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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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adopted after that eventful afternoon; nor would I
have ventured to pry into your secrets. That You
and Mr. Betterton talked the whole matter over, I
make no doubt. I could even tell You, methinks,
on which day the heart to heart talk between You
took place. That there were no Recriminations on
your part I dare aver; also that Mr. Betterton re-
ceived his final dismissal on that day with a greater
respect than ever for You in his Heart, and with
deep sorrow weighing upon his Soul.

After that, his visits to the house became more
and more infrequent; and at first You would con-
trive to be absent when he came. But, as I have
always maintained, his love for You still filled his
innermost Being, even though the Lady Barbara
ruled over his fancy for the time. He longed for
your Presence and for your Friendship, even
though at that time he believed that You had totally
erased his image from your Heart.

And so, when he came, and I had perforce to
tell him that You were absent, he would linger on
in the hope that You would return, and he would
go away with a bitter sigh of regret whenever he
had failed to catch a glimpse of You.

You never told me in so many Words that you
had definitely broken off your Engagement to Mr.
Betterton, nor do I believe that such was your in-



44 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

tention even then. Mistress Euphrosine certainly
never realised that You were smarting under so ter-
rible a blow, and she still spoke glibly of your forth-
coming marriage.

It was indeed fortunate for You, fortunate for us
all, that both she and Mr. Baggs were too self-
absorbed he in his Business and she in her Piety
and too selfish, to be aware of what went on around
them. Their self -absorption left You free to in-
dulge in the luxury of suffering in silence; and I
was made almost happy at times by an occasional
surreptitious pressure of your Hand, a glance from
your Eyes, telling me that my Understanding and
Sympathy were not wholly unwelcome.




In June, you made your debut upon the stage,
dear Mistress. Though You only played a small
Part, your Grace and Charm soon won universal
approval. I have so often told You of my feelings,
my hopes, my tremors and my joy on the occasion
when first I saw You upon the boards, that I will
not weary You with the re-telling of them once
again. Securely hidden behind a pillar, I only lived
through the super-acuteness of my Senses, which
drank in your Presence from the moment when You
stepped out from behind the Curtain and revealed
your gracious personality to an admiring Audience.

As long as I live, every word which You spoke
on that day will continue to ring in mine ear, and
ere mine eyes close for ever in their last long Sleep,
I shall see your exquisite Image floating dreamlike
before their gaze.



From that day onward, I saw you more seldom
than I had been wont to do before. Your Success
at the new Theatre had been so pronounced that
Sir William Davenant soon entrusted You with
more important parts. Thus your time was greatly

45



46 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

taken up both with Performances and with Re-
hearsals and with the choosing and trying on of
dresses. Of necessity, your work threw you often
in the company of Mr. Betterton, he being the lead-
ing Actor in Sir William's Company, and the most
popular as he was the most eminent of His
Majesty's Well-Beloved Servants. In fact, his
Fame at this time was reaching its Apogee. He
was reckoned one of the Intimates of His Majesty
himself ; Gentlemen and Noblemen sought his com-
pany ; great Ladies were zealous to win his favours.

Needless to say that concurrently with his rise to
pre-eminence, an army of Enemies sprung up
around him. Hungry curs will ever bay at the
moon. Set a cat upon a high post and in a moment
others will congregate down below and spit and
yowl at their more fortunate kind. Scandal and
spite, which had never been so rife as in these days,
fastened themselves like evil tentacles on Mr. Bet-
terton's fair Name.

He was too proud to combat these, and You too
proud to lend an ear to them. You met him now
upon an easy footing of Friendship, of gentle grati-
tude as of a successful Pupil towards a kindly
Teacher. To any one who did not know You as I
do, You must at that time have seemed completely
happy. You were independent now, earning a good
salary, paying Mistress Euphrosine liberally for the
lodgings which she placed at your disposal; free to
come and go as You pleased, to receive the visits of
Gentlemen who were desirous of paying their re-



A CRIMINAL FOLLY 4T

spects to You. You were, in fact, Mistress Saun-
derson, the well-known Actress, who was busy
climbing and swiftly, too the Ladder of Fame.

Of your proposed Marriage with Mr. Betterton
there was of course no longer any talk. For some
reason best known to herself, and which I myself
never tried to fathom, even Mistress Euphrosine
had ceased to speak of it.

