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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

When I went up into the great antechamber


On

the Thursday morning, before I was dressed, my man brought me the _London Gazette_ that had been printed about six o'clock the evening before. The announcement as to the King's health ran as follows. (I cut out the passage then and there and put it in my diary.)

* * * * *

"At the Council Chamber, Whitehall, the 4th of February, 1684 [1685 N. S.], at five in the afternoon.

"The Lords of His Majesty's most Honourable Privy Council have thought fit, for preventing false reports, I make known that His Majesty, upon Monday morning last, was seized with a violent fit that gave great cause to fear the issue of it; but after some hours an amendment appeared, which with the blessing of God being improved by the application of proper and seasonable remedies, is now so advanced, that the physicians have this day as well as yesterday given this account to the Council, viz.--That they conceive His Majesty to be in a condition of safety, and that he will in a few days be freed from his distemper.

"JOHN NICHOLAS."

Yes, thought I, that is all very well; but what of yesterday after five o'clock, and what of this morning?

* * * * *

As I went to

His Majesty's lodgings an hour afterwards I heard the bells from the churches beginning to peal, to call the folks to give thanks; yet the faces within the Palace were very different. When I went up into the great antechamber, the physicians were just dispersing; and, by good fortune I was at hand when my Lord Keeper North questioned Sir Charles Scarburgh as he went back to His Majesty's chamber.

"Well?" said he, very short. "What do you say to-day?"

"My Lord!" said Sir Charles, "we conclude that His Majesty hath an intermittent fever."

"And what the devil of that?" asked my Lord. "Could anything be worse?"

(There was a little group round them by now; and I could see one of the Bishops listening a little way off.)

"My Lord," said the other, "at least we know now what to do."

"And what is that?" snapped my Lord who seemed in a very ill humour.

"To give the Cortex, my Lord," said Sir Charles with great dignity; for indeed the manner of my Lord was most insolent.

My Lord grunted at that.

"Peruvian Bark, my Lord," said the physician, as if speaking to a child.

Well; there was no more to be got that morning. I was in and out for a little, again in two minds as to what to do. His Royal Highness went through the antechamber at one time (to meet M. Barillon, as I saw presently, and conduct him to the King's chamber), a little before dinner, but at such a quickness, and with such sorrow in his face that I dared not speak to him. I went back to dinner; and fell asleep afterwards in my chair, so greatly was I wearied out with anxiety; and did not wake till near four o'clock. Then, thank God! I did awake; and, with all speed went again to His Majesty's lodgings; and this time, guided, I suppose, by Divine Providence, for I had no clear intention in what I did, I went up the private way, through the King's closet where I found no one, down the steps, and so into the little chamber where I had talked with Mr. Chiffinch on the first morning of His Majesty's distemper.


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