HIS MAJESTY’S WELL-BELOVED
A Story of the Time of the Merrie Monarch
Author of “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” “The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel,” etc.
SHE went close up to the desk and began to finger idiy the books and papers which lay scattered pellmell upon it, he still gazing on her as if he had not yet realized the actuality of her presence. Anon she looked inquiringly about her.
“What a charming room!” she said, with a little cry of wonder. “So new to me! I have never seen an artist’s room before.”
“For weeks and months,” Mr. Betterton rejoined simply, “this one has been a temple, hallowed by thoughts of you. Your presence now has henceforth made it a sanctuary.”
She turned full, enquiring eyes upon him and replied with childlike ingenuousness:
“Yet must you wonder, sir, at my presence here. . . alone. . . . and at this hour.”
“In my heart,” he replied, “there is such an infinity of happiness that there is no room for wonder.” “An infinity of happiness?” she said with a quaint little sigh. “That is what we are all striving for, is it not? The Scriptures tell us that this earth is a vale of tears. No wonder!” she added naively, “since we are so apt to allow happiness to pass us by.”
Oh ! how I wished I had the courage then and there to reveal myself to these twain, to rush out of my hiding-place and seize that wily temptress who, I felt sure, was here only for the undoing of a jpian whom she hated with unexampled bitterness. Oh, why hath grudging nature made me weak and cowardly and diffident, when my whole soul yearns at times to be resourceful and bold? Believe me, dear Mistress, that my mind and my will-power were absolutely torn between two impulses—the one prompting me to put a stop to this dangerous and purposeless interview, this obvious trap set to catch a great and unsuspecting artist unawares; and the other urging me not to interfere, but rather to allow destiny, fate or the will of God alone to straighten out the web of my friend’s life, which had been embroiled by such passions as were foreign to his noble nature.
And now I am thankful that I allowed this latter counsel to prevail. The will of God did indeed shape the destinies of men this night, for their betterment and ultimate happiness. But, for the moment, the threads of many a life did appear to be most hopelessly tangled; the Lady Barbara Wychwoode, daughter of the Marquis of Sidbury, the fiancée of the Earl of Stour, was in the house of Tom Betterton, His Majesty’s Well-Beloved Servant, and he was passionately enamoured of her and had vowed vengeance against the man she loved. As he gazed on her now there was no hatred in his glance, no evil passion disturbed the look of adoration wherewith he regarded
“Barbara,” he pleaded humbly, “be merciful to me. . . . For pity’s sake, do not mock me with your smile! My dear, do you not see that I scarce can believe that I live. . . and that you are here. . . . You ....You!” he went on, with passionate earnestness. “My divinity, whom I only dare approach on bended knees, whose garment I scarce dare touch with my trembling lips!”
T T E bent the knee and raised the long, floating end of her cloudlike veil to his lips. I could have sworn at that moment that she recoiled from him and that she made a gesture to snatch away the veil, as if his very touch on it had been pollution. That gesture and the recoil were, however, quite momentary. The next second, even whilst he rose once more to his feet, she had already recovered herself.
“Hush!” she said gently, and drew herself artlessly away from his nearness. “I want to listen. . . . People say that angels wait upon Mr. Betterton when he
studies his part.....and I want to hear the flutter
of their wings.”
“The air vibrates with the echo of your sweet name,” he rejoined, and his exquisite voice sounded mellow and vibrant as a sensitive instrument touched by a master’s hand. “Your name, which with mad longing I have breathed morning, noon and eve. And now
.... now. . . I am not dreaming.....You are near
me!..... You, the perfect Lady Barbara...... my
Lady Babs. ... And you look — almost happy!”
SYNOPSIS.—This is the story of Thomas Betterton, a famous actor, and Joyce Saunderson, as told by John Honeywood, clerk to Theophilus Baggs, a lawyer. Betterton is infatuated with Lady Barbara Wychwoode. His attentions to her are resented by her brother, and by Lord Stour, her lover, and they hire some ruffians to make a dastardly attack on him. They refuse to accept Betterton’s challenge to a duel, considering him as beneath their notice. Baggs. Stour and Lord Douglas Wychwoode are engaged in a plot to seize and dethrone King Charles II.. and .Honeywood is ordered to make copies of a treasonable document in connection with the plot. To avenge Betterton, Honeywood discloses the plot to Lady Castlemaine, the favorite of the King. They are arrested and, at the request of Betterton, Lady Castlemaine secures thé pardon of Stour. Betterton then spreads the rumor that Stour's, release is the result of his having turned King's evidence, and men begin to shun him. Betterton and Stour meet and the latter agrees to fight him, but Betterton now refuses. As he moves away he meets Lady Barbara, who tries to persuade him to clear Stour’s name.
