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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

The instrument in such an affair


There

was a rustle of footsteps, very plain, that followed the Duke's words. I turned to the room behind me, again, and saw that Mr. Huddleston too had heard what had passed. He was standing up, very pale and agitated, with the book clasped in his hands. I moved down the steps again so as not to block the way; and again there followed a silence, in the midst of which I heard a door latched somewhere in the Bedchamber.

Then, suddenly, the door opened at the head of the stairs; and the Duke stood there, he too as pale as death. He nodded once, very emphatically, and disappeared again. Then the priest went by me without a word, up the steps and so through. The door, as before, remained a crack open. I went up to it, and put my eye to the crack.

On the left was the end of the bed, with the curtains drawn across it; and beyond the bed I could see the whole room down to the end, for the candles were burning everywhere, as well as the fire. I could see the great table before the hearth, the physician's instruments and bottles and cupping-glasses upon it, the chairs about it; the tall furniture against the walls, and at least half a dozen clocks, whose ticking was very plain in the silence. Three figures only were visible there. That nearest, standing very rigid by the table, was Mr. Chiffinch: of the two beyond I could recognize only my Lord Bath whose face looked this way: the other I supposed to be my Lord Feversham. The

Duke was not within sight. He was kneeling, I suppose, out of my sight, beyond the bed.

Then I heard His Majesty's voice very plain, though very weak and slow.

"Ah!" said he, "you that saved my body is now come to save my soul."

There was the murmur of the priest's voice in answer. (The two of them were not more than three or four yards away from me, at the most.) Then again I heard the King, very clear and continuous, though still weak, and not so loud as he had first spoken.

"Yes," said he, "I desire to die in the Faith and Communion of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. I am sorry with all my heart that I have deferred it for so long; and for all my sins."

(He said it quite distinctly, as if he had rehearsed it beforehand.)

Then the priest and he spoke together--the King repeating the priest's words sometimes, and sometimes volunteering word or two of his own.

He said that through Christ's Passion he hoped to be saved; that he was in charity with all the world; that he pardoned his enemies most heartily, and desired pardon of all whom he had offended; that if God would yet spare him, he would amend his life in every particular.

All that I heard with my own ears, and with inexpressible comfort. His Majesty's voice was low, but very distinct, though sometimes he spoke scarce above a whisper; and I do not think that any man who heard him could doubt his sincerity--however late it was to shew it. But he was not altogether too late, thank God!

* * * * *

So soon as His Majesty began his confession, after Mr. Huddleston's moving him to it, I slipped away from the door and began, as softly as I could to walk up and down the little chamber again. I was satisfied beyond measure: yet it seemed to me sometimes near incredible that I should in very truth, be here at such a time, and that I should have been, under God's merciful Providence, the instrument in such an affair. My life was ended, I knew well enough now, in all matters that the world counts life to consist of; yet was there ever such an ending? I had seen all else go from me--my natural activities of every kind, my ambitions, even the most sacred thing that the world can give, after the Love of God, and that is the love of a woman! Yet the one purely supernatural end that I had set before me--that end to which, four days ago, I had said, as I thought, good-bye for ever in the Duchess of Portsmouth's gallery--this was the one single thing that was mine after all. I could take that at least with me into the cloister, and could praise God for it all my life long--I mean the conversion of the man that was called King of England, the man who, for all his sins and his treatment of me, I yet loved as I have never loved any other man on earth. I think that in those minutes of sorrow and joy as I paced up and down the little room, my dearest Dolly was not very far away from me and that she knew all that I felt.


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