Did she, within the depths of her ambitious and
avaricious Heart, harbour the belief that her
Brother would one day wed one of those great
Ladies, who were wont to hang entranced upon his
lips, when he spoke the immortal words of the late
Mr. William Shakespeare or of Mr. John Dryden?
I know not; nor what benefit she would have de-
rived from it if such an unlikely Event had indeed
taken place.

Towards me, she was still frigidly contemptuous.
But as to that, I did not care. I was determined to
endure her worst gibes for the sake of dwelling
under the same roof which still had the privilege
of sheltering You.

3

It was one day early in September just some-
thing over a year ago, in fact that my Lord Stour
called at the house of Mr. Theophilus Baggs. I
knew him at once for the Cavalier who was ever in
attendance upon the Lady Barbara Wychwoode and
whom rumour had assigned to her as her future
Husband.



48 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

Frankly, I had never liked him from the first.
I thought him overbearing and arrogant. His man-
ner towards those who were inferior to him in
station was always one of contempt. And I often
wondered how Mr. Theophilus Baggs, who was an
Attorney of some standing in the City of London,
could endure the cool insolence wherewith young
Gentlemen like my Lord Stour and others were
wont to treat him. Not only that, but he seemed
to derive a sort of gratification from it, and was
wont to repeat I was almost going to say that he
would boast of these acts of overbearance to which
he was so often subjected.

" Another of the stiff-necked sort," he would say
after he had bowed one of these fine Gentlemen
obsequiously out of his office. " An honest, God-
fearing Man is as dirt beneath the feet of these
Gallants."

My Lord Stour, of a truth, was no exception to
the rule. I have since been assured that he was
quite kindly and gracious in himself, and that his
faults were those of the Milieu in which he had
been brought up, rather than of himself.

Of course, You, dear Mistress, were out of the
house during the whole of that never-to-be-
forgotten day of which I am about to speak, and
therefore knew nothing of the terrible Event which
then occurred and which, in my humble judgment,
completely revolutionized Mr. Betterton's charac-
ter for the time being. But Fate had decreed that
I should see it all. Every moment of that awful



A CRIMINAL FOLLY 49

afternoon is indelibly graven upon my Memory. I
had, however, neither the Chance nor the Oppor-
tunity to speak to You of it all. At first I did not
think that it would be expedient. The humiliation
which Mr. Betterton was made to endure on that
day was such that I could not bear to speak of it,
least of all to You, who still held him in such high
esteem. And later on, I still thought it best to be
silent. Mr. Betterton and You seemed to have
drifted apart so completely, that I did not feel that
it would do any good to rake up old hurts, and to
submit them to the cruel light of day.

But now everything is changed. The Lady Bar-
bara's influence over Mr. Betterton has gone,
never to return ; whilst his Heart once more yearns
for the only true Love which has ever glad-
dened it.

4

My Lord Stour came to call upon Mr. Theophilus
Baggs at three o'clock of the afternoon. Kathleen,
the maid of all work, opened the door to him, and
Mistress Euphrosine received him in the Parlour,
where I was also sitting at my desk, engaged in
copying out a lengthy Indenture.

" Master Baggs awaits me, I think," my Lord
said as he entered the room.

Mistress Euphrosine made a deep curtsey, for she
was ever fond of the Aristocracy.

" Will you deign to enter, my Lord ? " she said.
" My husband will wait upon your pleasure."



50 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

"Tell him to be quick, then," said my Lord; " for
I have not a great deal of time to spare."

He seated himself beside the table and drew off
his gloves. He had taken absolutely no notice of
my respectful salutation.

Mistress Euphrosine sailed out of the room and
a moment or two later Mr. Baggs came in, carrying
a sheaf of papers and looking very fussy and
obsequious.

My Lord did not rise to greet him, only turned
his head in his direction and said curtly :

" You are Mr. Theophilus Baggs, Attorney-at-
law?"

" At your Lordship's service," replied my em-
ployer.

" Brother-in-law of Tom Betterton, the Actor, so
I am told," my Lord went on with quiet conde-
scension.

This innocent remark, however, appeared to upset
Mr. Baggs. He stammered and grew as red as a
turkey-cock, not realizing that his connection with
the great Actor was truly an honour upon his Name.
He hemmed and hawed and looked unutterably fool-
ish, as he mumbled confusedly:

" Er . . . that is ... only occasionally, my
Lord . . . very occasionally, I may say . . .,
that is ... I .. ."

" Pray calm yourself," broke in my Lord
haughtily. " I admire the fellow's acting . . . the
Man himself does not exist for me."

