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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

And tenderness where he should have shewn ruthlessness


So

that night went slowly by. The dogs were still in the room, whining from time to time, as Mr. Chiffinch told me afterwards--(for it was thought better that I myself, as one so deeply involved in what had lately passed should not be present)--and one of the little dogs sought repeatedly to leap upon the bed, but was prevented; and at last was carried away, crying. Again and again first one Bishop and then another begged him to receive the sacrament; but he would not: so they prayed by him instead, which was all they could do.

At about six o'clock, when dawn came, he begged that the curtains of his bed might be drawn back yet further, and the windows opened, that he might see daylight again and breathe the fresh air: and this was done. Then, at the chiming of the hour by the clocks in the room, he remembered that one of them, which was an eight-day one, should be wound up, for it was a Friday on which it was always wound. And this too was done.

At seven o'clock breathlessness came on him again, and he was compelled to sit up in bed, with his brother's arm about him on one side, and a physician's upon the other. They blooded him again, to twelve ounces more, which I suppose took his last remnant of strength from him; for in spite of their remedies, he sank very rapidly; and about half-past eight lost all power of speech. He kept his consciousness, however, moving his eyes and shewing that he understood what was

said to him till ten o'clock; and then he became unconscious altogether.

At a little before noon, without a struggle or agony of any kind, His Sacred Majesty ceased to breathe.

Of all that followed, there is no need that I should write; for I remained in England only till after the funeral in Westminster Abbey--which was very poorly done--eight days later; and I left on the Sunday morning, for Dover, after being present first, for a remembrance, at the first mass celebrated publicly in England, with open doors, in the presence of the Sovereign, since over a hundred and thirty years. I had audience with King James on the night before, when I went to take my leave of him; and he renewed to me the offer of the Viscounty, of which I think Mr. Chiffinch had spoken to him. But I refused it as courteously as I could, telling him that I was for Rome and the cloister.

All the rest, however, is known by others better than by myself; and the events that followed. His Majesty shewed himself as he had always been--courageous, obstinate, well-intentioned and entirely without understanding. He was profuse in his promises of religious equality; but slow to observe them. He shewed ruthlessness where he should have shewn tenderness, and tenderness where he should have shewn ruthlessness. So, once more, all our labours went for nothing; and William came in; and the Catholic cause vanished clean out of England until it shall please God to bring it back again.

So here I sit near sixty years old, a monk of the Order of Saint Benet, in my cell at St. Paul's-Without-the-Walls. I have been Novice Master three times; but I shall never be more than that; for governmental affairs and I have said farewell to one another a long while ago. It was through my telling of my adventures to my Novices at recreation-time that the writing of them down came about; for my Lord Abbot heard of them, and put me under obedience to write them down. He did this when he heard one of my Novices name me to another as Father Viscount! I have written them, then, down all in full, leaving nothing out except the French affairs on which I was put under oath by His Majesty never to reveal anything: I have left out not even the tale of my Cousin Dolly; for I hold that in such a love as was ours there is nothing that a monk need be ashamed of. I will venture even further than that, and will say that I am a better monk than I should have been without it; and as one last piece of rashness I will say that amongst "those good things which God hath prepared for them that love Him" in that world which is beyond this (if I ever come at it by His Grace), will be, I think, the look on my Cousin Dolly's face when I see her again.

Of other personages whose acquaintance I made in England--excepting always His Majesty, and my master, Charles the Second--I neither speak nor think very much now. My Cousin Tom died of an apoplexy three years after I left England, and God knows who hath Hare Street House to-day! His Majesty James the Second, as all the world knows, made a most excellent end of it in France, dying as he had never lived till after his coming to France, a very humble and Christian soul. In regard to Mr. Chiffinch, I think of him sometimes and wonder what kind of an end he made. He was very reprobate while I knew him; yet he had the gift of fidelity, and that, I think, must count for something before God who gave it him. Of the ladies of the Court I know nothing at all, nor how they fared nor how they ended, nor even if they are all dead yet--I mean such ladies as was Her Grace of Portsmouth.

But all of them I commend to God every day in my mass living or dead; and trust that all may have found the mercy of God, or may yet find it. But most of all I remember at the altar the names of two persons, than between whom there could be no greater difference in this world--the names of Dorothy Mary Jermyn, the least of all sinners; and of Charles Stuart, King of England, the greatest of all sinners, yet a penitent one. For these are the two whom I have loved as I can never love any others.


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