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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

For she was housekeeper at Hare Street


He

said a great number of times that he was sorry that he had brought up his daughter without giving me warning; but that the maid had set her heart on it and would take no denial. (This I presently discovered to be wholly false.) For a week, he said, and no more, I should be discommoded; and after that, when I had come back from Hare Street, I should be able to entertain my friends in peace.

I answered him, of course, with the proper compliments; but I liked his manner less than ever. He was too boisterous, I thought, on a first meeting; and too hearty in his expressions of goodwill. When we were set down to supper, he began again, with what I thought a good deal of indiscretion.

"So you are come from Rome!" he said loudly, "and from a monastery too, as I hear. Well, no man loves a monk more than I do--in their monasteries; but I am glad you are not to be one. We will teach him better here--eh, Dolly, my dear?"

It was only my man James who was in the room when he spoke; yet as soon as he was gone out to fetch another dish I thought I had best say a word.

"Cousin," I said, "with your leave; I think it best not to speak of monasteries--"

He interrupted me.

"Why, you need fear nothing," he cried. "We Catholics are all in the fashion these days. Why, there is Mr. Huddleston that

goes about in his priest's habit: and the Capuchins at St. James', and the very Jesuits too--"

"I think it would be better not--" I began.

"Oho!" cried Cousin Tom. "That is in the wind, is it? Why, I'll be as mum as a mouse!"

I did not know what he meant; and I supposed that he did not know himself, unless indeed by sheer blundering he had pitched upon the truth that I was come on a mission. But so soon as James was in the room again, he began upon the other tack, and talked of Prince this and the Duke of that, with whom I might be supposed to be on terms of intimacy, winking on me all the while, so that my man saw it. However, I answered him civilly. I could do no less; for he was my cousin, and in a manner my host; and, most of all, I must depend upon him for a few days at least, to tell me how I must set about my audiences and my personal affairs.

My Cousin Dorothy said little or nothing all this time; but sat with downcast eyes, giving a look now and again at the table to see if we had all that we needed; for she was housekeeper at Hare Street, her mother having died ten years before, and she herself being the only child. She did not look at me at all, or shew any displeasure; and yet it seemed to me that she was not best pleased with her father's manners. Once, towards the end of supper, when James came behind him with the wine-jug, I saw her shake her head at him; and, indeed, Cousin Tom was already pretty red in the face with all that he had drunk.

When the meal was finished at last, and the table cleared, and the servants gone downstairs to their own supper, he began again with his talk, stretching his legs in the window-seat where he sat; while I sat still in my chair wheeled away from the table, and my Cousin Dorothy went in and out of the rooms, bestowing the luggage that she and her maid had unpacked. I watched her as she went to and fro, telling myself (as some lads will, who pride themselves on being come to manhood) that she was only a little maid.


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