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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Chiffinch snapped his lips together


"Keeling,"

said I, "you remember me well enough. Well; I need not say that we know pretty near everything that there is to know. But we must have it from you, too. Tell us both now, as near as you can recollect, every name to which you can speak with certainty. Remember, we want no lies. We had enough of them a while back in another plot." (I could not resist that; though Mr. Chiffinch snapped his lips together.) "Well, now, take your time. No, do not speak. Consider yourself carefully."

It was, indeed, a miserable sight to see this poor wretch so hemmed in. The sweet evening light fell full upon his terrified eyes and his working lips, as he sought to gather up the names. He was persuaded, I am sure, that we were as gods, knowing all things--above all, he feared myself, as I could see, having met me first at the very house of Rumbald, as if I were his friend, and now again in the chamber of his accuser. It was piteous to see how he sought to be very exact in his memories, and not go by a hair's breadth beyond the truth.

At last I let him speak.

"Now then," I said, "tell us the names." (I saw as I spoke that Mr. Chiffinch held a note-book below the table to take them down.)

"Sir, these for certain. Rumbald; West; Rumsey--"

"Slowly, man, slowly," I cried.

"Rumsey; Goodenough; Burton;

Thompson; Barber--those last three all of Wapping, sir. Then, sir, there is Wade, Nelthrop, West, Walcot--" he hesitated.

"Well, sir," demanded Mr. Chiffinch very fiercely. "That is not all."

"No, sir, no no.... There is Hone, a joiner like myself."

"Man," cried the page, "we want better names than snivelling tradesmen like yourself."

The fellow turned even paler.

"Well, sir; but how can I tell that--"

"Sir," said the page to me sharply, "call the guard!"

"Sir," cried the poor wretch, "I will tell all; indeed I will tell."

"Well?"

"Sir, the Duke of Monmouth was in it--at least we heard so. He was certainly in the former plot!"

"And what was that?" asked the other very quietly.

"Why, sir; the plot to assault Whitehall; it is all one in reality; but--"

"We know all about that," snapped the page sharply. "Well; and what other names?"

"Sir; there was my Lord Russell."

I moved in my chair. Even to this day I cannot believe that that peer was guilty; though indeed he was found so to be. Mr. Chiffinch cast me a look.

"Proceed, sir," he said.

"And there was Mr. Ferguson, a minister; and Mr. Wildman; and my Lord Argyle in Scotland; and my Lord Howard of Escrick; and Mr. Sidney; and my Lord Essex. I do not say, sir, that all those--"

"There! there: go on. We shall test every word you say; you may depend upon it. What other names have you?"

"There was my Lord Grey, sir; and Sir Thomas Armstrong ... Sir; I can remember no more!"

"And a pretty load on any man's conscience!" cried the virtuous Mr. Chiffinch. "And so all this nest of assassins--"


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