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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Mallock does not seem to perceive


"It

was in cypher," said I, "and I could not read it."

"Then why did you preserve it so carefully, sir?" asked the Colonel angrily, speaking direct to me for the first time.

"I preserved it because it might be of interest, seeing from whom I received it."

"You preserved it then, because it might be of interest; and you did not hand it over because it might not," sneered the Colonel.

"Come! come!" said the King sharply. "We must have a better answer than that, Mr. Mallock."

Then my heart blazed at the injustice.

"Sir," I said, "I am telling the naked truth. If I were a liar and a knave I could make up a very plausible tale, no doubt. But I am not. The naked truth is that I preserved the paper for what it might contain; and then--"

I paused then; for I saw plainly what a very poor defence I had.

"And then--" sneered the Colonel softly.

"If you must have the truth," I said, "I forgot all about it."

Well; it was as I thought. Sir George Jeffreys threw back his head and laughed aloud--(he was a man of extraordinary freedom with the King)--a great grin appeared on the Colonel's face; and His Majesty, as I saw in the shadow beneath his hat, smiled

bitterly, showing his white teeth. Even the magistrates chuckled together.

"Ah, sir," said Jeffreys, "for a clever man that is truly a little dull. You might have done better than that."

Then desperation seized me; and I flung all prudence to the winds.

"I thought you wanted the truth," said I. "I will lie if you drive me much further. Go on, sir," I cried to Hoskyns. "Let us have the rest."

The King stared at me, and his face was terrible.

"A word more like that in my presence, sir--"

"Sir," I cried, "I mean no disrespect. But I am hard put to it--"

"You are indeed," said Jeffreys. "Go on, Colonel Hoskyns."

The Colonel sniffled through his nose, lifting his papers once more.

"The next main charge against Mr. Mallock is even more grave. It is to the effect that when His Majesty and His Royal Highness were together at Newmarket, Mr. Mallock, knowing that there was a plot against their lives--of which the Rye was the centre--despatched a messenger to His Majesty bidding him come immediately, by the road that leads past the Rye, instead of directing him by Royston."

At that monstrous charge my spirit almost went from me. That it should be this thing, above all others that should be brought against me! I glanced this way and that; and saw how even Chiffinch, who had fallen back a little as I advanced, was looking askance at me!

"That is perfectly true," I said. "What of it?"

"Mr. Mallock does not seem to perceive," snarled the Colonel, "that the fact itself is enough. It is true that no harm came of it; but Mr. Mallock will scarcely deny that an armed man stood by him, waiting for the coach."

"Armed with a cleaver," said I, "which he presently flung at my head."

"So Mr. Mallock says," observed the Colonel.

"You say I am a liar?" I cried.

The King struck suddenly upon the table.

"Silence, sir!" he said. "Mr. Chiffinch, you told me before that you had something to say. You had best say it now."


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