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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Chiffinch came down the stairs


I

had ventured up the stair or two that led from this room into the Bedchamber, and had, very delicately, opened the door a crack so as to hear more plainly; but I dared not look through for fear that I should be seen.

For a long while I had heard nothing but whispers; and once the yapping of a little dog, very sharp and startling, but the noise was stifled almost immediately, and the dog, I suppose, taken out at the other door. Once or twice too had come the sudden chiming of all the clocks that were in the Bedchamber.

I heard first a great groan from the bed, to which by now they had moved him from the chair, and then Ailesbury's name spoken in a very broken voice. (My own heart beat so loud when I heard that, that I could scarce listen to what followed.)

"Yes, Sir," came Ailesbury's voice; and then a broken murmur again. (He was thanking him, I heard afterwards from Mr. Chiffinch, for his affection to him, and for having caused him to be bled so promptly by Mr. King, and for having sent Chiffinch to him to bring him back from his private closet.)

Presently he grew stronger; and I could hear what he said.

"I went there," he said, "for the King's Drops.... I felt very ailing when I rose.... I walked about there; but felt no better. I nearly fell from giddiness as I came down again."

justify;">He spoke very slowly, but strongly enough; and he gave a great sigh at the end.

Presently he spoke again.

"Why, brother," he said. "So there you are."

I heard the Duke's voice answer him, but so brokenly and confusedly that I could hear no words.

"No, no," said His Majesty, "I do very well now."

* * * * *

I came down the stairs again, shaking all over. I cannot say how affected I was to hear his voice again; and I think there could scarce be a man in the place any less affected. He was a man who compelled love in an extraordinary fashion. I felt that if he died I could bear no more at all.

I was walking up and down again very softly, when the door into the Bedchamber was noiselessly pulled open, and Mr. Chiffinch came down the stairs. That dreadful look of tightness and pain was gone from his face: he was almost smiling. He nodded at me, very cheerful.

"He is better. The King's Majesty is much better," he whispered. Then his face twitched with emotion; and I saw that he was very near crying. I was not far from it myself.

CHAPTER IX

How the hours of that day went by I scarcely know at all. I went back to dine in my lodgings, and to counter-order all preparations for my going on the morrow, so soon as I knew that His Majesty was out of any immediate danger; for I could not find it in my heart to leave town until he was altogether recovered. In the afternoon, before going back to inquire how he was, I walked a good while in the court and the Privy Garden, though the day was very raw and cold.

Whitehall had been put as in a state of siege from the first moment that the King's illness was known. The gates were closed to all but those who had lodgings in the Palace, and those who were allowed special entry by His Royal Highness. The sentries everywhere were greatly augmented; both horse and foot were placed at every entrance; and the greatest strictness was observed that no letter should pass out either to His Grace of Monmouth or to the Prince of Orange: even M. Barillon had but permission to send one letter to the French King as to His Majesty's state. All this was to hinder any rising or invasion that might be made either within or without the kingdom. I was in the court when the couriers rode out with despatches to the Lords Lieutenant of the Counties with advices as to what to do should His Majesty die; and I was there too when the deputies came from the Lord Mayor and Aldermen and Lieutenants of the City to inquire for the King and to assure His Royal Highness of their loyalty and support. This was of the greatest satisfaction to the Duke; for I suppose that he did not feel very secure.


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