" You are most gracious, my Lord," murmured



A CRIMINAL FOLLY 51

Mr. Baggs promptly, whilst I could have struck
him for his obsequiousness and his Lordship for his
arrogance.

It seems that the matter which had brought Lord
Stour to Mr. Baggs' office was one of monies con-
nected with the winding-up of the affairs of the
late Earl, uncle of the present Peer. I was busy
with my work during the time that these affairs
were being discussed and did not pay much heed to
the conversation. Only two fragments thereof
struck mine ear. I remember, chiefly because they
were so characteristic of the two men the Aristo-
crat and the Plebeian and of the times in which we
live.

At one time Mr. Baggs ventured to enquire after
the health of the Honourable Mrs. Stourcliffe, his
Lordship's mother; and you should have heard the
tone of frigid pride wherewith my Lord seemed to
repel any such presumptuous enquiries.

The other fragment which I overheard was to-
wards the end of the interview, when Mr. Theo-
philus Baggs, having counted over the Money be-
fore his Lordship, placed a Paper before him and
bade me bring him a pen.

" What's this ? " queried my Lord, astonished.

" Oh ! " Mr. Baggs stammered, with his habitual
humility of demeanour, "a mere formality, my
Lord ... er ... h'm . . . only a . . . er
. . . receipt."

" A receipt ? " my Lord asked, with an elevation
of his aristocratic brows. " What for ? "



52 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

" Er . . . er . . . " Mr. Baggs stammered.
" For the monies, my Lord. That is . . . er
... if you will deign to count it over yourself
. . . and see that it is correct."

At this, my Lord rose from his seat, waved me
aside, took and pocketed the money. Then he said
coolly to Mr. Baggs :

"No, Sir; I do not care to count. My Uncle
knew You to be honest, or he would not have placed
his affairs in your hands. That is sufficient for
me. I, on the other hand, have received the money.
. . . That is sufficient for You."

" But ! " ejaculated Mr. Baggs, driven out of

his timidity by such summary procedure.

" Egad, Sir ! " broke in my Lord, more haughtily
than before. " Are you perchance supposing that I
might claim money which I have already had ? "

"No . . . no ! " protested Mr. Baggs hastily.
" I assure you, my Lord ... er ... that it is
. . . h'm ... a mere formality . . . and ..."

" My word," retorted my Lord coolly, " is suf-
ficient formality."

Whereupon he turned to the door, taking no more
notice of me than if I were the doormat. He
nodded to Mr. Baggs, who was of a truth too deeply
shaken to speak, and with a curt " I wish you good-
day, Mr. Notary ! " strode out of the room.

I doubt not, Mistress, that You and many others
of gentle Manners if not of gentle Birth, would
think that in recounting this brief interview between
my employer and the young Earl of Stour, I have



A CRIMINAL FOLLY 53

been guilty of exaggeration in depicting my Lord's
arrogance. Yet, on my word, it all occurred just
as I have told it. No doubt that Mr. Baggs' ob-
sequiousness must have been irritating, and that it
literally called forth the haughty Retort which
otherwise might have remained unspoken. I my-
self, humble and insignificant as I am, have oft felt
an almost uncontrollable impulse to kick my worthy
Employer into some measure of manliness.

For let me assure You that, though subsequently
I became more closely acquainted with my Lord
Stour, I never heard him use such haughty lan-
guage to any of his Dependents, nor do I think that
so gentle a Lady as Lady Barbara Wychwoode
would have bestowed her fondness and regard upon
him had his Nature been as supercilious and as
insolent as his Words.

5

That afternoon was indeed destined to be fuller
of events than I ever could have anticipated. No
sooner had I closed the door upon my Lord Stour,
when I heard footsteps ascending the stairs, and
then my Lord's voice raised once more, this time
with a tone of pleasure mingled with astonishment.

" Wychwoode, by gad ! " he exclaimed. " And
what in Heaven's name have you come to do in
the old fox's lair?"

I did not hear the immediate reply. More fussy
than ever, Mr. Baggs had already signed to me to
reopen the door.



54 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

" Lord Douglas Wychwoode," he murmured hur-
riedly in my ear. " One of the younger sons of the
Marquis of Sidbury. I am indeed fortunate to-day.
The scions of our great Nobility do seek my help
and counsel ..." and more such senseless words
did he utter, whilst the two young Gentlemen paused
for a moment upon the landing, talking with one
another.

"I thought you still in France," Lord Douglas
said to his friend. " What hath brought you home
so unexpectedly ? "

" I only arrived this morning," the other replied ;
" and hoped to present my respects this evening, if
your Father and the Lady Barbara will receive
me."

