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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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were immediately behind them.

As far as I could see, the Crowd had not ex-
pected this Manoeuvre, and the sudden turning off
of their prey at right angles disconcerted the fore-
most among them, for the space of a second or two.
This gave the Chairmen a brief start up the street.
But the very next moment the Crowd realized the
situation, and with a wild war-cry, turned to give
Chase, when a Man suddenly stepped out from no-
where in particular that I could see, unless it was
from the Spread Eagle tavern, and stood at the
bottom of the street between two posts, all alone,
facing the mob.

His Appearance, I imagine, had been so unex-
pected as well as so sudden, that the young


Roisterers in the front of the Crowd paused like a
Crowd always will when something totally unex-
pected doth occur. The Man, of course, had his
back towards us, but I had recognized him, nor was
I surprised that his Appearance did have the effect
of checking for an instant that spirit of Mischief
which was animating the throng. Lady Barbara
and the young Gentlemen at the other window were
even more astonished than I at this wholly unfore-
seen occurrence. They could not understand the
sudden checking of the Rioters and the comparative
silence which fell upon the forefront of their ranks.

"What does it all mean?" my Lord Stour

"A Man between the chair and its pursuers,"
Lord Douglas said in amazement.

" Who is it ? " queried Lady Barbara.

"Not a Gentleman," rejoined Lord Douglas;
" for he would not thus stop to parley with so foul
a mob. Meseems I know the figure," he added, and
leaned still further out of the window, the better
to take in the whole of the amazing scene. " Yes
by gad ! . . . It is . . . "

Here Mistress Euphrosine's cry of horror broke
in upon us all.

"Alas!" she ejaculated piously. " 'Tis that
reprobate Brother of mine ! "

" So it is! " added Mr. Baggs drily. " 'Tis meet
he should raise his voice in defence of that baggage."

" But, who is it ? " insisted my Lord Stour im-


"Why, Betterton the Actor/' replied Lord
Douglas with a laugh. " Do you not know him ? "

"Only from seeing him on the stage," said the
other. Then he added : " An Actor confronting a
mob ! By gad ! the fellow hath pluck ! "

" He knows," protested Mr. Baggs acidly, " that
the mob will not hurt him. He hath so oft made
them laugh that they look upon him as one of them-

" Listen ! " said Lady Barbara. " You can hear
him speak quite plainly."

Whereupon they all became silent.

All this, of course, had occurred in far less time
than it takes to describe. Not more than a few
seconds had gone by since first I saw Mr. Betterton
step out from Nowhere in particular into the Street.
But his Interposition had given my Lady Castle-
maine's Chairmen and also the Watchmen, who were
guarding her, a distinct advance. They were mak-
ing the most of the respite by hurrying up our street
as fast as they were able, even while the Crowd
that portion of it that stood nearest to Mr. Betterton
and could hear his Voice broke into a loud laugh at
some Sally of his which had apparently caught their

From the distance the cry was raised : " To the
pillory, the Castlemaine ! "

It was at this point that my Lady Barbara bade
every one to listen, so that we all could hear Mr.
Betterton's rich and powerful Voice quite plainly.

"Come, come, Friends!" he was saying; "the


Lady will get there without your help some day,
I'll warrant. Aye! and further too, an the Devil
gives her her due! Now, now," he continued, when
cries and murmurs, boos and hisses, strove to inter-
rupt him. " You are not going to hiss a hard-
working Actor off the Stage like this. Do, in the
name of Sport, which every sound-minded English-
man loves, after all, await a fitter opportunity for
molesting a defenceless Woman. What say You to
adjourning to the Spread Eagle tavern, where mine
Host hath just opened a new cask of the most
delicious beer You have ever tasted? There's a
large room at the back of the bar You know it.
Well! every one who goes there now and there's
room for three or four hundred of You can drink
a pint of that beer at my expense. What say You,
Friends? Is it not better than to give chase to a
pack of Watchmen and a pair of liveried Chairmen
who are already as scared as rabbits? See! they
are fast disappearing up the street. Come! who
will take a pint of beer at the invitation of Tom
Betterton? You know him! Is he not a jolly,
good fellow? ..."

