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His Majesty's well-beloved; an episode in the life of Mr. Thomas Betterton as told by his friend John Honeywood online

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come to disperse them, beating them with their own
halberts and with sticks, and wounding one so
severely that he ultimately died in Hospital, while
the Miscreants themselves got off scot-free.

Truly a terrible state of Affairs in such a noble
City as London !


As for Mr. Betterton and myself, we reached the
corner of Chancery Lane without serious Adven-
ture. As we neared the house of Mr. Theophilus
Baggs, however, I felt my Courage oozing down


into my shoes. Truly I could not then have faced
my former Employer, whom I had just betrayed,
and the mean side of my Action in the Matter came
upon me with a shaming force.

I begged Mr. Betterton, therefore, to go and
speak with Mr. Baggs whilst I remained waiting
outside upon the doorstep.

Of all that miserable day, this was perhaps to me
the most painful moment. From the instant that
Mr. Betterton was admitted into the house until he
returned to me some twenty minutes later, I was
in a cold sweat, devoured with Apprehension and
fighting against Remorse. I could not forget that
Mr. Baggs had been my Master and Employer if
not too kind an one for years, and if he had been
sent to the Tower and accompanied his fellow Con-
spirators upon the Scaffold, I verily believe that I
should have felt like Judas Iscariot and, like him,
would have been unable to endure my life after such
a base Betrayal.

Fortunately, however, Mr. Betterton was soon
able to reassure me. He had, he said, immediately
warned Mr. Baggs that something of the Secret
of the Conspiracy had come to the ears of the
Countess of Castlemaine, and that all those who
were in any way mixed up in the Affair would be
wise to lie low as far as possible, at any rate for
a while.

Mr. Baggs, it seems, was at first terrified, and
was on the point of losing his Head and committing
some act of Folly through sheer fright. But Mr.


Betterton's quieting Influence soon prevailed. The
worthy Attorney, on thinking the matter over,
realized that if he destroyed certain Documents
which might prove incriminating to himself, he
would have little else to fear. He himself had never
written a compromising Letter he was far too
shrewd to have thus committed himself and there
was not a scrap of paper in any one else's posses-
sion which bore his Name or might mark his Iden-
tity, whilst he had not the slightest fear that the
other Conspirators who were all of them Gentle-
men would betray the Complicity of an humble
Attorney who had rendered them loyal Service.

Strangely enough, Mr. Baggs never suspected me
of having betrayed the whole thing; or, if he did,
he never said so. So many People plotted these
days, so many Conspiracies were hatched then blown
upon, that I for one imagine that Mr. Baggs had a
hand in several of these and was paid high Fees
for his share in them. Then, when anything un-
toward happened, when mere Chance, or else a
Traitor among the Traitors, caused the Conspiracy
to abort, the worthy Attorney would metaphorically
shake the dust of political Intrigue from his shabby
shoes, and make a bonfire of every compromising
Document that might land him in the Tower and
further. After which, he was no doubt ready to
begin all over again.

So it had occurred in this instance. Mr. Better-
ton did not wait to see the bonfire, which was just
beginning to blaze merrily in the old-fashioned


hearth. He told me all about it when he joined me
once more upon the doorstep, and for the first time
that day I heard him laugh quite naturally and spon-
taneously while he recounted to me Mr. Baggs'
Terrors and Mistress Euphrosine's dignified

" She would have liked to find some Pretext," he
said quite gaily, " for blaming me in the Matter.
But on the whole, I think that they were both
thankful for my timely Warning."


But, as far as I was concerned, this ended once
and for all my Connection with the house of Mr.
Theophilus Baggs, and since that memorable night
I have never once slept under his roof.

I went back with Mr. Betterton to his House in
Tothill Street. By the time we reached it, it was
close on ten o'clock. Already he had intimated to
me that henceforth I was to make my home with
him; and as soon as we entered the House he
ordered his Servant to make my room and bed ready
for me. My Heart was filled with inexpressible
gratitude at his Kindness. Though I had, in an
altogether inexplicable manner, run counter to his
Plans, he was ready to forgive me and did not with-
draw his Friendship from me.

As time went on, I was able to tell him something
of the Emotions which coursed through my Heart
in recognition of his measureless Kindness to me;
but on that first evening I could not speak of it.


When I first beheld the cosy room which he had
assigned to me, with its clean and comfortable bed
and substantial furniture, I could only bow my
Head, take his Hand and kiss it reverently. He
withdrew it as if he had been stung.

