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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Chiffinch to make me prejudge him


the Sunday morning we went all three together to hear mass sung in St. James'; and here for the first time I saw Mr. Huddleston, who was of the congregation, who was in his priest's habit--as my cousin had told me--for this was allowed to him by Act of Parliament, because he had saved the King's life after the battle of Worcester. He was a man that looked like a scholar, but was very brown with the sun, too. We could not see the Duke, for he was in his closet, with the curtains half drawn--a tribune, as we should call it in Rome. It was very sweet to me to hear mass again after my journey; and it was not less sweet to me that my Cousin Dorothy was beside me; but the crush was so great, of Protestants who had come to see the ceremonies, as well as of Catholics, that there was scarcely room even to kneel down at the elevation. On our way back we saw Prince Rupert, a fat pasty-faced man, driving out in his coach. He spent all his time in chymical experiments, I was told. As Sedley said, he had exchanged Naseby for Noseby.

I had been bidden, on the Monday, to present myself first at Mr. Chiffinch's lodgings that were near the chapel, between the Privy Stairs and the Palace Stairs; and, as I was before my time, when I came into the Court, behind the Banqueting Hall, I turned aside to see the Privy Garden. A fellow in livery, of whom there were half a dozen in sight, asked me my business very civilly; and when I told him, let me go through by the Treasury

and the King's laboratory, so that I might see the garden: and indeed it was very well worth seeing. There were sixteen great beds, set in the rectangle, with paved walks between; there was a stone vase on a pedestal, or a statue, in the centre of each bed, and a great sundial in the midst of them all. There were some ladies walking at the further end, beneath the two rows of trees; and the sight was a very pretty one, for the sunlight was still on part of the garden and on the Bowling-Green beyond the trees; and the flowers and the ladies' dresses, and the high windows that flashed back the light, all conspired to make what I looked upon very beautiful. The lodgings that looked on to the Privy Garden and the Bowling-Green were much coveted, I heard later; and only such personages as Prince Rupert, my Lord Peterborough, Sir Philip Killigrew, and such like, could get them there.

Mr. Chiffinch's lodgings, when I came to them, were not so fine; for they looked out upon little courts on both sides, and my Lady Arlington's lodgings blocked his view to the river. I went up the stairs, and beat upon the door with my cane: and a voice cried to me to enter.

Now I had heard enough of Mr. Chiffinch to make me prejudge him; for his main business, it seemed, was to pander to the King's pleasures; and he had his rooms so near the river, it was said, that he might more easily meet those who came by water and take them up to His Majesty's rooms unobserved: yet when I saw him, I understood that any prejudgement was unnecessary. For if ever man bore his character in his face it was Mr. Chiffinch.

He had risen at my knock, and was standing in the light of the window. He was dressed in a dark suit, very plain, yet of very rich stuff, and had laid his periwig aside, so that I could see his features. He was a dark secret-looking man with his eyes set near together, and with a lip so short that it seemed as if he sneered; he stooped a little too. Yet I am bound to say that his manner was perfection itself.

"Mr. Chiffinch," I said. And at that he bowed.

"I am Mr. Roger Mallock," I said; "and I was bidden to come here at this hour."

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