Frank Frankfort Moore.

Love alone is lord online

. (page 17 of 28)
Online LibraryFrank Frankfort MooreLove alone is lord → online text (page 17 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


that that was what she wanted him to do; she
could easily elude him, and so she would place
him in even a more humiliating position than
that which he occupied when made a prisoner by
her. Should he try to cajole her into opening the
door? He swore to himself that he would get
out by the window before adopting such tactics
with her.

He went away from the door, took the hand of
the little wondering girl, and seated himself on
the nearest chair.

"You are my prisoner, my lord," she cried.
"Are you content? Tell me that you are con-
tent, and I shall release you."

He made no reply. He stroked the child's hair.

" Innocence, you always were fond of inno-
cence," she said. "And as if the children here
were not enough for you, you must needs have
Belle Milbanke in your train! The impudent
hussy! in my very room! What next, I won-
der! What had she to say to you? She began,
of course, by warning you against me, I know
her. She has tried to lecture me before now. I
know her, flaunting her innocence in my face!



Love Alone Is Lord 293

She heard that you were dangerous, that was the
attraction. What danger could there be to her,
with her triple armour of innocence? Her plain
face, that's a far better protection to her than
all her armour of innocence. She's plain, is she
not, Byron?"

He made no answer. She flounced away from
him and sat on her little sofa, her back turned to
him, her feet tapping on the parquet. The child
stood with a ringer in her mouth, looking alter-
nately at Byron and her mother.

In the course of five minutes of silence the tap-
ping of her foot became intermittent, and then
ceased altogether. The sound of a little sob came
from her, there was the fluttering of a dainty
little piece of cambric, then a little choking cry,
then a thunderstorm of passionate sobs and tears
and moans, interjected words, incomplete phrases :
"Miserable wretch! Wretched woman that I
am! My best friend! The only friend I ever
had! dead dead dead all the sweet past
dead! Nothing to live for now! Oh, fool, fool,
fool that I was! No, mad that is it I was
mad, mad! Oh, Byron, come to me, if you
would save my life! Come to me, no, I will go
to you, I will kneel to you plead for forgiveness
plead for my life! See, I throw myself at your
leet

And she would have thrown herself at his feet
if he had not prevented her. He had a man's
horror of a scene with a hysterical woman. He



294 Love Alone Is Lord

did everything he could think of to tranquillise
her. It was he who needed forgiveness for his
brutality, he declared. The fault was his, she
had only been too good to him, and so forth, all
the ready perjuries which come so pat to a man's
lips when a woman has made a fool of him and he
knows it and wants to escape from the sight of
her kneeling to him. Perjury? He would have
gone much further to escape, merely to free him-
self from the abnormalities of contrition with
which she threatened him.

At last he succeeded in calming her. She sat
beside him, and he held her hand. Her tears
ceased. An April smile came to her face as she
showed him the little damp ball that had been
her cambric handkerchief. She flung it across the
room. She patted her little girl on the head and
made her nestle against her. Later, she gave the
child the key and told her to put it into the key-
hole of the door; and when the tiny fingers
fumbled at their task, she laughed with Byron,
and then ran to help her, showing her how to
insert the key and turn it, unlocking the door.

Of course, he did not make a rush for freedom.
But when, a quarter of an hour later, he found
himself outside the house, he felt a greater relief
than he could express except through the medium
of verse. He made a noteworthy attempt some
years later in this direction.

While he was driving to St. James's Street, his
mind was running, not upon the scene in which



Love Alone Is Lord 295

he had taken rather a prominent part, but upon
some of the natural beauties of the ^Egean, which
he remembered well. There was a sheltered little
island which he had drifted past one evening, an
island that peeped up out of the blue waters, a
place of peace. He was filled with a great longing
to try to find that island and to make himself a
resting-place among the tangles of its wild vines.
He thought of the Hellespont. It was a broad
piece of water, and he had enjoyed emulating the
feat of Leander in crossing it ; Leander had swum
across it to reach the lady. Byron wondered how
much broader the Hellespont would have to be to
deter him from making the attempt to get away
from a woman who had bothered him.



