Hugh sat upright in the punt. Who on earth was it that she was reproving thus?
The next moment he saw. A huge man with the frame of a bull rose from behind the sheaf and confronted his young companion. He had his hat in his hand, and the afternoon sun fell full upon his uncovered head, revealing a rugged, clean-shaven face that had in it a good deal of British strength and a suspicion of gipsy alertness. To Chesyl’s further amazement he did not appear in the least abashed by the encounter.
“I’m sorry I overheard you,” he said, with blunt deference. “I was half-asleep at first. Afterwards, I didn’t like to intrude.”
Doris’s grey eyes looked him up and down for a moment or two in silence, and a flush rose in her tanned face. It seemed to Hugh that she was likely to become the more embarrassed of the two, and he wondered if he ought to go to the rescue.
Then swiftly Doris collected her forces. “I suppose you know you are trespassing?” she said.
At that Hugh laid himself very suddenly down again in the bottom of the boat, and left her to fight her own battles.
The man on the bank looked down at his small assailant with a face of grim decorum. “No, I didn’t know,” he said.
“Well, you are,” said Doris. “All this ground is private property. You can see for yourself. It’s a cornfield.”
The intruder’s eyes travelled over the upstanding sheaves, passed gravely over the man in the punt, and came back to the girl. “Yes; I see,” he said stolidly.
“Then don’t you think you’d better go?” she said.
He put his hat on somewhat abruptly. “Yes. I think I had better,” he said, and with that he turned on his heel and walked away through the stubble.
“Such impertinence!” said Doris, as she stepped down the bank to her companion.
“It was rather,” said Hugh.
She looked at him somewhat sharply. “I don’t see that there is anything to laugh at,” she said.
“Don’t you?” said Hugh.
“No. Why are you laughing?”
Hugh explained. “It only struck me as being a little funny that you should order the man off his own ground in that cavalier fashion.”
“Hugh!” Genuine dismay shone in the girl’s eyes. “That wasn’t—wasn’t—”
“Jeff Ironside? Yes, it was,” said Hugh. “I wonder you have never come across him before. He works like a nigger.”
“Hugh!” Doris collapsed upon the bank in sheer horror. “I have seen him before—seen him several times. I thought he was just—a labourer—till to-day.”
“Oh, no,” said Hugh. “He’s just your hard, outdoor, wholesome farmer. Fine animal, isn’t he? Always reminds me of a prize bull.”
“How frightful!” said Doris with a gasp. “It’s the worst faux pas I have ever made.”
“Cheer up!” said Hugh consolingly. “No doubt he was flattered by the little attention. He took it very well.”