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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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was as naught in the Eyes of the cultured World
beside the Genius of the inimitable Mr. Betterton.

I said that the Silence was tense. Meseemed that
no one dared to break it. Even those idly Curious
who had swarmed up the Rainpipes of this House
in order to witness one of Tom Betterton's Pranks,
felt awed by the Revelation of this Drama of a
great Man's Soul. Indeed, the Silence became pres-


ently oppressive. I, for one, felt a great Buzzing
in mine Ears. The Lights from the Candles as-
sumed weird and phantasmagoric Proportions till
they seared my aching Eyes.

Then slowly my Lord Stour approached her Lady-
ship, sank on his Knees before Her and raised the
Hem of her Robe to his Lips. A sob broke from
her Throat; she tried to smother it by pressing her
Handkerchief into her Mouth. It took Her a second
or two to regain her Composure. But Breeding and
Pride came to her Aid. I saw the stiffening of her
Figure, the studied and deliberate Movement where-
with She readjusted her Mantle and her Veil.

My Lord Stour was still on his Knees. At a
sign from her Ladyship he rose. He held out his
left Arm and she placed her right Hand on it, then
together they went out of the Room. The Crowd of
Gentlemen parted in order to make way for the
Twain, then when they had gone through, some of
the Gentlemen followed them immediately; others
lingered for awhile, hesitating. Sir William
Davenant, Mr. Killigrew, my Lord Rochester, all
of Mr. Betterton's Friends, appeared at first inclined
to remain in order to speak with him. They even
did me the Honour of consulting me with a Look,
asking of my Experience of the great Actor whether
they should stay. I slowly shook my Head, and
they wisely acted on my Advice. I knew that my
Friend would wish to be alone. He, so reserved,
so proud, had laid his Soul bare before the Public,
who was wont to belaud and to applaud him. The


Humiliation and the Effort must have been a terrible
Strain, which only Time and Solitude could effec-
tually cure.

He had scarce moved from his Position beside the
Desk, still stood there with one slender Hand rest-
ing upon it, his Gaze fixed vaguely upon the Door
through which his Friends were slowly filing out.

Within two minutes or less after the Departure of
my Lord Stour and her Ladyship, the last of the
Crowd of Gentlemen and of Idlers had gone. Anon
I went across the Room and closed the Door behind
them. When I turned again, I saw that the knot of
quidnuncs no longer filled the Casements, and a
protracted hum of Voices, a crackling of Ivy twigs
and general sound of Scrimmage and of Scrambling
outside the Window, proclaimed the Fact that even
they had had the Sense and the Discretion to retire
quietly from this Spot, hallowed by the Martyrdom
of a great Man's Soul.


Thus I was left alone with my Friend.

He had drawn his habitual Chair up to the Desk
and sat down. Just for a few Moments he rested
both his Elbows on the Desk and buried his Face
in his Hands. Then, with that familiar, quick little
Sigh of His, He drew the Candles closer to him and,
taking up a Book, he began to read.

I knew what it was that he was reading, or,
rather, studying. He had been absorbed in the
Work many a time before now, and had expressed


his ardent Desire to give public Readings of it one
day when it was completed. It was the opening
Canto of a great Epic Poem, the manuscript of
which had been entrusted to Mr. Betterton for
Perusal by the author, Mr. John Milton, who had
but lately been liberated from prison through the
untiring Efforts of Sir William Davenant on his
behalf. Mr. Milton hoped to complete the Epic in
the next half-dozen years. Its Title is " Paradise

I remained standing beside the open Window,
loath to close it as the Air was peculiarly soft and
refreshing. Below me, in the Park, the idle, chat-
tering Crowd had already dispersed. From far
away, I still could hear the sweet, sad Strains of the
amorous Song, and through the Stillness of the
Evening, the Words came to mine Ear, wafted on
the Breeze:

" You are my Faith, my Hope, my All !

What e'er the Future may unfold,
No trial too great no Thing too small.

Your whispered Words shall make me bold
To win at last for Your dear Sake

A worthy Place in Future's World."

I felt my Soul enwrapt in a not unpleasant
reverie; an exquisite Peace seemed to have de-
scended on my Mind, lately so agitated by Thoughts
of my dear, dear Friend.

Suddenly a stealthy Sound behind Me caused me
to turn; and, in truth, I am not sure even now if
what I saw was Reality, or the Creation of mine
own Dreams.


The Lady Barbara had softly and surreptitiously
re-entered the Room. She walked across it on tip-
toe, her silken Skirts making just the softest possible
frou-frou as she walked. Her cloud-like Veil
wrapped her Head entirely, concealing her fair Hair,
and casting a grey Shadow over her Eyes. Mr.
Betterton did not hear her, or, if he did, he did not
choose to look up. When her Ladyship was quite
close to the Desk, I noticed that she had a Bunch
of white Roses in her Hand such as are grown in
the Hot-houses of rich Noblemen.

