Furious indignation entered her sore soul at this second discovery, and from the smiling, genial hostess she froze into a marble statue of aloofness. But tongues were loosened somewhat by that time, and her change of attitude did not apparently affect the guests.
Mr. Locke continued his aggressive course, and the brothers Chubb were emboldened to take it by turns to oppose him, while old Griggs drank deeply and smacked his lips, and young Griggs told Jeff anecdotes in an undertone which he interspersed with bold glances in the direction of his stony-faced young hostess.
The appearance of Jim Dawlish carrying a steaming bowl of punch seemed to Doris at length the signal for departure, and she rose from the table.
Jeff instantly rose at the farther end, and she divined that he had no wish to detain her. Mr. Griggs the elder, on the other hand, was loud in protest.
“We haven’t drunk your health yet, missis,” he said.
She forced herself to smile. “That is very kind of you. I am sure Jeff will return thanks for me.”
She made it evident that she had no intention of remaining, protest notwithstanding, so Mr. Griggs arose and turned to open the door, still loudly deploring her departure. Young Griggs was already there, however. He leered at her as she approached him, and it occurred to her that he was not very steady on his legs. She prepared him an icy bow, which she was in the very act of executing when he made a sudden lurch forward, and caught her round the waist. She heard him laugh with coarse mirth, and had a glimpse of the bunch of mistletoe dangling above their heads ere she fiercely pushed him from her into the passage.
The next instant Jeff was beside her, and she turned and clung to him in desperation.
“Jeff, don’t let him!” she cried.
Jeff stretched out an arm to keep the young man back. A roar of laughter rose from the remaining guests.
“Kiss her yourself then, Jeff!” cried old Griggs, hammering on the table. “You’ve got her under the mistletoe.”
“He daren’t!” said Jim Dawlish, with a wink.
“Afraid to kiss his own wife!” gibed Locke, and the Chubb brothers laughed in uproarious appreciation of the sally.
It was then that Doris became aware of a change in Jeff. The arm he had stretched out for her protection suddenly encircled her. He bent his face to hers.
“They shan’t say that!” he muttered under his breath.
She divined his intention in an instant, and a wild flame of anger shot up within her. This was how he treated her confidence! She made a swift effort to wrench herself from him, then, feeling his arm tighten to frustrate her, she struck him across the face in frantic indignation.
Again a roar of laughter arose behind them, and then very suddenly she forgot everyone in the world but Jeff, for it was as if at that blow of hers an evil spirit had taken swift possession of him. He gripped her hands with savage strength, forcing them behind her, and so holding her, with eyes that seared her soul, he kissed her passionately, violently, devouringly, on face and neck and throat, sparing her not a whit, till in an agony of helpless shame she sank powerless in his arms.