He refuses and declares that he intends to tell the story of Stour’s infamy in the form of an epilogue to be spoken the next day from the stage. The only inducement he ill consider to save Stour is the offer of her love. Lady t his rooms that night.
She gave him a look—the true look of a siren, as to enchain the will of man.
“Happy?” she queried demurely. “Nay, sir......
“Puzzled?” he echoed. “Why?”
“Wondering,” she replied, “what magic is in the air
that could make a women’s heart..... forsake one
l°ve.....for ......for another.”
Yes! She said this, and looked on him straight between the eyes as she spoke. Yet I knew that she lied, could have screamed the accusation'at her, so convinced was I that she was playing some subtle and treacherous game, designed to entrap him and to deliver him helpless and broken into her power. But he, alas! was blinded by his passion. He saw no siren in her, no falsehood in her smile. At her words, I saw a great light of happiness illumine his face.
“Barbara!’ he pleaded. “Have pity on me, for my reason wanders. I dare not call it back, lest this magic hour should prove to be a dream!”
He tried to take her in his arms, but she evaded him, ran to the other side of the desk, laughing merrily like a child. Once again her delicate fingers started to toy with the papers scattered there.
“Oh, ho!” she exclaimed, with well-feigned astonish-
ment. “Your desk! Why, this,” ¿he said, placing her
hand upon the neat pile before her, “must be that very
thunderbolt wherewith to-morrow you mean to crush
an arrogant enemy!”
“Barbara !” he rejoined with ever growing passion, and strove to take her hand. “Will you not let me tell you —”
“Yes, yes!” she replied archly, and quietly withdrew her hand from his grasp. “You shall speak to me anon some of those speeches of our great poets, which your genius hath helped to immortalize. To hear Mr.
Betterton recite will be an inestimable privilege. . . . which your many admirers, sir, will envy me.”
“The whole world would envy me to-night,” he retorted, and gazed on her with such ardour that she was forced to lower her eyes and to hide their expression behind the delicate curtain of her lashes.
T WHO was the dumb spectator of this cruel game, saw that the Lady Barbara was feeling her way towards her goal. There was so much excitement in her, such palpitating vitality, that her very heartbeats seemed to find their echo in my breast. Of course, I did not know yet what game it was that she was playing. All that I knew was that it was both deadly and treacherous. Even now, when Mr. Betterton once more tried to approach her and she as instinctively as before recoiled before him, she contrived to put strange softness into her voice, and a subtle, insidious promise which helped to confuse his brain.
“No—no!” she said. “Not just yet. . I pray you
have pity on my blushes. I — I still am affianced to
my Lord Stour......although ......”
“You are right, my beloved,” he rejoined simply. “I will be patient, even though I am standing on the threshold of Paradise. But will you not be merciful? I cannot see you well. Will you not take off that veil?
* . , , , .
.....U CaStS a dark shadow over your brow
This time she allowed him to come near her and, quite slowly, she unwound the yeil from round her head. He took it from her as if it were some hallowed relic, too sacred to be polluted by earthly touch. And, as her back was turned towards him, he crushed the gossamer between his hands and pressed its fragrance to his lips.
“There!” she said coolly. “’Tis done. Your magic, Sir Actor, has conquered again.”
It seemed to me that she was more self-possessed now than she had been when first she entered the room. Indeed her serenity appeared to grow as his waned perceptibly. She still was a little restless, wandering aimlessly about the room, fingering the books, the papers, the works of art that lay everywhere about; but it seemed like the restlessness of curiosity rather than of excitement. In her own mind she felt that she held the winning hand—of this I was convinced— and that she could afford to toy with and to befool the man who had dared to measure his power against hers.
After awhile, she sat down in the chair which he had brought forward for her, and which stood close to the desk.