" Keep such expressions of Respect," he said
almost roughly, " for one who is worthy."

" You," I riposted simply, " are infinitely worthy,
because You are good."

Then once again his harsh, mirthless Laugh so
unlike his usual light-hearted Merriment grated
upon mine ear.

" Good ! " he exclaimed. " Nay, friend Honey-
wood, You are not, meseems, a master of intuition.
Few Hearts in London this night," he added ear-
nestly, " harbour such evil Desires as mine."

But in spite of what he said, in spite of that
strange look in his eyes, that Laugh which pro-
claimed a perturbed Soul, I could not bring myself
to believe that his noble Heart was a Prey to aught
but noble Desires, and that those awful and subtle
Schemes of deadly Revenge which have subsequently
threatened to ruin his own Life were even now
seething in his Brain.

For the moment, I only remembered that when
first he had requested me to accompany him on his
evening Peregrinations, it had been with a view to
visiting the Countess of Castlemaine, and I now
reminded him of his Purpose, thinking that his
desire had been to beg for my Lord Stour's pardon.
I did so, still insisting upon her Ladyship's avowed


Predilection for himself, and I noticed that while
I spoke thus he smiled grimly to himself and pres-
ently said with slow Deliberation :

"Aye! Her Ladyship hath vowed that out of
Gratitude for his public Eulogy of her Virtue and
her Beauty, she would grant Mr. Thomas Betterton
any Favour he might ask of her."

"Aye! and her Ladyship is not like to go back
on her word," I assented eagerly.

" Therefore," he continued, not heeding me, " the
Countess of Castlemaine, who in her turn can ob-
tain any Favour she desires from His Majesty the
King, will at my request obtain a full and gracious
Pardon for the Earl of Stour."

" She will indeed ! " I exclaimed, puzzled once
more at this strange trait of Magnanimity Weak-
ness, I called it on the part of a Man who had on
two occasions been so monstrously outraged. " You
are a hero, Sir," I added in an awed whisper, " to
think of a pardon for your most deadly Enemy."

He turned and looked me full in the eyes. I
could scarce bear his Glance, for there seemed to
dwell within its glowing depths such a World of
Misery, of Hatred and of thwarted Passion, that
my Soul was filled with dread at the sight. And
he said very slowly :

"You are wrong there, my Friend. I was not
thinking of a pardon for mine Enemy, but of
Revenge for a deadly Insult, which it seems cannot
be wiped out in Blood."



I would have said something more after that, for
in truth my Heart was full of Sympathy and of
Love for my Friend and I longed to soothe and
console him, as I felt I could do, humble and un-
sophisticated though I was. Thoughts of You, dear
Mistress, were running riot in my Brain. I longed
at this momentous hour, when the Fate of many
Men whom I knew was trembling in the balance, to
throw myself at Mr. Betterton's feet and to con-
jure him in the name of all his most noble Instincts
to give up all thoughts of the proud Lady who had
disdained him and spurned his Affections, and to
turn once more to the early and pure Love of his
Life to You, dear Mistress, whose Devotion had
been so severely tried and yet had not been found
wanting, and whose influence had always been one
of Gentleness and of Purity.

But, seeing him sitting there brooding, obviously a
Prey to Thoughts both deep and dark, I did not dare
speak, and remained silent in the hope that, now that
I was settled under his roof, an Opportunity would
occur for me to tell him what weighed so heavily on
my Heart.

Presently the Servant came in and brought
Supper, and Mr. Betterton sat down to it, bidding
me with perfect Grace and Hospitality to sit op-
posite to him. But we neither of us felt greatly
inclined to eat. I was hungry, it is true ; yet every
Morsel which I conveyed to my mouth cost me an


effort to swallow. This was all the more remark-
able as at the moment my whole Being was revelling
in the Succulence of the fare spread out before me,
the Excellence of the Wine, the snowy Whiteness of
the Cloths, the Beauty of Crystal and of Silver,
all of which bore testimony to the fastidious Taste
and the Refinement of the great Artist.

Of the great Events which were even then shaping
themselves in White Hall, we did not speak. We
each knew that the Other's mind was full of what
might be going on even at this hour. But Mn.
Betterton made not a single Reference to it, and?
I too, therefore, held my tongue. In fact, we spoke
but little during Supper, and as I watched my
dearly loved Friend toying with his food, and I
myself felt as if the next mouthful would choke me,
I knew his Mind was far away.

