HIS MAJESTY’S WELL-BELOVED
A Romantic Story of the Time of Charles II
CHAPTER SIX The Gathering Storm
IT was after that never-to-be-forgotten Episode that Mr. Betterton honoured me with his full and entire Confidence. At the moment that he clung so pathetically to my feeble arms, he realized, I think for the first time, what a devoted Friend he would always find me. Something of the powerful, magical Fluid of my devotion must have emanated from my Heart and reached his sensitive Perceptions. He knew from that hour that while I lived and had Health and Strength, I should never fail him in Loyalty and willing Service.
Soon afterwards, if you remember, Mr. Betterton went again to Paris, by command of His Majesty this time, there to study and to master the whole Question of Scenery and scenic Effects upon the Stage such as is practised at the Theatre de Moliere in the great City. That he acquitted himself of his task with Honour and Undei'standing goes without saying. The rousing Welcome which the public of London gave him on his return testified not only to his Worth but also to his Popularity.
The scenic Innovations, though daring and at times crudely realistic, did, in the opinion of Experts, set off the art of Mr. Betterton to the greatest possible advantage. No doubt that his overwhelming Success at that time was in a great measure due to his familiarity with all those authentic-looking doors and trees and distant skies which at first bewildered such oldfashioned actors as Mr. Harris or the two Messrs. Noakes.
Never indeed had Mr. Betterton been so great as he was now. Never had his Talents stood so high in the estimation of the cultured World. His success as Alvaro in “Love and Honour,” as Solyman in the “Siege of Rhodes,” as “Hamlet,” or “Pericles,” stand before me as veritable Triumphs. Bouquets and Handkerchiefs, scented Notes and Love-tokens, were showered upon the brilliant Actor as he stood upon the Stage, proudly receiving the adulation of the Audience whom he had conquered by the Magic of his Art.
His Majesty hardly ever missed a performance at the new Duke’s Theatre when Mr. Betterton was acting, nor did my Lady Castlemaine, who was shamelessly vowing about that time that she was prepared to bestow upon the great Man any Favour he might ask of her.
BUT outwardly at any rate, Mr. Betterton had become a changed Man. His robust Constitution and splendid Vitality did in truth overcome the physical after-effects of the abominable Outrage of which he had been the Victim; but the moral consequences upon his entire character and demeanour were indeed incalculable. Of extraordinary purity in his mode of living, it had been difficult, before that Episode, for evil Gossip to besmirch his fair name, even in these lax and scandalous times. But after that grim September afternoon it seemed as if he took pride in emulating the least estimable characteristics of his Contemporaries. His Majesty’s avowed predilection for the great Actor brought the latter into daily contact with all those noble and beautiful Ladies who graced the Court and Society more by virtue of their outward appearance than of their inner worth. Scarce ever was a banquet or fête given at White Hall now but Mr. Betterton was not one of the most conspicuous guests: never a Supper party at my Lady Castlemaine’s or my Lady Shrewsbury’s but the famous Actor was present there. He was constantly in the company of His Grace of Buckingham, of my Lord Rochester and others of these noble young Rakes; his name was constantly before the Public; bo was daily to be seen at the Mall or in St. James’s Park, or at the more ceremonious parade in Hyde Park. His elegant clothes were the talk of every young Gallant that haunted Fop’s Corner, his sallies were quoted by every Cavalier who strove for a reputation as a wit. In fact dear Lady, You know just as well as I do, that for that’brief period of his life Mr. Betterton became just one of the gay, idle, modish young Men about town, one of that hard-drinking, gambling, scandal-mongering crowd of Idlers who were none of them fit to tic the laces of his shoes.
I, who saw more and more of him in those days, knew, however, that all that gay, butterfly Existence which he led was only on the surface. To me he was like some poor Animal stricken by a mortal wound, who nevertheless capers and gyrates before a grinning Public with mechanical movements of the body that have nothing in common with the mind.
/AF the beautiful Lady Barbara I saw but little during the autumn.
There was much talk in the Town about her forthcoming Marriage to my Lord of Stour, which was to take place soon after the New Year. Many were the conjectures as to why so suitable a Marriage did not take place immediately, and it seemed strange that so humble and insignificant a Person as I was could even then have supplied the key to the riddle which was puzzling so many noble Ladies and Gentlemen. I knew, in my humble capacity as Spectator of great events, that the Marriage would only take place after the vast and treasonable projects which had originated in my Lord Douglas Wychwoode’s turbulent mind had come to a successful issue.