“And now, sir,” she said with cool composure, “’tis you who must humour me. I have a fancy. . . . now, at this moment......and my desire is to be thorough-
“Every whim of yours,” he rejoined, “is a command to your humble slave.”
“Truly?” she queried.
“Then will you let me see you. . . . sitting at your desk, pen in hand .... writing something just for me?”
“All my work of late,” he replied, “has been done because of you. . . . but I am no poet. What I speak may have some merit. What I write hath
“Oh!” she protested with well-simulated coquetry, “what I desire you to write for me, Sir Actor, will have boundless merit. It is just a couple of lines designed
to.....to..... prove your love for me — Oh!” she
added quickly, “I scarce dare believe in it, Sir. . . .
I scarce understood ......you remember, this morn-
ing in the park, I was so excited, yet you asked me — to be — your wife!”
“My wife?” he cried, his voice ringing with triumphant passion. “And you would consent? —”
“And so I came,” she replied, evading a direct answer, “to see if I had been dreaming .... if indeed the great and illustrious Mr. Betterton has stooped to
love a woman ..... and for the sake of that love
would do a little thing for her.”
I IES! Lies! I knew7 that every word which she spoke was nothing but a lie. My God! if only I could have unriddled her purpose! If only I could have guessed what went on behind those marvellous eyes of hers, deep and unfathomable as the sea! All I knew —and this I did in the very innermost of my soul— was that the Lady Barbara Wychwoode had come here to-night in order to trick Mr. Betterton, and to turn his love for her to advantage for my Lord Stour. How carefully she had thought out the part which she meant to play, how completely she meant to have him at her mercy, only in order to mock and deride him in the end, I had yet to learn.
Even now she completed his undoing, the addling of his noble mind by casting looks of shy coquetry upon him. What man is there who could have resisted them? What man, who was himself so deeply infatuated as was Mr. Betterton, could believe that there was trickery in those glances? He sat down at his desk as she had desired him to do, and drew pen, ink and paper closer to his hand.
“An you asked my life,” he said simply, “I would gladly give it to prove my love for you.” Then, as she remained silent and meditative, he added: “What is
your Ladyship’s wish?”
“Oh!” she replied, “’tis a small matter.....It
concerns the Earl of Stour ...... We were friends
once.......playmates when we were children
____ That friendship ripened into a—a—semblance of love. No! No!” she went on rapidly, seeing that at her words he had made a swift movement, leaning towards her. “I pray you, listen. That semblance of love may have gone .... but friendship still abides.
My Lord Stour, the playmate of my childhood, is in sore trouble .... I, his friend, would wish to help him, and cannot do this without your aid. Will you—will you grant me this aid, Sir,” she queried shyly, “if I beg it of you?”
“Your Ladyship has but to command,” he answered vaguely, for in truth his whole mind was absorbed in the contemplation of her loveliness.
“ ’Twas you,” she asserted boldly, “who begged for h i s Lordship's pardon from the Countess of Cas-
he who betrayed his friends. That is a fact, is it not?”
“A fact. Yes,” he re-
“Then I pray you, Sir, write that down,” she pleaded, with an ingenuous, childish gesture,
“and sign it with your ¿me .... just to please
She looked like a lovely child begging for a toy.
To think of guile in connection with those eyes, with ders
that smile, seemed almost a sacrilege. And my poor friend was so desperately infatuated just then! Has any man ever realized that a woman is fooling him, when she really sets her wiles to entrap him? Surely not a man of Mr. Betterton’s keen, artistic and hotblooded temperament. I saw it all now, yet I dared not move. For one thing, the time had gone by when I might have done it with good effect. Now it was too late. Any interference on my part would only have led to ignominy for myself and the severance of a friendship that I valued more than life itself. Betwixt a friend’s warning and a woman’s cajolery, what man would hesitate? What could I in any event have done now save to hold up the inevitable catastrophe for a few moments—a few seconds, perhaps? Truly my hour was past. I could but wait now in silence and misery until the end.
'T'HERE she sat, pleading, speaking that eternal A phrase which since the beginning of primeval times hath been used by wily woman for the undoing of a generous-minded man.
“Will you do this, Sir—just to please me?”
