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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Atkins wheeled round full upon me


said he, "I could spend all night in this chamber with such music; but I must not keep Mistress Dorothy from her sleep another moment."

He kissed her fingers with the greatest grace, and then bowed by the door as she went out.

* * * * *

When we had taken them to the great guest-room that was as large, very nearly, as the Great Chamber, and over it, and bidden them good-night, my Cousin Tom remembered that we had forgotten to ask Mr. Morton at what time he must ride in the morning; so I went back again to ask.

I stayed at the door for one instant after knocking, for it seemed they had not heard me; and in that little interval I heard the Duke's voice within, very distinct.

"A damned pretty wench," he cried. "We must--"

And at that I opened the door and went in, my jealousy suddenly flaming up again, so that I lost my wits.

They stared at me in astonishment. The Duke already was stripped to his shirt by one of the beds.

"I beg your pardon, Sir," I said. "But at what hour will Your Grace have the horses?"

Mr. Atkins wheeled round full upon me; and the Duke's mouth opened a little. Then the Duke burst into a fit of laughter.

justify;">"By God, sir!" he said. "You have detected us. How long have you known it?"

"From the moment Your Grace took off your hat," I said.

He laughed again, highly and merrily.

"Well; no harm is done," he said. "We took other names to make matters easier for all. You have told Mr. Jermyn?"

"No, sir," I said.

"I beg of you not to do so," he said. "It will spoil all. Nor Mistress Dorothy. It is far easier to do without ceremony now and again."

I bowed again; but I said nothing.

"Then you may as well know," said the Duke, "that Mr. Atkins is none other than my Lord of Essex. We have been at Newmarket together."

I bowed to my lord, and he to me.

"Well--the horses," said Monmouth. "At eight o'clock, if you please."

I said nothing to Tom, for I was very uncertain what to do; and though I was mad with anger at what I had heard the Duke say as I waited at the door--(though now I cannot say that there was any great harm in the words themselves)--I still kept my wits enough to know that I was too angry to judge fairly. I lay awake a long time that night, turning from side to side after that I had heard the wet clothes of our guests carried downstairs to be dried by morning before the fire. It was all a mighty innocent matter, so far as it had gone; but I would not see that. I told myself that a man of the Duke's quality should not come to a little country-house under an _alias_, even if he had been bogged ten times over; that he should not make pretty speeches to a country maid and kiss her fingers, and hold open the door for her, even though all these things or some of them were just what I had done myself. Frankly, I understand now that no harm was meant; that every word the Duke had said was true, and that it was but natural for him to try to please all across whom he came; but I would not see it at the time.

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