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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

So soon as we were clear of Amwell


I

dined very tolerably, and lit a pipe afterwards: (my Lord told me that he used no tobacco); and presently in a kind of impatience--for indeed the position I found myself in was a little disconcerting--I observed that it was past noon.

"You are quite right," said my Lord, "quite right. I will tell them to have the horses ready. Your servants are gone on before, I think you said, Mr. Mallock?"

I told him Yes; but I wondered why he did not shout for the maid, instead of going out himself; but I understood the reason when I found presently, when we took the road, that his own men kept a full hundred yards in the rear. Evidently he had gone out to tell them to do so.

* * * * *

So soon as we were clear of Amwell, I began. There was a little wind, and the weather was moist and thick, so there was no danger of our being overheard.

"My Lord," I said, "I am very much puzzled by what I have seen."

"Eh?" said he.

"It was a very mixed company just now, in Amwell."

He frowned a little.

"Very excellent gentlemen, all of them--" I hastened to add. "But I was wondering what it was that drew them all together. I can only think of two things."

justify;">"What are they, Mr. Mallock?" asked my Lord a little eagerly.

"Religion or politics, my Lord," I said. "And I am sure that it is not the first."

He appeared to reflect; but he was not a very good actor; and I could see that it was feigned.

"Why you are very sharp, sir," he said. "You have put your finger on the very place--the very place." (And he continued with far too short a pause): "On which side are you, Mr. Mallock? For the country or for the Court?"

"That is a dangerous question to answer, my Lord," I said, very short.

"It is only dangerous for one side," said he.

I nodded, in a grave and philosophical manner. Then I sighed.

"You are quite right, my Lord."

I could see that he was glancing at me continually. Yet no explanation of his behaviour yet crossed my mind.

"Mr. Mallock," said he after a silence, "it is no good fencing about the question. I can see that you are disaffected."

"That is a very safe way to put it," I said. "Who is not--on one side or the other?"

"Yes," said he, "but you are sharp enough to know what I mean."

Again I nodded; but my mind was working like a mill; for a new thought had come to me that seemed to illumine all the rest; and yet I could not understand. The thought was this. Plainly my Lord Essex knew a good deal about me: he knew enough, that is, to begin a conversation of this kind with one whom he had only met once before--a mad proceeding altogether, if that were all he knew. _Ergo_, thought I, he must know more than that; and if he knew more he must know that I was in the service of His Majesty and presumably devoted to that service; probably, too, from the understanding between himself and Rumbald, he knew that I had chosen on previous occasions to masquerade as if I were not a gentleman. Was he quite mad then? For to talk like this to one in the confidence of His Majesty was surely a crazed proceeding! Yet my Lord Essex was not a fool.


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