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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

I feigned that I was incurious


It

must have been full half-past nine before we broke up; and that was at the going of our president. We too rose and saw him to the door; and the lean man said he would see him downstairs, so Mr. Rumbald and I were left, he swaying a little and smiling, holding on to the door-post, and I endeavouring to preserve my dignity.

I was about to say good-night too and begone, when he plucked me suddenly by the sleeve.

"Come back again, Mr. Mallock," he said. "I have something to say to you."

We went back again, shutting the door behind us, and sat down. It was a pleasant little parlour this, decently furnished, and I feigned to be looking at the hanging that was over the press where they kept the tankards, as if I had no curiosity in the world.

"Here, Mr. Mallock," said my friend's voice behind me. "Look at this."

He had drawn out a little black pocket-book, leather-bound, and with it three or four loose papers. I sat down by him, and took it from him.

"It is some kind of an account-book," I said.

"You are right, sir," said Mr. Rumbald.

He sat with an air of vast importance, while I examined the book. It had a great number of entries, concerning such things as accounts for beer and other refreshments, with others

which I could not understand. There were also the names of inns in London, with marks opposite to them, and times of day written down besides. I could make nothing of all this; so I turned to the papers. Here, to my astonishment, on one of them was written a list of names, some very well known, beginning with my Lord Shaftesbury's, and on the two others a number of notes in short-hand, with three or four of the same names as before written long-hand. One of these slipped to the floor as I held them, and I stooped to pick it up; when I raised my head again, the pocket-book and the other two papers had disappeared again into Mr. Rumbald's possession. He did not seem to have seen the one that fell, so I held it on my knee beneath the table, thinking to examine it later.

"Well?" I asked. "What is the matter?"

The maltster had an air of great mystery upon his face. He regarded me sternly, though his eyes watered a little.

"Enough to hang us all," he said; and I saw the fierce light in his eyes again, through the veil of drink.

"Why; how is that?" asked I, slipping the paper I held, behind me, and into the skirt pocket of my coat.

"Those accounts," he said, "they are all for the procession; for I provided myself a good deal of the refreshment; and was paid for it by a man of my Lord's, who has signed the book."

"And the two papers?" I asked.

"Ah!" said Mr. Rumbald. "That is another matter altogether."

I feigned that I was incurious.

"Well," I said, "every man to his own trade. I would not meddle with another's, for the world."


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