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and truer words were never spoken. He kept her
at a distance only by lowering his head, making a
series of bows. She made several attempts to get
at him, but his politeness foiled her. His curls
had been jerked in a cluster over his forehead,
partially obscuring his vision; but Madame de
StaeTs strong personality appealed to more than
one sense ; he was conscious of her proximity, he
could hear the sound of her shrugs.

"Enfin enfin!" she said, clasping her hands in
front of him they were so plump that the fingers
did not interlace beyond the first joint. "Now,
we shall send these people away and we shall have
what you call here a quiet shat a quiet shat."



Love Alone Is Lord 201

She put one of her hands upon his arm and con-
ducted him with a proprietary air to one of the
new fauteuils which had just been designed in
France bronze Sphinxes on the arms and Roman
trophies on embossed plates screwed on the ma-
hogany. She seated herself near the arm in the
attitude of David's Madame Recamier her cos-
tume differed in only a few details from that of
Madame Recamier; there was so little of either
the difference could not be great and motioned
him to place himself beside her. He did so not
without flinching.

" Now we shall have our quiet shat. You have
interested me more than any man since Jean-
Jacques, not because you are a great poet, but
because you are a phase you understand a
phase of the English people. I wish to master
this to get at its depths to learn how it is that
you who have shown yourself to be everything
that the nation hates young, handsome, wicked,
atheist are still the idol of the nation. Shall I
tell you why it is? I will tell you; it is because
the English nation is a nation of hypocrites
because while it turns up the white of one eye in
horror at the very whisper of an impropriety, it
is winking the wink of a satyr with the other eye.
That is the truth. You know it, no one better.
And now we shall have our quiet shat."

"That will make a pleasant change, madame,"
said Byron.



CHAPTER III

'T'HEY had what Madame de Stael was pleased
I to term a quiet chat that is to say, Madame
de Stael talked without a pause except when she
was wiping from her forehead the pearls of dew
gems of a genius that knew not frigidity for half
an hour, and Byron listened. He found it con-
venient to do so, after he had made an attempt
during the first ten minutes of their chat to fling
a tiny pebble into the torrent of loquacity which
began to flow from her. Madame de Stael was
always "in spate," as it were, and a single pebble
of speech produced no impression upon her vol-
ume. Only Doctor Johnson could have stemmed
her torrent, for Doctor Johnson flung not pebbles,
but rocks. Possibly one of his granite crags of
conversation would have made some impression
upon her; but she could overwhelm all of her
contemporaries. Her ideal conversationalist was,
she admitted, the deaf-mute whom some humour-
ist had set down beside her at dinner.

She asked Byron a question, and as this was
his first experience of her, he fancied that she
meant him to answer her ; but before he had well
begun, she had answered her own question, and
had distributed the material for half a dozen



202



Love Alone Is Lord 203

other questions as a matter of fact, she only
touched upon questionable, very questionable
topics, and for every one she had her answer
ready, with a brilliant disquisition by way of
pendant.

This was quite delightful, Byron felt: he was
not an ambitious talker himself, and in simple
matters of rhetoric he was not strenuous. He
felt that he was relieved of a great responsibility
when he found himself placed beside a conversa-
tionalist so complaisant as to answer the ques-
tions which she herself propounded. He was all
the more pleased seeing that so many of the ques-
tions could only be replied to by a woman con-
versing with herself. Madame de Stael talked in
the style of the essayist who is not afraid. No
topic was too sacred to be touched upon by her
nor was any too intimate to be dealt with frankly
and brilliantly. She dragged in topics by the ears
little naked imps of topics from the congenial
and convenient obscurity in which civilisation had
allowed them to carry on their pranks for cen-
turies, out of sight if not quite out of mind, and
setting them up comically on a stool, without so
much as a rag on their bodies, she lectured them
on their wicked ways and then laughed at them,
calling on Byron to do the same while she pointed
out to him their horrid little leathery bats' wings,
their venomous claws, their evil but very droll
mouse ears. She ended by making him feel that
all these diabolic little topics were only droll



204 Love Alone Is Lord

that one had only to get accustomed to their little
ways to obtain a deal of amusement out of them
not necessarily innocent amusement, though
some people fancied that they deprived them of
their poison the moment that they termed them
physiological analyses.

