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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Upon the throne itself sat a huge effigy


in great white copes, bore aloft

each a tall cross; and behind them I could see through the flare and reek of the torches, a vast scarlet chair advancing above the heads of the people. It was borne on a platform, and was embroidered all over with gold and silver bullion. Upon the platform itself were four boys, two and two, on either side of the throne, in red skull-caps and cassocks and short white surplices, each with a tall red cross held in the inner hand, and a bloodstained dagger in the other, which they waved now and again. Upon the throne itself sat a huge effigy. It was dressed in a scarlet robe, embroidered like the throne; its feet in gold embroidered slippers were thrust forward on a cushion; its hands in rich gloves were clasped to the arms of the chair; and its grinning waxen face, very pale, was surmounted by a vast tiara on which were three crowns, one above the other. Round the neck hung a gold cross and chain; and a pair of great keys hung down on one side. A devil in tight fitting black, with a masked face, and long sprouting nails, with a tail hung behind him, and two tall horns on his head, rolled his eyes from side to side, and whispered continually into the ear of the effigy from behind the throne. A great mob of people and torches and guards came shouting on behind. And when I saw that, a kind of despair came upon me. If that, thought I, is what my countrymen think of Catholics and the Holy Father, what use to strive any more for their conversion?

* * * * *

By the time that the tail had come up, the rest of the procession was disposed round the bonfire, leaving a broad space in the midst where the throne and effigy might be set down.

And now there appeared on the Pillory beside the Queen's image, one of the six cardinals that had come up a little while before, and began a sort of rhyming dialogue with a choir that was set on another platform over against him. I could not hear all that was said, although the people kept pretty quiet to hear it too; but I heard enough. The cardinal was proclaiming the Catholic Religion as the only means of salvation and threatened both temporal and eternal punishment to all that would not have it; and the choir answered, roaring out the glories of England and Protestantism. The fifes screamed for the cardinal's words, as if accompanying them; and trumpets answered him for England; and at the end, shaking his fist at the Queen and with another gesture as of despair he came down from the Pillory.

Then came the end.

The devil, behind the throne, slipped altogether behind it and stood tossing his hands with delight; while meantime the effigy, contrived in some way I could not understand, rose stiffly from the seat and stood upright. First he lifted his hands as if in entreaty towards the Queen's image; then he shook them as if threatening, meanwhile rolling his head with its tiara from side to side as if seeking supporters. Two men then sprang upon the platform, as if in answer, dressed like English apprentices, bare-armed and with leather aprons; and these seized each an arm of the effigy; and at that the devil, after one more fit of laughter, holding his sides, and shouting aloud as if in glee, leapt down behind the platform, dragging the chair after him. The four boys stood an instant as if in terror, and then followed him, with clumsy gestures of horror.


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