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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Whitbread had refused to escape

* * * * *

The clouds had rolled away by now; and it was a clear night of stars until they began to pale about two o'clock in the morning; and I think that for a lover who desires to be alone with his thoughts, there is no light of sun or moon or candle so sweet as the light of stars; and by that time we were beyond Ware and coming out of the valley.

It was solemn to me to watch that dawn coming up, for it was, I thought, the last dawn that I should see in England for a while, since I was determined but to see the King in London, and push straight on to Dover and take the packet there: and it was a solemn dawn too, in another way, for it was the first I had seen since I had been certain not only that I loved my Cousin Dolly as I had my own heart, but that she loved me also; and that is a great day for a lover.

To see the King then, and to push on to Dover, was all that I had rehearsed to myself; but Providence had one more adventure for me first, that was one of the saddest I have ever had in all my life, and yet not all sad.

* * * * *

My road took me in through the City and down Gracechurch Street; but here I took a fancy to turn to the right up Leadenhall and Cornhill, which were all crowded with folks, though at first I did not think why, that

I might go by Newgate where the Jesuits lay, and see at least the walls that enclosed those saints of God; for I was pretty bold here, knowing that Mr. Dangerfield who was my chief peril, was off to Harwich to find me; and even if they found that I was not gone through Barkway, I did not think that they could catch me, for their horses were tired and ours fresh; and you do not easily get a change of a dozen horses, or anywhere near it, in Hertfordshire villages. So I went very boldly, and made no pretence not to look folks in the face.

After we had passed up Cheapside it appeared to me that the streets were strangely full, and that all the folk were going the same way; and so astonished was I at this--for no suspicion of the truth came to me--that I bid my man ask someone what the matter was. When he came up with me again I could see that something was the matter indeed; and so it was.

"Sir," he said in a low voice, so that none else could hear, "they are taking the prisoners to execution this morning."

Then there came upon me a kind of madness--for, although by God's blessing it brought no harm to me--yet it was nothing else; and I determined to go to Newgate as I had intended, and at least see them brought out. For here was to be a martyrdom indeed--five men, all priests, all Religious--suffering, in God's eyes at least, for nothing in the world but the Catholic religion; yes, and in men's too, if they had known all, for I remembered how Mr. Whitbread had refused to escape, while he had yet a whole day for it, for fear of seeming to confess his guilt and so bringing scandal upon the Church and his order. From such a martyrdom, then, so near to me, how could I turn away? and I determined, if I could, to speak with Father Whitbread, and get his blessing.

When I got near Newgate the press grew greater every instant; but as we were on horseback and the greater number of the folks on foot, we got through them at last, and so came to the foot of the stairs by the chapel, where the sleds were laid ready with a pair of horses to each. I had never before seen an execution done in England, so I observed very carefully everything that was to be seen. The sleds were three in number, and were each made flat of strong wood with runners about an inch high; and there was a pair of horses harnessed to each, with a man to guide them. I got close to these, next behind the line of yellow trainbandmen who kept the way open, as well as the stairs. We were in the shadow here, in a little court of which the gates were set open, but the people were all crowded in behind the trainbandmen as well as in the street outside, and from them rose a great murmuring of talk, of which I did not hear a word spoken in sympathy, for I suppose that the Catholics there held their tongues.

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