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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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and then turned, not unkindly, to face him.

" My Brother is hasty, Sir," she said more gently.
" He has many prejudices which, no doubt, time and
experience of life will mend. As for me," she
added lightly, " I am quite ready to extend the


hand of Friendship, not only to the Artist but to
the Man."

She held out her hand to him. Then, as he did
not take it, but stood there looking at her with
that hungry, passionate look which revealed the
depth of his Admiration for her, she continued with
a bantering tone of reproach :

" You will not take my hand, Sir? "

" No," he replied curtly.

" But I am offering You my Friendship," she
went on, with a quick, nervy little laugh; for she
was Woman enough, believe me, to understand his

"Friendship between Man and Woman is im-
possible," he said in a strange, hoarse voice, which
I scarce recognized as his.

"What do you mean?" she retorted, with a
sudden stiffening of her Figure and a haughty
Glance which he, of a truth, should have known
boded no good for his suit.

" I mean," he replied, " that between a Man and
a Woman, who are both young and both endowed
with Heart and Soul and Temperament, there may
be Enmity or Love, Hatred or Passion ; but Friend-
ship, never."

" You talk vaguely, Sir," she rejoined coldly. " I
pray You, give me my cloak."

" Not," he retorted, " before I have caused your
Ladyship to cast one short Glance back over the
past few months."

" With what purpose, I pray You ? "


" So that You might recognize, as You gaze
along their vista, the man who since he first beheld
you hath madly worshipped You."

She stood before him, still facing him, tall and of
a truth divinely fair. Nay ! this no one could gain-
say. For the moment I found it in my Heart to
sympathize with his Infatuation. You, dear Mis-
tress, were not there to show him how much lovelier
still a Woman could be, and the Lady Barbara had
all the subtle flavour, too, of forbidden fruit. Mr.
Betterton sank on one knee before her; his mellow
Voice sounded exquisitely tender and caressing.
Oh ! had I been a Woman, how gladly would I have
listened to his words. There never was such a
Voice as that of Mr. Betterton. No wonder that
he can sway the hearts of thousands by its Magic;
no wonder that thousands remain entranced while
he speaks. Now, I assure You, Mistress, that tears
gathered in my eyes, there was such true Passion,
such depth of feeling in his tone. But Lady Bar-
bara's heart was not touched. In truth, she loved
another Man, and her whole outlook on Life and
Men was distorted by the Environment amidst
which she had been brought up.

The exquisite, insinuating Voice with its note of
tender Appeal only aroused her contempt. She
jumped to her feet with an angry exclamation.
What she said, I do not quite remember ; but it was
a Remark which must have stung him to the quick,
for I can assure You, dear Mistress, that Mr. Better-
ton's pride is at least equal to that of the greatest


Nobleman in the land. But all that he did say was :

" Nay, Madam ; an Artist's love is not an insult,
even to a Queen."

" Possibly, Sir," she riposted coldly. " But I at
least cannot listen to You. So I pray You let me
rejoin my Servants."

" And I pray You," he pleaded, without rising,
" humbly on my knees, to hear me just this once ! "

She protested, and would have left him there,
kneeling, while she ran out of the room ; but he had
succeeded in getting hold of her Hand and was
clinging to it with both his own, whilst from his
lips there came a torrent of passionate pleading such
as I could not have thought any Woman capable
of resisting for long.

" I am not a young Dandy," he urged ; " nor yet
a lank-haired, crazy Poet who grows hysterical over
a Woman's eyebrow. I am a Man, and an Artist,
rich with an inheritance such as even your An-
cestors would have envied me. Mine inheritance is
the Mind and Memory of cultured England and a
Name which by mine Art I have rendered im-

" I honour your Genius, Sir," she rejoined
coolly; "and because of it, I try to excuse your

" Nay! " he continued with passionate insistence.
" There are Passions so sweet that they excuse all
the Follies they provoke. Oh ! I pray You listen
.. . . I have waited in silence for months, not dar-
ing to approach You. You seemed immeasurably


above me, as distant as the Stars; but whilst I,
poor and lowly-born, waited and worshipped
silently, success forged for me a Name, so covered
with Glory that I dare at last place it at your feet."

" I ara touched, Sir, and honoured, I assure You,"
she said somewhat impatiently. " But all this is
naught but folly, and reason should teach you that
the Daughter of the Marquis of Sidbury can be
nothing to You."