"Ach! people in England are so modest that
they will not talk of these matters except in whis-
pers even to their physicians," she said it may
be mentioned that she maintained in her pronun-
ciation the best traditions of broken English.

" That is why no conversation is worth listening
to in English except one that is conducted in
whispers," remarked Byron, taking advantage of
a momentary pause.

She paid no attention to him.

" That is why there has been no writer of com-
edy in England since the days of Congreve no
true romance since Tom Jonas. Tom Jonas should
have marked the beginning of an era in the art
of romance ; but the opportunity was missed, and
now what have you fallen to in England? Your
Sheridan has wit, but it is more than twenty years
ago since he wrote his School for Scandal, and what
has he written in the meantime? As for your
Cumberlands and your Colmans pshut!" she
shrugged, and the lustres twinkled and tinkled.
"As for your romance writers Mon Dieu! they
fix a turnip on the end of a pole, wrap a black
cloak about the stick, keep it well in the dark,
and then whisper to their friends that they have



Love Alone Is Lord 205

created a man ! So much for roman anglais ' The
Mystery of - ' what you please ' The Mystery of
' heaven only knows what, I call it."

"And now of the poete anglais, Madame?" said
Byron.

" Milord Biron," said Madame, pronouncing the
name in the French way, " there were no poets in
England until you returned from the East. There
was Mr. Rogers our dear friend a true, good
friend Mr. Rogers. They say that he has the
recipe for the best pot-pourri outside Constantin-
ople. A poet? I tell you there is no man who
has lent so much money on the security of ' dove '
continuing to rhyme with 'love.' Then there is
one Wordisword one Southey one Moore
these are not poets they are poetesses there
you have a use for that beautiful English word
of yours poetess. A poetess is someone who
writes poetry and is not a poet someone who
writes of passion in a ladylike fashion. England
has never lacked ladylike gentlemen to write
poetry with mittens on their hands, and with milk
for ink they are so shocked at the blackness of
ink that they use milk yes, mixed with water.
But Childe Harold contains the trumpet blast of
the true poet, who is also a true man. To be a
true man is to have known what people call wick-
edness. Wickedness is as much a part of true
manhood as bravery and virility. It is written in
ink black ink yes, and passages of it in blood
the red blood that palpitates in the veins of a



206 Love Alone Is Lord

man who has lived his life. And now you must
tell me in detail some of the wickedness which
that charming Childe Harold enjoyed in his castle
before setting out in despair to enjoy more in the
East."

Of course she did not pause for his reply. It
never entered into her head that any reply from
him was needed. She was off again in an instant
on another track this one the Mediterranean
route to Venice, asking him if he did not believe
that it was the wickedest place in Europe
scarcely doing more than hanging by the slender
shackle of a hyphen her second question to her
first.

It was quite as well that she was so self-absorbed
that she was so delightfully independent a con-
verser ; if she had had a moment to spare to cour-
tesy she would have seen that Byron was not
looking at her that he had even fallen out of the
attitude of the absorbed listener that he was
gazing with some eagerness on his face, some
tightening of his hands upon the cushions of his
seat, at a figure sitting at some distance from him
partly in the shade of a large screen.

It was a soft girlish figure, he could see, though
her back was turned toward him. He had not
caught sight of her features, but the moment that
there was an ebbing of the stream of people from
her neighbourhood, he had seen the bright golden
gleam of her hair playing like a lambent flame
here and there about the ivory of her throat the



Love Alone Is Lord 207

marble of her shoulders and curving downward
like a tongue of yellow fire about her ears. The
moment it flashed upon his eyes, he gave a
start. He thought that he remembered that
marvellous hair, and recognised the wonder of its
phosphorescent light gleaming deep beneath the
surface.

