She slipped free from his hold. “Thank you,” she said, her voice very low.
A few seconds later Field sat again at his table by the window. The wind was blowing in from the river in rising gusts. The blind-tassel tapped and tapped, now here, now there, like a trapped creature seeking frantically for escape. For a space he sat quite motionless, gazing before him as though unaware of his surroundings. Then very suddenly but very quietly he reached out and caught the swaying thing. A moment he held it, then pulled it to him and, taking a penknife from the table, grimly, deliberately, he severed the cord.
The tassel lay in his hand, a silken thing, slightly frayed, as if convulsive fingers had torn it. He sat for a while and looked at it. Then, with that strange smile of his, he laid it away in a drawer.
The trial of Burleigh Wentworth for forgery was one of the sensations of the season. A fashionable crowd went day after day to the stifling Court to watch its progress. The man himself, nonchalant, debonair, bore himself with the instinctive courage of his race, though whether his bearing would have been as confident had Percival Field not been at his back was a question asked by a good many. He was one of the best-known figures in society, a general favourite in sporting circles, and universally looked upon with approval if not admiration wherever he went. He had the knack of popularity. He came of an old family, and his rumoured engagement to Lady Violet Calcott had surprised no one. Lord Culverleigh, her brother, was known to be his intimate friend, and the rumour had come already to be regarded as an accomplished fact when, like a thunder-bolt, had come Wentworth’s arraignment for forgery.
It had set all London talking. The evidence against him was far-reaching and overwhelming. After the first shock no one believed him innocent. The result of the trial was looked upon before its commencement as a foregone conclusion until it became known that Percival Field, the rising man of the day, had undertaken his defence, and then like the swing of a weather cock public opinion veered. If Field defended him, there must be some very strong point in his favour, men argued. Field was not the sort to touch anything of a doubtful nature.
The trial lasted for nearly a week. During that time Lady Violet went day after day to the Court and sat with her veil down all through the burning hours. People looked at her curiously, questioning if there really had been any definite understanding between the two. Did she really care for the man, or was it mere curiosity that drew her? No one knew with any certainty. She wrapped herself in her reserve like an all-enveloping garment, and even those who regarded themselves as her nearest friends knew naught of what she carried in her soul.