Emmuska Orczy Orczy.

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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and I stooped and picked up the Dagger and placed
it back in her Hand without looking at her.


Her Ladyship then went on towards the door.
But suddenly she came to a halt, and I, who was
close to her heels, paused likewise, for I felt that
every drop of Blood within me had turned to Ice.


From the Hall below there had come the sound of
angry Altercation and a Man's voice was raised
loudly and peremptorily, saying:

" Let me pass, man ! I will speak with Mr.

The voice was that of my Lord Stour.

The Lady Barbara stood quite still for a moment,
rigid as a carved Statue. Then a low, inexpressibly
pathetic Moan rose to her Lips.

" Oh ! for the Earth to open ! " she cried pitiably,
" and bury me and this Shame "

She was overwrought and weak with Emotion,
but in any Event it was a terrible Position for any
Lady of Rank to be found in, at this late hour, and
alone. Overcome no doubt with the superabun-
dance of harrowing Sensations, she tottered as if
about to swoon. Mr. Betterton caught her as she

" My Divinity ! My Queen ! " he murmured
quickly. " No one shall harm you, I swear it ! No
one shall ! " Then he added under his breath :
" Heaven above me, help me to protect her ! "

Whereupon he lifted her up in his Arms as if
she were a Child, and carried her as far as the
Embrasure of the Window. Then, with one of
those quick movements which were so characteristic
of him, he drew the Curtains together, which shut
off the Bay from the rest of the Room and screened
its fair Occupant completely from view.

He was a different Man now to the Passion-
racked Creature of awhile ago; absolutely calm; the


Man I had known and loved and respected all these
years. Though my whole Being was still convulsed
in an Agony of Apprehension, I felt that from him
now would come moral Comfort for me and Pro-
tection for the unfortunate Lady, whose Burden of
Sorrow had at last touched his Heart. And I do
verily believe, dear Lady, that in that Instant of
supreme Danger for us all, his Passion fell from him
like a Curtain from before his Eyes. It had gone
through its culminating Anguish when he discovered
that she whom he loved had lied to him and cheated
him. Now, when she stood here before him, utterly
helpless and utterly crushed, his Infatuation ap-
peared to writhe for one Moment in the Crucible of
his own Manliness and Chivalry, and then to emerge
therefrom hallowed and purified.

In the meanwhile, less than a minute had elapsed.
My Lord Stour had ascended the Stairs, undeterred
by the Protestations of Mr. Betterton's Servant.
The next moment he had violently wrenched the
Door open and now stood before us, pale, trembling
with Rage or Excitement, hatless, his Mantle
thrown back from his Shoulders. His right Hand
clutched his naked Sword, and in his Left he had
a crushed ball of paper, held together by her Lady-
ship's brooch. His entire Attitude was one of firm
and deadly Menace.

" I heard a Voice ! " he exclaimed, staring wildly
around him. " I saw a Face a Form. . This


Paper was flung out from yonder Window . . .
was picked up by a serving Wench. . . . What
does it mean ? " he queried harshly, and advanced
threateningly towards Mr. Betterton, who was
standing midway between him and the curtained

" How can I tell ? " riposted the great Actor
blandly, with a careless Shrug of his Shoulders. " I
was not moon-gazing, as your Lordship appears to
have done. A paper, did You say? "

" You are not alone," retorted my Lord roughly.
" I heard a voice . . . just now. ..."

" We are all apt to hear voices in the moonlight,
my Lord," Mr. Betterton rejoined simply. " The
Artist hears his Muse, the Lover his Mistress, the
Criminal his Conscience."

His unruffled calm seemed to exasperate his Lord-
ship's fury, for he now appeared even more men-
acing than before.

" And did You perchance hear a Voice to-night,
Sir Actor," he queried, his voice hoarse with Pas-
sion, " warning You of Death? "

"Nay!" replied Mr. Betterton. "That Voice
whispers to Us all, and always, my Lord, even in
our Cradles."

" Then hear it for the last time now, and from my
Lips, you abominable Mountebank! " my Lord cried,
beside himself in truth. " For unless You draw
aside that Curtain, I am going to kill You."

" That is as you please," retorted Mr. Betterton


" Stand aside ! " commanded his Lordship.

But Mr. Betterton looked him calmly up and
down and did not move one inch.

" This is a most unwarrantable Interference," he
said quietly, " with the Freedom of His Majesty's
well-beloved Servant. Your Lordship seems to for-
get that every inch of this Floor is mine, and that I
stand on it where I please. I pray you, take that
Paper that Message elsewhere. An it came
down from Heaven, read it but leave me in
Peace/' .

