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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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been over busy with your Name."


" An Explanation, my Lord ? " the young Man
said, with an added frown.

"Aye!" replied His Grace. "That's just the
Word. An Explanation. For I, my Lord, as your
Father's Friend, will ask You this: how is it that
while Teammouth, Campsfield and so many of your
Associates perished upon the Scaffold, You alone,
of those implicated in that infamous Plot, did obtain
an unconditional Pardon ? "

Lord Stour stepped back as if he had been hit in
the face. Boundless Astonishment was expressed in
the Gaze which he fixed upon the General, as well
as wrathful indignation.

" My Lord ! " he exclaimed, " that Question is an

" Make me swallow mine own Words," retorted
His Grace imperturbably, " by giving me a straight

" Mine Answer must be straight," rejoined Lord
Stour firmly, " since it is based on Truth. I do
not know."

The Duke shrugged his Shoulders, and there came
a sarcastic laugh from more than one of the Gentle-
men there.

" I give your Lordship my Word of Honour,"
Lord Stour insisted haughtily. Then, as His Grace
remained silent, with those deep-set eyes of his fixed
searchingly upon the young Man, the latter added
vehemently: "Is then mine Honour in question?"

Whereupon Mr. Betterton, who hitherto had re-
mained silent, interposed very quietly :


" The honour of some Gentlemen, my Lord, is
like the Manifestation of Ghosts much talked of
. . . but always difficult to prove ! "

You know his Voice, dear Mistress, and that
subtle carrying Power which it has, although he
never seems to raise it. After he had spoken You
could have heard the stirring of every little twig in
the trees above us, for no one said another Word
for a moment or two. We all stood there, a com-
pact little Group: Lord Stour facing the Duke of
Albemarle and Mr. Betterton standing a step or two
behind His Grace, his fine, expressive Face set in a
mask of cruel Irony. Sir William Davenant and
the other Gentlemen had closed in around those
three. They must have felt that some strange Storm
of Passions was brewing, and instinctively they tried
to hide its lowering Clouds from public gaze.

Fortunately there were not many Passers-by just
then, and the little Scene remained unnoted by the
idly curious, who are ever wont to collect in Crowds
whenever anything strange to them happens to at-
tract their Attention.

My Lord Stour was the first to recover Speech.
He turned on Mr. Betterton with unbridled

" What ! " he cried, " another sting from that
venomous Wasp? I might have guessed that so
miserable a Calumny came from such a vile Caitiff
as this!".

" Abuse is not Explanation, my Lord," interposed
the Duke of Albemarle firmly. "And I must


remind you that you have left my Question un-

" Put it more intelligibly, my Lord," retoated
Lord Stour haughtily. " I might then know how
to reply."

" Very well," riposted His Grace, still apparently
unmoved. " I will put it differently. I understand
that your Associates entrusted their treasonable
Manifestos to you. Is that a fact? "

" I'll not deny it."

" You cannot," rejoined the Duke drily. " Sir
James Campsfield, in the course of his Trial, ad-
mitted that he had received his Summons through
You. But a Copy of that Manifesto came into the
hands of my Lady Castlemaine just in time to cause
the Conspiracy to abort How was that? "

" Some Traitor," replied Lord Stour hotly, " of
whom I have no Cognizance."

" Yet it was You," riposted the General quietly,
" who received a free Pardon ... no one else.
How was that?" he reiterated more sternly.

" I have sworn to You that I do not know," pro-
tested my Lord Stour fiercely.

He looked now like a Man at Bay, trapped in a
Net which was closing in around him and from
which he was striving desperately to escape. His
face was flushed, his eyes glowed with an unnatural
fire. And always his restless gaze came back to
Mr. Betterton, who stood by, calm and impassive,
apparently disinterested in this Colloquy wherein a
man's Honour was being tossed about to the Winds


of Slander and of Infamy. Now Lord Stour gazed
around him, striving to find one line of genuine
Sympathy on the stern Faces which were confront-
ing him.

" My word of Honour, Gentlemen," he exclaimed
with passionate Earnestness, " that I do not know."

Honestly, I think that one or two of them did
feel for him and were inclined to give him Credence.
After all, these young Fops are not wicked; they
are only mischievous, as Children or young Puppies
are wont to be, ready to snarl at one another, to
yap and to tear to pieces anything that happens to
come in their way. Moreover, there was the great
bond of Caste between these People. They were,
in their innermost Hearts, loth to believe that one
of themselves a Gentleman, one bearing a great
Name could be guilty of this type of foul Crime
which was more easily attributable to a Plebeian.
It was only their Love of Scandal-monging and of
Backbiting that had kept the Story alive all these
weeks. Even now there were one or two sympa-
thetic Murmurs amongst those present when my
Lord Stour swore by his Honour.

