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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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Months our Lives went on with dreary monotony,
with never a chance of seeing Something of that
outside World of which we had caught a glimpse.
You continued to sew and to scrub and to be at the
beck and call of a Scold. I went on copying legal
Documents till my very Brain appeared atrophied,
incapable of a single happy Thought or of a joyous

Out there in the great World, many things were
happening. The Lord Protector died ; his Son suc-
ceeded. And then England woke to the fact that
she had never cared for these Regicides, Republi-
cans and Puritans ; that in her Heart she had always
loved the martyred King and longed to set his Son
once more upon his Throne.

I often thought of my loquacious Neighbour at
the Play, with his talk of Old Noll and Master
Richard and of George. For George Monk in
truth had become the Man of the hour; for he it



was who was bringing King Charles back into his
Kingdom again.

Two years had gone by since our memorable Day
at the Play, and as that same Neighbour had also
foretold, England was hearing a great deal about
Tom Betterton. His Name was on every one's lips.
Mr. Rhodes, the Bookseller, had obtained a licence
from General Monk to get a Company of Actors
together, and the palmy Days of the Cockpit had
begun. Then it was that some faint Echo of the
Life of our great City penetrated as far as the dull
Purlieus of Mr. Baggs' Household ; then it was that
the ring of the Fame of Mr. Betterton even caused
Mistress Euphrosine to recall her former arbitrary

Every one now was talking of her illustrious
Brother. General Monk himself had made a Friend
of him, so had Sir John Grenville, who was the
King's own Envoy; and those who were in the
know prophesied that His Majesty Himself would
presently honour the eminent Player with his re-
gard. My Lord Rochester was his intimate Friend ;
Sir George Etherege was scarce ever seen in public
without him. Lord Broghill had vowed that the
English Stage was made famous throughout the
Continent of Europe by the superlative excellence of
Mr. Betterton.

To such Eulogies, coming from the most exalted
Personages in the Land, Mistress Euphrosine could
not turn an altogether deaf Ear; and being a
Woman of character and ambition, she soon realised


that her Antagonism to her illustrious Brother not
only rendered her ridiculous, but might even prove
a bar to Mr. Theophilus Baggs' Advancement.

The first Step towards a Reconciliation was taken
when Mr. Baggs and his Spouse went together to
the Play to see Mr. Betterton act Solyman in a play
called "The Siege of Rhodes." You and I, Mis-
tress, were by great favour allowed to go too, and
to take our places in that same Gallery where two
Years previously You and I had spent such happy
hours. We spoke little to one another, I remember.
Our hearts were full of Memories; but I could see
your brown Eyes lighten as soon as the eminent
Actor walked upon the Stage. The same Glamour
which his personality had thrown over You two
years ago was still there. Nay! it was enhanced
an hundredfold, for to the magnetic presence of the
Man was now added the supreme Magic of the
Artist. I am too humble a Scrivener, fair Lady,
to attempt to describe Mr. Betterton's acting, nor
do I think that such Art as his could be adequately
discussed. Your enjoyment of it I did fully share.
You devoured him with your Eyes while he was on
the Stage, and the Charm of his Voice filled the
crowded Theatre and silenced every other sound.
I knew that the World had ceased to exist for You
and that the mysterious and elusive god of Love
had hit your Heart with his wayward dart.

I thank God that neither then nor later did any
feeling of Bitterness enter into my Soul. Sad I
was, but of a gentle Sadness which made me feel


mine own Unworthiness, even whilst I prayed that
You might realise your Heart's desire.

Strangely enough, it was at the very moment
when I first understood the state of your Feelings
that mine eyes, a little dimmed with tears, were ar-
rested by the Sight of a young and beautiful Lady,
who sat in one of the Boxes, not very far from our
point of vantage. I wondered then what it was
about her that thus enchained mine Attention. Of
a truth, she was singularly fair, of that dainty and
translucent Fairness which I for one have never been
able to admire, but which is wont to set Men's pulses
beating with an added quickness at least, so I've
heard it said. The Lady had blue Eyes, an ex-
quisitely white Skin, her golden Hair was dressed
in the new modish Fashion, with quaint little Ring-
lets all around her low, square Brow. The face
was that of a Child, yet there was something about
the firm Chin, something about the Forehead
and the set of the Lips which spoke of
Character and of Strength not often found in one
so young.

