Wherefore? Simply and solely because Jeff, of all she knew, had wanted her.
Again that curious little tremor went through her. Had he wanted her so very badly after all? Not once since their wedding-day had he made any friendly overture or responded to any overture of hers. They were as completely strangers now as they had been on the day he had proposed to her.
A sharp little sigh came from her. She had not thought somehow that Jeff would be so difficult. He had told her that he loved her. She had counted on that for the foundation of their friendship, but no structure had she succeeded in raising thereon. He asked nothing of her, and, save for material comforts, he bestowed nothing in return. True, it was what she had bargained for. But yet it did not satisfy her. She was not at her ease with him, and she began to think she never would be.
As to Hugh, she hardly knew how to proceed; but she finally wrote him a friendly note, concurring with his suggestion that they should not meet again for a little while—“only for a little while, Hugh,” she added, almost in spite of herself, “for I can’t afford to lose a friend like you.”
And she did not guess how the heart-cry of her loneliness echoed through the words.
THE WAY TO BE HAPPY
It was not until the week before Christmas that Doris saw Hugh again. They met in the hunting-field. It was the first hunt she had attended since her marriage, and she went to it alone.
The meet was some distance away, and she arrived after the start, joining the ranks of the riders as they waited outside a copse which the hounds were drawing.
The day was chill and grey. She did not altogether know why she went, save that the loneliness at the Mill House seemed to become daily harder to bear, and the longing to escape it, if only for a few hours, was not to be denied.
She was scarcely in a sporting mood, and the sight of old acquaintances, though they greeted her kindly enough, did not tend to raise her spirits.
The terrible conviction had begun to grow upon her of late that she had committed a great mistake that no effort of hers could ever remedy, and the thought of it weighed her down perpetually night and day.
But the sight of Hugh as he came to her along the edge of the wood was a welcome one. She greeted him almost with eagerness, and the friendly grasp of his hand sent warmth to her lonely young heart.
“I am very glad to see you following the hounds,” Hugh said. “Are you alone?”
“Quite alone,” she said, feeling a lump rise in her throat.
“Then you’ll let me take care of you,” he said, with a friendly smile.
And she could but smile and thank him.
It was not a particularly satisfactory day from a fox-hunting point of view. The weather did not improve, and the scent was misleading. They found and lost, found and lost again, and a cold drizzle setting in with the afternoon effectually cooled the ardour of even the most enthusiastic.