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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

And truly my accents were piteous


I

made a little despairing gesture with my hands.

"Well, madam--if you do not accept facts--"

"Why do you think the Duke of York is so sure to succeed?" she asked sharply; and I saw that I had touched her.

"Madam," I said, "we English are a very curious people. It is true that we cut off His late Majesty's head; but it is also true that we welcomed back his son with acclamation. We are not quick and logical as is your own glorious nation; we have very much more sentimentality; and, among those matters that we are sentimental about, is that of Royalty. I dare wager a good deal that if government by Monarchy goes in either of our countries, it will go in Your Grace's fatherland first. We abuse those in high places, and we disobey them, and we talk against them; yet we cling to them.

"And there is a second reason--" I went on rapidly; for she was at the point of speaking--"We are a highly respectable nation, with all the prejudices of respectability; and one of these prejudices concerns His Grace of Monmouth's parentage"--(I saw her flare scarlet at that; but I knew what I was doing)--"It is a foolish Pharisaic sort of prejudice, no doubt, madam; but it is there; and I do not believe--"

She could bear no more; for her own son had precisely that bar sinister also; and in her anger she said what I wished to hear.

style="text-align: justify;">"This is intolerable, sir," she flared at me, gripping the arms of her chair. "I do not wish to hear any more about your stupid English nation. It is because they are stupid that I do what I do. They can be led by the nose, like your stupid king: I can do what I will--"

"Madam," I entreated, and truly my accents were piteous, "I beg of you not to speak like that. I am a servant of His Majesty's--I cannot hear such talk--"

I rose from my chair.

Now in that Court there was more tittle-tattle, I think, than in any place on God's earth; and she knew that well enough; and understood that she had said something which unless she prevented it, would go straight to Charles' ears. It is true that she ruled him absolutely; but he kicked under her yoke a little now and then; and if there were one thing that he would not brook it was to be called stupid. She let go of the arms of her chair, and went a little white. I think she had no idea till then that I was in the King's service.

"I said nothing--" she murmured.

I stood regarding her; and I think my manner must have been good.

"I said nothing that should be repeated," she added, a little louder.

I still kept silence.

"You will not repeat it, Mr. Mallock?"

"Madam," I said, "I have only one desire: and that is to serve His Majesty and His Majesty's lawful heir. My mouth can be sealed absolutely, if that end is served."

I said that very slowly and deliberately.

I saw her breathe a little more freely. It was a piteous sight to see a woman so depending upon such things as a complexion, and whiffs of scandal, and servants' gossip.

"Mr. Mallock," she said, "I cannot veer round all in a moment, even though I must confess that what you have said to me, has touched me very closely."

She looked at me miserably.

"Madam," I said, for I dared not grasp at more than this, for fear of losing all, "that has wiped out your words as if they had never been spoken."


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