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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Chiffinch advanced a step nearer


Chiffinch said nothing to me as we went. I think he himself was fully convinced of my innocence--at least of any deliberate treachery--but not so convinced that others would be; and that he was considering how he should put my case. It was a sad humiliation for me--this trudging along like a schoolboy going to be whipped, with a couple of guards following to see that I did not evade it.

We went straight upstairs, through the antechamber, and to the door of the private closet. I heard voices talking there--one of which cried to come in as the page knocked. Then we entered.

I had thought to find His Majesty alone, or very nearly so; and I was astonished and disconcerted at the number of persons that were there. The King himself was seated beyond his great table, with the rest standing about him, five in number. On his right was Sir George Jeffreys in his rich suit, just as he had come from some entertainment, his handsome face flushed with wine, yet none the less full of wit and attention. The officer of the Green Cloth was on the other side--(it was this gentleman's business to deal with all cases, within his jurisdiction, that took their rise in Whitehall itself); and a couple of magistrates beside him, with neither of whom I had any acquaintance. An officer, whose face again was new to me--named Colonel Hoskyns--a truculent-looking fellow, in the dress of His Majesty's Lifeguards, stood very upright beside

Sir George Jeffreys, with his hat in his hand. A sheaf of papers lay before the King on the table.

I was even more disconcerted to see how His Majesty looked. An hour or two ago he had been smiling and gracious: now he wore a very stern look on his face; he made no sign of recognition as I came in after Mr. Chiffinch, but, so soon as the door was shut, spoke immediately to the page.

"Well?" he said. "What have you got from him?"

Chiffinch advanced a step nearer, glancing at the faces that all looked on him.

"Sir," he said, "I am convinced there has been nothing more than an indiscretion--"

Then the King shewed how angry he was. He threw himself back in his chair.

"Bah!" he cried--"an indiscretion indeed! With his guilt staring him in the face!"

There was a murmur from the others: and Colonel Hoskyns gave me a look of very high disdain, as if I had been a toad or a serpent. For myself I said nothing: I remained with my eyes down. Once or twice before I had seen His Majesty in this very mood. For the most part he was the least suspicious man I had ever encountered; but once his suspicion was awake there was none harder to persuade. So he had been with His Grace of Monmouth on two or three occasions; so, it appeared, he was to be with me now.

"Sir," said Mr. Chiffinch again, "I have examined Mr. Mallock very closely: but I have told him very little. Will Your Majesty allow him to hear what the case is against him?"

The King, who was frowning and pursing his lips, raised his eyes; and immediately I dropped my own. He was in a black mood indeed, and all the blacker for his past kindness to me.

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