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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

And that night I put on some more ointment


"Why

cannot men serve God according to their own conscience?" he said, "and leave others to do the same."

"Sir," I said, "there is but one Church of God where men are at unity with one another."

He paid no attention to that; and his face suddenly contracted strangely.

"Did you hear any gossip--I mean about myself--after the death of the Jesuit Fathers?"

I told him No; for I had heard nothing of it at that time.

He came and sat down, motioning me too to a seat; for I had stood up when he did.

"Well," he said, "it is certainly strange enough, and I should not have believed it, if it had not happened to myself."

Again he stopped with an odd look.

"Well," he said, "here is the tale; and I will swear to it. You know how unwilling I was to sign the death-warrants."

"Yes, Sir; all the world knows that."

"And all the world knows that I did it," he said with a vehement kind of bitterness. "Yes; I did it, for there was no way out of it that I could see. It was they or the Crown must go. But I never intended it; and I swore I would not."

"Yes, Sir," I said quietly, "you said so to me."

"Did

I? Well, I said so to many. I even swore that my right hand might rot off if I did it."

His heavy face was all working. I had seldom seen him so much moved.

"Yes," he said, "that was what I swore. Well, Mr. Mallock, did you ever hear what followed?"

"No, Sir," I said again.

"It was within that week, that when I awakened one morning I felt my right hand to be all stiff. I thought nothing of it at the first; I believed I must have strained it at tennis. Well; that day I said nothing to anyone; but I rubbed some ointment on my hand that night."

He stopped again, lifted his right hand a little and looked at it, as if meditating on it. It was a square strong man's hand, but very well shaped and very brown; it had a couple of great rings on the fingers.

"Well," he said, "the next morning a sore had broken out on it; and I sent for a physician. He told me it was nothing but a little humour in the blood, and he bade me take care of my diet. I said nothing to anyone else, and bade him not speak of it; and that night I put on some more ointment; and the next morning another sore was broken out, between the finger and the thumb, so that I could not hold a pen without pain; and it was then, for the first time, that I remembered what I had sworn."

He had his features under command again, but I could see, as he looked at me, that his eyes were still full of emotion.

"Well, Mr. Mallock; I was in a great way at that; but yet I dared tell nobody. I wore my glove all day, so that no one should see my hand; and that evening when I went in to see Her Majesty, what should I see hanging up on the wall of the chamber but the pictures of the five men whose warrants I had signed!"


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