Immediately behind her sat a young Cavalier of
prepossessing Appearance, who obviously was whis-
pering pleasing Words in the Lady's shell-like ear.
I confess that for the moment I longed for the pres-
ence of our loquacious Neighbour of two years ago.
He, without doubt, would have known who the
noble young Lady was and who was her attentive
Cavalier. Soon, however, the progress of the Play
once more riveted mine Attention upon the Stage,


and I forgot all about the beautiful Lady until it
was time to go. Then I sought her with mine
Eyes; but she had already gone. And I, whilst
privileged to arrange your Cloak around your shoul-
ders, realised how much more attractive brown
Hair was than fair, and how brilliant could be the
sparkle of dark Eyes as against the more languor-
ous expression of those that are blue.

I was not present at the time that You, Mistress,
first made the acquaintance of Mr. Betterton. He
came to the House originally for the sole purpose
of consulting with his Brother-in-law on a point of
Law, he having an idea of joining Sir William
Davenant in the Management of the new Theatre
which that Gentleman was about to open in Lin-
coln's Inn Fields.

The season in London promised to be very bril-
liant. His Majesty the King was coming into his
own once more. Within a Month or two at the
latest, he would land at Dover, and as even through
his misfortunes and exile he had always been a
great Patron of the Arts of Drama and Literature,
there was no doubt that he would give his gracious
Patronage to such enterprises as Sir William Dave-
nant and Mr. Killigrew, not to mention others, had
already in view.

No doubt that Sir William Davenant felt that no
Company of Actors could be really complete with-
out the leadership of Mr. Betterton; and we all


knew that both he and Mr. Killigrew were literally
fighting one another to obtain the great Actor's

In the end, of course, it was Sir William who
won, and thus Mr. Betterton came to visit Mr.
Theophilus Baggs to arrange for an Indenture
whereby he was to have a Share of the Profits de-
rived from the Performances at the new Theatre
in Lincoln's Inn Fields.

You, Mistress, will remember that Day even bet-
ter than I do, for to me it only marked one more
Stage on the dreary road of my uneventful Life,
whilst for You it meant the first Pearl in that
jewelled Crown of Happiness which Destiny hath
fashioned for You. Mr. Baggs had sent me on that
day to Richmond, to see a Client of his there.
Whether he did this purposely, at the instance of
Mistress Euphrosine, in order to get me out of the
way, I know not. In her Estimation I was supposed
to have leanings for the Actor's profession in those
days surely a foolish Supposition, seeing how un-
prepossessing was my Appearance and how medi-
ocre my Intellect.

Without doubt, however, could she have read the
Secrets of your Soul, dear Mistress, she would have
sent You on an errand too, to a remote corner of
England, or had locked You up in your Room, ere
you came face to face with the great Man whose
Personality and Visage were already deeply graven
upon your Heart.

But her futile, unamiable Mind was even then


torn between the desire to make a brave show of
Prosperity before her illustrious Brother and to wel-
come him as the Friend and Companion of great
Gentlemen, and the old puritanical Spirit within her
which still looked upon Actors as Rogues and Vagar
bonds, Men upon whom God would shower some
very special, altogether terrible Curses because of
their loose and immoral Lives.

Thus Mistress Euphrosine's treatment of the dis-
tinguished Actor was ever contradictory. She did
her best to make him feel that she despised him for
his Calling, yet nevertheless she fawned upon him
because of his connection with the Aristocracy.
Even subsequently, when Mr. Betterton enjoyed not
only the Patronage but the actual Friendship of His
Majesty the King, Mistress Euphrosine's attitude
towards him was always one of pious scorn. He
might be enjoying the protection of an earthly King,
but what was that in comparison with his Sister's
intimacy with God ? He might consort with Dukes,
but she would anon make one in a company of
Angels, amongst whom such Reprobates as Actors
would never find a place.

That, I think, was her chief Attitude of Mind,
one that caused me much Indignation at the time;
for I felt that I could have knelt down and wor-
shipped the heaven-born Genius who was delighting
the whole Kingdom with his Art. But Mr. Better-
ton, with his habitual kindliness and good humour,
paid no heed to Mistress Euphrosine's sour Disposi-
tion towards him, and when she tried to wither him


with lofty Speeches, he would quickly make her
ridiculous with witty Repartee.

