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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

This priest was a very pleasant looking fellow


As

I was going down the stairs whom should I run into, coming up, but Father Huddleston, who stopped to speak with me. I did not know him very well; though I had talked with him once or twice. He was the one priest of English blood who was tolerated openly and legally in England, and who had leave to wear his habit, for his saving of the King's life after the battle of Worcester.

"So you are home again, Mr. Mallock," he said in his cheery voice.

I told him Yes; and that I was come for a good time.

"And His Majesty?" he said. "Have you seen him? He is terribly aged, is he not, this last year."

This priest was a very pleasant-looking fellow, going on for sixty years old, I would say; and, except for his dress, resembled some fine old country-squire. He wore a great brown periwig that set off his rosy face. He was not, I think, a very spiritual man, though good and conscientious, and he meddled not at all with politics or even with religion. He went his way, and let men alone, which, though not very apostolic, is at least very prudent and peaceful. He was fond of country sports, I had heard, and of the classics; and spent his time pretty equally in them both.

"Yes," said I; "the King is a year older since this time twelvemonth."

He laughed loudly.

"There

speaks the courtier," he said. "And you come from the Duke?"

I told him Yes.

"And I go to him. Well; good day to you, Mr. Mallock."

* * * * *

It was very pleasant to me, this new air in which I lived. Here was I, come from the Duke who had received me as never before, with a deference--(if the Duke's behaviour to any man could be called that)--such as he had never shewn me, being greeted too by this priest who up to this time had never manifested much interest in me, going back to my fine lodgings and my half-dozen servants. Indeed it was a great change. As I went past the sentry a minute or two later, he saluted me, and I returned it, feeling very happy that I was come to be of some consideration at last, with do much more, too, in the background of which others never dreamed.

* * * * *

I had my first audience of His Majesty a week later, and confirmed my impressions of his ageing very rapidly. He received me with extraordinary kindness; but, as to the first part of the interview, since this concerned private affairs in France, I shall give no description. It was the end only that was of general interest; and one part of it very particular, since I was able to speak my mind to him again.

He was standing looking out of the window when he said his last word on France, and kept silent a little. He stood as upright as ever, but there was an air in him as if he felt the weight of his years, though they were scarcely fifty-four in number. His hand nearest to me hung down listlessly, with the lace over it. When he spoke, he put into words the very thing that I was thinking.

"I am getting an old man, Mr. Mallock," he said, suddenly turning on me; "and I would that affairs were better settled than they are. They are better than they were--I do not dispute that--but these endless little matters distress me. Why cannot folk be at peace and charitable one with another?"

I said nothing; but I knew of what he was thinking. It was the old business of religion which so much entered into everything and distorted men's judgments: for he had just been speaking of His Grace of Monmouth.


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