HIS MAJESTY’S WELL-BELOVED
Author of “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” “The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel,” etc.
CHAPTER TEN The Hour I
AQUARTER of an hour-perhaps less-later, we were speeding back, Mr. Betterton and I, down Canon's Row on our way to Westminster
Stairs, intending to take boat for the City.
In the terrible mental upheaval which had followed on the renewed Outrage that had been put upon my beloved Friend, I had well-nigh forgotten that secret Conspiracy which was even now threatening the stability of our Country, and in which my former Employer and his Spouse were so deeply involved.
The striking of Church Bells far and near, chiming the hour of eight, recalled me to the danger which threatened Mr. Baggs along with his more aristocratic co-traitors. And, strangely enough, Mr. Betterton thought of this at the very same t me. He had been sunk in moody Reverie ever since my Silence had told him the grim tale of my unsuccessful Embassy to the Earl of Stom-, and through the darkness it was impossible even for my devoted Eyes to watch the play of emotions upon his tell-tale Face or to read in his Eyes the dark thoughts which I knew must be coursing through his brain.
In myself, I could not help but be satisfied at the turn of Events. The Conspirators, denounced by me to the Countess of Castlemaine, would of a certainty meet the punishment which they so fully deserved. Lord Stour was one of them, so was Lord Douglas Wychwoode. The Scaffold, or at best, Banishment, would be their lot, and how could I grieve—I, who hated them so!—that the Earth would presently be rid of two arrogant and supercilious Coxcombs, Traitors to their King, vainglorious and self-seeking. True, the Lady Barbara would weep. But when I remembered the many bitter tears which you, dear Mistress, have shed these past months because she had enchained the fancy of the Man whom you loved, then had scorned his ardour and left him a prey to humiliation and shame at the hands of Men unwoi’thy to lick the dust at his feet; when I remembered all that, I could find no Pity in my heart for the Lady Barbara, but rather a Hope that one so exquisitely fair would pass through Sorrow and Adversity the purer and softer for the ordeal.
True again, that for some reason still unexplained Mr. Betterton appeared to desire with an almost passionate intensity that his successful Rival should escape the fate of his fellow-Conspirators. Such Magnanimity was beyond my compi*ehension, and I felt that the Sentiment which engendered it could not be a lasting one. Mr. Betterton was for the moment angry with me—very angry—for what I had done; but his anger I knew would soon melt in the warmth
of his own k:ndlv heart.
He would forgive me, and anon forget the insolent En°mv after the latter had exnmt"d his Treachery and his Arrogance upon the Scaffold. The whole of th;s hideous past Episode would then become a mere memory, like unto a nightmare which the healthful freshness of the newlv born day so quickly dispels.
CO on the whole it was with a lightened Heart that I stepped into the Boat in the wake of Mr. Betterton. I thanked the Lord that the rain had ceased for the moment, for truly I was chilled to the mar-
row and could not have borne another wet-
Every Angle and Stone and Stair and landing Stage along the Embankment were of course familiar to me; and I could not help falling into a Reverie at sight of those great houses which were the City homes of some of the noblest Families in the Land.
How many of these stately walls, thought I. sheltered a nest of Conspirators as vile and as disloyal as were Lord Douglas Wychwoode and his friends? Suffolk House and Yorke House, Salsbury House and Worster House, to mention but a few. How did the mere honest Citizen know what went on behind their Portals, what deadly Secrets were whispered within their doors?
I had been taught all my life to respect those who are above me in Station and to reverence our titled Nobility; but truly my short experience of these high-born Sparks was not calculated to enhance my Respect for their Integrity or my Admiration for their Intellect. Some older Gentlemen there were, such as the Lord Chancellor himself, who were worthy of everybody’s Regard; but I must confess that the behaviour of the younger Fops was oft blameworthy in the extreme.
I might even instance our experience this dark night, after we had landed at the Temple Stairs and were hurrying along our way up Middle Temple Lane in the wake of cur linkmen. We were speeding on, treading carefully so as to avoid as much as was
possible the mud which lay ankle-
deep in the Lane, when we suddenly spied ahead of us a party of “Scourers”—young Gentlemen of high Rank, very much the worse for drink, who, being at their wits’ end to know how to spend their evenings, did it in prowling about the Streets, insulting or maltreating peaceable Passers-by, molesting Women, breaking Tavern windows, stealing Sign-boards and otherwise rendering themselves noxious to honest Citizens and helping to make the Streets of our great City an object of terror by night, in emulation of highway Robbers and other foul Marauders.
No doubt Mrt Betterton and I would—despite the aid of our two 1'nkmen and of their stout Cudgels— have fallen a victim to these odious Miscreants, and the great Actor would of a surety have been very rudely treated, since he had so often denounced these Malpractices from the Stage and held up to public Ridicule net only the'y°ung Rakes who took part in the riotous orgies but also our Nightwatchmen, who
were too stupid or too cowardly to cope with them. But, knowing our danger, we avoided it, and hearing the young Mohocks coming our way we slipped up Hare Alley and bided our time until the noise of Revels and Riotings were well behind us.
I heard afterwards that those abominable Debauchees—who surely should have known better, seeing that they were all Scions of great and noble Families— had indeed “scoured” that night with some purpose. They broke into Simond’s Inn in Fleet Street, smashed every piece of crockery thev could find there, assaulted the Landlord,
beat the Customers about, broke open the money-box, stole some five pounds in hard cash and insulted the waiting maids. Finally, they set a seal to their Revels by falling on the Nightwatchmen who had come to disperse them, beating them with their own Halberts and with sticks, and wounding one so severely that he ultimately died in Hospital, whilst the. Miscreants themselves got off scot-free.
Truly a terrible state of affairs in such a noble city as London!
A S for Mr. Betterton and myself, we reached the corner of Chancery Lane without serious Adventure. As we neared the house cf Mr. Theophilus Baggs, however, I felt my courage oozing down into my shoes. Truly I could rot then have faced my former Emp'oyer, whom I had just betrayed, and the mean side of my Action in the matter came upon me with a shaming force.
I begged Mr. Betterton, therefore, to go and speak with Mr. Baggs whilst I remained waiting outside upon the doorstep.
Of all that miserable day, this was perhaps to me the most, painful moment. From the instant that Mr. Betterton was admitted into the House until he returned to me some twenty minutes later, I was in a cold sweat, devoured w th Apprehension and fight:ng against Remorse. I could not forget that Mr. Baggs had been my Master and Employer—if not too kind an one—for years, and if be had been sent to the Tower and accompanied his fellow Conspirators upon the Scaffold. I verily believe that I should have felt ll^.e Judas Iscariot and. like him, would have been unable to endure my life after such a base betrayal.
Fortunately, however. Mr. Betterton was soon able to reassure me. He had, he said, immediately warned Mr. Baggs that something of the Secret of the Conspiracy had come to the ears of the Countess of Castlemaine and that all those who were in any way mixed up in the Affair would be wise to lie low as far as possible, at any rate for awhile.
Mr. Baggs, it seems, was at first terrified, and was on the point of losing his head and committing some
Synofsif.—This is the story of Thomas Betterton, a famous actor, and Joyce Saunderson, as told by John Hoveywood, clerk to Theopldlus Baggs, a lawyer. Betterton is infatuated with Lady Barbara Wychwoode. Ilia attentions to hcr 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 sc'ze and dethrone King Charles IL. and IIoneywond is ordered to make copies of a treasonable document in connection with, the plot. To avenre Betterton Honey wood discloses the plot to Lady Castlemaine, the favorite of the King. He then tells Betterton and the latter is distressed at the thought that Stour null he caught and executed before he has had a chance to personally avenge the wrong done him.
Act of Fo-lly through sheer fright. But Mr.
