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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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peculiar and very clinging Nature.

" Then let the Man you love look to himself ! "
the outraged Artist had said coldly, when con-
fronted for the last time by the Lady Barbara's
Disdain. And in my Mind I had no doubt that, for
Good or for Evil, if Tom Betterton set out to do a
Thing, he would carry it through to its bitter
End.

3

When, having finished my work, I went into Mr.
Betterton's study, I found him sitting beside his
Desk, though no longer writing. He was leaning
back against the cushions of his chair with eyes
closed, his face set and hard. Some loose papers,
covered with his neat, careful Caligraphy, lay in
an orderly heap upon the Desk.

His Work was evidently finished. Steeped in
Bitterness and in Vengeance, his Pen had laboured



THE RULING PASSION 257

and was now at rest. The Eloquence of the incom-
parable Actor would now do the rest.

As I entered the Room, the tower clock of West-
minster was just striking seven. The deep bay
Window which gave on a solitary corner of St.
James's Park, was wide open, and through it there
came from afar, wafted upon the evening breeze, the
strains of a masculine Voice, warm and mellow,
singing to the accompaniment of one of those
stringed Instruments which have been imported of
late from Italy.

The Voice rose and fell in pleasing Cadences, and
some of the Words of the Song reached mine Ear.

"You are my Life. You ask me why?
Because my hope is in your love."

Whether Mr. Betterton heard them or not, I could
not say. He sat there so still, his slender Hands
white and tapering, the veritable Hands of an Artist
rested listlessly upon the arms of his chair.

" Through gloomy Clouds to sunlit Skies,
To rest in Faith and your dear Eyes."

So sang the sweet Minstrel out there in the fast
gathering Gloom. I went up to the window and
gazed out into the open Vista before me. Far away
I could see the twinkling lights from the windows
of St. James's Palace, and on my right those of
White Hall. The Singer I could not see. He
appeared to be some distance away. But despite
the lateness of the hour, the Park was still alive
with people. And indeed as I leaned my Head fur-



258 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

ther out of the Window, I was struck by the ani-
mated spectacle which it presented.

No doubt that the unwonted mildness of this
early spring evening had induced young Maids and
Gallants, as well as more sober Folk and Gentle-
men, to linger out in the open. The charm of the
Minstrel and his Song, too, must have served as an
additional Attraction, for as I watched the People
passing to and fro, I heard snatches of Conversa-
tion, mostly in praise of the Singer or of the
Weather.

Anon I espied Sir William Davenant walking with
Mr. Killigrew, and my Lord of Rochester dallying
with a pretty Damsel ; one or two more Gentlemen
did I recognize as I gazed on the moving Sight, until
suddenly I saw that which caused me to draw my
Head back quickly from the Window and to gaze
with added Anxiety on the listless Figure of my
Friend.

What I had seen down below had indeed filled
my Heart with Dread. It was the Figure of my
Lord Stour. I could have sworn to it, even though
his Lordship was wrapped in a mantle from Head to
Foot and wore a broad-rimmed Hat, both of which
would indeed have disguised his Person completely
before all Eyes save those of Love, of Hate, or of
an abiding Friendship.

What was my Lord Stour doing at this Hour,
and in disguise, beneath the Window of his bitterest
Foe? My Anxiety was further quickened by the
Certainty which I had that neither he nor the Lady



THE RULING PASSION 259

Barbara would allow Mr. Betterton's Schemes to
mature without another Struggle. Even as I once
more thrust my Head out of the Window, in order
to catch another glimpse of the moody and solitary
Figure which I had guessed to be Lord Stour, me-
thought that close by the nearest Shrubbery I espied
the Figure of the Lady Barbara, in close conversa-
tion with her Attendant Both Women were
wrapped in dark Mantles and wore thick veils to
cover their Hair.

A dark presentiment of Evil now took possession
of my Soul. I felt like a Watch-dog scenting Dan-
ger from afar. The Man whom I loved better than
any other on Earth was in peril of his Life, at the
hands of an Enemy driven mad by an impending
Doom of that I felt suddenly absolutely convinced.
And somehow, I felt equally convinced at the mo-
ment that we I, the poor, insignificant Clerk, as
well as my illustrious Friend were standing on the
Brink of an overwhelming Catastrophe.

I had thought to warn him then and there, yet
dared not do so in so many words. Men in the
prime of Life and the plentitude of their mental
Powers are wont to turn contemptuous and obsti-
nate if told to be on their guard against a lurking
Enemy. And I feared that, in his utter contempt
for his Foe, Mr. Betterton might be tempted to do
something that was both unconsidered and perilous.

