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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Across the Southwark marshes and the river


It was drawing on to sunset as we rode up through the Southwark fields and, at the top of a little eminence in the ground saw for the first time plainly all the City displayed before us.

We came along the Kent road, having caught sight again and again of such spires as had risen after the Great Fire, and of the smoke that rose from the chimneys; but I may say that I was astonished at the progress the builders had made from what I could remember of seven years before. Then there had still been left great open spaces where there should have been none; now it was a city once more; and even the Cathedral shewed its walls and a few roofs above the houses. The steeples too of Sir Christopher Wren's new churches pricked everywhere; though I saw later that there was yet much building to be done, both in these and in many of the greater houses. My man James rode with me; (for I had been careful not to form too great intimacies with the party with whom I had ridden from Dover); and I remarked to him upon the matter.

"And there, sir," he said to me, pointing to it, "is the monument no doubt that they have raised to it."

And so we found it to be a day or two later--a tall pillar, with an inscription upon it saying that the Fire had been caused by the Papists--a black lie, as every honest man knows.

By the time that we came to London Bridge the sun was yet lower, setting in a glory of crimson, so that it was hard to see against it much of Westminster, across the Southwark marshes and the river; but yet I could make out the roofs of the Abbey and of some of the great buildings of Whitehall, where my adventures, I thought, were to lie. But between that and the other end of London Bridge, just before we set foot on it, the rest of the City was plain enough; and, indeed, it was a splendid sight to see the river, all, as it seemed, of molten gold with the barges and the wherries plying upon it, and the great houses on the banks and their gardens coming down to the water-gates, and the forest of chimneys and roofs and steeples behind, and all of a translucent blue colour. The sounds of the City, too, came to us plainly across the water--the chiming of bells and the firing of some sunset gun, and even the noise of wheels and the barking of dogs and the crowing of cocks--all in a soft medley of human music that made my heart rejoice; for in spite of my long exile abroad and my French and Italianate manners, I counted myself always an Englishman.

Now the first design that I had in mind, and for which I had made my dispositions, was to go straight to my lodging that had been secured for me by my cousin Tom Jermyn, where he was to meet me, and where he too would lie that night. It was with him that I was to present my letters at Whitehall in a day or two, after I had bought my clothes and other necessaries; in short he was to be my _cicerone_ for a while--for he was a Catholic too, like myself--but he was not to be told that I had come on any mission at all, until at anyrate I had well tested his discretion.


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