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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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" I forbid You," interposed Lord Douglas curtly,
" to mention my Sister's name in the matter."

" 'Tis to my Lord Stour I am speaking," re-
joined Mr. Betterton more firmly. Then he added :
"You will give me satisfaction for this outrage,
my Lord "

"Satisfaction?" riposted his Lordship coolly.
" What do you mean? "

" One of us has got to die because of this," Mr.
Betterton said loudly.

Whereupon my Lord Stour burst into a fit of
hilarious laughter, which sounded as callous as it
was forced.

" A Duel ? " he almost shrieked, in a rasping
voice. " Ha ! ha ! ha ! a Duel ! ! ! a duel with You?
. . . With Tom Betterton, the Son of a Scullion.
... By my faith! 'tis the best joke you ever
made, Sir Actor . . . 'tis worth repeating upon
the Stage ! "

But the injured Man waited unmoved until his
Lordship's laughter died down in a savage Oath.
Then he said calmly :

"The day and hour, my Lord Stour?"

" This is folly, Sir," rejoined the young Cavalier


coldly. " The Earl of Stour can only cross swords
with an Equal."

" In that case, my lord," was Mr. Betterton's
calm reply, " you can only cross swords henceforth
with a Coward and a Liar."

" Damned, insolent cur ! " cried Lord Stour, mad-
dened with rage no doubt at the other's calm con-
tempt. He advanced towards us with arm uplifted
then perhaps felt ashamed, or frightened I know
not which. Certain it is that Lord Douglas suc-
ceeded in dragging him back a step or two, whilst
he said with well-studied contempt :

" Pay no further heed to the fellow, my Friend.
He has had his Punishment do not bandy further
Words with him."

He was for dragging Lord Stour away quickly
now. I do believe that he was ashamed of the
abominable Deed. At any rate, he could not bear
to look upon the Man who had been so diabolically

" Come away, Man ! " he kept reiterating at in-
tervals. " Leave him alone ! "

" One moment, my Lord," Mr. Betterton called
out in a strangely powerful tone of Voice. " I wish
to hear your last Word."

By now we could hardly see one another. The
Blind Alley was in almost total gloom. Only against
the fast-gathering dusk I could still see the hated
figures of the two young Cavaliers, their outlines
blurred by the evening haze. Lord Stour was cer-
tainly on the point of going; but at Mr. Betterton's


loudly spoken Challenge, he paused once more, then
came a step or two back towards us.

"My last Word?" he said coldly. Then he
looked Mr. Betterton up and down, his every Move-
ment, his whole Attitude, a deadly Insult. " One
does not fight with such as You," he said, laughed,
and would have turned away immediately, only that
Mr. Betterton, with a quick and unforeseen Move-
ment, suddenly reached forward and gripped him
by the Wrist.

" Insolent puppy ! " he said in a whisper, so hoarse
and yet so distinct that not an Intonation, not a
syllable of it was lost, " that knows not the Giant
it has awakened by its puny bark. You refuse to
cross swords with Tom Betterton, the son of a
Menial, as you choose to say? Very well, then,
'tis Thomas Betterton, the Artist of undying re-
nown, who now declares war against You. For
every Jeer to-day, for every Insult and for every
Blow, he will be even with You; for he will launch
against You the irresistible Thunderbolt that kills
worse than death and which is called Dishonour!
. . . Aye ! I will fight You, my Lord ; not to your
death, but to your undying Shame. And now," he
added more feebly, as he threw his Lordship's arm
away from him with a gesture of supreme contempt,
"go, I pray You, go! I'll not detain You any
longer. You and your friend are free to laugh for
the last time to-day at the name which I, with my
Genius, have rendered immortal. Beware, my
Lord ! The Ridicule that kills, the Obloquy which


smirches worse than the impious hands of paid
Lacqueys. This is the Word of Tom Betterton,
my Lord; the first of his name, as you, please God,
will be the last of yours! "

Then, without a groan, he fell, swooning, upon
my shoulder. When consciousness of my surround-
ings once more returned to me, I realized that the
two Gentlemen had gone.


It was after that never-to-be-forgotten Episode
that Mr. Betterton honoured me with his full and
entire Confidence. At the moment that he clung so
pathetically to my feeble arms, he realized, I think
for the first time, what a devoted Friend he would
always find in me. Something of the powerful
magical Fluid of my devotion must have emanated
from my Heart and reached his sensitive Percep-
tions. He knew from that hour that, while I lived
and had Health and Strength, I should never fail
him in Loyalty and willing Service.

