Phillips did not reply to this, and the general only shook his head doubtfully and said nothing. So Mrs. Trevelyan looked at Lady Arbuthnot, and the ladies rose and left the room. When the men had left them, a young girl went to the piano, and the other women seated themselves to listen; but Miss Egerton, saying that it was warm, stepped out through one of the high windows on to the little balcony that overhung the garden. It was dark out there and cool, and the rumbling of the encircling city sounded as distant and as far off as the reflection seemed that its million lights threw up to the sky above. The girl leaned her face and bare shoulder against the rough stone wall of the house, and pressed her hands together, with her fingers locking and unlocking and her rings cutting through her gloves. She was trembling slightly, and the blood in her veins was hot and tingling. She heard the voices of the men as they entered the drawing-room, the momentary cessation of the music at the piano, and its renewal, and then a figure blocked the light from the window, and Gordon stepped out of it and stood in front of her with the chain and locket in his hand. He held it towards her, and they faced each other for a moment in silence.
“Will you take it now?” he said.
The girl raised her head, and drew herself up until she stood straight and tall before him. “Have you not punished me enough?” she asked, in a whisper. “Are you not satisfied? Was it brave? Was it manly? Is that what you have learned among your savages—to torture a woman?” She stopped with a quick sob of pain, and pressed her hands against her breast.
Gordon observed her, curiously, with cold consideration. “What of the sufferings of the man to whom you gave this?” he asked. “Why not consider him? What was your bad quarter of an hour at the table, with your friends around you, to the year he suffered danger and physical pain for you—for you, remember?”
The girl hid her face for a moment in her hands, and when she lowered them again her cheeks were wet and her voice was changed and softer. “They told me he was dead,” she said. “Then it was denied, and then the French papers told of it again, and with horrible detail, and how it happened.”
Gordon took a step nearer her. “And does your love come and go with the editions of the daily papers?” he asked, fiercely. “If they say to-morrow morning that Arbuthnot is false to his principles or his party, that he is a bribe-taker, a man who sells his vote, will you believe them and stop loving him?” He gave a sharp exclamation of disdain. “Or will you wait,” he went on, bitterly, “until the Liberal organs have had time to deny it? Is that the love, the life, and the soul you promised the man who—”
There was a soft step on the floor of the drawing-room, and the tall figure of young Arbuthnot appeared in the opening of the window as he looked doubtfully out into the darkness. Gordon took a step back into the light of the window, where he could be seen, and leaned easily against the railing of the balcony. His eyes were turned towards the street, and he noticed over the wall the top of a passing omnibus and the glow of the men’s pipes who sat on it.