I often confided to You, dear Mistress, m those days that Mr. Betterton, in the kindness of his Heart, had made me many an offer to leave my present humdrum employment and to allow myself to be attached to his Person ns his private Secretary and personal Friend. For a long time I refused his offers —tempting and generous though they were—chiefly because if I had gone there to live with Mr. Betterton I should have been irretrievably separated from You. But in my Heart I knew that though the gront Man was not in pressing r.eed of a Secretary, his soul did even long and yearn for a Friend. A more devoted one, I vow. did not exist than my humbk self ; and when, during the early part of the Autumn You, dear Mistress, finally decided to leave your present uncomfortable quarters for lodgings more befitting your growing Fame and your Talents, there was nothing more to keep me tied to my dour and unsympathetic Employer and to his no less unpleasant Spouse.
I therefore gave Mr. Theophilus Baggs notice that
I had resolved to quit his Employ, hoping that my decision would meet with his Convenience.
I could not help laughing to myself when I saw the manner in which he received this Announcement. To say that he was surprised and indignant would be to put it mildly; indeed, he used every Mode of persuasion to try and make me alter my decision. He began by chiding me for an Ingrate, vowing that he had taught me all I knew and lavished Money and Luxuries upon me,’ and that I was proposing to leave him just when the time had come for him to see some slight return of his Expenditure and for his pains, in my growing Efficiency. He went on to persuade, to cajole and to bribe, Mistress Euphrosine joining him both in Vituperation and in Unctuousness. But, as You know,
I was adamant. I knew the value of all this softsawder and mouth-honour. I had suffered too many Hardships and too many Indignities at the hands of these selfish Sycophants to turn a deaf ear now that friendship and mine own future happiness called to me so insistently.
Finally, however, I yielded to the extent of agreeing to stay a further three months in the service of Mr. Baggs, whilst he took steps to find another Clerk who would suit his purpose. But I only agreed to this on the condition that I was to be allowed a fuller amount of personal Freedom than I had enjoyed hitherto, that I should not be set any longer to do menial tasks, which properly pertained to a Scullion, and that whenever my clerical work for the day was done I should be at liberty to employ my time as seemed best to me..
Thus it was that I had a certain amount of leisure, and after You left us, fair Mistress, I was able to take my walks abroad, there where I was fairly certain of meeting You, or of having a glimpse of Mr. Betterton, surrounded by his brilliant Friends.
Often, dear Mistress, did You lavish some of your precious time and company upon the seedy Attorney’s Clerk, who of a truth was not worthy to be seen walking in the Park or in Mulberry Gardens beside the beautiful and famous Mistress Saunderson, who by this time had quite as many Followers and Adorers as any virtuous Woman could wish for. You never mentioned Mr. Betterton to me in those days, even though I knew that you must often have been thrown in his Company, both in the Theatre and in Society. That your love for him had not died in your Heart I knew from the wistful look which was wont to come into your eyes whenever You chanced to meet him in the course of a Promenade. You always returned his respectful and elaborate bow on those occasions with cool Composure; but as soon as he had passed by and his rich, mellow Voice, so easily distinguishable amongst others, had died away in the distance, I, who knew every line of your lovely face, saw the familiar look of Sorrow and of bitter Disappointment once more mar its perfect serenity.
TE had an unusually mild and prolonged autumn this past year, if you remember, fair Mistress; and towards the end of October there were a few sunny days which were the veritable aftermath of Summer. The London Parks and Gardens were crowded day after with Ladies and Gallants, decked in their gayest attire, for the time to don Winter clothing still appeared remote.
I used to be fond of watching all these fair Ladies and dazzling Cavaliers, and did so many a time on those bright mornings whilst waiting to see You pass. On one occasion I saw the Lady Barbara Wychwoode, in company with my Lord Stour.
Heaven knows I have no cause to think kindly of her; but truth compels me to say that she appeared to me more beautiful than ever before. She and his Lordship had found two chairs, up against a tree, somewhat apart from the rest of the glittering throng. I as a Spectator could see that they were supremely happy in one another’s company.
“How sweet the air is!” she was sighing contentedly. “More like spring than late autumn. Ah, me! How happily one could dream.”
She threw him a witching glance which no doubt sent him straight to Heaven, for I heard him say with passionate earnestness :
“Of what do Angels dream, my beloved?”
They continued to whisper, and I of course did not catch all that they said. My Lord Stour was obviously very deeply enamoured of the Lady Barbara. Because of this I seemed to hate and despise him all the more. Oh! when the whole World smiled on him, when Fortune and Destiny showered their most precious gifts into his lap, what right had he to mar the soul which God had given him with such base Passions as Jealousy and Cruelty? With his monstrous Act of unwarrantable violence he had ruined the happiness of
a Man greater, finer than himself; he had warped a noble disposition, soured a gentle and kindly spirit. Oh! I hated him! I hated him! God forgive me, but I had not one spark of Christian spirit for him within my heart. If it lay in my power, I knew that I was ready to do him an Injux*y.
From time to time I heard snatches of his impassioned speeches. “Barbara, my beloved! Oh, God! how I love You!” or else: “’Tis unspeakable joy to
look into your eyes, joyous madness to hold your little hand!” And more of such stuff as Lovers know how to use.