But by this time it was evident that the great
and distinguished Actor had allowed his Folly to
conquer his Reason. I closed my eyes, for I could
not bear to see a Man whom I so greatly respected
kneeling in such abject humiliation before a Woman
who had nothing for him but disdain. Ah ! Women
can be very cruel when they do not love. In truth,
Lady Barbara, with all her Rank and Wealth, could
not really have felt contempt for a Man whom the
King himself and the highest in the land delighted
to honour ; yet I assure You, Mistress, that some of
the things she said made me blush for the sake of
the high-minded Man who honours me with his

" Short of reason, Sir," she said, with unmeasured
hauteur at one time, " I pray you recall your far-
famed sense of humour. Let it show you Thomas
Betterton, the son of a Scullion, asking the hand of
the Lady Barbara Wychwoode in marriage."

This was meant for a Slap in the Face, and was
naught but a studied insult ; for we all know that the
story of Mr. Betterton's Father having been a


menial is utterly without foundation. But I assure
You that by this time he was blind and deaf to all
save to the insistent call of his own overwhelming
passion. He did not resent the insult, as I thought
he would do; but merely rejoined fervently:

" I strive to conjure the picture; but only see Tom
Betterton, the world-famed Artist, wooing the
Woman he loves."

But what need is there for me to recapitulate here
all the fond and foolish things which were spoken
by a truly great Man to a chit of a Girl, who was
too self-centred and egotistical to appreciate the
great Honour which he was conferring on her by his
Wooing. I was holding my breath, fearful lest I
should be seen. To both of these proud People be-
fore me, my known Presence would have been an
added humiliation. Already Lady Barbara, impa-
tient of Mr. Betterton's importunity, was raising her
Voice and curtly bidding him to leave her in peace.
I thought every moment that she would call out to
her Brother, when Heaven alone would know what
would happen next.

"Your importunity becomes an insult, Sir," she
said at last " I command You to release my hand."

She tried to wrench it from his Grasp, but I
imagine that his hold on her wrist was so strong
that she could not free herself. She looked around
her now with a look of Helplessness, which would
have gone to my Heart if I had any feeling of
sympathy left after I had poured out its full measure
for my stricken Friend. He was not himself then,


I assure You, Mistress. I know that the evil tongue
of those who hate and envy him have poured in-
sidious poison in your ears, that they told you that
Mr. Betterton had insulted the Lady Barbara past
forgiveness and had behaved towards her like a Cad
and a Bully. But this I swear to be untrue. I was
there all the time, and I saw it all. He was on his
knees, and never attempted to touch her beyond
clinging to her Hand and covering it with kisses.
He was an humbled and a stricken Man, who saw
his Love rejected, his Passion flouted, his Suffering

I tell you that all he did was to cling to her

Then, all at once, I suppose something frightened
her, and she called loudly :

"Douglas! Douglas!"

I don't think that she meant to call, and I am
sure that the very next moment she had already
regretted what she had done.

Mr. Betterton jumped to his feet, sobered in the
instant; and she stood alone in the middle of the
room, gazing somewhat wild-eyed in the direction
of the door, which had already been violently flung
open and through which my Lord Stour and Lord
Douglas now hurriedly stepped forward.

" What is it, Babs ? " Lord Douglas queried
roughly. "Why are You still here? . . . And
what '. .?"


He got no further. His glance had alighted on
Mr. Betterton, and I never saw quite so much con-
centrated Fury and Hatred in any one's eyes as
now appeared in those of Lord Douglas Wych-

But already the Lady Barbara had recovered her-
self. No doubt she realized the Mischief which
her involuntary call had occasioned. The Quarrel
which had been slowly smouldering the whole After-
noon was ready to burst into living flame at this
moment. Even so, she tried to stem its outburst,
protesting that she had been misunderstood. She
even tried to laugh; but the laugh sounded pitiably

" But it's nothing, Douglas, dear," she said. " I
protest. Did I really call? I do not remember.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Betterton was good enough
to recite some verses for my delectation . . . My
Enthusiasm must have run away with me .
and, unwittingly, I must have called out ..."

