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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Mallock's servant from Hoddesdon


He

believed, of course, that I was lying; and so I was, but not as he thought. He believed that he had gained his point; and the relief of that thought melted him. He believed, that is, that I should presently make an excuse to get hold of my servant and send him off to delay the King's coming. Then, I suppose, he saw the one flaw in his design; and he strove, very pitifully, to put it right.

"One more thing, Mr. Mallock," said he, "this is not the only party that waits for him. There is another on the Royston road, among the downs near Barkway. They will catch him whichever way he comes."

I nodded.

"I had supposed so," I said; for I did not wish to confuse him further.

"Well," said he, "why I have sent for you is that you may help me here. There may be more guards with the King than we think for. It may come to a fight; and even a siege here--if they come this way. We must be ready to defend this place for a little."

It was, indeed, pitiful to see how poor he was as an actor. His sternness was all gone, or very nearly: he babbled freely and drunkenly--walking up and down the chamber, like a restless beast. He told me point after point that he need not--even their very code--how "swan-quills" and "goose-quills" and "crow-quills" stood for blunderbusses and muskets and pistols; and "sand and ink" for powder and

balls. It was, as I say, pitiful to see him, now that his anxiety was over, and he had me, as he thought, in his toils. It was a very strange nature that he had altogether;--this old Cromwellian and Puritan--and I am not sure to this day whether he were not in good faith in his murderous designs. I thought of these things, even at this moment; and wondered what he would do if he knew the truth.

At supper he fell silent again, and even morose; and I think it possible he may have had some suspicions of me; for he suspected everyone, I think. But he brightened wonderfully when I said with a very innocent air that I would like my servant to be fetched, and that I would give him his instructions and send him back to London, for that I did not wish to embroil him in this matter.

"Why, certainly, Mr. Mallock," he said, "it is what I wish. I trust you utterly, as you see. You shall see him where you will."

He turned to his old man who came in at that instant, and bade him fetch Mr. Mallock's servant from Hoddesdon. I described him to Alick, and scribbled a note that would bring him. Then we fell to the same kind of talking again.

* * * * *

It was eight o'clock, pretty well, by the time that James came to the Rye. I had determined to see him out of doors where none could hear us; and before eight I was walking up and down in the dark between the gate and the house, talking to my host. When the two men came through the gate, Rumbald was very particular to leave me immediately, that I might, as he thought, send my man to Newmarket to put off the King's coming; and have no interruption.

"I will leave you," said he. "You shall see how much I trust you."

I waited till he was gone in and the door shut. Then I took James apart into a little walled garden that I had noticed as I came in, where we could not by any chance be overheard. Even then too I spoke in a very small whisper.

"James," said I, "go back to Hoddesdon; and get a fresh horse. Leave all luggage behind and ride as light as you can, for you must go straight to Newmarket; and be there before six o'clock, at any cost. Go straight to the King's lodgings, and ask for any of Mr. Chiffinch's men that are there, whom you know. Do you know of any who are there?"


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