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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Rumbald the maltster I am to be heard of here at any time


When the others were gone out, and there was a little delay, I too--(God forgive me!)--cursed the poor maid for a slut once or twice, and bade her make haste with my dinner; and my manner had its effect, for the fellow warmed to me presently and told me that he was Mr. Rumbald, and I said on my part that my name was Mallock; and we shook hands upon it, for that was the mood of the ale that was in him. (But he had other moods, too, I learned later, when he was very repentant for his drink.)

I began then, to speak of Hare Street, and said that I lodged there sometimes; and then began to speak of the parson there, and of what a Churchman he was.

"Of Hare Street, eh?" said he. "Why I am not far from there myself. I am of Hoddesdon, or near to it. Where have you lodged in Hare Street, and what is your business?"

I was in a quandary at that, for it seemed to me then (though it was not in reality), a piece of bad fortune that he should come from thereabouts.

"I am Jack-of-all-trades," I said. "I did some garden work there for Mr. Jermyn, the Papist."

"The Papist, eh?" cried Mr. Rumbald.

"I would work for the Devil," said I, "if he would pay me enough."

The words appeared to Mr. Rumbald very witty, though God knows why: I suppose it was the ale in him: for he laughed aloud and beat on his leg.

"I'll be bound you would," he said.

And it was these words of mine which (under God's Providence, as I think now) established my reputation with Mr. Rumbald as a dare-devil kind of fellow that would do anything for money. He began, too, at that (which pleased me better at the time), to speak of precisely those matters of which I wished to hear. It was not treasonable talk, for the ale had not driven all the sense out of him; but it was as near treasonable as might be; and it was above all against the Catholics that he raged. I would not defile this page by writing down all that he said; but neither Her Majesty nor the Duke of York escaped his venom; there appeared nothing too bad to be said of them; and he spoke of other names, too, of the Duchess of Portsmouth whom he called by vile names (yet not viler than she had rightfully earned) and the Duchess of Cleveland; and he began upon the King, but stopped himself.

"But you are a Church of England man?" he said. "Well, so am I now, at least I call myself so, though I should be a Presbyterian; but--" And he stopped again.

Now all this was mighty interesting to me; for it was worse than anything I had heard before; and yet he said it all as if it was common talk among his kind, where he came from; and it was very consonant with what the King had set me to do, which was to hear what the common people had to say. My gorge rose at the man again and again; but I was a tolerable actor in those days, and restrained myself very well. When he went at last he clapped me on the back, as if it were I who had done all the bragging.

"You are the right kind of fellow," he said, "and, by God, I wish there were more of us. You will remember my name--Mr. Rumbald the maltster--I am to be heard of here at any time, for I come up on my business every week--though I was not always a maltster."


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