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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Sheppard shut the door behind him


The

slow voice said: "Well, your Grace, so long as that is understood--I shall be very happy to hear what the design may be."

Mr. Sheppard said: "One instant, my Lord--" Then he dropped his voice; and I saw what he was at. I slipped back as quick as I could; drew out the sliver of wood from beneath the other door, and sat down. Then I heard his footstep outside.

When he came in, I was in the chair; but I rose.

"I beg pardon for keeping you, sir," he said: "there is just that trifle of business, and no more. I am come to keep you company."

Well; I resigned myself to it with a good air; and we sat and talked there of indifferent matters, or very nearly, for at least half an hour longer. It was highly provoking to me, but it could not be helped--that I should sit there with an affair of real importance proceeding in the next room, and I placed so favourably for the hearing of it. However I had gained something, though at present I did not know how much.

Suddenly Mr. Sheppard stood up; and I heard a door open and voices in the entrance hall.

"You will excuse me, sir, an instant," he said. "I must see these gentlemen out."

I bowed to him as I stood up and put myself in such a position that I could get a good look into the hall as he went out; and

fortune favoured me, for there in the light of the pair of candles outside I caught a plain sight of the plump and rather solemn face of my Lord Russell. It was only for an instant; but that was enough; and at the same time I heard the drawling voice of someone out of sight, bidding good-night to others within the parlour. Then Mr. Sheppard shut the door behind him, and I sat down again.

Well; I had gained something; and I was beginning to repeat to myself what I had heard, for that is the best way of all to imprint it on the memory; when Mr. Sheppard came in again and invited me to follow him.

"Who was that that spoke?" I said carelessly, "as you went out just now? I can swear I know the voice."

He glanced sharply at me.

"That?" he said. "Oh! that must have been Sir Thomas Armstrong who is just gone out."

* * * * *

The parlour had no more than five men in it when we entered; and one seemed about to take his leave. That one was His Grace of Monmouth. I was a little astonished that they let me see him there, though I understood presently why it was so. He turned to me very friendly, while I was observing the two others I did not know--one of whom, Mr. Ferguson, was dressed as a minister.

"Why, Mr. Mallock," he said, "you come as I go!"

He recognized me a shade too swiftly. That shewed me that they had been speaking of me to him.

I said something civil; and then I saw that he was to say the piece they had just taught him; for that he was not sharp enough to be trusted long in the room with me.

"I hear you are all consulting," said he, "how to keep the peace. Well; I have given my counsel; and my Lord Essex here knows what I wish. I would I could stay, gentlemen; but that cannot be done."


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