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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Whom we had long suspected of poaching

"We are all to dance to-morrow night," said Dolly.

"So that is why the floor is cleared in the Great Chamber," I said.

She nodded at me. She looked more of a child than I had ever seen her.

"Will you dance with me, Dolly?" I asked.

"Yes," she said, "but my first is with my father."

I told them presently, though it was but a melancholy tale for Christmas Eve, of my Lord Stafford's trial, and all that I had seen there; and of the supper last night in Whitehall.

"My Lord is to be beheaded in five days," I said. "We must pray for his soul. He will die as bravely as he has lived; I make no doubt."

"And you have no doubt of his innocence?" asked Cousin Tom.

I stared on him.

"Why no," I said, "nor any man, except those paid to believe his guilt."

He pressed me to tell him more of what I had seen in London; and whether I had seen the Duke of Monmouth again.

"He is in Holland," I said, "under His Majesty's displeasure. But I saw Her Grace of Portsmouth."

"Why, that is his friend, is it not?" asked Tom.

"Yes," I said, "and a poor friend to his father and the Duke of York."

* * * * *

The next night was a very merry one.

We had dined at noon as usual: and that was pretty merry too; for all the servants dined with us, and the men from the farm and their wives. It was sad to have had no mass at all; and all that we had instead of it was the sound of the bells from Hormead, from the church that had been our own a hundred and fifty years ago--which was worse than nothing. At dinner we observed the usual ceremonial, with the drinking of healths and the burning of candles; and Dolly and her father and her maid sang a grace at the beginning and end--with a carol or two afterwards that was a surprise to me. It was very homely and friendly and Christian; and I saw my man James with his arm around one of the dairymaids--which is pretty Christian too, I think. We kept it up till it was near time to get supper ready, telling of stories all the while about the fire in the old way. Some of them were poor enough; but some were good. Dick, the cow-man, whom we had long suspected of poaching, exposed himself very sadly, when the ale was in him, by relating a number of poaching tricks I had never heard before. One was of how to catch stares, or shepsters, when they fly up and down, as they do before lodging in a thicket. Then you must turn out, said Dick, a quick stare with a limed thread of three yards long, when she will fly straight to the rest, and, flocking among them, will infallibly bring down at least one or two, and perhaps five or six, all entangled in her thread. And another was how to take wild ducks. Go into the water, said he, up to the neck, with a pumpkin put over your head, and whilst the ducks come up to eat the seeds, you may take them by the legs and pull them under quietly, one by one, till they be drowned. But I would not like to do that in cold weather; and indeed it seems to me altogether like that other method by which you take larks by a-putting of salt upon their tails. I asked Dick, very serious, whether he had tried that plan; and he said he had not, but that a friend had told him of it; and the company became very merry.


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