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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Rumbald was all for despatching me then and there


But

I sighed a little.

"Well," said I; "and where is Keeling?"

"I have been expecting him this last ten minutes," said he.

Even as he spoke, a knock came upon the door. The page cried to come in; and there entered, first a servant holding the door, and then the little joiner himself, flushed in his face, I supposed with the excitement. He was dressed in his Sunday clothes, rather ill-fitting. He did not know me, I think, for he made no movement of surprise. I caught Mr. Chiffinch's look of inquiry, and nodded very slightly.

"Well, sir," began the page in a very severe tone, "so you have made up your mind to evade the charge of misprision of treason--that, at the least!"

"Yes, sir," said the man in a very timid way. (He must have heard that phrase pretty often lately.)

"Well; and you have found your other witness?"

"Yes, sir; my own brother, sir."

"Ah! Was he too in this detestable affair?"

"No, sir."

"Well, then; how do you bring him in?"

"Sir," said the man, seeming to recover himself a little, "I put my brother in a secret place; and then caused him to overhear a conversation between myself and another."

style="text-align: justify;">"Very pretty! very pretty!" cried the page. "And who was this other?"

"Sir; it was a Mr. Goodenough--under-sheriff once of--"

I could not restrain a start; for I had not thought Mr. Goodenough, the friend of my Lord Essex, to be so deep in the affair as this. Keeling saw me start, I suppose; for he looked at me, and himself showed sudden agitation.

"Good evening, Keeling," said I. "We have had a little conversation once before."

"Oh! for God's sake, gentlemen! for God's sake! I am already within an inch of my life."

"I know you are," said Mr. Chiffinch severely, "and you will be nearer even than that, if you do not speak the whole truth."

"Sir; it is not that I mean," cried the man, in a very panic of terror. "Rumbald hath been--"

"Eh? What is that?" said Mr. Chiffinch.

"Rumbald, sir, the old Colonel, of the Rye--"

"God, man! We know all about Rumbald," said the page contemptuously. "What hath he been at now?"

"Sir; he and some of the others caught me but yesterday. They had heard some tale of my having been to Mr. Secretary, and--"

"And you swore you had not, I suppose," snarled the other.

"Sir; what could I do? Rumbald was all for despatching me then and there. They caught me at Wapping. I prayed them for God's love not to believe such things: I entreated: I wept--"

"I'll be bound you did," said Mr. Chiffinch. "Well? And what then?"

"Sir! they let me go again."

"They did? The damned fools!" cried Chiffinch.

I was astonished at his vehemence. But, like his master, if there was one thing that the page could not bear, it was a fool. I made him a little sign.


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