And she, too, looked supremely happy. There was a sparkle in her eyes which spoke of a Soul intoxicated with delight. She listened to him as if every word from his lips was heaven-sent Manna to her hungering heart. And I marvelled why this should be: why she should listen to this self-sufficient, empty-headed young Coxcomb and have rejected with such bitter scorn the suit of a Man worthy in every sense to be the Mate of a Queen. And I thought then of Mr. Betterton kneeling humbly before her, his proud Head bent before this ignorant and wilful Girl, who had naught but cruel words for him on her lips. And a great wrath possessed me, greater than it ever had been before.
I suppose that I am very wicked and that the Devil of Revenge had really possessed himself of my Soul; and then there, under the trees, with the translucent Dome of blue above me, I vowed bitter hatred against those two, vowed that Fate should be even with them if I, the humble Clerk, could have a say in her decrees.
JUST now, they were like two Children playing at love. He was insistent and bold, tried to draw her to him, to kiss her in sight of the fashionable throng that promenaded up and down the Avenue less than fifty yards away. “A murrain on the Conventions!” he said with a light laugh, as she chided him for his Ardour. “I want the whole Universe to be witness of my joy.”
She placed her pretty hand playfully across his mouth.
“Hush, my dear Lord!” she said with wonderful tenderness. “Heaven itself, they say, is ofttimes jealous to see such Happiness as ours. . . . And I am so happy. . . .” she continued with a deep sigh, “so happy that at times a horrible presentiment seems to grip my heart. . . .”
“Presentiment of what, dear love?” he queried lightly.
I did not catch what she said in reply, for just at that moment I caught sight of Mr. Betterton walking at a distant point of the Avenue, in the Company of a number of admiring Friends.
They were hanging round him, evidently vastly amused by some witty sallies of his. Never had I seen him look more striking and more brilliant. He wore a magnificent coat of steel-grey velvet with richly embroidered waistcoat and a cravat and frills of diaphanous lace, whilst the satin breeches, silk stockings and be-ribboned shoes set off his shapely limbs to perfection. His Grace of Buckingham was walking beside him, and he had my Lady Shx’ewsbury upon his arm, whilst among his Friends I recognized my Lords Orrery and Buckhurst, and the Lord Chancellor himself.
The Lady Barbara caught sight of Mr. Betterton too, I imagine, for as I moved away, I heard her say in a curiously constrained voice :
“That man—my Lord—he is your deadly Enemy.” “Bah!” he retorted with a careless shrug of the shoulders. “Actors are like toothless, ill-tempered curs. They bark, but they are powerless to bite!”
Oh, I hated him ! Heavens, how I hated him !
Synopsis:—This is the story of Thomas Betterton and Joyce Sazinderson as told by John Honeywood. Betterton is a famous actor and a favorite of Charles II. The favor that he wins with other women, particularly Lady Barbara Wychwoode, causes Joyce to break off her engagement with him. Honeywood is engaged by Theophilus Baggs as a clerk and scrivener and is ordered to copy a treasonable manifesto brought by Lord. Douglas Wychzuoode, brother of Barbara. It calls upon the gentry of the country to unite in a plot to seize and dethrone Charles. Lord Doziglas meets Lord Stour, Baz'bara’s lover, at Baggs’ house and endeavors to draw him into the plot. Betterton makes love to Barbara and the noblemen hire bullies to set upon him and ' beat him. They refuse him. the satisfaction due a gentleman.
How puny and insignificant he was beside his unsuccessful Rival should of a surety have been apparent even to the Lady Barbara. Even now, Mr. Betterton, with a veritable crowd of Courtiers around him, had come to a halt not very far from where those two wTere sitting; and it was very characteristic of him that, even whilst the Duke of Buckingham was whispering in his ear and the Countess of Shrewsbury was smiling archly at him, his eyes having found me, he nodded and waved his hand to me.
A MINUTE or two later another group of Ladies and Gallants, amongst whom her Grace the Duchess of Yoi’k was conspicuous by her elegance and the richness of her attire, literally swooped down upon Mr. Betterton and his Friends, and her Grace’s somewhat high-pitched voice came ringing shrilly to mine ear.
“Ah, Mr. Betterton!” she exclaimed. “Whei’e have you hid yourself since yesterday, you wicked, adorable Man? And I, who wished to tell you how entirely splendid was your performance in that supremely dull play you call ‘Love and Honour.’ You were superb, Sir, positively superb! ... I was telling His Grace a moment ago that every Actor in the World is a mere Mountebank when compared with Mr. Bettei*ton’s Genius !”
And long did she continue in the same strain, most of the Ladies and Gentlemen agreeing with her and engaging in a chorus of Eulogy, all delivered in high falsetto voices, which in the olden days, when first I knew him, would have set Mr. Betterton’s very teeth on edge. But now he took up the ball of airy talk, tossed it back to the Ladies, bowed low and kissed Her Grace’s hand—I could see that she gave his a significant pressure—gave wit for wit and flattery for flattery.
