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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

The young Monsignore in his purple came back again


* * * * *

I had been within the Vatican before three or four times, both when I had first come to Rome four years ago, and once as attendant upon my Lord Abbot; but never before had I felt of such importance within those walls; for this time it was myself to whom the Holy Father was to give audience, and not merely to one in whose company I was. I was in secular clothes too--the peruke, buckles, sword, and all the rest, which I had laid aside two years ago, though these were a little old and tarnished--and I bore myself as young men will (for I was only twenty-one years old at that time), with an air and a swing; though my heart beat a little faster as we passed through the great rooms, after leaving our cloaks in an antechamber and arranging our dress after the ride; and at last were bidden to sit down while the young Monsignore who had received us in the last saloon went in to know if the Holy Father were ready to see us.

It was a smaller room--this in which we sat--than the others through which we had passed, and in which the crimson liveried servants were; and its walls were all covered with hangings from cornice to floor. That which was opposite to me presented, I remember, Jacob receiving the blessing which his brother Esau should have had; and I wondered, as I sat there, whether I myself were come, as Jacob, to get a blessing to which I had no right. Idly Lord Abbot said

nothing at all; for he was a stout man and a little out of breath; and almost before he had got it again, and before I was sure as to whether I were more like to the liar Jacob, who won a blessing when he should not, or to unspiritual Esau, who lost a blessing which he should have had, the young Monsignore in his purple came back again, and, bowing so low that we saw the little tonsure on the top of his head, beckoned to us to enter.

* * * * *

By the time that, behind my Lord Abbot, I had performed the three genuflections and, at the third, was kissing the ring of our Most Holy Lord, I had already taken into my mind something of the room I was in and of him who sat there, wheeled round in his chair to greet us. The room was far more plain than I had thought to find it, though pretty rich too. The walls had sacred hangings upon them; but it was so dark with the shuttered windows that I could not make out very well what their subjects were. A dozen damask and gilt chairs stood round the walls, and three or four tables; and, in the centre of all, where I was now arrived, stood the greatest table of all, carved of some black wood, and at the middle of one side the chair in which sat the Holy Father himself.

He had very kind but very piercing eyes: this was the first thing that I thought; his hair beneath his cap, as well as his beard, was all iron-grey; his complexion was a little sallow, and seemed all the more sallow because of his red velvet cap and white soutane; (for he wore no cloak because of the heat). As soon as I had kissed his ring he bade me stand up--(speaking in Italian, as he did all through the audience)--and then beckoned me to a chair opposite to his, and my Lord Abbot to another on one side. And then at once he went on to speak of the business on which we were come--as if he knew all about it, and had no time to spend on compliments.


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