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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

How Dolly looked across the table


Presently,

even before supper came in, she had begun her questioning.

"Cousin Roger," she said--(we two were by the fire, she on a couch and I in a great chair)--"Cousin Roger, you have treated me shamefully. You have told me nothing, except that you were in trouble; and that I could have guessed for myself. I am come to town for three days--no more: my father for a long time forbade me even to do that. If he were not gone to Stortford for the horse-fair I should not be here now."

"He does not know you are come to town!" I cried.

She shook her head, like a child, and her eyes twinkled with merriment.

"He thinks I am still minding the sheep," she said. "But that is not the point. Cousin Roger, I care nothing whatever for His Majesty's affairs, nor for secret service, nor for anything else of that kind. But I care very much that you should be in trouble and not tell me what it is."

Now I had not had much time to think what I should say, if she questioned me, as I knew she would; for it would not be an easy thing to tell her that her father was at the root of my troubles and had behaved like a treacherous hound. Yet sooner or later she must be told, unless I lost heart altogether. I might soften it and soften it--pretend that her father owed a greater duty to the King than to me, and must have thought it right to do as

he had done. But she would see through it all: that I knew very well.

"Dolly," said I, very slowly, "I have not told you yet, because there was nothing in the world that you could do to help me. I have waited, thinking that matters might come straight again; but they have not. I will tell you, then, before you go home again. I promise you that. And on my side I ask you not to question me this evening. Let us have this one evening without any troubles at all."

She looked at me very earnestly for a moment without speaking; and I could see that her lightness of manner had been but put on to disguise how anxious she was. It is wonderful how a woman--in spite of her foolishness at other times--can read the heart of a man. I had said very little to her in my letters; and yet I could see now how she had suffered all the while. I had thought myself to have been alone in my unhappiness; now I understood that never for an instant had I been so; and my whole heart rose up in a kind of exultation and longing. Then she swallowed down her anxiety.

"I take you at your word, Cousin Roger," she said lightly. "I will ask no question at all."

Then Anne and my man James came in with the supper.

* * * * *

I think there is not one moment of that evening in my old lodgings that I have forgotten. As now I look back upon it it seems to me to have that kind of brightness which a garden has when a storm is coming up very quickly, and the clouds are very black, and yet the shadow has not yet reached it. I remember how the curtains hung across the windows; they were my own old curtains of blue stuff, a little faded but still rich and good; how the fire glowed in the wide chimney; how Dolly looked across the table, in her blue sac, with lace, and her wide sleeves, and her little pearls. She had dressed up, all for me, as indeed I had for her, for I was in my maroon suit, with my silver-handled sword and my black periwig. Ah! and above all I remember the very look in her eyes as she suddenly clapped her hands together. (The servants were out of the room at that instant.)


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