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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Chiffinch's closet that I was made known to him


then, I lay in thought, hearing a fountain play somewhere without my windows, and the rustle of the wind in the limes that stood along the Privy Garden. I heard midnight strike from the Clock-Tower at the further end of the palace, before I slept; and presently after the cry of the watchman that "all was well, and a fair night."


It was not until the third day after my coming to town that I had audience of the Duke--in the evening after supper, having bidden good-bye that morning, with a very heavy heart, to my cousins, at Aldgate, whither I had escorted them. I had promised Dolly I would come when I could; but God knew when that would be!

Even by then, I think, I had become accustomed to my new surroundings. I had made no friends indeed, for that was expressly contrary to my desires, since a man on secret service must be very slow to do so; but I had made a number of acquaintances even in that short time, and had renewed some others. I had had a word or two with Sir George Jeffreys, now a long time Lord Chief Justice, in Scroggs' old place; and found him a very brilliant kind of man, of an extraordinary handsomeness, and no less extraordinary power--not at all brutal in manner, as I had thought, but liker to a very bright sword, at once sharp and heavy: and sharp and heavy indeed men found him when they looked at him from the

dock. It was in Mr. Chiffinch's closet that I was made known to him. I had spoken too with my Lord Halifax--another brilliant fellow, very satirical and witty, for which the King loved him, though all the world guessed, and the King, I think knew, that his opposition to our cause was so hot as even to keep him in correspondence with the Duke of Monmouth, safe away in Holland. At least that was the talk in the coffee-houses. He, like the Lord Keeper North, hated a Papist like the Devil, and all his ways and wishes. He said of my Lord Rochester, now made president of the Council--a post of immense dignity and no power at all--that "he was kicked upstairs," which was a very precise description of the matter.

* * * * *

I was taken straight through into the Duke's private closet, where he awaited me; and, by the rarest chance His Majesty was just about to take his leave, and they had me in before he was gone.

I was very deeply shocked by His Majesty's appearance. He was standing below a pair of candles when I came in, and his face was all in shadow; but when, after I had saluted the two, he moved out presently, I could see how fallen his face was, and how heavily lined. Since it was evening too, and he had not shaved since morning I could see a little frostiness, as it were, upon his chin. He dyed his eyebrows and moustaches, I suppose, for these were as black as ever. His melancholy eyes had a twinkle in them, as he looked at me.

"Well," said he, "so here is our hero back again--come to pay his respects to the rising sun, I suppose." (But he said it very pleasantly, without any irony.)

"Why, Sir," said I, "I have always understood that there is neither rising nor setting with England's sun; but that it is always in mid-heaven. The King never dies; and the King can do no wrong."

(Such was the manner in which we spoke at Court in those days--very foolish and bombastic, no doubt.)

"Hark to that, brother," said the King; "there is a pretty compliment to us both! It is to neither of us that Mr. Mallock is loyal; but to the Crown only."

"It is that which we all serve, Sir," said I; "even Your Majesty."

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