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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Even when Rumbald became prominent again


"A

letter, in cypher, and from Rumbald! And you thought it of no importance--even though the names of my Lord Shaftesbury and half a dozen others are written in full!"

"I tell you I forgot it," I said sullenly, for I had not looked for suspicion from this man.

He still looked at me, as if searching my face: and I suppose that I presented the very picture of an unmasked villain; for the whole affair was so surprising and unexpected that I was completely taken aback.

"Well," he said, "if you had but shewn me that paper, we could have forestalled the whole affair."

"What was in it?" I asked, striving to control myself.

"You tell me you do not know?" he asked.

Then indeed I lost control of myself. I stood up.

"Mr. Chiffinch," I said, "I see that you do not believe a word that I say. It will be best if you take me straight to those who have authority to question me."

He did not move.

"You had best sit down again, Mr. Mallock. I do not say that I do not believe you. But I will allow that I do not know what to think. You are a very shrewd man, sir; and it truly is beyond my understanding that you should have forgotten so completely this most vital matter. I wish to be your friend;

but I confess I do not understand. Oh! sit down, man!" he cried suddenly. "Do not playact with me. Just answer my questions."

I sat down again. I saw that he was sincere and that indeed he was puzzled; and my anger went.

"Well," I said, "I suppose it may be difficult. Let me tell you the whole affair."

So I told him. I related the whole of my adventure in the inn, and how I got the paper, and tried to read it, and could not: then, how I took it to Hare Street and put it where he had described: then how I very nearly had asked a Jesuit priest if he had any skill in cypher; and then how, once more, it had all slipped my mind, and that, a long time having elapsed, even when Rumbald became prominent again, even then I had not remembered it.

"That is absolutely the whole tale," I said; "and I know no more than the dead what it is all about. What is it all about, Mr. Chiffinch?"

He drew a breath and then expelled it again, and, at the same time stood up, withdrawing his eyes from my face. I think it was then for the first time that he put away his doubts; for I had got my wits back again and could talk reasonably.

"Well," he said, "we had best be off at once, and see what they say."

"Where to?" asked I.

"Why to His Majesty's lodgings," he said. "I fetched him out to tell him. Did you not see me?"

"His Majesty!" I cried.

"Why yes; I thought it best. Else it would have meant your arrest, Mr. Mallock."

* * * * *

I must confess that my uneasiness came back--(which had left me just now)--as I went with the page to the King's lodgings, more especially when I saw again how the guards fell in behind us and followed us every step of the way. It was very well to say that I "should have been arrested" if such and such a thing had not happened: the truth was, I was already under arrest, as I should soon have found if I had attempted to run away. It seemed to me somewhat portentous too that His Majesty was so ready to see us, instead of mocking at the whole tale at once.


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