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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

I could have found it in my heart to kill that man Oates


"If

you have a religion," he said, "that can give a dispensation for oaths, sacraments, protestations and falsehoods, how can you expect that we should believe you?"

"I know no such thing," said Mr. Whitbread very tranquilly.

Bedloe, too, told the same tale as he had told before, but with many embellishments; and was treated by my Lords with as much respect, very nearly, as Oates himself; and they were both given refreshment by the Chief Justice's order.

* * * * *

I could have found it in my heart to kill that man--Oates, I mean--as he stood there in his gown and bands and periwig, with his guards behind him, swearing away those good men's lives; now standing upright, now leaning on the rail before him, and now reposing himself on a stool that was brought for him. His monstrous countenance was as the face of a devil; he feigned now to weep, now to be merry. But most of all I hated the man, when the piteous sight was seen of the entrance of Mrs. Ireland and her daughter, who came to testify that Mr. Ireland was not in London at all on those days in August when Oates had sworn that he had spoken with him there. They stood there, as gallant women as might be, turning their eyes now and again upon the priest who was all the world to them by ties both of nature and grace; but all their testimony went for nothing, since,

first my Lord had told the jury that a Catholic's oath was worth nothing, and next the prisoners had had no opportunity to know what charges precisely they were that were to be brought against them, and had had therefore no time to get their witnesses together. They complained very sharply of this; but my Lord puffed it all away, and would scarcely allow them to finish one sentence without interruption.

Mr. Ireland said upon one occasion that though he had no witnesses, for he had had no time to get them, yet he could get witnesses that there were witnesses.

"I know," said the Chief Justice, "what your way of arguing is; that is very pretty. You have witnesses that can prove you have witnesses, and those witnesses can prove that you have more witnesses, and so _in infinitum_. And thus you argue in everything you do."

It was growing dark when the evidence (for so it was called) was done; and the end was drawing near; and the candles which had been put out long ago were lighted again by an usher, who came in with a taper when the Lord Chief Justice called for lights. But the candles burned very badly, by reason of the closeness of the Court in which so many persons had been gathered for so long; and shed but a poor illumination. My eyes were weary too with staring upon the people--now upon the monstrous face of Oates, that was like a nightmare for terror, now upon the prisoners so patient in the dock, and now upon my Lords on their high seats beneath the state, and especially upon that hard and bitter face of Chief Justice Scroggs who, if ever a man murdered innocent folk, was murdering to-day the three men before him, by the direction which he gave to the jury, and the manner he conducted the case. I could, by now, see the faces only one by one, as each leant into the light of the candles; and it appeared to me, again and again, that these were mocking demons and not men, and Oates the lord of them all and of hell itself from which they all came, and to which they must return. I closed my eyes sometimes, both to rest them, and that I might pray for bare justice to be done; but my prayers were to me like the lifting of weights too great for my strength. One hope only remained to me, and that lay in His Majesty; for, although he had permitted the deaths of Coleman and of Stayley, these might indeed have appeared guilty to one who knew nothing of them; but I could not find it in my heart to believe that he would suffer these Jesuits to die, of whom he had sworn to me that not a hair of their heads should be injured. I had determined, too, to go to His Majesty, so soon as the trial was done, and the verdict given as I knew it would be, and hear from his own lips that he would keep his word, at whatever cost to himself.


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