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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Why not say Monmouth and be done with it


can be no talk of Prince and subject, madam," I said, "when Her Grace of Portsmouth is in question."

She smiled once more; and I saw that she liked this kind of talk. So I gave her plenty of it.

"La! la!" she said. "This is very pretty talk. What is your business, sir, if you please?"

"It is what I have said, madam; and nothing else upon my honour! His Royal Highness is seriously discomposed."

"Then why does he not come to see me, and ask me himself?" snapped my Lady. "He hath not been these three months back. Why does he send a--a messenger?"

(She was on the very point of saying _servant_; and it pleased me that she had not done so. I noted also in my mind that wounded vanity was one of the reasons for her behaviour, as it usually is with a woman.)

"Madam," I said, "His Royal Highness does not come, I am sure, because he does not know how he would be received. It seems that Your Grace's favour is given to another, altogether, now."

"God bless us!" said the Duchess. "Why not say Monmouth and be done with it?"

"It is Your Grace who has named him," I said: "but the Duke of Monmouth is the very man."

She gave a great flirt to her fan; and I saw by her face what I had suspected

before, that it was not only with music that she was intoxicated. Then she jerked her pretty head.

"Sit down, sir," she said; and when I had done so, pleased at the progress I was making, she told me everything I wanted to know, though she did not think so herself.

"See here, Mr. Mallock: You appear an intelligent kind of man. Now ask yourself a question or two, and you will know all that I know myself. What kind of a chance, think you, has a Catholic as King of England, as against a Protestant; and what kind of a chance, think you, has the Duke of York beside the Duke of Monmouth? I speak freely, because from your having come on this errand, I suppose you are a man that can be trusted. I wonder you have not seen it for yourself. His Royal Highness has no tact--no _aplomb_: he sets all against him by his lordly ways. He could not make a friend of any man, to save his life: he can never forget his royalty. He sulks there in his lodgings, and will not even come to see a poor Frenchwoman. And now, sir, you know all that I know myself."

The woman's ill-breeding came out very plainly when she spoke; and I remember even then wondering that His Majesty could make so much of her. But it is often the way that men of good breeding can never see its lack in others, especially in women: or will not. However I concealed all this from Her Grace, and let go more of my courtesy.

"But, madam," I said, "with all the goodwill in the world it is Versailles to a china orange that His Royal Highness will succeed in the event. I do not say that he will make as good a King as the Duke of Monmouth, nor that his being a Catholic will be anything but a disadvantage to him; but disadvantages or no, if he is King, it is surely better to be upon his side, and help, not hinder him."

I would not have dared to say such a thing to a respectable woman; for it advised her, almost without disguise, to look to her own advantage only.

She gave me a sharp look.

"That is where we are not agreed," said she.

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