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"But, Nick, you know I like you, awfully, even though you are good,' she whispered, her eyes filling with tears"

why I want to be a soldier, because you know how to stamp out a pest then. Do you know, Joy, I believe you like people better when they 're wicked. Do you? It 's most unfair if you do."

Joy paused reflectively over her dancing yellow cider. Nicolas was good. He would never be anything else but good. Conscientious, honest as daylight, and self-controlled, he could n't have broken any law that he did n't think worth breaking for a higher one, and he had no pity on sinners or on weaklings. He had never in his life said that he did n't mean to do what he had done.

That was it, perhaps: he had no pity. Joy could n't help liking the sinners for whom Nicolas had no pity.

"I don't think I like them because they 're bad," she explained; "only, if they 're bad, you see, it's very dreadful for them-is n't it?-and cuts them off everything that 's nice. They 're outlaws and have n't any real homes, and people don't love them; so you 're sorry for them, are n't you? Sorrier than if they 'd just been happy and good; and I suppose being sorry, Nicolas, makes you fonder of them somehow, does n't it?"

"It does n't seem quite fair to me," said Nicolas, flushing a little, "to care more for people who have made a hideous mess of things than for those who have n't."

Joy sighed a little. She could n't explain exactly what she meant. The father of the prodigal son must have

experienced the same difficulty when the righteous home-staying son objected to the fatted calf.

"If you 're noble," she said consideringly, "you 've got everything; and if you are n't noble, you 're ashamed and have n't got anything, either. It must be so awful to be ashamed."

"Knowing you 're straight is n't everything," said Nicolas, stubbornly; "a man wants more than that." He sounded somehow as if he had been very much hurt. Joy stretched her hand out to him and laid it close to his arm, on the table.

"But, Nick, you know I like you, awfully, even though you are good," she whispered, her eyes filling with tears. It was dreadful, suddenly in the midst of cider and Devonshire cream, on her birthday, to discover that Nicolas was unhappy and that she had made him unhappy, though she did n't know why.

Nicolas did not touch her hand; he took his arm off the table resolutely, and stuck his hands into his pockets, but not as if he wanted to quarrel.

"Oh, I know," he said quickly—“I know it's quite all right, old girl. I think we'd better be moving." Only it took almost five minutes before it was all right, and even then it was different.

They went to see if the horses were getting on well with their food, and crossed the stream by stepping-stones. Nicolas took her hand now, of his own accord, to help her over the stream, but dropped it quickly on the other side.

He began to tell her all about his school. It was a great compliment to Joy, for Nicolas never breathed a word of his school-life at home or to any one else. His life might have been

cut off short as he shut the garden-gate to go to the station, and only resumed when he opened it on his return for the holidays. It was very interesting, of course, but it was n't exactly what Joy wanted. She would have liked best to go back into the child world and talk about romance and Doones and things that never happened. Nicolas was making her feel grown up again, and as if she were riding Fidget high up over every one's heads.

She wanted to be a child with a free consciousness, but Nicolas would not let her be a child. He dragged her into his responsible world, where she found herself forced to be his equal, and share his difficulties and discoveries.

He was the head of his house. Prime ministers may sometimes feel important, but never as important as Nicolas. They cannot believe their mistakes to be so irretrievable, or their efforts so instinct with the very wind of fate. They are not young enough to be sure they are indispensable.

Nicolas described his house master to Joy. He was anxious that she should make no mistake about his house master, and not think he was silly about him or thought him a hero. Still, that was what he did think him.

They both wanted the same things. They wanted a house they could be proud of, not particularly a "swotter's house” (“swotting" was working hard at books, Nicolas explained), nor even a house that carried off all the school honors at games, although games were tremendously important; but a decent house, a house they could depend on, without a rotten spot.

Nicolas spoke mysteriously to Joy about a thing called "tone." Tone

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popularity, awfully good at games, did n't care a hang about "tone"; he was no end of a slacker and so clever they could n't get hold of anything against him. Yet they knew. They knew he was going through the house like poison, like rat poison, undermining its "tone," and if they could only spot him breaking any twopenny-ha'penny rule, the house master could

think if he were expelled, how awful it would be for him!"

"It would n't matter a curse about him," said Nicolas, grimly. "Rotters don't count. It would be a jolly good thing all round. You don't understand."

"I could, if you explained," cried Joy. But Nicolas shook his head; he either could n't or would n't ex

plain. He only said darkly:

"Well, I'll find him out one of these days, and then we'll see.

I'm not going to have my house mucked up because of him." Joy tried to resign herself to Nicolas's righteousness, backed by that of his house master; but her mind. clung obstinately to the lost sheep, and left the ninety and nine just persons to shift for themselves. "What 's his name, Nicolas?" she asked aloud. She remembered that Lord Tennyson had remarked "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of," and it occurred to her that the salvation of this unfortunately black sheep might be one of them.

"Its precipitous sides leaned over them dark and formidable"

sack him on the spot, and then they'd be safe again, and Nicolas could go off to Sandhurst with a quiet mind.

"But he would n't be safe," said Joy, stopping short in the precipitous downward path that looked over the Doone Valley, purple and dark and deep beneath them, "O Nicolas,

Nicolas would not like her to pray

for him, but if she knew his name, she could pray for him without Nicolas being put to the trouble of knowing anything about it.