Of course, he did not deliver this speech unin-
terruptedly. It was only snatches of it that came to
our ear. But we Listeners soon caught the drift of
it, and watched its reception by the Crowd. Well!
the Fire-eaters gradually cooled down. The pros-
pect of the ale at the Spread Eagle caused many a
smack of the lips, which in its turn smothered the
cries of Rage and Vituperation. Anon, One could


perceive one forearm after another drawn with
anticipatory Pleasure across lips that had ceased to

Just then, too, Heaven interposed in a conciliatory
spirit in the form of a few drops of heavy Rain,
presaging a Storm. The next moment the stampede
in the direction of the Spread Eagle tavern had
begun, whilst my Lady Castlemaine's Chairmen
trudged unmolested past our door.

My Lord Stour gave a loud laugh.

" 'Twas well thought on," he exclaimed. " The
Mountebank hath found a way to stop the Rabble's
howls, whilst my Lady Baggage finds safety in

But Lady Barbara added thoughtfully : " Me-
thinks 'twas plucky to try and defend a Woman


I watched the turbulent throng, filing now in
orderly procession through the hospitably open
doors of the Spread Eagle tavern. Mr. Betterton
remained for awhile standing at the door, marshal-
ling the more obstreperous of his invited Guests and
parleying with Mr. Barraclough, the Host of the
Spread Eagle no doubt making arrangements for
the quenching of three or four hundred thirsts at his
expense. Then he suddenly turned on his heel and
came up the Street. Lord Douglas gave one of his
rough, grating laughs, and said :

" So now I see that, like a wise man, Mr. Better-


ton mistrusts his Popularity and proposes to seek
refuge from his ebullient Friends."

" I believe/' said Mistress Euphrosine to her Lord
in an awed whisper ; " I believe that Thomas is
coming here."

Which possibility greatly disconcerted Mr. Baggs.
He became quite agitated, and exclaimed fussily:

" I'll not have him here . . . I'll not . . .:
Not while her Ladyship is here . . . I'll not
allow it!"

"And pray why not, Mr. Notary?" Lady Bar-
bara put in haughtily. " Mr. Betterton sups twice
a week with His Majesty. Surely then you may
invite him without shame under your roof ! "

" And I've never seen the great Actor close to,"
remarked Lord Stour lightly. " I've oft marvelled
what he was like in private life."

" Oh ! " said Lord Douglas, with a distinct note
of acerbity in his voice, " he is just like any other
Fellow of his degree. These Mountebanks have of
late thought themselves Somebodies, just because 'tis
the fashion for Gentlemen to write plays and to go
to the Theatre. My Lord Rochester, Sir George
Etherege and the others have so spoilt them by going
about constantly with them, that the Fellows scarce
know their place now. This man Betterton is the
worst of the lot. He makes love to the Ladies of the
Court, forgets that he is naught but a Rogue and a
Vagabond and not worthy to be seen in the company
of Gentlemen. Oh ! I've oft had an itching to lay a
stick across the shoulders of some of these louts! "


I would that I could convey to you, dear Mis-
tress, the tone of Spite wherewith Lord Douglas
spoke at this moment, or the look of Contempt
which for the moment quite disfigured his good-
looking Face. That he had been made aware at
some time of Mr. Betterton's admiration for Lady
Barbara became at once apparent to me, also that
he looked upon that admiration as a Presumption
and an Insult.

I was confirmed in this Supposition by the look
which he gave then and there to his Sister, a look
which caused her to blush to the very roots of her
hair. I fancy, too, that he also whispered some-
thing on that Subject to my Lord Stour, for a dark
frown of Anger suddenly appeared upon the latter's
Face and he muttered an angry and rough Ejacu-

As for me, I am an humble Clerk, a peaceful Citi-
zen and a practising Christian; but just at that
moment I felt that I hated Lord Douglas Wych-
woode and his Friend with a bitter and undying

Meseemed as if the air within the room had be-
come surcharged with a subtle and heady fluid akin
to an Intoxicant, so many Passions were even then
warring in the innermost hearts of us all. There
was Hatred and Spite, and Fervour and Love. We
were all of us alive at that moment, if You know
what I mean. We were Individuals who felt and


thought individually and strongly; not just the mere
sheeplike Creatures swayed hither and thither by the
Modes and Exigencies of the hour. And I can
assure you that even then, when we heard Mr.
Betterton's quick step ascending the stairs, we all
held our breath and watched the door as if some-
thing Supernatural was about to be revealed to us.

The next moment that door was thrown open and
Mr. Betterton appeared upon the threshold.

Ah! if only You had seen him then, Mistress,
your heart would have rejoiced, just as mine did, at
the sight. Personally, I could never tell You if
Mr. Betterton is tall or short, handsome or ill-
favoured; all that I know is that when he is in a
room you cannot look at any one else; he seems to
dwarf every other Man by the Picturesqueness of
his Personality.

