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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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in one or two of which notably in one called
" Hamlett " Mr. Betterton had scored some of his
most conspicuous Triumphs.

The book, and my seeming absorption in it, gave
me the countenance of an earnest young Student
intent on the perusal of Classics, even whilst it
enabled me to draw quite near to the brilliant
Throng of Distinguished People, who, if they paid
any heed to me at all, would find excuses for my
Presumption in my obvious earnest Studiousness.
I was also able to keep some of my attention fixed
upon Mr. Betterton, who was surrounded by admir-
ing Friends; whilst at some little distance close by,
I could see Mr. Harris also of the Duke's Theatre
who was holding forth in a didactic manner be-


fore a group of Ladies and gay young Sparks, even
though they were inclined to mock him because of
his Conceit in pitting his talent against that of Mr.

There was no doubt that a couple of years ago
Mr. Harris could be, and was considered, the
greatest Actor of his time; but since Mr. Betterton
had consolidated his own triumph by playing the
parts of Pericles, of Hamlett and of Prince Alvaro
in " Love and Honour," the older Actor's reputa-
tion had undoubtedly suffered by comparison with
the Genius of his younger Rival, at which of course
he was greatly incensed. I caught sight now and
then of his florid face, so different in expression to
Mr. Betterton's more spiritual-looking countenance,
and from time to time his pompous, raucous voice
reached my ears, as did the more strident, high-
pitched voices of the Ladies. I heard one young
Lady say, to the accompaniment of some pretty,
mincing gestures :

" Mr. Betterton was positively rapturous last
night . . . enchanting! You, Mr. Harris, will in
truth have to look to your laurels."

And an elderly Lady, a Dowager of obvious con-
sideration and dignity, added in tones which brooked
of no contradiction :

' My opinion is that there never has been or ever
will be a Player equal to Mr. Betterton in Purity
of Diction and Elegance of Gesture. He hath in-
deed raised our English Drama to the level of High


I could have bowed low before her and kissed
her hand for this ; aye ! and have paid homage, too,
to all these gaily-dressed Butterflies who, in truth,
had more Intellectuality in them than I had given
them credit for. Every word of Eulogy of my
beloved Friend was a delight to my soul. I felt
mine eyes glowing with enthusiasm and had grave
difficulty in keeping them fixed upon my book.

I had never liked Mr. Harris personally, for I
was wont to think his conceit quite overweening
beside the unalterable modesty of Mr. Betterton,
who was so incomparably his Superior; and I was
indeed pleased to see that both the Dowager Lady
who, I understood, was the Marchioness of Badles-
mere and the younger Ladies and Gentlemen felt
mischievously inclined to torment him.

" What is your opinion, Mr. Harris? " my Lady
Badlesmere was saying to the discomfited Actor.
" It would be interesting to know one Player's
opinion of another."

She had a spy-glass, through which she regarded
him quizzically, whilst a mocking smile played
around her thin lips. This, no doubt, caused poor
Mr. Harris to lose countenance, for as a rule he is
very glib of tongue. But just now he mouthed and
stammered, appeared unable to find his words.

" It cannot be denied, your Ladyship," he began
sententiously enough, " that Mr. Betterton's ges-
tures are smooth and pleasant, though they perhaps
lack the rhythmic grandeur . . . the dignified
sweep ... of ... of ... the ..."


He was obviously floundering, and the old Lady
broke in with a rasping laugh and a tone of some-
what acid sarcasm.

"Of the gestures of Mr. Harris, you mean, eh? "

" No, Madam," he retorted testily, and distinctly
nettled. " I was about to say ' of the gestures of
our greatest Actors/ '

" Surely the same thing, dear Mr. Harris," a
young Lady rejoined with well-assumed demure-
ness, and dropped him a pert little curtsey.

I might have been sorry for the Man for of a
truth these small pin-pricks must have been very
irritating to his Vanity, already sorely wounded by
a younger Rival's triumph but for the fact that
he then waxed malicious, angered no doubt by hear-
ing a veritable Chorus of Eulogy proceeding from
that other group of Ladies and Gentlemen of which
Mr. Betterton was the centre.