But just then Mr. Betterton's voice was heard
quite distinctly above that Murmur :

" Honour is a strangely difficult word to pro-
nounce on the Stage," he was saying to Sir William
Davenant, apparently a propos of something the
latter had. remarked just before. "You try and
say it, Davenant; you will see how it always dislo-
cates your Jaw, yet produces no effect."


"Therefore, Mr. Actor," Lord Stour broke in
roughly, " it should only be spoken by those who
have a glorious Ancestry behind them to teach them
its true Significance."

" Well spoken, my Lord," Mr. Betterton rejoined
placidly. " But you must remember that but few
of His Majesty's Servants have a line of glorious
Ancestry behind them. In that way they differ from
many Gentlemen who, having nothing but their An-
cestry to boast of, are very like a Turnip the best
of them is under the ground."

This Sally was greeted with loud Laughter, and
by a subtle process which I could not possibly define,
the wave of Sympathy which was setting in the
direction of my Lord Stour, once more receded
from him, leaving him wrathful and obstinate, His
Grace of Albemarle stern, and the young Fops
flippant and long-tongued as before.

" My Lord Stour," the General now broke in once
more firmly, " 'tis You sought this Explanation, not
I. Now You have left my Question unanswered.
Your Friends entrusted their Manifestos to You.
How came one of these in Lady Castlemaine's

And the young Man, driven to bay, facing half
a dozen pairs of eyes that held both Contempt and
Enmity in their glance, reiterated hoarsely :

" I have sworn to You that I do not know."
Then he added : " Hath Loyalty then left this un-
fortunate Land, that You can all believe such a vile
thing of me ? "


And in the silence that ensued, Mr. Betterton's
perfectly modulated Voice was again raised in
quietly sarcastic accents:

" As You say, my Lord," he remarked. " Loyalty
hath left this unfortunate Country. Perhaps," he
added with a light shrug of the shoulders, " to take
Refuge with your glorious Ancestry."

This last Gibe, however, brought my Lord Stour's
exasperation to a raging Fury. Pushing uncere-
moniously past His Grace of Albemarle, who stood
before him, he took a step forward and confronted
Mr. Betterton eye to eye and, drawing himself up
to his full Height, he literally glowered down upon
the great Artist, who stood his Ground, placid and

" Insolent Varlet ! " came in raucous tones from
the young Lord's quivering lips. " If you had a
spark of chivalry or of honour in You "

At the arrogant Insult every one drew their
breath. A keen Excitement flashed in every eye.
Here was at last a Quarrel, one that must end in
bloodshed. Just what was required so thought
these young Rakes, I feel sure to clear the At-
mosphere and to bring abstruse questions of Suspi-
cion and of Honour to a level which they could all
of them understand. Only the Duke of Albemarle,
who, like a true and great Soldier, hath the greatest
possible Abhorrence for the gentlemanly Pastime
of Duelling, tried to interpose. But Mr. Betterton,
having provoked the Quarrel, required no interfer-
ence from any one. You know his way, dear Mis-


tress, as well as I do that quiet Attitude which he
is wont to assume, that fraction of a second's abso-
lute Silence just before he begins to speak. I know
of no Elocutionist's trick more telling than that. It
seems to rivet the Attention, and at the same time
to key up Excitement and Curiosity to its greatest

" By your leave, my Lord," he said slowly, and
his splendid Voice rose just to a sufficient pitch of
Loudness to be distinctly heard by those immediately
near him, but not one yard beyond. " By your
leave, let us leave the word ' honour ' out of our
talk. It hath become ridiculous and obsolete, now
that every Traitor doth use it for his own ends."

But in truth my Lord Stour now was beside him-
self with Fury.

" By gad ! " he exclaimed with a harsh laugh.
" I might have guessed that it was your pestilential
Tongue which stirred up this Treason against me.
Liar ! Scoundrel ! "

He was for heaping up one Insult upon the other,
lashing himself as it were into greater Fury still,
when Mr. Betterton's quietly ironical laugh broke
in upon his senseless ebullitions.

