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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

Hamerton heard confessions before the mass began


have you never been troubled with highwaymen?" asked my Cousin Tom.

"No, Mr. Jermyn," said the priest, "except once, and that was a Catholic robber. I thought he was by the start he gave when he saw my crucifix as he was searching me; and taxed him with it. So the end was, he returned me my valuables, and took a little sermon from my lips instead."

* * * * *

When supper was over, and Dorothy had gone upstairs to make all ready for mass on the next morning, Mr. Hamerton, at our questioning, began to tell us a little of the state of politics and what he thought would happen; and every word that he said came true.

"His Grace of Monmouth will be our trouble," he said. "The King adores him; and he hath so far prevailed with His Majesty as to get the Duke of York sent twice to Scotland. I think few folk understand what feeling there is in the country for the Protestant Duke. It was through my Lord Shaftesbury, who is behind him, that His Royal Highness was actually sent away, for Monmouth could do nothing without him; and I have no kind of doubt that he has further schemes in his mind too."

(This was all fulfilled a couple of months later, as I remembered when the time came, by my Lord Shaftesbury's actually presenting James' name as that of a recusant, before the grand jury of Middlesex;

but the judges dismissed the jury immediately.)

"And you think, father," asked my Cousin Tom very solemnly, "that these seditions will lead to trouble?"

"I have no doubt of it at all," said he. "The country--especially London--is full of disaffection. Their demonstration last year did a deal to stir it up. The Duke of York is back now, against my advice; but I have no doubt he will have to go on his travels again. Were His majesty to die now--_(quod Deus avertat!)_--I do not know how we should stand."

* * * * *

Mr. Hamerton took occasion to ask me that night, when we were alone for a minute or two, what I was doing in the country.

"I remember you perfectly now," said he. "Father Whitbread spoke to me of you, besides."

I told him that I had nothing to do in town; and with His Majesty's consent was lying hid for a little, in order that what little was known of me might be forgotten again.

"Well; I suppose you are wise," he said, "and that you will be able to do more hereafter. But the time will come presently when we shall all be needed."

It was on the tip of my tongue to ask him if he could read cipher, and to shew him my paper--reminded of it, by his talk of disaffection; but my Cousin Tom came back at that moment; and I put it off; and I presently forgot it again.

* * * * *

The memory of the mass that we heard next morning will never leave me; for it was the first time that I had heard it in the house.

We used the long attic, for fear of disturbance, and had a man posted beneath--for it was still death for a priest to say mass in England. All the servants that were Catholics were there; and all, I think, went to the sacraments. Mr. Hamerton heard confessions before the mass began.

The north end of the attic had been prepared by Dolly and her maid; and looked very pretty and fine. A couple of men had carried up a great low press, that had the instruments of the Passion painted upon its panels; and this served for an altar. Behind it Dolly had put up a hanging from downstairs, that was of Abraham offering Isaac, and had set upon the altar a pair of silver candlesticks from the parlour, and a little standing crucifix, with jugs of country flowers between the candlesticks and the cross. She had laid too, as a foot-pace, a Turkey rug that came too from the parlour; and had put a little table to serve as a credence. Mr. Hamerton had with him little altar-vessels made for travelling, with a cup that unscrewed from the stem, and every other necessary except what he asked us to provide.

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