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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

The extraordinary kindness of Dolly to me all day


Then

it was that all my resolution came to a point; for all circumstances looked that way--my determination to speak, the blessed time of Christmas, the extraordinary kindness of Dolly to me all day, and the very place empty, yet lighted and waiting, as if by design.

For a moment after she had sat down on one side of the hearth, and I on the other, I could not speak; for I seemed to myself all shaking, and again she looked such a child, with her pale cheeks flushed with the exercise, and her eyes alight with merriment. All went before me in that moment--my old thought that I was to be a monk, my leaving the novitiate, my mission from Rome, such as it was, and the work I had been able to do for the King. To all this I must say good-bye; and yet this price I should pay seemed to me scarcely to be considered as weighed against this little maid. So it went by me like a picture, and was gone, and I looked up.

There was that in my air, I suppose, and the way I looked at her, that told her what my meaning was; for before I had spoken even a syllable she was on her feet again, and the flush was stricken from her face.

"Oh! no! Cousin Roger," she cried. "No, no, Cousin Roger!

"It is Yes, Yes, Cousin Dolly," said I. "Or at least I hope so." (I said this with more assurance than I shewed, for if I was sure of anything it was that she loved me in return. And

I stood up and leaned on the chimney-breast.)

She stood there, staring on me; and the flush crept back.

"What have I said?" she whispered.

"You need say nothing more, my dear, except what I bid you. My dear love, you have guessed just what it was that I had to say. Sit down again, if you please, Cousin, while I tell you."

As I looked at her, a very curious change came across her face. I saw it at once, but I did not think upon it till afterwards. She had been a very child just now, in her terror that I should speak--just that terror, I should suppose, that every maid must have when a man first speaks to her of love. Yet, as I looked, that terror went from her face, and her wide eyes narrowed a little as she brought down her brows, and her parted lips closed. It was, I thought, just that she had conquered herself, and set herself to hear what I had to say, before answering me as I wished. She moved very slowly back to her chair, and sat down, crossing her hands on her lap. That was all that I thought it was, so little did I know women's hearts, and least of all hers.

I remained yet a moment longer, leaning my forehead on my hand, and my hand flat upon the tapestry, staring into the red logs, and considering how to say what I had to say with the least alarm to her. I felt--though I am ashamed to say it--as it were something of condescension towards her. I knew that it was a good match for her, for had not her father drilled that into me by a hundred looks and hints? I knew that I was something considerable, and like to be more so, and that I was sacrificing a good deal for her sake. And then a kind of tenderness came over me as I thought how courageous she was, and good and simple, and I put these other thoughts away, and turned to her where she sat with the firelight on her chin and brows and hair, very rigid and still.


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