“I swear to you that it shall be done,” he rejoined with passionate fervour. “But will you not let me tell you first-”
“No!—No!” she said quickly, clasping her delicate hands. “I pray you—not just yet. I—I so long to see you write .... there .... at this desk where lie piled letters from every illustrious person and every crowned head in Europe. And now you will write,” she entreated, in the tone of an indulged and wayward child. “You will? Just one little document for me, because .... because you say you love me, and .... because .... I .... ”
“Barbara!” he cried in an ecstasy of happiness. “My beloved !”
“No! no!” she reiterated firmly. “When you have
He was on the point of falling on his knees, but once more a demure gesture, a drawing back of her whole figure, restrained him.
written, I will listen -” Another glance, and he
was vanquished. Then she completed her phrase— “to all you have to say.”
He drew back with a sigh, and took up his pen.
“As you command,” he said simply, and made ready to write.
E'VEN now, whene’er I close mine eyes, I can see •L those twain as a vivid picture before me. The massive desk, littered with papers, the candles flickering in their sconces, illumining with their elusive light the figure of the great actor, sitting with shoul-
slightly bent forward, one arm resting upon the
desk, half buried in the filmy folds of her ladyship’s veil, his face upturned towards the enchantress who held him at this hour, an absolute slave to her will. She had risen from her chair and stood immediately behind him: her face I could not see, for her back was towards me, but the light caught the loose tendrils of her fair hair, and from where I stood watching, this looked just like a golden aureole around her small head, bent slightly towards him. She too was leaning forward, over him, with her hand extended, giving him directions as to what he should write.
“Oh, I pray you,” she said with an impatient little sigh, “do not delay! I will watch you as you write. I pray you, write it as a message, addressed to the Court of White Hall. Not in poetry,” she added, with a nervous little laugh; “but in prose, so that all may understand.”
He bent to his task and began to write, and she straightened out her elegant figure and murmured as if oppressed: “How hot this room is!”
Slowly, as if in absence of mind, she wandered towards the window.
“I have heard it said,” she remarked, “that Mr. Betterton’s worst enemy is the cold. But a fire! .... on such a glorious evening. The first kiss of awakening spring!”
She had reached the window now, and stood for awhile in the bay, leaning against the mullion; and I could not help but admire her duplicity and her pluck. For indeed she had risked everything that woman holds most dear, for the sake of the man she loved. And she could not help but know that she herself and her fair name would anon be at the mercy of a man whom her cajolery and her trickery would have rendered desperate.
Anon, as if quite overcome by the heat, she threw open the casement, and then leaned cut, peering into the darkness beyond. Ensconced in my corner at some distance from the window, I was conscious of the movement and subdued noise which came up from the crowded park. A number of people appeared still to be moving out there, and even as I strained my ears to listen, I caught the sweet sound of the selfsame song of awhile ago, wafted hither on the cool night air:
"You are my Life I You ask me why?
Because my Hope is in your Love.”
I caught myself once more marvelling if the ladiies and gallants of the Court had strolled cut into the park at this hour, drawn thither by the amorous melodies sung by the unknown minstrel, or by the balmy air of spring, or merely by the passing whim of some fashion or fancy. I even straightened my ears, so
that I might recognize the sound of voices that were familiar to me. I heard my Lord Rochester’s characteristic laugh, Sir William Davenant’s dictatorial tones and the highpitched cackle of Mr. Killi-
So doth our mind oft dwell on trivial thoughts at times of gravest stress. Her ladyship had sat down on a low stool beside the window. I could only see the vague outline of her— the expression of her face, the very poise of her head, vas wrapt in the surrounding gloom, e For awhile there was perfect silence in the room, save for the monotonous ticking of the old clock and the scratching of Mr. Betterton’s pen as he wrote with a rapid and unhesitating band.
