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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Rein your horse back ten yards


I

leapt off, and stood by the mounting-block to help her. Again it was as if I were not there. She jerked her head to the man.

"Help me," she said.

He was in a quandary, for he could not leave the horse's head.

"I am very sorry, Dolly," said I, "but you will have to put up for me for once. Come."

She gave a look of despair round about; but there was no help.

"It is on the stroke of noon," I said.

She submitted; but it was with the worst grace I have ever seen. She accepted my ministrations; but it was as if I were a machine: not one word did she speak, good or bad.

By the time that she was mounted, her maid was up too, and the bags disposed.

"Come," I said again; and mounted my own horse.

As we rode out through the great gate, the Clock Tower beat the hour of noon.

* * * * *

I am weary of saying that my journeys were strange; but, certainly, this was another of them.

* * * * *

Through the narrow streets I made no attempt to ride beside her. In the van went three of my men;

then rode I; then, about ten yards behind, came Dolly and her maid. Then came two pack-horses, led by a fellow who controlled them both; and my fourth man closed the dismal cavalcade. So we went through the streets--all the way down the Strand and into the City, wheeled to the left, and so out by Bishopsgate. It was a clear kind of day, without rain: but the clouds hung low, and I thought it would rain before nightfall. I intended to do the whole journey in a day; so as to be at Hare Street before midnight at least. A night on the way, and Dolly's company at supper, all alone with me, or even with her maid, appeared to me too formidable to face.

When we were out in the country, I reined my horse in. I saw a change pass over Dolly's face; then it became like stone.

"We have a long ride, for one day," said I.

She made no answer. My anger rose a little.

"My Cousin," I said, "I had the honour to speak to you."

"I do not wish to have the dishonour of answering you," said Dolly.

It was a weakness on her part to answer at all; but I suppose she could not resist the repartee.

"A very neat hit," I said. "Must all our conversation run upon these lines?"

She made no answer at all.

"Anne," I said, "rein your horse back ten yards."

"Anne," said Dolly, "ride precisely where you are."

"Very good," said I. "I have no objection to your maid hearing what I have to say. I thought it would be you that would object."

"Anne," said Dolly, "did you pack the sarcenet?"

"Yes, mistress."

"Then tell me again the tale that you were--"

I broke in with such fury that even Dolly ceased.

"My Cousin," I said, "I have a louder voice than either of you; and I shall use it, if you do not listen, so that the whole countryside shall hear. I have to say this--that some time or another to-day I have to have a private conversation with you. It is for you to choose the time and place. If you give me no opportunity now, I shall make it myself, later. Will you hear what I have to say now?"


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