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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Sheppard himself opened the door to me


Sheppard himself opened the door to me, and appeared a little confused, looking over his shoulder into the entrance-hall where two or three gentlemen were just going into the great parlour on the left. I could have sworn that one of them was the Duke, from the way he carried himself. With him was another whom I thought I knew, but he was not familiar to me. I appeared to notice nothing, but beat off the mud from my boots.

"Mr. Mallock," said Mr. Sheppard, "they are not yet all come; and two or three who are here have a little private business on another matter first. Will you wait a little in another room?"

I assented immediately; and he took me through the hall into another little parlour behind that in which the company was assembled.

"It will not be more than ten minutes," he said. "I will come for you myself when they are done."

When he was gone again I observed the room. It had but one window, which was shuttered; but it had two doors--the one by which I was come in, and another, beyond the hearth, leading to the great parlour. This door was closed.

Now it was of the greatest importance that I should hear what was passing in the next room. I should learn more in five words spoken there then, than in five hours when they were playing a part to me; and I had no scruple whatever, considering what they were

at, and how they were using me, in learning by any means that were in my power what I wished to know. Even from where I stood I could hear the murmur of talk; and it was probable, it seemed to me, that if I laid my ear on the panel of the door I should hear every word of it. But first I pulled out a chair and set it by the table, with my hat and cane beside it. Then I went to the door into the hall, which opened, fortunately, with its hinge nearer to the hearth--(so that a man entering would not see immediately into that part of the room in which I should be)--and beneath the door I slipped a little sliver of wood from the wood-basket by the hearth, so that the door would stick a little. Having done that I went on tip-toe to the other door and put my ear to the panel. But I feared they would not say anything very significant, with me so close.

Now it was a little while before I could distinguish which voice belonged to what man. I got the Duke's at once; there was a lordly kind of ring in it that could never be forgotten; and I got presently my Lord Grey's voice; and then one with a drawl in it which I had never heard before; and then one that had no special characteristic, but was a little slow. These were the four whom I heard speak, besides Mr. Sheppard once. The conversation I heard was somewhat as follows. I set it all down on my way home.

The Duke said: "I am very pleased indeed that you are come after all, my Lord. We understand by that you have put aside all suspicions; and that is an encouragement."

The slow voice said; "I would do anything in my power, your Grace, which was not against my conscience, to help on that cause of which you have spoken; but I must confess--"

My Lord Grey said, sharply: "There, there! we understand, and are very glad of it. The thing can be arranged without any treason at all, or any injury to a soul. It is merely a demonstration--no more, upon my honour."

The drawling voice said: "No more will be needed. His Grace and we two went round everywhere. They are not like soldiers at all; they are remiss in everything."

The Duke said: "You see, my Lord, it is exactly as I said. God knows we would not injure a soul. I well know your Lordship's high principles."

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