The minutes sped on, and anon he had completed his task. I saw him lay down his pen, Wien raise the paper and read through very carefully all that he had written, and finally strew sand upon the momentous document For awhile after that he remained perfectly still, and I observed his clear-cut face, with eyes fixed as it were inwards into his own soul, and sensitive lips pressed tightly one against the other. The hand which held the document was perfectly steady, an obedient slave to his will. And yet that' sign-manual, as directed by her ladyship, was a direct avowal of a dastardly deed, of the gratuitous slandering of an innocent man’s honour, without provocation or justification, seeing that no mention was made in the confession of the abominable outrage which had brought about this grim retaliation, or of the refusal on the part •f his Lordship to grant the satisfaction that is customary between gentlemen. It was, in fact, his own integrity and his own honour that the eminent actor was even now bartering for a woman’s love. This will prove to you, dear Mistress, that Mr. Betterton’s love for the Lady Barbara Wychwoode did not at any time resemble true affection, which of all the passions to which the human heart is apt to become slave, is the one that leads the mind to the highest and noblest thoughts. Whereas an infatuation can only be compared to a fever. Man hath no more control over the one than he hath over the other, and cannot either curb its violence or the duration of its attack.
C i linued on page 84
His Majesty’s Well-Beloved
Continued from page 30
The next thing that I remember most clearly is seeing Mr. Betterton put the fateful paper down again, take up
her ladyship’s veil and bury his face in its cloudy folds. I heard him murmur faintly, after awhile:
“Now, if I dared, I would believe myself almost happy!” ,
Then he rose, picked up the paper, and with it went up to the Lady Barbara.
“Tis done, as you did command,” he said quite quietly, and placed the document in her hand. She took it from him and rose to her feet.
“A light, I pray you,” she said coldly. He brought one of the candles across and stood beside her, holding it aloft. She read the paper through with great deliberation, nodding approval from time to time as she did so. Then she folded it into a very small compass, whilst she thanked him coldly and guardedly. He then went back to the desk with the candle and put it down. During these few seconds whilst his back was turned to her, I noticed that the Lady Barbara took a heavy, jewelled brooch from her gown and fastened it by its pin to the document. Her movements were methodical but very quick, and my own mind worked too slowly to guess at her intention.
The next moment, Mr. Betterton was
once more by her side. Eager, alert, and with the glow of triumph in his eyes, he flung himself at her feet. She was his now! his by right of conquest! He had won her by measureless selfsacrifice, and now he meant to hold the guerdon for which he had paid so heavy a price.
“Because you deigned to cross his humble threshold,” he said, and his arms encircled her waist with the masterful and passionate gesture of a victor, “the poor actor places his name ar¿d fame, his pride and baffled revenge, at your feet.”
“At the world’s feet, Sir Mountebank!” she cried exultantly and with a swift movement she flung the weighted paper far out through the window. Then, leaning out into the darkness, she called at the top of her voice: “To me, Adela! Here is the message from Mr. Betterton. Take it to my Lord Sidbury at once!”
But Mr. Betterton was no longer in a mental state to care what happened after this: I doubt if he realized just
what was impending. He was still on his knees, holding on to her with both
“Nay!” he said wildly. “That is as you please. Let the whole world think me base and abject. What care I for honour, fame or integrity, now that you are here, and that I hold you as my promised wife?”
Ah! the poor, deluded fool! How could he be so blind? Already the Lady Barbara had turned on him with flashing eyes and a loud, hysterical laugh of measureless contempt broke from her lips.
“Your wife?” she exclaimed, and that harsh laugh echoed through the silence of the house. “So, Mr. Actor, you thought to entrap the daughter of the Marquis of Sidbury into becoming your
wife!.......Nay! you miserable fool!
’Twas I entrapped and cheated you.... Your wife!! Ye saints in heaven, hear him! his wife!! The wife of Thomas Betterton, the mountebank!! I!!!”
HER words, her laughter, the bitterness of her contempt, stung him like a whip-lash. In an instant, he was on his feet, staggered back till he came in contact with the desk, to which he clung with both hands, while he faced her, his cheeks pale as ashes, his eyes glowing with a light that appeared almost maniacal.
“Then you cheated me?” he murmured inarticulately. “You lied to me?
... .You.....I’ll not believe it.....I’ll
not believe it.....”
She appeared not to heed him, was gazing out of the window, shouting directions to someone—her waiting maid no doubt, or other confidant—who was searching for the paper down below.
“There, Adela!” she called out eagerly. “Dost see. — just by those bushes
.....something white.....my brooch
Suddenly she gave a cry of triumph, and then turned back exultantly to her baffled foe.