I do not know, as a matter of fact, who it was
who first gave a spiteful turning to the bantering,
mocking Conversation of awhile ago; but in my
mind I attributed this malice to Lord Douglas
Wychwoode, who came up with his clerical friend
just about this time, in order to pay his respects to
the Marchioness of Badlesmere, who, I believe, is
a near Relative of his. Certain it is that very soon
after his arrival upon the scene, I found that every
one around him was talking about the abominable
Episode, the very thought of which sent my blood
into a Fever and my thoughts running a veritable
riot of Revenge and of Hate. Of course, Mr. Har-


ris was to the fore with pointed Allusions to the
grave Insult done to an eminent Artist, and which,
to my thinking, should have been condemned by
every right-minded Man or Woman who had a
spark of lofty feeling in his or her heart.

"Ah, yes!" one of the Ladies was saying; "I
heard about it at the time ... a vastly diverting
story. ..."

" Which went the round of the Court," added

" Mr. Betterton's shoulders," a gay young Spark
went on airily, " are said to be still very sore."

" And his usually equable Temper the sorer of the

Lord Douglas did not say much, but I felt his
spiteful Influence running as an undercurrent
through all that flippant talk.

" Faith ! " concluded one of the young Gallants,
" were I my Lord Stour, I would not care to have
Mr. Betterton for an enemy."

" An Actor can hit with great accuracy and
harshness from the Stage," Mr. Harris went on
pompously. " He speaks words which a vast Public
hears and goes on to repeat ad infinitum. Thus a
man's aye! or a Lady's reputation can be made
or marred by an Epilogue spoken by a popular
Player at the end of a Drama. We all remember
the case of Sir William Liscard, after he had quar-
relled with Mr. Kynaston."

Whereupon that old story was raked up, how Mr.
Kynaston had revenged himself for an insult upon


him by Sir William Liscard by making pointed
Allusions from the Stage to the latter's secret in-
trigue with some low-class wench, and to the Pun-
ishment which was administered to him by the
wench's vulgar lover. The Allusions were unmis-
takable, because that punishment had taken the form
of a slit nose, and old Sir William had appeared in
Society one day with a piece of sticking plaster
across the middle of his face.

Well, we all know what happened after that. Sir
William, covered with Ridicule, had to leave Lon-
don for awhile and bury himself in the depths of the
Country, for, in Town he could not show his face
in the streets but he was greeted with some vulgar
lampoon or ribald song, hurled at him by passing
roisterers. It all ended in a Tragedy, for Lady
Liscard got to hear of it, and there was talk of
Divorce proceedings, which would have put Sir
William wholly out of Court His Majesty being
entirely averse to the dissolution of any legal Mar-

But all this hath naught to do with my story, and
I only recount the matter to You to show You how,
in an instant, the temper of all these great Ladies
and Gentlemen can be swayed by the judicious hand-
ling of an evil-minded Person.

All these Ladies and young Rakes, who awhile
ago were loud in their praises of a truly great Man,
now found pleasure in throwing mud at him, ridi-
culing and mocking him shamefully, seeing that,
had he been amongst them, he would soon have con-


founded them with his Wit and brought them back
to Allegiance by his magic Personality.

Once again I heard a distinct Allusion to the
Countess of Castlemaine's avowed predilection for
Lord Stour. It came from one of the Cavaliers,
who said to Lord Douglas, with an affected little
laugh :

" Perhaps my Lord Stour would do well to place
himself unreservedly under the protection of Lady
Castlemaine ! Tis said that she is more than willing
to extend her Favours to him."

" Nay ! Stour hath nothing to fear," Lord Doug-
las replied curtly. " He stands far above a mere
Mountebank's spiteful pin-pricks."

Oh! had but God given me the power to strike
such a Malapert dumb! I looked around me, mar-
velling if there was not one sane Person here who-
would stand up in the defence of a great and tal-
ented Artist against this jabbering of irresponsible

I must admit, however, that directly Mr. Better-
ton appeared upon the scene the tables were quickly
turned once more on Mr. Harris, and even on Lord
Douglas, for Mr. Betterton is past Master in the
art of wordy Warfare, and, moreover, has this great
Advantage, that he never loses control over his
Temper. No malicious shaft aimed at him will ever
ruffle his Equanimity, and whilst his Wit is most


caustic, he invariably retains every semblance of
perfect courtesy.

He now had the Duchess of York on his arm,
and His Grace of Buckingham had not left his side.
His Friends were unanimously chaffing him about
that Epilogue which he had spoken last night, and
which had so delighted the Countess of Castlemaine.
My Lord Buckhurst and Sir William Davenant were
quoting pieces out of it, whilst I could only feel
sorry that so great a Man had lent himself to such
unworthy Flattery.