He had of a truth made a great success the day before in a play called “Love and Honour,” writ by Sir William Davenant, when His Majesty himself lent his own Coronation Suit to the great Actor, so that he might worthily represent the part of Prince Alvaro. This Success put ttie crowning Glory to his reputation, although in my humble opinion it was unworthy of so great an Artist as Mr. Betterton to speak the Epilogue which he had himself written in eulogy of the Countess of Castlemaine, and which he delivered with such magnificent Diction at the end of the Play, that His Majesty waxed quite enthusiastic in his applause.
STANDING somewhat apart from that dazzling group, I noticed my Lord Douglas Wychwoode, in close conversation with my Lord Teammouth and another Gentleman who was in clerical attire. After awhile, my Lord Stour joined them, the Lady Barbara having apparently slipped away unobserved.
My Lord Stour was greeted by his friends with every mark of cordiality.
“Ah!” the Cleric exclaimed, and extended both his hands—which were white and plump—to my Lord. “Here is the truant at last!” Then he waxed playful, put up an accusing finger and added with a smix'king laugh: “Meseems I caught sight of a petticoat
just behind those ti’ees, where his Lordship himself had been apparently communing with Nature, eh?” Whereupon my Lord Teammouth went on, not unkindly and in tha't dogmatic way which he was pleased to affect: “Youth will ever smile, even in the midst of dangers; and my Lord Stour is a great favourite with the Ladies.”
Lord Douglas Wychwoode was as usual petulant and impatient, and rejoined angrily:
“Even the Castlemaine has tried to cast her nets around him.”
My Lord Stour demurred, but did not try to deny the soft impeachment.
“Only because I am new at Court,” he said, “and have no eyes for her beauty.”
This, of course, was News to me. I am so little versed in Court and Society gossip and had not heard the latest piece of scandal, which attributed to the Lady Castlemaine a distinct penchant for the youngNobleman. Not that it surprised me. altogether. The newly created Countess of Castlemaine, who was receiving favours from His Majesty the King with both hands, never hesitated to deceive him and even to> render him ridiculous, by flaunting her predilections for this or that young Gallant who happened to have captured her wayward fancy. My Lox-d Sandwich* Colonel Hamilton, the handsome Mr. Wycherley, and even such a vulgar churl as Jacob Hill, the i'ope dancer, had all at one time or another been favored with Continued on Page 68
His Majesty’s WellBeloved
Continued, front Page 28
the Lady’s fitful smiles, and while responding to her advances with the Ardour born of Cupidity or of a desire for self-advancement rather than of true love, they had for the most part lost some shreds of their Reputation and almost all of their Self-respect.
But at the moment I paid no heed to Lord Douglas’ taunt levelled at his Friend, nor at the latter’s somewhat careless way of Retort. In fact, the whole Episode did not then impress itself upon my mind, and it was only in face of later events that I was presently to be reminded of it all.
E'OR the moment I was made happy ■F by renewed kindly glances from Mr. Betterton. It seemed as if his eyes had actually beckoned to me, so I made bold to advance nearer to the dazzling group of Ladies and Gentlemen that stood about, talking—jabbering, I might say, like a number of gay-plumaged birds, for they seemed to me irresponsible and unintellectual in their talk.
Of course I could not hear everything, and I had to try and make my unfashionably attired Person as inconspicuous as possible. So I drew a book from my pocket, one that looked something like a Greek Lexicon, though in truth it was a collection of Plays writ by the late Mr. William Shakespeare, in one or two of which—notably in one called Hamlett —Mr. Betterton had scored some of his most conspicuous Triumphs.
The book, and my seeming absorption in it, gave me the countenance of an earnest young Student on the perusal of Classics, even whilst it enabled me to draw quite near to the brilliant Throng of distinguished People, who, if they paid any heed to me at all, would find excuses for my Presumption in my obvious earnest Studiousness. I was also able to keep some of my attention fixed upon Mr. Betterton, who was surrounded by admiring Friends; whilst at some little distance close by, I could see Mr. Harris—also of the Duke’s Theatre -—who was holding forth in a didactic manner before a group of Ladies and gay young Sparks, even though they were inclined to mock him because of his Conceit in pitting his talent against that of Mr. Betterton.
There was no doubt that a couple of years ago Mr. Harris could be and was considered the greatest Actor of his time; but since Mr. Betterton had consolidated his own triumphs by playing the parts of Pericles, of Hamlett and of Prince Alvaro, the older Actor’s reputation had undoubtedly suffered by comparison with the Genius of his younger Rival, at which of course he was greatly incensed. I caught sight now and then of his florid face, so different in expression to Mr. Betterton’s ! more spiritual-looking countenance, and I from time to time his pompous, raucous voice reached my ears, as did the more
strident, high-pitched voices of the Ladies. I heard on^. young Lady say, to the accompaniment of some pretty, mincing gestures : 7 f?
