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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

And braziers and sconces and cressets beyond reckoning


Suddenly

he wheeled on me, and held out his hand.

"Well, Mr. Mallock; there is no more to be said; and I must honour you for it whatever else I do. I would that all my servants were as disinterested."

I knelt to kiss his hand. I think I could not have spoken at that moment. As I stood up, he spoke again.

"When do you leave town?" he said.

"On Tuesday, Sir."

"Well, come and see me again before you go. No, not in private: you need not fear for that. Come to-morrow night, to the _levee_ after supper."

"I will do so, Sir," said I.

* * * * *

On the following night then, which was Sunday, I presented myself for the last time, I thought, to His Majesty.

I need not say that half a dozen times since I had left him, my resolution had faltered; though, it had never broken down. I heard mass in Weld Street; and there again I wondered whether I had decided rightly, and again as I burned all my papers after dinner--(for when a man begins afresh he had best make a clean sweep of the past). I went to take the air a little, before sunset, in St. James' Park, and from a good distance saw His Majesty going to feed the ducks, with a dozen spaniels, I daresay going after

him, and a couple of gentlemen with him, but no guards at all. The King walked much more slowly that day than was his wont--I suppose because of the sore on his heel. But I did not go near enough for him to see me; for I would trouble him now no further than I need. All this time--or at least now and again--I wondered a little as to whether I was right to go. I will not deny that the prospect of remaining had a little allurement in it; but it was truly not more than a little; and as evening fell and my heart went inwards again, as hearts do when the curtains are drawn, I wondered that it had been any allurement at all: for my life lay buried in the churchyard of Hormead Parva, and I had best bury the rest of me in the place where at least I had a few friends left. After supper, about ten o'clock, I put on my cloak and went across to the Duchess of Portsmouth's lodgings, where the _levee_ was held usually on such evenings. My man James went with me to light me there.

I do not think I have seen a more splendid sight, very often, than that great gallery, when I came into it that night, passing on my way through the closet where I had once talked with Her Grace. It was all alight from end to end with candles in cressets, and on the great round table at the further end where the company was playing basset, stood tall candlesticks amidst all the gold. I had not seen this great gallery before; and it was beyond everything, and far beyond Her Majesty's own great chamber. If I had thought the closet fine, this was a thousand times more. There were great French tapestries on the walls, and between them paintings that had been once Her Majesty's, and those not the worst of them. The quantity of silver in the room astonished me: there were whole tables of it, and braziers and sconces and cressets beyond reckoning; and there were at least five or six chiming clocks that the King had given to Her Grace; and tall Japanese presses and cabinets of lacquer which she loved especially.

There was a fire of Scotch coal burning on the hearth, as in His Majesty's own bedchamber; and on a great silver couch, beside this, covered with silk tapestry, sat the King, smiling to himself, with two or three dogs beside him, and Her Grace of Portsmouth on the same couch. The Duchesses of Cleveland and Mazarin were on chairs very near the couch.


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