So I contented myself for the nonce with turning
to my Friend, seeing that he had wakened from his
reverie and was regarding me with that look of



260 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

Confidence and Kindliness which always warmed
my heart when I was conscious of it, I merely re-
marked quite casually:

" The Park is still gay with Ladies and Gallants.
'Tis strange at this late hour. But a Minstrel is
discoursing sweet Music somewhere in the distance.
Mayhap people have assembled in order to listen
to him."

And, as if to confirm my Supposition, a merry
peal of laughter came ringing right across the Park,
and we heard as it were the hum and murmur of
Pedestrians moving about. And through it all the
echo of the amorous Ditty still lingering upon the
evening air:

" For you are Love and I am yours ! "

" Close that window, John," Mr. Betterton said,
with an impatient little sigh. " I am in no mood
for sentimental Ballads."

I did as he desired, and whilst in the act of closing
the Window, I said guardedly:

" I caught sight of my Lord Stour just now, pac-
ing the open Ground just beneath this Window. He
appeared moody and solitary, and was wrapped
from head to foot in a big Mantle, as if he wished
to avoid Recognition."

" I too am moody and. solitary, good Honey-
wood," was Mr. Betterton's sole comment on my
remark. Then he added, with a slight shiver of his
whole body : " I prithee, see to the Fire. I am
perished with the cold."



THE RULING PASSION 261

I went up to the Hearth and kicked the dying
embers into a Blaze; then found some logs and
threw them on the Fire.

" The evening is warm, Sir," I said ; " and you
complained of the Heat awhile ago."

" Yes," he rejoined wearily. " My head is on
fire and my Spine feels like ice."

It was quite dark in the Room now, save for the
flickering and ruddy firelight. So I went out and
bade the Servant give me the candles. I came back
with them myself and set them on the Desk. As
I did so, I glanced at Mr. Betterton. He had once
more taken up his listless Attitude; his Head was
leaning against the back of his Chair, and I could
not fail to note how pallid his Face looked and how
drawn, and there was a frown between his Brows
which denoted wearying and absorbing Thoughts.
Wishing to distract him from his brooding Melan-
choly, I thought of reminding him of certain artistic
and social Duties which were awaiting his Atten-
tion.

"Will you send an Answer, Sir," I asked him
with well-assumed indifference, " to the Chancellor ?
It is on the Subject of the Benefit Performance in
aid of the Indigent Poor of the City of Westmin-
ster. His Lordship again sent a messenger this
afternoon."

" Yes ! " Mr. Betterton replied readily enough,
and sought amongst his Papers for a Letter which
he had apparently written some time during the
Day. " If His Lordship's Messenger calls again,



262 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

let him have this Note. I must arrange for the
Benefit Performance, of course. But I doubt if
many members of the Company will care to give
their Services."

" I think that Mr. Robert Noakes would be will-
ing," I suggested. " Also Mr. Lilleston."

" Perhaps, perhaps ! " he broke in listlessly. " But
we must have Actresses too, and they "

He shrugged his shoulders, and I rejoined with
great alacrity:

" Oh ! I feel sure that Mistress Saunderson would
be ready to join in any benevolent Scheme for the
betterment of the Poor."

"Ah! but she is an Angel!" Mr. Betterton ex-
claimed. And, believe me, dear Mistress, that those
words came as if involuntarily to his Lips, out of
the Fulness of his Heart. And even when he had
spoken, a Look of infinite Sadness swept over his
Face and he rested his Head against his Hand,
shading his Eyes from the light of the Candles, lest
I should read the Thoughts that were mirrored
therein.

" There came a messenger, too, this afternoon,"
I reminded him, " from Paris, with an autograph
Letter from His Majesty the King of France."

" Yes ! " he replied, and nodded his Head, I
thought, uncomprehendingly.

" Also a letter from the University of Stock-
holm. They propose that You should visit the City
in the course of the Summer and "

"Yes, yes! I know!" he rejoined impatiently.



THE RULING PASSION 263

" I will attend to it all another time . . . But not
to-night, good Honeywood," he went on almost
appealingly, like a Man wearied with many Tasks.
" My mind is like a squeezed Orange to-night."

Then he held out his Hand to me that beautiful,
slender Hand of his, which I had so often kissed
in the excess of my Gratitude and added with
gentle Indulgence:

" Let me be to-night, good Friend. Leave me to
myself. I am such poor Company and am best
alone."

I took his hand. It was burning hot, as if with
inward Fever. All my Friendship for him, all my
Love, was at once on the alert, dreading the rav-
ages of some inward Disease, brought on mayhap
by so much Soul-worry.