" Indeed, they'll be delighted. Cela va sans dire,
my friend. My sister has been rather pensive of
late. Your prolonged absence may have had some-
thing to do with her mood."

" May you speak the truth there ! " my Lord Stour
remarked with a sigh.

" But now you have not told me," rejoined Lord
Douglas, as he and his friend finally went into the
room and curtly acknowledged Mr. Baggs' reiterated
salutations, "what hath brought you to the house
of this bobbing old Thief yonder."

"Private business," replied Lord Stour. "And
you?"

"The affairs of England," said the other, and
tossed his head proudly like some young Lion
scenting battle.



A CRIMINAL FOLLY 55

Before his friend could utter another remark,
Lord Douglas strode rapidly across the room, took
some papers out of the inner pocket of his coat,
and called to Mr. Baggs to come up closer to
him.

" I want," he said in a quick and peremptory
whisper, " a dozen copies of this Deed done at once
and by a sure hand. Can you do it ? "

" Yes, I think so," replied Mr. Baggs. " May I
see what the paper is ? "

I was watching the pair of them ; so was my Lord
Stour. On his face there came a sudden frown as
of disapproval and anxiety.

" Wychwoode ! " he began.

But the other did not heed him. His eyes which
were so like those of his Sister were fixed with an
eager, questioning gaze upon my Employer. The
latter's face was absolutely expressionless and in-
scrutable whilst he scanned the paper which Lord
Douglas, after a scarce perceptible moment of hesi-
tation, had handed to him for perusal.

" Yes," he said quietly, when he had finished read-
ing. " It can be done."

" At once ? " asked Lord Douglas.

" At once. Yes, my Lord."

"By a sure hand?"

" Discretion, my Lord," replied Mr. Baggs, with
the first show of dignity I have ever seen him dis-
play, "is a virtue in my profession, the failing in
which would be a lasting disgrace."

" I rely even more upon your convictions, Mr.



56 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

Baggs," Lord Douglas rejoined earnestly, " than
upon your virtues."

" You and your friends, my Lord, have deigned
to talk those matters over with me many a time
before. You and they know that You can count on
me."

Mr. Baggs spoke with more Quietude and Sim-
plicity than was his wont when dealing with some
of these noble Lords. You may be sure, dear Mis-
tress, that I was vastly astonished at what I heard,
still more at what I guessed. That Mr. Baggs and
his Spouse belonged to the old Puritan Party which
had deplored the Restoration of the Kingship, I
knew well enough. I knew that both he and Mis-
tress Euphresine looked with feelings akin to horror
upon a system of Government which had for its
supreme head a King, more than half addicted to
Popery and wholly to fast living, with women,
gambling and drinking all the day. But what I had
never even remotely guessed until now was that he
had already lent a helping hand to those numerous
Organisations, which had for their object the over-
throw of the present loose form of Government, if
not that of the Monarchy itself.

I did not know, in fact, that beneath a weak and
obsequious exterior, my Employer hid the stuff of
which dangerous Conspirators are often made.

For the 'nonce, however, I imagine that he con-
tented himself with writing out Deeds and Proc-
lamations for the more important Malcontents, of
whom apparently my Lord Douglas Wychwoode



A CRIMINAL FOLLY S7

was one. He had never taken me into his confi-
dence, even though he must have known that he
could always rely upon my Discretion. What
caused him to trust me now more than he had
done before, I do not know. Perhaps he had
come to a final decision to throw in his lot with the
ultra-Protestant party, who viewed with such
marked disfavour the projects of the King's mar-
riage with the Popish Princess of Portugal. Cer-
tain it is that he came to me without any hesitation
with the Papers which Lord Douglas had just en-
trusted to him, and that he at once ordered me to
make the twelve copies which his Lordship desired.

I retired within the window-recess which You
know so well, and wherein I am wont to sit at my
copying work. Mr. Baggs then set me to my task,
after which he drew the screen across the recess,
so that I remained hidden from the view of those
who were still in the room. I set to with a Will, for
my task was a heavy one. Twelve copies of a Mani-
festo, which in itself covered two long pages.

A Manifesto, in truth !

I could scarce believe mine eyes as I read the
whole rambling, foolish, hot-headed Rigmarole.
Did I not have the Paper actually in my hand, had
I not seen Lord Douglas Wychwoode handing it
himself over to Mr. Baggs, I could not have believed
that any Men in their sober senses could have lent
a hand to such criminal Folly.