It was fixed upon White Hall and its stately
Purlieus and upon the house of the Countess of
Castlemaine, which overlooked the Privy Gardens,,
and of His Majesty the King, His senses, I knew,,
were strained to catch the sound of distant Mur-
murs, of running Footsteps, of the grinding of Arms
or of pistol shots.

But not a Sound came to disturb the peaceful
Silence of this comfortable Abode. The Servant
came and went, bringing food, then clearing it away,
pouring Wine into our glasses, setting and removing
the silver Utensils.

Anon Mr. Betterton and I both started and fur-


tively caught one another's Glance. The tower
clock of Westminster was striking eleven.

" For Good or for Evil, all is over by now,"
Mr. Betterton said quietly. " Come, friend Honey-
wood; let's to bed."

I went to bed, but not to sleep. For hours I lay
awake, wondering what had happened. Had the
Conspirators succeeded and was His Majesty a
Prisoner in their hands? or were they themselves
Captives in that frowning Edifice by the Water,
which had witnessed so many Deaths and such grim
Tragedies, and from which the only Egress led
straight to the Scaffold ?


Very little of what had actually occurred came to
the ear of the Public. In fact, not one Man in ten
in the whole of the Cities of London and West-
minster knew that a couple of hours before mid-
night, when most simple and honest Citizens were
retiring to their beds, a batch of dangerous Con-
spirators had been arrested even within the Pre-
cincts of White Hall.

I heard all that there was to know from Mr.
Betterton, who went out early the following Morn-
ing and returned fully informed of the events of the
preceding Night. Subsequently too, I gleaned a
good deal of information through the instrumen-
tality of Mistress Floid. As far as I could gather,
the Conspirators did carry out their Project just
as they had decided on it in my Presence. They did
assemble in King Street and in the by-lanes leading
out of it, keeping my Lady Castlemaine's House in
sight, whilst others succeeded in Concealing them-
selves about the Gardens of White Hall, no doubt
with the Aid of treacherous and suborned Watch-

The striking of the hour of ten was to be the
signal for immediate and concerted Action. Those



in the Gardens stood by on the watch, until after
His Majesty the King had walked across from his
Palace to Her Ladyship's House. His Majesty, as
was his wont when supping with Lady Castlemaine,
entered her house by the back door, and his Servants
followed him into the house.

Then the Conspirators waited for the Hour to
strike. Directly the last clang of church bells had
ceased to reverberate through the humid evening air,
they advanced both from the Back and the Front
of the House simultaneously, when they were set
upon on the one side by a Company of His Majesty's
Body Guard under the Command of Major Sach-
vrell, who had remained concealed inside the
Palace, and on the other by a Company of Hal-
berdiers under the Command of Colonel Powick.

When the Traitors were thus confronted by loyal
Troops, they tried to put up a Fight, not realizing
that such measures had been taken by Major Sach-
vrell and Colonel Powick that they could not pos-
sibly hope to escape.

A scuffle ensued, but the Conspirators were very
soon overpowered, as indeed they were greatly out-
numbered. The Neighbourhood even then slum-
bering peacefully did no more than turn over in
bed, marvelling perhaps if a party of Mohocks on
mischief bent had come in conflict with a Posse of
Night-watchmen. The Prisoners were at once
marched to the Tower, despite the Rain which had
once more begun to fall heavily; and during the
long, wearisome Tramp through the City, their


Ardour for Conspiracies and Intrigues must have
cooled down considerably.

The Lieutenant of the Tower had everything
ready for the Reception of such exalted Guests; for
in truth my Lady Castlemaine had not allowed
things to be done by halves. Incensed against her
Enemies in a manner in which only an adulated and
spoilt Woman can be, she was going to see to it
that those who had plotted against her should be as
severely dealt with as the Law permitted.

Later on, I had it from my friend, Mistress
Floid, that the Lady Barbara Wychwoode visited
the Countess of Castlemaine during the course of
the morning. She arrived at her Ladyship's House
dressed in black and with a Veil, as if of mourning,
over her fair Hair.

Mistress Floid hath oft told me that the Interview
between the two Ladies was truly pitiable, and that
the Lady Barbara presented a heart-rending Spec-
tacle. She begged and implored her Ladyship to
exercise Mercy over a few young Hotheads, who
had been misled into Wrong-doing by inflammatory
Speeches from Agitators, these being naught but
paid Agents of the Dutch Government, she averred,
set to create Discontent and if possible Civil War
once again in England, so that Holland might
embark upon a War of Revenge with some Cer-
tainty of Success.