He came more and more frequently to the House,
and mine Eyes being unusually sharp in such mat-
ters, I soon saw that You had wholly won his re-
gard. Those then became happy times. Happy ones
for You, Mistress, whose Love for a great and good
Man was finding full Reciprocity. Happy ones for
him, who in You had found not only a loving Heart,
but rare understanding, and that great Talent which
he then and there set himself to develop. They were
happy times also for me, the poor, obscure Scrivener
with the starved Heart and the dreary Life, who
now was allowed to warm his Soul in the Sunshine
of your joint Happiness.

It was not long befofe Mr. Betterton noticed the
profound Admiration which I had for him, not long
before he admitted me to his Friendship and Inti-
macy. I say it with utmost pride, that I was the
first one with whom he discussed the question of
your Career and to whom he confided the fact that
You had a conspicuous talent for the Stage, and
that he intended to teach and to train You until You
could appear with him on the Boards. You may
imagine how this Idea staggered me at first aye!
and horrified me a little. I suppose that something
of the old puritanical middle-class Prejudice had
eaten so deeply into my Soul that I could not be
reconciled to the idea of seeing any Woman least
of all you, Mistress acting a part upon the Stage.
Hitherto, young Mr. Kynaston and other boy-


actors had represented with perfect grace and charm
all the parts which have been written for Women;
and I could not picture to myself any respectable
Female allowing herself to be kissed or embraced
fn full view of a large Audience, or speaking some
of those Lines which our great Dramatists have
thought proper to write.

But Mr. Betterton's Influence and his unanswer-
able Arguments soon got the better of those old-
fashioned Ideas, and anon I found myself looking
eagerly forward to the happy time when You would
be freed from the trammels of Mistress Euphro-
sine's Tyranny and, as the Wife and Helpmate of
the greatest Actor of our times, take your place
beside him among the Immortals.


It was not until the spring of the following Year
that I first noticed the cloud which was gathering
over your happiness. Never shall I forget the day
when first I saw Tears in your Eyes.

You had finally decided by then to adopt the Stage
as your Profession, and at the instance of Mr. Bet-
terton, Sir William Davenant had promised You a
small part in the new Play, wherewith he was about
to open his new Theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields.
The piece chosen was called "Othello," written by
one William Shakespeare, and Sir William had
finally decided that the parts written in this Play by
the Author for Women should be enacted by
Women ; an arrangement which was even then be-


ing worked quite successfully by Mr. Killigrevv at
his Theatre in Clare Market.

I knew that a brilliant Future lay before You;
but Mistress Euphrosine, who had constituted her-
self your Guardian and Mentor, tried in vain to turn
You from your Career. The day when You made
your Decision was yet another of those momentous
ones which will never fade from my Memory. You
had hitherto been clever enough to evade Mistress
Euphrosine's Vigilance whilst you studied the Art
of speaking and acting under the guidance of Mr.
Betterton. She thought that his frequent Visits to
the House were due to his Regard for her, whereas
he came only to see You and to be of service to You
in the pursuit of your Studies.

But the time came when You had to avow openly
what were your Intentions with regard to the Fu-
ture. Sir William Davenant's Theatre in Lincoln's
Inn Fields was to be opened in June, and You, Mis-
tress, were, together with his principal Actresses, to
be boarded after that by him at his own House, in
accordance with one of the Provisions of the Agree-
ment. The Question arose as to where You should
lodge, your poor Mother having no home to offer
You. Mistress Euphrosine made a great Show of
her Abhorrence of the Stage and all the Immorality
which such a Career implied. My cheeks blush with
shame even now at the recollection of the abomi-
nable language which she used when first You told
her what You meant to do, and my Heart is still
filled with admiration at your Patience and For-


bearance with her under such trying circumstances.

Fortunately for us all, Mr. Betterton arrived in
the midst of all this wrangle. He soon succeeded
in silencing Mistress Euphrosine's exacerbating
tongue, and this not so much by the magic of his
Persuasion as by the aid of the golden Key which
is known to open every door even that which leads
to a scolding Harridan's heart. Mr. Betterton
offered his Sister a substantial Sum of Money if
she in return would undertake to give You a com-
fortable lodging until such time as he himself would
claim You as his Wife. He stipulated that You
should be made comfortable and that no kind of
menial work should ever be put upon You.