Folly it was ; and criminal to boot !

The whole matter is past History now, and there



68 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

can be no harm in my relating it when so much of
it hath long ago been made public.

That Manifesto was nothing more or less than an
Appeal to certain Sympathizers to join in one of the
maddest enterprises any man could conceive. It
seems that my Lady Castlemaine's house was to be
kept watched by Parties of these same Conspirators,
until one night when the King paid her one of his
customary evening Visits. Then the signal was to
be given, the House surrounded, my Lady Castle-
maine kidnapped, His Majesty seized and forced to
abdicate in favour of the young Duke of Monmouth,
who would then be proclaimed King of England,
with the Prince of Orange as Regent.

Now, have you ever heard of anything more
mad? I assure You that I was literally staggered,
and as my Pen went wearily scratching over the
Paper I felt as if I were in a dream, seeing before
me visions of what the end of such a foolish
Scheme would be : the Hangman busy, the Prisons
filled, sorrow and desolation in many homes that
had hoped to find peace at last after the turmoil of
the past twenty years. For the appeals were di-
rected to well accredited people outside London,
some of whom were connected with the best known
Families in the Country. I must, of course, refrain
from mentioning names that have been allowed to
fall into oblivion in connection with the affair; but
You, dear Mistress, would indeed be astonished if
You heard them now.

And what caused me so much worry, whilst I



A CRIMINAL FOLLY 59

wrote on till my hand felt cramped and stiff, was
mine own Helplessness in the matter. What could I
do, short of betraying the trust which was reposed
in me? and this, of course, was unthinkable.

I wrote on, feeling ever more dazed and dumb.
From the other side of the screen the Voices of the
two young Gentlemen came at times to mine ear with
unusual clearness, at others only like an intermittent
hum. Mr. Baggs had apparently left the room, and
the others had no doubt become wholly oblivious of
my Presence. Lord Douglas Wychwoode had told
his Friend something of his madcap Schemes; his
voice sounded both eager and enthusiastic. But my
Lord Stour demurred.

" I am a Soldier," he said at one time ; " not a
Politician."

" That's just it ! " the other argued with earnest-
ness. " It is Men like you that we want. We must
crush that spendthrift Wanton who holds the King
in her thrall, and we must force a dishonoured
Monarch to give up the Crown of England to one
who is worthier to wear it, since he himself, even in
these few brief months, has already covered it with
infamy."

"You have set yourself a difficult task, my
friend," my Lord Stour urged more soberly; "and
a dangerous one, too."

" Only difficult and dangerous," retorted Lord
Douglas, " whilst such Men as you still hold aloof."

" I tell you, I am no Politician," his Friend re-
joined somewhat impatiently.



60 HIS MAJESTY'S WELL-BELOVED

" But You are a Man, and not a senseless profli-
gate an earnest Protestant, who must loathe that
cobweb of Popery which overlies the King's every
Action, and blurs his vision of duty and of dignity."

"Yes but "

Then it was that Lord Douglas, with great pa-
tience and earnestness, gave to his Friend a detailed
account of his criminal Scheme for criminal it was,
however much it might be disguised under the cloak
of patriotism and religious fervour. How Lord
Stour received the communication, I could not say.
I had ceased to listen and was concentrating my
mind on my uncongenial task. Moreover, I fancy
that Lord Stour did not say much. He must have
disapproved of it, as any right-minded Man would,
and no doubt tried his best to bring Lord Douglas
to a more rational state of mind. But this is mere
conjecture on my part, and, of course, I could not
see his face, which would have been a clear index
to his thoughts. At one time I heard him exclaim
indignantly :

" But surely You will not entrust the distribution
of those Manifestos, which may cost you your head,
to that obsequious and mealy-mouthed notary?"

Mr. Baggs should have heard the contempt
wherewith my Lord uttered those words ! It would
have taught him how little regard his servile ways
had won for him, and how much more thoroughly
would he have been respected had he adopted a more
manly bearing towards his Clients, however highly
these may have been placed.



A CRIMINAL FOLLY 61

After this, Lord Douglas Wychwoode became
even more persuasive and eager. Perhaps he had
noted the first signs of yielding in the Attitude of
his Friend.

" No, no ! " he said. " And that is our serious
trouble. I and those who are at one with me feel
that we are surrounded with spies. We do want a
sure Hand a Hand that will not err and that we
can trust to distribute the Manifestos, and, if pos-
sible, to bring us back decisive Answers. Some of


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