Betterton’s quieting influence soon prevailed. The worthy Attorney, on thinking the matter over, realized that if he destroyed certain Documents which might prove incriminating to himself, he would have little else to fear. He himself had never written a compromising Letter —he was far too shrewd to have thus committed himself— and there was not a scrap,of paper in anyone else’s possession which bore his Name or might mark his Identity, whilst he had not the slightest fear that the other Conspirators — who were all of them Gentlemen—w o u 1 d betray the complicity of an humble Attorney who had rendered them loyal service.
Mr. Baggs never suspected me of having betrayed the whole thing; or, if he did, he never said so. So
many people plotted these days, so many Conspiracies were hatched, then blown upon, that I for one imagine that Mr. Baggs had a hand in several of these and was paid high Fees for his share in them. Then, when anything untoward happened, when mere Chance or else a Traitor among the Traitors caused the Conspiracy to abort, the worthy Attorney would metaphorically shake the dust of political Intrigue from his shabby Shoes and make a Bonfire of every compromising Document that might land him in the Tower and further. After Which, he was no doubt ready to begin all over again.
So it had occurred in this instance. Mr. Betterton did not wait to see the Bonfire, which was just beginning to blaze merrily in the old-fashioned Hearth. He told me all about it when he joined me once more upon the Doorstep, and for the first time that day I heard him laugh quite naturally and spontaneously while he recounted to me Mr. Baggs’ Terrors and Mistress Euphrosine’s dignified Fussiness.
“She would have liked to find some pretext,” he said quite gaily, “for blaming me in the matter. But on the whole, I think that they were both thankful for my timely Warning.”
BUT, as far as I was concerned, this ended once and for all my connection with the house of Mr. Theophilus Baggs, and since that memorable Night I have never once slept under his Roof.
I went back with Mr. Betterton to his house in Tothill Street. By the time we reached it, it w*as close on ten o’clock. Already he had intimated to me that henceforth I was to make my home with him; and as soon as we entered the House he ordered his Servant to make my room and bed ready for me. My heart was filled with inexpressible Gratitude at his kindness. Though I had, in an altogether inexplicable manner, run counter to his Plans, he was ready to forgive me and did not withdraw his Friendship from me.
As time went on, I was able to tell him something of the emotions which coursed through my Heart in recognition of his measureless kindness to me ; but on that first evening I could not speak of it. When I first beheld the cosy room which he had assigned to me, with its clean and comfortable bed and substantial furniture, I could only how my head, take his hand and kiss it reverently. He withdrew it as if he had been stung.
“Keep such expressions of respect,” he said almost roughly, “for one who is worthy.”
“You,” I riposted simply, “are infinitely worthy, because you are good.”
Then once again his harsh, mirthless laugh—so unlike his usual light-hearted merriment—grated upon my ear.
“Good!” he exclaimed. “Nay, friend Honeywood, . you are not, meseems, a master of intuition. Few hearts in London this night,” he added earnestly, “harbor such evil desires as mine.”
But in spite of what he said, in spite of that strange look in his eyes, that laugh which proclaimed a perturbed Soul, I could not bring myself to believe that his great Heart was a prey to aught but noble Desires, and that those awful and subtle schemes of deadly Revenge which have sitbsequently threatened to ruin his own Life were even now seething in his brain.
For the moment, I only remembered that when first he had requested me to accompany him on his evening Peregrinations, it had been with a view to visiting the Countess of Castlemaine, and I now reminded him of his purpose, thinking that his desire had been to beg for my Lord Stour’s pardon. I did so, still insisting upon her Ladyship’s avowed Predilection for himself, and I noticed that while I spoke thus he smiled grimly to himself and presently said with slow Deliberation: “Aye! Her Ladyship hath vowed that out of gratitude for his public Eulogy of her virtue and her beauty, she would grant Mr. Thomas Betterton any Favour he might ask of her.”
“Aye! and her Ladyship is not like to go back on her word,” I assented eagerly.
“Therefore,” he continued, not heeding me, “the Countess of Castlemaine, who in her turn can obtain any favour she desires from His Majesty the King, will at my request obtain a full and gracious pardon for the Earl of Stour.”
“She will indeed!” I exclaimed, puzzled once more at this strange trait of Magnanimity—Weakness, I called it—on the part of a man who had on two occasions been so monstrously outraged. “You are a hero, Sir,” I added in an awed whisper, “to think of a pardon for your most deadly Enemy.”
He turned and looked me full in the Eyes. I could scarce bear his glance, for there seemed to dwell within its glowing depths such a World of Misery, of Hatred and of thwarted Passion that my soul was filled with dread at the sight. And he said very slowly: “You are wrong there, my friend. I was not thinking of a pardon for mii->e Enemy, but of Revenge for a deadlv Insult, which it seems cannot be wiped out in blood.”
I WOULD have said something more after that, for in truth my heart was full of Sympathy and of Love for my Friend and I longed to soothe and console
him, as I felt I could do, humble and unsophisticated though I w a s. Thoughts o f You, dear Mistress,, were running riot^in. my brain. I longed at this momentous hour, when the Fate of many men whom I knew was trembling in the balance, to throw myself at Mr. Betterton’s feet and to conjure him in the name of all his most noble Instincts te give up all thoughts, of the proud Lady whohadpnce disdained him and spurned his Affections, and to turn once more to the early and pure love of his life — to You, dear Mistress, whose Devotion had been so severely tried and yet had not been found wanting, and whose Influence had always been one of gentleness and of purity.
But, seeing him sitting there brooding, obviously a prey to thoughts both deep and dark, I did not dare speak, and remained silent in the
hope that, now that I was settled under his Roof, an opportunity would occur for me to tell him what weighed so heavily on my Heart.
Presently the Servant came in and brought Supper, and Mr. Betterton sat down to it, bidding me with perfect grace and hospitality to sit opposite to him. But we neither of us felt greatly inclined to eat. I was hungry, it is true; yet every morsel which I conveyed to my mouth cost me an effort to swallow. This was all the more remarkable as at the moment my whole Being was revelling in the succulence of the fare spread out before me, the excellence of the Wine, the snowy whiteness of the Cloths, the beauty of Crystal and of Silver, all of which bore testimony to the fastidious Taste and the Refinement of the great Artist.
Of the great Events which were even then shaping themselves in White Hall, we did not speak. We each knew that the other’s mind was full of what might be going on even at this hour. But Mr. Betterton made not a single reference to it, and I too, therefore, held my tongue. In fact, we spoke but little during supper, and as I watched my dearly loved Friend toying with his food, and I myself felt as if the next mouthful would choke me, I knew* that his mind was far away.
It was fixed upon White Hall and its stately purlieus and upon the house of the Countess of Castlemaine, which overlooked the Privy Gardens, and of His Majesty the King. His senses, I knew, were strained to catch the sound of distant murmurs, of running footsteps, of the grinding of arms or of pistol shots.
But not a sound came to disturb the peaceful silence of this comfortable Abode. The servant came and went, bringing food, then clearing it away, pouring Wine into our glasses, setting and removing the silver utensils.
Anon Mr. Betterton and I both started and furtively caught one another’s glance. The tower clock of Westminster was striking eleven.
“For good or for evil, all is over by now,” Mr. Betterton said quietly. “Come, friend Honeywood; let’s to bed.”
I went to bed, but not to sleep. For hours I lay awake, wondering what had happened. Had the Conspirators succeeded and was His Majesty a Prisoner in their hands; or wrere they themselves Captives in that grim Edifice by the water, which had witnessed so many Deaths and such grim Tragedies, and from which the only egress led straight to the Scaffold?
CHAPTER ELEVEN Rumours and Conjectures I
VERY little of what had actually occurred came to the ear of the Public. In fact, not one Man in ten in the whole of the Cities of London and Westminster knew that a couple of hours before midnight, when most simple and honest Citizens were retiring to their beds, a batch of dangerous Conspirators had been arrested even within the precincts of White Hall.
