Yet Doris enjoyed herself. She and Hugh ate their lunch together under some dripping trees, and they managed to make merry over it in spite of the fact that both were fairly wet through. He made her share the sherry in his flask, laughing down all protests, treating her with the absolute ease that had always characterized their friendship. It was such a day as Doris had often spent in his company, and the return to the old genial atmosphere was like the sweetness of a spring day in the midst of winter.
It was he who at length suggested the advisability of returning home. “I’m sure you ought to get back and change,” he said. “It’ll be getting dark in another hour.”
Her face fell, “I have enjoyed it,” she said regretfully.
“You’ll come again,” said Hugh. “They are meeting at Kendal’s Corner on Christmas Eve. I shall look out for you.”
She smiled. “Very well, I’ll be there. Thank you for giving me such a good time, Hugh.”
“My dear girl!” said Hugh.
They rode back together through a driving drizzle, and, as Hugh had predicted, the early dusk had fallen before they reached the mill. The roar of the water sounded indescribably desolate as they drew near, and Doris gave a sharp, involuntary shiver.
It was then that Hugh drew close to her and stretched out a hand in the growing darkness. “Doris!” he said softly.
She put her own into it swiftly, impulsively. “Oh, Hugh!” she said with a sob.
“Don’t!” said Hugh gently. “Stick to it, dear! I think you won’t be sorry in the end. I believe he’s a good chap. Give him all you can! It’s the only way to be happy.”
Her fingers tightened convulsively upon his. She spoke no word.
“Don’t, dear!” he said again very earnestly. “It’s such a mistake. Honestly, I don’t think you’ve anything to be sorry for. So don’t let yourself be faint-hearted! I know he’s not a bad sort.”
“He’s very good,” whispered Doris.
“Yes, that’s just it,” said Hugh. “So don’t be afraid of giving! You’ll never regret it. No one could help loving you, Doris. Remember that, dear, when you’re feeling down! You’re just the sweetest woman in the world, and the man who couldn’t worship you would be a hopeless fool.”
They were passing over the bridge that spanned the stream. The road was narrow, and their horses moved side by side. They went over it with hands locked.
They were nearing the house when Doris reined in. “Good-bye, dear Hugh!” she said. “You’re the truest friend any woman ever had.”
He reined in also. They stood in the deep shadow of some trees close to the gate that led into the Mill House garden. The roar of the water was all about them. They seemed to be isolated from all the world. And so Hugh Chesyl, being moved beyond his wont, lifted the hand that lay so confidingly in his, and kissed it with all reverence.