A little gleam of mutiny shone in Doris’s eyes. “My dear Jeff,” she said very decidedly. “I have told you already that I do not drink brandy. I am going to have a hot bath and change, and after that I will have some tea. But I draw the line at hot grog. So, please, take it away! Give it to Granny Grimshaw! It would do her more good.”
She smiled again suddenly and winningly with the words. After all it was absurd to be vexed over such a trifle.
But, to her amazement, Jeff’s face hardened. He stepped to her, and, as if she had been a child, took her by the shoulders, and put her down into a chair by the table.
“Doris,” he said, and his voice sounded deep and stern above her head, “I may not get much out of my bargain, but I think I may claim obedience at least. There is not enough brandy there to hurt you, and I wish you to take it.”
She stiffened at his action, as if she would actively resist; but she only became rigid under his hands.
There followed a tense and painful silence. Then without a word Doris took the cup and raised it unsteadily to her lips. In the same moment Jeff took his hands from her shoulders, straightened himself, and in silence left the room.
It was only a small episode, but it made an impression upon Doris that she was slow to forget. It was not that she resented the assertion of authority. She had the fairness to admit his right, but in a very subtle fashion it hurt her. It made her feel more than ever the hollowness of the bargain, to which he had made such grim allusion. It added, moreover, to her uneasiness, making her suspect that he was fully as dissatisfied as she. Yet, in face of the stony front he presented she could not continue to proffer her friendship. He seemed to have no use for it. He seemed, in fact, to avoid her, and the old shyness that had oppressed her in the beginning returned upon her fourfold. She admitted to herself that she was becoming afraid of the man. The very sound of his voice made her heart beat thick and hard, and each succeeding day witnessed a diminishing of her confidence.
Under these circumstances she withdrew more and more into her solitude, and it was with something like dismay that she received the news from Granny Grimshaw at the beginning of Christmas week that it was Jeff’s custom to entertain two or three of his farmer friends at supper on Christmas Eve.
“Only the menkind, my dear,” said Granny Grimshaw consolingly. “And they’re easy enough to amuse, as all the world knows. Give ’em a good feed, and they won’t give any trouble. It’s quite a job to get ready for ’em, that it is, but it’s the only bit of entertaining he does all the year round, so I don’t grudge it.”
“You must let me help you,” Doris said.
And help she did, protest notwithstanding, so that Jeff, returning from his work in the middle of the day, was surprised to find her flushed and animated in the kitchen, clad in one of Granny Grimshaw’s aprons, rolling out pastry with the ready deftness of a practised pastry-cook.