" I do not relish leaving You alone to-night," I
said, with more gruffness than I am wont to dis-
play. " This room is easy of Access from the
Park."

He smiled, a trifle sadly.

"Dost think," he asked, with a slight shrug of
the shoulders, " that a poor Mountebank would
tempt a midnight Robber ? "

" No ! " I replied firmly. " But my Lord Stour,
wrapped to the eyes in his Mantle, hath prowled be-
neath these Windows for an hour." Then, as he
made no comment, I continued with some Fervour :
" A determined Man, who hates Another, can easily
climb up to a first floor Window "

" Tush, friend ! " he broke in sharply. " I am



264 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

not afraid of his Lordship ... I am afraid of
nothing to-night, my good Honeywood," he added
softly, " except of myself."

4

You certainly will not wonder, dear Mistress,
that after that I did not obey his Commands to leave
him to himself. I am nothing of an Eavesdropper,
God knows, nor yet would I pry into the Secrets of
the Soul of the one Man whom I reverence above
all others. But, even as I turned reluctantly away
from him in order to go back to my Room, I re-
solved that, unless he actually shut the Door in my
Face, I would circumvent him and would remain
on the watch, like a faithful Dog who scents Danger
for his Master. In this I did not feel that I was
doing any Wrong. God saw in my Heart and knew
that my Purpose was innocent. I thank Him on
my Knees in that He strengthened me in my Re-
solve. But for that Resolve, I should not have been
cognizant of all the details of those Events which
culminated in such a dramatic Climax that night,
and I would not have been able to speak with Au-
thority when placing all the Facts before You. Let
me tell You at once that I was there, in Mr. Better-
ton's Room, during the whole of the time that the
Incident occurred which I am now about to relate.

He had remained sitting at his Desk, and I went
across the Room in the direction of the communi-
cating Door which gave on my own Study. But I
did not go through that Door. I just opened and



THE RULING PASSION 265

shut it noisily, and then slipped stealthily behind the
tall oaken Dresser, which stands in a dark Angle
of the Room. From this point of Vantage I could
watch closely and ceaselessly, and at the slightest
Suspicion of immediate Danger to my Friend I
would be free to slip out of my Hiding-place and to
render him what Assistance he required. I had to
squat there in a cramped Position, and I felt half
suffocated with the closeness of the Atmosphere
behind so heavy a Piece of Furniture; but this I
did not mind. From where I was I could command
a view of Mr. Betterton at his Desk, and of the
Window, which I wished now that I had taken the
Precaution to bar and bolt ere I retired to my Cor-
ner behind the Dresser.

For awhile, everything was silent in the Room;
only the great Clock ticked loudly in its case, and
now and again the blazing logs gave an intermit-
tent Crackle. I just could see the outline of Mr.
Betterton's Shoulder and Arm silhouetted against
the candle light. He sat forward, his elbow resting
upon the Desk, his Head leaning against his Hand,
and so still that presently I fell to thinking that he
must have dropped to sleep.

But suddenly he gave that quick, impatient Sigh
of his, which I had learned to know so well, pushed
back his chair, and rose to his Feet. Whereupon,
he began pacing up and down the Room, in truth
like some poor, perturbed Spirit that is denied the
Solace of Rest.

Then he began to murmur to himself. I know



266 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

that mood of his and believe it to be peculiar to the
artistic Temperament, which, when it feels itself
untrammelled by the Presence of Others, gives vent
to its innermost Thoughts in mumbled Words.

From time to time I caught Snatches of what he
said wild Words for the most part, which showed
the Perturbation of his Spirit. He, whose Mind
was always well-ordered, whose noble Calling had
taught him to co-ordinate his Thoughts and to sub-
due them to his Will, was now murmuring inco-
herent Phrases, disjointed Sentences that would
have puzzled me had I not known the real Trend of
his Mood.

" Barbara ! . . . " he said at one time. " Beau-
tiful, exquisite, innocent Lady Babs; the one pure
Crystal in that Laboratory of moral Decomposition,
the Court of White Hall. ..." Then he paused,
struck his Forehead with his Hand, and added with
a certain fierce Contempt : " But she will yield . . .
she is ready now to yield. She will cast aside her
Pride, and throw herself into the arms of a Man
whom she hates, all for the sake of that young
Coxcomb, who is not worthy to kiss the Sole of
her Shoe!"

Again he paused, flung himself back into his
Chair, and once more buried his Face in his Hands.