But Nicolas said abruptly;

could possibly be. "I don't think you would ask me what I 'd mind, Nick."

He drew a quick breath before he spoke, as if what she said had either pleased him very much or hurt him very much, she was n't quite sure which.

"Oh, I could n't tell you his name, of course; that would be giving him away." "Then," he said, flushing deeply, "But I shall never meet him," Joy and keeping his eyes still carefully explained.

"You might,” replied Nicolas, and he added under his breath, "but I hope to God you never will!"

They stood now in the wildest part of the Doone Valley; its precipitous sides leaned over them dark and formidable even on a summer's day.

Joy pictured to herself the frozen winter and John Ridd flying over the mountains on his skees to rescue Lorna, starved and freezing in the valley. John Ridd was enormously big and strong and very kind except, of course, to Doones. It seemed as if very strong men had to be unkind to somebody. Joy sank down upon a patch of heather and did not want to talk or think of any one but Doones.

Nicolas lay at her feet, turning a little swath of grass into a ring. had very neat, quick fingers.


"Look here," he said after a long pause, “will you promise me something, Joy?"

"Anything?" asked Joy.

"Well, I could hardly ask you that, said Nicolas in a low voice, his eyes bent on the ring. "That would n't be fair, would it, to make you promise in the dark? I'll tell you what it is first. You won't mind my asking you, will you?"

He spoke with unaccustomed diffidence, which made Joy feel as if she were nearly a hundred years old.

"No," she said, wondering what it

turned away from her face, "if I 'm not to kiss you again, will you promise me that you won't let any one else kiss you?"

It was such a curious question that Joy kept quite still for a moment, thinking it over. It was very odd that on her fourteenth birthday kisses should assume so tremendous an importance.

"Do you mean never in the world?" she asked anxiously.

Nicolas smiled a little, a very tender smile that made him look gentler than she had ever seen him look, except when he was playing with Rosemary.

"I should like that, I'm afraid,” he said; "but I'm not going to ask it. What I want to ask is, that you won't let any one else till I get back from India. If I have any luck, I'll pass for Sandhurst this summer, spend a year there, and three in India. That will be four years, Joy. Could you, do you think, promise for four years?"

"You don't mean uncles or the boys, do you?" Joy asked conscientiously. Mother had said she was to kiss the boys; but Nicolas might be more particular even than mother.

"No, I don't mind relations," said Nicolas, with the little smile again, "only no one else. Promise?"

"I promise," said Joy, quietly.

Then Nicolas looked at her. It was a long, tender, searching look,

scrupulously unpassionate, as if he were taking her face into his heart and keeping it there forever.

The curious part of it was that though he looked away and began talking of nothing in particular directly afterward, it seemed to Joy that no matter how hard she tried after that, she could n't feel quite like a little girl again.

Nicolas had dropped the grass ring he was making, near her on the ground, and though Joy looked at it and saw that it was finished, she did not pick it up; and as for Nicolas, although he had taken such pains with it, he seemed to have forgotten all about it.

They went all over the valley, and found traces of old and crumbled houses. Nicolas remembered fresh and awful tales of robbers and revenges till it was time to go home. They talked a great deal about Lorna Doone, but Nicolas said that he preferred fair heroines himself, and that in general he thought all the girls in books were beasts.

They found the horses fresh and ready for a start, and Mrs. Palmer gave them the heartiest farewell, and wished them unitedly a long life and a future like a summer's day, and Nicolas shook hands with her and thanked her.

Then they rode off till they came to the turf, and galloped a splendid, breathless gallop again. Only Joy did n't like it so much as she had in the morning; it seemed somehow less visionary and more as if they belonged to the earth.

They arrived home exactly at five o'clock. Joy had never had to think of the time at all; she knew Nicolas would remember.

with Julia, whom Joy adored. Julia was seventeen and really grown up, but she could run like a hare and had no nonsense about her, though she was said to be the prettiest girl in Devon.

Ajax had behaved extremely well, and knew her again, or appeared to, when Joy knelt before him on the floor.

Rosemary flung her arms round Joy's neck and half strangled her with welcome.

There was a huge birthday cake, with fourteen ridiculous pink candles on it, and Nicolas put one in his pocket, because he said you never knew when a candle would n't come in handy.

It was a most successful tea party, and even after the Pennants had gone home the birthday was n't over.

Joy was to go down to dinner for the first time. It was ten o'clock before she went to bed. Maude was already asleep.

Joy had asked if Maude might n't come down to dinner, too, and when mother had said "Yes," and even father had agreed that she might if it was understood that it was n't to start a precedent, Maude said she would n't come down, after all. However, she agreed to eat Joy's dessert if it was brought up to her afterward; and she had eaten it.

Mrs. Featherstone came in when Joy was in bed, and the candle out. A big full moon like a silver lamp was climbing above the Rock and pouring light over the little bare room.

"You 're a happy girl?" Mrs. Featherstone asked as she bent over Joy. She did not usually ask such intimate personal questions.

"Yes," said Joy; "only, Mummy, I

All the other Pennants were there, don't feel exactly the way I did."

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