I heard all that there was to know from Mr. Betterton, who went out early the following morning and returned fu'lly informed cf the events of the preceding night. Subsequently too. I gleaned a good deal of informat'on through the instrumentality of Mistress Floid. As far as I could gather, the Conspirators did carry out their project just as they had decided on it in my presence. They did assemble in King Street and in the by-lanes leading out of it, keeping my Lady Castlemains’s house in sight, whilst others succeeded in concealing themselves about the Gardens of White Hall, no doubt with the aid of treacherous and suborned Watchmen.
The striking of the hour of ten was to be the signal for immediate and concerted Action. Those in the Gardens stood by on the watch until after His Majesty the King had walked across from his Palace to Her Ladyship’s house. His Majesty, as was his wont when supping with Lady Castlemaine, entered her house by the back door, and his servants followed him into the house.
Then the conspirators waited for the hour to strike. Directly the last clang of church bells had ceased to reverberate through the evening hour, they advanced both from the back and the front of the House simultaneously, when they were set upon on the one side by a company of His Majesty’s Body Guard under the command of Major Sachvrell, who had remained concealed inside the Palace, and on the other way by a Company of Halberdiers.under the command of Colonel Powick.
When the Traitors were thus confronted by loyal Troops, they tried to put up a fight, not realizing that such Measures had been taken by Major Sachvrell and Colonel Powick that they could not possibly hope to escape.
A scuffle ensued, but the Conspirators were very soon overpowered, as indeed they were greatly outnumbered. The neighborhood—even then slumbering ne-jcefully—dia no more than turn over m bed, marvelling perhaps if a party of Mohocks on mischief bent had come in conflict with a posse of Nightwatchmen. The prisoners were at once marched to the Tower, despite the rain which had once more begun to fall heavily, and during the long, wearisome tramp through the city their ardour for Conspiracies and Intrigues must have cooled down considerably.
The Lieutenant of the Tower had everything ready for the reception of such exalted Guests; for in truth my Lady Castlemaine had not allowed things to be (.one by halves. Incensed against her Enemies in a manner in which only an adulated and spoilt Woman can be, she was going to see to it that those who had plotted against her should be as severely dealt with as the law permitted.
T ATER on, I ha.» it from my friend U MJ,sTtr®ss FI°id that the Lady Barbara Wychwoode visited the Countess of Castlemaine during the course of the morning. She arrived at her Ladyship s house dressed in black and with a veil, as if of mourning, over her fair hair.
Mistress Floid hath oft told me that the interview between the two Ladies was truly pitiable, and that the Ladv Barbara presented a heartrending snectacle. She begged and implied her Ladyshin to exerc'se mercy ovev a few young hotheads, who had been mis-? • into wrong-doing by inflammatory
speeches from Agitators, these being naught but paid Agents of the Dutch ; Government, she averred, set to create j discontent and if possible civil war once again in England, so that Holland might embark upon a war of Revenge with borne certainty of Success.
But the Countess of Castlemaine would not listen to the petition at all, and proud Lady Barbara Wychwoode then flung herself at the other Woman’s feet and begged and implored for pardon for her Brother, her Lover and her Friends. Mistress Floid avers that my Lady Castlemaine did nothing but laugh at the poor Girl’s pleadings, saying in a haughty, supercilious manner:
“Beauty in tears? ’Tis a pretty sight, forsooth ! But had your Friends succeeded in their damnable Plot, would you have shed tears of sympathy for j me, I vronder?”
And I could not find it in me to be astonished at my Lady Castlemaine’s spitefulness, for in truth Lady Barbara’s Friends had plotted her disgrace and ruin. Not only that, they had taken every opportunity of villifying her Character and making her appear as odious in the eyes of the People as they very well could.
You must not infer from this, dear Mistress, that I am upholding my Lady Castlemaine in any way. Her mode of life is abhorrent to me and I deeply regret her influence over His Majesty and over the public Morals of the Court circle, not to say the entire Aristocracy and Gentry. I am merely noting the fact that human nature being what it is, it is not to be wondered at that when the Lady had a chance of hitting back, she did so with all her might, determined to lose nothing of this stupendous Revenge.
HOWEVER secret the actual arrest of the Conspirators was kept from
public knowledge, it soon transpired that such great and noble Gentlemen as Lord Teammouth, Lord Douglas Wychwoode, the Earl of Stour, not to mention others, were in the Tower, and that a sensational Trial for Conspiracy and High Treason was pending.
Gradually the history of the plot had leaked out, and how it had become abortive owing to an anonymous denunciation (for so it was called). The Conspiracy became the talk of the town. Several Ladies and Gentlemen, though not directly implicated in the affair but of known ultra-Protestant views, thought it best to retire to their country Estates, ostensibly for the benefit of their health.
Sinister rumours were afloat that the Conspirators would be executed without Trial—had already suffered the extreme Penalty of the Law; that the Marquis of Sidbury, father of Lord Douglas Wychwoode, had suddenly died of grief; that torture would be applied to the proletarian Accomplices of the noble Lords—of whom there were many—so as to extract further Information and Denunciations from them. In fact, the town seethed with conjectvires: people talked in whispers and dispersed at sight of anyone who was ' known to belong to the Court circle. The Theatres played to empty benches, the Exchanges and Shops were deserted, for no one liked to be abroad wh«n Arrests and Prosecutions were in the air.
Through it all, very great sympathy was evinced for the Lady Barbara Wvchwoode, whose pretty face was so well known in Town and whose charm of manner and kindly disposition had endeared her to many who had had the privilege of her acquaintance. Public opinion is a strange and unaccountable Factor in the affairs of Men. and public opinion found it terribly hard that so young and adulated a Girl as vns the Lady Barbara should at one fell swoop lose Brother, Lover and Friends. And I mav trulv say that Satisfaction was absolutely genuine and universal when it became known presently that the young Earl of Stour had received a full and gracious Pardon for his supposed share in the abominable plot.
Whether, on ringer investigation, he had been proved innocent or whether
the Pardon was due to exalted or other powerful influences, no one knew as yet: all that was a certainty was that my Lord Stour presently left the Tower a free Man even whilst his Friends were one and all brought to trial, and subsequently most cf them executed for High Treason or otherwise severely punished.
Lord Teammouth suffered death upon the scaffold, as did Sir James Campsfield and Mr. Andrew K nver: and there were ethers, whose names escape me for the moment. Lord Douglas Wychwoode succeeded in fleeing to Scotland and thence to Holland, most people averred owing to the marvellous cluck and ingenuity of his Sister. A number of Persons of meaner degree were hanged: in fact, a Reign of Terror swept over the country, and many thought that the Judges had been unduly harsh and over free with their pronouncement of death-sentences.
But it was obvious that His Majesty himself meant to make an example o-f such abom'nable Traitors before political intrigues and Rebellion spread over the country once again.
It was all the more strange, therefore. that ome of the conpirators—the Earl of Stour, in fact, whose Name had been most conspicuous in connection with the Affair—should thus have been the only one to enjov immunity. But, as I said before, nothing but satisfaction was expressed at first for this one S2rall Ray of Sunhine which came to brighten poor Lady Barbara Wychwoode’s misery.
As for 2ne. I did not know what to think. Surely my heart should have been filled with admiration for the noble Revenge which a .great Artist had taken uoon a het-headed young Coxcomb. Such Magnanimity -was indeed unbelievable; nay! I felt that it showed a Weakness of Character of which 'n m” iiinermost heart I did not believe Mr. Betterton capable.
To say that I was much rejoiced over the fdemency shown to my Lord Stour, would he to deviate from the Truth. Looking back upon the motives which had actuated me when I denounced the infamous Plot to the Countess of Castlemaine. I could not help but admit to myself that hatred of a young Jackanapes and a desire for vengeance upon his impudent head had greatly influenced 2ny course of action. Now that I imagined him once more kneeling at Lady Ba2-bara’s feet, an accented Lover, triumphant over Dest’nv. all the sympathy which I may have felt for him momentarily in the hour of his Adversity, died out completely from my Heart and I felt that I hated him even more virulently than before.
