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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

I was to speak freely to the priests


I

said nothing: it was my business to listen rather, and indeed what His Majesty said next was worth hearing.

"There be three kinds of religion in my realm," he said. "The Presbyterian and Independent and that kind--for I count those all one; and that is no religion for a gentleman. And there is the Church of England, of which I am the head, which numbers many gentlemen, but is no religion for a Christian; and there is the Catholic, which is the only religion (so far as I am acquainted with any), suited for both gentlemen and Christians. That is my view of the matter, Mr. Mallock."

The merry look was back in his eyes, melancholy though they always were, as he said this. For myself, it was on the tip of my tongue to ask His Majesty why, if he thought so, he did not act upon it. But I did not, thinking it too bold on so short an acquaintance; and I think I was right in that; for he put it immediately into words himself.

"I know what you are thinking, Mr. Mallock. Well; I am not yet a good enough Christian for that."

I knew very well what His Majesty meant when he said that: he was thinking of his women to whom as yet he could not say good-bye; and the compassion surged up in me again at the thought that a man so noble as this, and who knew so much (as his speeches had shewed me), could be so ignoble too--so tied and bound by his sins; and it affected

me so much--here in his presence that had so strange a fascination in it--that it was as if a hand had squeezed my throat, so that I could not speak, even if I would.

"Well, sir," he said, "I must thank you for coming so quickly when I sent for you. Mr. Chiffinch knows why you are come; but no one else; and even to him you must not say one word. You will do well and discreetly; of that I am sure. I will send for you again presently; and you may come to me when you will."

He gave me his hand to kiss; and I went out, promising that no pains should be spared.

* * * * *

It was indeed a difficult task that His Majesty had laid upon me. I was to speak freely to the priests, yet not freely; and how to collect the evidence that was required I knew not; since I knew nothing at all of when the conspiring was said to be done, nor what would be of avail to protect them; and all the way to my lodgings with my man James, I was thinking of what was best to do. My man had ordered that all things should be ready for my entertainment, and I found the rooms prepared, and the beds laid; and the first thing I did after dinner was to go to bed, after I had written to my Cousin Tom at Hare Street, and sleep until the evening.

* * * * *

When I was dressed and had had supper in the coffee-house, listening as well as I could to the talk, but hearing nothing pertinent, I went back again to Drury Lane, to Mr. Fenwick's lodging, to lay the foundation of my plan. For I had determined, between sleeping and waking, that the best thing to be done, was to shew myself as forward and friendly as I could, so that I might mix with the Fathers freely, in the hope that I might light on something; and it so fell out, that although my small adventures that evening had no use in them in the event, yet they were strangely relevant to what took place afterwards.


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