By the time Jeff returned to announce that the rain had ceased and the cart was waiting, there were not many of his private affairs of the knowledge of which Doris had not been placed in possession.
She was smiling a little to herself over the old woman’s garrulous confidences when he entered, and it was evident that he caught the smile, for he looked from her to his housekeeper with a touch of sharpness.
Granny Grimshaw hastened to efface herself with apologetic promptitude, and retired to the scullery to wash up.
Doris turned at once to her host. “Will you take me over the mill some day?” she asked.
He looked momentarily surprised at the suggestion, and then in a second he smiled. “Of course. When will you come?”
“On Sunday?” she ventured.
“It won’t be working then.”
“No. But other days you are busy.”
Jeff dropped upon his knees again in front of her, and turned his attention to brushing the worst of the mud from her skirt. He attacked it with extreme vigour, his smooth lips firmly shut.
At the end of nearly a minute he paused. “I shan’t be too busy for that any day,” he said.
“Not really?” Doris sounded a little doubtful.
He looked at her, and somehow his brown eyes made her lower her own. They held a mastery, a confidence, that embarrassed her subtly and quite inexplicably.
“Come any time,” he said, “except market-day. Mrs. Grimshaw will always know where I am to be found, and will send me word.”
She nodded. “I shall come one morning then. I will ride round, shall I?”
He returned to his task, faintly smiling. “Don’t take any five-barred gates on your way!” he said.
“No, I shan’t do that again,” she promised. “Five-barred gates have their drawbacks.”
“As well as their advantages,” said Jeff Ironside enigmatically.
“Master Jeff!” The kitchen door opened with a nervous creak and a wrinkled brown face, encircled by the frills of a muslin nightcap, peered cautiously in. “Are you asleep, my dear?” asked Granny Grimshaw with tender solicitude.
He was sitting at the table with his elbows upon it and his head in his hands. She saw the smoke curling upwards from his pipe, and rightly deduced from this that he was not asleep.
She came forward, candle in hand. “Master Jeff, you’ll pardon me, I’m sure. But it’s getting so late—nigh upon twelve o’clock. You won’t be getting anything of a night’s rest if you don’t go to bed.”
Jeff raised his head. His eyes, sombre with thought, met hers. “Is it late?” he said abstractedly.
“And you such an early riser,” said Granny Grimshaw.
She went across to the fire and began to rake it out, he watching her in silence, still with that sombre look in his dark eyes.