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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Then come up here again and pack a pair of valises


sir--he heard your name only from the parlour window as he went through the yard."

Now here was I in a quandary. On the one hand this was a very small affair, and not much evidence either way, and I did not wish to alarm my Cousin Tom if I need not; and, on the other if they were after me I had best be gone as soon as I could. It was six months since the fellow Dangerfield had asked after me at Whitehall, and no harm had followed. Yet here was the tale of the branded hand--and, although there were many branded hands in England, the consonance of this with what had happened, misliked me a little.

"And was there any more news?" I asked.

"Why, yes, sir; I had forgot. The man told me too that the five Jesuits were cast six days ago, and Mr. Langhorn a day later, and that they were all sentenced together." (Mr. Langhorn was a lawyer, a very hot and devout Catholic; but his wife was as hot a Protestant.)

Now on hearing that I was a little more perturbed. Here were Mr. Whitbread and Mr. Fenwick, in whose company I had often been seen in public before the late troubles, condemned and awaiting sentence; and here was a fellow with a branded hand asking after me in Waltham Cross. Oates and Bedloe and Tonge and Kirby and a score of others were evidence that any man who sought his fortune might very well do so in Popish plots and accusations; and it was

quite believable that Dangerfield was one more of them, and that after these new events he was after me. Yet, still, I did not wish to alarm my Cousin Tom; for he was a man who could not hide his feelings, I thought.

It was growing dark now; for it was after nine o'clock, and cloudy, with no moon to rise; and all would soon be gone to bed; so what I did I must do at once. I sat still in my chair, thinking that if I were hunted out of Hare Street I had nowhere to go; and then on a sudden I remembered the King's packet which he had given me, and which I still carried, as always, wrapped in oil-cloth next to my skin, since no word had come from him as to what I was to do with it. And at that remembrance I determined that I must undergo no risks.

"James," I said, "I think that we must be ready to go away if we are threatened in any way. Go down to the stables and saddle a fresh horse for you, and my own. Then come up here again and pack a pair of valises. I do not know as yet whether we must go or not; but we must be ready for it. Then take the valises and the horses down to the meadow, through the garden, and tie all up there, under the shadow of the trees from where you can see the house. And you must remain there yourself till twelve o'clock to-night. At twelve o'clock, as near as I can tell it, if all is quiet I will show a light three times from the garret window; and when you see that you can come back again and go to bed. If they are after us at all they will come when they think we are all asleep; and it will be before twelve o'clock. Do you understand it all?"

(I was very glib in all this; for I had thought it out all beforehand, if ever there should be an alarm of this kind.)

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