He saw no more. She was engaged in conversa-
tion with a man in a brilliant uniform who was
standing in front of her, and she did not move
her head sufficiently far to allow Byron a glimpse
even of her profile. But he kept his eyes upon
her shapely head all the time that Madame de
Stael was answering her own questions and im-
parting to him (she thought) her views on many
vexed questions of religion and morality and the
sexes. He would have given worlds to see that
head with the gold clinging to it turn in his direc-
tion ; but this was after he had been gazing at it
for some time. If he had come upon it suddenly
face to face, he believed that the surprise of the
meeting would have been too much for him to
bear without giving some sign of what he felt.
Even now as he looked at her he was astonished
at the revelation which was made to him of his
own feeling. He was astonished to find that
under the witchery of that lambent light that
quivered about her head, the love which he be-
lieved had passed out of his life years before had
arisen, not wan with the pallor of a ghost, but
warm and breathing. It was still a part of him,



208 Love Alone Is Lord

it still had the power to make him flush to bring
a mist before his eyes.

And all the time that he gazed, his heart full of
the past full of the wonder of seeing the past
which he thought to be dead, now living so close
to him, the voice of Madame de Stael went
through all its inflections and deflections beside
him, sounding in his ears like the incantation of a
witch to call up a ghost.

Was it really true, she pretended to want badly
to know, that Childe Harold had had a secret
adventure at the Convent at Cadiz that one of
the lovely black-eyed sisters a novice not yet
sure that her calling had power to satisfy a nature
nurtured in the sunny South or was the fair one
a Circassian girl whom he had saved from a flam-
ing harem within easy reach of the Bosphorus?
Not that she thought that the regime of the harem
was insupportable. There were women . . .
she had heard that Turkish women were well
treated almost as well as Arab horses. . . .
Woman as a chattel . . . why need to travel to
the East for examples? ... in a convent
. . . well, there were also women who had no
higher aspirations than to awaken punctually at
the ringing of a bell to say a prayer for a soul
that most likely was past praying for. . . . But
there were instances, she knew, of these Brides of
the Church. . . . Temperament? perhaps.
Training? who could tell? At any rate, a
woman's heart.



Love Alone Is Lord 209

It was at this point Lord Byron had not
spoken for a quarter of an hour that Lady Hol-
land came up a beneficent interrupter.

" What, is it possible that Lord Byron has been
selfish enough to monopolise you all this time,
dear Madame de Stael?" she cried, turning eyes
of mock reproach upon the eyes of the poet. " Oh,
my lord, this tyranny may be Oriental, but it will
not be tolerated at home."

"True true, I had forgot," said Madame.
"Yes, I had forgot that the Oriental tyranny of
devotion to one lady only will not be tolerated in
England. It may do very well for the Bosphorus,
but Englishmen are far too broad-minded to sub-
mit to it. But Milord Biron has not yet become
accustomed to English freedom."

" I have been so held in thrall for the past half
hour by the manacles of wisdom and the shackles
of wit that I shrink from the thought of freedom,"
said Byron, bowing, as Madame de Stael rose to
greet Lord Melbourne. Lord Melbourne came up
with the word "supper," and that was a word
which affected Madame de Stael pretty much as
the matin bell does the devout nun of whom she
had been speaking.

" Superb brilliant illuminating speaks like
an angel one never tires I could have continued
listening to him for another hour."

That was her judgment of Byron, delivered in
no confidential undertone, while she walked away
with Lord Melbourne.



210 Love Alone Is Lord

Lord Melbourne smiled.

But before Madame de Stael had quite recov-
ered her balance after responding to Byron's com-
pliment, he had sent his eyes down the room to
the object on which they had been resting. It
was still there that small shapely head wearing
the nimbus of a saint.

" Everyone is waiting to be presented to you,
Lord Byron," said Lady Holland; "but I think
that you should be allowed to have some voice in
the selection."

She followed the direction pointed out by his
eyes.

"I see that you are absorbed," she said in a
whisper that emerged from the centre of a smile.
"Is she not exquisite? You have met her? If
not, may I ?"

"I do not think that I shall need to be pre-
sented," said he, recovering himself. " If I might
venture "

"Stay with her for an hour I shall be saved
making any further excuses to those who wish me
to present them to you. Madame de Stael did
admirably, but she

Lady Holland made a prettily confidential ges-
ture in the direction in which he was gazing, and
then turned to a group on her right.

