A whiff of delicious scent determined him. “Madam,” he said, without looking in her face, which, indeed, was not visible—so great was the darkness, “it is useless to pursue one who not only has the greatest veneration for women but regards you as a public danger at a time when all the energies of the country should be devoted to the defeat of our common enemies.”
The woman, uttering a sound like a laugh, edged towards him, and Mr. Lavender edged away, so that they proceeded up the street crabwise, with Blink adhering jealously to her master’s heels.
“Do you know,” said Mr. Lavender, with all the delicacy in his power, “how terribly subversive of the national effort it is to employ your beauty and your grace to snare and slacken the sinews of our glorious youth? The mystery of a woman’s glance in times like these should be used solely to beckon our heroes on to death in the field. But you, madam, than whom no one indeed has a more mysterious glance, have turned it to ends which, in the words of a great public man, profane the temple of our—our——”
Mr. Lavender stopped, for his delicacy would not allow him even in so vital a cause to call bodies bodies. The woman here edged so close that he bolted across her in affright, and began to slant back towards the opposite side of the street.
“Madam,” he said, “you must have perceived by now that I am, alas! not privileged by age to be one of the defenders of my country; and though I am prepared to yield to you, if by so doing I can save some young hero from his fate, I wish you to clearly understand that only my sense of duty as a public man would induce me to do any such thing.” At this he turned his eyes dreadfully upon her graceful form still sidling towards him, and, conscious again of that delightful scent, felt a swooning sensation which made him lean against a lamp-post. “Spare me, madam,” he said in a faint voice, “for my country’s sake I am ready to do anything, but I must tell you that I worship another of your sex from afar, and if you are a woman you will not seek to make me besmirch that adoration or imperil my chivalry.”
So saying, he threw his arms round the lamppost and closed his eyes, expecting every moment to be drawn away against his will into a life of vice.
A well-known voice, strangled to the pitch almost of inaudibility, said in his ear:
“Oh, Don Pickwixote, Don Pickwixote, you will be the death of me!”