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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

And this is to the public utility


I

inquired how it was that the Peers did not resist.

"They fear for themselves and their places," said Mr. Chiffinch. "They will yield up anything but that, if a man or two will but push them hard enough. And, if they try my Lord, they will certainly condemn him. There is no question of that. To acquit him would cause a yet greater uproar than to refuse to hear the case at all."

"And His Majesty?"

Mr. Chiffinch eyed me gravely.

"His Majesty will never prefer his private feelings before the public utility."

"And this is to the public utility?"

"Why yes; or the country-party thinks it is. It is the best answer they can make to their rebuff on the matter of the Exclusion Bill."

The rumour proved to be perfectly true. The Five Lords who were still in the Tower, had been sent there, it may be remembered, above two years ago, on account of their religion, although the pretended plot professed by Oates was of course alleged against them. Since that time Parliament had been busy with other matters; but such an opportunity was now too good to be lost, of striking against the court-party, and, at the same time, of feeding the excitement and fanaticism of their own.

The trial came on pretty quickly, beginning on the

last day of November; and as I had never seen a Peer tried by his fellows, I determined to be present, and obtained an order to admit me every day; and the first day, strangely enough, was the birthday of my Lord Stafford himself.

* * * * *

Westminster Hall, in which the trial was held, was a very noble sight when all the folks were in their places. (I sat myself in a high gallery, in which sat, too, ambassadors and public ministers--at the upper end, above the King's state.)

I could not see that which was immediately beneath me, neither of the box in which sat His Majesty during a good deal of the trial, nor, upon the left side where the great ladies sat. But I had a very good view of the long forms on which the Peers sat, before the state (under which was the throne), the wool-packs for the Judges, and the chair of the Lord Steward--all which was ranged exactly as in the House of Lords itself. Behind the Peers' forms rose the stands, scaffolded up to the roof, for the House of Commons to sit in; so that the Hall resembled the shape of a V in its section, with a long arena in the midst. The lower end held, in the middle, the bar for the prisoner to stand at, and a place for him to retire into: a box for his two daughters, of whom one was the Marchioness of Winchester; and the proper places for the Lieutenant of the Tower (whence my Lord was brought by water), the axe-bearer, who had the edge of his axe turned away from the prisoner, and the guards that kept him. Upon either hand of the entrance, nearer to the throne, stood, upon one side a box for the witnesses, and upon the other, those that were called the Managers--being lawyers and attorneys and the like; but these were in their cloaks and swords, as were others who were with them, of the Parliamentary party, since they were here as representing the Commons, and not as lawyers first of all.


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