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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

My Lord Shaftesbury did not say a great deal


Now

it may seem that it was extraordinary bold of all these persons to admit me, believing as they did, that I was on His Majesty's side, and would reveal all to him; and it was, in one way, bold of them; yet it was the more clever. For, as will appear, they said nothing to me at present that could be taken hold of in any way; and yet they sent, or rather thought they sent, to the King, false news that would help their cause.

When he had discoursed for a little while on general matters, yet drawing nearer ever to the point, my Lord Essex opened the engagement.

"That Mr. Rumbald," he said. "Do you know who he is, Mr. Mallock?"

"Why, he is a maltster, is he not?" I said.

"Well: he married a maltster's widow, who is dead now. But he is an honest old Cromwellian--loyal enough to His Majesty--" (the gentlemen all solemnly put hands to their hats)--"yet very greatly distressed at the course things are taking."

"An old soldier?" I asked.

"Yes: he was a Colonel under Oliver."

Such was the opening; and after that we talked more freely, though not so freely as, I doubt not, they had talked for an hour before I came. My Lord Shaftesbury did not say a great deal; he had a quick discontented look; but I think I satisfied him. He was in a very low condition

at this time--all but desperate--so strongly had the tide set against him since my Lord Stafford's death and the reaction that followed it; and I think he would have grasped at anything to further his fortunes: for that was what he chiefly cared about. My Lord Essex did most of the talking, and Mr. West; and I could see that they were shewing me off, as a new capture, and one on whose treachery to them their hopes might turn.

Now there were three or four matters on which they were very emphatic. First, that no injury was intended to the King or the Duke of York; but this they did not disclaim for themselves so much as for the disaffected persons generally; as regards themselves they said little or nothing: and from this I deduced that the King's life would certainly be aimed at; and the more so, as they said what a pity it was that His Majesty's guards were still doubled.

"It shews a lack of confidence in the people," said my Lord Essex.

(From that, then, I argued that an attempt was contemplated upon Whitehall.)

The second thing that Mr. West was very emphatic upon was the need of proceeding, if any reform were to be brought about, in a legal and Parliamentary manner.

"Why does not His Majesty call another Parliament?" he added, "that at least we may air our grievances? It is true enough that my Lord Shaftesbury--" (here he bowed to my Lord who blinked in return)--"that my Lord Shaftesbury found Parliament against him in the event; but he does not complain of that. He hath at least been heard."

(From that I argued either that they thought they would be stronger in a new Parliament, or that they contemplated acting in quite another manner. I could not tell for certain which; but I supposed the latter.)

The third thing that Mr. Goodenough said, relating how he had heard it from a Mr. Ferguson of Bristol, was that the West of England was in a very discontented condition, and that His Majesty would do well to send troops there.

Now I knew that his statement was tolerably true; and that therefore the false part must be the second. The only conclusion I could draw was that they wished troops to be withdrawn from London.


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