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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

This company of spies was of all grades


style="text-align: justify;"> CHAPTER VI

I do not think that I have yet related how great was the work that Mr. Chiffinch had done in the matter of the spies that he had everywhere during those later years of His Majesty Charles the Second. That which he had done during Monmouth's progress in the north--his receiving of reports day by day, and even hour by hour--this was only one instance of his activity. The secret-looking men, or even the bold-looking gentlemen, whom I had met on his stairs so continually, or for whose sake I was kept waiting sometimes when I went to see him--these were his tools and messengers. This company of spies was of all grades; and it was to serve in that company that he had sent for me from France, and that I was determined to decline.

Though, however, I was so determined, I did not dare to disobey the directions that his letter gave me; for I could not be sure that it was for this work in particular that he had summoned me; though I guessed that it was. I would go, thought I, and do in everything as he had said; I would ride through Amwell, with my servants behind at a good distance: I would see what befell me there--for that something would, was certain from the letter; then I would proceed on to London, and if the affair were against my honour, as I was sure it would be, I would refuse any further part in it. My one hardship was that I could do no more than tell Dolly in private

that I would hold to my resolution. I dared not tell her anything of the contents of the letter which I had immediately destroyed. I promised her that I would be back for Christmas at the latest. She came out to the yard-gate to wish me good-bye: my servants were gone in front; and my Cousin Tom had the sense to be out of the way; so our good-byes were all that such miserable things ever can be. I waved to her at the corner, and she waved back.

When we came about two miles to the north of Amwell--which we did about eleven o'clock, as I had been bid, I bade my servants stay behind, and not come after me till half an hour later; further I bade them, if, when they came, they found me in any man's company, neither to salute me nor to make any sign of recognition; but to pass straight on to Hoddesdon and wait for me there, not at the inn where I was known, but at another little one--the _King's Arms_--at the further end of the village, and there they were to dine. Even then, when I came, if I did, they were not to salute me until I had spoken with them. All this I did, interpreting as well as I could, what Mr. Chiffinch had said; and they, since they were well-trained in that kind of service, understood me perfectly.

It was near half-past eleven when I came, riding very slowly, into the village street, looking this way and that so as to shew my face, but as if I were just looking about me. I noticed a couple of servants, in a very plain livery which I thought I had seen before, in the yard of the _Mitre_, but they paid no attention to me. So I passed up the street to the end, and no one spoke with me or shewed any sign. Now I knew that there was something forward, and that unless I fell in with it the arrangement would have failed; so I turned again and rode back, as if I were looking for an inn. Again no one spoke with me; so I rode, as if discontented, into the yard of the _Mitre_, and demanded of an ostler whether there was any food fit to eat there.


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