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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Ken hath read prayers over him


have spoken with His Majesty," said the Duke, looking very white and drawn in the face. "He is in most excellent dispositions. He tells me that he hath put off the Bishops and has not received the sacrament from them and will not."

"And what of a priest, Sir?" asked the Ambassador sharply.

"I did not speak to him of that," answered the Duke so pompously that I raged to hear him. "He said that Dr. Ken hath read prayers over him, and told him that he need make no confession unless he willed; and that he willed not, and did not; but that Dr. Ken read an absolution over him which he values not at a straw."

"Sir," said I, very boldly, "this is very pretty talk; but it is not a priest. His Majesty wishes for a priest; he told me so himself."

The Duke turned on me very hotly.

"Eh, sir?"

I made haste to swallow down my wrath.

"Sir," I said, "I did not mean to be discourteous. But I assure Your Royal Highness that the King said so to me expressly. It is his immortal soul that is at stake."

Then I understood what was the matter. The Duke flung out his hands as if in despair.

"But what can I do?" he cried. "I am watched every instant. They will not leave me alone with him. Dr. Ken

eyed me very sharply. They suspect something--I know they do--from my brother's having refused their ministrations. How can I get a priest to him?"

Then again, by God's inspiration as I truly believe, a thought came to me.

"Sir," I said, "I myself spoke with the King a while ago: and I do not think that a soul saw who I was. I came through the little door at the back of the bed. Why should not--"

The Ambassador struck his hands together.

"_Bon Dieu_!" he said. "I believe Mr. Mallock hath hit it again."

The Duke turned and eyed me very sternly.

"Well, sir, what is your plan?"

"Sir," I said, "let the chamber be cleared, or almost. Then let M. Barillon here go in as if he had a message from the French King. While he is there let a priest be brought by the back way, not through the antechamber at all--"

M. Barillon held up his hand.

"There would not be time," he said. "It does not take half an hour to deliver a message; and the priest's business would take full half an hour?"

"No! no!" cried James. "They would suspect something. Let Her Majesty come again to take her leave of the King; and then I will go in after for the same thing. While we are there, let the priest come, as Mr. Mallock has said--"

"Sir," said the Ambassador, "we must not have too many folks in this business--"

All this bargaining drove me near mad. Once more I broke in; and this time with more effect.

"Sir," I said to the Duke, "I entreat you to hear me. There is the little room at the back of His Majesty's bed, all ready, and empty too. We do not need all these devices. If you, Sir, will go to the King and prepare him for it, I will find a priest and bring him up the other way. I do not believe that even if there were folks in the bedchamber they would hear what passed."

"Which way would the priest come?" asked the Duke.

"There is a little stair in the corner of the room--"

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