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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

I have brought your packet back again


stew he had brought me was very savoury: and I ate it all up; for I had had nothing to eat since supper last night; and, by the time I had done, and had told him very briefly what had passed at Hare Street, I felt some of my bewilderment was gone. It is marvellous how food can change the moods of the immortal soul herself; but I was none the less determined, I thought, to leave the King's service; for I could not serve any man, I thought, whose hands were as red as his in the blood of innocents.

I had hardly done, and was blessing myself, when Mr. Chiffinch went out suddenly, and had returned before I had stood up, to hold the door open for the King.

He came in, that great Prince,--(for in spite of all I still count him to be that, _in posse_ if not _in esse_)--as airy and as easy as if nothing in the world was the matter. He was but just come from dinner, and his face was flushed a little under its brown, with wine; and his melancholy eyes were alight. He was in one of his fine suits too, for to-day was Saturday; and as it was hot weather his suit was all of thin silk, puce-coloured, with yellow lace; and he carried a long cane in his ringed hand. He might not have had a care in the world, to all appearances; and he smiled at me, as if I were but just come back from a day in the country.

"Well, Mr. Mallock"--he said; and put out his hand to be kissed.

justify;">Now I had determined not to kiss his hand--whatever the consequences might be; but when I saw him like that I could do no otherwise; for my love and my pity for him--(if I may use such a word of a subject towards his Sovereign)--surged up again, which I thought were dead for ever; so I was on my knees in an instant, and I kissed his brown hand and smelled the faint violet essence which he used. Then, before I could say anything, he had me down in a chair, and himself in another, and was beginning to talk. (Mr. Chiffinch was gone out; but I had not seen him go.)

"It is a bloody business," he said sorrowfully--"a very bloody business. But what else could be done? If I had not consented, I would be no longer King; but off on my travels again; and all England in confusion. However; that is as it may be. What do you want to see me for, Mr. Mallock?"

He spoke so kindly to me, and with such feeling too, and his condescension seemed to me so infinite in his coming here to wait upon me--(though this was very often his custom, I think, when he wished to see a man or a woman in private)--that I determined to put off my announcement to him that I could no longer be in his service. So first I drew out from my waistcoat the packet I had taken from under my shirt, and put there, while Mr. Chiffinch was away.

"Sir;" I said, "I have brought your packet back again. I have had no word from you as to its delivery; and as I must go abroad to-day I dare keep it no longer. Your Majesty, I fear, must find another messenger."

His face darkened for an instant as if he could not remember something; but it lightened again as he took the packet from me, and turned it over.

"Why; I remember," he said. "It was sealed within and without, was it not?"

That seemed to me a strangely irrelevant thing to say but I told him, Yes it was.

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