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Generally I have not been considered a very plucky man, but an event that occurred about this time almost caused me to believe in my own courageous qualities. I have since, however, in reviewing the past, come to the conclusion that it was sheer devilry, and the mad obliviousness of consequences which supervenes when an excited prick will not listen to the calmer instincts of reason.
I had run down to Folkestone for a brief holiday, and was staying at a large house on the Lees. I had taken the drawing-room floor, which consisted of the drawing-room itself, facing the sea, a large bedroom and a smaller one, which I used as a dressing-room.
An old general, who had recently come from India, and who in days gone by had been accustomed to put up with Mrs Jordan, the landlady, applied for apartments, but as there were only two rooms to let, and he had a young wife and a growing daughter, it was quite impossible to accommodate him. I learned this accidentally through the landlady's daughter, with whom I was cultivating an intimacy that I hoped would develop into something sultry eventually, and immediately offered to give up my bedroom and sleep in the dressing-room.
The general was apprised of this, and was naturally charmed with my good nature. A friendship was struck up over a weed, and the old nabob, in the course of a few days, settled down with his family, to whom he introduced me.
I did not know which to admire most. The wife. Mrs Martinet, was a petite blonde, with those lovely violet eyes which change to a grey in the sunlight, just the sort of large reflective orbs historians ascribe to that darling Scottish queen who was fonder of a fuck than any woman born since the days of Bathsheba.
The daughter, Miss Zoe Martinet, was tall and queenlike, dark with the suns of Hindustan, but with a splendid cast of countenance, which seemed to indicate that her Aryan mother had been one of the high caste women of India, who had lapsed with the gay English general when he was plain Colonel Martinet, twenty years before, and while the Grand Gordon and the Star of India were unknown to his breast.
The general was a confiding old fellow, but at sixty-eight one should not trust a wife of twenty-three with a stranger, especially when the stranger boasts a prick which, fully extended and in form, will touch the tape at eight inches.
Every day we went for long walks. General Martinet was very fond of going over to the officers' quarters at Shorncliffe, but although Eva and I were frequently left alone, her society and conversation were so intellectual and refined that I was in a dilemma how to open the ball. One day, however, as she sat on the beach sewing, the opportunity occurred.
'What a lovely child,' she said, as a little girl of some three summers toddled by with a handful of flowers for some waiting mamma.
'Yes, lovely, indeed,' I said. 'Someday or another I hope to have the pleasure of seeing one with your face and eyes, and if it should be a boy I should take a delight in him for the sake of his mother. You are very fond of children, are you not?'
'Passionately,' she murmured.
'I thought so,' I observed. 'I have often remarked the absorbing interest you appear to take in babies with their nurses on the beach. How long have you been married?'
'Three years' - this with a sigh.
'Three years, good gracious! What time you have been wasting.'
She looked down at her embroidery, and became very interested in a wrong stitch.
'It is too bad of the general,' I continued, 'much too bad. I don't think I should have allowed you to wait all this time.'
'Mr Clinton, what do you mean?'
'Do not feel angry, Eva, if you will forgive my calling you that dear name; what I mean is this: that you are a woman fond of children and, therefore, formed to be a mother, and in not obeying the voice of nature and becoming one, you are offending against the divine law which teaches one to procreate.'
'I have tried, Mr Clinton' - this in a whisper, with a deep blush - 'and have failed.'
'Say, rather,' I said, now thoroughly excited, 'the general has, and it is not your fault; but, my dear girl, every man is not verging on three score and ten, and we have not all, thank God, been desicated on the scorching plains of Hindustan.'
'Mr Clinton, do not tempt me!'
'Eva, it is your duty. If the old general were to have a son, your future would be secured. On the other hand what security have you that at the end of a few years he may not die, leaving all his fortune to his half- breed, ladylike daughter, Zoe?'
'That is very true,' she said, 'but still I don't think I could deceive him.'
Our conversation was prolonged for another half-hour, and when I retired to rest that night I had lovely visions, in which the landlady's daughter, Zoe and Eva were all mixed up higgledy-piggledy, but I had an indistinct idea when I awoke that I had not been idle during the night, for I seemed to remember performing on two of them, and it was only the cold sea-water bath that brought me to my senses, and made me lose that great lump of muscle at the bottom of my belly, till I began to believe that I should have had to pick it out with a pin - periwinkle fashion.