And now oh ! You should have seen him as he
stood there, framed in the doorway, the grey after-
noon light of this dull September day falling full
upon his Face, with those glittering Eyes of his and
the kindly, firm Mouth, round which there slowly
began to spread a gently mocking Smile. He was
richly dressed, as was his wont, with priceless lace
frills at throat and wrists, and his huge Periwig
set off to perfection the nobility of his brow.

With one swift gaze round the room, he had taken
in the full Situation. You know yourself, dear Mis-
tress, what marvellous Powers of Intuition he has.
His glance swept over Lady Barbara's exquisite
comeliness, her somewhat flurried mien and wide,


inquisitive eyes ; over Lord Douglas, sullen and con-
temptuous; my Lord Stour, wrathful and sus-
picious ; Mistress Euphrosine and Mr. Baggs, servile
and tremulous. I doubt not that his keen Eyes had
also spied me watching his every Movement from
behind the screen.

The mocking Smile broadened upon his Face.
With one shapely leg extended forward, his right
arm holding his hat, his arm executing a superb
flourish, he swept to the assembled Company an
elaborate Bow.

" My Lords, your servant," he said. Then bowed
more gravely to Lady Barbara and added, with a
tone of subtle and flattering deference : " I am, as
always, your Ladyship's most humble and most de-
voted Slave."

Whereupon her Ladyship swept him one of those
graceful Curtsies which I understand have become
the Mode in fashionable Society of late. But the
young Gentlemen seemed to have lost count of their
Manners. They were either too wrathful or too
much taken aback to speak. Mistress Euphrosine,
with her nose in the air, was preparing to sail ma-
jestically out of the room.

Mr. Betterton then stepped in. He threw down
his hat and playfully made pretence to intercept
Mistress Euphrosine.

" Sister, I do entreat You," he said with mock
concern, " do not carry your well-shaped nose so
high. The scent of Heaven will not reach your
nostrils, try how you may. > > . 'Tis more likely


that you will smell the brimstone which clings to
my perruque."

And before Mistress Euphrosine had time to think
of a retort, he had turned to her Ladyship with that
gentle air of deference which became him so well.

"How comes it," he asked, "that I have the
privilege of meeting your Ladyship here?"

" A mere accident, Sir," my Lord Stour inter-
posed, somewhat high-handedly I thought. " Her
Ladyship, fearing to be molested by the Crowd,
came to meet Lord Douglas here."

" I understand," murmured Mr. Betterton. And
I who knew him so well, realized that just for the
moment he understood nothing save that he was in
the presence of this exquisitely beautiful Woman
who had enchained his Fancy. He stood like one
transfixed, his eyes fastened almost in wonderment
upon the graceful Apparition before him. I should
not be exaggerating, fair Mistress, if I said that he
seemed literally to be drinking in every line of her
dainty Figure; the straight, white throat, the
damask cheek and soft, fair hair, slightly disar-
ranged. He had of a truth lost consciousness of his
surroundings, and this to such an extent that it ap-
parently set my Lord Stour's nerves on edge; for
anon he said with evident Irritation and a total
Disregard both of polite Usage and of Truth, since
of course he knew quite well to whom he was
speaking :

" I did not catch your name, Sir ; though you
seem acquainted with her Ladyship."


He had to repeat the Query twice, and with
haughty impatience, before Mr. Betterton descended
from the Clouds in order to reply.

" My name is Betterton, Sir/' he said, no less
curtly than my lord.

"Betterton? Ah, yes!" his Lordship went on,
with what I thought was studied Insolence, seeing
that he was addressing one of the most famous
Men in England. " I have heard the Name before
. . . but where, I cannot remember. . . . Let
me see, you are . . . ? "

" An Actor, Sir," Mr. Betterton gave haughty
answer. " Therefore an Artist, even though an
humble one; but still a World contained in one

Then his manner changed, the stiffness and pride
went out of it and he added in his more habitual
mode of good-natured banter, whilst pointing in the
direction of Mistress Euphrosine :

" That, however, is not, I imagine, the opinion
which my worthy Sister a pious Lady, Sir hath
of my talents. She only concedes me a Soul when
she gloats over the idea that it shall be damned."

" You are insolent ! " quoth Mistress Euphrosine,
as she stalked majestically to the door. " And I'll
not stay longer to hear you blaspheme."

Even so, her Brother's lightly mocking ripple of
Laughter pursued her along the course of her digni-
fied exit through the door.