“My maid,” she said, somewhat wildly and panting as if she were exhausted with fast running. “We had planned it
all----She is devoted to me... .She has
been on the watch ... She has tr.e paper
r.ow----There!” she added, and with
outstretched arm pointed out into the gloom beyond. “There! Do you see?” Can you wonder that the trickery, her contempt, had made him mad? Indeed, even I felt that at that moment I could have held her slender throat between my two hands and crushed the life out of her. To a man of Mr. Betterton’s temperament, the provocation was obviously beyond his powers of endurance. Even in the dim light, I could see a positive fury of passion akin to hate literally distorting his face. The next second he was once more by her side, and whilst she still cried wildly. “Do you see? Do you see? Run, Adela, run!” he seized her in his arms and retorted roughiy:
“I see nothing now but your beauty; I hear nothing but your voice!”
“Run, Adela! Run!” she cried again. “That message from Mr. Betterton is for the whole world to see!”
But he held her tightly round the
shoulders now, and she, probably realizing her danger for the first time, strove to struggle against his embrace.
“Let me go!” she commanded. “Let me go! or I swear by God in Heaven that I will find the strength to kill myself and you.”
“I love you,” was his only reply to her threat.
My God! what could I do? More and more did I curse the folly and cowardice which had kept me riveted to this spot all this while. Now there was nothing for it but to reveal my presence, to draw upon my foolish head the contempt and anger of a man for whom I would gladly have laid down my life. My brain became confused. I ceased to see clearly. A ruddy mist was gathering before my eyes. I was on the verge of losing consciousness and was struggling pitifully to retain command over my senses. Through this fast approaching swoon I could hear as through an intervening veil, the hoarse and broken accents of the voice that I loved so well:
“You are here alone with me. The last shred of my reason is scattered to the winds. England, fame, the world, are empty words to me. Do you not see that now I am ready to die an hundred deaths?”
And one great and pitiful appeal from her lips: “Oh, God! If there is justice in heaven—defend me now—”
AND, even half conscious as I was, I saw her—yes, saw her quite distinctly—give a sudden wrench which freed her right arm. She plunged ..er hand into the bosom of her gown, and the next instant the flickering light of the candle flashed a vivid gleam upon the narrow steel blade of a dagger which she held. This, with the swiftness of lightning brought me back to the consciousness of the present, grim reality. With a loud and sudden cry,
I darted out of my hiding-place, stood there before them both, pale no doubt with a well-nigh unearthly pallor, which must have given me the appearance of a ghost.
It was now the Lady Barbara who was nigh to swooning. But with that coolness which comes at times to the helpless and the weak, I had already snatched her veil from the desk, and whilst she tottered and almost fell into my arms, I wrapped it around her head.
“Quick! the door!” I said. “You are quite safe!”
I dared not look at Mr. Betterton. Indeed, I could not even now tell you in what attitude or with what expression of face he watched me whilst I seemed , thus to take command of the situation. The Lady Barbana was trembling so violently that some few moments elapsed before she was able to walk across the room. When she finally did so, her foot kicked against the dagger which had dropped from her hand when I so suddenly appeared before her. She gave a faint cry of horror, and I stooped and picked up the dagger and placed it back in her hand without looking at her.
HER Ladyship then went on towards the door. But suddenly she came to a halt, and I, who was close to her heels, paused likewise, for I felt that every drop of blood within me had turned to ice. From the hall below there had come the sound of angry altercation and a man’s voice was raised loudly and peremptorily, saying:
“Let me pass, man! I will speak with Mr. Betterton.”
The voice was that of my Lord Stour.. The Lady Barbara stood quite still for a moment, rigid as a carved statue. Then a low, inexpressibly pathetic moan rose to her lips.
“Oh ! for the earth to open!” she cried pitiably, “and bury me and this shame—”
She was overwrought and weak with emotion, but in any event it was a terrible position for any lady of rank to be found in, at this late hour, and alone. Overcome no doubt with the superabundance of harrowing sensations, she tottered as if about to swoon. Mr. Betterton caught her as she fell. “My divinity! my queen!” he murmured quickly. “No one »hall harm you, I swear it! No one shall!” Then he added under his breath: “Heaven
above me, help me to protect her!” Whereupon he lifted her up in his arms as if she were a child, and carried her as far as the embrasure of the window. Then, with one of those quick movements which were so characteristic of him, he drew the curtains together, which shut off the bay from the rest of the room and screened 'its fair occupant completely from view.
