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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson




Author of "Come Rack! Come Rope!", "Lord of the World," "Initiation," etc.



I wish to express my gratitude for great help received in the writing of this book to Miss MacDermot, Miss Stearne and others, as well as to three friends who submitted to hearing it read aloud in manuscript, and who assisted me by their criticisms and suggestions.

Further, I think it worth saying that in all historical episodes in this book I have taken pains to be as accurate as possible. The various plots, the political movements, and the closing scenes of Charles II's life are here described with as much fidelity to truth as is compatible with historical romance. In particular, I do not think that the King himself is represented as doing or saying anything--except of course to my fictitious personages--to which sound history does not testify. I have also taken considerable pains in the topographical descriptions of Whitehall.


The day from which I reckon the beginning of all those adventures which occupied me in the Courts of England and France and elsewhere, was the first day of May in the year sixteen hundred and seventy-eight--the day, that is, on which my Lord Abbot carried me from St. Paul's-without-the- Walls to the Vatican Palace, to see our Most Holy Lord Innocent the Eleventh.

It had been a very hot day in Rome, as was to be expected at that season; and I had stayed in the cloister in the cool, as my Lord Abbot had bidden me, not knowing whether it would be on that day or another, or, indeed, on any at all, that His Holiness would send for me. I knew that my Lord Abbot had been to the Vatican again and again on the business; and had spoken of me, as he said he would, not to the Holy Father only, but to the Cardinal Secretary of State and to others; but I did not know, and he did not tell me, as to whether that business had been prosperous; though I think he must have known long before how it would end. An hour before _Ave Maria_, then, he sent to me, as I walked in the cloisters, and when I came to him, told me, all short, to dress myself in my old secular clothes, as fine as I could, and to be ready to ride with him in half an hour, because our Most Holy Lord had consented to receive me one hour after _Ave Maria_. He said nothing more to me than that; he did not tell me how I was to bear myself, nor what I was to say, neither as I stood in his cell, nor as we rode as fast as we could, with the servants before and behind, into Rome and through the streets of it. I knew nothing more than this--that since neither I nor my novice-master were in the least satisfied as to my vocation, and since I had considerable estates of my own in France (though I was an Englishman altogether on my father's side), and could speak both French and English with equal ease, and Italian and Spanish tolerably--that since, in short, I was a very well-educated young gentleman, and looked more than my years, and bore myself--(so I was told)--with ease and discretion in any company, and could act a part if it were required of me--I might perhaps be of better service to the Church in some secular employment than in sacred. This was all that I knew. The rest my Lord Abbot left to my own wits to understand, and to our Holy Father, if he would, to discover to me: and that, indeed, was presently what he did.

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