" Liar ? Scoundrel, am I ? " he said lightly, and,
still laughing, he turned to the Gentlemen who stood
beside him. "Nay! if the sight of a Scoundrel
offends his Lordship, he should shut himself up in
his own Room . . . and break his Mirror ! "

At this, my Lord Stour lost the last vestige of his
self-control, seized Mr. Betterton by the Shoulder


and verily, I thought, made as if he would strike

" You shall pay for this Insolence ! " he cried.

But already, with perfect sang-froid, the great
Artist had arrested his Lordship's uplifted hand and
wrenched it away from his shoulder.

" By you leave, my Lord," he said, and with
delicate Fingers flicked the dust from off his coat.
" This coat was fashioned by an honest tailor, and
hath never been touched by a Traitor's hand."

I thought then that I could see Murder writ
plainly on My Lord's face, which was suddenly
become positively livid. The Excitement around us
was immense. In truth I am convinced that every
Gentleman there present at the moment, felt that
something more deep and more intensely bitter lay
at the Root of this Quarrel, between the young
Lord and the great and popular Artist. Even now
some of them would have liked to interfere, whilst
the younger ones undoubtedly enjoyed the Spectacle
and were laying, I doubt not, imaginary Wagers as
to which of the two Disputants would remain Mas-
ter of the Situation.

His Grace of Albemarle tried once more to inter-
pose with all the Authority of his years and of his
distinguished Position, for indeed there was some-
thing almost awesome in Lord Stour's Wrath by
now. But Mr. Betterton took the Words at once
out of the great General's mouth.

" Nay, my Lord," he said with quiet Firmness,
" I pray You, do not interfere. I am in no danger,


I assure You. My Lord Stour would wish to kill
me, no doubt. But, believe me, Fate did not ordain
that Tom Betterton should die by such a hand
. . . the fickle Jade hath too keen a Sense of

Whereupon he made a movement, as if to walk
away. I felt the drag upon my arm where his
slender hand was still resting. The Others were
silent. What could they say ? Senseless Numskulls
though they were for the most part, they had enough
Perception to realize that between these two Men
there was Hatred so bitter that no mere Gentle-
manly Bloodshed could ever wipe it away.

But ere Mr. Betterton finally turned to go, my
Lord of Stour stepped out in front of him. All the
Rage appeared to have died out of him. He was
outwardly quite calm, only a weird twitching of his
lips testified to the Storm of Passion which he had
momentarily succeeded in keeping under control.

" Mr. Actor," he said slowly, " but a few Weeks
ago You asked me to cross words with You. . . .
I refused then, for up to this hour I have never
fought a Duel save with an Equal. But now, I
accept," he added forcefully, even while the Words
came veiled and husky from his throat. " I accept.
Do You hear me? . . .for the laws of England
do not permit a Murder, and as sure as there's a
Heaven above me, I am going to kill You."

Mr. Betterton listened to him until the end. You
know that Power which he hath of seeming to tower
above every one who stands nigh him? Well! he
exercised that Power now. He stepped quite close


to my Lord Stour, and though the latter is of more
than average height, Mr. Betterton literally ap-
peared to soar above him, with the sublime Mag-
nificence of an outraged Man coming into his own
at last.

" My Lord of Stour," he said, with perfect
quietude, " a few weeks ago you insulted me as
Man never dared to insult Man before. With every
blow dealt upon my shoulders by your Lacqueys,
You outraged the Majesty of Genius . . . yes!
its Majesty! . . . its Godhead! . . . You raised
your insolent hand against me against me, the
Artist, whom God Himself hath crowned with Im-
mortality. For a moment then, my outraged Man-
hood clamoured for satisfaction. I asked You to
cross swords with me, for You seemed to me ...
then . . . worthy of that Honour. But to-day,
my Lord of Stour," he continued, whilst every
Word he spoke seemed to strike upon the ear like
Blows from a relentless Hammer ; " Traitor to your
Friends, Liar and Informer! ! ! ! Bah! His
Majesty's Well-Beloved Servant cannot fight with
such as You ! "

In truth I do not remember what happened after
that. The unutterable Contempt, the Disgust, the
Loathing expressed in my Friend's whole Attitude,
seemed to hit even me between the eyes. I felt as if
some giant Hands had thrown a kind of filmy grey
veil over my Head, for I heard and saw nothing
save a blurred and dim Vision of uplifted Arms, of
clenched Fists and of a general Scrimmage, of which
my Lord Stour appeared to be the Centre, whilst


my ears only caught the veiled Echo of Words flung
hoarsely into the air :

" Let me go ! Let me go ! I must kill him ! I

Mr. Betterton, on the other hand, remained per-
fectly calm. I felt a slight pressure on my arm and
presently realized that he and I had turned and were
walking away down the Avenue of the Park, and
leaving some way already behind us, a seething mass
of excited Gentlemen, all intent on preventing Mur-
der being committed then and there.