Obviously the Explanation was a lame one. I
felt myself that it would not be believed. On the
face of my Lord Stour thunderclouds of Wrath
were fast gathering, and though Mr. Betterton had
recovered his presence of mind with all the Art at
his command, yet there was a glitter in his eyes
which he was powerless to veil, whilst the tremor
of her Ladyship's lips while she strove to speak
calmly aroused my Lord Stour's ever-wakeful

Lord Douglas, as was his wont apparently when-


ever he was deeply moved, was pacing up and down
the room; his hands were clasped behind his back
and from time to time I could see their convulsive
twitching. Lord Stour now silently helped her
Ladyship on with her cloak. I was thankful that
Mr. Baggs and Mistress Euphrosine were keeping
in the background, else I verily believe that their ob-
sequious Snivellings would have caused my quiver-
ing Nerves to play me an unpleasant trick.

Mr. Betterton had retired to the nearest window
recess, so that I could not see him. All that I did
see were the two Gentlemen and the threatening
Clouds which continued to gather upon their Brows.
I also heard my Lord Stour whisper hurriedly in
Lord Douglas' ear :

" In the name of our Friendship, Man, let me deal
with this."

I felt as if an icy hand had gripped my Heart.
I could not conjecture what that ominous Speech
could portend. Lady Barbara now looked very pale
and troubled; her hands as they fumbled with her
cloak trembled visibly. Lord Stour, with a master-
ful gesture, took one of them and held it firmly
under his arm.

He then led her towards the door. Just before
she went with him, however, her Ladyship turned,
and I imagine sought to attract Mr. Betterton's

" I must thank you, Sir," she said, with a final
pathetic attempt at Conciliation, " for your beautiful
Recitation. I shall be greatly envied, methinks, by


those who have only heard Mr. Betterton declaim
upon the Stage."

Lord Douglas had gone to the door. He opened
it and stood grimly by whilst my Lord Stour
walked out, with her Ladyship upon his arm.


A great Sadness descends upon my Soul, dear
Mistress, even as I write. Cold shivers course up
and down the length of my spine and mine eyes feel
hot with tears still unshed tears of Sorrow and of
Shame, aye ! and of a just Anger that it should have
been in the power of two empty-headed Coxcombs
to wreak an irreparable Injury upon one who is as
much above them as are the Stars above the grovel-
ling Worms.

I use the words " irreparable Injury " advisedly,
dear Lady, because what happened on that late Sep-
tember afternoon will for ever be graven upon the
Heart and Memory of a great and noble Man, to the
exclusion of many a gentle feeling which was wont
to hold full sway over his Temperament before then.
Time, mayhap, and the triumph of a great Soul over
overwhelming temptation, have no doubt somewhat
softened the tearing ache of that cruel brand; but
only your Hand, fair Mistress, can complete the
healing, only your Voice can. with its tender gentle-
ness, drown the insistent call of Pride still smarting
for further Revenge.



Lord Douglas Wychwoode did not speak to Mr.
Betterton after her Ladyship and my Lord Stour
had gone out of the room, but continued his rest-
less pacing up and down. I thought his Silence

Half consciously, I kept my attention fixed upon
the street below, and presently saw the Lady Bar-
bara get into her chair and bid adieu to his Lordship,
who remained standing on our doorstep until th
Sedan was borne away up the street and out of sight.
Then, to my astonishment, he walked down as far
as the Spread Eagle tavern and disappeared within
its doors.

The Silence in our parlour was getting on my
nerves. I could not see Mr. Betterton, only Lord
Douglas from time to time, when in his ceaseless
tramping his short, burly figure crossed the line of
my vision.

Anon I once more thought of my Work. There
were a couple more copies of the Manifesto to be
done, and I set to, determined to finish them. Time
went on, and the afternoon light was now rapidly
growing dim. Outside, the weather had not im-
proved. A thin rain was coming down, which
turned the traffic-way of our street to sticky mud.
I remember, just after I had completed my Work
and tidied up my papers, looking out of the window
and seeing, in the now fast-gathering gloom, the
young Lord of Stour on the doorstep of the Spread


Eagle tavern, in c'ose conversation with half a dozen
ill-clad and ill-conditioned Ruffians. But I gave the
matter no further thought just then, for my mind
happened to be engrossed with doubts as to how I
should convey the Copies I had made to my Em-
ployer without revealing my presence to Lord
Douglas Wychwoode.

