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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Whitbread had told me that he would


When

the Court was full to bursting, my Lords came in, with the Chief Justice--that is Sir William Scroggs--in the midst. I had never seen him before, though I knew how hot he was against Catholics, and I looked to see what he was like. It was a dark morning, and the candles were lighted on my Lords' desks; and I could see his face pretty well in their light. He was in scarlet, and wore his great wig; and he talked behind his hand, with what seemed a great deal of merriment to Mr. Justice Bertue, who sat on one side of him, and the Recorder Jeffreys who sat upon the other. He had very heavy brows; his face was clean-shaven, and his mouth was like a trap when he shut it, and looked grave, as he did so soon as the clerk had done his formalities. He was a strong man, I thought, who would brook no opposition, and would have his way--as indeed he did; and the rest of my Lords had little or no say in the proceedings; and least of all had the jury, except to do what the Lord Chief Justice bid them.

The three prisoners--for Mr. Whitbread and Mr. Fenwick were presently withdrawn to be tried later, since they could not get two false witnesses against them at that time--were Mr. Ireland, Mr. Grove and Mr. Pickering, and I looked upon them with infinite compassion, to see how they would bear themselves. Mr. Pickering I had never seen before; so I could not tell whether or no he bore himself as usual. But the two others I had seen again and again; yet, with respect

to them both I remembered principally that occasion when Mr. Ireland had entertained his mother and sister in Mr. Fenwick's lodging on that one night he was in town, and gone off with them into the dark so merrily; and Mr. Grove had brought up the chocolate in white cups, and we had all been merry together. Now they stood here in the dock together, and answered to their names cheerfully and courageously; and I could see that neither anguish of heart nor the fear of death had availed to change their countenances in the leastest degree. They stood there, scarcely moving, except once or twice to whisper to one another, while Dr. Oates told his lying tale.

It was now for the first time that I understood how shrewdly, and yet how clumsily now and then, the man had weaved together his information. He spoke with an abundance of detail that astonished me; he spoke of names and places with the greatest precision; he related how himself had been sent from St. Omer's with fifty pounds promised him, to kill Dr. Tonge who had lately translated a book from the French named "The Jesuits' Morals"; he spoke of a chapel in Mrs. Sanders' house, at Wild-House, where he had been present, he said, at a piece of conspiring; and so forth continually, interlarding his tale with bursts of adjuration and piety and indignation, so evidently feigned--though with something of the Puritan manner in it--that I marvelled that any man could be deceived who did not wish to be; and all with his vile accent. He spoke much also, as Mr. Whitbread had told me that he would, of the consult of the Fathers--of all that is, who had the _jus suffragii_ in England--that had been held at the White Horse Tavern in the Strand, in April; pretending that at this the murder of the King was again decided upon, and designed too, in all particulars; how Mr. Pickering and Mr. Grove had been deputed to do the killing in St. James' Park with screwed pistols, as His Majesty walked there, or if not there, at Newmarket or Windsor; and how commissions had been given to various persons (whom he named), which they were to hold in the army that was to be raised, when His Majesty had been murdered, and the French King Louis let in with his troops. Worst of all, however, was the assertion which he made again and again that no Catholic's oath, even in Court, could be taken to be worth anything, since the Pope gave them all dispensations to swear falsely; for such an assertion as this deprives an accused man of all favour with the jury and destroys the testimonies of all Catholic witnesses. And, what amazed me most of all was that Chief Justice Scroggs supported him in this, and repeated it to the jury again and again. He said so first to Mr. Whitbread, before he was withdrawn.


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