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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

I was observing my Lord Shaftesbury and


It

would be not until after ten or twelve minutes that Mr. Sheppard was deputed to open the affair on account of which I had been sent for.

"Now then, Sheppard," said my Lord Essex who sat on my right, "tell us the news."

Mr. Sheppard pushed his glass forward and leaned his elbows on the table. I could see that all that he said was directed principally at me.

"Well, my lords," he said, "I have very good news. You remember how I told you that I was beginning to fear for the people down here--that they would be provoked soon into some kind of a rising. They are still not wholly pacified--" (here he shot a look at me, which he should not have done)--"but I am doing my best to tell them that we have very good hopes indeed that His Majesty will be persuaded to call a Parliament; and I think they are beginning to believe me. I think we may say that the danger is past."

"Why; what danger is that, Mr. Sheppard?" said I, very innocently.

"Why--a rising!" he said. "Has not my Lord Essex told you?"

"Ah! yes!" said I, "I had forgot." (This was wholly false. He had told me once or twice at least that there was danger of this. This had been a month ago; and his object had been to persuade me that they had been telling the truth.)

"I saw some fellows as

we came in," I said.

"Those are the malcontents," he said. "There are not more than a very few now, who go about and brag."

I assented.

"By the way," said my Lord Essex to Shaftesbury who looked at him heavily, "I spoke with my Lord Russell a week ago. You know my Lord Russell, Mr. Mallock?"

I said that I did not.

"Well; I had hoped he would have been here to-night. But he is gone down to the country--to Stratton--where he has his seat."

He talked a while longer of my Lord Russell; and I saw that he wished me to believe that my Lord was of their party: whence I argued to myself that was just what he was not; but that they wished to win him over for the sake of his name, perhaps, and his known probity. (And, as the event shewed, I was right in that conjecture.)

Two or three of them were still talking together in this strain, and while I listened enough to tell me that it was nothing very important that they said, I was observing my Lord Shaftesbury: and, upon my heart! I was sorry for the man. Three years ago he was in the front of the rising tide, in the full blast of popularity and power; he had so worked upon the old Popish Plot and the mob, that he had all the movement with him: His Majesty himself was afraid of him, and was forced to follow his leading. Now he was fallen from all this; the Court-party had triumphed because he had so overshot his mark, and here was he, in this poor quarter, in the house of a man that would have been nothing to him five years ago, forced to this very poor kind of conspiring for his last hopes. He sat as if he knew all this himself: his eyes strayed about him as we talked, and there were heavy pouches beneath them, and deep lines at the corner of his nose and mouth. It was this man, thought I, who was so largely responsible for the death of so many innocents--and all for his own ambition!

Presently I heard His Grace of Monmouth spoken of. It was Mr. Sheppard who spoke the name; and in an instant I was on the alert again. What he said fell very pat with what I was thinking of my Lord Shaftesbury.


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