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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Rumbald had been on our previous meeting


I

greeted him.

"But I had best be gone," I said. "It is a private room, the gentleman told me."

"No, no," cried the maltster. "Come in, Mr. Mallock." And he said something to the gentleman he sat by, who was dressed very finely.

I could see that something was in the wind; and as I was out for adventure, it seemed to me that here was one ready-made, however harmless it might turn out in the end. So I closed the door behind me; there was a shifting along the benches, and I stepped over into a place next my friend.

"How goes the world with you, sir?" demanded Mr. Rumbald of me, looking at my suit, which indeed was pretty fine.

"Very hungrily at present," I said. "Where the devil are the maids got to?"

He called out to the man that sat nearest the door, and he got up and bawled something down the passage.

"But it has treated me better lately," I said. "I have been in France on my affairs." (I said this with an important air, for there is no disguise so great as the truth, if it is put on a little awry.)

"Oho!" said Rumbald, who again, in spite of his old Presbyterianism, had had a cup too many. And he winked on the company. I had not an idea of what he meant by that; but I think he was but shewing off his friend

as a travelled gentleman.

"And we have been speaking of England," he went on, "and of them that govern it, and of the Ten Commandments, in special the sixth."

I observed signs of consternation among one or two of the company when he said this, and remembering of what political complexion Mr. Rumbald had been on our previous meeting, I saw in general, at least, what they had been after. But what he meant of the Sixth Commandment which is that of killing, according to the Protestant arrangement of it, I understood nothing.

"And of who shall govern England hereafter," I said in a low voice, but very deliberate.

There fell a silence when I said that; and I was wondering what in God's name I should say next, when the maid came in, and I fell to abusing of her with an oath or two. When she was gone away again to get me my supper, the gentleman in the fine dress at the head of the table leaned forward a little.

"That, Mr. Mallock," he said, "is of what we were speaking. How did you know that?"

"I know my friend Mr. Rumbald," I said.

This appeared to give the greatest pleasure to the maltster. He laughed aloud, and beat me on the back; but his eyes were fierce for all his merriment. I felt that this would be no easy enemy to have.

"Mr. Mallock knows me," he said, "and I know Mr. Mallock. I assure you, gentlemen, you can speak freely before Mr. Mallock." And he poured a quantity of his college-ale into a tankard that stood before me.

It appeared, however, that several of the company had sudden affairs elsewhere; and, before we even smelled of treason, three or four of them made their excuses and went away. This confirmed me in my thought that I was stumbled upon one of those little gatherings of malcontents, of whom the town was full, who talked largely over their cups of the Protestant succession and the like, but did very little. But I was not quite right in my surmise, as will appear presently.


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