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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Father Harcourt was seventy but he was not there


I will come with you myself," he said. "I know Mr. Fenwick's lodgings very well: and we will ride afterwards as far as Waltham Cross, and lie there; and so to Hare Street for dinner next day."

All the way home again, and when my Cousin Dorothy was gone to bed, and we sat over a couple of tankards of College Ale, he would talk of nothing but the Jesuits.

"They are too zealous," he said. "I am as good a Catholic as any man in England or Rome; but I like not this over-zeal. They are everywhere, these good fathers; and it will bring trouble on them. They hold their consults even in London, which I think over-rash; and no man knows what passes at them. Now I myself--" and so his tongue wagged on, telling of his own excellence and prudence, and even his own spirituality, while his eyes watered with the ale that he drank, and his face grew ever more red. And yet there was no true simplicity in the man; he had that kind of cunning that is eked out with winks and becks and nods that all the world could see. He talked of my Cousin Dorothy, too, and her virtues, and what a great lady she would be some day when these virtues were known; and he, declared that in spite of this he would never let her go to Court; and then once more he went back again to his earlier talk of the corruptions there, and of what my Lady this and Her Grace of that had said and done and thought.

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Mr. Fenwick's lodgings in Drury Lane were such as any man might have. The Jesuit Fathers lived apart in London--Father Whitbread in the City, Father Ireland in Russell Street, and Father Harcourt, who was called the "Rector of London," I heard, in Duke Street, near the arch--lest too much attention should be drawn to them if they were all together. They were pleasant quiet men, and received me very kindly--for my cousin who had forgot some matter he had to do before he went into the country, was gone down into the City to see to it. Mr. Grove, whom I learned later to be a lay brother of the Society, opened the door to me; and shewed me to the room where they were all three together.

They were all three of them just such men as you might meet anywhere, in coffee-houses or taverns, none of them under forty or over sixty years old. Father Harcourt was seventy--but he was not there. They were in sober suits, such as a lawyer might wear, and carried swords. These were not all the Jesuits thereabouts; for I heard them speak of Father John Gavan and Father Anthony Turner (who were in the country on that day), and others.

As I talked with them, and gave my news and listened to theirs, again and again I thought of the marvellous misjudgments that were always passed upon the Society; of how men such as these were always thought to be plotting and conspiring, and how any charge against a Jesuit was always taken as proven scarcely before it was stated; and that not by common men only, but by educated gentlemen too, who should know better. For their talk was of nothing but of the most harmless and Christian matters, and of such simplicity that no man who heard them could doubt their sincerity. It is true that they spoke of such things as the conversion of England, and of the progress that the Faith was making; and they told many wonderful stories of the religion of the common people in country places, and how a priest was received by them as an angel of God, and of their marvellous goodness and constancy under the bitterest trials; but so, I take it, would the Apostles themselves have spoken in Rome and Asia and Jerusalem. But as to the disloyalty that was afterwards charged against them, still less of any hatred or murderous designs, there was not one such thought that passed through any of their minds.

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