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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

That had wished to speak to Rumbald yesterday at the inn


A

little before eleven o'clock, as I was walking in the open space between the house and the gate, I saw a fellow look in suddenly from the road, and then was away again. Every movement perturbed me, as may be imagined in such suspense; yet anything was better than ignorance, and I called out to let him see that I had observed him. So he came forward again; and I saw him to be the little carpenter, or what not, that had wished to speak to Rumbald yesterday at the inn.

He saluted me very properly.

"I beg your pardon, sir," said he, "but is Mr. Rumbald within?"

Now I had seen Mr. Rumbald, not ten minutes ago, slip back into the house from the outhouses where he had pretended to go upon some preparation or other for the reception of the assassins this evening; but he had not known that I saw him.

"He is very busy at present," said I. "Cannot I do your business for you?"

(I tried to look as if I knew more than I did.)

"Why, sir," he said, "I think not."

He seemed, I thought, in a very pitiable state. (I learned some months later that he was come down expressly to dissuade Rumbald from any attempt at that time; but I did not know that then.) Here, only, thought I, is one of the chicken-hearted ones. I determined to play upon his fears, if I could,

and at the same time, perhaps, upon his hopes.

"I think I can, however," I said. "You would be out of the business, if you could, would you not?"

He turned so white that I thought he would have fallen. I saw that my shot had told; but it was not a hard one to make.

"Hold up, man," I said. "Why, what do you suppose I am here for?"

"What business, sir?" he said. "I do not know what you mean."

I smiled; so that he could see me do it.

"Very good, then," I said. "I will leave you to Mr. Rumbald;" and I made as if I would pass on.

"Sir," he said, "can you give me any assurance?... I am terrified." And indeed he looked it; so I supposed that he thought that the attempt was indeed to be made to-day. I determined on a bold stroke.

"My man!" I said. "If you will tell me your name, and then begone at once, back to town, I will tell you something that will be of service to you. If not--" and I broke off.

He looked at me piteously. I think my air frightened him. He drew back a little from the house, though we were in a place where we could not be seen from the windows.

"My name is Keeling, sir. You will not betray me? What is it, sir?"

"Well," said I, "I can give you an assurance that what you fear will not take place. There is not a man here beyond myself and Mr. Rumbald and old Alick. Now begone at once. Stay; where do you live?"

He shook his head. A little colour had come back to his face again at the news.

"No, sir; that was not in the bargain. I will begone, sir, as you said; and thank you, sir."

He slipped back again very quickly, and was vanished. I suppose that he had ridden down in some cart all night, and that he went back in the same way, for I saw no more of him.

Well; I had gained two little points--I had kept him from Mr. Rumbald, which was one--(for I did not want my host to consult with any if I could help it)--and I had learned what perhaps was his name. This, however, I would test for myself presently.


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