His Lordship himself, however, soon relieved me
of this perplexity, for presently he came to a halt
by the door which led to f he inner office and quite
unceremoniously pushed it open and walked through.
I heard his peremptory demrnds for the Copies, and
Mr. Baggs' muttered explanations. But I did not
wait a moment longer. This was obviously my best
opportunity for reappearing upon the Scene without
his Lordship realizing that I had been in the parlour
all the time. I slipped out from my hiding place and
carefully rearranged the screen in its former posi-
tion, then I tiptoed across the room.

In the gloom, I caught sight of Mr. Betterton
standing in one of the Recesses, his slender white
hands, which were so characteristic of his refined,
artistic Personality, were clasped behind his back.
I would have given a year or two of my humdrum
life for the privilege of speaking to him then and of
expressing to him some of that Sympathy with
which my heart was overflowing. But no one knows
better than I how proud a Man he is, and how he
would have resented the thought that any one else
had witnessed his Humiliation.

So I executed the Manoeuvre which I had in my


mind without further delay. I opened the door
which gave on the stairs noiselessly, then closed it
again with a bang, as if I had just come in. Then I
strode as heavily as I could across the room to the
door of the inner office, against which I then rapped
with my knuckles.

" Who's that ? " Mr. Baggs' voice queried im-

" The Copies, Sir, which you ordered," I replied
in a firm voice. " I have finished them."

"Come in! come in!" then broke in Lctrd
Douglas impatiently. c< I have waited in this ac-
cursed hole quite long enough."

The whole thing went off splendidly, and even
Mr. Baggs did subsequently compliment me on my
clever Ruse. Lord Douglas never suspected the
fact that I had not been out of the Parlour for a
moment, but had heard from the safe shelter of
the window-recess everything that had been go-
ing on.


When, a few moments later, I returned to the
Parlour, eager to have a few minutes' speech with
Mr. Betterton, I saw that he had gone. Anon,
Kathleen, the maid, brought in the candles and
closed the shutters. I once more took my place at
my desk, but this time made no use of the screen.
After awhile, Lord Douglas came in, followed by
the ever-obsequious Mr. Baggs, and almost directly
after that, my Lord Stour came back.


His clothes were very wet and he shook the rain
out from the brim of his hat.

" What a time You have been ! " Lord Douglas
said to him. " I was for going away without seeing

" I wanted to find out what had happened in
here," my Lord Stour gave reply, speaking in a

" What do you mean ? "

" The FeHow had the audacity to pay his ad-
dresses to Lady Barbara," my Lord Stour went on,
still speaking below his breath. " I guessed as much,
but wanted to make sure."

Lord Douglas uttered an angry Oath, and Lord
Stour continued hurriedly :

" Such Insolence had to be severely punished, of
course ; and I saw to it."

" How ? " queried the other eagerly.

" I have hired half a dozen Ruffians from the
tavern yonder, to waylay him with sticks on his way
from here, and to give him the sound thrashing he

It was with the most terrific effort at self-control
that I succeeded in smothering the Cry of Horror
which had risen to my lips. As it was, I jumped to
my feet and both my chair and the candle from my
desk fell with a clatter to the floor. I think that
Mr. Baggs hurled a Volley of abuse upon me for
my clumsiness and chided me in that the grease from
the candle was getting wasted by dripping on the
floor. But the Gentlemen paid no heed to me. They


were still engaged in their abominable conversation.
While I stooped to pick up the chair and the candle,
I heard my Lord Stour saying to his Friend :

" Come with me and see the Deed accomplished.
The Mountebank must be made to know whose
Hand is dealing him the well-merited punishment.
My Hirelings meant to waylay him at the corner
of Spreadeagle Court, a quiet place which is not far
from here, and which leads into a blind Alley.
Quickly, now," he added ; " or we shall be too late."

More I did not hear; for, believe me, dear Mis-
tress, I felt like one possessed. For the nonce, I
did not care whether I was seen or not, whether Mr.
Baggs guessed my purpose or not. I did not care if
he abused me or even punished me later for my
strange behaviour. All that I knew and felt just
then was that I must run to the corner of Spread-
eagle Court, where one of the most abominable Out-
rages ever devised by one Man against Another was
even then being perpetrated. I tore across the room,
through the door and down the stairs, hatless, my
coat tails flying behind me, like some Maniac escap-
ing from his Warders.