"I'll not go," asserted my Lord harshly, "till
you have drawn aside that Curtain."

" Then we'll see whose Legs will weary first, nly
Lord, yours or mine," was Mr. Betterton' s unruffled

"Draw then and defend yourself!" cried my
Lord, who before his Enemy's unbroken Calm, had
lost what Semblance of Self -Control he still pos-

" I am unarmed," riposted Mr. Betterton simply.

" Then let Satan have his due," exclaimed the
young Hothead, and raised his Sword ready to
strike, " for your Soul shall go down to Hell at

In a moment, of course, I was on him. But he
had the vigour of a trained Soldier, enhanced by an
overwhelming Passion of Enmity and of Rage; and
though I seized him unawares I doubt if he had
realized that I was in the Room he shook me off
in an instant, as a Dog might shake off an importu-


nate Rat. Before I had time to recover my breath
from his quick and furious Defence, he had turned
on me and dealt me such a vigorous Blow with his
Fist between the Eyes, that the whole Room began
to gyrate around me and the Atmosphere became
peopled with Stars. I staggered and half fell
against the Dresser that had sheltered me awhile
ago. For the space of half a dozen seconds mine
Eyes were closed.


When I opened them again, the Scene had indeed
changed. Her Ladyship had pushed the Curtains
aside and stood there in the window Embrasure,
revealed to her irate Lover. And he, though he
must have known that she was there all the Time,
appeared so staggered by her Apparition that his
Arm dropped by his side and his Sword fell with a
clatter to the Ground, while he murmured as if in
the last Throes of mental Suffering:

" Barbara . . . my Barbara . . . here alone
at night . . . with this Man! ..."

Her Ladyship, however, appeared perfectly com-
posed. The light of the Candles revealed her ex-
quisite Face, pale but serene, and her small Head
crowned with the Aureole of her golden Hair, held
up proudly as one who hath naught to fear, naught
for which she need be ashamed. She pointed with
perfect steadiness to the Paper which my Lord still
held tightly clasped in his left Hand.

" That paper ! " she said, and only a slight veiling


of her Voice betrayed the Emotion which she felt.
" I sent it. Tis for you, my Lord. It will clear
your Honour, and proclaim your Innocence."

But his Lordship did not appear to hear her. He
continued to murmur to himself mechanically, arid
in tones of the deepest Despair :

" Barbara . . . alone . . . with him ! "

" Read that Paper, my dear Lord," her Ladyship
insisted with calm dignity, " ere with another
Thought you further dare to wrong me ! "

These simple Words, however, so full of con-
scious Worth and of Innocence, let loose the Flood-
gates of my Lord's pent-up, insensate jealousy.

"Wrong you!" he cried, and a harsh, almost
maniacal laugh broke from his choking Throat.
" Wrong you ! Nay ! I suppose I must be grateful
and thank Heaven on my Knees that You, my
promised Bride, deigned to purchase mine Honour
at the Price of your Kisses ! "

At this gross Insult her Ladyship uttered a pitiful
Moan; but ere she could give Reply, Mr. Betterton,
who hitherto had not interfered between the Twain,
now did so, and in no measured Tone.

" Silence, Madman ! " he commanded, " ere You

But my Lord had apparently lost his last Shred
of Reason. Jealousy was torturing him in a man-
ner that even Hatred had failed to do.

" God ! " he exclaimed repeatedly, calling to the
Almighty to witness his Soul-Misery. " I saw her
at that Window. . Who else saw her? .


How many Varlets and jabbering Coxcombs know
at the present moment that the Lady Barbara Wych-
woode spends the night alone with a Mountebank ? "
In an excess of ungoverned Rage he tore the Paper
to shreds and threw the Scraps almost into her
Ladyship's Face. "Take back your Proofs!" he
cried. " I'll not take mine Honour from Your
hands! Ah ! " he added, and now turned once more
toward Mr. Betterton, who, I could see, was calmly
making up his Mind what next to do. " Whoever
you are Man or Devil are you satisfied with your
Revenge? Was it not enough to cover me with
Infamy; what need had You to brand Her with
Dishonour ? "

Overcome with Emotion, his Soul on the Rack,
his Heart wounded and bleeding, he appeared like a
lost Spirit crying out from an Abyss of Torment.
But these last Ravings of his, these final, abominable
Insults, levelled against the Woman who had done
so much for him, and whom he should have been the
first to protect, lashed Mr. Betterton's ire and con-
tempt into holy Fury.

