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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

But Rumbald waved his hand at them sharply


"Yes,"

I said. "I had your message."

He nodded. Then he came a little closer, looking at me with his fierce eyes.

"You understand what is forward?"

"I understand enough," said I.

"That is very good then. We will ride at once."

As we came out, a couple of men--one of them I noticed in particular, dressed as a workman--(I set him down for a carpenter or some such thing)--made as though they would speak to us; but Rumbald waved his hand at them sharply, as if to hold them off. I could see that he was displeased. I said nothing, but I marked the man closely: he was a little fellow, that looked ill. Mr. Rumbald's horse was already there; and mine was being held still by the ostler into whose hands I had given him. We mounted without another word; and rode away.

I think we did not speak one word at all till we were out from town. Such was his mood, and such therefore I imitated. He rode like a soldier, sitting easily and squarely in his saddle; and the more I observed him and thought of him, the less I liked my business. It was wonderful how some emotion had driven up the power that lay in him. All that genial hail-fellow manner was gone completely.

When we were clear of town he spoke at last.

"This is a very grave

business, sir," he said. "We had best not speak of it till we are home. Have you no servants?"

He spoke so naturally of my servants that I saw he was astonished I had none. I had very little time to think what I should answer; it appeared to me that I had best be open.

"Yes," I said. "My man is gone on to Hoddesdon to await me there. I thought it was best he should not ride with us."

He looked at me with a peculiar expression that I could not understand; but only for an instant. Then he nodded, and turned his stern face again over his horse's ears.

My moods were very various as I rode on. Now I felt as a sheep being led to the slaughter; now as an adventurer on a quest; and, again, of a sudden there would sweep over me a great anxiety as to His Majesty's safety. The thought of Dolly, too, came upon me continually and affected me now in this way, now in that. Now I longed to be free and safe back at Hare Street; now I knew that I could never look her in the face again if I evaded my plain duty. One thing I can say, however, from my heart, and that is that never for an instant did I seriously consider any evasion. It was all in the course that I had chosen--to "serve the King." Well; I must do so now, wherever it led me. What, however, greatly added to the horror of my position was that I knew that this strong fellow at my side thought me to be a traitor to himself and was using that knowledge only for his own ends. He would surely be ruthless if he found I had served my turn; and here was I, riding to his house, and only two men in the world knew whither I was gone.

Rumbald had already dined; and thought not at all of me. We drew rein therefore, nowhere; but rode straight on, through village and country alike--now ambling for a little, once or twice cantering, and then walking again when the way had holes in it. So we passed through Totteridge and Barnet and Enfield Chase and Wood Green, and came at last to Broxbourne where the roads forked, and we turned down to the right. It was terrible that ride--all in silence; once or twice I had attempted a general observation; but he answered so shortly that I tried no more; and I am not ashamed to say that I committed myself again and again to the tuition of Our Lady of Good Counsel whose picture I had venerated in Rome. Indeed, it was counsel that I needed.


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