But the Countess of Castlemaine would not listen


to the Petition at all, and proud Lady Barbara
Wychwoode then flung herself at the other Woman's
feet and begged and implored for Pardon for her
Brother, her Lover and her Friends. Mistress Floid
avers that my Lady Castlemaine did nothing but
laugh at the poor Girl's pleadings, saying in a
haughty, supercilious Manner:

" Beauty in tears ? Tis a pretty sight, forsooth !
But had your Friends succeeded in their damnable
Plot, would You have shed tears of sympathy for
Me, I wonder ? "

And I could not find it in me to be astonished at
my Lady Castlemaine's Spite fulness, for in truth the
Lady Barbara's Friends had plotted her Disgrace
and Ruin. Not only that, they had taken every
opportunity of vilifying her Character and making
her appear as odious in the Eyes of the People as
they very well could.

You must not infer from this, dear Mistress, that
I am upholding my Lady Castlemaine in any way.
Her mode of life is abhorrent to me and I deeply
regret her Influence over His Majesty and over the
public Morals of the Court Circle, not to say of the
entire Aristocracy and Gentry. I am merely noting
the fact that human Nature being what it is, it is
not to be wondered at that when the Lady had a
Chance of hitting back, she did so with all her
Might, determined to lose nothing of this stupen-
dous Revenge.

However secret the actual Arrest of the Con-
spirators was kept from public Knowledge, it soon


transpired that such great and noble Gentlemen as
Lord Teammouth, Lord Douglas Wychwoode, the
Earl of Stour, not to mention others, were in the
Tower, and that a sensational Trial for Conspiracy
and High Treason was pending.

Gradually the History of the Plot had leaked
out, and how it had become abortive owing to an
anonymous Denunciation (for so it was called).
The Conspiracy became the talk of the Town. Sev-
eral Ladies and Gentlemen, though not directly im-
plicated in the Affair, but of known ultra-Protestant
views, thought it best to retire to their Country
Estates, ostensibly for the benefit of their Health.

Sinister Rumours were afloat that the Con-
spirators would be executed without Trial had
already suffered the extreme Penalty of the Law;
that the Marquis of Sidbury, Father of Lord
Douglas Wychwoode, had suddenly died of Grief;
that Torture would be applied to the proletarian
Accomplices of the noble Lords of whom there
were many so as to extract further Information
and Denunciations from them. In fact, the Town
seethed with Conjectures; People talked in Whis-
pers and dispersed at sight of any one who was
known to belong to the Court Circle. The Theatres
played to empty Benches, the Exchanges and Shops
were deserted, for no one liked to be abroad when
Arrests and Prosecutions were in the Air.

Through it all, very great Sympathy was evinced
for the Lady Barbara Wychwoode, whose pretty
Face was so well-known in Town and whose Charm


of Manner and kindly Disposition had endeared her
to many who had had the privilege of her Acquaint-
ance. Public Opinion is a strange and unaccount-
able Factor in the Affairs of Men, and Public
Opinion found it terribly hard that so young and
adulated a Girl as was the Lady Barbara should
at one fell swoop lose Brother, Lover and Friends.
And I may truly say that Satisfaction was abso-
lutely genuine and universal when it became known
presently that the young Earl of Stour had re-
ceived a full and gracious Pardon for his supposed
Share in the abominable Plot.

Whether, on closer Investigation, he had been
proved innocent or whether the Pardon was due to
exalted or other powerful Influences, no one knew
as yet : all that was a Certainty was that my Lord
Stour presently left the Tower a free Man even
whilst his Friends were one and all brought to
Trial, and subsequently most of them executed for
High Treason, or otherwise severely punished.

Lord Teammouth suffered Death upon the Scaf-
fold, so did Sir James Campsfield and Mr. Andrew
Kinver ; and there were others, whose Names escape
me for the moment. Lord Douglas Wychwoode
succeeded in fleeing to Scotland and thence to Hol-
land ; most people averred owing to the marvellous
Pluck and Ingenuity of his Sister. A number of
Persons of meaner degree were hanged; in fact, a
Reign of Terror swept over the country, and many
thought that the Judges had been unduly harsh and
over free with their Pronouncements of Death


But it was obvious that His Majesty himself
meant to make an Example of such abominable
Traitors, before political Intrigues and Rebellion
spread over the Country once again.

