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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

With the greatest friendliness


Before

I went to bed I opened the little secret cupboard by my bed, and put into it three or four private papers I had, and amongst them that written in cipher that I had had from Mr. Rumbald. Then I went to bed; and dreamed of Dolly.

Then began for me a time of great peace and serenity.

First came Christmas, with its homely joys, and Twelfth night on which we cut and ate a great cake that Dolly had made; then there was the winter's work to be done in preparation for the spring; and then spring itself, with the crocuses sprouting between the joints of the paved walk round the house; and the daffodils in the long box-bed beneath the limes. I write these little things down, for it was principally by these things that I remember those months; and the noise of the world outside seemed as sounds heard in a dream. I went up to London, now and again--but not very often; and saw His Majesty in private twice, and he honoured me by asking my advice again on certain French affairs; but, for the time, all these things were secondary in my mind to the cows of Hare Street and to how the pigs did. It is marvellous how men's minds can come down to such matters, and become absorbed in them, and let the rest of the world go hang. I thought now and again of my mission from Rome; yet I do not think I was faithless to it; for there was nothing at that time which I could do for the King; and he expressly had desired me not to mix much with

the Court and so become known. The truth of the matter was that at this time he was largely occupied with a certain woman, whose name had best not be spoken; and when His Majesty ran upon those lines, he could think of little else. I sent my reports regularly to Rome; and the Cardinal Secretary seemed satisfied; and so therefore was I.

It was, with my Cousin Dolly, precisely as I had thought. She was at first very shy indeed, going up to her chamber early in the evening, so that we had little or no music; but relaxing a little as I shewed myself friendly without being forward. I caught her eyes on me sometimes; and she seemed to be appraising me, I thought in my stupidity, as to whether she could trust me not to make love to her; but now, as I think, for a very different reason; and I would see her sometimes as I went out of doors, peeping at me for an instant out of a window. It was not, however, all hide and seek. We would talk frankly and easily enough at times, and spend an hour or two together, or when her father was asleep, with the greatest friendliness; and meanwhile I, poor fool, was thinking how wise and prudent I was; and what mighty progress I was making by these crooked ways.

In Easter week we had a great happiness--so great that it near broke me down in my resolution--and I would to God it had--(at least in certain moods I wish so).

I was returning along the Barkway road from a meadow where I had been to look to the new lambs, in my working dress, when I heard a horse coming behind me. I stepped aside to let him go by, when I heard myself called.

"My man," said the voice. "Can you tell me where is Mr. Jermyn's house?"

"Yes, sir," I said. "I am going there myself."

He was a grave-looking gentleman, very dark; and as I looked at him I remembered him; but I could see he did not remember me, and no wonder, for he had only seen me once, on a very agitating occasion, for a short while. He was riding a very good horse, which was going lame, but without any servant, and he had his valise strapped on the crupper. In appearance he was a country-squire on his way to town. I determined to give him a surprise as we went along.


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