"Mistress Saunderson," he said impressively,
"must be left absolutely free to pursue her Art,
unhampered by any other consideration."

Even so, Mistress Euphrosine could not restrain
her malicious tongue, and the whole equitable ar-
rangement might even then have fallen through but
for your gentleness and quiet determination.
Finally, Mistress Euphrosine gave in. She accepted
the liberal terms which her illustrious Brother was
offering her for your Maintenance, but she reserved
unto herself the right of terminating the Arrange-
ment at her will and pleasure. Obviously, she meant
to be as disagreeable as she chose ; but You had to
have a respectable roof over your head until such
time as You found a Haven under the aegis of your
future Husband's Name.

After that, it seemed as if no cloud could ever


come to obscure the Heavens of your happiness.
Nevertheless, it was very soon after that Episode
that I chanced upon You one evening, sitting in the
parlour with the Book of a Play before You, yet
apparently not intent upon reading. When I spoke
your name You started as if out of a Dream and
quickly You put your handkerchief up to your eyes.

I made no remark then; it would have been in-
solence on my part to intrude upon your private
Affairs. But I felt like some faithful cur on the

For awhile dust was thrown in my eyes from the
fact that Mr. Betterton announced to us his pro-
jected trip abroad, at the instance of Sir William
Davenant, who desired him to study the Scenery
and Decorations which it seems were noted Ad-
juncts to the Stage over in Paris. If Mr. Betterton
approved of what he saw there, he was to bring
back with him a scheme for such Scenery to be
introduced at the new Theatre in Lincoln's Inn
Fields, which would be a great triumph over Mr.
Killigrew's Management, where no such innovations
had ever been thought of.

Naturally, Mr. Betterton, being a Man and an
Artist, was eager and excited over this journey,
which showed what great confidence Sir William
Davenant reposed in his Judgment. This, me-
thought, accounted for the fact that You, Mistress,
seemed so much more dejected at the prospect of
his Absence than he was. I also was satisfied that
this Absence accounted for your tears.


Fool that I was ! I should have guessed !

Mr. Betterton was absent two months, during-
which time I oft chanced upon You, dear Mistress,
with a book lying unheeded on your lap and your
dark eyes glistening with unnatural brilliancy. But
I still believed that it was only Mr. Betterton's Ab-
sence that caused this sadness which had of late
fallen over your Spirits. I know that he did not
write often, and I saw oh! quite involuntarily
that when his Letters came they were unaccountably

Then, one day it was in May seeing You more
than usually depressed, I suggested that as the
weather was so fine we should repair to the Theatre
in Clare Market, and there see Mr. Killigrew's com-
pany enact " The Beggar's Bush," a play in which
Major Mohun was acting the part of Bellamente
with considerable success.

Had I but known what we were destined to see
in that Theatre, I swear to God that I would sooner
have hacked off my right leg than to have taken
You thither. Yet We both started on our way,
oblivious of what lay before Us. Time had long
since gone by when such expeditions had to be done
in secret. You, Mistress, were independent of Mis-
tress Euphrosine's threats and tantrums, and I had
come to realise that my Employer could nowhere
else in the whole City find a Clerk who would do
so much for such very scanty pay, and that he would
never dismiss me, for fear that he would never again
meet with such a willing Drudge.


So, the day being one on which Mr. Baggs and
Mistress Euphrosine were absenting themselves
from home, I persuaded You easily enough to come
tirith me to the Play.

Your spirits had risen of late because you were
expecting Mr. Betterton's home-coming. In fact,
You had received authentic news that he would
probably be back in England within the week.