Soon afterwards, if you remember, Mr. Better-
ton went again to Paris, by command of His
Majesty this time, there to study and to master the
whole Question of Scenery and scenic Effects upon
the Stage, such as is practised at the Theatre de
Moliere in the great City. That he acquitted him-
self of his task with Honour and Understanding
goes without saying. The rousing Welcome which
the public of London gave him on his return testi-
fied not only to his Worth but also to his Popularity.

The scenic Innovations, though daring and at
times crudely realistic, did, in the opinion of Ex-



perts, set off the art of Mr. Betterton to the greatest
possible Advantage. No doubt that his overwhelm-
ing Success at that time was in a great measure
due to his familiarity with all those authentic-
looking doors and trees and distant skies which at
first bewildered such old-fashioned actors as Mr.
Harris or the two Messrs. Noakes.

Never indeed had Mr. Betterton been so great
as he was now. Never had his Talents stood so high
in the estimation of the cultured World. His suc-
cess as Alvaro in " Love and Honour," as Solyman
in the "Siege of Rhodes," as Hamlett or Pericles,
stand before me as veritable Triumphs. Bouquets
and Handkerchiefs, scented Notes and Love-tokens,
were showered upon the brilliant Actor as he stood
upon the Stage, proudly receiving the adulation of
the Audience whom he had conquered by the Magic
of his Art.

His Majesty hardly ever missed a Performance
at the new Duke's Theatre when Mr. Betterton
was acting, nor did my Lady Castlemaine, who was
shamelessly vowing about that time that she was
prepared to bestow upon the great Man any Favour
he might ask of her.

But outwardly at any rate, Mr. Betterton had
become a changed Man. His robust Constitution
and splendid Vitality did in truth overcome the
physical after-effects of the abominable Outrage of
which he had been the Victim; but the moral con-


sequences upon his entire character and demeanour
were indeed incalculable. Of extraordinary purity
in his mode of living, it had been difficult, before
that Episode, for evil Gossip to besmirch his fair
name, even in these lax and scandalous times. But
after that grim September afternoon it seemed as
if he took pride in emulating the least esti-
mable characteristics of his Contemporaries. His
Majesty's avowed predilection for the great Actor
brought the latter into daily contact with all those
noble and beautiful Ladies who graced the Court
and Society, more by virtue of their outward ap-
pearance than of their inner worth. Scarce ever
was a banquet or fete given at While Hall now but
Mr. Betterton was not one of the most conspicuous
guests; never a Supper party at my Lady Castle-
maine's or my Lady Shrewsbury's but the famous
Actor was present there. He was constantly in the
company of His Grace of Buckingham, of my Lord
Rochester and others of those noble young Rakes;
his name was constantly before the Public; he was
daily to be seen on the Mall, or in St. James's Park,
or at the more ceremonious parade in Hyde Park.
His elegant clothes were the talk of every young
Gallant that haunted Fop's Corner; his sallies were
quoted by every Cavalier who strove for a reputa-
tion as a wit. In fact, dear Lady, You know just
as well as I do, that for that brief period of his
life Mr. Betterton became just one of the gay, idle,
modish young Men about town, one of that hard-
drinking, gambling, scandal-mongering crowd of


Idlers, who were none of them fit to tie the lacets
of his shoes.

I, who saw more and more of him in those days,
knew, however, that all that gay, butterfly Exist-
ence which he led was only on the surface. To me
he was like some poor Animal stricken by a mortal
wound, who, nevertheless, capers and gyrates be-
fore a grinning Public with mechanical movements
of the body that have nothing in common with the

Of the beautiful Lady Barbara I saw but little
during the autumn.

There was much talk in the Town about her forth-
coming Marriage to my Lord of Stour, which was
to take place soon after the New Year. Many were
the conjectures as to why so suitable a Marriage
did not take place immediately, and it seemed
strange that so humble and insignificant a Person as
I was could even then have supplied the key to the
riddle which was puzzling so many noble Ladies
and Gentlemen. I knew, in my humble capacity as
Spectator of great events, that the Marriage would
only take place after the vast and treasonable
projects which had originated in my Lord Douglas
Wychwoode's turbulent mind had come to a suc-
cessful issue.

