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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

A packet that I must carry with me


The first thing that I did when I got home was to call for my man James, and bid him shut the door. (My man was about forty years old, and he had been got for me in Rome, having fallen ill there in the service of my Lord Stafford--being himself a Catholic, and a very good one, for he went to the sacraments three or four times in the year, wherever he was. He was a clean-shaven fellow, and very sturdy and quick, and a good hand at cut and thrust and the quarter-staff, as I had seen for myself at Hare Street on the summer evenings. I had found him always discreet and silent, though I had not as yet given him any great confidence.)

"James," I said to him with great solemnity, "I have something to say to you which must go no further."

He stood waiting on my word.

"A fellow hath been after me to-day--named Dangerfield--a very brown man, with no hair on his face" (for so Mr. Chiffinch had told me). "He hath been branded on the hand for some conviction. I tell you this that you may know him if you see him again. I take him to be a Protestant spy: but I do not know for certain."

He still stood waiting. He knew very well, I think, that I was on some business, and that therefore I was in some danger too at such a time; though I had never spoken to him of it.

"And another thing that I have to say to you is that we must

ride for Hare Street to-morrow, and arrive there by to-morrow night--without lying anywhere on the road. You must have the horses here, and all ready, by seven o'clock in the morning. And you must tell no one where we are going to, to hinder any from following us, if we can help it. We must lie at Hare Street a good while.

"And the third thing I have to say is this; that you must watch out very shrewdly for any signs that we are known or suspected of anything. I tell you plainly that both you and I may be in some danger for a while; so if you have no taste for that, you had best begone. You will keep quiet, I know very well."

"Sir, I will stay with you, if you please," said James, as the last word was out of my mouth.

I gave him a look of pleasure; but no more; and he understood me very well.

"Then that is all that I have to say. You may bring supper in as soon as you like."

Before I lay down that night I had transferred His Majesty's packet to a belt that I put next to my skin; and so I went to bed.

* * * * *

It was still pretty dark when we came out upon the Ware road upon the next morning. I did not call James up to ride with me; for I had a great number of things to think about; and first amongst them was the commission which His Majesty had given me. What then could such a business be?--a packet that I must carry with me, and deliver to a man whose name should be given me afterwards! Why, then, was it entrusted to me so soon? And why could not the name be given to me immediately? But to such riddles there was no answer; and I left it presently alone.

The second thing that I had to think of was the matter of the men whom I had seen condemned yesterday; and even of that I did not know much more than of the packet. His Majesty had not spoken of them, except to ask questions at the beginning; and this seemed as a bad omen to me. Yet I had the King's word on it that they should not suffer; and, when I considered, there was no obligation or even any reason at all that he should talk out the matter with myself. Yet, though I presently put this affair too from my mind, since I had no certain knowledge of what would happen, it came back to me again and again--that memory of Mr. Ireland and Mr. Grove in the lodgings in Drury Lane, so harmless and so merry, and again as I had seen them yesterday in the dock, with Mr. Pickering, so helpless and yet so courageous in face of the injustice that was being done on them.


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