The song upstairs had ended. They heard the buzz of appreciation that succeeded it. Field turned with the air of a man who had said his say.
“I don’t believe in long engagements myself,” he said. “They must be a weariness to the flesh.”
He began to mount the stairs again, and Wentworth followed him in silence.
At the drawing-room door Field paused and they entered together. It was almost Wentworth’s first appearance since his trial. There was a moment or two of dead silence as he sauntered forward with Field. Then, with a little laugh to cover an instant’s embarrassment, Lady Culverleigh came forward. She shook hands with Wentworth and asked where he had been in retreat.
Violet came forward from the piano very pale but quite composed, and shook hands also. Several people present followed suit, and soon there was a little crowd gathered round him, and Burleigh Wentworth was again the popular centre of attraction.
Percival Field kept in the background; it was not his way to assert himself in society. But he remained until Wentworth and the last guest had departed. And then very quietly but with indisputable insistence he drew Lady Violet away into the conservatory.
She was looking white and tired, but she held herself with a proud aloofness in his presence. While admitting his claim upon her, she yet did not voluntarily yield him an inch.
“Did you wish to speak to me?” she asked.
He stood a moment or two in silence before replying; then:
“Only to give you this,” he said, and held out to her a small packet wrapped in tissue paper on the palm of his hand.
She took it unwillingly.
“The badge of servitude?” she said.
“I should like to know if it fits,” said Field quietly, as if she had not spoken.
She opened the packet and disclosed not the orthodox diamond ring she had expected, but a ring containing a single sapphire very deep in hue, exquisitely cut. She looked at him over it, her look a question.
“Will you put it on?” he said.
She hesitated an instant, then with a tightening of the lips she slipped it on to her left hand.
“Is it too easy?” he said.
She looked at him again.
“No; it is not easy at all.”
He took her hand and looked at it. His touch was cool and strong. He slipped the ring up and down upon her finger, testing it. It was as if he waited for something.
She endured his action for a few seconds, then with a deliberate movement she took her hand away.
“Thank you very much,” she said conventionally. “I wonder what made you think of a sapphire.”
“You like sapphires?” he questioned.
“Of course,” she returned. Her tone was resolutely indifferent, yet something in his look made her avert her eyes abruptly. She turned them upon the ring. “Why did you choose a sapphire?” she said.