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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Barillon went forward and spoke to someone


All

her anguish had passed into an extraordinary pleading: she was as a child begging for life.

"Madame--" began the ambassador.

"Ah! listen, Monsieur, the king desires a priest. He is a Catholic at heart, you know. He hath been a Catholic at heart a long time, ever since--" she broke off. "You will help us, will you not, Monsieur?"

He threw out his hands: but she paid no attention.

"Monsieur, I swear to you that it is so. Yet what can I do? I cannot go to him, with decency. The Queen is there continually, I hear. The Duke is taken up with a thousand affairs and does not think of it. Go to the Duke, I entreat you, Monsieur l'Ambassadeur; go to the Duke and tell him what I say. Mr. Mallock shall go with you. He is a friend of the Duke. He will bear me out. Monsieur, for the love of God lose no time. Come and see me again; but go now, or it may be too late. Monsieur, I entreat you."

She had seized him by the arm as she spoke. Even his rigid face twitched a little at the violence of her pleading. I knew well what was in his mind, and how he wondered whether he dared do as she asked him. God knew what complications might follow!

"Monsieur--"

He nodded suddenly and sharply.

"Madame," said he, "I will go. Mr. Mallock--"

style="text-align: justify;">He bowed to me.

"Ah! God bless you, sir--"

He stooped suddenly to her hand, lifted it and kissed it. I think in that moment something of the compassion of the Saviour Himself fell on him for this poor woman who yet might be forgiven much, for indeed, under all her foolishness and sin, she loved very ardently. Then he wheeled and went out of the room again; and I followed. No sound came from the Duchess as we left her there in the half lit twilight. She was standing with her hands clasped, staring after us as we went out.

* * * * *

He said nothing as we passed again through the anterooms and down the stairs. Then, as we went on through the next gallery he spoke to me. His men were a good way behind us, and another in front.

"Mr. Mallock," said he--(for he had known me well enough in France)--"His Majesty told you this himself?"

"Yes, sir," said I, "not a quarter of an hour ago."

"Then the Duke is our only chance," he said.

He said no more till we came to the great antechamber by the King's bedroom. It was half full of people; but the Duke was nowhere to be seen. I waited by the door as M. Barillon went forward and spoke to someone. Then he came back to me.

"The Duke is with the Queen," he said. "We must go to him there."

It was enough to send a man mad so to seek person after person in such a simple matter as this. Why in God's name, I wondered, might not even a King die in what religion he liked, without all this plotting and conspiring? Was I never to be free from these things?

At the door to the Queen's apartments M. Barillon turned to me.

"You had best wait here, sir," he said. "I will speak with the Duke privately first."

He was admitted instantly so soon as he knocked; and went through leaving me in a little gallery.

* * * * *


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