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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Chiffinch I felt more alone than ever


"As

bad as that?" I said, laughing. (But I must confess that his gravity dismayed me a little.)

"As bad as that," he said. "You must go to His Majesty at ten."

"As I arranged," I said.

"As His Majesty arranged," said Mr. Chiffinch, rising: "and it is close upon the time."

And then he added, with the utmost gravity.

"If there is one thing His Sacred Majesty is touchy upon, it is the reputation of the ladies of the Court. I would remember that, sir, if I were you."

I observed a while ago that Pride is a good weapon if one has not Humility. So is Anger a good weapon, if one has not Patience; and I do not mean simulated Anger, but the passion itself, held in a leash, like a dog, and loosed when the time comes. Now, so great was my feeling for His Majesty, and that not only of an honest loyalty, but of a real kind of respect that I had for his person and his parts--a real fear of the very great strength of will that lay beneath his weakness--that I understood that, unless my anger was fairly near the surface, I should be beaten down when I came into his presence. So, as we went together towards his lodgings, I looked to see that my anger was there, patted it on the head so to say, and called it Good Dog: and was relieved to hear it growl softly in answer.

justify;">Plainly we were expected; because the two guards at the door stood aside as soon as they saw us, and one of them called out something to a man above. There were two more at the door itself; and we went in.

As we came in at the door of the private closet, having had no answer to our knock, His Majesty came in at the other with two dogs at his heels. He paid no attention to me at all, and barely nodded at my companion. Then he sat down to his table, and began to write; leaving us standing there like a pair of schoolboys.

Again I stroked the head of my anger. I could see the King was very seriously displeased; and that unless I could keep myself determined, he would have the best of the interview; and that I was resolved he should not have.

Suddenly he spoke, still writing.

"You can go, Chiffinch," said he. "Come back in half an hour."

He looked up for a flash and nodded; and I thought, God knows why, that he had in mind the guards outside, and that they should be within call. I knew precisely what my legal offence would be--that of brawling within the precincts of the palace; and the penalties of this I did not care to think about; for I was not sure enough what they were.

When the door closed behind Mr. Chiffinch I felt more alone than ever. I regarded the King's dark face, turned down upon his paper; his dusky ringed hand with the lace turned back; the blue-gemmed quill that he used, his great plumed hat. I looked now and again, discreetly, round the room, at the gorgeous carvings, the tall presses, the innumerable clocks, the brightly polished windows with the river flowing beneath. I felt very little and lonely. Then, in a flash, the memory came back that not fifty yards away was Dolly's little parlour, and Dolly herself; and my determination surged up once more.

Suddenly His Majesty threw down his pen.

"Mr. Mallock," he said very sternly, "there is only one excuse for you--that you were drunk last night. Do you plead that?"

He was looking straight at me with savage melancholy eyes. I dropped my own.


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