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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

For the headsman immediately stepped up


"I

hope you forgive me," said the headsman, before he was down.

"I do," said my Lord; and that was the last word that he spoke; for the headsman immediately stepped up, so soon as he was down, and with one blow cut his head all off, except a bit of skin, which he cut through with his knife.

Then he lifted up the head, and carried it to the four sides of the scaffold by the hair, crying:

"Here is the head of a traitor," as the custom was. My Lord's face looked very peaceful.

* * * * *

I rode home again alone, thinking of what I had seen, and the innocent blood that was being shed, and wondering whether this might not be the last shed for that miserable falsehood. But even after that sight, the thought of my Cousin Dorothy was never very far away; and before I was home again I was once more thinking of her more than of that from which I was just come, or of that to which I was going, for I was to see His Majesty that evening and so to France next day.

PART III

CHAPTER I

It was on a very stormy evening, ten months later, that I rode again into London, on my way from Rome and Paris.

justify;"> * * * * *

Now, here again, I must omit altogether, except on one or two very general points, all that had passed since I had gone away on the day after my Lord Stafford's execution on Tower Hill. It is enough to say that I had done my business in Paris very much to His Majesty's satisfaction, as well as to that of others; and that M. Barillon himself had urged me to stay there altogether, saying that I could make a career for myself there (as the Romans say), such as I could never make in England. But I would not, though I must confess that I was very much tempted to it; and I know now, though I did not know it altogether then, that there were just two things that prevented me--and these were that His Majesty and my Cousin Dorothy were in England and not France.

Of my Cousin Dorothy I had heard scarcely anything at all; for the last letter I had had from Hare Street was at Eastertide; and Tom said not very much about his daughter, except that she was pretty well; and that he thought of taking her to town in the summer for a little. The rest of his letter was, two-thirds of it all about Hare Street and the lambs and how the fruit promised; and one-third of the affairs of the kingdom.

These affairs, of which I learned from other sources besides my Cousin Tom, were, in brief, as follows.

His Majesty, for the first time, since he had come to the throne, had shewn an extraordinary open courage in dealing with the country-party. (I must confess that my success in France was not wholly without connection with this. He was so much strengthened in French affairs that he felt, I suppose, that he could act more strongly at home.)

First, in January, he had dissolved the Parliament that had threatened the exclusion of the Duke of York, and that would vote him no money till he would yield. First he prorogued it, though there was a great clamour in his very presence; and then he dissolved it, coming in so early in the morning that none suspected his design.

Then he summoned a new Parliament to meet at Oxford: for at Oxford he knew he would have the support of the city, whereas at London he had not. That Parliament at Oxford will never be forgotten, I think; for it was more like an armed camp than a Parliament. Both parties went armed. My Lord Shaftesbury, in order to rouse the feeling on his side, went there in a borrowed coach without his liveries, as if he feared arrest or even death. But His Majesty answered that by himself going with all his guards about him, as if for the same reason. There were continual brawls in the city, and duels too. The parties went about like companies of cats and dogs, snarling and spitting at one another continually; and so fierce was the feeling that nothing could be done. My Lord Shaftesbury's creatures were still strong enough to hold their own; and at last His Majesty did the bravest thing he had ever done. He caused a sedan-chair to be brought privately to his lodgings, and his crown and robes to be put in there. Then he went in himself, and away to where the House of Lords was sitting, and before anyone could utter a word, he dissolved the Parliament once more, and altogether, and never again summoned another.


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