" Nay, dear Sister," he said. " Why not stay
and tell these noble Gentlemen your doubts as to


which half of me in the hereafter will be stoking the
Fires of Hell and which half be wriggling in the
Flames ? " Then he added, turning gaily once more
to the Visitors as Mistress Euphrosine finally de-
parted and banged the door to behind her : " Mis-
tress Baggs, Sir, is much troubled that she cannot
quite make up her mind how much of me is Devil
and how much a lost Soul."

" Of a surety, Sir," retorted Lord Douglas, with
the same tone of malicious Spite wherewith he had
originally spoken of Mr. Betterton, " every Gentle-
man is bound to share your worthy Sister's doubts
on that point . . . and as to whether your right
Hand or your sharp Tongue will fizzle first down

There was a moment's silence in the room oh!
the mere fraction of a second whilst I, who knew
every line of Mr. Betterton's face, saw the quick
flash of Anger which darted from his eyes at the
insolent speech. Lady Barbara too had made an
instinctive movement, whether towards him in pro-
tection or towards her Brother in reproach, I could
not say. Certain it is that that Movement chased
away in one instant Mr. Betterton's flaming wrath.
He shrugged his shoulders and retorted with quiet
Mockery :

' Your Lordship, I feel sure, will be able to have
those doubts set at rest presently. I understand that
vast intelligence will be granted to Gentlemen down

At once my Lord's hand went to his sword.


" Insolent ! " he muttered ; and my Lord Stour
immediately stepped to his Friend's side.

Like the Fleet Street crowd awhile ago, these two
Gentlemen meant mischief. For some reason which
was not far to seek, they were on the verge of a
Quarrel with Mr. Betterton nay! I believe that
they meant to provoke him into one. In wordy
Warfare, however, they did not stand much chance
against the great Actor's caustic Wit, and no doubt
their sense of Impotence made them all the more
wrathful and quarrelsome.

Mr. Baggs, of course, servile and obsequious as
was his wont, was ready enough to interpose. A
Quarrel inside his house, between valued Clients and
his detested Brother-in-law, was not at all to his

"My Lords . . ." he mumbled half -incoher-
ently, " I implore you ... do not heed him . . .
he. . ."

His futile attempts at Conciliation tickled Mr.
Betterton's sense of humour. The last vestige of
his Anger vanished in a mocking Smile.

" Nay, good Master Theophilus," he said coolly,
" prithee do not interfere between me and the Wrath
of these two Gentlemen. Attend to thine own
Affairs . . . and to thine own Conspiracies," he
added spoke suddenly under Mr. Baggs' very nose,
so that the latter gave a jump and involuntarily
gasped :

" Conspiracies ? . . . What what the devil do
you mean, Sir, by Conspiracies ? "


" Oh, nothing nothing my good Friend," re-
plied Mr. Betterton lightly. " But when I see two
hot-headed young Cavaliers in close conversation
with a seedy Lawyer, I know that somewhere in the
pocket of one of them there is a bit of Handwriting
that may send the lot of them to the Tower first
and to well ! to Heaven afterwards."

My Heart was in my Mouth all the time that he
spoke. Of course he could not know how near the
Truth he was, and I firmly believe that his banter
was a mere Arrow shot into the air; but even so it
grazed these noble Lords' equanimity. Lord
Douglas had become very pale, and my Lord Stour
looked troubled, or was it my fancy? But I am
sure that her Ladyship's blue eyes rested on Mr.
Betterton with a curious searching gaze. She too
wondered how much Knowledge of the Truth lay
behind his easy Sarcasm.

Then Lord Douglas broke into a laugh.

" There, for once, Sir Actor," he said lightly,
" your perspicacity is at fault. My Lord the Earl
of Stour and I came to consult your Brother-in-law
on a matter of business."

" And," exclaimed Mr. Betterton with mock con-
cern, " I am detaining you with my foolish talk. I
pray you, Gentlemen, take no further heed of me.
Time treads hard on your aristocratic Heels, whilst
it is the Slave of a poor, shiftless Actor like myself."

* Yes, yes," once more interposed the mealy-
mouthed Mr. Baggs. " I pray you, my Lords
your Ladyship to come to my inner office "


There was a general movement amongst the
Company, during which I distinctly heard Lord
Douglas Wychwoode whisper to my Lord Stour :

" Can you wonder that I always long to lay a
stick across that Man's shoulders? His every word
sounds like insolence . . . And he has dared to
make love to Barbara. ..."

Her Ladyship, however, seemed loth to linger.
The hour, of a truth, was getting late.