Byron made up his mind that he would greet
Mary now that he had the chance, being left alone
for a minute. He was conscious of Lord Lans-
downe talking to a lady a short way off, and he



Love Alone Is Lord 2 1 1

could see that he was their topic. They seemed
at the point of making a move toward him. Wait-
ing only for a few moments, he made the pretence
of catching sight of someone at a distance to
whom he was anxious to speak, and then quickly
left the fauteuil against which he had been lean-
ing, and took a few hasty steps that caused him
to be lost in a crowd broken up in small groups.

He was still able to catch a glimpse of the knot
of her hair the gleam of a candle was reflected
from it now and again ; he made his way steadily
toward it, only keeping somewhat to the left;
he meant to pass round the screen at one end of
which she was seated, and thus come upon her
face to face. But he was nervous lest she should
be taken away by someone before he should
reach her pairs were moving toward the supper
room.

He reached the screen, slipped alongside of it,
then quickly round the farthest leaf, turned, and
took a rapid step or two toward her.

He stopped with a shock. He was face to face
with her, but she was not Mary Chaworth.

He stood there gazing overwhelmed with sur-
prise and displaying his confusion flushing
turning white letting his eyes fall to the floor
standing like a schoolboy.

He heard a little laugh the rippling of Zephy-
rus among Campanella. He glanced up. The
lady with the will-o'-the-wisp hair was looking at
him, on her face the dimples that were, he knew,



212 Love Alone Is Lord

the dainty footprints of the laugh which had
scampered over her cheeks still visible. The ex-
pression which she wore was one of consciousness
of conquest, and it became her very well. It did
not seem to be one to which her features had any
difficulty in accommodating themselves. She
had leaned back upon the cushion that lay over the
shoulder of her couch, and was smiling sideways
at him out of melting grey eyes eyes that were
only a shade lighter than his own, and she dis-
played through smiling complaisant lips a jewel
case of coral, white and crimson, above a tiny
chin, overhanging a throat and interspaces which
her costume short-waisted and abundant as to
material emphasised; for the abundance simply
meant that which was transparent mingling with
that which was diaphanous.

And in the midst of the frozen billows that
foamed about her ankles there were a pair of
shapely sandalled feet embroidered in silver, and
lying among the muslin waves as carelessly as
salt-frosted seaweed lies just where the fingers
of the incoming tide touch.

And then she half closed her eyes and laughed
sideways at him again.

He turned with reddening cheeks and fled.



CHAPTER IV

BYRON did not merely leave the salon, though
he had no idea of doing more when he found
himself following the casual "details" of the
crowd who were on their way to the supper room ;
but when he reached the great hall a breath of
fresh air came upon his face. In the impulse of
the moment and the memories that it brought to
him of a night when a sudden gust had swept
through a hall which he knew, he went among the
lines of lackeys and ordered his carriage. He was
at his rooms in St. James's Street in a few minutes.
It was with an unaccountable sense of having
saved himself by flight from a threatened danger
that he threw himself upon his sofa. He had so
great a sense of relief that he found himself taking
a deep breath and then sighing it away. And yet
when he began to think what it was that he had
escaped, he found it difficult to define. To be sure
he had for a few minutes found himself looking
awkward and being looked at and laughed at in
his awkwardness. But he could have regained his
composure after being on the skirts of this con-
tretemps, in one of the supper rooms of the house.
The blaze of lustrous candelabra and the gaze of
an admiring crowd he took the admiration for

213



214 Love Alone Is Lord

granted would quickly have restored the amour
propre of even the most sensitive man.

Yet he lay there smiling, as if by the exercise
of some adroitness he had contrived to escape,
but only just to escape, a great danger.

It seemed to him that he had had the impres-
sion that if the charming creature who had so
startled him twice first, when he had taken her
for someone else, and again, when he had found
out his mistake had continued laughing at him,
something would have happened.

But what would have happened that could pos-
sibly be thought of as a danger to himself?

He knew that if he had recently become more
thoughtful than he had ever been to maintain a
pose of some dignity, he had a sufficient sense of
comedy to prevent his feeling greatly hurt by a
pretty woman laughing in his face, although he
had certainly not been accustomed to the spec-
tacle. If she had continued laughing, he would
assuredly have joined her ; and then

And then?

Was it possible that this was the danger of
which he had had an animal's instinct, the in-
timacy suggested by the idea of their voices being
joined together in the laugh?

