His hand fell. He stared at her as if he thought
“You—married—Jeff Ironside! I don’t believe it!”
She clenched her hands tightly to still her agitation. “But it’s true,” she said.
“Doris!” he said.
She nodded vehemently, keeping her eyes on his. “It’s true,” she said again.
He straightened himself up with the instinctive movement of a man bracing himself to meet a sudden strain. “But why? How? I didn’t even know you knew the man.”
She nodded again. “He helped me once when I was out cubbing, and I went to his house. After that—when he heard that I had nothing to live on—he came and asked me if I would marry him. And I was very miserable because nobody wanted me. So I said ‘Yes.’”
Her voice sank. Her lips were quivering.
“I wanted you,” Hugh said.
She was silent.
He bent slowly towards her, looking into her eyes. “My dear, didn’t you really know—didn’t you understand?”
She shook her head; her eyes were suddenly full of tears. “No, Hugh.”
He held out his hand again and took hers. “Don’t cry, Doris! You haven’t lost much. I shall get over it somehow. I know you never cared for me.”
She bent her head with some murmured words he could not catch.
He leaned nearer. “What, dear, what? You never did, did you?”
He waited for her answer, and at last through tears it came. “I’ve been struggling so hard, so hard, to keep myself from caring.”
He was silent a moment, and again it was as if he were collecting his strength for that which had to be endured. Then slowly: “You thought I wasn’t in earnest?” he said. “You thought I didn’t care enough?”
She did not answer him in words; her silence was enough.
“God forgive me!” whispered Hugh....
There came the thud of horses’ hoofs upon the grass, and his hand relinquished hers. He turned to see Jeff Ironside barely ten paces away, leading the two animals. Very pale but wholly collected, Hugh moved to meet him.
“I have just been hearing about your marriage, Ironside,” he said. “May I congratulate you?”
Jeff’s eyes, with the red sunlight turning them to a ruddy brown, met his with absolute directness as he made brief response. “You are very kind.”
“Doris and I are old friends,” said Hugh.
“Yes, I know,” said Jeff.
Spasmodically Doris turned and joined the two men. “We hope Mr. Chesyl will come and see us sometimes, don’t we, Jeff?” she said.
“Certainly,” said Jeff, “when he has nothing better to do.”
She turned to Hugh with a bright little smile. Her tears were wholly gone, and he marvelled. “I hope that will be often, Hugh,” she said.
“Thank you,” Hugh said gravely. “Thank you very much.” He added, after a moment, to Jeff: “I shall probably be down here a good deal now. The squire is beginning to feel his age. In fact, he wants me to make my home with him. I don’t propose to do that entirely, but I can’t leave him alone for long at a time.”