• “Mr. Betterton was positively rapturous last night. . . . enchanting! You, Mr. Harris, will in truth, have to look to your laurels.”
And an elderly Lady, a Dowager of obvious consideration and dignity, added in tones which brooked of no contradiction :
“My opinion is that there never has been or ever will be a Player equal to Mr. Betterton in purity of Diction and Elegance of Gesture. He hath indeed raised our English Drama to the level of High Art.”
I could have bowed low before her and kissed her hand for this; aye! and have paid homage too to all these gaily dressed Butterflies who, in truth, had more Intellectuality in them than I had given them credit for. Every word of Eulogy of my beloved Friend was a delight to my soul. I felt mine eyes glowing with enthusiasm and had grave difficulty in keeping them fixed upon my book.
I had never liked Mr. Harris personally, and I was indeed pleased to see that both the Dowager Lady—who I understand was the Marchioness of Badlesmere—and the younger Ladies and Gentlemen, felt mischievously inclined to torment him.
“What is your opinion, Mr. Harris?” my Lady Badlesmere was saying to the discomfited Actor. “It would be interesting to know one Player’s opinion of another.”
She had a spy-glass through which she regarded him quizzically, whilst a mocking smile played around her thin lips. This no doubt caused poor Mr. Harris to lose countenance, for as a rule he is very glib of tongue. But just now he mouthed and stammered, appeared unable to find his words.
“It cannot be denied, your Ladyship,” he began sentcntiously enough, “that Mr. Betterton’s gestures are smooth and pleasant, though they perhaps lack the rhythmic grandeur. . . the dignified sweep. . . of . . . of . . the. . . ”
He was obviously floundering, and the old Lady broke in with a rasping laugh and a tone of somewhat acid sarcasm:
“Of the gestures of Mr. Harris, you mean, eh?”
“No, Madam,” he. retorted testily, and distinctly nettled. “I was about to say ‘of the gestures of our greatest Actors.’ ”
“Surely the same thing, dear Mf. Harris,” a young Lady rejoined with well-assumed dernureness, and dropped him a pert little curtsey.
I might have been sorry for the Man —for' of a truth these small pin-pricks must have been very irritating to his Vanity, already sorely wounded by a younger Rival’s triumph—but for the fact that he then waxed malicious, angered no doubt by hearing a veritable Chorus of Eulogy proceeding from that other group of Ladies and Gentlemen of which Mr. Betterton was the centre.
I do not know, as a matter of fact, who it was who first gave a spiteful turning to the bantering, mocking Conversation of awhile ago; but in my mind I attributed this malice to Lord Douglas Wychwoode, who came up with his clerical friend just about this time, in order to pay his respects to the Marchioness of Badlesmere, who I believe is a near Relative of his. Certain it is that very soon after his arrival upon the. Scene, I found that every one around him was talking about that abominable Episode, the very thought of which sent my blood into a Fever and my thoughts running a veritable riot of Revenge and of Hate. Of course Mr. Harris was to the fore with pointed Allusions to the grave insult done to an eminent Artist, and which, to my thinking, should have been condemned by every right-minded Man or Woman who had a spark of lofty feeling in his or her heart.
“Ah, yes!” one of the Ladies was saying; “I heard about it at the time. . . . a vastly diverting story. . . .”
“Which went the round of the Court,” added another.
“Mr. Betterton's shoulders,” 9 gay young Spark went on airily, “are said to be still very sore.”
“And his unusually equable Temper the sorer of the two.”
Lord Douglas did not say much, but I felt his spiteful Influence running as an undercurrent through all that flippant talk.
“Faith!” concluded one of the young Gallants, “were I my Lord Stour, I would not care to have Mr. Betterton for an enemy.”
“An Actor can hit with great accuracy and harshness from the Stage,” Mr. Harris went on pompously. “He speaks words which a vast Public hears and goes on to repeat ad infinitum. Thus a man’s—aye ! or a Lady’s—reputation can be made or marred by an Epilogue spoken by a popular Player at the end of a Drama. We all remember the case of Sir William Liscard, after he had quarrelled with Mr. Kynaston.”
INHERE UPON that old story was » » raked up, how Mr Kynaston had revenged himself for an insult put upon him by Sir William Liscard by making pointed Allusions from the Stage to the latter’s secret Intrigue with some lowclass wench, and to the Punishment which was administered to him by the wench’s vulgar lover. The Allusions were unmistakable, because that punishment had taken the form of a slit nose, and old Sir William had appeared in Society one day with a piece of sticking plaster across the middle of his face.
