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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

James was already on his way to Hoddesdon


My

letter to Mr. Chiffinch was not long. It ran as follows:

"Rumbald hath been to see me; and bids me be with him, if I can, by noon to-day at the _Mitre_, without Aldgate. I know no more than that; but I am making ready to go down with him to the Rye at Hoddesdon, if he should want me there. I think that something is intended, if we are right in our conjectures. I shall have my man at the inn in Hoddesdon. You must send no one else for fear of alarming them, unless my man comes to you to-morrow to tell you that he does not know where I am. Is His Majesty still at Newmarket? If so, when does he purpose to return? Which road will he come by? Send an answer back by my man who bears this.

"R.M."

Well; that was all that I could do. I gave the letter to James; telling him not to awaken me with the answer till he came at eleven o'clock; and after eating a good meal, I went to my bed and fell sound asleep; and it seemed scarcely five minutes, before James came knocking, with Mr. Chiffinch's answer. I sat up on my bed and read it--my mind still swimming with sleep.

"_Prospere procede_!" it ran. "I will observe all that you say. The King and His Royal Highness are together at Newmarket. They purpose to return on a Saturday, as the King usually does; but he hath not yet sent to say whether it will be to-morrow, the 18th or the 25th. I shall hear by night,

no doubt. Neither do I know the road by which they may come."

I read it through twice; then I tore it into fragments and gave them to James.

"Burn all these," I said. "Are the horses ready?"

"Yes, sir," said James.

Undoubtedly my sleep had refreshed me; for by the time that I rode up to the _Mitre_ without Aldgate, I was awake with a kind of clear-headedness that astonished me. It appeared to me that I had thought out every contingency. I had with me a little valise, ready for the country, if need be; yet I could return to my lodgings without remark. James was already on his way to Hoddesdon, and would be there if I needed him. No harm was done if my conjectures were at fault; I had left no loophole that I could see, if they were not. It was with a tolerably contented heart, in spite of the dangers I foresaw--(for I think these gave spice to my adventure)--that I rode up to the _Mitre_, and saw Mr. Rumbald himself standing astraddle in the doorway.

I must confess however that the sight of him gave me a little check. He appeared to me more truculent than I had ever seen him. He had his hands behind him, with a great whip in them; he hardly smiled to me, but nodded only, fixing his fierce eyes on my face. He had, more than I had ever noticed it before, that hard fanatic look of the Puritan. After all, I reflected, this maltster had commanded a troop under Cromwell at Naseby. His manner was very different from when I had last seen him; he appeared to me as if desperate.

However, I think I shewed nothing of what I felt. I saluted him easily, and swung myself off my horse. He had gone into the house at my approach; and I followed him straight through into a little parlour to which, it seemed, he had particular access, for he turned a key in the door as he went in. When I was in, after him, and the door was shut, he turned to me, with a very stern look.

"Well, Mr. Mallock?" he said. "I see you are come ready for a ride."


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