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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Mallock He went up the steps before me


The

chamber was empty; but immediately after I had entered--first knocking, and getting no answer--who should come through, his face all distorted with sorrow, but Mr. Chiffinch himself! There was but one candle on the table, but by its light, I saw how it was with him.

I went up immediately, and took him by the arms; he stared at me like a terrified child.

"My friend," said I, "I must have no further delay. You must take me to His Majesty."

He shook his head violently; but he could not speak. As for me, all my resolution rose up as never before.

I gripped him tighter.

"I ask but five minutes," I said. "But that I must have!"

"I--I cannot," said he, very low.

I let go of him, and went straight towards the steps that led up into His Majesty's room. As I reached the foot of them, he had seized my arm from behind.

"Where are you going?" he whispered sharply. "That is the way to the King's room."

I turned and looked at him.

"Yes," I said very slowly, "I know that."

"Well--well, you cannot," he stammered.

"Then you must take me," I said.

He

still stared at me as if either he or I were mad. Then, of a sudden his face changed; and he nodded. I could see how distraught he was, and unsettled.

"I will take you," he whispered, "I will take you, Mr. Mallock. For God's sake, Mr. Mallock--"

He went up the steps before me, in his soft shoes; and I went after, as quietly as I could. As he put his hand on the handle he turned again.

"For Christ's sake!" he whispered in a terrible soft voice. "For Christ's sake! It must be but five minutes. I am sent to fetch the Bishops, Mr. Mallock."

He opened the door a little, and peered in. I could see nothing, so dark was the chamber within--but the candles at the further end and a few faces far away. A great curtain, as a wall, shut off all view to my left.

"Quick, Mr. Mallock," he whispered, turning back to me. "This side of the bed is clear. Go in quick; he is turned on this side. I will fetch you out this way again."

He was his own man again, swift and prompt and steady. As for me, the beating of my heart made me near sick. Then I felt myself pushed within the chamber; and heard the door close softly behind me.

* * * * *

At first I could see nothing on this side, as I had been staring over the candle just now, except a group of persons at the further end of the great room, and among them the white of a Bishop's rochet; and the candlelight and firelight on the roof. The clocks were all chiming four as I came in, and drowned, I suppose, the sounds of my coming.

Then, almost immediately I saw that the curtains were drawn back on this side of the great bed that stood in this end of the room, and that they were partly drawn forward on the other side, so as to shroud from the candlelight him who lay within them, and beneath the Royal Arms of England emblazoned on the state.


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