What the outcome of it all would be, I could not
visualize. Mr. Betterton had indeed been able to
give Insult for Insult and Outrage for Outrage at
last. For this he had schemed and worked and
planned all these weeks. Whether God and Justice
were on his side in this terrible Revenge, I dared
not ask myself, nor yet if the Weapon which he had
chosen were worthy of his noble Character and of
his Integrity. That public Opinion was on his side,
I concluded from the fact that the Duke of Albe-
marle and Sir William Davenant both walked a few
yards with him after he had turned his back on my
Lord, and that His Grace constituting himself
Spokesman for himself and Sir William, offered
their joint Services to Mr. Betterton in case he
changed his mind and agreed to fight my Lord Stour
in duel.

" I thank your Grace," was Mr. Betterton's
courteous reply ; " but I am not like to change my
Mind on that Score."


I am not able quite to determine in my own mind
whether the Lady Barbara Wychwoode did hear and
see something of the violent Scene which I have
just attempted to describe.

I told You, dear Mistress, that fortunately for
us all, this part of the Park where the Scene oc-
curred was for the moment practically deserted. At
any rate, no Crowd collected around us, for which,
methinks, we were, every one of us, thankful. If
a few of the Passers-by heard anything of the alter-
cation, they merely hurried past, thinking no doubt,
that it was only one or two young City Sparks, none
too sober even at this morning hour, who were quar-
relling among themselves.

When we walked away down the Avenue which
leads in the direction of Knight's Bridge, Mr. Bet-
terton's well-known, elegant figure was remarked
by a few Pedestrians on their way to and fro, as
was also the familiar one of the Duke of Albemarle,
and some People raised their hats to the great Artist,
whilst others saluted the distinguished General.

Presently His Grace and Sir William Davenant
took leave of Mr. Betterton, and a few moments



later the latter suggested that we should also begin
to wend our way homewards.

We retraced our steps and turned back in the
direction of Westminster. Mr. Betterton was
silent; he walked quite calmly, with head bent and
firm footsteps, and I, knowing his humour, walked
along in silence by his side.

Then suddenly we came upon the Lady Barbara.

That she had sought this meeting I could not
doubt for a moment. Else, how should a Lady of
her Rank and Distinction be abroad, and in a public
Park, unattended? Indeed, I was quite sure that
she had only dismissed her maid when she saw Mr.
Betterton coming along, and that the Wench was
lurking somewhere behind one of the shrubberies,
ready to accompany her Ladyship home when the
interview was at an end.

I said that I am even now doubtful as to whether
the Lady Barbara saw and heard something of the
violent Altercation which had taken place a quarter
of an hour ago between her Lover and the great
Actor. If not, she certainly displayed on that occa-
sion that marvellous intuition which is said to be
the prerogative of every Woman when she is in

She was walking on the further side of Rosa-
mond Pond when first I caught sight of her, and
when she reached the Bridge, she came deliberately
to a halt. There is no other way across the Pond
save by the Bridge, so Mr. Betterton could not have
escaped the meeting even if he would. Seeing the
Lady, he raised his hat and made a deep bow of


respectful salutation. He then crossed the Bridge
and made as if he would pass by, but she held her
Ground, in the very centre of the Path, and when
he was quite near her, she said abruptly :
" Mr. Betterton, I desire a word with you."
He came at once to a halt, and replied with per-
fect deference :

" I await your Ladyship's commands."

I was for hurrying away, thinking that my Pres-
ence would be irksome both to the Lady and to my
Friend; but an unmistakable pressure of Mr. Bet-
terton's hand on my arm caused me to stay where
I was. As for the Lady, she appeared not to care
whether I stayed or went, for immediately she
retorted :

" My commands, Sir Actor ? They are, that you
at once and completely do Reparation for the wrong
which you are trying to do to an innocent Man."

