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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

I was in one of the antechambers at the time


* * * * *

The gallery and the antechambers had some fine furniture in them, pushed against the walls that the crowd might circulate; but all was not near so fine as the Duchess of Portsmouth's apartments, nor even as the King's. The cressets, I saw, most of them, were of brass, not silver; the brocades, which were Portuguese, were a little faded here and there; and there was not near the show of gold and silver plate that I had expected. But of all the sights there, I think Her Majesty was the most melancholy. She was dressed very splendid; and her skirt was so stiff with bullion that it scarce fell in folds at all. Her pearls were magnificent, but too many of them; for her _coiffure_ was full of them. She resembled, to my mind, a sorrowful child dressed up for a play. Her complexion was very dark and faded, though her features were well-formed, all except her mouth. She was a little like a very pretty monkey, if such a thing can be conceived. She sat under her state, with an empty chair beside her--very upright, with the Countess of Suffolk and her other ladies round about her and behind her. She appeared altogether ill at ease, and eyed continually down the length of the gallery along which His Majesty would come, if indeed he came at all; for he had a way of sending a sudden message that he could not; and all the world knew where he would be instead.

To-night, however, he kept

his word and came.

I was in one of the antechambers at the time, talking to a couple of gentlemen and to one of the Queen's Portuguese chaplains who knew a little Italian, when I heard the music playing, and ran out in time to see him go past from the way that led from his own lodgings. He seemed in a very merry mood this evening, and was smiling as he walked, very fast, as usual. He was in a dark yellow and gold brocade that set off the darkness of his complexion wonderful well, and a dark brown periwig with his hat upon it; and he wore his Garter and Star. The crowd closed in behind his gentlemen so that I could not get near him; and when I came up he was on his chair by Her Majesty, and she smiling and tremulous with happiness, and the Moors coming up one by one to kiss his hand.

I could not hear very well what the interpreter was saying, when all this was done; but I heard him speak of a gift of thirty ostriches that this Moorish mission had brought as a gift to him.

His Majesty laughed loud when he heard that.

"I can send nothing more proper back again," said he, "than a flock of geese. I have enough and to spare of them."

Then, when all about were laughing, he turned very solemn. "You had best not tell them that," he said; "or they might take some of my friends away with them in mistake."

(This was pretty fooling; but it scarce struck me as suited to the dignity of the occasion.)

Presently the interpreter was saying how consumed with loyal envy were these Moors at all the splendour that they saw about them.


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