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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

So wild were the pranks played and worse than pranks


The

first small adventure was as follows:

I was walking swiftly up Drury Lane, scanning the houses, for it was falling dark, and the oil-lights that burned, one before every tenth house, cast but a poor illumination, when just beyond one of the lights I knocked against a fellow who was coming out suddenly from a little passage at the side, just, as it chanced, opposite to Mr. Fenwick's house. I turned, to beg his pardon, for it was more my fault than his, that we had come together; and I set my eyes upon the most strange and villainous face that I have ever seen. The fellow was dressed in a dark suit, and wore a crowned hat, and carried a club in his hand, and he appeared to be one of the vagrom-men as they are called, who are at the bottom of all riots and such like things. He was a smallish man in his height, but his face was the strangest thing about him; and in the light from the lamp I thought at first that he had some kind of deformity in it. For his mouth was, as it were in the very midst of his face; there was a little forehead above, with eyes set close beneath it, and a little nose, and then his mouth, turned up at the corners as if he smiled, and beneath that a vast chin, as large as the rest of his face.

He cried out "Lard!" as I ran against him; by which I understood him to say "Lord!"

I asked his pardon.

"O Lard!" he said again,

"'tis nothing, sir. My apologies to you, sir."

I bowed to him civilly again, and passed on; but as I knocked upon Mr. Fenwick's door, I saw that he was staring after me, from the entrance to that same passage from which he had come.

* * * * *

My second adventure was that, upon coming upstairs, I found that in the chamber with Mr. Fenwick were the mother and sister of Mr. Ireland, waiting for him to come and take them back to their lodging. They were quiet folks enough--a little shy, it appeared to me, of strange company. But I did my best to be civil, and they grew more talkative. Mrs. Ireland would be near sixty years old, I would take it, dressed in a brown sac, such as had been fashionable ten years back, and her daughter, I should think about thirty years old. They told me that they had been to supper, and to the play in the Duke's Playhouse, where Mr. Shirley's tragi-comedy _The Young Admiral_ had been done; and that Mr. Ireland was to come for them here, as presently he did, for it was scarce safe for ladies to be abroad at such an hour in the streets without an escort, so wild were the pranks played (and worse than pranks), by even the King's gentlemen themselves, as well as by the riff-raff.

We sat and talked a good while; and Mr. Grove brought chocolate up for the ladies. But for myself, I had such a variety of thoughts, as I talked with them all, knowing what I did, and they knowing nothing, that I could scarce command my voice and manner sometimes. For here were these innocent folk--with Mr. Grove smiling upon them with the chocolate--talking of the play and what-not, and of which of the actors pleased them and which did not--and I noticed that the ladies, as always, were very severe upon the women--and the good fathers, too, pleased that they were pleased, and rallying them upon their gaiety--(for it appeared that these ladies did not go often into company); and here sat I, with my secret upon my heart, knowing--or guessing at least--that a plot was afoot to ruin them all and turn their merriment into mourning.


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