"'Divinity, radiant as the stars!*" Lord Buck-
hurst quoted with a laugh. " By gad, you Rogue,
you did not spare your words."

Mr. Betterton frowned almost imperceptibly, and
I, his devoted Admirer, guessed that he was not a
little ashamed of the fulsome Adulation which he
had bestowed on so unworthy an Object, and I was
left to marvel whether some hidden purpose as yet
unknown to me had actuated so high-minded an
Artist thus to debase the Art which he held so dear.
It was evident, however, that the whole Company
thought that great things would come from that
apparently trivial incident.

" My Lady Castlemaine," said Sir William Dave-
nant, " hath been wreathed in smiles ever since you
spoke that Epilogue. She vows that there is nothing
she would not do for You. And, as already You are
such a favourite with His Majesty, why, Man! there
is no end to your good fortune."

And I, who watched Mr. Betterton's face again,


thought to detect a strange, mysterious look in his
eyes something hidden and brooding was going on
behind that noble brow, something that was alto-
gether strange to the usually simple, unaffected and
sunny temperament of the great Artist, and which
I, his intimate Confidant and Friend, had not yet
been able to fathom.

Whenever I looked at him these days, I was con-
scious as of a sultry Summer's day, when nature is
outwardly calm and every leaf on every tree is still.
It is only to those who are initiated in the mysteries
of the Skies that the distant oncoming Storm is
revealed by a mere speck of cloud or a tiny haze
upon the Bosom of the Firmament, which hath no
meaning to the unseeing eye, but which foretells
that the great forces of Nature are gathering up
their strength for the striking of a prodigious blow.



I, in the meanwhile, had relegated the remem-
brance of Lord Douglas Wychwoode and his
treasonable Undertakings to a distant cell of my
mind. I had not altogether forgotten them, but
had merely ceased to think upon the Subject.

I was still nominally in the employ of Mr. Baggs,
but he had engaged a new Clerk a wretched, puny
creature, whom Mistress Euphrosine already held in
bondage and I was to leave his Service definitely
at the end of the month.

In the meanwhile, my chief task consisted in
initiating the aforesaid wretched and puny Clerk
into the intricacies of Mr. Theophilus Baggs' busi-
ness. The boy was slow-witted and slow to learn,
and Mr. Baggs, who would have liked to prove to
me mine own Worthlessness, was nevertheless
driven into putting some of his more important
work still in my charge.

Thus it came to pass that all his Correspondence
with Lord Douglas Wychwoode went through my
Hands, whereby I was made aware that the Traitors
for such in truth they were were only waiting
for a favourable opportunity to accomplish their
damnable Purpose.



They meant to kidnap His Majesty's sacred Per-
son, to force him to sign an Abdication in favour
of the son of Mistress Barlow now styled the Duke
of Monmouth with the Prince of Orange as
Regent during the Duke's minority.

A more abominable and treasonable Project it
were impossible to conceive, and many a wrestling
match did I have with mine own Conscience, whilst
debating whether it were my Duty or no to betray
the confidence which had been reposed in me, and
to divulge the terrible Secret of that execrable plot,
which threatened the very life of His Majesty the

I understood that the Manifestos which it had
been my task to multiplicate, had met with some
success. Several Gentlemen, who held rigidly
Protestant views, had promised their support to a
project which ostensibly aimed at the overthrow of
the last vestiges of Popery in the Country. My
Lord Stour, who had also become a firm Adherent
of the nefarious scheme, in deference, I presume,
to the Lady Barbara's wishes in the matter, had, it
seems, rendered valuable service to the cause, by
travelling all over the Country, seeing these pro-
posed Adherents in person and distributing the fiery
Manifestos which were to rally the Waverers to the

I imagined, however, that the whole project was
in abeyance for the moment, for I had heard but
little of it of late; until one day I happened to be
present when the Conspirators met in the house of
Mr. Theophilus Baggs.


How it came to pass that these Gentlemen who
were literally playing with their lives in their ne-
farious undertaking talked thus openly of their
Plans and Projects in my hearing, I do not pretend
to say. It is certain that they did not suspect me;
thought me one of themselves, no doubt, since I
had written out the Manifestos and was Clerk to
Mr. Baggs, who was with them Body and Soul.
No doubt, had Mr. Baggs been on the spot on that
day, he would have warned the Traitors of my pres-
ence, and much of what happened subsequently
would never have occurred.

