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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Mallock but just now come from His Majesty


that sight I ran forward and kneeled down on one knee.

"Madame," I said in French, "His Majesty hath sent me--"

At that she was up, and had me by the shoulders. Her face was ghastly, all slobbered over with crying, and her eyes sunken and her lips pale as wax. God knows what she was dressed in; for I do not.

"His Majesty," she cried, "His Majesty! He is not dead! For the love of God--"

I stood up; she still gripped me like a fury.

"No, Madame," said I, "His Majesty is not dead. He hath sent me. I spoke with him not five minutes ago. But he is very near death."

"He hath sent for me! He hath sent for me!" she screamed, as if in mingled joy and terror.

"No, Madame; but he hath sent to you. His Majesty desires you to get him a priest."

Her hands relaxed and fell to her side. I do not know what she thought. I do not judge her. But I thought that she hesitated. I fell on my knees again; and seized her hand. I would have kneeled to the Devil, if he could have helped me then.

"Madame--for the love of Christ do as the King asks! He desires a priest. For the love of Christ, Madame!"

She was still silent for an instant, staring down on me. Then

she tore her hand free, and I thought she would refuse me. But she caught me again by the shoulders.

"Stand up, sir; stand up. I--I will do whatever the King desires. But what can I do? God! there is someone coming!"

There came very plainly, through the antechambers I had just run through, the tramp of feet. I stood, as in a paralysis, not knowing what to do next. Then she seized on me again as the steps came near.

"Stand back," she said, "stand back, sir. I must see--"

There came a knocking on the door as I sprang back away from the hearth, and stood out of the firelight. Then the door opened, as Her Grace made no answer, and the page whom I had seen just now stood bowing upon the threshold.

"Madame," said he. "M. Barillon, the French ambassador--"

She made a swift gesture, and he fell back. There was a pause; and then, through the door came M. Barillon, very upright and lean, walking quickly, all alone. He stopped short when he saw Her Grace, put his heels together and bowed very low.

She was at him in an instant.

"Monsieur!" she cried. "Yon are come in the very nick of time. How is His Majesty?"

He said nothing as he walked with her towards the hearth. She stood, waiting, with her hands clasped, and a face of extraordinary anguish.

"Madame," he said, "there is very bad news. I am come on behalf of His Majesty King Louis--"

"Sh!" she hissed at him, with a quick gesture to where I stood. He had not observed me. He straightened himself, as he saw me, and then bowed a little.

The Duchess went on with extraordinary rapidity, still talking in French.

"This is Mr. Mallock," said she, "Mr. Mallock--but just now come from His Majesty. He brings me very grave news. Monsieur Barillon, you will help us, will you not? You will help us, surely?"

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