For a few Seconds she stood quite still. Then
she raised the Roses slowly to her Lips, and laid
them down without a word upon the Desk.

After which, she glided out of the Room as
silently, as furtively, as she came.

And thus, dear Mistress, have I come to the end
of my long Narrative. I swear to You by the living
God that everything which I have herein related is
the Truth and Naught but the Truth.

There were many People present in Mr. Better-
ton's room during that memorable Scene, when he
sacrificed his Pride and his Revenge in order to
right the Innocent. Amongst these Witnesses there
were some, whom Malice and Envy would blind
to the Sublimity of so noble an Act. Do not listen
to them, honoured Mistress, but rather to the
promptings of your own Heart and to that unerring


Judgment of Men and of Events which is the At-
tribute of good and pure Women.

Mr. Betterton hath never forfeited your Esteem
by any Act or Thought. The Infatuation which mo-
mentarily dulled his Vision to all save to the Beauty
of the Lady Barbara, hath ceased to exist. Its
course was ephemeral and hath gone without a
Trace of Regret or Bitterness in its wake. The
eminent Actor, the high-souled Artist, whom all
cultured Europe doth reverence and admire, stands
as high to-day in that same World's Estimation as
he did, before a young and arrogant Coxcomb dared
to measure his own Worth against that of a Man
as infinitely above him as are the Stars. But, dear
Mistress, Mr. Betterton now is lonely and sad. He
is like a Man who hath been sick and weary, and is
still groping after Health and Strength. Take pity
on his Loneliness, I do conjure You. Give him back
the inestimable Boon of your Goodwill and of your
Friendship, which alone could restore to him that
Peace of Mind so necessary for the furtherance of
his Art.

And if, "during the Course of my Narrative, I
have seemed to you over-presumptuous, then I do
entreat your Forgiveness. Love for my Friend and
Reverence for your Worth have dictated every
Word which I have written. If, through my
Labours, I have succeeded in turning away some
of the just Anger which had possessed your Soul
against the Man whom, I dare aver, you still honour
with your Love, then, indeed, I shall feel that even


so insignificant a Life as mine hath not been wholly

I do conclude, dear and honoured Mistress, with
a Prayer to Almighty God for your Welfare and
that of the Man whom I love best in all the World.
I am convinced that my Prayer will find Favour
before the Throne of Him who is the Father of us
All. And He who reads the innermost Secrets of
every Heart, knows that your Welfare is coincident
with that of my Friend. Thus am I content to
leave the Future in His Hands.

And I myself do remain, dear Mistress,

Your humble and obedient Servant,


Ring down the Curtain. The Play is ended.
The Actors have made their final Bow before You
and thanked You for your Plaudits. The chief
Player a sad and lonely Man has for the nonce
spoken his last upon the Stage.

All is Silence and Mystery now. The Lights are
out. And yet the Audience lingers on, loath to
bid Farewell to the great Artist and to his minor
Satellites who have helped to wile away a few pleas-
ant Hours. You, dear Public, knowing so much
about them, would wish to know more. You wish
to know an I am not mistaken whether the
Labour of Love wrought by good Master Honey-
wood did in due course bear its Fruitfulness. You
wish to know or am I unduly self -flattered
whether the Play of Passion, of Love and of
Revenge, set by the worthy Clerk before You, had
an Epilogue one that would satisfy your Sense of
Justice and of Mercy.

Then, I pray You, turn to the Pages of History,
of which Master Honey wood's Narrative forms an
integral and pathetic Part. One of these Pages will
reveal to You that which You wish to know.
Thereon You will see recorded the Fact that, after a



brief and distinguished Visit during that Summer to

the City and University of Stockholm, where
Honours without number were showered upon the
great English Actor, Mr. Betterton came back to
England, to the delight of an admiring Public,
for he was then in the very Plenitude of his

Having read of the Artist's triumph, I pray You
then to turn over the Page of the faithful Chronicle
of his Career, and here You will find a brief Chapter
which deals with his private Life and with his
Happiness. You will see that at the End of this
self -same year 1662, the Register of St. Giles',
Cripplegate, contains the Record of a Marriage be-
tween Thomas Betterton, Actor, of the parish
of St. Margaret's, Westminster, and Mary
Joyce Saunderson, of the aforesaid parish of St.

That this Marriage was an exceptionally happy
one we know from innumerable Data, Minutes and
Memoranda supplied by Downes and others; that
Master John Honeywood was present at the Cere-
mony itself we may be allowed to guess. Those
of us who understand and appreciate the artistic
Temperament, will readily agree with the worthy
Clerk when he said that it cannot be judged by ordi-
nary Standards. The long and successful Careers
of Thomas Betterton and of Mistress Saunderson
his Wife testify to the Fact that their Art in no
way suffered, while their Souls passed through the
fiery Ordeal of Passion and of Sorrow; but rather


that it became ennobled and purified, until they
themselves took their place in the Heart and
Memory of the cultured World, among the


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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 18 of 18)