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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

It is true I am not a Catholic


"What!

At Tyburn!"

"At Tyburn, Sir; and I was so sick at heart at what I saw there--five of Your Majesty's most faithful servants murdered in the name of justice, that I would not have cared greatly if I had been hanged with them."

His face darkened a little; but not with anger at me.

"It is a bloody business, as I have said," he said gently. "But come!--it is to France that you go."

"There is as good as any other place," I said, "so I be out of the kingdom. I have estates there, too."

"But to France will suit very well," said the King. "For it is to France that I designed to send you. I have plenty of couriers who can take written messages, and I have plenty of men who can talk--some think, too much; but I have no one at hand at this moment whom I can send to Court, and who will acquit himself well there, and that can take a message too--none, that is, that is not occupied. What do you say, Mr. Mallock? Would a couple of months there please you?"

Here then was the time for my announcement; for I knew that if I did not make it then I should make it never.

I stood up; and my heart beat thickly.

"Sir," I said. "Six months ago I would have run anywhere to serve you. But in six months many things have happened; and

I cannot serve a Prince any more who cannot keep his word even to save the innocent. I had best be gone again to Rome, I think, and see what they can give me there. I am sick of England, which I once loved so much."

It was those very words--or others very like them that I said. I do not know where I got the courage to say them, for my life lay altogether in the King's hand: a word from him, or even silence, and I should have kicked my heels that night in Newgate, and a week or two later in the air, on a charge of being in with the Jesuits in their plot. Yet I said them; for I could say nothing else.

His Majesty's face turned black as thunder as I began; and when I was done it was all stiff with pride.

"That is your mind, Mr. Mallock, then?" he said.

"That is my mind, Sir," I answered him.

And then a change went over his face once more. God knows why he relented; I think it may have been that he had somewhat of a fancy for me, and remembered how I had pleased him and tried to serve him. And when he spoke, it was very gently indeed.

"Mr. Mallock," he said, "those are very brave words. But I think they are not worthy of a man of your parts. For consider; were you not sent here by the Holy Father to help a poor sinner who had need of it? And is it Catholic charity to leave the sinner because of his sins?"

I said nothing to that; for I was all confounded at his mildness. I suppose I had braced myself for something very different.

"It is true I am not a Catholic; but were you not sent here, in answer to my entreaty, that you might help to make it easy for me to become one? Is it apostolic, then, to run away so soon--"


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