" Father will be anxious," she said. " I have
stayed out over long."

" Are the streets safe, I wonder? " my Lord Stour

" Perfectly," broke in Mr. Betterton. " And if
her Ladyship will allow me, I will conduct her to
her Chair."

Again my Lord Stour flashed out angrily, and
once more the brooding Quarrel threatened to burst
the bounds of conventional Intercourse. This time
the Lady Barbara herself interposed.

" I pray you, my good Lord," she said, " do not
interfere. Mr. Betterton and I are old Friends. By
your leave, he shall conduct me to my chair. Do we
not owe it to him," she added gaily, " that the
streets are quiet enough to enable us all to get home
in peace ? "

Then she turned to Mr. Betterton and said
gently :

" If You would be so kind, Sir my men are
close by I should be grateful if You will tell them
to bring my chair along."


She held out her hand to him and he bowed low
and kissed the tips of her fingers. Then he went.

Lord Douglas' spiteful glance followed the dis-
tinguished Actor's retreating figure until the door
had closed upon him. Then he said drily :

" Perhaps you are right, Babs. He may as well
fetch your chair. It is raining hard and one
Lacquey is as good as another."

He turned to Mr. Baggs, who, standing first on
one leg then on the other, presented a truly pitiable
spectacle of Servility and Unmanliness. I think he
had just come to realize that I had been in the room
behind the screen all this while, and that my Pres-
ence would be unwelcome to their Lordships if they
knew that I had overheard all their Conversation.
Certain it is that I saw him give a quick glance in
my direction, and then he became even more fussy
and snivelling than before.

" In my inner Office," he murmured. " I pray
you to honour me, my Lords. ... A glass of
wine, perhaps . . . until the copies are finished.
I should be so proud . . . and . . . and . . .
we should be quite undisturbed . . . whereas
here ... I only regret ..."

I despised him for all that grovelling, and so did
the Gentlemen, I make no doubt. Nevertheless, they
were ready to follow him.

" We must wait somewhere," Lord Douglas said
curtly. " And I should be glad of a glass of wine."


Lady Barbara was standing in the window-recess,
waiting for her chair. She insisted on my Lord
Stour going with her Brother into the inner room.
Undoubtedly, she did not wish either of them to
meet Mr. Betterton again.

" I promise you," she said with quiet Determina-
tion, " that I'll not stop to speak with him. I'll
watch through the window until my Men bring the
chair ; then I will go down at once."

" But " protested his Lordship.

" I entreat you to go, my Lord," she reiterated
tartly. " And you too, Douglas. My temper is on
edge, and if I am not left to myself for a few
moments I shall have an attack of Nerves."

She certainly spoke with unwonted Sharpness.
Thus commanded, it would have been churlish to
disobey. The young Gentlemen, after a second or
two longer of Hesitation, finally followed Mr. Baggs
out of the room.

Now, I could not see the Lady Barbara, for she
was ensconced in a window-recess, just as I was;
but I heard her give a loud Sigh of Impatience.
There was no doubt that her Nerves had been jarred.
Small wonder, seeing all that she had gone through
the noise and rioting in the streets, her Terror and
her Flight; her unexpected meeting with her Lover;
then the advent of Mr. Betterton and that brooding
Quarrel between him and the two Gentlemen, which
threatened to break through at any moment.

The next minute I saw her Ladyship's chair
brought to a halt down below, and she crossed the


Line of my Vision between the window and the
sofa, where she had left her cloak. She picked it
up and was about to wrap it round her shoulders,
when the door was flung open and Mr. Betterton
came in. He gave a quick glance round the room
and saw that the Lady Barbara was alone or so he
thought, for, of course, he did not see me. He
carefully closed the door behind him and came
quickly forward, ostensibly to help her Ladyship on
with her cloak.

" It is kind of you, Sir, thus to wait on me," she
said coldly. " May I claim your Arm to conduct
me to my chair ? "

She was standing close in front of him just then,
with her back to him and her hands raised up to her
shoulders in order to receive her cloak, which he had
somewhat roughly snatched out of her grasp.

" My Arm ? " he riposted, with a vibrating note
of passion in his mellow voice. " My Life, my-
self, are all at your Ladyship's service. But will
not you wait one little moment and say one kind
word to the poor Actor whose Art is the delight of
Kings, and whose Person is the butt of every Cox-
comb who calls himself a Gentleman? "

He flung the cloak upon a chair and tried to take
her hand, which, however, she quickly withdrew,

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