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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

When the jury were ready to give their verdict


It

was dark then, by the time that all the evidence had been given, and the Chief Justice had done his directing of the jury. The Court, crowded though it was with the people, was as still as death, so soon as the jury came back after a very short recess. I could hear only the breathing of the folks on all hands. A woman sat beside me, who had been as early as myself that morning; but she had roared and clapped with the rest, at the earlier stages, when the Chief Justice had silenced the prisoners or thrown doubt upon what they said. She was quiet now, however, and I wondered how the evidence had affected her.

When the jury were ready to give their verdict, the talking that had broken out a little, grew silent again; but when the verdict of Guilty was given, it broke out once more into a storm of shouting; so that the rafters rang with it. The woman beside me--for I sat at the end of a bench and had nothing but the wall beyond me--appeared to awaken at the tumult and join her voice to it, beating with her hand at the edge of the gallery in front of her. As for me I looked at the prisoners. They were all upright in their places, Mr. Ireland in the midst of the three; and were as still as if nothing were the matter. They were looking at the Lord Chief Justice, at whom I too turned my eyes, and saw he was grinning and talking behind his hand to the Recorder. It was a very travesty of justice that I was looking at, and no true trial at all. There were

a thousand points of dissonance that I had remarked myself--as to how it was, for instance, that one fellow had been promised twenty guineas for killing the King and another fifteen hundred pounds; as to how it was that Oates, who professed himself so loyal, had permitted four ruffians to go to Windsor (as he said), with intent to murder the King, and that he had said nothing of it at the time. But all was passed over in this lust for the Jesuits' blood.

I knew that my Lord would make a great speech on the affair, before he would make an end and give sentence; for this was a great opportunity for him to curry favour not only with the people, but with men like my Lord Shaftesbury who was behind him in all the matter; and as I had no wish to hear what he would have to say (for I knew it all by heart already) and, still less to hear the terrible words of the sentence for High Treason passed upon these three good men in the dock, I rose up quietly from my place, and slipped out of the door by which I had come in. As I was about to close the door behind me I heard silence made, and my Lord Justice Scroggs beginning his speech--and these were the words which first he addressed to the jury.

"Gentlemen," he said, "you have done like very good subjects and very good Christians; that is to say like very good Protestants; and now much good may their thirty thousand masses do them!" When he said this, he was referring to a piece of Dr. Oates' lying evidence as to a part of the reward that they should get for killing the King. But I closed the door; for I could bear to hear no more. But afterwards I heard that they then adjourned for an hour or two, and that it was the Recorder--Sir George Jeffreys--that gave sentence.

When I presented myself, half an hour later, at Mr. Chiffinch's lodgings, I had very nearly persuaded myself that all would yet be well. For I thought it impossible that any man to whom the report of the trial should be brought, could ever think that justice had been done; least of all the King who is the fount of it, under God. I knew very well that His Majesty would have to bear the brunt of some unpopularity if he refused to sign the warrants for their death; but he appeared to me to care not very much for popularity--since he outraged it often enough in worse ways than in maintaining the right. He had said to me, too, so expressly that no harm should come to the Fathers or to Mr. Grove and Mr. Pickering either; and he had said so, I was informed, even more forcibly to the Duke and those that were with him--saying that his right hand should rot off if ever he took the pen into his hand for such a purpose. I remembered these things, even while the plaudits of the crowd still rang in my ears, and the bitter cruelty of my Lord Chief Justice's words to the jury. His Majesty, I said to myself, is above all these lesser folk, and will see that no wrong is done. And, besides all this, he is half a Catholic himself and he knows against what kind of men these charges have been made.


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