Thus doth Fate at times use simple tools to gain
her own ends, and it was given to an insignificant
Attorney's Clerk to rule, for this one day, the future
Destinies of England.

My Lord Stour was present on that memorable
afternoon. I am betraying no Secret nor doing him
an injury by saying that, because his connection
with the Affair is of public knowledge, as is that of
Lord Douglas Wychwoode. The names of the other
Gentlemen whom I saw in Mr. Baggs' room that
day I will, by your leave, keep hidden behind the
veil of Anonymity, contenting myself by calling the
most important among them my Lord S., and an-
other Sir J., whilst there was also present on that
occasion the gentleman in clerical Attire whom I
had seen of late in Lord Douglas' Company, and
who was none other than the Lord Bishop of D.

My Lord Stour was in great favour amongst


them all. Every one was praising him and shaking
him by the hand. His Lordship the Bishop took it
upon himself to say, as he did most incisively :

" Gentlemen ! I am proud and happy to affirm
that it is to the Earl of Stour that we shall owe
to-night the Success of our Cause. It is he who
has distributed our Appeal and helped to rally round
us some of our most loyal Friends! "

Lord Stour demurred, deprecated his own efforts.
His Attitude was both modest and firm; I had not
thought him capable of so much Nobility of Manner.

But, believe me, dear Mistress, that I felt literally
confounded by what I heard. Mr. Baggs, who had
pressing business in town that day, had commanded
me to remain at home in order to receive certain
Gentlemen who were coming to visit him. I had
introduced some half-dozen of them, and they had
all gone into the inner office, but left the communi-
cating door between that room and the parlour wide
open, apparently quite acquiescing in my presence
there. In fact, they had all nodded very familiarly
to me as they entered ; evidently they felt absolutely
certain of my Discretion. This, as you will readily
understand, placed me in a terrible Predicament.
Where lay my duty, I did not know; for, in truth,
to betray the Confidence of those who trust in You
is a mean and low trick, unworthy of a right-minded
Christian. At the same time, there was His
Majesty the Kings' own sacred Person in peril, and
that, as far as I could gather, on this very night;
and surely it became equally the duty of every loyal


Subject in the land to try and protect his Sovereign
from the nefarious attacks of Traitors!

Be that as it may, however, I do verily believe
that if my Lord Stour whom I hated with so
deadly a hatred, and who had done my dear, dear
Friend such an irreparable injury if he, I say, had
not been mixed up in the Affair, I should have done
my duty as a Christian rather than as a subject of
the State.

But You, dear Mistress, shall be judge of mine
actions, for they have a direct bearing upon those
subsequent events which have brought Mr. Betterton
once again to your feet.

I have said that my Lord Stour received his
Friends' congratulations and gratitude with becom-
ing Modesty; but his Lordship the Bishop and also
Lord S. insisted.

" It is thanks to your efforts, my dear Stour,"
Lord S. said, " that at last success is assured."

" But for you," added the Bishop, " our plan
to-night might have miscarried."

My God ! I thought, then it is for to-night ! And
I felt physically sick, whilst wondering what I
should do. Even then, Lord Douglas Wychwoode's
harsh Voice came quite clearly to mine ear.

'The day is ours!" he said, with a note of
triumph in his tone. " Ere the sun rises again over
our downtrodden Country, her dissolute King and
his Minions will be in our hands ! "

" Pray God it may be so! " assented one of the
others piously.


" It shall and will be so," protested Lord Douglas
with firm emphasis. " I know for a fact that the
King sups with the Castlemaine to-night. Well!
we are quite ready. By ten o'clock we shall have
taken up our Positions. These have all been most
carefully thought out. Some of us will be in hiding
in the Long Avenue in the Privy Garden; others
under the shadow of the Wall of the Bowling
Green; whilst others again have secured excellent
points of vantage in King Street. I am in com-
mand of the Party, and I give you my word that
my Company is made up of young Enthusiasts.
They, like ourselves, have had enough of this cor-
rupt and dissolute Monarch, who ought never to
have been allowed to ascend the Throne which his
Father had already debased."

" You will have to be careful of the Night Watch-
men about the Gardens, and of the Bodyguard at
the Gate," one of the Gentlemen broke in.

