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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

And my Cousin Dolly in the kitchen


next morning, very early, James and I set out for Hare Street.

* * * * *

Now the determination had been forming in my mind for some weeks past, that I would delay no longer in that which lay nearer to my heart by now, I think, than all politics or missions or anything else; and that was to ask my Cousin Dolly if she would have me or no; and all the way down to Hare Street I was considering this and rehearsing what I should say. I still had some hesitation upon the point, for I remembered how strange and shy she had been when I had last been there, and had thought it to be because perhaps she believed that she was being flung at me by her father. But the memory of my jealousy had worked upon me very much --that jealousy, I mean, that I had had when His Grace of Monmouth had come and made his pretty speeches; and I was all but resolved to put all to the test, one way or the other. I had thought of her continually: in all that I had seen--in even the sorrowful affair in Westminster Hall and the merry business a fortnight after at the supper--I had seen it, so to say, all through her eyes and wondered how she would judge of it all, and wished her there. The sting of my jealousy indeed was gone: I reproached myself for having thought ill of her even for a moment; yet the warmth was still there; and so it was in this mood that I came at last to the house, at supper-time.

justify;">It was extraordinary merry and pretty within. Neither was below stairs when I came; for my Cousin Tom was in the cellar, and my Cousin Dolly in the kitchen; and when I went into the Great Chamber it was all untenanted. But the walls were hung all over with wreaths and holly: and there were wax candles in the sconces all ready for lighting the next day. But the parlour, where were the hangings of the Knights of the Grail was even more pretty; for there were hung streamers across the ceiling, from corner to corner, and a great bunch of mistletoe united them at the centre.

As I was looking at this my Cousin Dolly ran in, her hands all over flour; and as I saw her--"Here," I said to myself, "is the place where it shall be done."

She could not touch me or kiss me, because of the flour; but she permitted me to kiss her, my cold lips against her warm cheek; and her eyes were as stars for merriment. There is something very strange and mystical about Christmas, to me--(which I think is why the Puritans were so savage against it)--for I suppose that the time in which our Lord was born as a little Child, makes children of us all, that we may understand Him better.

"Well, you are come then!" said Dolly to me--"and we not ready for you."

"I am ready enough for home," said I. And she smiled very friendly at me for that word.

"I am glad you call it that," said she.

* * * * *

There was but a little dried fish and rice for supper that night, as it was a fast day; but the supper of Christmas Eve is always a kind of sacramental for me, when midnight mass is to follow. There was no midnight mass for us that Christmas, nor any mass at all; though I suppose it was celebrated as usual in the Ambassadors' chapels, and the Queen's: yet the supper had yet that air of mystery and expectancy about it.

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