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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Because he thinks he has displeased you


A

couple of days later I received a message to say that Her Grace would receive me after supper on that same evening: so I put on my finest suit, and set out in a hired coach.

The Duchess lived at this time in lodgings at the end of the Great Gallery in Whitehall; and I think that of all the apartments I had ever set eyes on--even the royal lodgings themselves--this was the finest; and no wonder, for they had been pulled down two or three times before she was satisfied, thus fulfilling the old proverb of Setting a Beggar on Horseback. I was made to wait awhile in an outer chamber, all as if she were royal; and I examined the pieces of furniture there, and there was nothing in the Queen's own lodging to approach to them--so massy was the plate and so great and exquisitely carved the tables and chairs. When I was taken through at last by a fellow dressed in a livery like the King's own, the next room, where I was bidden to sit down, was full as fine. There was a quantity of tapestry upon the walls, of new French fabric, so resembling paintings that I had to touch before I was sure of them--of Versailles, and St. Germain, with hunting pieces and landscapes and exotic fowls. There were Japan cabinets, screens and pendule clocks, and a great quantity of plate, all of silver, as well as were the sconces that held the candles; and the ceilings were painted all over, as were His Majesty's own, I suppose by Verrio.

As

I sat there, considering what I should say to her, I heard music continually through one of the doors; and when at last it was flung open and my Lady came through, she brought, as it were, a gust of music with her.

I bowed very low, as I had been instructed, in spite of the character of the woman, and then I kneeled to kiss her hand. Then she sat down, and left me standing, like a servant.

She appeared at that time to be about thirty years old, though I think she was far beyond this; but she had a wonderfully childish face, very artfully painted and darkened by the eyes. I cannot deny, however, that she was very handsome indeed, and well set-off by her jewels and her silver-lace gown, cut very low so as to shew her dazzling skin. Her fingers too, when I kissed them, were but one mass of gems. Her first simplicity was gone, indeed.

I loathed this work that I was sent on; since it forced me to be civil to this spoiled creature, instead of, as I should have wished, naming her for what she was, to her face. However, that had been done pretty often by the mob; so I doubt if I could have told her anything she did not know already. Her voice was set very low and was a little rough; yet it was not ugly at all. She spoke in French; and so did I.

"Well, Mr. Mallock," she said, "I have company; but I did not wish to refuse another of His Royal Highness's ambassadors. What is the matter now, if you please?"

Now I knew that this kind of personage loved flattery--for it was nothing but this that had ruined her--and that it could scarcely be too thick: so I framed my first sentences in that key: for, after all, my first business was to please her.

"His Royal Highness is desolated, madam," I said, "because he thinks he has displeased you."

"Displeased me!" she cried. "Why, what talk is this of a Prince to a poor Frenchwoman?"

She smiled very unpleasantly as she said this; and nearly all the time I was with her, her eyes were running up and down my figure. I was wearing a good ring or two also, and my sword-hilt was very prettily set with diamonds; and she always had an eye for such things.


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