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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

And he tore himself free again


I

took him by the lapel of his coat to make him attend to me; for his eyes were wandering back like a mule's, at every sound behind.

"See here," said I. "If His Majesty is ill, it is time to send for a priest. I tell you--"

"Priest!" snapped the page in a whisper. "What the devil--"

I shook him gently by his coat.

"Mr. Chiffinch; I will have the truth. Is the King dying?"

"No, he is not then!" he whispered angrily. "Hark--"

He tore himself free, darted back to the further door, and stood there, at the foot of the stairs, with his head lowered, listening. Even from where I was I could hear a gentle sort of sound as of moaning or very heavy breathing, and then a sharp whisper or two; and then the noise of something trickling into a basin. Presently all was quiet again; and the page lifted his head. I stood where I was; for I know how it is with men in a sudden anxiety: they will snap and snarl, and then all at once turn confidential. I was not disappointed.

After he had waited a moment or two he came towards me once more.

"Mr. Mallock," he whispered, "the King needs no priest. He is not so ill as that; and he is unconscious too at present."

"Tell me," I said.

justify;">Again he glanced behind him; but there was no further sound. He came a little nearer.

"His Majesty was taken with a fit soon after he awakened. Mr. King was here, by good fortune, and blooded him at once. Now they are blooding him again. Her Majesty hath been sent for."

"He is not dying? You will swear that to me?"

He nodded: and again he appeared to listen. I took him by his button again.

"Mr. Chiffinch," said I, "you must attend to me. This is the very thing I have waited for. If there is any imminent danger you must send for a priest. You promise me that?"

He shook his head violently: so I tried another attack.

"Well," I said, "then you will allow me to remain here? Is the Duke come?"

"Not yet," said he. "Ailesbury is gone for him."

"Well--I may remain then?"

There came a knock on the inner side of the further door; and he tore himself free again. But I was after him, and seized him once more.

"I may remain?"

"Yes, yes," he snapped, "as you will! Let me go, sir." He whisked himself out of my hold, and went swiftly up the stairs and through the door, shutting it behind him, giving me but the smallest glimpse of a vast candle-lit room and men's heads all together and the curtains of a great bed near the door. But I was content: I had got my way.

* * * * *

As I walked up and down the antechamber, very softly, on tip-toe, it appeared to me that I was, as it were, two persons in one. On the one side there was the conviction and the determination that, come what would, I must get a priest to the King if he took a turn at all for the worse--since, for the present, I believed Mr. Chiffinch's word that His Majesty was not actually dying. (This was not at all what the physicians thought at that time; but I did not know that.) This conviction, I suppose, had always been with me that it was for this that in God's Providence I had been sent to England; at least, seven in the moment that I had left my house and run down the gallery, there it was, all full-formed and mature. As to how it was to be done I had no idea at all; yet that it would be done I had no doubt. On the other side, however, every faculty of observation that I had, was alert and tight-stretched. I remember the very pattern of the carpet I walked on; the pictures on the walls; and the carving on the presses. Above all I remember the little door in the corner of the chamber--the third; and how I opened it, and peeped down the winding staircase that led from it. (I did not know then what part that little door and winding staircase was to play in my great design!) Now and again I looked out of the single window at the river beneath in the early morning sunshine; now I paced the floor again. It seemed to me that I had found a very pretty post of observation, as this appeared a very private little room, and that I should not be troubled here. The great anterooms, I knew, where the company would be, must lie on the further side of the bedchamber.


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