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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

We should have seen him if he had come by Puckeridge


"Keep

them, Nancy, keep them here as long as you can. It will give him--"

"Eh?" said a man's voice suddenly beneath. "What was that?"

"I said nothing," stammered my Cousin Dolly's voice.

Well; there was a to-do. The fellow beneath called out to Mr. Harris, who was upstairs; and I heard him come down. My Cousin Dolly was sobbing and crying out, and so was the maid Nancy to whom she had spoken. At first I could make nothing of it, nor why she had said what she had; and then, as I heard them all go into the parlour together, I understood that if my Cousin Tom had been shrewd, his daughter had been shrewder; and had said what she had, knowing that a man was within earshot.

But there was nothing for me to do but to lie there still; for I could hear nothing from the parlour but a confused sound of voices, now three or four speaking at once, now a man's voice (which I took to be the magistrate's), and now, I thought my Cousin Dolly's. I heard, too, above me, my Cousin Tom speaking very angrily, and understood that he was kept from his daughter--which was the best thing in the world for me, since he might very well have spoiled the whole design. At last I heard Dolly cry out very loud; then I heard the parlour-door open and three or four men came tumbling out, who ran beneath my hiding-hole and out through the kitchen passage to the stable. I was all a-tremble

now, especially at my cousin's cry; but I gave her credit for being as shrewd still as I had heard her to be on the stairs; and I proved right in the event; for almost immediately after that my Cousin Tom was let come downstairs, and I heard every word, of the colloquy.

"Well, Mr. Jermyn," said the gentleman's voice, immediately without my little door, "I am sorry indeed to have troubled you in this way; but I am the King's justice of the peace and I must do my duty. Which way did you say Mr. Mallock was gone?"

"By...by Puckeridge," stammered poor Tom.

"Ah! indeed," said the other voice, with something of a sneer in it. "Why Mistress Dorothy here says it was by Barkway and so to Harwich; and of the two versions I prefer the lady's. For, first, we should have seen him if he had come by Puckeridge, since we have been lying there since three o'clock this afternoon; and second, no such man in his senses would go to Rome by London. I am sorry I cannot commend your truthfulness, Mr. Jermyn, as much as your professions of loyalty."

"I tell you--" began my Cousin Tom, angrily enough.

"I need no telling, Mr. Jermyn. Your cousin is gone by Barkway; and my men are gone to get the horses out to follow him. We shall catch him before Newmarket, I make no doubt."

Then I heard Dolly's sobbing as she clung to her father.

"Oh! father! father!" she mourned. "The gentleman forced it out of me. I could not help it. I could not help it!"

(As for me, I smiled near from ear to ear in the dark, to hear how well she feigned grief; and I think I loved my Cousin Dolly then as never before. It would have made a cat laugh, too, to hear the gentleman's chivalry in return.)

"Mistress Dorothy," he said, "I grieve to have troubled you like this. But you have done your duty as an English maid should; and set your loyalty to His Majesty before all else."

Mistress Dorothy sobbed so admirably in return that my own eyes filled with tears to hear her; and I was a little sorry for the poor gentleman too. He was so stupid, and yet so well mannered too now that he had got all that he wanted, or thought he had.


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