And then, to her amazement, Jeff Ironside suddenly stooped and put his arms about her. Almost before she realized his intention, and while she was still gasping her astonishment, he had lifted her and begun to move with long, easy strides over the sodden turf.
“Oh,” she said, “you—you—really you shouldn’t!”
“It’s the only thing to do,” he returned.
And somehow—perhaps because he spoke with such finality—she did not feel inclined to dispute the point. She submitted with a confused murmur of thanks.
On an old oaken settle, cushioned like a church-pew, before a generous, open fire, Doris began to forget her woes. She looked about her with interest the while she endeavoured to sip a cup of steaming milk treated with brandy that Jeff Ironside had brought her.
An old, old woman hobbled about the oak-raftered kitchen behind her while Jeff himself knelt before her and unlaced her mud-caked boots. She would have protested against his doing this had protest been of the smallest avail, but when she attempted it he only smiled a faint, grim smile and continued his task.
As he finally drew them off she thanked him in a small, shy voice. “You are very kind—much kinder than I deserve,” she said. “Do you know I’ve often thought that I ought to have come to apologize for—for ordering you off your own ground that day in the summer?”
He looked up at her as he knelt, and for the first time she heard him laugh. There was something almost boyish in his laugh. It transformed him utterly, and it had a marvellous effect upon her.
She laughed also and was instantly at her ease. She suddenly discovered that he was young in spite of his ruggedness, and she warmed to him in consequence.
“But I really was sorry,” she protested. “And I knew I ought to have told you so before. But, somehow”—she flushed under his eyes—“I hadn’t the courage. Besides, I didn’t know you.”
“It wasn’t a very serious offence, was it?” he asked.
“I should have been furious in your place,” she said.
“It takes more than that to make me angry,” said Jeff Ironside.
She put out her hand to him impulsively, the flush still in her cheeks.
“I am still perfectly furious with myself,” she told him, “whenever I think about it.”
His hand enclosed hers in an all-enveloping grasp. “Then I shouldn’t think about it any more if I were you,” he said.
“Very well, I won’t,” said Doris; adding with her own quaint air of graciousness, “and thank you for being so friendly about it.”
He released her hand somewhat abruptly and got to his feet. “How is your shoulder now? Any better?”
“Oh, yes, it’s better,” she assured him. “Only rather stiff. Now, won’t you sit down and have your breakfast? Please don’t bother about me any more; I’ve wasted quite enough of your time.”