Well, we all know what happened after that. Sir William, covered with Ridicule, had to leave London for awhile and bury himself in the depths of the Country, for in Town he could not show his face in the streets but he was greeted with some vulgar lampoon or ribald song, hurled at him by passing i’oistevers. It all ended in a Tragedy, for Lady Liscard got to hear of it and there was talk of Divorce proceedings, which would have put Sir William wholly out of Court—His Majesty being entirely averse to the dissolution of any legal Marriage.
But all this hath naught to do with my story, and I only recount the matter to You to show You how, in an instant, the temper of all these great Ladies and Gentlemen can be swayed by the judicious handling of an evil-minded Person.
All these Ladies and young Rakes, who awhile ago were loud in their praises of a truly great Man, now found pleasure in throwing mud at him, ridiculing and mocking him shamefully, seeing that, had he been amongst them, he would soon have confounded them with his Wit and brought them back to Allegiance by his magic Personality.
Once again I heard a distinct Allusion to the Countess of Castlemaine’s avowed predilection for Lord Stour. It came from one of the Cavaliers, who said to Lord Douglas with an affected little laugh :
“Perhaps my Lord Stour would do well to olnce himself unreservedly under the protection of Lady Castlemaine! 'Tis said that she i more n willing to extend her Favours to him.”
“Nay! Stour hath nothing to fear,” Lord Douglas replied curtly. “He stands far above a mere Mountebank’s spiteful pin-pricks.”
Oh! had but God given me the power to strike such a Malapert dumb! I looked around me, marvelling if there was not one sane Person here who would stand up in the defence of a great and talented Artist against this jabbering of irresponsible Monkeys.
I MUST admit, however, that directly Mr. Betterton’ appeared upon the scene the tables were quickly turned once more on Mr. Harris and even on Lord Douglas, for Mr. Betterton is past Master in the Art of wordy Warfare, and moreover has this great Advantage that he never loses control over his Temper. No malicious shaft aimed at him will ever ruffle his Equanimity, and whilst his Wit is most caustic he invariably retains every semblance of perfect courtesy.
He now had the Duchess of York on his arm, and His Grace of Buckingham had not left his side. His Friends were unanimously chaffing him about that
! Epilogue which he had spoken last night ! arid which had so delighted the Countess I j of Castlemaine. My Lord Buckhurst 1 and Sir William Davenant were quoting j ! pieces out of it, whilst I could only feel ,
! sorry that so great a Man had lent himj I self to such unworthy Flattery.
“‘Divinity, radiant as the stars!’” j ¡ Lord Buckhurst quoted with a laugh, i “By gad, you Rogue, you did not spare j your words.”
Mr. Betterton frowned almost imperi ceptibly, and I, his devoted Admirer, guessed that he was not a little ashamed of the fulsome Adulation which he had bestowed on so unworthy an Object, and j I was left to marvel whether some hidÎ den purpose as yet unknown to me had j actuated so high-minded an Artist thus to debase the Art which he held so dear.
It was evident, however, that the whole j Company thought that great things ! would come from that apparently trivial I incident.
“My Lady Castlemaine,” said Sir i William Davenant, “hath been wreathed I in smiles ever since you spoke that i Epilogue. She vows that there is no! thing she would not do for You. And, j ! as already You ai'e such a favourite with His Majesty, why, Man! there is I no end to your good fortune.”
And I, who watched Mr. Betterton’s ! face again, thought to detect a strange, mysterious look in his eyes—something hidden and brooding was going on behind that noble brow, something that was altogether strange to the usually simple, unaffected and sunny temperament of the great Artist, and which I, his intimate Confidant and Friend, had not yet been able to fathom.
Whenever I looked at him these days,
I was conscious as of a sultry Summer’s day, when nature is outwardly calm and every leaf on every tree is still. It is only to those are initiated in the mysteries of the Skies that the distant oncoming Storm is revealed by a mere speck of cloud or a tiny haze upon the Bosom of the Firmament, which hath no meaning to the unseeing eye, but -which foretells that the great forces of Nature are gathering up their strength for the striking of a prodigious blow.
CHAPTER SEVEN An Assembly of Traitors I
Î, IN the meantime, had relegated the remembrance of Lord Douglas Wychwoode and his treasonable Undertakings to a distant cell of my mind. I had not altogether forgotten them, but had merely ceased to think upon the Subject.
I was still nominally in the employ of Mr. Baggs, hut he had engaged a new j Clerk—-a wretched, puny creature, whom Mistress Euphrosine already held in bondage—and I was to leave his service definitely at the end of the month.
In the meanwhile, my chief task consisted in initiating the aforesaid wretched and puny Clerk into the intricacies of Mr. Theophilus Baggs’ business. The boy was slow-witted and slow to learn, and Mr. Baggs, who would have liked to prove to me mine own Worthlessness, was nevertheless driven into putting some of his more important work still in my charge.
Thus it came to pass that all his Correspondence with Lord Douglas Wychwoode went through my Hands, whereby I was made aware that the Traitors —for such in truth they were—were only waiting for a favourable opportunity to accomplish their damnable Purpose.
