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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

And the gradual kindling of the flambeaux


"It

is the Duke of Monmouth," he said, "who is the pawn in Shaftesbury's game. My Lord would give the world to have the Duke declared legitimate, and so oust James. His Grace of Monmouth is something of a popular hero now, after his doings in Scotland, and most of all since he stands for the Protestant Religion. He hath dared to strike out the bar sinister from his arms too; and goeth about the country as if he were truly royal. So His Royal Highness is gone back to Scotland again in a great fury; and His Majesty is once again in a strait betwixt two, as the Scriptures say. There is his Catholic brother on the one side; and there is this young spark of a Protestant bastard on the other. We shall know better to-morrow how the feeling runs. His Majesty was taken very ill in August; and I am not surprised at it."

* * * * *

This was all very heavy news for me. I had hoped in France that most at least of the Catholic troubles were over, and now, here again they were, in a new form. I sighed aloud.

"Heigho!" I said. "But this is all beyond me, Mr. Chiffinch. I had best be gone into the country."

"I think you had," he said very seriously. "You can do nothing in this place."

I was very glad when I heard him say that; for I had thought a great deal of Hare Street, and of my Cousin Dolly

there; and it was good news to me to hear that I might soon see her again.

"But I must see the sight to-morrow," I said; and soon after that I took my leave.

* * * * *

It was a marvellous sight indeed, the next evening. I went to see a Mr. Martin in the morning, that lived in the Strand, a Catholic bookseller, and got leave from him to sit in his window from dinner onwards, that I might see the show.

It was about five o'clock that the affair began; and the day was pretty dark by then. A great number of people began to assemble little by little, up Fleet Street on the one side, the Strand on the other, and down Chancery Lane in the midst; for it was announced everywhere, and even by criers in some parts, that the procession would take place and would end at Temple Bar. My Lord Shaftesbury, who had lately lost the presidency of the Council, had rendered himself irreconcilable with the Duke of York, and his only hope (as well as of others with him) lay in ruining His Highness. All this, therefore, was designed to rouse popular feeling against the Duke and the Catholic cause. So this was my welcome home again!

It was strange to watch the folks assembling, and the gradual kindling of the flambeaux. In the windows on either side of the street were set candles; and a line of coaches was drawn up against the gutter on the further side. But still more strange and disconcerting were the preparations already made to receive the procession. An open space was kept by fellows with torches to the east of the City Gate; and here, looking towards the City, with her back to the Gate, close beside the Pillory, stood Queen Bess in effigy, upon a pedestal, as it were a Protestant saint in her shrine; for the day had been chosen on account of its being the day of her accession and of Queen Mary's death. She was set about with gilded laurel-wreaths, and bore a gilded sceptre; and beneath her, like some sacrificial fire, blazed a great bonfire, roaring up to heaven with its sparks and smoke. Half a dozen masked fellows, in fantastic dresses, tended the bonfire and replenished the flambeaux that burned about the effigy. Indeed it was strangely like some pagan religious spectacle--the goddess at the entrance of her temple (for the gate looked like that); and the resemblance became more marked as the ceremonies were performed which ended the show. A Catholic might well be pardoned for retorting "Idolatry," and saying that he preferred Mary Queen of Heaven to Bess Queen of England.


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