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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

It may be my Lord Danby himself


wish to know nothing more than I am obliged. Pickering is some sort of Religious, too, they tell me. And what kind of a man is Grove?"

"He is a modest kind of man, Sir. He opened the door to me, and I saw him a-laying of the table for dinner. I know no more of him than that."

Then the King drew himself up in his chair suddenly, as I had seen him do before, and his mocking manner left him. It was as if another man sat there.

"Mr. Mallock," he said, shaking his finger at me with great solemnity, "listen to me. I had thought for a long time that an attempt would be made against the Catholics. There is a great deal of feeling in the country, now that my brother is one of them, and I myself am known not to be disinclined towards them. And I make no doubt at all that this is such an attempt. They have begun with the Jesuits; for that will be the most popular cry; and they have added in Sir George Wakeman's name, Her Majesty's physician, to give colour to it all. By and by they will add other names; (you will see if it be not so), until not a Jesuit, and scarce a Catholic is left who is not embroiled in it. I do not know who is behind this matter; it may be my Lord Danby himself, or Shaftesbury, or a score of others. Or it may be some discontented fellow who will make his fortune over it; for all know that such a cry as this will be a popular one. But this I know for a verity--that

there is not one word of truth in the tale from beginning to end; and it will appear so presently, no doubt. Yet meanwhile a great deal of mischief may be done; and my brother, may be, and even Her Majesty, may suffer for it, if we are not very prudent. Now, Mr. Mallock, I sent for you, for I did not know who else to send for. You are not known in England, or scarcely: you come commended to me by the Holy Father himself; you are neither priest nor Jesuit. What, then, you must do for me is this. First, you must speak not one word of the matter to any living soul--not even your confessor; for if we can quash the whole matter privately, so much the better. I had you in just now, that Danby and the others might see that you had my confidence; but I said nothing of who you were nor where you came from; and, if they inquire, they will know nothing but that you come commended by the ambassadors. Very well then; you must go about freely amongst the Jesuits, and rake together any evidence that you can that may be of use to them if the affair should ever be made public; and yet they must know nothing of the reason--I lay that upon you. And you must mix freely in taverns and coffee-houses, especially among the smaller gentry, and hear what you can--as to whether the plot hath yet leaked out--(for it is no less)--and what they think of it; and if not, what it is that they say of the Catholics. You understand me, Mr. Mallock?"

I said, Yes: but my heart had grown sick during the King's speech to me; for all that I had ever thought in Rome, of England, seemed on the point of fulfilment. His Majesty too had spoken with an extraordinary vehemence, that was like a fire for heat. But I must have commanded my countenance well; for he commended me on my behaviour.

"Your manner is excellent, Mr. Mallock," he said, "both just now and a few minutes ago. You take it very well. And I have your word upon it that you will observe secrecy?"

"My word on it, Sir," I said.

Then His Majesty leaned back again and relaxed a little.

"That is very well," he said; "and I think I have chosen my man well. You need not fear, Mr. Mallock, that any harm will come to the good Fathers, or to Grove or Pickering either. They cannot lay a finger upon them without my consent; and that they shall never have. It is to prevent rather the scandal of the whole matter that I am anxious; and to save the Queen and my brother from any trouble. You do not know yet, I think, all the feeling that there is upon the Catholics."

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