I often confided to You, dear Mistress, in those
days that Mr. Betterton, in the kindness of his
Heart, had made me many an offer to leave my


present humdrum employment and to allow myself
to be attached to his Person as his private Secretary
and personal Friend. For a long time I refused his
offers tempting and generous though they were
chiefly because if I had gone then to live with Mr.
Betterton, I should have been irretrievably sepa-
rated from You. But in my Heart I knew that,
though the great Man was not in pressing need of a
Secretary, his soul did even long and yearn for a
Friend. A more devoted one, I vow, did not exist
than my humble self; and when, during the early
part of the autumn, You, dear Mistress, finally de-
cided to leave your present uncomfortable quarters
for lodgings more befitting your growing Fame and
your Talents, there was nothing more to keep me
tied to my dour and unsympathetic Employer, and
to his no less unpleasant Spouse.

I therefore gave Mr. Theophilus Baggs notice
that I had resolved to quit his Employ, hoping that
my Decision would meet with his Convenience.

I could not help laughing to myself when I saw
the manner in which he received this Announce-
ment. To say that he was surprised and indignant
would be to put it mildly; indeed, he used every
Mode of persuasion to try and make me alter my
decision. He began by chiding me for an Ingrate,
vowing that he had taught me all I knew and had
lavished Money and Luxuries upon me, and that I
was proposing to leave him just when the time had
come for him to see some slight return for his
Expenditure and for his pains, in my growing Effi-


ciency. He went on to persuade, to cajole and to
bribe, Mistress Euphrosine joining him both in
Vituperation and in Unctuousness. But, as You
know, I was adamant. I knew the value of all this
soft-sawder and mouth-honour. I had suffered too
many Hardships and too many Indignities at the
hands of these selfish Sycophants, to turn a deaf
ear now that friendship and mine own future hap-
piness called to me so insistently.

Finally, however, I yielded to the extent of agree-
ing to stay a further three months in the service of
Mr. Baggs, whilst he took steps to find another
Clerk who would suit his purpose. But I only
agreed to this on the condition that I was to be
allowed a fuller amount of personal Freedom than
I had enjoyed hitherto; that I should not be set any
longer to do menial tasks, which properly pertained
to a Scullion; and that, whenever my clerical work
for the day was done, I should be at liberty to
employ my time as seemed best to me.

Thus it was that I had a certain amount of leisure,
and after You left us, fair Mistress, I was able to
take my walks abroad, there where I was fairly
certain of meeting You, or of having a glimpse of
Mr. Betterton, surrounded by his brilliant Friends.

Often, dear Mistress, did You lavish some of your
precious time and company upon the seedy Attor-
ney's Clerk, who of a truth was not worthy to be
seen walking in the Park or in Mulberry Gardens be-
side the beautiful and famous Mistress Saunderson,
who by this time had quite as many Followers and


Adorers as any virtuous Woman could wish for.
You never mentioned Mr. Betterton to me in those
days, even though I knew that You must often have
been thrown in his Company, both in the Theatre
and in Society. That your love for him had not
died in your Heart, I knew from the wistful look
which was wont to come into your eyes whenever
You chanced to meet him in the course of a Prome-
nade. You always returned his respectful and
elaborate bow on those occasions with cool Com-
posure; but as soon as he had passed by and his rich,
mellow Voice, so easily distinguishable amongst
others, had died away in the distance, I, who knew
every line of your lovely face, saw the familiar
look of Sorrow and of bitter Disappointment once
more mar its perfect serenity.


We had an unusually mild and prolonged autumn
this past year, if you remember, fair Mistress; and
towards the end of October there were a few sunny
days which were the veritable aftermath of Sum-
mer. The London Parks and Gardens were
crowded day after day with Ladies and Gallants,
decked in their gayest attire, for the time to don
winter clothing still appeared remote.

I used to be fond of watching all these fair Ladies
and dazzling Cavaliers, and did so many a time on
those bright mornings whilst waiting to see You
pass. On one occasion I saw the Lady Barbara
Wychwoode, in company with my Lord Stour.


Heaven knows I have no cause to think kindly
of her; but truth compels me to say that she ap-
peared to me more beautiful than ever before. She
and his Lordship had found two chairs, up against
a tree, somewhat apart from the rest of the glit-
tering throng. I, as a Spectator, could see that they
were supremely happy in one another's company.

"How sweet the air is!" she was sighing con-
tentedly. More like spring than late autumn.
Ah, me ! How happily one could dream ! "

She threw him a witching glance, which no doubt
sent him straight to Heaven, for I heard him say
with passionate earnestness :

"Of what do Angels dream, my beloved?"