His image, as he had last stood before nw in the dimly-lighted room of his noble Mansion. su"rounded bv Books, costly Furniture. all the Anpnrtenances of a rich and independent Gentleman, was constantly before 2ny mind. I con’d, just by closing my Eyes, see him sitting beside the hearth, with the lovely Lady Barbara beaming at him from the place opposite and his Friend standing by, back'ng him up with word and deed in all his Arrogance and Overbearing.
“The Earl of Steur cannot cross swords with a Mountebank.”
I seemed to hear those Words reverberating across the street like the clank cf some ghostly Bell; a2id whenever mine ears rang to their sound I felt the hot blood of a just Wrath surge up to my cheeks and my feeble Hands would close in a clutch that was as fierce a? it was impotent.
' p 'HE reported death from grief of the Marquis of Sidbury proved to be a false one. But the aaed Peer did suffer severely from the shame put unon him bv his Son’s treachery. The Wychwoodes had always been loyal Subiects of their King. At the time'of the late lamented Monarch’s most crying adversity, he knew that he could always count on the devotion of that noble Family, who had jeopardized their entire Fortune, their very Existence, in the royal Cause.
Of course, his two Children were scarce out of the Nursery when the bitter conflict raged between the King and
his People; but it must have been terribly hard for a proud Man to bear the thought that his only Son, as soon as he had reached man’s estate, should have raised his hand against his Sovereign.
No doubt owing to the disturbed state of many influential Circles of Society that winter and the number of noble Families who were in mourning after the aborted Conspiracy and the wholesale executions that ensued, the Marriage between Lady Barbara Wychwoode and the Earl of Stour was postponed until the spring, a2id then it would take place very quietly at the Bride’s home in Sussex, whither she had gone çf hite with her Father, both living there for awhile in strict retirement.
Lord Douglas Wychwoode, so it was understood, had succeeded in reaching Holland, where I doubt not he continued to carry on those political Intrigues agahist his lawful Sovereign which would of a surety one day bring him to an ignominious end.
I was now living in the greatest comfort and was supremely happy, in the house of Mr. Betterton. He employed me as his Secretary, and Í21 truth my place was no sinecure, for I never c uld have believed that thei’e were so many foolish Persons in the world who spent their time in writing letter?—laudatory or otherwise—to such great Men as were in the public eye. I myself, though I have believed that there were so many mirer of MG2I of talent and erudition, would never have taken it upon 2nyself to trouble them with effusions fi-om mv pen. A2id yet letter after letter would come to the house in Tothill Street, addressed to Mr. Thomas Betterton. Some written by great and 2ioble Ladies v.-hose Names would surprise You, dear Mistress, were I to mention them; others were from Men of position and of learning who desii’ed to express to the great Artist all the oleasure. they had derived from his rendering of Tfbble Chai’acters.
Mr. Pepys, a Gentleman of great knowledge and a Clerk in the Admiralty, wrote quite fi-equently to Mr. Betterton, sometimes to expi’ess mistinted praise fpr the great Actor’s performance in one of his favorite Plays, or sometimes venturing on Criticism, which was often shrewd and never disdained.
But after all, am I not wasting time by telling Yea that which You, dea>M’stress, know well enough from your own personal experience? I doubt not but you receive many such letters, both from Admirers and from Friends, not to mention Enemies, who are always to the fofe when a Man or Woman rises by talent or learning above the dead level of the rest of Humanity.
JT was then my duty to read those
letters and to reply to them, which I did at Mr. Better-ton’s dictation, and in my choicest Caligraphy with many embellishments such as I had learned whilst I was Clerk to Mr. Bnggs. Thus it was that I obtained confirmation of the Fact wlvch was still agitating my mind: namely Mr. Betterton’s share in the events which ’ed to His Majesty’s gracious Pardon being extended to the T arl of Stour. I had. of course, more than suspected all along that it was my i r.end who had approached the Counte?? of Castlemnine on the subject, vet could not imagine how any Man. who was smarting under such a terrible insult as Mr. Betterton had suffered at the hand0 cf my Lo2’d Stour, could find it -n his honi’t thus to rotu-n e-ood for evl and with such splendid Magnanimi tv.
But here I her! Chapter and Verse for the whole affair, because mv Lady Castlemaine wrote to Mí’. Betterton more than once upon the subject, and always in the same bantering tone, chaffing him for his Chivalry and his Heroism, saying very much what I shmild myself if I had had the courage or the presumption to do so. She kept him well informed of her endeavours on behalf of Lord Stour, refer’ring to the King’s Severity and Obstinacy in the matter in no measured language, but almost invariably closing her , Epistles with a reiteration of her promise to the great Artist to grant him any favour he might ask of her.
I do work most strenuously on your
Continued on page 84
Continued from page 40
behalf, you adorably wicked Man,” her Ladyship wrote in one of her letters; “but I could wich that you would ask something of me which more closely concerned Yourself.”
On another occasion she said:
“For the first time yester evening I wrung a half promise from His Majesty; but you cannot conceive in what a predicament you have placed me, for His Majesty hath shown signs of suspicion since I plead so earnestly on behalf of Lord Soaur. If my insistence were really to arouse his jealousy, your Protege -would certainly lose his head and I probably my place in the King’s affections.”
And then again :
“It greatly puzzles me why you should thus favour my Lord Stour. Is it not a fact that he hath insulted you beyond the hope of Pardon? And yet, not only do You plead for your enemy with passionate insistence, but You enjoin me at the same time to keep your noble purpose a Secret from him. Truly, but for my promise to You I wo-Id th *cw up thj sponge, and that for your own good. . . . I did not know that Artists were Altruists. Methought that egotism was their most usual foible.”
Thus I could no longer remain in doubt as to who the Benefactor was whom my Lord of Stour had to thank for his very life. Yet, withal, the Secret was so well kept that even in this era of ceaseless gossip and chatter everyone, even in the most intimate Court Circle, was ignorant of the subtle Intrigue which had been set in motion on behalf of the young Gallant.
CHAPTER TWELVE Poisoned Arrows I
DO you remember, dear Mistress, those lovely days we had in February this year? They were more like days of Spring than of Winter. For a fortnight we revelled in sunshine and a temperature more fitting for May than for one of the Winter months.
In London, rich and poor alike came out into the air like flies, the public Gardens and other Places of common resort were alive with Promenaders; the walks and arbours in the Gray’s Inn Walks or the Mulberry Gardens were astir with brilliant Company. All day, whether you sauntered in Hyde Park, refreshed yourself with a collation in Spring Gardens or strolled into the New Exchange, you would find such a crowd of Men and Women of mode, such a galaxy of Beauty and bevy of fair Maids and gallant Gentlemen as had not been seen in the town since that merry month of May, nigh on two years ago now, when our beloved King returned from exile and all vied one with the other to give him a cheerful welcome.
To say that this period was one of unexampled triumph for Mr. Betterton would be to repeat what You know just as well as I do. He made some truly remarkable hits in certain Plays of the late Mr. William Shakespeare, notably in “Macbeth,” in “King Lear” and in “Hamlet.” Whether I like these Plays myself or not is beside the point; whatever I thought of them I kept to myself, but was loud in my admiration of the great Actor who indeed had by now conquered all hearts, put every other Performer in the shade and raised the Status of the Duke’s Company of Players to a level far transcending that ever attained by Mr. Killigrew’s old Company.
This opinion, at any rate, I have the honour of sharing with all the younger
generation of Playgoers who flock to the Theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, even while the King’s House in Vere Street is receiving but scanty patronage. Of course my Judgment may not be altogether impartial, seeing that in addition to Mr. Betterton, who is the finest Actor our English stage has ever known, the Duke’s house also boasts of the loveliest Actress that ever walked before the curtain.
