“I’m coming too.”
“No,” said Jolly.
“Yes,” said Holly.
Jolly opened the door, and they all three went in. Once in the little room, they stood in a sort of triangle on three corners of the worn Turkey carpet; awkwardly upright, not looking at each other, quite incapable of seeing any humour in the situation.
Val broke the silence.
“Holly and I are engaged.”,
Jolly stepped back and leaned against the lintel of the window.
“This is our house,” he said; “I’m not going to insult you in it. But my father’s away. I’m in charge of my sister. You’ve taken advantage of me.
“I didn’t mean to,” said Val hotly.
“I think you did,” said Jolly. “If you hadn’t meant to, you’d have spoken to me, or waited for my father to come back.”
“There were reasons,” said Val.
“About my family—I’ve just told her. I wanted her to know before things happen.”
Jolly suddenly became less distinguished.
“You’re kids,” he said, “and you know you are.
“I am not a kid,” said Val.
“You are—you’re not twenty.”
“Well, what are you?”
“I am twenty,” said Jolly.
“Only just; anyway, I’m as good a man as you.”
Jolly’s face crimsoned, then clouded. Some struggle was evidently taking place in him; and Val and Holly stared at him, so clearly was that struggle marked; they could even hear him breathing. Then his face cleared up and became oddly resolute.
“We’ll see that,” he said. “I dare you to do what I’m going to do.”
Jolly smiled. “Yes,” he said, “dare you; and I know very well you won’t.”
A stab of misgiving shot through Val; this was riding very blind.
“I haven’t forgotten that you’re a fire-eater,” said Jolly slowly, “and I think that’s about all you are; or that you called me a pro-Boer.”
Val heard a gasp above the sound of his own hard breathing, and saw Holly’s face poked a little forward, very pale, with big eyes.
“Yes,” went on Jolly with a sort of smile, “we shall soon see. I’m going to join the Imperial Yeomanry, and I dare you to do the same, Mr. Val Dartie.”
Val’s head jerked on its stem. It was like a blow between the eyes, so utterly unthought of, so extreme and ugly in the midst of his dreaming; and he looked at Holly with eyes grown suddenly, touchingly haggard.
“Sit down!” said Jolly. “Take your time! Think it over well.” And he himself sat down on the arm of his grandfather’s chair.
Val did not sit down; he stood with hands thrust deep into his breeches’ pockets-hands clenched and quivering. The full awfulness of this decision one way or the other knocked at his mind with double knocks as of an angry postman. If he did not take that ‘dare’ he was disgraced in Holly’s eyes, and in the eyes of that young enemy, her brute of a brother. Yet if he took it, ah! then all would vanish—her face, her eyes, her hair, her kisses just begun!