" Ye gods in Heaven, hear him ! " he cried, with
an outburst of Rage at least as great as that of the
other Man. " He loves her, and talks of Dishonour,
whilst I love her and only breathe of Worship!
By all the Devils in Hell, my Lord Stour, I tell you
that you lie ! "

And before any of us there realized what he
meant to do, he ran to the Window, threw open all
the Casements with such violence that the glass


broke and fell clattering down upon the gravelled
place below.

" Hallo ! " he called in a stentorian Voice.
"Hallo, there!"

My Lord Stour, bewildered, un-understanding,
tried to bluster.

" What are you doing, man ? " he queried
roughly. " Silence ! Silence, I say ! "

But Mr. Betterton only shouted the louder.

"Hallo, there! Friends! Enemies! England!

I could hear the Tumult outside. People were
running hither from several directions, thinking, no
doubt, that a Fire had broken out or that Murder
was being done. I could hear them assembling be-
neath the window, which was not many feet from
the Ground. " Why ! it's Tom Betterton ! " some of
them said. And others added: "Hath he gone
raving mad ? "

" Is any one there who knows me ? " queried Mr.
Betterton loudly.

" Yes ! Yes ! " was the ready response.

" Who is it ? " he asked, peering into the darkness

I heard Sir William Davenant's voice give reply.

" Killigrew and I are down here, Tom. What in
the Name of is the matter? "

" Come round to my rooms, Davenant," Mr. Bet-
terton replied ; " and bring as many friends with you
as you can."

He was standing in the Bay of the Window, and


his Figure, silhouetted against the Light in the
Room, must have been plainly visible to the crowd
outside. That a number of People had assembled by
now was apparent by the Hum and Hubbub which
came to us from below. Unable to restrain my
Curiosity, I too approached the open Casements and
peered out into the Gloom. Just as I thought, quite
a Crowd had collected down there, some of whom
were making ready to climb up to the Window by
way of the Gutter-pipes or the solid stems of the
Ivy, whilst others were trooping down the narrow
little Alley which connects Tothill Street with the
Park at the base of Mr. Betterton's house. There
was a deal of talking, laughing and shouting.
" Tom Betterton is up to some Prank," I heard
more than one Person say.


Perhaps You will wonder what was my Lord's
Attitude during the few minutes it was less than
five which elapsed between the Instant when Mr.
Betterton first threw open the Casements, and that
when the Crowd, headed by Sir William Davenant
and Mr. Killigrew, trooped down the Alley on their
Way to this House. To me he seemed at first
wholly uncomprehending, like a Man who has re-
ceived a Blow on the Head just as I did from his
Fist a moment ago and before whose Eyes the
Walls of the Room, the Furniture, the People, are
all swimming in an Ocean of Stars. I imagine that
at one time the Thought flashed as Lightning


through his Mind that this was but the culminating
Outrage, wherewith his Enemy meant to pillory him
and his Bride before a jeering Public. That was
the moment when he turned to her Ladyship and,
uttering a hoarse Cry, called to her by Name. She
was, just then, leaning in semi-consciousness against
the Angle of the Bay. She did not respond to his
Call, and Mr. Betterton, quick in his Movements,
alert now like some Feline on the prowl, stepped
immediately in front of Her, facing my Lord and
screening Her against his Approach.

" Stand back, Man," he commanded. " Stand
back, I tell You! You shall not come nigh Her
save on bended Knees, with Head bowed in the
Dust, suing for Pardon in that you dared to Insult

Everything occurred so quickly, Movements,
Events, High Words, threatening Gestures from
both sides, followed one another in such rapid Suc-
cession, that I, overcome with Agitation and the
Effect of the stunning Blow which I had received,
was hardly able to take it all in. Much less is it in
my Power to give You a faithful Account of it
all. Those five Minutes were the most spirit-
stirring ones I have ever experienced throughout my
Life every Second appeared surcharged with an
exciting Fluid which transported Me to supernal
Regions, to Lands of Unrealities akin to vivid

At one Moment, I remember seeing my Lord
Stour make a rapid and furtive movement in the


direction of his Sword, which lay some little Dis-
tance from him on the Ground, but Mr. Betterton
was quicker even than his Foe, more alert, and with
one bound he had reached the Weapon, ere my
Lord's Hand was nigh it, had picked it up and,
with a terrific Jerk, broke it in half across his Knee.
Then he threw the mangled Hilt in one direction, the
Point in another, and my Lord raised his Fists,
ready, methinks, to fly at his Throat.

But, as I have already told You, dear Mistress,
the whole Episode stands but as a confused Mirage
before my Mind; and through it all I seemed to see
a mere Vision of her Ladyship, pale and ethereal,
leaning against the Angle of the Bay; one delicate
Hand was clutching the heavy Curtain, drawing
it around her as it were, as if in a pathetic and
futile Desire to shield herself from view.