You, dear Mistress, were already then, as you - are now, at the zenith of your Beauty and your Fame, and your damask cheeks would blush, I know, if you were to read for yourself some of the Eulogies which the aforementioned Mr. Samuel Pepys in his letters to Mr. Betterton bestows upon the exquisite Mistress Saunderson—“Ianthe,” as he has been wont to call you ever since he saw You play that part in Sir William Davenant’s “The Siege of Rhodes.”
Of course I know that of late no other sentimental tie hath existed outwardly between Mr. Betterton and yourself save that of Comradeship and friendly Intercourse; hut often when sitting in the Pit of the Theatre I watched You and him standing together before the curtain and receiving the plaudits of an enthusiastic Audience, I prayed to God in my heart to dissipate the cloud of misunderstanding which had risen between You; aye! and I cursed fervently the Lady Barbara and her noble Lover, who helped to make that cloud more sombre and impenetrable.
I NATURALLY heard a great deal more of Society Gossip these days than I was wont to do during the time that I was a mere Clerk in the employ of Mr. Theophilus Baggs. My kind Employer treated me more as a friend than a Servant. I had fine clothes to wear, accompanied him on several occasions when he appeared in Public, and was constantly in his tiring room at the Theatre, when he received and entertained a never-ending stream of Friends.
Thus, toward the end of the Month. I gathered from the conversation of Gentlemen around me that the Marquess of Sidbury had come up to Town in the Company of his beautiful Daughter. He had, they said, taken advantage of the fine weather to make the journey to London, as he desired to consult the Court Physician on the matter of his health.
I shall never forget the strange look that came into Mr. Betterton’s face when first the Subject was mentioned. He and some Friends—Ladies as well as Gentlemen—were assembled in the small reception room which hath lately been fitted up behind the Stage. Upholstered and curtained with a pleasing shade of green, the Room is much frequented by Artists and their Friends, and it is always crowded during the performance of those Plays wherein one of the leading Actors or Actresses has a part.
We have taken to calling the place the Green Room, and here on the occasion of a performance of Mr. Webster’s “Duchess of Malfy,” in which You. dear Mistress, had no part, a very brilliant Company was assembled. Sir William Davenant was there, as a matter of course, so was Sir George Etherege, and that brilliant young dramatist, Mr. Wycherley. In addition to that, there were one or two very great Gentlemen there, members of the Court Circle and enthusiastic Playgoers, who were also intimate Friends of Mr. Betterton. I am referring particularly to the Duke
of Buckingham, to my Lord Rochester, Lord Orrery and others. A brillihnt Assembly forsooth, which testified to the high esteem in which the great Artist is held by all those who have the privilege of knowing him.
I told You that when first the name of the Lady Barbara was mentioned in the Gi'een Room, a strange Glance which I was unable to interpret shot out of Mr. Betterton’s eyes, and as I gazed upon that subtle, impalpable change which suddenly transformed his serene Expression of Countenance into one that was almost evil, I felt a curious sinking of the heart—a dread premonition of what was to come. You know how his lips are ever ready to smile: now they appeared thin and set, while the sensitive Nostrils quivered almost like those of the wild Beasts which we have all of us frequently watched in the Zoological Gardens, when the Attendants bring along the food for the day and they, eager and hungry, know that the Hour of Satisfaction is nigh.
“The fair Lady Babs,” one of the young Gallants was saying with studied flippancy, “is more beautiful than ever, methinks; even though she goes about garbed in the robes of sorrow.”
“Poor young thing!” commented His Grace of Buckingham kindly. “She has been hard hit in that last affair.”
“I wonder what has happened to Wychwoode,” added Lord Rochester, who had been a known Friend of Lord Douglas.
“Oh! he reached Holland safely enough,” another Gentleman whom I did not know averred. “I suppose he thinks that it will all blow over presently and -that he will obtain a free pardon-”
“Like my Lord Stour,” commented Mr. Betterton drily.
“Oh ! that’s hardly likely,” interposed Sir George Etherege. “Wychwoode was up to the neck in the Conspiracy, whilst Stour was proved to be innocent of the whole affair.”
“How do you know that?” Mr. Betterton asked quietly.
“How do I know it?” retorted Sir George. “Why? .... How do we all know it?”
“I was wondering,” was Mr. Betterton’s calm rejoinder.
“I imagine,” broke in another Gentleman, “that at the trial -”
“Stour never stood his trial, now you come to think of it,” here interposed my Lord of Rochester.
“He was granted a free pardon,” asserted His Grace of Buckingham, “two days after his arrest.”
“At the instance of the Countess of Castlemaine, so I am told,” concluded Mr. Betterton.
YOU see, he only put in a Word here and there, but always to some purpose; and oh! that Purpose I simply dared not guess. I was watching him, remember, watching him as only a devoted Friend or a fond Mother know how to watéh ; and I saw that set look on his Face grow harder and harder and a steely, glittering light flash out of his eyes.
My God! how I suffered! For with that intuition which comes to us at times when those whom we love are in deadly peril, I had suddenly beheld the Abyss of Evil into which my Friend was about to plunge headlong. Yes! I understood now why Mr. Betterton had pleaded with my Lady Castlemaine for his Enemy’s life. It was not in order to confer upon him a lasting benefit and thus shame him by his Magnanimity; but rather in order to do him an Injury so irreparable that even Death could not wipe it away.
But You shall judge, dear Mistress; and thus judging You will understand much that has been so obscure in my dear Friend’s Character and in his actions of late. And to understand all is to forgive all. One thing you must remember,. however, and that is that no Man of Mr. Betterton’s worth hath ever suffered in his Pride and his innermost Sensibilities as he hath done at the hands of that young Jackanapes whom he hated—as I had good cause to know now—with an intensity which was both cruel and relentless. He meant to be even with him, to fight him with his own
weapons, which were those of Contempt and of Ridicule. He meant to wound there, where he himself had suffered most, in Reputation and Self-Respect.
I saw it all, and was powerless to do aught save to gaze in mute heart-agony on the marring of a noble Soul. Nay! I am not ashamed to own it: I did in my heart condemn my Friend for what he had set out to do. I too hated Lord Stour, God forgive me! but two months ago I would gladly have seen his arrogant Head fall upon the Scaffold; but this subtle and calculating Revenge, this cold Intrigue to ruin a Man’s Reputation and to besmirch his Honour, was beyond my ken, and I could have wept to see the great Soul of the Man, whom I admired most in all the World, a prey to such an evil purpose.
“We all know,” one of the young Sparks was saying even now, “that my Lady Castlemaine showed Stour marked favour from the very moment he appeared at Court.”
“We also know,” added Mr. Betterton with quiet irony, “that the whisper of a beautiful Woman often drowns the loudest call of Honour.”
“But surely you do not think -?”
riposted Lord Rochester indignantly, “that—that -”
“That what, my Lord?” queried Mr. Betterton calmly.
“Why, demme, that Stour did anything dishonourable?”
“Why should I not think that?” retorted Mr. Betterton, with a slight elevation of the eyebrows.
“Because he is a Stourcliffe of Stour, Sir,” broke in Sir George Etherege in that loud, blustering way he hath at times; “and bears one of the greatest names in the land.”
“A great name is hereditary, Sir,” rejoined the great Actor quietly. “Honesty is not.”
“But what does Lady Castlemaine say about it all?” interposed Lord Orrery.
“Lady Castlemaine hath not been questioned on the subject, I imagine,” interposed Sir William Davenant drily.
“Ah!” rejoined His Grace of Buckingham. “There you are wrong, Davenant. I remember speaking to her Ladyship about Stour one day—saying how glad I was that he, at any rate, had nothing to do with that abominable affair.”
“Well?” came eagerly from everyone. “What did she say?”
His Grace remained thoughtful for a time, as if trying to recollect Something that was eluding his memory. Then he said, turning to Mr. Betterton: “Why, Betterton, you were there at the time. Do You recollect? It was at one of Her Ladyship’s supper parties. His Majesty was present. We all fell to talking about the Conspiracy, and the King said some very bitter things. Then I thought I would say something about Stour. You remember?”