He was a different man now to the passion-racked creature of awhile ago, absolutely calm: the man I had known and loved and respected all these years. Though ,my whole being was still convulsed in an agony of apprehension, I felt that from him now would come moral comfort for me and protection for the unfortunate lady whose burden of sorrow had at last touched his heart. And I do verily believe, dear Lady, that in that instant of supreme danger for us all, his passion fell from him like a curtain from before his eyes. It had gone through its culminating anguish when he discovered that she whom he loved had lied to him and cheated him. Now, when she stood here before him, utterly helpless and utterly crushed, his infatuation appeared to writhe for one moment in the crucible of his ojvn manliness and chivalry, and then to emerge from it hallowed and purified.
IN the meanwhile, less than a minute had elapsed. My Lord Stour had ascended the stairs, undeterred by the protestations of Mr. Betterton’s servant; The next moment he had violently wrenched the door open and now stood before us, pale, trembling with rage or excitement, hatless, his mantle thrown back from his shoulders. His right hand clutched his naked sword and in his left he had a crushed ball of paper, held together by her Ladyship’s brooch. His entire attitude was one of firm and deadly menace.
“I heard a voice!” he exclaimed, staring wildly around him. “I saw a face—
a form.....This paper was flung out
from yonder window.....was picked
up by a serving wench.....what does
it mean?” he queried harshly, and advanced threateningly towards Mr. Betterton, who was standing midway between him and thé curtained bay.
“How can I tell?” riposted the great Actor blandly, with a careless shrug of his shoulders. “I was not moon-gazing, as your Lordship appears to have done. A paper, did you say?”
“You are not alone,” retorted piy
Lord roughly. “I heard a voice.....
“We are all apt to hear voices in the moonlight, my Lord,” Mr. Betterton rejoined simply. “The artist hears hds muse, the lover his mistress, the criminal his conscience.”
His unruffled calm seemed to exasperate his Lordship’s fury, for he now appeared even more menacing than before.
“And did you perchance hear a voice to-night, Sir Actor,” he queried, his voice hoarse with passion, “warning yon of death?”
“Nay!” replied Mr. Betterton. “That voice whispers to us all, and always, my Lord, even in our cradles.”
“Then hear it for the last time now, and from my lips, you abominable mountebank!” my Lord cried, beside himself in truth. “For unless you draw aside that curtain, I am going to kill you.”
“That is as you please,” retorted Mr. Betterton simply.
“Stand aside!” commanded his Lord-
But Mr. Betterton looked him calmly up and down and did not move one inch.
“This is a most unwarrantable interference,” he said quietly, “with the freedom of His Majesty’s Well-Beloved Servant. Your Lordship seems to forget that every inch of this floor is mine, and that I stand on it where I please.
I pray you, take that paper—that message—elsewhere. An it came down from heaven, read it—but leave me in peace.”
“I’ll not go,” asserted my Lord harsh-
ly, “till yoq have drawn aside that curtain.”
“Then we’ll see whose legs will weary first, my Lord, yours or mine,” was Mr. Betterton’s unruffled rejoinder.
“Draw then, and defend yourself!” cried my Lord, who before his enemy’s unbroken calm had lost what semblance of self-control he still possessed.
“I am unarmed,” riposted Mr. Betterton simply.
“Then let Satan have his due,” exclaimed the young hothead, and raised his sword ready to strike, “for your soul shall go down to hell at last!”
In a moment, of course, I was on him. But he had the vigour of a trained soldier, enhanced by an overwhelming passion of enmity and of rage; and though I seized him unawares—I doubt if he had realized that I was in the room—he shook me off in an instant, as a dog might shake off an importunate rat. Before I had time to recover my breath from his quick and furious defence, he had turned on me and dealt me such a vigorous blow with his fist between the eyes, that the whole room began to gyrate around me and that the atmosphere became peopled with stars. I staggered and half fell against the dresser that had sheltered me awhile ago. For the space of half a dozen seconds mine eyes were closed.
VII ; y .
