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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Sheppard had suspected that I had seen my Lord Russell


There

was a loyal and grateful murmur from the others. Indeed he looked a prince, every inch of him. He took his leave with a superb courtesy, giving his hand to each; and each bowed over it very low. I was not sure but that Mr. Sheppard did not kiss it. For myself, I kissed it outright. While I did so, I could have sworn that Mr. Sheppard said something very swiftly in the ear of my Lord Essex.

Now I was wondering why they had kept me from my Lord Russell. His probity was known well enough; and if they had wished to reassure me they could have done no better than tell me he was one of them; and then, of a sudden I recollected that to reassure me was the very last thing they wished; on the contrary, they wished to hold me tight, betraying only what they wished me to betray, until they were ready for their final stroke. And, just as I had arrived at that, when we were all sat down, my Lord Essex again dumfoundered me.

"Mr. Mallock," he said, "I wish to tell you, now we are in private, that my Lord Russell has been here, as well as His Grace and Sir Thomas Armstrong. You can tell from the presence of those three what our chief difficulty will be; for not one of them will hear of even the danger of any injury to His Majesty or the Duke of York. His Grace of Monmouth, of course, had to be consulted on one or two points; and he brought those other two with him to hear what we had to say. Well; I think we have satisfied

them; though I fear, later, that they will not approve of our methods. But we did not wish my Lord Russell to see you until we had done talking to him; for fear that he might know something of your disaffection. We have satisfied him--and, what is more important--His Grace too, for the present; and they will not interfere with us."

Now this speech was an exceedingly ingenious one. Before he had done speaking I understood that Mr. Sheppard had suspected that I had seen my Lord Russell, and that that was why they were so open with me. But the rest of the speech was very shrewd indeed; and I think it might have deceived me, if I had not learned by the conversation that it was His Grace who was trying to reassure my Lord, and no one that was trying to reassure His Grace. But the web was so well woven that for the moment I could not see through it all; though I understood it all presently, when I had had a little time to think. For the instant, however, I saw one safe answer that I could make.

"I am obliged to your Lordship for telling me," I said, "and I trust from what you have said that it is but a preliminary to a little more information. Your Lordship told me in July that there would be more news for me presently."

He could not resist a glance at my Lord Grey--as if in triumph at his success.

"That is what we are met for," he said; and then--"Why, Mr. Mallock, I have not made these other gentlemen known to you."

They turned out to be--on the right of my Lord, the minister, Mr. Ferguson--he who had been spoken of before as an informant from Bristol; and a Colonel Rumsey--an old Cromwellian like the maltster of Hoddesdon--who sat next to Mr. Ferguson. We saluted one another; and then the affair began.


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