“Oh, yes!” replied Mr. Betterton. “What did Lady Castlemaine say?” “I don’t think she said anything. Methinks she only laughed.”
“So she did!” assented His Grace; “and winked at You, you rogue! I recollect the circumstance perfectly now, though I attached no importance to it at the time. But I can see it all before me. His Majesty frowned and continued to look glum, whilst the Countess of Castlemaine vowed with a laugh that, anyway, my Lord Stour was the handsomest Gentleman in London and that ’twere a pity to allow such a beautiful head to fall on the Scaffold.”
“It certainly sounds very strange,” mused my Lord Rochester, and fell to talking in whispers with Sir George Etherege, whilst His Grace of Buckingham went and sat down beside Mr. Betterton and obviously started to discuss the incident of the supper party all over again with the great Actor. Other isolated groups also formed themselves, and I knew that my Lord Stour’s name was on everyone’s lips.
TRADUCEMENT and gossip is meat and drink to all these noble and distinguished Gentlemen, and here they had something to talk about which would transcend in Scandal anything that had gone before. The story about my Lord Stour would spread with the rapidity which only evil-loving tongues can give.
Alas! my poor Friend knew that well enough when he shot his poisoned Arrows into the air. I was watching him whilst His Grace of Buckingham conversed with him: I saw the feverishly keen look in his eyes as he, in his turn, watched the ball of Slander and Gossip being tossed about from one group to another. He said but little, hardly gave answer to His Grace; but I could see that he was on the alert, ready with other little poisoned Darts whenever he saw signs of weakening in the volume of backbiting which he had so deliberately set going.
“I liked Stour and I admired him,” Lord Rochester said at one time. “I could have sworn that Nature herself had written “honest man” on his face.”
“Ah!-” interposed Mr. Betterton,
with that quiet sarcasm which I had learned to dread. “Nature sometimes writes with a bad pen.”
TT is not to be wondered at that the -*■ Scandal against my Lord Stour, which was started in the Green Room of the Theatre, grew in magnitude with amazing rapidity. I could not tell you, dear Mistress, what my innermost feelings were in regard to the Matter: being an humble and ignorant Clerk and devoted to the one Man to whom I owe everything that makes life pleasing, I had neither the wish nor the mental power to tear my heart to pieces in order to find out whether it beat in Sympathy with my Friend or with the Victim of such a complete and deadly Revenge
My Lord Stour was not then in London. He too, like many of his Friends —notably the Marquis of Sidbury and others not directly accused of participation in the aborted Plot—had retired to his country Estate, probably unwilling to witness the gaieties of City life while those he cared for most were in such dire Sorrow. But now that the Lady Barbara and her father were once more in Town, there was little doubt that he too would return there presently. Since he was a free Man and Lord Douglas Wychwoode had succeeded in evading the Law, there was no doubt that the natural Elasticity of Youth coupled with the prospect of the happy future which lay before him, would soon enable him to pick up the Threads of Life there where they had been so unexpectedly and ruthlessly entangled.
I imagine that when his Lordship first arrived in Town and once more established himself in the magnificent Mansion in Canon’s Row which I had bitter cause to know so well, he did not truly visualize the atmosphere of brooding suspicion which encompassed him where’er he went. If he did notice that one or two of his former Friends did give him something of a cold shoulder, I believe that he would attribute this more to political than to personal Reasons. He had undoubtedly been implicated in a Conspiracy which was universally condemned for its Treachery and Disloyalty, and no doubt for a time he would have to bear the brunt of public Condemnation, even though the free Pardon which had so unexpectedly been granted him proved that he had been more misguided than really guilty.
His arrival in London, his appearance in Public Places, his obvious ignorance of the cloud which was hanging over his fair Name, were the subject of constant discussion and comment in the Green Room of the Theatre as well as elsewhere. And I take it that his very Insouciance, the proud carelessness wherewith he met the cold reception which had been granted him, would soon have got over the scandalous tale which constant Gossip alone kept alive, except that one tongue—and one alone —never allowed that Gossip to rest.
And that tongue was an eloquent as well as a bitter one, and more cunning than even I could ever have believed.
How oft in the Green Room, in the midst of a brilliant Company, have I listened to the flippant talk of gay young Sparks, only to hear it drifting inevitably toward the Subject of my Lord Stour and that wholly unexplainable Pardon which had left him a free Man whilst all his former Associates
had either perished as Traitors or were forced to lead the miserable life of an Exile, afar from Home, Kindred and Friends.
Drifting, did I say? Nay, the Talk was invariably guided in that direction by the unerring Voice of a deeply outraged Man who, at last, was taking his Revenge. A Word here, an Insinuation there, a witty Remark or a shrug of the shoulders, and that volatile sprite Public Opinion would veer back from any possible doubt or leniency to the eternally unanswered riddle: “When so many of his Friends perished upon the Scaffold, how was it that my Lord Stour was free?”
How it had come about I know not, but it is certain that very soon it became generally known that his Lordship had been entrusted by his Friends with the distribution of Manifestos which were to rally certain Waverers to the cause of the Conspirators. And it was solemnly averred that it was in consequence of a Copy of this same Manifesto, together with a list of prominent Names, coming into the hands of my Lady Castlemaine, that so many Gentlemen were arrested and executed, and my Lord Stour had been allowed to go scot-free.
How could I help knowing that this last Slander had' emanated from the Green Room with the object of laying the final stone to the edifice of Calumnies, which was to crush an Enemy’s reputation and fair fame beyond the hope of retrieval?
A DAY or two later my Lord Stour, walking with a Friend in St. James’s Park, came face to face with Mr. Betterton, who had Sir William Davenant and the Duke of Albemarle with him as well as one or two other Gentlemen, whilst he leaned with his wonted kindness and familiarity on my arm. Mr. Betterton would, I think, have passed by; but my Lord Stour, ignoring him as if he were dirt under aristocratic feet, stopped with ostentatious good-will to speak with the General.
But his Grace did in truth give the young Lord a very cold shoulder and Sir William Davenant, equally ostentatiously, started to relate piquant Anecdotes to young Mr. Harry Wordsley, who was just up from the Country.
I saw my Lord Stour’s handsome face darken with an angry frown. For awhile he appeared to hesitate as to what he should do, then with scant Ceremony he took the Duke of Albemarle by the coat-sleeve and said hastily:
“My Lord Duke, You and my Father fought side by side on many occasions. Now, I like not your attitude towards me. Will you be pleased to explain?” The General tried to evade him, endeavored to disengage his coat-sleeve, but my Lord Stour was tenacious. A kind of brooding obstinacy sat upon his good-looking face and after awhile he reiterated with almost fierce insistence: “No! no! you shall not go, my Lord, until You have explained. I am tired,” he added roughly, “of suspicious looks and covert smiles, an atmosphere of illwill which greets me at every turn. Politically, many may differ from Me, but I have yet to learn that a Gentleman hath not the right to his own Opinions without being cold-shouldered by his Friends.”
THE Duke of Albemarle allowed him to talk on for awhile. His Grace obviously was making up his mind to take a decisive step in the matter. After a while ho did succeed in disengaging his coat-sleeve from the persistent clutch of his young Friend, and then, looking the latter straight between the eyes, he said firmly:
“My Lord, as you say, vour Father and I were Friends and Comrades in Arms. Therefore you must forgive an old Man and a plain Soldier a pertinent question. Will you do that”
“Certainly,” was my Lord Stour’s quiet reply.
“Very well then,” continued His Grace, while all of us who were there held our breath, feeling that this colloquy threatened to have a grave
issue. “Very well. I am glad that you have given me this opportunity of hearing seme sort of Explanation from you. for in truth, rumour of late hath been over busy with your Name.”
“An Explanation, my Lord” the young man said, with an added frown.
“Aye!” replied His Grace. “That’s just the word. An Explanation. For I, my Lord, as your Father’s Friend, will ask you this: how is it that while Tearnmouth, Campsfield and so many of your Associates perished upon the Scaffold, You alone, of those implicated in that infamous plot, did obtain an unconditional Pardon?”