He thought of her attitude on the couch when
he had turned at the end of the screen and had
found himself face to face with her. His friend
Douglas Kennaird had once told him a hunting
experience that he had had in the Caucasus. He



Love Alone Is Lord 215

had tracked a bear all the day through one of the
passes of the mountains, and expected to be near
enough to have a shot at it before sunset. He
was crawling on his hands and knees round a nar-
row ledge of rock that jutted out from the shoulder
of the hill, and just as he got round the projecting
point he found himself looking into the eyes of a
leopard.

He felt that he had never before quite appre-
ciated Kennaird's description of his surprise and
the effect that it had on him.

Of course his friend had had a lively sense of
escaping from an awkward situation; but it was
only with regard to the surprise that the recollec-
tion of Kennaird's experience came back to him,
not with regard to his escape ; but still

He had only seen her for a few seconds in that
exquisite attitude into which she had naturally
dropped when she had become interested in his
surprise, and his boy's way of showing it. (He
was still enough of a boy to blush at the recollec-
tion of how he had blushed.) He could not have
been looking at her for more than half a dozen
seconds; but that space was quite sufficient to
cause him to feel that he had never seen a more
fascinating picture. He did not know who the
woman was he knew who she was not but be-
yond a doubt she was almost beautiful. Her com-
plexion was transparent, and her figure, revealed
down to the arch of her instep by her soft, cling-
ing costume, was gracious in every line. His



216 Love Alone Is Lord

heart responded to the subtle confidences of her
costume; and then and then he had heard her
laugh and had turned and fled to the sound of the
further fluting of her laughter.

And now when he thought of her he began to
wonder how he had ever been stupid enough to
fancy that her hair had any resemblance to that
which he had seen flowing over the white garment
of a girl with bare feet that made a gentle patter-
ing on the oak floor. It was not the same. The
one had the living golden gloss of a phosphor-
escent wave; whereas this that he had just seen
had the pale flicker of the wisp of the morass. It
was lovely, but not with the loveliness of the first.
He had been very stupid in this matter he had
been stupid all through this incident. He had
actually run away because she had laughed at him.
That was a pretty thing for a man to do who had
been on terms of considerable intimacy with a
good many women in a good many climes, espe-
cially those whose reputation was not goodly!
He had actually run away! . . .

He pulled out his watch. It might not yet
be too late to retrieve his position to teach her
that, although a man may, in the impulse of a
great surprise, blush for a moment, yet he may
still . . .

It was all in vain. He could not bluster him-
self up to a point of feeling that he had not done
well in running away in procrastinating the mo-
ment for which that beautiful creature (whoever



Love Alone Is Lord 217

she was) waited, alert and alluring. He knew
that he had only looked foolish in her eyes for
something more than a minute. He wondered if
he had not, after all, laid the foundation of a
repute- for wisdom by running away. He won-
dered if a beautiful woman who set herself out to
be alluring, ever forgave a man for running away.
Did such a woman ever forgive a man for display-
ing his wisdom at the expense of her vanity?

Thus Byron the poet, idolised by woman, dis-
cussed in his own mind the philosophy of a
woman's vanity, arriving, of course, at no definite
conclusion on the subject, but being swayed in
the impulse of his own vanity, which assumed the
alias of philosophy, first in one direction and then
in another. His vanity was in excellent working
order, though never poet lived who had less; it
was so active that it prevented his recognising
the truth, which was that he felt he had been
guilty of treason to the love which had taught
him that he was a poet, in taking the one hair for
the other. It was this feeling which caused him
to fly from the room, and imparted to him that
curious impression he was still conscious of it
that he had made good his escape from some in-
definable danger.

He did not go to bed for some time and it took
him an hour to sleep, and yet among all the
thoughts that came to him there was not one that
suggested the possibility of people talking about
his sudden and unaccountable disappearance from



218 Love Alone Is Lord

Lady Holland's reception where he was supposed
to be the central figure. It never occurred to him
to think that the expression of consciousness of
conquest which was on the face of the beautiful
woman on the couch was becoming to her fea-
tures because it was so frequently worn as to have
become habitual with her. He had no idea that
she would be clever enough to turn to her own


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Online LibraryFrank Frankfort MooreLove alone is lord → online text (page 12 of 28)