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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Covent Garden Piazza was a fairer place altogether


then was the mission on which I was come to London.

I was to present myself at Court and place myself at His Majesty's disposal. The letters that I carried were no more than such as any gentleman might bring with him; but the King had been told beforehand who I was, and that I was come to be a messenger or a go-between if he so wished, with him and Rome. So much the King was told, and the Duke. But on my side I was told a little more--that I was to do my utmost, if the King were pleased with me, to further his conversion and his declaration of himself as a Catholic; that I was to mix with all kinds of folks, and observe what men really thought of all such matters as these, and send my reports regularly to Rome; that I was to place myself at the King's service in any way that I could--in short that I was to follow my discretion and do, as a layman may sometimes even more than a priest, all that was in my power for the furtherance of the Catholic cause.

Now it may be wondered perhaps how it was that I, who was so young, should be entrusted with such matters as these. Here then, I am bound to say, however immodest it may appear, that I have had always the art of making friends easily and of commending myself quickly. I had lived too in the societies of both Paris and Rome; and I had the accomplishments of a gentleman as well as his blood. I was thought a pleasant fellow, that is to say, who could make himself agreeable;

and I certainly had too--and I am not ashamed to say this--but one single ambition in the world, and that was to serve God's cause: and these things do not always go together in this world. Last of all, it must be observed, that no very weighty secrets were entrusted to me: I bore no letters; and I had been told no more of affairs in general than such as any quick and intelligent man might pick up for himself. Even should I prove untrustworthy or indiscreet, or even turn traitor, no very great harm would be done. If, upon the other hand, I proved ready and capable, all that I could learn in England and, later perhaps, in France, would serve me well in the carrying out of weightier designs that might then be given into my charge.

Such then I was; and such was my mission, on this fifteenth day of June, as I rode up with James my man--a servant found for me in Rome, who had once been in the service of my Lord Stafford--to the door of the lodgings engaged for me in Covent Garden Piazza above a jeweller's shop.

* * * * *

It was after sunset that we came there; and all the way along the Strand, until we nearly reached the York Stairs, I had said nothing to my man, but had used my eyes instead, striving to remember what I could of seven years before. The houses of great folk were for the most part on my left--Italianate in design, with the river seen between them, and lesser houses, of the architecture that is called "magpie," on the right. The way was very foul, for there had been rain that morning, and there seemed nothing to carry the filth away: in places faggots had been thrown down to enable carts to pass over. The Strand was very full of folk of all kinds going back to their houses for supper.

Covent Garden Piazza was a fairer place altogether. It was enclosed in railings, and a sun-dial stood in the centre; and on the south was the space for the market, with a cobbled pavement. To the east of St. Paul's Church stood the greater houses, built on arcades, where many fashionable people of the Court lived or had their lodgings, and it was in one of these that I too was to lodge: for I had bidden my Cousin Jermyn to do the best he could for me, and his letter had reached me at Dover, telling me to what place I was to come.

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