Lord Stour stepped back as if he had been hit .in the face. Boundless astonishment was expressed in the gaze which he fixed upon the General, as well as wrathful indignation.
“My Lord!” he exclaimed, “that question is an insult!”
“Make me swallow mine own words,” retorted His Grace imperturbably, “by giving me a straight answer.”
“Mine answer must be straight,” rejoined Lord Stour firmly, “since it is based on truth. I do not know.”
The Duke shrugged his shoulders, and‘there came a sarcastic laugh from more than one of the Gentlemen there.
“I give your Lordship my word of honor,” Lord Stour insisted haughtily. Then, as IT5° Grace, remained silent, with those deep-set eyes of his fixed searchingly upon the young Man, the latter added vehemently: “Is then
mine honour in question?”
Whereupon Mr. Betterton, who hitherto had remained silent, interposed very quietly:
“The honour of some Gentlemen, my Lord, is like the manifestation of Ghosts—much talked of. . . . but always difficult to prove!”
VT’OU know his Voice, dear Mistress, ■* and that subtle carrying powe” which it has, although he never seems to raise it. After he had spoken You could have heard the stirring of every little twig in the trees above us, for no one sam another word for a moment or two. We all stood there, a compact little group: Lord Stour facing the
Duke of Albemarle and Mr. Betterton standing a step or two behind His Grace, his fine, expressive face set in a mask of cruel irony. Sir William Davenant and the other Gentlemen had closed in around those three. They must have felt that some strange storm Passions was brewing, and instinct tively they tried to hide its lowering clouds from public gaze.
Fortunately there were not many Passers-by just then, and the little scene remained unnoted by the idly curious, who are ever wont to collect in Crowds whenever anything strange to them happens to attract their attention.
My Lord Stour was the first to recover speech. He turned on Mr. Betterton with unbridled fury.
“What?” he cried, “another sting from that venomous Wasp? I might have guessed that so miserable a calumny came from such a vile Caitiff as this!”
“Abuse is not Explanation, my lord,” interposed the Duke of Albemarle firmly. “And I must remind you that you have left my question unanswered.’
“Put it more intelligibly, mv Lord,” retorted Lord Stour haughtily. “I might then know how to reply.”
“Very well,” riposted His Grace, still apparently unmoved. “I will put it differently: I understand that your
Associates entrusted their treasonable Manifestos to you. Is that a fact?” “I’ll not deny it.”
“You cannot,” rejoined the Duke drily. “Sir James Campsfield, in the course of his Trial, admitted that he had received his summons through you. But a Copy of that Manifesto came into the hands of my Lady Castelmaine just in time to cause the Conspiracy to abort. How was that?”
“Some traitor,” replied Lord Stour hotly, “of whom I have no cognizance.” “Yet it was You,” riposted the General quietly, “who received a free pardon. ... no one else. How was that?” he reiterated more sternly.
“I have sworn to You that I do not
know,” protested my Lord Stour fiercely-
He looked now like a Man at bay, trapped in a net which was closing in around him and from which he was striving desperately to escape. His face was flushed, his eyes glowed with an unnatural fire. And always his restless gaze came back to Mr. Betterton, who stood by, calm and impassive, apparently disinterested in this colloquy wherein a man’s Honour was being tossed about to the winds of Slander and of Infamy. Now Lord Stour gazed around him, striving to find one line of genuine Sympathy on the stern faces which were confronting him.
“My word of Honour, Gentlemen,” he exclaimed with passionate earnestness, “that I do not know!”
UONESTLY I think that one or two _ *■ of them did feel for him and "were inclined to give him credence. After all, these young Fops are not wicked; they are only mischievous as Children or young Puppies are wont to be, ready to snarl at one another, to yap and to tear to pieces anything that happens to come in their way. Moreover, there was the great bond of Caste between these people. They were, in their innermost hearts, loth to believe that one of themselves—a Gentleman, one bearing a great Name—could be guilty of this type of foul crime "which was more easily attributable to a Plebeian. It was only their love of scandal-mongering and of backbiting that had kept the story alive all these weeks. Even now there were one or two sympathetic murmurs amongst those present when my Lord Stour swore by his honour.
But just then Mr. Betterton’s voice was heard quite distinctly above that murmur.
“Honour is a strangely difficult word to pronounce on the stage,” he was saying to Sir William Davenant, apparently apropos of something the latter had remarked just before. “You try and say it, Davenant; you will see how it almost dislocates your jaw, yet produces no effect.”
“Therefore, Mr. Actor,” Lord Stour broke in roughly, “it should only be spoken by those who have a glorious Ancestry behind them to teach them its true significance.”
“Well spoken, my Lord,” Mr. Betterton rejoined placidly. “But you must remember that but few of His Majesty’s Servants have a line of glorious ancestry behind them. In that way they differ from many Gentlemen, who, having nothing but their Ancestry to boast of, are very like a turnip —the best of them is under the ground.”
This sally was greeted with loud laughter and by a subtle process which I could not possibly define, the wave of Sympathy, which was setting in the direction of my Lord Stour, once more receded from him, leaving him wrathful ,and obstinate, His Grace of Albermarle stern, and the young Fops flippant and long-tongued as before.
“My Lord Stour,” the General now broke in once more firmly, “ ’tis you sought this Explanation, not I. Now you have left my question unanswered. Your Friends entrusted their Manifestos to You. How came one of these in Lady Castlemaine’s hands?”
And the young Man, driven to bay, facing half a dozen pairs of eyes that held both contempt and enmity in their glance, reiterated hoarsely:
“I have sworn to You that I do not know.” T.hen he added: “Hath loy-
alty then left this unfortunate land, that You can all believe such a vile thing of me?”
And in the silence that ensued, Mr. Betterton’s perfectly modulated voice was again raised in quietly sarcastic accents.
“As you say, my Lord,” he remarked, “loyalty hath left this unfortunate Country. Perhaps,” he added with a light shug of the shoulders, “to take refuge with your glorious ancestry.”
'T'HIS last gibe, however, brought A my Lord Stour’s exasperation to a raging fury. Pushing unceremoniously past His Grace of Albermarle, who stood before him, he took a step for-
ward and confronted Mr. Betterton, eye to eye, and, drawing himself up to his full height, he literally glowered down upon the great Artist, who stood his ground, placid and unmoved.
“Insolent Variet,” came in raucous tones from the young Lord’s quivering lips. “If you had a spark of chivalry or of honour in You—”
At the arrogant insult every one drew their breath. A keen excitement flashed in every eye. Here was at last a quarrel, jne that must end in bloodshed. Just what was required—so thought these young Rakes, I feel sure —to clear the atmosphere and to bring abstruse questions of Suspicion and of Honour to a level which they could all of them understand. Only the Duke of Albermarle, who, like a true and great Soldier, hath the greatest possible abhorrence for the gentlemanly Pastime of Duelling, tried to interpose. But Mr. Be.terton, having provoked the quarrel, required no interference from anyone. You know his way, dear Mistress, as well as I do—that quiet attitude which he is wont to assume, that fraction of a second’s absolute Silence just before he begins to speak. I know of no Elocutionist’s trick more telling than that. It seems to rivet the Attention and at the same time to key up Excitement and Curiosity to its greatest strain.
“By your leave, my Lord,” he said slowly, and his splendid voice rose just to a sufficient pitch of loudness to be distinctly heard by those immediately near him, but not one yard beyond. “By your leave, let us leave the word ‘honour’ out of our talk. It hath become ridicul JUS and obsolete now that every Traitor doth use it for his own ends.”
But in truth my Lord Stour now was beside himself with fury. .
“By gad!” he exclaimed with a harsh laugh, “I might have guessed that it was your pestilential tongue which stirred up this treason against me. Liar!—Scoundrel !—”
He was for henping up one insult upon the other, lashing himself as it were into greater fury still, when Mr. Betterton’s quietly ir vnical laugh broke in upon his senseless ebullitions.
