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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

And I heard the latch shut again

Yet all this while I made no progress with her or even with myself; for every time that I was alone with her, or when her father was asleep in his chair, a remembrance of what he had said came over me with a kind of sickness, and I could not say one word that might seem to set me on his side against her; and so I was torn two ways, and the very thing by which he had hoped to encourage me, (or rather to help himself) had the contrary effect, and silenced me when I might have spoken.

For I understood very well by now what was in his mind. He saw no prospect of marrying Dolly to a Protestant--or I take it, if I know the man, he would have leapt at it; neither was there any hope of marrying her to a Catholic; and as for his talk about my Lady Arlington I did not believe one word of it. Therefore, since I was at hand, and would be a wealthy man some day, and indeed even now did very well on my French _rentes_, he had set his heart on this. It was not wholly evil; yet the cold-bloodedness of it affected me like a stink....

* * * * *

The matter ended, for the time, on the evening of the thirteenth of August, in the following manner, when my adventures, of which my life, ever since my audience with our Most Holy Lord the Pope, had been but a prelude, properly began--those adventures for whose sake I have begun this transcript from my diary, and this adventure was pre-shadowed, as I think now, by one or two curious happenings.

On the morning of the thirteenth of August, two days before the Feast of the Assumption (on which we had intended to hear mass again at Standon) my Cousin Dorothy came down a little late, and found us already over our oatbread and small beer which we were accustomed to take upon rising--and which was called our "morning."

"I slept very ill," she said; and no more then.

Afterwards, however, as I was lighting my pipe in the little court at the back of the house, she came out and beckoned me in; and I saw that something was amiss. I went after her into the little hung parlour and we sat down.

"I slept very ill, cousin," she said again; and I observed again that her eyes looked hollow. "And I dare not tell my father my fancies," she said, "for he is terrified at such things; and has forbade the servants to speak of such things."

"The tall old woman, then?" I said; for I had not forgotten what she had told me before.

"Yes," she said, smiling a little painfully--"and yet I was not at all afraid when she came; or when I thought that she did."

"Tell me the whole tale," I said.

"I awakened about one o'clock this morning," she said, "and knew that my sleep was gone from me altogether. Yet I did not feel afraid or restless; but lay there content enough, expecting something, but what it would be I did not know. The cocks were crowing as I awakened; and then were silent; and it appeared to me as if all the world were listening. After a while--I should say it was ten minutes or thereabouts--I turned over with my face to the wall; and as I did so, I heard a soft step coming up the stairs. One of the maids, thought I, late abed or early rising, for sickness. When the steps came to my door they ceased; and a hand was laid upon the latch; and at that I made to move; but could not. Yet it was not fear that held me there, though it was like a gentle pricking all over me. Then the latch was lifted, and still I could not move, not even my eyes; and a person came in, and across the floor to my bed. And even then I could not move nor cry out. Presently the person spoke; but I do not know what she said, though it was only a word or two: but the voice came from high up, as almost from the canopy of the bed, and it was the voice of an old woman, speaking in a kind of whisper. I said nothing; for I could not: and then again the steps moved across the floor, and out of the door; and I heard the latch shut again; and then they passed away down the stairs."

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