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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Chiffinch preceding me with an apology


I saw well enough what he was after. Without a doubt he had a suspicion that I was an emissary in some way from the Holy Father, or at least that I was more than I appeared to be; and being one of those men who desire to know everything, that they may understand, as the saying is, which way the cat will jump, and how to jump with her, he was determined to find out all that he could. On my side, therefore, I assumed the air of a rather stupid gentleman, to bear out better the character that I had--that I was a mere gentleman from Rome, recommended by the Catholic ambassadors; and I think that, for the time at anyrate, he took me so to be; for his manner became less inquisitive.

"We must be going to His Majesty, sir," he said presently, rising; and then he added as if by chance: "You are a Catholic, Mr. Mallock?"

"Why, yes," I said: for there was no need of any concealment on the point of my religion.

* * * * *

As we went downstairs and along the passage that led by Sir Francis Clinton's lodgings, he began to speak of how I was to behave myself to the King, and how kiss his hand and the rest. I knew very well all these things, but I listened to him as if I did not, and even put a question or two; and he answered me very graciously.

"You should be very modest with His Majesty,"

he said, "if you would please him. He likes not originals over-much; or, rather, I would say--(but it must not be repeated)--that he likes to be the only original of the company."

And when Mr. Chiffinch said that I knew that he was lying to me; for the very opposite was the truth; and I understood that he still had his suspicions of me and wished me to fail with the King. But I nodded wisely, and thanked him.

A couple of Yeomen of the Guard--of which body no man was less than six feet tall--stood at the foot of the little stairs that led up to the King's lodgings: and these made no motion to hinder the King's page and his companion. So English were they that they did not even turn their eyes as we went through, Mr. Chiffinch preceding me with an apology.

At the door on the landing of the first floor he turned to me again before he knocked.

"His Majesty will be within the second room," he said. "Will you wait, Mr. Mallock, please, in this first anteroom, and I will go through. This is a private reception by His Majesty. There will be no formalities."

He tapped upon both the doors that were one inside the other; and then led me through. The first chamber was very richly furnished, though barely. There was a long table with chairs about it; and he led me to one of these. Then with a nod or two he passed on to a second door, tapped upon it softly and went through, closing it behind him. I heard a woman's laugh as he went through, suddenly broken off.

There was, I supposed (and as I learned afterwards to be the case) one other way at least out of the King's lodgings, through his private library, where he kept all his clocks and wheels and such-like; for when, after a minute or two, the door opened again and Mr. Chiffinch beckoned me in, there was no woman with the King.

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