" Of course we'll be careful," Lord Douglas
riposted impatiently. " We have minimized our
risks as far as we are able. But the King, when he
sups with the Castlemaine, usually goes across to her
House unattended. Sometimes he takes a Man with
him across the Privy Gardens, but dismisses him
at the back door of Her Ladyship's House. As for
the City Watchmen over in King Street, they will
give us no trouble. If they do, we can easily over-
power them. The whole thing is really perfectly
simple," he added finally; " and the only reason why
we have delayed execution is because we wanted as


many Sympathizers here in London as pos-

" Now," here interposed His Lordship the Bishop,
" thanks to my Lord Stour's efforts, a number of
our Adherents have come up from the country and
have obtained lodgings in various Quarters of the
town, so that to-morrow morning, when we pro-
claim the Duke of Monmouth King and the Prince
of Orange Regent of the Realm, we shall be in
sufficient numbers to give to our successful Coup
the appearance of a national movement."

" Personally," rejoined Lord Douglas, with some-
thing of a sneer, " I think that the Populace will be
very easily swayed. The Castlemaine is not popular.
The King is; but it is a factitious Popularity, and
one easily blown upon, once we have his Person
safely out of the way. And we must remember
that the ' No Popery ' cry is still a very safe
card to play with the mob," he added with a dry

Then they all fell to and discussed their abomin-
able Plans all over again; whilst I, bewildered,
wretched, indignant, fell on my knees and marvelled,
pondered what I should do. My pulses were throb-
bing, my head was on fire ; I had not the faculty for
clear thinking. And there, in the next room, not
ten paces away from where I knelt in mute and
agonized Prayer, six Men were planning an outrage
against their King; amidst sneers and mirthless
laughter and protestations of loyalty to their Coun-
try, they planned the work of Traitors. They drew


their Swords and there was talk of invoking God's
blessing upon their nefarious Work.

God's blessing ! Methought 'twas Blasphemy, and
I put my hands up to mine ears lest I should hear
those solemn words spoken by a consecrated Bishop
of our Church, and which called for the Almighty's
help to accomplish a second Regicide.

Aye! A Regicide! What else was it? as all
those fine Gentlemen knew well enough in their
hearts. Would not the King resist ? He was young
and vigorous. Would he not call for help? Had
not my Lady Castlemaine Servants who would rush
to His Majesty's assistance? What then? Was
there to be murder once more, and bloodshed and
rioting fighting such as we poor Citizens of this
tortured land had hoped was behind us forever?

And if it came to a hand-to-hand scuffle with the
King's most Sacred Majesty? My God! I shud-
dered to think what would happen then !

There was a mighty humming in my ears, like
the swarm of myriads of bees; a red veil gradually
spread before my eyes, which obscured the familiar
Surroundings about me. Through the haze which
gradually o'er-clouded my brain, I heard the voices
of those Traitors droning out their blasphemous

" Swear only to draw your swords in this just
cause, and not to shed unnecessary blood ! "

And then a chorus which to my ears sounded like
the howling of Evil Spirits let loose from hell :

"We swear!"


" Then may God's blessing rest upon You. May
His Angels guard and protect You and give You
the strength to accomplish what You purpose
to do!"

There was a loud and prolonged " Amen ! " But
I waited no longer. I rose from my knees, suddenly
calm and resolved. Do not laugh at me, dear Mis-
tress, for my conceit and my presumption when I
say that I felt that the destinies of England rested
in my hands.

Another Regicide! Oh, my God! Another era
of civil Strife and military Dictatorship such as we
had endured in the past decade! Another era of
Suspicions and Jealousies and Intrigues between the
many Factions who would wish to profit by this
abominable crime! It was unthinkable. Whether
the King was God's Anointed or not, I, for one, am
too ignorant to decide; but this I know, that the
Stuart Prince was chosen little more than a year
ago by the will of his People, that he returned to
England acclaimed and beloved by this same Popu-
lace which was now to be egged on to treason against
him by a handful of ambitious Malcontents, who
did not themselves know what it was they wanted.

No ! It should not be ! Not while there existed
an humble and puny subject of this Realm who had
it in his power to put a spoke in the wheel of that
Chariot of Traitors.

Ah! there was no more wavering in my heart
now ! no more doubts and hesitation ! I would not
be betraying the confidence of a trusting Man;


merely disposing of a secret which Chance had
tossed carelessly in my path a Secret which per-

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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 8 of 18)