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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

This is Your Majesty's own conscience


"There,

sir," he said when I had done reading it. "What do you think of that?"

I shall never forget how he looked, when I lifted my eyes and regarded him. He was standing by the window, with the light on his face, and there was an extraordinary earnestness and purpose in his features. It was near incredible that this could be the man whom I had seen so careless with his ladies--so light and indolent. But there are many sides to every man, as I have learned in a very long life.

"Sir," I cried, "what am I to say? There is nothing that I can add. This is Your Majesty's own conscience, written out in ink." (I tapped the paper with my finger, still holding it.)

"Eh?" said he.

"And by conscience God judges us all," I cried. Again I stared into his eyes, and he into mine.

"Your Majesty will have to answer to this," said I, "on Judgment Day."

I could say no more, so great was my emotion; and, as I hesitated a change went over his face. His brows came down as if he were angry, but his lips twitched a little as if in humour.

"There! there!" he said. "Give me the paper, Mr. Mallock."

I gave it back to him; and he stood running his eyes down it.

"Why, this is damned good!" he murmured. "I

should have made a theologian."

And with that I knew that his mood was changed again, and that I could say no more.

CHAPTER III

I do not know which is the more strange that, when a great time of trial approaches a man, either he has some kind of a premonition that trouble is coming upon him, or that he has not. Certainly it is strange enough that some sense, of which we know nothing, should scent danger when there are no outward signs that any is near; but it appears even more strange to me that the storm should break all of a sudden without any cloud in the sky to shew its coming. It was the latter case with me; and the storm came upon me as I shall now relate.

* * * * *

It was now for the first time that I began to see something of the way the Court lived--I mean as one who was himself a part of it. I had looked on it before rather as a spectator at a show, observing the pageants pass before me, but myself, from the nature of my employment, taking no part in it from within.

A great deal that I saw was very dreadful and unchristian. Many of the persons resembled hogs and monkeys more than human beings; and a great deal of what passed for wit and merriment was nothing other than pure evil. Virtue was very little reckoned of; or, rather reckoned only as giving additional zest to its own corruption. I do not mean that there were no virtuous people at all--(there were virtuous people in Sodom and Gomorrah themselves)--but they were unusual, and were looked upon as a little freakish or mad. Yet, for all that, side by side with the evil, there went on a great deal of seemliness and religion: sermons were preached before the Court every Sunday; and His Majesty, who by his own life was greatly responsible for the wickedness around him, went to morning-prayers at least three or four times in the week; though I cannot say that his behaviour there accorded very well with the business he was engaged upon. Some blamed the Bishops and other ministers for their laxity and the flattery that they shewed to His Majesty: but I do not think that charge is a fair one; for they were very bold indeed upon occasion. Dr. Ken, who preached pretty often, was as outspoken as a preacher well could be, denouncing the sins of the Court in unmeasured language, even in His Majesty's presence: and a certain Bishop, whose name I forget, observing on one occasion during sermon-time that the King was fast asleep, turned and rebuked in a loud voice some other gentleman who was asleep too.


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