In the meanwhile, the Crowd all round the House
had visibly swelled. Some People were still stand-
ing immediately beneath the Bow-window, whilst
Others swarmed into Tothill Street; the foremost
amongst the Latter had given a vigorous Tug at
the Bell-pull, and the front Door being opened for
them by the bewildered Servant, they had made a
noisy Irruption into the House. We could hear
them clattering up the Stairs, to the Accompaniment
of much Laughing and Talking, and the oft-
reiterated Refrain: "Tom Betterton is up to some
Prank! Hurrah!"

Some few again, more venturesome and certainly
more Impudent than most, had indeed succeeded in
scrambling up to the Window, and, one after an-
other, Heads and Shoulders began to appear in the
Framework of the open Casements.

Her Ladyship had no doubt realized from the first
that Escape became impossible, within two Minutes
of Mr. Betterton's first Summons to the Public.
Just at first, perhaps, if my Lord had preserved his
entire Presence of Mind, he might have taken her
by the Hand and fled with Her out of the House,



before the unruly Crowd had reached Tothill Street.
But my Lord, blinded by jealous Rage, had not
thought of Her quickly enough, and now the Time
was past, and he remained impotent, gasping with
Fury, hardly conscious of his Actions. He had
been literally swept off his Feet by Mr. Betterton's
eagle-winged coup de main, which left him puzzled
and the prey to a nameless Terror as to what was
about to follow.

Now, when he saw a number of Gentlemen troop-
ing in by the Door, he could but stare at them in
utter Bewilderment. Most of these Gallants were
personally known to him: Sir William Davenant
was in the forefront with Mr. Thomas Killigrew of
the King's Theatre, and the Earl of Rochester was
with them, as well as Mr. Wycherley. I also recog-
nized Sir Charles Sedley and old Sir John Denham,
as well as my Lord Roscommon, among the crowd.

They had all rushed in through the Door, laugh-
ing and jesting, as was the wont of all these gay
and courtly Sparks; but at sight of the Lady Bar-
bara, they halted. Gibes and unseemly Jokes broke
upon their Lips, and for the most part their Hands
went up to their Hats, and they made her Ladyship
a deep obeisance. Indeed, just then she looked more
like a Wraith than a living Woman, and the Light
of the Candles, which flickered wildly in the
Draught, accentuated the Weirdness of her Appear-

"What is it, Tom? What is amiss?" Sir
William Davenant was thus the first to speak.


" We thought You were playing some Prank."

" You did call from that Window, did You not,
Tom ? " my Lord Rochester insisted.

And one or two of the Gentlemen nodded some-
what coldly to my Lord Stour.

" Yes. I did call," Mr. Betterton replied, quite
firmly. " But 'twas no Whim on my Part thus to
drag You into my House. It was not so much my
Voice that you heard as the Trumpet blast of

At this, my Lord Stour broke into one of those
harsh, mirthless Fits of Laughter which betokened
the perturbation of his Spirit.

" The Truth ! " he exclaimed with a cutting Sneer.
"From You?"

" Aye ! the Truth ! " Mr. Betterton rejoined with
perfect calm, even whilst his Friends glanced,
puzzled and inquiring, from my Lord Stour to him,
and thence to her Ladyship's pale face, and even to
Me. " The Truth," he added with a deep Sigh as
of intense Relief; " The Truth, at Last! "

He stood in the centre of the Room, with one
Hand resting upon the Desk, his Eyes fixed fear-
lessly upon the Sea of Faces before him. Not the
slightest Tremor marred the perfect Harmony of
his Voice, or the firm poise of his manly Figure.
You know as well as I do, dear Mistress, the mar-
vellous Magnetism of Mr. Betterton's Personality,
the Way he hath of commanding the Attention of
a Crowd, whenever he chooseth to speak. Think of
him then, dear Lady, with Head thrown back, his


exquisite Voice rising and falling in those subtle
and impressive Cadences wherewith he is wont to
hold an Audience enthralled. Of a truth, no experi-
enced Manager in Stage-Craft could have devised
so thrilling an Effect, as the Picture which Mr.
Betterton the greatest Actor of this or of any
Time presented at that Moment, standing alone,
facing the Crowd which was thrilled into deadly
Silence, and with the wraith-like Figure of that ex-
quisitely beautiful Woman as a Foil to his own self-
possessed, virile Appearance.

