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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

She did her reverence very prettily


"It

is very good of you, Mr. Jermyn," he said, "to receive us like this. My name is Morton, and my friend's here Mr. Atkins. You can put us where you will--on the floor if you have no other place."

"We can do better than that, sir," said Tom. "There is only my daughter here and Mr. Mallock my cousin. My daughter is gone to call the servants."

The Duke looked very handsome and princely as he stood on the hearth, although there was no fire, and surveyed the room. He was in a dark blue riding-suit, darker than it should be upon the shoulders with the rain that had soaked through his cloak; but it was of the colour of his eyes that were very fine and attractive; and he wore his own hair. The other man looked pretty mean beside him; and yet he was not ill-looking. He was a fair man, too, with a rosy face; in a buff suit.

"We can manage two changes of clothes, Mr. Morton," went on my Cousin Tom, "if you fear to take a cold; or you can sup immediately; as you will."

"Why, Mr. Jermyn; I think we will sup first and go to bed afterwards. The clothes can be dried, no doubt, before morning."

In spite of all his efforts, he spoke as one born to command and with a kind of easy condescension too; and certainly this had its effect upon poor Tom; for he was all eagerness and welcome, who just now had been a shade surly. He was

beginning to say that it was for his guests to choose, when my Cousin Dolly came in suddenly through the open door.

"Why here is my little maid, gentlemen--" he said; and Dolly did her reverence.

Now I had in my mind no thought of jealousy at all; and yet when I saw how the Duke bowed to my cousin, I am bound to say that a touch of it pierced me like a dart--there and gone again, I thought. But it had been there. I thought how few gentlemen poor Dolly saw down here in Hare Street: beyond the parson--and he was a man who would go out before the pudding in a great house, and marry the lady's maid--there was scarce one who might write Esquire after his name; and the breeding of most of the squires was mostly rustical. As for her, she did her reverence very prettily, without a trace of the country in it; and, strange to say, her manner seemed to change. I mean by that, that she seemed wholly at her ease in this new kind of company, fully as much as with her maids.

"You have had a very wet ride, sir," she said, without any sign of confusion or shyness; "the maids are kindling a fire in the kitchen, to dry your clothes before morning: and your men shall have beds in the attic."

The Duke made a pretty answer, which she took as prettily.

"And a cold supper shall be in immediately," she said.

Then my Cousin Tom must needs begin upon the maid, as if she were a child, or idiotic; and say what a good housekeeper his little maid was to him, and how she could do so many things; and the Duke took it all with courtesy, yet did not encourage it, as if he understood her ways better than her father did--which was, very likely, true enough.

"And you come up to London, mistress," he said, "no doubt," with a look at her dress that was not at all insolent, and yet very plain. And it was indeed a pretty good one; and I remember it very well. It was cut like a French sac--a fashion that had first come in about ten years before, and still lasted; and was a little lower at the throat than many that she wore. It was of a brownish kind of yellow, of which I do not know the name, and had white lace to it, and silver lace on the bodice. She was sunburnt again, but not too much, as I had first seen her; and her blue eyes looked very bright in her face; and she wore a ring on either hand, as she usually did in the evening, and had her little pearls round her neck. It was strange to me how I observed all this, so soon as the Duke had drawn attention to it; whereas I had not observed it particularly before.


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