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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

And Dolly and her maid followed me


I

pushed my way behind a fellow who was just in front, and got through the door, and Dolly and her maid followed me.

It was a little passage with doors on the right which I think led to the actors' rooms and the stage, for I heard talking and laughing behind; but I made nothing of that, and we went on. As we went past one of the doors it opened all of a sudden and Mrs. Lee herself came out, still in her dress and her jewels, and her face all a-daub with paint, and the blood on her arm and dress, and ran through another door further along, leaving behind her a great whiff of coarse perfume. It was but for an instant that we saw her; yet, even in that instant, a sort of horror came on me again as if she were something monstrous and ominous, though--poor woman!--I have never heard anything against her more than was said at that time against all women that were actresses--all, that is, except Mrs. Betterton. She appeared more dreadful even than in the play, or than when she had spoken those terrible words as she sat in her chair, all bloody, as she died--stabbed by the mock Friar:

--_but 'tis too late-- And Life and Love must yield to Death and Fate._

I looked at Dolly; but she was laughing, though with a kind of terror in her eyes too at that sudden apparition.

"Oh, Roger!" she said, "and now she will go and wash it all off, will

she not?"

"Yes, yes," I said. "She will wash it all off." And I looked at her, and made myself laugh too. She said nothing, but took my arm a little closer.

* * * * *

I was right about the passage, that it led out to the air, yet not into Little Russell Street, but to a little yard by which, I suppose, the players came to their rooms. The frost had fallen very sharp while we had been in the theatre; overhead the stars tingled as if they shook, beyond the chimneys, and there were little pools of ice between the stones.

I stayed an instant when we came down the three steps that led into the yard, to pull Dolly's hood more closely about her head, for it was bitter cold, and to gather up my own cloak, and, as I did this, I saw that three men had followed us out, and were coming down the steps behind us. There was no one else in the yard. There was one little oil-lamp burning near one of the two entrances to shew the players the way, I suppose.

Then, when I had arranged my cloak, I gave Dolly my arm once more, and, as I did so, heard Anne, who was behind us, suddenly give a great scream; and, at the sound, whisked about to see what was the matter.

There was a man coming at me from behind with a dagger, and the two other fellows were behind him.

* * * * *

Now I had not an instant in which to think what to do, though I knew well enough what they were and whom they were after. What I did, I did, I suppose, by a kind of instinct. I tore my arm free from Dolly's hand, pushing her behind me with my left hand, and at the same time dashed my cloak away as well as I could, to draw out my sword. The fellow was a little on my right when I was so turned about, but appeared a little confounded by my quickness, for he hesitated.


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