" Gentlemen," he began, with slow, even Em-
phasis, " I pray you bear with me ; for what I have
to say will take some time in telling. Awhile ago his
Lordship of Stour put upon me such an Insult as
the Mind of Man can hardly conceive. Then, on
the Pretence that I was not a born Gentleman as
he was, he refused me Satisfaction by the Sword.
For this I hated him and swore that I would be even
with him, that I would exact from his Arrogance,
Outrage for Outrage, and Infamy for Infamy."
He then turned to my Lord Stour and spoke to him
directly. "You asked me just now, my Lord, if
my Revenge was satisfied. My answer to that is:
not yet! Not until I see You on Your bended
Knees here, before these Gentlemen my Friends
and Yours receiving from the miserable Mounte-
bank whom you mocked, the pitiful cur whom You
thrashed, that which you hold or should hold
more precious than all the Treasures of this earth :
your Honour and the good Name of the Lady who


honours You with her Love ! Gentlemen ! " he went
on, and once more faced the Crowd. " You know
the Aspersions which have been cast on my Lord
Stour's Loyalty. Rumours have been current that
the late aborted Conspiracy was betrayed by him to
the Countess of Castlemaine, and that She obtained
his Pardon, whilst all or most of his Associates
were driven into Exile or perished on the Scaffold.
Well, Gentlemen, 'twas I who begged for my Lord's
pardon from the Countess of Castlemaine. His
Degradation, his Obloquy, was the Revenge which
I had studiously planned. Nay! I pray you, hear
me unto the End," he continued, as a loud Murmur
of Horror and of Indignation followed on this Self-
Accusation. " My Lord Stour is no Traitor, save
to Her whom he loves and whom in his Thoughts
he hath dared to outrage. The Lady Barbara Wych-
woode deigned to plead with me for the Man whom
she honoured with her Love. She pleaded with me
this afternoon, in the Park, in sight of many
Passers-by; but I in my Obstinacy and Arrogance
would not, God forgive me, listen to her."

He paused, and I could see the beads of Per-
spiration glittering upon his Forehead, white now
like Italian Alabaster. They all stood before him,
subdued and silent. Think of Sir William
Davenant, dear Mistress, and his affection for Mr.
Betterton ; think of my Lord Roscommon and of Sir
Charles Sedley and his Lordship of Rochester,
whose Admiration for Mr. Betterton's Talent was
only equalled by their Appreciation for His Worth !


It was before them all, before all these fastidious
Gentlemen, that the great and sensitive Artist had
elected to humble his Pride to the dust.

But you shall judge.

" Gentlemen," Mr. Betterton went on after a
brief while ; " We all know that Love is a Game
at which one always cheats. I loved the Lady Bar-
bara Wychwoode. I had the presumption to dream
of her as my future Wife. Angered at her Scorn
of my Suit, I cheated her into coming here to-night,
luring her with the Hope that I would consent to
right the Man for whose sake she was willing to
risk so much, for whom she was ready to sacrifice
even her fair Name. Now I have learned to my
hurt that Love, the stern little god, will not be
trifled with. When we try to cheat him, he cheats
us worse at the last; and if he makes Kings of us,
he leaves us Beggars in the End. When my Lord
Stour, burning with sacrilegious jealousy, made
irruption into my Room, the Lady Barbara had
just succeeded in wringing from me an Avowal
which proclaimed his Integrity and my Shame. She
was about to leave me, humbled and crushed in my
Pride, she herself pure and spotless as the Lilies,
unapproachable as the Stars."

Mr. Betterton had ceased speaking for some time ;
nevertheless, Silence profound reigned in the dark,
wainscotted Room for many seconds after the final
echo of that perfect Voice had ceased to reverberate.


Indeed, dear Mistress, I can assure You that, though
there were at least fifty Persons present in the
Room, including those unknown to Me who were
swarming around the Framework of the Casements,
you might have heard the proverbial Pin drop just
then. A tense Expression rested on every Face.
Can You wonder that I scanned them all with the
Eagerness born of my Love for the great Artist,
who had thus besmirched his own fair Name in
order to vindicate that of his bitterest Foe? That
I read Condemnation of my Friend in many a
Glance, I'll not deny, and this cut me to the Quick.

True! Mr. Betterton's Scheme of Vengeance had
been reprehensible if measured by the high Stand-
ards of Christian Forbearance. But remember how
he had been wronged, not once, but repeatedly; and
even when I saw the Frown on my Lord Ros-
common's brow, the Look of Stern Reproof in Sir
Charles Sedley's Face, there arose before mine Eyes
the Vision of the great and sensitive Artist, of the
high-souled Gentleman, staggering beneath the
Blows dealt by a band of hired Ruffians at the Bid-
ding of this young Coxcomb, whose very Existence

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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 17 of 18)