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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

The lieutenant very prudently detained him


gates were barred, as usual?"

"Yes," I said. "And the guard fetched a lieutenant before he would let me in."

(For ever since the late alarms extraordinary precautions had been taken in keeping the great gates of the Palace always guarded.)

"And you saw no one after you?"

"No one," I said.

"Well," said Mr. Chiffinch, "a fellow was after you. For when you were gone in he came up to the guard and asked who you were, and by what right you had entered. The lieutenant sent a mail to tell me so, and I met him in the passage as I went out."

"Who was the fellow?"

"Oh! a man called Dangerfield. The lieutenant very prudently detained him; and I went across and questioned him before I went to His Majesty. I know nothing of the man, except that he hath been convicted, for I saw the branding in his hand when we examined him. We let him go again immediately."

"He knows my name?"

Mr. Chiffinch smiled.

"We are not so foolish as that, Mr. Mallock. He thinks you have some place at Court; but we did not satisfy him as to your name."

I said nothing; for there was nothing to say.

"You had

best be very careful, Mr. Mallock," went on the page, standing up again. "You have been mixing a great deal with unpopular folks. You will be of no service to His Majesty at all if you fall under suspicion. You had best go back by water to the Temple Stairs."

He spoke a little coldly; and I perceived that he thought I had been indiscreet.

"Well," he said, "we had best be going to His Majesty's lodgings."

I had flattered myself, up to the present, that I knew His Majesty's capacities tolerably well. I thought him to be an easily read man, with both virtues and vices uppermost, wearing his heart on his sleeve, as the saying is--indolent, witty, lacking all self-control--yet not, as I might say, a deep man. I was to learn the truth, or rather begin to learn it, on this very night.

* * * * *

When I entered his private closet he was sitting not where I had seen him before, but at the great table in the midst of the floor, with his papers about him, and an appearance of great industry. He did not do more than look up for an instant, and then down again; and I stood there before him, after I had bowed and been taken no notice of, as it were a scholar waiting to be whipped.

He was all ready for supper, in his lace, with his hat on his head; and he was writing a letter, with a pair of candles burning before him in silver candlesticks. His face wore a very heavy and preoccupied look; and I was astonished that he paid me no attention.

He finished at last, threw sand on the paper from the pounce-box, and pushed it aside. Then he leaned his cheeks in his hands, and his elbows on the table, and looked at me. But he did not speak unkindly.

"Here you are then," he said. "And I hear you bring news from the Old Bailey?"

"I came from there half an hour ago, Sir."

"Ah! And the verdict was Guilty, Mr. Chiffinch tells me?"

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