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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

I wish my Lord Shaftesbury had been here


"Well,"

said I, "I must be getting homewards, my Lords. I wish my Lord Shaftesbury had been here. Could I see his Lordship, do you think?--if I were to call at his town house? There is a very particular matter--"

My Lord Essex started a little. He was tired and overanxious, I think, with the continual part that he had to play before me; yet it was the first slip he made.

"My Lord is out of town--" he said. Then he paused. "You could not tell us, I suppose--"

I affected indifference. (Was my Lord out of town, I wondered?)

"Why; it is nothing," I said.

My Lord exchanged a look with Mr. Sheppard; and made his second mistake.

"I saw my Lord only--last week," he said suddenly. "He wishes his address to be private for the present; but--

"Do not trouble yourself, my Lord," I said. "I assure you it has nothing to do with our business here."

I repeated this, I think, with a good enough manner to persuade them that what I said was true; and presently afterwards took my leave.

As I sat in the wherry that took me back to the Privy Stairs--(I had announced of course, "to the Temple")--I was preparing in my mind what I should say. I had learned a considerable amount for an evening; for the

conversation I had overheard, added to what Mr. Chiffinch had told me, added to what they had all said in the parlour, interpreted and fitted together, was pretty significant.

These were the points I arranged.

First, that the visit of the Duke, my Lord Grey and Sir Thomas Armstrong to Whitehall was to see in what state the guards were in case of a surprise; and the conclusion they had arrived at was they "were not like soldiers at all" but "very remiss."

Second, that a "demonstration" in London was very imminent.

Third, that they had won over my Lord Russell enough at least to gain the help that his name would give.

Fourth, I was confirmed in what Mr. Chiffinch had told me as to the probability of a rising in Scotland.

Fifth, I was confirmed in my view that the Duke was very deeply involved.

Sixth, it appeared to me exceedingly probable that my Lord Shaftesbury was still in town, though not in his own house: and, all things considered, it was very nearly certain that he was hidden in Wapping. He was, probably also, a little ill, or he would have been at our meeting to-night.

One conclusion then, immediate and pressing, came out of all this; that an assault on Whitehall and an attack on the King's person was in urgent contemplation.

* * * * *

Then, as we went up under the stars, my waterman and I, one of those moods came upon me which come on all men in such stress as I was; and I appeared to myself, for the time, to be worlds away from all this sedition and passion and fever. The little affairs of men which they thought so great seemed to me in that hour very little and wicked--like the scheming of naughty children, or the quarrels and spites of efts in a muddy pond. In that hour my whole heart grew sick at this miserable murderous pother in the midst of which my duty seemed to lie; and yearned instead to those things that are great indeed--the love of the maid who had promised herself to me, and the Love of God that should make us one. My religion--though I am a little ashamed to confess it--had been very little to me lately: I had heard mass, indeed, usually, on Sundays, in one of the privileged chapels, and had confessed myself at Easter and once since, to one of the Capuchins, and received Communion; yet, for the rest it had largely been blotted out by these hot absorbing affairs in which I found myself. But, in that hour (for the tide was beginning to set against us)--it came back on me like a breeze in a stifling room. I thought of that cleanly passionless life I had led as a novice, and of that no less cleanly, though perhaps less supernatural life, that should one day be mine and Dolly's--and these politics and these plottings and this listening at doors, and this elaborate lying--all blew off from me like a cloud.


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