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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Chiffinch will give you all instructions


Your Majesty," I burst out, "would but shew some signs--"

He lifted his eyebrows at that.

"Signs! In these days?" he said. "Why, I should hang, myself, in a week's time! Are these the days, think you, to shew Catholicism? Why; do you not think that my own heart is not near broken with all I have had to do?"

He spoke with extraordinary passion; for that was his way when he was very deeply moved (which, to tell the truth, however, was not very often). But I have never known a man so careless and indolent on the surface, who had a softer heart than His Sacred Majesty, if it could but be touched.

"The blood of God's priests," he cried, holding the arms of his chair so that it shook--"their blood cries from the ground against me! Do you think I do not know that? Yet what can I do? I am tied and bound by circumstance. I could not save them; and in the attempt I could only lose my own life or throne as well. The people are mad for their blood! Why Scroggs himself said in public at one of the trials, that even the King's Mercy could not come between them and death. And it is at this moment, then, that the servants to whom I had looked to help me, leave me! Go if you will, Mr. Mallock, and save your own soul. You shall have a safe passage to France; but never again speak to me of Catholic charity."

Every word that

he said rang true in my heart. It was true indeed, as he said, that no effort of his could have saved the men, and he could only have perished himself. There were scores of men, even among his own guards, I have no doubt, who would have killed him if he had shewn at this time the least mercy, or the least inclination towards Catholicism. His back was to the wall; he fought not for himself only, but for Monarchy itself in England. There would have been an end of all, and we back again under the tyranny of the Commonwealth if he had acted otherwise; or as I had thought that he would.

He had scarcely finished when I was on my knees before him.

"Sir," I cried, "I am heartily ashamed of myself. I ask pardon for all that I have said. I will go to France or to anywhere else; and will think myself honoured by it, and by the forgiveness of Your Majesty. Sir; let me be your servant once more."

The passion was gone from his face as he looked down on me there; and he was, as before, the great Prince, with his easy manner and his unimaginable charm.

"Why that is very well said," he answered me. "And I shall be glad to have your services, Mr. Mallock. Mr. Chiffinch will give you all instructions."

* * * * *

"That was a very bold speech," said Mr. Chiffinch presently, when the King was gone away again--"which you made to His Majesty."

"Why, did you hear it?" I cried.

He smiled at me.

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