“Liar?—Scoundrel, am I?” he said lightly, and still laughing, he turned to the Gentlemen who stood beside him. “Nay! if the sight of a Scoundrel offends his Lordship, he should shut himself up in his own room—and break his mirror!”
At this, my Lard Stour lost the last vestige of his self-control, seized Mr. Betterton by the shoulder and verily, I thought, made as if he would strike him.
“You shall pay for this insolence!” he cried.
But already, with perfect sang-froid, the great Artist had arrested his Lordship’s uplifted hand and wrenched it away from his shoulder.
“By your leave, my Lord.” he said, and with delicate fingers flicked the dust from off his oat. “This coat was fashioned by an honest tailor, and has never been touched by a traitor’s hand.”
I thought then that I could see Murder writ plainly on My Lord’s face, which had suddenly become positively livid. The excitement around us now was immense. Tn truth I am convinced that every Gentleman there present at the moment felt that something more deep and m >re intensely bitter lay at the root of this quarrel between the voung Lord and the great and popular Artist. Even now some of them would have liked to interfere, whilst the younger ones undoubtedly enioyed the spectacle and were laying, I doubt not, imaginary Wagers as to which of the two Disputants v/ould remain master of the situation.
HIS Grace of Albermarle tried once more to interpose with all the authority of his years and of his distinguished Position, for indeed there was something almost bestial in Lord Stour’s wrath by now. But Mr. Betterton took the words at once out of the great General's mouth.
“Nay, my Lord,” lie said with quiet firmness, “I pray you, do not inter-
fere. I am in no danger, I assure you. My Lord Stour would wish to kill me, no doubt. But, believe me, Fate did not ordain that Tom Betterton should die by such a hand....the fickle Jade hath too keen a sense of humour.”
Whereupon he made a movement as if to walk away. I felt the drag upon my arm where his slender hand was still resting. The others were silent. What could they say? Senseless Numskulls though they were for the most part, they had enough perception to realize that between these two Men there was hatred so bitter that no mere Gentlemanly Bloodshed could ever wipe it away.
But ere Mr. Betterton finally turned to go, my Lord of Stour stepped out in front of him. All the rage appeared to have died out of him. He was outwardly quite calm, only a weird twitching of his lips testified to the Storm of Passion which he had momentarily succeeded to keep under control.
“Mr. Actor,” he said slowly, “but a few weeks ago you asked me to cross swords with you. . . .1 refused then, for up to this hour I have never fought a Duel save with an equal. But now, I accept,” he added forcefully, even while the words came veiled and husky from his throat. “I accept. Do you hear me ?... .for the laws of England do not permit a Murder, and as sure as there’s a Heaven above me, I am going to kill You.”
Mr. Betterton listened to him until the end. You know that power which he hath of seeming to tower above everyone who stands nigh him? Well! he exercised that power now. He stepped quite clise to my Lord Stour, and though the latter is of more than average height, Mr. Betterton literally appeared to soar above him with the sublime Magnificence of an outraged Man coming into his own at last.
“My Lord of Stour,” he said, with perfect nuietude, “a few weeks ago you insulted me as Man never dared to insult Man before. With every blow dealt upon my shoulders 'by your Lacen eys, You outraged the Majesty of Genius. . . . yes! its Majesty!. ... its Godhead! . . . .You raised your insolent hand against be—against nie, the Artist, whom God himself hath crowned with Immortality. For a moment then, my outraged Manhood clamoured for satisfaction. I asked You to cross swords with me, for You seemed to me .... then .... worthy of that Honour. But to-day, my Lord of Stour,” he continued, whilst every word he snoke seemed to strike upon the ear like blows from a relentless hammer; “Traitor to your Friends, Liar and Informer!!! Bah! His Majesty’s Well-Beloved Servant cannot fight with such as You!”
In truth I do not remember whai happened after that. The unutterable Contempt, the Disvust, the Loathing expressed in my Friend’s whole attitude, seemed to hit even me between the eves. I felt as if some giant hands had thrown a kind of filmy grey veil over my head, for I heard and saw nothingsave a blurred and dim vision of uplifted arms, of clenched fists and of a veneral scrimmage, of which my Lord Stour appeared to be the centre, whilst my ears only caught the veiled echo of words flung hoarsely into the air :
“Let me go! I,et me go! I must kill him! I must!”
Mr. Betterton, on the other hand, remained perfectly calm. I felt a slight pressure on my arm and presently realized fhat he and I had turned and were walking awav down the avenu«1 of the nark and leaving some way already behind us a seething mass of excited Gentlemen, all intent on preventing murder being committed then and there.
What the outcome of it all would be, I could not visualize. Mr. Betterton had indeed been able to give Insult for Insult and Outrage for Outrage at last: for this he had schemedand worked and planned all these weeks. Whether God and Justice were OP his side in this terrible Revenge, I dared
not ask myself, nor yet if the Weapon which he had chosen were worthy of his noble character and of his integrity. That public opinion was on his side, I concluded from the fact that the Duke of Albermarle and Sir William Davenant both walked a few yards with him after he had turned his back on my Lord, and that His Grace constituting himself Spokesman for himself and Sir William, offered their joint services to Mr. Betterton in case he changed his mind and agreed to fight my Lord Stour in duel.
“I thank your Grace,” was Mr. Betterton’s courteous reply; “but I am not likely to change my mind on that score.”
CHAPTER THIRTEEN I
The Lady Pleads
I AM not able quite to determine in my own mind whether the Lady Barbara Wychwoode did hear and see something of the violent Scene which T have just attempted to describe.
I told you, dear Mistress, that fortunately for us all this part of the Park where the Scene occurred was for the moment practically deserted. At any rate, no Crowd collected around us, for which, methinks, we were, every one of us, thankful. If a few of the Passers-by heard anything of the altercation, they merely hurried past, thinking no doubt that it was only one or two young city Sparks, none too sober even at this morning hour, who were quarrelling among themselves.
When we walked away down the Avenue which leads in the direction of Knightsbridge, Mr. Betterton’s wellknown, elegant figure was remarked by a few Pedestrians on their way to and fro, as was also the familiar one of the Duke of Albemarle, and some People raised their hats to the great Artist while others saluted the distinguished General.
Presently His Grace and Sir William Davenant took leave of Mr. Betterton, and a few moments later the latter suggested that we should also begin to wend our way homewards.
We retraced our steps and turned back in the direction of Westminster. Mr. Betterton was silent; he walked quite calmly, with head bent and firm footsteps, and I, knowing his humour, walked along in silence by his side.
Then suddenly we came upon the Lady Barbara.
That she had sought this meeting I could not doubt for a moment. Else, how should a Lady of her Rank and Distinction be abroad, and in a public Park, unattended ? Indeed, I was quite sure that she had only dismissed her maid when she saw Mr. Betterton coming along, and that the Wench was lurking somewhere behind one of the shrubberies, ready to accompany her Ladyship home when the interview was at an end.
I said that I am even now doubtful as to whether the Lady Barbara saw and heard something of the violent Altercation which had taken place a quarter of an hour ago between her Lover and the great Actor. If not, she certainly displayed on that occasion that marvellous intuition which is; said to be the prerogative of every Woman when she is in love.
She was walking on the further side of Rosamond Pond when first I caught sight of her, and when she reached the Bridge, she came deliberately to a halt. There is no other way across the Pond save by the Bridge, so Mr. Betterton could not have escaped the meeting even if he would. Seeing the .Lady, he raised his hat and made a deep bow of respectful salutation. He then crossed the Bridge and made as if he would pass by, but she held her Ground, in the very centre of the Path, and when he was quite near her, she said abruptly:
“Mr. Betterton, I desire a word with you.”
He came at once to a halt, and replied with perfect deference:
“I await your Ladyship’s commands.’” To be continued