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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

And watching my Cousin Dolly and once


we went into supper it was the same with the Duke and her. He behaved to her with the greatest deference, yet not at all exaggerated so as to be in the least insolent. He treated her, it appeared to me, as he would have treated one of his own ladies, though there had been every excuse, especially with Cousin Tom's way of speaking to her, and the deep country we were in, if he had not noticed her at all. Mr. Atkins, as he called himself, followed suit; but said very little. Once, when the dishes had to be taken away, and Dolly rose to do it--before I could move--(my Cousin Tom, of course, sat there like a dummy)--I observed the Duke make a little movement with his eyes towards Mr. Atkins, who immediately rose up and did it for her.

The effect of all this upon me was to make me do my best in talk; but it was not very easy without betraying that I knew more of the Court than might be supposed; but the Duke outdid me every time. He listened with the greatest courtesy; and then said something a little better. I think I have never seen a man do better; but it was always so with him. Five years later he won the hearts of all the drapers in Taunton, in that terrible enterprise of his, besides ranging on his side some of the noblest blood in England. Twenty-six young maids in that town gave him a Bible and a pair of colours worked by their hands; and twenty-six young maids, it was said, went away after it in love with him. He did not prove himself very

much of a hero in the field; but from his manner in company one could never have guessed at that. He had all the bearing of a prince, and all the charm of a boy with it.

My Cousin Tom said something when supper was ending about Dolly's skill in music; and how she and her maid sang together.

"May we not hear it for ourselves?" asked the Duke.

"But you are wet, sir," said my Cousin Tom.

The Duke smiled.

"I shall not think of that, sir," he said, "if Mistress Dorothy will sing to us."

Well; so it was settled. The maid was in the kitchen, and was presently fetched; and she and Dolly sang together once or twice, though it was now after eleven o'clock. They sang Mr. Wise's "Go, perjured man," I remember, again; and then M. Grabu's "Song upon Peace." The Duke sat still in the great chair, shading his eyes from the candlelight, and watching my Cousin Dolly: and once, when my Cousin Tom broke in upon the second song with something he had just thought of to say, he put him aside with a gesture, very royal and commanding, and yet void of offence, until the song was done.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Jermyn," he said a moment afterwards, "but I have never been so entranced. What was it that you wished to say?"

As Dolly came towards him he stood up.

"Mistress Dorothy," he said, "you have given us a great deal of pleasure." And he said this with so much gravity and feeling that she flushed. It was the first evident sign she had given that he had pleased her.

"And I mean it," he went on, "when I say it is a pity you do not come to town more often. Such singing as that should have a larger audience than the two or three you have had to-night."

Dolly smiled at him.

"Thank you, sir," she said. "But I know my place better than that."

This was all a little bitter to me; for by this time a wild kind of jealousy had risen again in me which I knew to be unreasonable, and yet could not check. It was true that I myself took the greatest pains never to forget my manners; but I knew very well that novelty has a pleasantness all of its own; and the novelty of such company as this, charged with the peculiar charm of the Duke's manner, must surely, I thought, have its effect upon her.

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