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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

But I thank God I am more wilful and obstinate than you


all that was the cause of the very small offence that I committed against you myself--that of forcing my way into your lodgings. For that I offer my apologies--not for the fact, but for the manner of it. And even that apology is not very deep: I shall presently tell you why.

"The next of your offences to me was that open defiance which you shewed, and some of the words you addressed to me, both then and afterwards. You have told me I was a coward, several times, under various phrases, and twice, I think, _sans phrase_. Cousin; I am a great many things I should not be; but I do not think I am a coward; at least I have never been a coward in your presence. Again, you have told me that I was very good at bullying. For that I thank God, and gladly plead guilty. If a maid is bent on her own destruction, if nothing else will serve she must be bullied out of it. Again, I thank God that I was there to do it."

I looked at her out of the tail of my eye. Her head seemed to me to be a little hung down; but she said nothing at all.

"The third offence of yours is the intolerable discourtesy you have shewn to me all to-day--and before servants, too. I put myself to great pains to get you out of that stinking hole called Whitehall; I risked His Majesty's displeasure for the same purpose: I have been at your disposal ever since noon; and you have treated me like a dog. You will continue to

treat me so, no doubt, until we get to Hare Street; and you will do your best no doubt to provoke a quarrel between your father and myself. Well; I have no great objection to that; but I have not deserved that you should behave so. I have done nothing, ever since I have known you, but try to serve you--" (my voice rose a little; for I was truly moved, and far more than my words shewed)--"You first treated me like a friend; then, when you would not have me as a lover, I went away, and I stayed away. Then, when you would not have me as a lover, and I would not have you as my friend, I became, I think I may fairly say, your defender; and all that you do in return--"

Then, without any mistake at all, I caught the sound of a sob; and all my pompous eloquence dropped from me like a cloak. My anger was long since gone, though I had feigned it had not. To be alone with her there, enclosed in the darkness as in a little room--her horse and mine nodding their heads together, and myself holding her bridle--all this, and the silence round us, and my own heart, very near bursting, broke me down.

"Oh! Dolly," I cried. "Why are you so bitter with me? You know that I have never thought ill of you for an instant. You know I have done nothing but try to serve you--I have bullied you? Yes: I have; and I would do the same a thousand times again in the same cause. You are wilful and obstinate; but I thank God I am more wilful and obstinate than you. I am sick of this fencing and diplomacy and irony. You know what I am--I am not at all the fine gentleman that leaned his head on the chimney-breast--that was make-believe and foolishness. I am a bully and a brute--you have told me so--"

"Oh!" wailed Dolly suddenly--no longer pretending; and I caught the note in her voice for which I had been waiting. I dropped the lantern; the horses plunged violently at the flare and the crash; but I cared nothing for that. I dragged furiously on the bridle; and as the horses swung together, I caught her round the shoulders, and kissed her fiercely on the cheek. She clung to me, weeping.

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