They meant to kidnap His Majesty’s sacred Person, to force him to sign an ‘ Abdication in favour of the son of Mistress Barlow—now styled the Duke of Monmouth—with the Prince of Orange as Regent during the Duke’s minority.
A more abominable and treasonable Project it were impossible to conceive, and many a wrestling match did I have with mine own Conscience, whilst debating whether it were my Duty or no to betray the confidence which had been j reposed in me and to divulge the terrible Secret of that execrable plot which j threatened the very life of His Majesty , the King.
I understood that the Manifesto ! which it had been my task to multipliI
cate had met with some success. Several Gentlemen, who held rigidly Protestant views, had promised their support to a project which ostensibly aimed at the overthrow of the last vestiges of Popery in the Country. My Lord Stour, who had also become a firm Adherent of the nefarious scheme, in deference, I presume, to the Lady Barbara’s wishes in the matter, had, it seems, rendered valuable service to the cause by travelling all over the Country, seeing these proposed Adherents in person and distributing the fiery Manifestos which were to rally the Waverers to the cause.
I imagined, however, that the whole project was in abeyance for the moment, for I had heard but little of it of late; until one day I happened to be present when the Conspirators met in the house of Mr. Theophilus Baggs.
How it came to pass that all these Gentlemen—who were literally playing with their lives in their nefarious undertaking—talked thus openly of their Plans and Projects in my hearing, I do not pretend to say. It is certain that they did not suspect me, thought me one of themselves, no doubt, since I had written out the Manifestos and was Clerk to Mr. Baggs, who was with them Body and Soul. No doubt, had Mr. Baggs been on the spot on that day, he would have warned the Traitors of my presence and much of what happened subsequently would never have occurred.
Thus doth Fate at times use simple tools to gain her own ends, and it was given to an insignificant Attorney’s Clerk to rule for this one day the future Destinies of England.
MY Lord Stour was present on that memorable afternoon. I am betraying no Secret or doing an injury bv saying that, because his connection with the Affair is of public knowledge, as is that of Lord Douglas Wychwoode. The names of the other Gentlemen whom I saw in Mr. Baggs’ room that day I will, by your leave, keep bidden behind the veil of Anonymity, contenting myself by calling the most important among them My Lord S. and anotherSir J., whilst there was also present on that occasion the gentleman in clerical Attire whom I had seen of late in Loi'd Douglas’ Company and who was none other than the Lord Bishop of D.
My Lord Stour was in great favour amongst them all. Every one was praising him and shaking him by the hand. His Lordship the Bishop took it upon himself to say, as he did most incisively: “Gentlemen! I am proud and happy to affirm that it is to the Earl of Stour that we shall owe to-night the Success of our Cause. It is he who has distributed our Appeal and helped to rally round us some of our most loyal Friends !”
Lord Stour demurred, deprecated his own efforts. His Attitude was both modest and firm: I had not„thought
him capable of so much Nobility of Manner.
But, believe me, dear Mistress, that I felt literally confounded by what I heard. Mr. Baggs. who had pressing business in town that day, had commanded me to remain at home in order to receive certain Gentlemen who were coming to visit him. I had introduced some half-dozen of them, and they had all gone into the inner office, but left the communicating door between that room and the parlour wide open, apparently quite acquiescing in my presence there. In fact, they had all nodded very familiarly to me as they entered : evidently they felt absolutely certain of my Discretion. This, as you will readily understand, placed me in a terrible Predicament. Where lay my duty, I did not know; for, in truth, to betray the Confidence of those who trust in you is a mean and low trick, unworthy of a right-minded Christian. At the same time, there was His Majesty the King’s own sacred person in peril, and that, a3 far as I could gather, on this very night; and surely it became equally the duty of every loyal Subject in the land to try and protect his Sovereign from the nefarious attacks of Traitors.
Be that as it may, however, I do verily believe that if my Lord Stour,
whom I hated with so deadly a hatred and who had done my dear, dear Friend such an irreparable injury, if he, I say. had not been mixed up in the affair, I should have done my duty as a Christian rather than as a subject of the State.
But You, dear Mistress, shall be judge of mine actions, for they have a direct bearing upon those subsequent events which have brought Mr. Bettei-ton once again to your feet.
I have said that my Lord Stour received his Friends’ congratulations and’ gratitude with becoming Modesty; but his Lordship the Bishop and also Lord S. insisted.
“It is thanks to your efforts, my dear Stour,” Lord S. said, “that at last success is assured.”
“But for you,” added the Bishop, “our plan to-night might have miscarried.”
_ My God ! I thought, then it is for tonight! And I felt physically sick whilst wondering what I should do. Even then, Lord Douglas Wychwoode’s harsh Voice came quite clearly to mine ear.
“The day is ours!” he said, with a note of triumph in his tone. “Ere the sun rise again over our downtrodden Country, her dissolute King and his Minions will be in our hands!”
