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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Or even the plain Lord Malmaison


"First,"

said he, "he is Lord High Admiral again. I count that very rash. We are Protestants, we English, you know; and we like not a Papist to be our guard-in-chief."

"You will have to put up with a Papist as a King, some day," said I.

"Why I suppose so--though I would not have been so sure two years ago. But a King is another matter from an High Admiral."

"Well; what else has he done?" I asked.

"He hath been readmitted to the Council, in the very face of the Test Act too. But it is how he bears himself and speaks that is the worst of all. He carries himself and his religion as openly as he can; and does all that is in His power to relieve the Papists of disabilities. That is very courageous, I know; but it is not very shrewd. God knows where he will stop if once he is on the throne. I think he will not be there long."

I said nothing; for indeed my instructions were on those very points; and I knew them all as well as Chiffinch, and, I think, better.

He spoke, presently, of myself.

"As for you, Mr. Mallock, I need not tell you how high you are in favour here. _Si monumentum requiris, circumspice_"; and he waved his hands at the rich rooms.

"His Majesty is very good," I said.

"His

Majesty hath a peerage for you, if you want it. He said he had made too many grocers and lickspittles into knights, to make you one."

I cannot deny that to hear that news pleased me. Yet even then I hesitated.

"Mr. Chiffinch," said I at last, "if you mean what you say, I have something to answer to that."

"Well?" said he.

"Let me have one year more of obscurity. I may be able to do much more that way. In one year from now I shall be married, as I told you. Well, when I have a wife she must come to town, and make acquaintances; and so I shall be known in any case. Let me have it then, if I want it--as a wedding gift; so that she shall come as My Lady. And I will do what I can then, in His Majesty's service, more publicly."

"What if His Majesty is dead before that?" said he, regarding me closely.

"Then we will go without," said I.

He nodded; and said no more.

* * * * *

It was strange to lie down that night in a great room, with four posts and all their hangings about me, with my Lord Peterborough's arms emblazoned on the ceiling; and to know that it was indeed I, Roger Mallock, who lay there, with a man within call; and a coronet, if I would have it, within reach. It was not till then, I think, that I understood how swift had been my rise; for here was I, but just twenty-seven years old, and in England but the better part of six years. Yet, even then, more than half my thoughts were of Dolly, and of how she would look in a peeress' robes. I even determined what my title should be--taken from my French estates in the village of Malmaison, in Normandy, so foolish and trifling are a man's thoughts at such a time. One thing, however, I resolved; and that was to say nothing at all of all this either to Dolly or her father. It should be a wedding gift to the one, and a consolation to the other; for dearly would my Cousin Tom love to speak of his son-in-law the Viscount, or even the plain Lord Malmaison. As for His Majesty's death before another year, I thought nothing of that; for what young man of twenty-seven years of age thinks ever that anyone will die? Even should he die too--which I prayed God might not be yet!--there was His Royal Highness to follow; and I had served him, all things considered, pretty near as well as his brother.


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