She spoke with a breathless intensity. Her wonderful eyes were lifted to his–eyes that had dazzled half London, but Field only looked down into them as he might have regarded one of his legal documents. A slight, peculiar smile just touched his lips as he made reply.
“I have no objection to telling you, Lady Violet. He is guilty. That is why.”
“Ah!” It was a sound like the snapped string of an instrument. Her fingers gripped each other. “So you think that too! Indeed–indeed, you are wrong! But–is that your only reason?”
“Isn’t it a sufficient one?” he said.
Her fingers writhed and strained against each other. “Do you mean that it is–against your principles?” she said.
“To defend a guilty man?” questioned the barrister slowly.
She nodded two or three times as if for the moment utterance were beyond her.
Field’s eyes had not stirred from her face, yet still they had that legal look as if he searched for some hidden information.
“No,” he said finally. “It is not entirely a matter of principle. As you are aware, I have achieved a certain reputation. And I value it.”
She made a quick movement that was almost convulsive.
“But you would not injure your reputation. You would only enhance it,” she said, speaking very rapidly as if some obstruction to speech had very suddenly been removed. “You are practically on the top of the wave. You would succeed where another man would fail. And indeed–oh, indeed he is innocent! He must be innocent! Things look black against him. But he can be saved somehow. And you could save him–if you would. Think what the awful disgrace would mean to him–if he were convicted! And he doesn’t deserve it. I assure you he doesn’t deserve it. Ah, how shall I persuade you of that?” Her voice quivered upon a note of despair. “Surely you are human! There must be some means of moving you. You can’t want to see an innocent man go under!”
The beautiful eyes were blurred with tears as she looked at him. She caught back a piteous sob. The cloak had fallen from about her shoulders. They gleamed with an exquisite whiteness.
The man’s look still rested upon her with unflickering directness. Again that peculiar smile hovered about his grim mouth.
“Yes, I am human,” he said, after a pause. “I do not esteem myself as above temptation. As you probably know, I am a self-made man, of very ordinary extraction. But–I do not feel tempted to take up Burleigh Wentworth’s defence. I am sorry if that fact should cause you any disappointment. I do not see why it should. There are plenty of other men–abler than I am–who would, I am sure, be charmed to oblige Lady Violet Calcott or any of her friends.”
“That is not so,” she broke in rapidly. “You know that is not so. You know that your genius has placed you in what is really a unique position. Your name in itself is almost a mascot. You know quite well that you carry all before you with your eloquence. If–if you couldn’t get him acquitted, you could get him lenient treatment. You could save his life from utter ruin.”
She clasped and unclasped her hands in nervous excitement. Her face was piteous in its strain and pathos.
And still Field looked unmoved upon her distress.
“I am afraid I can’t help you,” he said. “My eloquence would need a very strong incentive in such a case as this to balance my lack of sympathy.”
“What do you mean by–incentive?” she said, her voice very low. “I will do anything–anything in my power–to induce you to change your mind. I never lost hope until–I heard you had refused to defend him. Surely–surely–there is some means of persuading you left!”
For the first time his smile was openly cynical.
“Don’t offer me money, please!” he said.
She flushed vividly, hotly.
“Mr. Field! I shouldn’t dream of it!”
“No?” he said. “But it was more than a dream with you when you first entered this room.”