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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

And was staring at me like a ghost


I

kissed the loose cold fingers once again; rose up and went out on tip-toe.

CHAPTER X

Then began for me the most amazing adventure of all. My adventures had indeed been very surprising--some of them; and my last I had thought to be the greatest of all, and the most heart-breaking, in the yard of the Theatre Royal. I had thought that that had drained the last energy from me and that I had no desires left except of the peace of the cloister and death itself. Yet after my words with the King and his to me, there awakened that in me which I had thought already dead--a fierce overmastering ambition to accomplish one more task that was the greatest of them all and to get salvation to the man who had again and again flouted and neglected me, whom yet I loved as I had never yet loved any man. As I went to and fro, as I shall now relate, until I saw him again, there went with me the vision of him and of his fallen death-stricken face there in the shadow of the great bed; and there went with me too, I think, the eager presence of my own love, near as warm as in life.

"What shall we do next? What shall we do next, Dolly?" I caught myself murmuring more than once as I ran here and there; and I had almost sworn that she whispered back to me, and that her breath was in my hair.

* * * *

*

Within five minutes of my having left the King's bedchamber, I was running up the stairs to Her Grace of Portsmouth's lodgings. I had said scarce a word to Mr. Chiffinch when I came out into the little anteroom, except that I was sent on a message by His Majesty; and he stared on me as if I were mad. Then I was out again by the private way, through the closet and the rooms beyond, and down the staircase.

At the door of Her Grace's lodgings there stood a sentry who lowered his pike as I came up, to bar my way.

"Out of the way, man!" I cried at him. "I am on His Majesty's business."

He too stared on me, and faltered, lifting his pike a little. All were distraught by the news that was run like fire about the place that the King was dying, or he would never have let me through. But I was past him before he could change his mind again, and through a compile of antechambers in one of which a page started up to know my business, but I was past him as if he were no more than a shadow.

Then I was in the great gallery, where I had sat with the King and his company but four days ago.

* * * * *

It presented a very different appearance now. Then it had been all ablaze with lights and merry with laughter and music. Now it was lit by but a pair of candles over the hearth and, the glow of a dying fire. Overhead the high roof glimmered into darkness, and the gorgeous furniture was no more than dimness. I stopped short on the threshold, bewildered at the gloom, thinking that the chamber was empty; then I saw that a woman had raised herself from the great couch on which the King had lolled with his little dogs last Sunday night, and was staring at me like a ghost.


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