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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

And a basket of spaniels lay beneath one of the tables


It

was a great room--His Majesty's closet as it was called--which he used for such solitary life as he led; and while I was with him, and afterwards upon other occasions, I saw little by little how it was furnished. The table in the midst, at which His Majesty wrote, was all in disorder; it was piled high with papers and books, for he would do what writing or reading he cared to do by fits and starts. The walls were hung with panels of tapestry, and tall curtains of brocade hung at the windows. Between the panels were pictures hung upon the walls--three or four flower-pictures by Varelst; three pictures of horses and dogs by Hondius, and a couple of Dutch pictures by Hoogstraaten. Over the fireplace was a chimney-breast by Gibbons; and the ceiling was all a-sprawl with gods and goddesses, I suppose by Verrio. In the windows, which looked out on two sides, over the river and into a little court, were little tables covered with curious things, for His Majesty delighted in such ingenuities--Dutch figures in silver, clockwork, and the like, and a basket of spaniels lay beneath one of the tables. A second great table stood against the wall on the further side from that on which I entered, covered with retorts and instruments, and behind it a press, and near it sat the King. The floor was carpeted with rush matting, loosely woven, with rugs upon it. But of all these things I saw little or nothing at the first, for Mr. Chiffinch was gone out behind me, and I was alone with His Majesty.
One of the spaniels had given a little yelp as I came in; but disposed himself to sleep again.

Now I am not one of those who think that those who are noble by birth must always be noble by character, though I know that it should be so. I knew, too, very well that Charles was less than noble in a great number of ways. His women did what they liked with him; he would spend fortunes on those who pleased him and did him nothing but injury, and would let his faithful lovers and servants go starve. He lived always, you would say, only for the flesh and the pride of the eyes; he was careless and selfish and ungrateful; in short, he was as dissolute as a man could be, or, rather, as dissolute as a king could be, and that is much more. Yet for all this, he was a man of an extraordinary power, if he had cared to use it. It was said of him that "he could, if he would, but that he would not"; and of his brother that "he would if he could, but that he could not"; and I know no better epigram on the two than that. James was all intention without success; and Charles all success without intention. And so James at the end lived and died as a saint, though he was far from being one at this time; and Charles lived and died a sinner, though, thank God, a penitent one.

Now although I knew all this well enough, and how Charles' private life stank in the nostrils of God and man, I cannot describe how he affected me with loyalty and compassion and even a kind of love, in this little while that I had with him in private, nor how these emotions grew upon me the more that I knew him.


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