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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Any demonstration there would surely be a failure


Mallock," said my Lord, "the first piece of news is a little disappointing. It is that my Lord Shaftesbury is ill. It is not at all grave; but he is confined to his bed; and that throws back some of our designs."

(I made a proper answer of regret; and considered what was likely to be the truth. At the moment I could not see what this would be.)

"The next piece of news I have, gentlemen," went on my Lord--(for I think he thought he appeared to be speaking too much at me)--"is that owing to my Lord Shaftesbury's illness we must relinquish all thoughts of any demonstration in London. That, Mr. Mallock, was what we had hoped to be able to do in a week or two from now. Well; that is impossible. For the rest, Mr. Ferguson had better tell us."

This gentleman I took to be somewhat of an ass by his appearance and manner; but I am not sure he was not the cleverest liar of them all. He spoke with a strong Scotch accent, and an appearance of shy sheepiness, and therefore with an air too of extraordinary truth. He spoke, too, at great length, as if he were in his pulpit; and my Lord Essex yawned behind his hand once or twice.

Briefly put--Mr. Ferguson's report was as follows:

The discontent in the West was rising to a climax; and if a much longer delay were made, real danger might follow. It was sadly disconcerting, therefore,

to him to hear that there was any hitch in the London designs: for the promise that he had given to some of the leaders in the West (whose names, he said, with an appearance of a stupid boorish kind of cunning, "had best not be said even here") was that a demonstration should be made simultaneously both here, in the West, and in Scot--

Here he interrupted himself sharply; and I saw that he had made a blunder. But he covered it so admirably, that if I had not previously known that discontent was seething among the Covenanters, I am sure I should have suspected nothing.

"In Scotland," said he, "we must look for nothing. They are forever promising and not performing--though I say it of my own countrymen. Any demonstration there would surely be a failure."

It was admirably done; and it was then that I perceived what an actor the man was.

Well; when he had done, we talked over it a while. I professed myself very well satisfied with what I had heard; and I put forward an opinion that it would be far better to delay no longer in the West. A demonstration there might lead to alarm here; troops might be withdrawn here, and relieve the pressure, and thus make possible a further demonstration in London. I spoke, I think, with some eloquence, remembering however that they all looked on me with the same confidence that I had in them--and no more: that is, that they believed me a liar. My observations were received with applause, very well delivered.

It was growing pretty late by the time we had done; yet before we went I had learned one more piece of news, partly through a little trap I laid, and partly through my Lord Essex's clumsiness.

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