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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Presently I saw my Cousin Dolly go out


were other tales too, more

grave than these, of sacrilege, and suchlike. One, which my man James told, was of a man who took an altar stone from an old church, to press cheeses with; but the cheeses ran blood; so they took it from that and put it in the laundry to bat the linen on. But at night, such a sound of batting was heard continually from the laundry--and no one there--that the man took it back again to the church, and buried it in the churchyard. And another was of two men who had thrown down a village-cross upon a bowling-green; and when one of them next day tried to move it from there, for the playing--he being a very strong man, and lifting it on end--it fell upon him, backwards, and crushed his breast, so that he never spoke again. And there were many tales told of church-lands; and how my Lord Strafford, that was beheaded, before his death told his son to get rid of them all, for that they brought a curse always upon them that held them. And there was another story told at the end by a man from the farm who had been in London at the time, and had seen it for himself--how my Lords Castlehaven and Arran, in St. James' Park, did, for a wager, kill a strong buck in His Majesty's presence, by running on foot, and each with a knife only. They took nearly three hours to do it in, but the wager was for six, so they won that. They killed him at last in Rosamund's Pond, having driven him in there with stones. I could well believe this latter tale, and that the thing had been done in the king's presence,
having seen what I had at supper two nights before.

* * * * *

When we came into the Great Chamber after supper all was ready for the dancing; and Mr. Thompson, who was the Hormead schoolmaster, and a concealed Catholic--though he went to the church with the children and did teach them their religion, for his living--was at the spinet to which we were to dance. There was a fellow also to play the fiddle, and another for a horn.

The dancing was very pretty to see; and we did a great number, beginning as the custom is, with country dances; and it was in the first of these that my Cousin Dolly did dance with her father, and I with Dolly's maid. We were all dressed too, not indeed in our best, but in our second best--with silk stockings, and the farm men and the maids were in their Sunday clothes. But each one had put on something for the occasion; one had a pair of buckled shoes of a hundred years old, and another an old ring. My Cousin Tom and I wore our own hair, and no periwigs. My Cousin Dolly was very pretty in her grey sarcenet, with her little pearls, and her hair dressed in a new fashion.

It was all very sweet to me, for it was so natural and without affectation; and it all might have been a hundred years ago before the old customs went out and the new came in from France, in which men pay dancers to dance, instead of doing it for themselves. The room was very well decked, and the candles lighted all round the walls; and when some of the greenery fell down and was trodden underfoot, the smell of it was very pleasant. A little fire was on the hearth--not great, lest we should be too hot.

We danced country dances first, as I have said; and then my Cousin Dolly shewed us one or two town dances, and I danced a sarabande in her company; but then as the rest of the folk liked the country dances the best, we went back to these.

Presently I saw my Cousin Dolly go out, and went after her to ask if she needed anything.

"No," said she, "only to get cool again."

"Come into the parlour," said I; and made her come with me. This too had a couple of candles burning over the hearth, and a little fire, for any who wished to come in; but it was empty, for even my Cousin Tom was disporting himself next door in a round dance that had but just begun.


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