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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

The Duchess of Portsmouth knows me


sup;" he said. "I have all ready: and not one word till you are done."

He took me through into a little dining-room that was opposite the closet; and here was all that a hungry man might desire of cold meats and wine. He had had it set out, he told me ever since five o'clock (for I had sent to tell him I would be there that night).

While I ate he would say nothing at all of the business on hand; but talked only of France and what I had done there. He told me the King was very greatly pleased; and there were rewards if I wished them--or even a title, though he was not sure of what kind, for I was a very young man.

"He vows you have done a thousand times more than the Duchess of Portsmouth in all her time. But I would recommend you to take nothing. It will not be forgotten, you may be sure. If you took anything now, it would make you known, and ruin half your work. If you will take my advice, Mr. Mallock, you will tell the King, Bye and bye; and have a peerage when the time comes."

Now of course these thoughts had crossed my mind too: but it was more to hear them from a man like this. I nodded at him but said nothing, feigning that my mouth was full; for indeed I did not quite know what to say. I need not say that the thought of my Cousin Dorothy came to me again very forcibly. At least I should have shewn her what I could do.

justify;">When I was quite done, Mr. Chiffinch carried me back to the parlour; and there, having locked the door, he told me what was wanted of me.

When he had done, I looked at him in astonishment. "You are as sure as that?" I said.

"We are sure, beyond the very leastest doubt, that at last there is a plot to kill the King. There are rumours and rumours. Well, these are of the right kind. And we are convinced that my Lord Shaftesbury is behind it, and my Lord Essex, and Mr. Sidney; and who else we do not know. My men whom I sent to spy out how Monmouth was received in the country, tell me the same. But the trouble is that we have no proof at all; and cannot lay a finger on them. And there is only that way, that I told you of, to find it out."

"That I should mix with them--feign to be one of them!" said I.

The man threw out his hands.

"Mr. Mallock," he said, "I told the King you were too nice for it. He said on the contrary that he was sure you would do it; that it was not a matter of niceness, but of plot against counterplot."

"A pretty simile!" I said with some irony; for I confess I did not like the idea; though I was far from sure I would not do it in the end.

"'If one army is besieging a castle or town,' said he, 'and mines beneath the ground after nightfall secretly, is it underhand action to do the same, and to countermine them?' But I said I was not sure what you would think of it. You see, Mr. Mallock, I scarcely know a single person who unites the qualities that you do. We must have a gentleman, or he would never be accepted by them; and he must be a shrewd man too. Well, I will not say we have no shrewd gentlemen: but what shrewd gentlemen have we, think you, who are not perfectly known--and their politics?"

"The Duchess of Portsmouth knows me," said I, beginning to hesitate.

"But she does not know one word of this affair; nor will they tell her. She is far too loyal for that."

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