They continued to whisper, and I of course did
not catch all that they said. My Lord Stour was
obviously very deeply enamoured of the Lady Bar-
bara. Because of this I seemed to hate and despise
him all the more. Oh! when the whole World
smiled on him, when Fortune and Destiny showered
their most precious gifts into his lap, what right had
he to mar the soul which God had given him with
such base Passions as Jealousy and Cruelty ? With
his monstrous Act of unwarrantable violence he had
ruined the happiness of a Man greater, finer than
himself ; he had warped a noble disposition, soured
a gentle and kindly spirit. Oh! I hated him! I
hated him! God forgive me, but I had not one
spark of Christian spirit for him within my heart.
If it lay in my power, I knew that I was ready to
do him an Injury.


From time to time I heard snatches of his im-
passioned speeches. "Barbara, my beloved! Oh,
God ! how I love You ! " Or else : " 'Tis unspeak-
able joy to look into your eyes, joyous madness to
hold your little hand ! " And more of such stuff,
as Lovers know how to use.

And she, too, looked supremely happy. There
was a sparkle yi her eyes which spoke of a Soul
intoxicated with delight. She listened to him as if
every word from his lips was heaven-sent Manna
to her hungering heart. And I marvelled why this
should be; why she should listen to this self-
sufficient, empty-headed young Coxcomb and have
rejected with such bitter scorn the suit of a Man
worthy in every sense to be the Mate of a Queen.
And I thought then of Mr. Betterton kneeling
humbly before her, his proud Head bent before this
ignorant and wilful Girl, who had naught but cruel
words for him on her lips. And a great wrath pos-
sessed me, greater than it ever had been before. I
suppose that I am very wicked and that the Devil
of Revenge had really possessed himself of my
Soul; but then and there, under the trees, with the
translucent Dome of blue above me, I vowed bitter
hatred against those two, vowed that Fate should
be even with them if I, the humble Clerk, could
have a say in her decrees.


Just now, they were like two Children playing at
love. He was insistent and bold, tried to draw her


to him, to kiss her in sight of the fashionable throng
that promenaded up and down the Avenue less than
fifty yards away.

" A murrain on the Conventions ! " he said with
a light laugh, as she chided him for his ardour.
" I want the whole Universe to be witness of my

She placed her pretty hand playfully across his

" Hush, my dear Lord," she said with wonderful
tenderness. " Heaven itself, they say, is oft times
jealous to see such Happiness as ours. . . . And
I am so happy ..." she continued with a deep
sigh, " so happy that sometimes a horrible presenti-
ment seems to grip my heart ..."

" Presentiment of what, dear love ? " he queried

I did not catch what she said in reply, for just
at that moment I caught sight of Mr. Betterton
walking at a distant point of the Avenue, in the
Company of a number of admiring Friends.

They were hanging round him, evidently vastly
amused by some witty sallies of his. Never had I
seen him look more striking and more brilliant.
He wore a magnificent coat of steel-grey velvet
with richly embroidered waistcoat, and a cravat and
frills of diaphanous lace, whilst the satin breeches,
silk stockings and be-ribboned shoes set off his
shapely limbs to perfection. His Grace of Buck-
ingham was walking beside him, and he had my
Lady Shrewsbury upon his arm, whilst among his


Friends I recognised my Lords Orrery and Buck-
hurst, and the Lord Chancellor himself.

The Lady Barbara caught sight of Mr. Betterton,
too, I imagine, for as I moved away, I heard her
say in a curiously constrained voice :

" That man my Lord he is your deadly

" Bah ! " he retorted with a careless shrug of the
shoulders. " Actors are like toothless, ill-tempered
curs. They bark, but they are powerless to

Oh, I hated him! Heavens above! how I hated

How puny and insignificant he was beside his
unsuccessful Rival should of a surety have been
apparent even to the Lady Barbara. Even now,
Mr. Betterton, with a veritable crowd of Courtiers
around him, had come to a halt not very far from
where those two were sitting ; and it was very char-
acteristic of him that, even whilst the Duke of Buck-
ingham was whispering in his ear and the Countess
of Shrewsbury was smiling archly at him, his eyes
having found me, he nodded and waved his hand
to me.

A minute or two later, another group of Ladies
and Gallants, amongst whom Her Grace the
Duchess of York was conspicuous by her elegance
and the richness of her attire, literally swooped
down upon Mr. Betterton and his Friends, and Her


Grace's somewhat high-pitched voice came ringing
shrilly to mine ear.

