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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

You have spoken with the Duchess of Portsmouth


He

said nothing to that; but sat brooding.

His closet was a very magnificent chamber; but not so magnificent as he who sat in it. He was but just come from supper, and wore his orders on his coat; but all his dress could not distract those who looked at him from that kingly Stuart face that he had. He was, perhaps, the heaviest looking of them all, with not a tithe of Monmouth's brilliant charm, or the King's melancholy power; yet he too had the air of command and more than a touch of that strange romance which they all had. Until that blood is diluted down to nothing, I think that a Stuart will always find men to love and to die for him. But it was Stuart against Stuart this time; so who could tell with whom the victory would lie?

So I was thinking to myself, when suddenly the Duke looked up.

"Mr. Mallock," he said, "I hear that you have a very persuasive manner with both men and women. There is an exceedingly difficult commission which I wish you would execute for me. You have spoken with the Duchess of Portsmouth?"

"Never, Sir," I said. "I have seen Her Grace in the park only."

"Well; she has thrown her weight against me with the King. God knows why! But I wonder you have not met her?"

"Sir, I never go to Court, by His Majesty's wish."

"Yes,"

he said. "But Her Grace is the King's chief agent in his French affairs; and you are in them too, I hear. But that is His Majesty's way; he uses each singly, and never two together if he can help it." (This was perfectly true, and explained a good deal to me. I had heard much of the Duchess in France, but nothing at all of her from the King.)

"Well," continued the Duke, "I wish you would see her for me, Mr. Mallock; and try to get from her why she is so hot against me. She is a Catholic, as you are, and she should not be so. But she is all on fire for Monmouth and the Protestant succession; and she is all powerful with the King."

"I shall be happy to do what I can, Sir," said I, "but I do not suppose Her Grace will confide in me."

"I know that," he said, "but you may pick up something. You are the fourth I have sent on that errand, and nothing come of it."

We talked a while longer on these affairs, myself more and more astonished at the confidence given me (but I think now that it was because the Duke had so few that he could trust); and when I took my leave it was with a letter written and signed and sealed by the Duke, which I was to present at Her Grace's lodgings immediately.

The Duchess, at this time, was, I think, the most powerful figure in England; since her influence over the King was unbounded. She had come to England ten years ago as Charles' mistress, a good and simple maid in the beginning, as I believe, and of good Breton parents, who would not let her go to the French Court, yet were persuaded to let her go to the English--where, God help her! she soon ceased to be either good or simple. In the year seventy-two she was created Duchess of Portsmouth who up to that time had been the Breton woman Madame Keroual (or, as she was called in England Madam Carwell). Three years later her son had been made Duke of Richmond. At the time of the Popish Plot she had been terrified of her life, and it was only at the King's persuasion that she remained in England. I cannot say that she was popular with the people, for her coach was cried after pretty often unless she had her guards with her; and this always threw her into paroxysms of terror. Yet she remained in England, and was treated as of royal blood both by Charles who loved her, and James who feared her.


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