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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Chiffinch every least incident so soon as it happened

* * * * *

There was complete silence in the room when I had finished, except for the wash of the tide outside the windows. The man's mouth was open, and his eyes set in thought. Then sense came back to his face; and he smiled suddenly and widely.

"God!" he said, and slapped me suddenly on the thigh. "Good God! you have hit it, I believe."


From now onwards there began for me such a series of complications that I all but despair of making clear even the course that they ran. My diaries are filled with notes and initials and dates which I dared not at the time set down more explicitly; and my memory is often confused between them. For, indeed, my work in France was but child's play to this, neither was there any danger in France such as was here.

For consider what, not a double part merely, but a triple, I had to play. The gentlemen, who were beginning at this time to conspire in real earnest against the King and the Constitution, some of whom afterwards, such as my Lord Russell, suffered death for it, and others of whom like my Lord Howard of Escrick escaped by turning King's evidence--although their guilt was very various--these gentlemen, through my Lord Essex, had got at me, as they thought, to betray not truth but falsehood

to His Majesty, and told me matters, under promise of secrecy, which they intended me to tell to the King and his advisers. To them, therefore, I had to feign feigning: I had to feign, that is, that I was feigning to keep their confidence, but that in reality that I was betraying it; while to Mr. Chiffinch I had to disclose these precious secrets not as true but as false, and conjecture with him what was the truth. (My evidence, later, was never called upon, nor did my name appear in any way, for that the jury would never have understood it.) I had, therefore, a double danger to guard against; first that which came from the conspirators--the fear that they should discover I was tricking them, or rather that I had discovered their trickery; and, on the other side, that I should become involved with them in the fall that was so certain from the beginning, and be myself accused of conspiracy--or of misprision of treason at the least. Against the latter I guarded as well as I could, by revealing to Mr. Chiffinch every least incident so soon as it happened; and on three occasions in the following year having a long discourse with His Majesty. But against the former danger I had only my wits to protect me.

The best thing, therefore, that I can do is to relate a few of the events that happened to me. (I have never, I think, experienced such a strain on my wits; for it went on for a good deal more than a year, since I could for a long time arrive at no certain proofs of the guilt of the conspirators, and His Majesty did not wish to strike until their conviction was assured.)

The first meeting of the conspirators to which I was admitted was in January. (I had not been able, of course, to go to Hare Street for Christmas; but the letters I had now and again from Dolly, greatly encouraged and comforted me. I had told her that I "was keeping to my resolution," but that "I should be in some peril for a good while to come," and begged her to remember me often in her pure prayers.)

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