I ran up Chancery Lane faster, I think, than any
man ever ran before. Already my ears were ring-
ing with the sound of distant shouts and scuffling.
My God! grant that I may not come too late. I,
poor, weak, feeble of body, could of course do
nothing against six paid and armed Ruffians ; but at
least I could be there to ward off or receive some of
the blows which the arms of the sacrilegious Mis-


creants were dealing, at the instance of miserable
Coxcombs, to a man whose Genius and Glory should
have rendered him almost sacred in their sight.


As long as I live will that awful picture haunt me
as I saw it then.

You know the Blind Alley on the left-hand side of
Spreadeagle Court, with, at the end of it, the great
double doorway which gives on the back premises
of Mr. Brooks' silk warehouse. It was against that
doorway that Mr. Betterton had apparently sought
some semblance of refuge when first he was set upon
by the Ruffians. By the time that I reached the
corner of the Blind Alley, he had fallen against the
door; for at first I could not see him. All that I
saw was a group of burly backs, and arms waving
sticks about in the air. All that I heard, oh, my
God! were ribald cries and laughter, and sounds
such as wild animals must make when they fall,
hungry, upon their Prey. The Ruffians, I make no
doubt, had no grudge against their Victim; but
they had been well instructed and would be well
paid if their foul deed was conscientiously accom-

My Wrath and Anxiety gave me the strength
which I otherwise lack. Pushing, jostling, crawl-
ing, I contrived to work my way through the hideous
Barrier which seethed and moved and shouted be-
twixt me and the Man whom I love.

When I at last kneeled beside him, I saw and


heard nothing more. I did not feel the blows which
one or two of the Ruffians thought fit to deal to
Me. I only saw him, lying there against the door,
panting, bleeding from forehead and hands, his
clothes torn, his noble Face of a deathly Pallor. I
drew his handkerchief from his coat pocket and
staunched the wounds upon his face ; I pillowed his
head against my Shoulder ; I helped him to struggle
to his feet. He was in mortal pain and too weak
to speak; but a ray of kindliness and of gratitude
flashed through his eyes when he recognised me.

The Ruffians were apparently satisfied with their
hideous work ; but they still stood about at the top
of the Alley, laughing and talking, waiting no doubt
for their Blood Money. Oh ! if wishes could have
struck those Miscreants dumb or blind or palsied,
my feeble voice would have been raised to Heaven,
crying for Vengeance on such an infamous Deed.
Hot tears came coursing down my cheeks, my tem-
ples throbbed with pain and Misery, as my arm stole
round the trembling figure of my Friend.

Then all at once those tears were dried, the throb-
bing of my temples was stilled. I felt no longer
like a Man, but like a petrified Statue of Indigna-
tion and of Hate. jThe sound of my Lord Stour's
Voice had just struck upon mine ear. Vaguely
through the gloom I could see him and Lord Doug-
las Wychwoode parleying with those abominable
Ruffians. ... I heard the jingle of Money
. . . Blood Money . . . the ring of ribald
laughter, snatches of a bibulous song.


These sounds and the clang of the Gentlemen's
footsteps upon the cobble-stones also reached Mr.
Betterton's fast-fading Senses. I felt a tremor
coursing right through his limbs. With an almost
superhuman Effort, he pulled himself together and
drew himself erect, still clinging with both hands
to my arms. By the time that the two young Cav-
aliers had reached the end of the blind Alley, the
outraged Man was ready to confront them. Their
presence there, those sounds of jingling money and
of laughter, had told him the whole abominable tale.
He fought against his Weakness, against Pain and
against an impending Swoon. He was still livid,
but it was with Rage. His eyes had assumed an
unnatural Fire; his whole appearance as he stood
there against the solid background of the massive
door, was sublime in its forceful Expression of tow-
ering Wrath and of bitter, deadly Humiliation.

Even those two miserable Coxcombs paused for
an instant, silenced and awed by what they saw.
The laughter died upon their lips ; the studied sneer
upon their Face gave place to a transient expression
of fear.

Mr. Betterton's arm was now extended and with
trembling hand he pointed at Lord Stour.

'Tis You " he murmured hoarsely. " You

who have done this thing?"

" At your service," replied the young Man, with
a lightness of manner which was obviously forced
and a great show of Haughtiness and of Insolence.
" My friend Lord Douglas here, has allowed me the


privilege of chastising a common Mountebank for
daring to raise his eyes to the Lady Barbara Wych-
woode "

At mention of the Lady's name, I felt Mr.
Betterton's clutch on my arm tighten con-

" Does she " he queried, " does she know? "

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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 6 of 18)