THEN I opened them again, the scene had indeed changed. Her Ladyship had pushed the curtains aside and stood there in the window embrasure, revealed to her irate lover. And he, though he must have known that she was there all the time, appeared so staggered by her apparition that his arm dropped by his side and his sword fell with a clatter to the ground, while he murmured as if in the last throes of mental suffering:
“Barbara. .. .my Barbara.... .here
—alone—at this hour.....with this
Her Ladyship, however, appeared perfectly composed. The light of the candles revealed her exquisite face, paie but serene, and her small head crowned with the aureole of her golden hair, held up proudly as one who hath naught to fear, naught for which she need be ashamed. She pointed with perfect steadiness to the paper which my Lord still held tightly clasped in his left left hand.
“That paper!” she said, and only a slight veiling of her voice betrayed the emotion which she felt. “I sent it. ’Tis for you, my Lord. It will clear your honour, and proclaim your innocence.” But his Lordship did not appear to hear her. He continued to murmur to himself mechanically, and in tones of the deepest despair:
“Barbara.... Alone.....With him !”
“Read that paper, my dear Lord,” her Ladyship insisted with calm dignity, “ere with another thought you further dare to wrong me!”
These simple words, however, so full of conscious worth and of innocence, let loose the flood gates of my Lord’s pent up, insensate jealousy.
“Wrong you?” he cried, and a harsh, almost maniacal 'laugh broke from his choking throat. “Wrong you? Nay! I suppose I must be grateful and thank Heaven on my knees that you, my promised bride, deigned to purchase mine honour at the price of your kisses!”
At this gross insult, her Ladyship uttered a pitiful moan; but ere she could give reply, Mr. Betterton, who hitherto had not interfered between the twain, now did so, and in no measured tone.
“Silence, madman!” he commanded, “ere you blaspheme.”
But my Lord had apparently lost his last shred of reason. Jealousy was torturing him in a manner that even hatred had failed to do.
“God!” he exclaimed repeatedly, calling to the Almighty to witness his soul-misery. “I saw her at that window . . . .Who else saw her?. . . .How many varlets and jabbering coxcombs know at the present moment that the Lady Barbara Wychwoode spends the night alone with a mountebank?” In an excess of ungoverned rage he tore the paper to shreds and threw the scraps almost into her Ladyship’s face. “Take back your proofs!” he cried. “I’ll not take mine honour from your hands! Ah'” he added, and now turned once more toward Mr. Betterton, who, I could see, was calmly making up his mind what next to do. “Whoever you areman or devil—are you satisfied with your revenge? Was it not enough to dover me with infamy; what need had you to brand her with dishonour?’ Overcome with emotion, his soul on the rack, his heart wounded and bleed* ing, he appeared like a lost spirit crying out from an abyss of torment. But these last ravings of his, these final, abominable insults, levelled against the woman who had done so much for him and whom he should have been the first to protect, lashed Mr. Betterton’s ire and contempt into holy fury.
“Ye gods in heaven, hear him! he cried, with an outburst of rage at least as great as that of the other man. He loves her, and talks of dishonour, whilst I love her and only breathe of worship! By all the devils in hell, my Lord Stour, I tell you that you lie!”
And before any of us there realized what he meant to do, he ran to the window, threw open all thé casements with such violence that the glass broke and fell clattering down upon the gravelled pldce below.
“Hallo!” he called in a stentorian voice. “Hallo, there!”
My Lord Stour, bewildered, ununderstanding, tried to bluster.
“What are you doing, man?’ he queried roughly. “Silence! silence, I say !"
But Mr. Betterton only shouted the louder. ,
“Hallo, there! Friends! Enemies! England; Here!!”
I could hear the tumult outside. People were running hither from several directions, thinking no doubt that a fire had broken out or that murder was being done. I could hear them assembling beneath the window, which was not many feet from the ground. “Why! it’s Tom Betterton!” some of them said. And others added: “Hath
he gone raving mad?”
“Is any one there who knows me.’ queried Mr. Betterton loudly.
“Yes! Yes!” was the ready response. “Who is it?” he asked, peering into the darkness below.
I heard Sir William Davenant s voice give reply. , _
“Killigtew and I are down here, Tom. What in the name ofis the matter?" ! “Come round to my rooms, Davenant,” Mr. Betterton replied; “and bring as many friends with you as you can.”
To be continued.