She looked proud and commanding as a Queen,
looking through the veil of her lashes at Mr. Bet-
terton as if he were a supplicating Slave rather than
the great Artist whom cultured Europe delighted to
honour. Never did I admire my Friend so much
as I did then. His self-possession was perfect: his
attitude just the right balance 'twixt deference due
to a beautiful Woman and the self-assurance which
comes of conscious Worth. He looked splendid,
too dressed in the latest fashion and with unerring
taste. The fantastic cut of his modish clothes be-


came his artistic Personality to perfection : the soft
shade of mulberry of which his coat was fashioned
made an harmonious note of colour in the soft grey
mist of this late winter's morning. The lace at his
throat and wrists was of unspeakable value, filmy
and gossamer-like in texture as a cobweb; and in
his cravat glittered a diamond, a priceless gift to the
great English Artist from the King of France.

Indeed, the Lady Barbara Wychwoode might
look the world-famous Actor up and down with
well-studied superciliousness; she might issue her
commands to him as if she were his royal Mistress
and he but a Menial set there to obey her behest;
but, whatever she did, she could not dwarf his Per-
sonality. He had become too great for disdain or
sneers ever to touch him again; and the shafts of
scorn aimed at him by those who would set mere
Birth above the claims of Genius, would only find
their points broken or blunted against the impene-
trable armour of his Glory and his Fame.

For the nonce, I think that he was ready enough
to parley with the Lady Barbara. He had not to
my knowledge spoken with her since that never
forgotten day last September; and I, not under-
standing the complex workings of an Artist's heart,
knew not if his Love for her had outlived the crying
outrage, or had since then turned to Hate.

In answer to her peremptory command, he as-
sumed an air of innocent surprise.

" I ? " he queried. " Your Ladyship is pleased to
speak in -riddles."


" Nay ! " she retorted. " Tis you, Sir, who
choose not to understand. But I'll speak more
plainly, an you wish. I am a woman, Mr. Actor,
and I love the Earl of Stour. Now, you know just
as well as I do, that his Lordship's honour has of
late been impugned in a manner that is most mys-
terious. His Friends accuse him of treachery; even
mere Acquaintances prefer to give him the cold
shoulder. And this without any definite Indictment
being levelled against him. Many there are who
will tell You that they have not the faintest con-
ception of what crime my Lord Stour stands ac-
cused. Others aver that they'll not believe any
Slander that may be levelled against so high-souled
a Gentleman. Nevertheless, the Slander continues.
Nay! it gathers volume as it worms its way from
one house to another, shedding poison in its wake
as it drifts by; and more and more People now
affect to look another way when the Earl of Stour
comes nigh them, and to be otherwise engaged when
he desires to shake them by the hand."

She paused for a moment, obviously to regain her
Composure, which was threatening to leave her.
Her cheeks were pale as ashes, her breath came and
went in quick, short gasps. The Picture which she
herself had drawn of her Lover's plight caused her
heart to ache with bitterness. She seemed for the
moment to expect something a mere comment,
perhaps, or a word of Sympathy, from Mr. Better-
ton. But none came. He stood there, silent and
deferential, with lips firmly set, his slender Hand


clutched upon the gold knob of his stick, till the
knuckles shone creamy-white, like ivory. He re-
garded her with an air of Detachment rather than
Sympathy, and though by her silence she appeared
to challenge him now, he did not speak, and after
awhile she resumed more calmly :

" My Lord of Stour himself is at his wits' ends
to interpret the attitude of his Friends. Nothing
tangible in the way of a spoken Calumny hath as
yet reached his ears. And his life has been rendered
all the more bitter that he feels that he is being
struck by a persistent but mysterious Foe in what
he holds dearer than aught else on earth, his Integ-
rity and his Honour."

" 'Tis a sad case," here rejoined Mr. Betterton,
for her Ladyship had paused once more. " But, by
your leave, I do not see in what way it concerns

"Nay! but I think you do, Sir Actor," Lady
Barbara riposted harshly. " Love and Hate, re-
member, see clearly where mere Friendship and
Indifference are blind. Love tells me that the Earl
of Stour's Integrity is Unstained, his Honour un-
sullied. But the Hatred which you bear him,"
added her Ladyship almost fiercely, " makes me look
to You for the cause of his Disgrace."

No one, however, could have looked more utterly
astonished, more bland and uncomprehending, as
Mr. Betterton did at that moment. He put up his
hand and regarded the Lady with an indulgent
smile, such as one would bestow on a hot-headed


" Nay, your Ladyship ! " he said courteously.
" I fear that you are attributing to an humble
Mountebank a power he doth not possess. To dis-

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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 13 of 18)