance. “I…”
James knelt and picked up the jewel, cradling it against his cheek like a child. “Oh, my poor fathers and mothers,” he said. When he stood up the stone rang softly like a wineglass struck by a fingernail and dissolved into powder.