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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Was no other than my Lord Shaftesbury himself


A

fellow came to my lodgings about the middle of January, with a letter from my Lord Essex. It ran as follows:

"SIR,--With regard to some matters of which we spoke together on the occasion of our very pleasant ride to town last month, I am very anxious to see you again. Pray do not write any answer to this; but if you can meet me on Thursday night at the house of my friend Mr. West, in Creed Lane, at nine o'clock, we may have a little conversation with some other friends of ours. I am, sir, your obliged servant,

"Essex."

I told the fellow that the answer was Yes. My Lord had been to see me in Covent Garden twice, but had said very little that was at all explicit; but Mr. Chiffinch had bid me hold myself in readiness, and put aside all else for the further invitations that would surely come. And so it had.

I found the house without difficulty; and was shewn into a little parlour near the door; where presently my Lord came to me alone, all smiles.

"I am very glad you are come, Mr. Mallock," he said. "I was sure that you would. I have a few friends here who meet to talk politics; and they would greatly like to hear your views on the points. I think I may now venture to say that we know who you are, Mr. Mallock, and that you have done a good deal for His Majesty in France. Your opinion then would be of the greatest

interest to us all."

(I understood why he put so much emphasis on France; it was to quiet me as to any suspicions they thought I might have as to my being the King's servant in England too.)

I answered him very civilly, smiling as if I was at my ease; and after a word or two more he took me in. It was a long low room, with a beamed ceiling and shuttered windows, in which the men were sitting. There were six of them there; and I knew two of them, immediately. He that sat at the head of the table, a very grim-looking man, with pointed features, in an iron-grey peruke, was no other than my Lord Shaftesbury himself; and the one on his left, with a highish colour in his cheeks, was my Lord Grey. Of the rest I knew nothing; but those two were enough to shew me that I must make no mistakes. There were candles on the table.

My Lord Essex smiled as he turned to me.

"Mr. Mallock," he said, "I see you know some of these gentlemen by sight."

"I know my Lord Shaftesbury, and my Lord Grey by sight," I said, bowing to each. They each inclined a little in return.

"And this is Mr. West," said my Lord.

This was a very busy-looking active little fellow, with bright dark eyes. (He had the name of being an atheist, I learned afterwards.)

"Sit down, Mr. Mallock," said my Lord, pointing to a chair on my Lord Shaftesbury's right. I did so. There was no servant in the room. The two other men were presently made known to me as a Mr. Sheppard and a Mr. Goodenough. I knew nothing of either of these two at this time.


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