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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

I told you to be ready by noon


Mistress Jermyn," said the page very courteously. "We are come on a very sad errand--sad, that is, to those whom you will leave behind."

"What do you mean, sir?" asked Dolly, very fiercely. She did not give me one look, after the first.

He held out the paper to her. She took it, with fingers that shook a little, and read it through at least twice.

"Is this an insult, sir; or a very poor pleasantry?" (Her face was gone pale again.)

"It is neither, mistress. It is a very sober fact."

"This is the King's hand?" she snapped.

"It is," said Mr. Chiffinch.

"Dolly," said I, "I told you to be ready by noon; but you would not believe me. I suppose your packing is not done?"

She paid me no more attention than if I had been a chair.

"Mr. Chiffinch," said she, "you tell me, upon your honour, that this is the King's hand, and that he means what is written here?"

"I give you my honour, mistress," he said.

She tossed the paper upon the table; she went swiftly across to the further door, and opened it.

"Anne!" she said.

A voice answered her from within.

style="text-align: justify;">"Put out my riding-dress. Pack all that you can, that I shall need in the country. We have to ride at noon." She shut the door again, and turned on us--or rather, upon Mr. Chiffinch.

"Sir," she said, "you have done your errand. Perhaps you will now relieve me of your company. I shall be awaiting my cousin, Mr. Roger Mallock, as the King requires, at noon."

"Dolly--" said I.

She continued, looking through me, as through glass.

"At noon: and I trust he will not keep me waiting."

There was no more to be done. We turned and went out.

"Lord! what a termagant is your pretty cousin, Mr. Mallock!" said my companion when we were out of doors again. "You could have trusted her well enough, I think."

I was not in the mood to discuss her with him; I had other things to think of.

"Mr. Chiffinch," I said, "I am very much obliged to you; but I must be off for my own packing." And I bade him good-day.

* * * * *

When I rode into the court, five minutes before noon, a very piteous little group awaited me by the inner gate. Dolly, very white and angry, stood by the mounting-block, striving to preserve her dignity. Her maid was behind her, arguing how the bags should be disposed on the pack-horse, with the fellow who was to lead it. Dolly's own horse was not yet come; but as I rode up to salute her, he came out of an archway led by a groom.

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