It was all the more strange, therefore, that one
of the Conspirators the Earl of Stour, in fact,
whose name had been most conspicuous in connec-
tion with the Affair should thus have been the only
one to enjoy Immunity. But, as I said before,
nothing but Satisfaction was expressed at first for
this one small Ray of Sunshine which came to
brighten poor Lady Barbara Wychwoode's Misery.

As for me, I did not know what to think. Surely
my heart should have been filled with Admiration
for the noble Revenge which a great Artist had
taken upon a hot-headed young Coxcomb. Such
Magnanimity was indeed unbelievable; nay, I felt
that it showed a Weakness of Character of which in
my innermost Heart I did not believe Mr. Betterton

To say that I was much rejoiced over the Clem-
ency shown to my Lord Stour would be to deviate
from the Truth. Looking back upon the Motives
which had actuated me when I denounced the in-
famous Plot to the Countess of Castlemaine, I could
not help but admit to myself that Hatred of a young
Jackanapes and a Desire for Vengeance upon his
impudent Head had greatly influenced my Course
of Action. Now that I imagined him once more
kneeling at the Lady Barbara's feet, an accepted
Lover, triumphant over Destiny, all the Sympathy
which I may have felt for him momentarily in the


hour of his Adversity, died out completely from my
Heart, and I felt that I hated him even more viru-
lently than before.

His Image, as he had last stood before me in the
dimly-lighted room of his noble Mansion, sur-
rounded by Books, costly Furniture, and all the
Appurtenances of a rich and independent Gentleman,
was constantly before my Mind. I could, just by
closing mine eyes, see him sitting beside the hearth,
with the lovely Lady Barbara beaming at him from
the place opposite, and his Friend standing by, back-
ing him up with Word and Deed in all his Arro-
gance and Overbearing.

" The Earl of Stour cannot cross swords with a

I seemed to hear those Words reverberating
across the street like the clank of some ghostly
Bell; and whenever mine ears rang to their sound
I felt the hot Blood of a just Wrath surge up to
my cheeks and my feeble Hands would close in a
Clutch, that was fierce as it was impotent.


The reported Death from grief of the Marquis
of Sidbury proved to be a false Rumour. But the
aged Peer did suffer severely from the Shame put
upon him by his Son's Treachery. The Wych-
woodes had always been loyal Subjects of their
King. At the time of the late lamented Monarch's
most crying Adversity, he knew that he could always
count on the Devotion of that noble Family, the


Members of which had jeopardized their entire
Fortune, their very Existence, in the royal Cause.

Of course, the present Marquis's two Children
were scarce out of the Nursery when the bitter
Conflict raged between the King and his People;
but it must have been terribly hard for a proud
Man to bear the thought that his only Son, as soon
as he had reached Man's Estate, should have raised
his Hand against his Sovereign.

No doubt owing to the disturbed State of many
influential Circles of Society that Winter, and the
number of noble Families who were in mourning
after the aborted Conspiracy and the wholesale
Executions that ensued, the Marriage between the
Lady Barbara Wychwoode and the Earl of Stour
was postponed until the Spring, and then it would
take place very quietly at the Bride's home in
Sussex, whither she had gone of late with her
Father, both living there for a while in strict Re-

Lord Douglas Wychwoode, so it was understood,
had succeeded in reaching Holland, where, I doubt
not, he continued to carry on those political In-
trigues against his lawful Sovereign which would
of a surety one day bring him to an ignominious

I was now living in the greatest Comfort and was
supremely happy, in the House of Mr. Betterton.
He employed me as his Secretary, and in truth my
place was no sinecure, for I never could have be-
lieved that there were so many foolish Persons in
the World who spent their time in writing Letters


laudatory or otherwise to such great Men as
were in the public Eye. I myself, though I have
always been a wholehearted Admirer of Men of
Talent and Erudition, would never have taken it
upon myself to trouble them with Effusions from my
Pen. And yet Letter after Letter would come to
the house in Tothill Street, addressed to Mr.
Thomas Betterton. Some written by great and
noble Ladies whose Names would surprise You,
dear Mistress, were I to mention them ; others were
from Men of position and of learning who desired
to express to the great Artist all the Pleasure that
they had derived from his rendering of noble

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Online LibraryEmmuska Orczy OrczyHis Majesty's well-beloved; an episode in the life of Mr. Thomas Betterton as told by his friend John Honeywood → online text (page 11 of 18)