" Oh, Woman, Woman ! " I could hear him mur-
muring. " What an Enigma ! How can the mere
Man attempt to understand thee ? "

Then he laughed. Oh ! I could not bear the sound
of that laugh: there was naught but Bitterness in



THE RULING PASSION 267

it. And he said slowly muttering between his
Teeth :

" The Philosopher alone knows that Women are
like Melons : it is only after having tasted them that
one knows if they are good."

Of course, he said a great deal more during the
course of that dreary, restless hour, which seemed
to me like a Slice out of Eternity. His Restless-
ness was intense. Every now and then he would
jump up and walk up and down, up and down,
until his every Footstep had its counterpart in the
violent beatings of my Heart. Then he would fling
himself into a Chair and rest his Head against the
Cushions, closing his Eyes as if he were in bodily
Pain, or else beat his Forehead with his Fists.

Of course he thought himself unobserved, for
Mr. Better ton is, as You know, a Man of great
mental Reserve. Not even before me his faithful
and devoted Friend would he wittingly have dis-
played such overmastering Emotion. To say that
an equally overwhelming Sorrow filled my Heart
would be but to give You, dear Mistress, a feeble
Statement of what I really felt. To see a Man of
Mr. Betterton's mental and physical Powers so
utterly crushed by an insane Passion was indeed
heartrending. Had he not everything at his Feet
that any Man could wish for? Fame, Honours, the
Respect and Admiration of all those who mattered
in the World. Women adored him, Men vied with
one another to render him the sincerest Flattery by
striving to imitate his Gestures, his Mode of Speech,



268 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

the very Cut of his Clothes. And, above all aye,
I dare assert it, and You, beloved Mistress will, I
know, forgive me above all, he had the Love of a
pure and good Woman, of a talented Artist yours,
dear Lady an inestimable Boon, for which many a
Man would thank his Maker on his Knees.

Ah ! he was blind then, had been blind since that
fatal Hour when the Lady Barbara Wychwoode
crossed his Path. I could endorse the wild Words
which he had spoken to her this forenoon. A thou-
sand devils were indeed unchained within him; but
'tis not to her Kiss that they would yield, but rather
to the gentle Ministration of exquisite Mistress
Saunderson.



CHAPTER XV
MORE DEAF THAN ADDERS



I felt so cramped and numb in my narrow hiding-
place that I verily believe I must have fallen into a
kind of trance-like Slumber.

From this I was suddenly awakened by the loud
Clang of our front-door Bell, followed immediately
by the Footsteps of the Serving Man upon the
Landing, and then by a brief Colloquy between him
and the belated Visitor.

Seriously, at the moment I had no Conception of
who this might be, until I glanced at Mr. Betterton.
And then I guessed. Guessed, just as he had already
done. Every line of his tense and expectant Atti-
tude betrayed the Fact that he had recognized the
Voice upon the Landing, and that its sound had
thrilled his very Soul and brought him back from
the Land of Dreams and Nightmare, where he had
been wandering this past hour.

You remember, dear Lady, the last time Mr.
Betterton played in a Tragedy called " Hamlett,"
wherein there is a Play within a Play, and the
melancholy Prince of Denmark sets a troupe of
Actors to enact a Representation of the terrible
Crime whereof he accuses both his Uncle and his

269



270 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

Mother? It is a Scene which, when played by Mr.
Betterton, is wont to hold the Audience enthralled.
He plays his Part in it by lying full length on the
Ground, his Body propped up by his Elbow and his
Chin supported in his Hand. His Eyes those won-
derful, expressive Eyes of his he keeps fixed upon
the guilty Pair: his Mother and his Uncle. He
watches the play of every Emotion upon their faces
Fear, Anger, and then the slowly creeping, en-
veloping Remorse; and his rigid, stern Features
express an Intensity of Alertness and of Expec-
tancy, which is so poignant as to be almost painful.
Just such an Expression did my dear Friend's
Face wear at this Moment. He had pushed his
Chair back slightly, so that I had a fuller view of
him, and the flickering light of the wax Candles
illumined his clear-cut Features and his Eyes, fixed
tensely upon the door.



The next moment the serving Man threw open
the door and the Lady Barbara walked in. I could
not see her until she had advanced further into the
middle of the Room. Then I beheld her in all her
Loveliness. Nay! I'll not deny it. She was still
incomparably beautiful, with, in addition, that mar-
vellous air of Breeding and of Delicacy, which
rendered her peerless amongst her kind. I hated
her for the infinite wrong which she had done to my
Friend, but I could not fail to admire her. Her
Mantle was thrown back from her Shoulders and a



MORE DEAF THAN ADDERS 271

dark, filmy Veil, resembling a Cloud, enveloped her
fair Hair. Beneath her Mantle she wore a Dress
of something grey that shimmered like Steel in the
Candlelight. A few tendrils of her ardent Hair had
escaped from beneath her Veil, and they made a
kind of golden Halo around her Face. She was
very pale, but of that transparent, delicate Pallor
that betokens Emotion rather than ill-health, and her
Eyes looked to me to be as dark as Sloes, even
though I knew them to be blue.

