Doris was silent. Her slim, white-clad figure was bent to the task of bringing the punt to a pleasant anchorage in an inviting hollow in the grassy shore. Hugh Chesyl clasped his hands behind his head and watched her with placid admiration.
The small brown hands were very capable. They knew exactly what to do, and did it with precision. When they had finally secured the punt, with him in it, to the bank he sat up.
“Are we going to have tea here? What a charming spot! Sweetly romantic, isn’t it? I wonder why you particularly want to be a farmer’s wife?”
Doris’s pointed chin still looked slightly scornful. “You wouldn’t wonder if you took the trouble to reflect, Mr. Chesyl,” she said.
He laughed easily. “Oh, don’t ask me to do that! You know what a sluggish brain mine is. I can quite understand your not wanting to marry me, but why you should want to marry a farmer—like Jeff Ironside—I cannot see.”
“Who is Jeff Ironside?” she demanded.
“He’s the chap who owns this property. Didn’t you know? A frightfully energetic person; prosperous, too, for a wonder. But an absolute tinker, my dear. I shouldn’t marry him—all his fair acres notwithstanding—if I were you. I don’t think the county would approve.”
Doris snapped her fingers with supreme contempt. “That for the county! What a snob you are!”
“Am I?” said Hugh. “I didn’t know.”
She nodded severely. “Do you mind moving your legs? I want to get at the tea-basket.”
“Don’t mention it!” he said accommodatingly. “Are you going to give me tea now? How nice! You are looking awfully pretty to-day, do you know? I can’t think how you do it. There isn’t a feature in your face worth mentioning, but, notwithstanding, you make an entrancing whole.”
Doris sternly repressed a smile. “Please don’t take the trouble to be complimentary.”
Hugh groaned. “There’s no pleasing you. And still you haven’t let me into the secret as to why you want to be a farmer’s wife.”
Doris was unpacking the tea-things energetically. “You never understand anything without being told,” she said. “Don’t you know that I positively hate the life I live now?”
“I can quite believe it,” said Hugh Chesyl. “But, if you will allow me to say so, I think your remedy would be worse than the disease. Your utmost ingenuity will fail to persuade me that the life of a farmer’s wife would suit you.”
“I should like the simplicity of it,” she maintained.
“And getting up at five in the morning to make the butter? And having a hulking brute of a husband—like Jeff Ironside—tramping into your kitchen with his muddy boots and beastly clothes (which you would have to mend) just when you had got things into good order? I can see you doing it!” Hugh Chesyl’s speech went into his easy, high-bred laugh. “You of all people—the dainty and disdainful Miss Elliot, for whom no man is good enough!”