At once, when I took my seat in the Gallery
beside you, I noticed the beautiful fair Lady in the
Box, whom I had not seen since that marvellous
day a year ago, when you and I sat together at the
Play. She was more radiantly beautiful than ever

Discreet enquiries from my Neighbour elicited
the information that she was the Lady Barbara
Wychwoode, daughter of the Marquis of Sidbury,
and the acknowledged Belle among the Debutantes
of the season. I understood that nothing had been
seen of the Lady for the past year or more, owing
to the grave and lingering illness of her Mother,
during the whole course of which the young Girl
had given up her entire life to the tending of the

Now that his Lordship was a Widower, he had
insisted on bringing his Daughter to London so
that she might be brought to the notice of His
Majesty and take her place at Court and in Society,
as it beseemed her rank. That place the Lady Bar-


bara conquered quickly enough, by her Beauty, her
Charm and her Wit, so much so that I was told that
all the young Gallants in the City were more or less
over head and ears in love with her, but that her
affections had remained steadfastly true to the
friend and companion of her girlhood, the young
Earl of Stour who, in his turn had never swerved
in his Allegiance and had patiently waited for the
day when her duty to her Mother would cease and
her love for him be allowed to have full sway.

All this, of course, sounded very pretty and very
romantic; and you, Mistress, gave ungrudging ad-
miration to the beautiful girl who was the cynosure
of all eyes. She sat in the Box, in the company of
an elderly and distinguished Gentleman, who was
obviously her Father, and of another Man, who ap-
peared to be a year or two older than herself and
whose likness of features to her own proclaimed
him to be her Brother. At the rear of the box a
number of brilliant Cavaliers had congregated, who
had obviously come in order to pay court to this
acknowledged Queen of Beauty. Foremost among
these we noticed a tall, handsome young Man whose
noble features looked to me to suggest a. somewhat
weak yet obstinate disposition. He was undeniably
handsome : the huge, fair periwig which he wore
lent a certain manly dignity to his countenance. We
quickly came to the conclusion that this must be the
Earl of Stour, for it was obvious that the Lady Bar-
bara reserved her most welcoming smile and her
kindliest glances for him.


The company in the Box kept us vastly amused
for a time, in the intervals of watching the Actors
on the Stage; and I remember that during the sec-
ond Act the dialogue in the Play being somewhat
dull, both You and I fell to watching the Lady Bar-
bara and her throng of Admirers. Suddenly we
noticed that all these Gentlemen gave way as if to a
New-comer who had just entered at the rear of the
Box and was apparently desirous of coming for-
ward in order to pay his respects. At first we could
not see who the New-comer was, nor did we greatly
care. The next moment, however, he was behind
the Lady Barbara's chair. Anon he stooped for-
ward in order to whisper something in her ear.

And I saw who it was.

It was Mr. Betterton.

For the moment, I remember that I felt as if I
were paralysed; either that or crazed. I could not
trust mine eyes.

Then I turned my head and looked at You.

You too had seen and recognised. For the mo-
ment You did not move, but sat rigid and silent.
Your face had become a shade or two paler and
there was a scarce perceptible tremor of your lips.

But that was all. I alone knew that You had
just received a stab in your loving and trusting
Heart, that something had occurred which would
for ever mar the perfect trustfulness of your early
love . . . something which you would never



You sat out the rest of the Play, dear Mistress,
outwardly quite serene. Never, I think, has my
admiration for your Character and for your Worth
been more profound. I believe that I suffered
almost as much as You. I suffered because many
things were made clear to me then that I had ignored
before. Your tears, your many Silences, that look
of trustful happiness now gone from your eyes. I
understood that the Incident was only the confir-
mation of what you had suspected long since.

But you would not let any one see your heart.
No! not even me, your devoted Bondsman, who
would gladly die to save You from pain. Yet I
could not bring my heart to condemn Mr. Betterton
utterly. I did not believe even then that he had
been unfaithful led away no doubt by the glamour
of the society Beauty, by the talk and the swagger
of all the idle Gentlemen about town but not un-
faithful. His was not a Nature to love more than
the once, and he loved You, Mistress loved You
from the moment that he set eyes on You, from
the moment that he knew your Worth. His fancy
had perhaps been captured by the beautiful Lady
Barbara, his Heart wherein your image was
eternally enshrined, had been momentarily be-
witched by her wiles ; but he was not responsible for
these Actions that I could have sworn even then.

Mr. Betterton is above all an Artist, and in my
humble judgment Artists are not to be measured


by ordinary standards. Their mind is more fanci-
ful, their fancy more roving ; they are the Butterflies
of this World, gay to look at and light on the wing.

You never told me, Mistress, what course You

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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 2 of 18)