For the space of one long Minute, which seemed
like Eternity, these two remained absolutely still,
just looking at one another. Methought that I could
hear the very heart-beats within my breast. Then
the Lady said, with a queer little catch in her Throat
and somewhat hesitatingly :

" You are surprised to see me, Sir, no doubt . . .
but . . ."

She was obviously at a loss how to begin. And
Mr. Betterton, aroused no doubt by her Voice from
his absorption, rose quickly to his Feet and made
her a deep and respectful Obeisance.

' The Angels from Heaven sometimes descend to
Earth," he said slowly; "yet the Earth is more
worthy of their Visit than is the humble Artist of
the Presence of his Muse." Then he added more
artlessly: "Will You deign to sit? "

He drew a Chair forward for her, but She did
not take it, continued to speak with a strange, ob-
viously forced Gaiety and in a halting Manner.

" I thank you, Sir," she said. " That is ...



272 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

no ... not yet ... I like to look about me."

She went close up to the Desk and began to finger
idly the Books and Papers which lay scattered pell-
mell upon it, he still gazing on her as if he had
not yet realized the Actuality of her Presence.
Anon she looked inquiringly about her.

" What a charming room ! " she said, with a little
cry of wonder. " So new to me ! I have never seen
an Artist's room before."

" For weeks and months," Mr. Betterton rejoined
simply, " this one has been a temple, hallowed by
thoughts of You. Your Presence now, has hence-
forth made it a Sanctuary."

She turned full, inquiring Eyes upon him and
riposted with childlike Ingenuousness:

"Yet must You wonder, Sir, at my Presence
here . . . alone . . . and at this hour."

" In my heart," he replied, " there is such an
Infinity of Happiness that there is no Room for
Wonder."

" An Infinity of Happiness ? " she said with a
quaint little sigh. " That is what we are all striv-
ing for, is it not^ The Scriptures tell us that this
Earth is a Vale of Tears. No wonder ! " she added
naively, " since we are so apt to allow Happiness to
pass us by."

Oh! how I wished I had the Courage then and
there to reveal myself to these Twain, to rush out of
my Hiding-place and seize that wily Temptress who,
I felt sure, was here only for the undoing of a Man
whom she hated with unexampled Bitterness. Oh,



MORE DEAF THAN ADDERS 273

why hath grudging Nature made me weak and cow-
ardly and diffident, when my whole Soul yearns at
times to be resourceful and bold? Believe me, dear
Mistress, that my Mind and my Will-power were
absolutely torn between two Impulses the one
prompting me to put a stop to this dangerous and
purposeless Interview, this obvious Trap set to catch
a great and unsuspecting Artist unawares; and the
other urging me not to interfere, but rather to allow
Destiny, Fate or the Will of God alone to straighten
out the Web of my Friend's Life, which had been
embroiled by such Passions as were foreign to his
noble Nature.

And now I am thankful that I allowed this latter
Counsel to prevail. The Will of God did indeed
shape the Destinies of Men this night for their
Betterment and ultimate Happiness. But, for the
moment, the Threads of many a Life did appear to
be most hopelessly tangled: the Lady Barbara
Wychwoode, daughter of the Marquis of Sidbury,
the fiancee of the Earl of Stour, was in the house of
Tom Betterton, His Majesty's Well-Beloved Serv-
ant, and he was passionately enamoured of her and
had vowed Vengeance against the Man she loved.
As he gazed on her now there was no Hatred in
his Glance, no evil Passion disturbed the Look of
Adoration wherewith he regarded her.

" Barbara," he pleaded humbly, " be merciful to
me. . . . For pity's sake, do not mock me with
your smile ! My dear, do you not see that I scarce
can believe that I live . . . and that you are here ?



274 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

. . . You ! . . . You ! " he went on, with pas-
sionate Earnestness. " My Divinity, whom I only
dare approach on bended Knees, whose Garment I
scarce dare touch with my trembling Lips ! "

He bent the Knee and raised the long, floating
End of her cloudlike Veil to his Lips. I could have
sworn at that Moment that she recoiled from him
and that she made a Gesture to snatch away the
Veil, as if his very Touch on it had been Pollution.
That Gesture and the Recoil were, however, quite


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