" Ah, Mr. Betterton ! " she exclaimed. " Where
have you hid yourself since yesterday, you wicked,
adorable Man ? And I, who wished to tell you how
entirely splendid was your performance in that
supremely dull play you call ' Love and Honour.'
You were superb, Sir, positively superb! ... I
was telling His Grace a moment ago that every
Actor in the world is a mere Mountebank when
compared with Mr. Betterton's Genius."

And long did she continue in the same strain,
most of the Ladies and Gentlemen agreeing with
her and engaging in a chorus of Eulogy, all deliv-
ered in high falsetto voices, which in the olden days,
when first I knew him, would have set Mr. Better-
ton's very teeth on edge. But now he took up the
ball of airy talk, tossed it back to the Ladies, bowed
low and kissed Her Grace's hand I could see that
she gave his a significant pressure gave wit for wit
and flattery for flattery.

He had of a truth made a great success the day
before in a play called " Love and Honour," writ
by Sir William Davenant, when His Majesty him-
self lent his own Coronation Suit to the great Actor,
so that he might worthily represent the part of
Prince Alvaro. This Success put the crowning
Glory to his reputation, although in my humble
opinion it was unworthy of so great an Artist as
Mr. Betterton to speak the Epilogue which he had
himself written in eulogy of the Countess of Castle-


maine, and which he delivered with such magnificent
Diction at the end of the Play, that His Majesty
waxed quite enthusiastic in his applause.


Standing somewhat apart from that dazzling
group, I noticed my Lord Douglas Wychwoode, in
close conversation with my Lord Teammouth and
another Gentleman, who was in clerical attire.
After awhile, my Lord Stour joined them, the
Lady Barbara having apparently slipped away un-

My Lord Stour was greeted by his friends with
every mark of cordiality.

"Ah! " the Cleric exclaimed, and extended both
his hands which were white and plump to my
Lord. " Here is the truant at last ! " Then he
waxed playful, put up an accusing finger and added
with a smirking laugh : " Meseems I caught sight
of a petticoat just behind those trees, where his
Lordship himself had been apparently communing
with Nature, eh ? "

Whereupon my Lord Teammouth went on, not
unkindly and in that dogmatic way which he was
pleased to affect : " Youth will ever smile, even in
the midst of dangers ; and my Lord Stour is a great
favourite with the Ladies."

Lord Douglas Wychwoode was as usual petulant
and impatient, and rejoined angrily :

" Even the Castlemaine has tried to cast her nets
around him."


My Lord Stour demurred, but did not try to
deny the soft impeachment.

" Only because I am new at Court," he said, " and
have no eyes for her beauty."

This, of course, was News to me. I am so little
versed in Court and Society gossip and had not
heard the latest piece of scandal, which attributed to
the Lady Castlemaine a distinct penchant for the
young Nobleman. Not that it surprised me alto-
gether. The newly created Countess of Castle-
maine, who was receiving favours from His
Majesty the King with both hands, never hesitated
to deceive him, and even to render him ridiculous
by flaunting her predilections for this or that young
Gallant who happened to have captured her way-
ward fancy. My Lord Sandwich, Colonel Hamil-
ton, the handsome Mr. Wycherley, and even such a
vulgar churl as Jacob Hill, the rope dancer, had all,
at one time or another, been favoured with the lady's
fitful smiles, and while responding to her advances
with the Ardour born of Cupidity or of a desire for
self-advancement rather than of true love, they had
for the most part lost some shreds of their Repu-
tation and almost all of their Self-respect.

But at the moment I paid no heed to Lord Doug-
las' taunt levelled at his Friend, nor at the latter's
somewhat careless way of Retort. In fact, the
whole Episode did not then impress itself upon my
mind, and it was only in face of later events that I
was presently to be reminded of it all.



For the moment I was made happy by renewed
kindly glances from Mr. Betterton. It seemed as
if his eyes had actually beckoned to me, so I made
bold to advance nearer to the dazzling group of
Ladies and Gentlemen that stood about, talking
jabbering, I might say, like a number of gay-
plumaged birds, for they seemed to me irresponsible
and unintellectual in their talk.

Of course, I could not hear everything, and I
had to try and make my unfashionably attired Per-
son as inconspicuous as possible. So I drew a book
from my pocket, one that looked something like a
Greek Lexicon, though in truth it was a collection
of Plays writ by the late Mr. William Shakespeare,

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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 7 of 18)