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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Yet his very compassionateness proved his distaste


"Why

the devil--" began Sir Charles again, still not recognizing me.

My Lord clapped him sharply on his hat, driving it over his eyes.

"He is blind now, Mr. Mallock," he said, "in every sense. You would not be angry with a blind man!"

When Sir Charles had got his hat straight again he was now angry with my Lord Dorset, and very friendly and apologetic to myself, whom I suppose he had remembered by now; so the two drove away presently, after the ladies, still disputing loudly. But I think my Lord's behaviour shewed me more than ever that I was become a person of some consequence. Yet this kind of manners, in the midst of the crowd, though it commended gentlemen as well known as were those two--to the ruder elements among the spectators, who laughed and shouted--did a great deal of harm in those days to the Court and the King, among the more serious and sober persons of the country; and it is these who, in the long run, always have the ordering of things. God knows I would not live in a puritanical country if I could help it; yet decent breeding is surely due from gentlemen.

* * * * *

A week or two later I was at a _levee_ in Her Majesty's apartments; and had a clearer sight than ever of the relations between the King and Queen.

Now His Majesty had

behaved himself very ill to the Queen; he had flaunted his mistresses everywhere, and had even compelled her to receive them; he had neglected her very grossly; yet I must say in his defence that there was one line he would not pass: he would not on any account listen to those advisers of his who from time to time had urged him to put her away by divorce, and marry a Protestant who might bear him children. Even my Lord Bishop of Salisbury, Dr. Burnet, had, thirteen or fourteen years ago given as his opinion that a barren wife might be divorced, and even that polygamy was not contrary to the New Testament! This, however, Charles had flatly refused to countenance; and, when he thought of it, now and again, shewed her a sort of compassionate kindness, in spite of his distaste for her company. Yet his very compassionateness proved his distaste.

It was on occasion of a reception by Her Majesty of some Moorish deputation or embassage from Tangier, that I was present in her apartments; and it was immediately after this, too--(so that I have good cause to remember it)--that the first completely unexpected reverse came to my fortunes.

I arrived at Her Majesty's lodgings about nine o'clock in the evening; and was pleased to see that the Yeomen of the Guard lined the staircase up to the great gallery. This was an honour which the Queen did not very often enjoy; and very fine they looked in their scarlet and gold, with their halberds, all the way up from the bottom to the top.

The Great Gallery, when I came into it, was tolerably full of people, of whom I spoke to a good number, among whom again were Sir Charles Sedley and my Lord Dorset, as usual inseparable. But I was very much astonished at the manner in which the Moors were treated, for they were seated on couches, on one side of the state under which Her Majesty sat, as if they were some kind of raree-show, set there to be looked at. They were extraordinary rich and barbaric in their appearance; and when I had kissed Her Majesty's hand, I too went and looked with the rest of the crowd who jostled all together to stare at them. They were in very gorgeous silks, and wore turbans; and their jewels were beyond anything that I had ever seen--great uncut emeralds, and red stones of which I did not know the name, and ropes of pearls. The folks about me bore themselves with an amazing insolence, regarding them as if they had been monsters, and freely making comments on them which their interpreter, at least, must have understood. The Moors themselves behaved with great dignity; and it was impossible not to reflect that these shewed a far higher degree of dignity and civilization than did my own countrymen. They were very dark-skinned, and three or four of them of a wonderful handsomeness. They sat there almost in silence, looking gravely at the crowd, and observing, I thought, with surprise the bare shoulders and bosoms of the ladies who stared and screamed as much as any. It appeared to me that these poor Moors, too, thought that the civilization lay principally upon their own side. I presently felt ashamed of myself for looking at them; and turned away.


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