“Pray God it may be so!” assented one of the others piously.
“It shall and will be so,” protested Lord Douglas with firm emphasis. “I know for a fact that the King sups with the Castlemaine to-night. Well! we are quite ready. By ten o’clock we shall have taken up our Positions. These have all been most carefully thought out. Some of us will be in hiding in the Long Avenue in the Privy Garden; others under the shadow of the Wall of the Bowling Green, whilst others again have secured excellent points of vantage in King Street. I am in command of the Party, and I give you my word that my Company is made up of young Enthusiasts who, like ourselves, have had enough of this corrupit and dissolute Monarch, who ought never to have been allowed to ascend the Throne which his Father had already debased.”
“You will have to be careful of the Night Watchmen about the Gardens, and of the Body Guard at the Gate,” one of the Gentlemen broke in.
“Of course we’ll be careful,” Lord Douglas riposted impatiently. “We have minimized our risks as far as we were able. But the King, when he sups with the Castlemaine, usually goes across to her House unattended. Sometimes he takes a Man with him across the Privy Gardens, but dismisses him at the back door of Her Ladyship’s House. As for the City Watchmen over in King Street, they will give us no trouble. If they do, we can easily overpower them. The whole thing is really perfectly simple,” he added finally; “and the only reason why we have delayed execution is because we wanted as many Sympathizers here in London as possible.”
“Now,” here interposed His Lordship the Bishop, “tflanks to my Lord Stour’s efforts, a number of our Adherents have come up from the country and have obtained lodgings in various quarters of the town, so that to-morrow morning, when we proclaim the Duke of Monmouth King and the Prince of Orange Regent of the Realm, we shall be in sufficient numbers to give to our successful Coup the appearance of a national movement.”
“Personally,” rejoined Lord Douglas with something of a sneer, “I think that the Populace will be very easily swayed. The Castlemaine is not popular. The King is; but it is a fictitious Popularity and one easily blown upon, once we have his Person safely out of the way. And we must remember that the ‘No Popery’ cry is still a very safe card to play with the mob,” he added with a dry laugh.
'THEN they all fell to and discussed A their abominable Plans all over again; whilst I, bewildered, wretched, indignant, fell on my knees and marvelled, pondered what I should do. My pulses were throbbing, my head was on fire: I had not the faculty for clear thinking. And there, in the next room, not ten paces away from where I knelt
in mute and agonized Prayer, six Men were planning an outrage against their King: amidst sneers and mirthless
laughter and protestations of loyalty to their Country, they planned the work of Traitors. They drew their Swords and there was talk* of invoking God’s blessing upon their nefarious Work.
God’s blessing!! Methought ’twas Blasphemy, and I put my hands up to mine ears lest I should hear those solemn words spoken by a consecrated Bishop of our Church, and which called for the Almighty’s help to accomplish a second Regicide.
Aye! a Regicide! What else was it? as all those fine Gentlemen knew well enough in their hearts. Would not the King resist? He was young and vigorous Would he not call for help? Had not my Lady Castlemaine Servants who would rush* to His Majesty’s assistance? What then? Was there to be murder once more, and bloodshed and rioting—fighting such as we poor Citizens of this tortured land had hoped was behind us for ever?
And if it came to a hand to hand scuffle with the King’s Most Sacred Majesty! My God! I shuddered to think what would happen then !
There was a mighty humming in my ears, like the swarm of myriads of bees; a red veil gradually spread before my eyes, which obscured the familiar Surroundings about me. Through the haze which gradually o’er-clouded my brain, I heard the voices of those Traitors droning out their blasphemous Oaths.
“Swear only to draw your swords in this just cause, and not to shed unnecessary* blood!”
And then a chorus which to my ears sounded like the howling of Evil Spirits let loose from hell :
“Then may God’s blessing rest upon You. May His Angels guard and protect You and give You the strength to accomplish what You purpose to do!”
There was a loud and prolonged “Amen!” But I waited no longer. I rose from my knees, suddenly calm and resolved. Do not laugh at me, dear Mistress, for my conceit and my presumption when I say that I felt that the destinies of England rested in my hands.
I was now perfectly calm. From my desk I took a copy of the Manifesto which had remained in my possession all this while. I read the contents through very carefully, so as to refresh my memory. Then I took up my pen and, at the foot of the treasonable document, I wrote the word: “To-night.” Hav-
ing done that, I took a sheet of note paper, carefully wrote down the names of all the Gentlemen who were even now in the next room, and of several other? Whom I had heard mentioned by the Traitors in the course of their Conversation. The two papers I folded carefully and closed them down with sealing wax.
My hand did not shake whilst I did all this. I was perfectly deliberate, for my mind was irrevocably made up. When* I had completed these preparations, I slipped the precious Documents into my pocket, took up my hat and cloak and went out to accomplish the Errand which I had set myself to do.
To be Continued.