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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

And I saw my Lord Ailesbury there a young man


He

looked up sharply and merrily at Her Grace of Portsmouth as he said this.

"Well; when poor Nell and I went down to Winchester a good while ago," he went on, "what must little Ken do but refuse her a lodging! This is a man to be a Bishop, thought I. And so poor Nell had to sleep where she could."

Her Grace of Portsmouth looked very glum while this tale was told; for she hated Mrs. Nelly with all her heart. She flounced a little in her seat; and one of the dogs barked at her for it.

"First a monk and then a Duchess!" said the King. "Did you ever hear of the good man of Salisbury who put his hand into my carriage to greet me, and was bitten for his pains? 'God bless Your Majesty,' said he, 'and God damn Your Majesty's dogs!'--Eh, Fubbs?"--(for so he called the Duchess).

So he discoursed this evening, very freely indeed, and there was a number of men presently behind his couch, listening to what he said. A great deal of what he said cannot be set down here, for it was extraordinary indecent as well as profane. Yet there was a wonderful charm about his manner, and there is no denying it; and in this, I suppose, lay a great deal of the injury he did to innocent souls, for it all seemed nothing but merriment and good-humour. His quickness of conception, his pleasantness of wit, his variety of knowledge, his tales, his judgment of men--all these were

beyond anything that I have ever met in any other man.

There was silence made every now and then for the French boy to sing another song; and this singing affected me very deeply, so long as I did not look at the lad; for he was a silly-looking creature all dressed up like a doll; but he sang wonderfully clear and sweet, and one of the King's chapel-gentlemen played for him. His songs were all in French, and the substance of some of them was scarcely decent; but I had not the pain of hearing any that I had heard in Hare Street. During the singing of the last of these songs, near midnight, again that mood fell on me that all was but a painted show on a stage, and that reality was somewhere else. The great chamber was pretty hot by now, with the roaring fire and all the folks, and a kind of steam was in the air, as it had been in the theatre ten days ago; and the faces were some of them flushed and some of them pale with the heat. The Duchess of Cleveland was walking up and down before the fire, with her hands clasped as if she were restless; for she spoke scarce a word all the evening.

When the song was done the King clapped his hands to applaud and stood up; and all stood with him.

"Odd's fish!" said he, "that is a pretty boy and a pretty song." Then he gave a great yawn. "It is time to go to bed," said he.

As he said that the door from the outer gallery opened; and I saw my Lord Ailesbury there--a young man, very languid and handsome who was Gentleman of the Bed chamber this week, though his turn ended to-morrow; and behind him Sir Thomas Killigrew who was Groom--(these two slept in the King's bedchamber all night)--and two or three pages, one of them of the Backstairs. My Lord Ailesbury carried a tall silver candlestick in his hand with the candle burning in it. He bowed to His Majesty.


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