CHAPTER X

HE thought that it would not be wise to show
her how he had been affected by the short
time which they had spent in each other's com-
pany upon this rather exciting day ; he had come
to have the same experience of her that a good
many other people had gained before he had re-
turned from his travels, and he knew that under
the influence of the sudden shock of finding that
she had lost her power over him, she would put
herself to a considerable amount of trouble in en-
deavouring to convince him that it did not rest
with him alone to break his bonds, that she
would have to be taken into account before he
could feel the joy of freedom. He feared her re-
sentment, knowing as he did that it would not
be limited by any consideration except that of
making him suffer, and of showing as many of
their friends as were available that she was mak-
ing him suffer. He had a fear of her ingenuity
in devising some scheme to put him in the wrong
in the eyes of their friends who did not know her
any better than he had known her in the early
days of their friendship. Supposing that she were
to throw herself on her knees in front of him at
some great reception, calling him her Byron, and

296



Love Alone Is Lord 297

upbraiding him for having deserted her, what
joy would his freedom bring to him in such
circumstances?

And then there was always the possibility of
her seeing him in the theatre. He remembered
now how highly amused he had been at the story
which had been told to him of how she had inter-
rupted the performance one night to upbraid an
opponent of her husband in the House of Com-
mons. He had been highly amused by the nar-
ration, and it had added to the interest which
Lady Caroline had already acquired in his eyes.
But now, as the dreadful possibility of the scene
being repeated with a slight change of personnel
among the actors occurred to him, he felt far from
being amused.

Yes, until he should make arrangements for
flying to that exquisite island over which an ever-
lasting peace seemed to hover, spreading the
wings of a dove over the weary mortals who lay
down among the fig trees and vines to breathe
the soft scents of an azure summer sea, until he
was safe aboard the caique, it would be unwise
to make a move to obtain his freedom. All the
bonds which are woven by a Delilah do not be-
come as green withes on the limbs of the man she
has captivated. Samson was a strong man and
a great humourist, but he would not have acted
so greatly to his own detriment if he had tem-
porised a little with the lady.

Then there was the case of the artful Ulysses,



298 Love Alone Is Lord

who had an experience that proved that even a
tranquil island may have its Circe ; if Ulysses had
acted circumspectly, he would have been spared
a considerable amount of trouble.

The sum of his consideration of his position, by
the aid of classical lore, was to make him feel
that he should not be abrupt ; and, after all, Caro-
line Lamb had more than a little charm ; she had
a beauty that was wholly her own, and above all
she had two delightful children. Of course, Lady
Oxford, with whom he was on terms of increasing
friendship, was very lovely, and her little girl
he conferred on her the immortality of a dedica-
tion, calling her lanthe was exquisite; still, he
felt that Lady Caroline should not be treated
abruptly.

And so he went to her the next day, and
learned from her own lips that if he had not come
to her she would have gone to him. She be-
haved so prettily to him that he went away feel-
ing quite glad that he had not been abrupt with
her, that he had been sufficiently self-possessed
not to lay an undue emphasis upon the occurrences
of the day before. Of course, he had resolved to
throw off her shackles they were silken shackles,
but still cramping ; it was necessary, however, to
act with caution.

That very evening he met Miss Milbanke at
Holland House. Perhaps he may have been de-
sirous of showing this young lady that, although
she might possibly think that he had played an



Love Alone Is Lord 299

indifferent part in the little comedy in the bou-
doir, he had still his independence, at any rate;
Lady Caroline being absent from his side for a
short time, he took the trouble to cross the salon
in order to greet her.

She was plainly pleased by his attention, and
presented him to her father and mother.

" I had the honour to meet Lord Byron yester-
day at Aunt Augusta's," she said, and then she
went on to talk to him as though their parting on
the previous day had been of the most conven-
tional type, and quite devoid of those elements of
exhilaration which it undoubtedly possessed.

He had no notion of avoiding in conversation
with her the topic of Lady Caroline's behaviour.

" I fear that she was very rude to you, Miss
Milbanke," said he, apologetically he somehow
seemed to suggest that it was right that he should
apologise for her.

Miss Milbanke became rather frigid.

" I considered that it was really to you she was
most rude, Lord Byron," she said. " I am a sort
of relation of hers Mr. Lamb's cousin, as no
doubt you know ; and she has had more than one
opportunity of saying hateful things about me.
I did not pay much attention at any time to
what she said ; I have always detested her affec-
tations especially her affectations of wicked-
ness. I think that the woman who tries to make
out that she is worse than she really is, is quite
detestable."



zoo Love Alone Is Lord

"Lady Caroline is so impulsive that at times
she cannot but run the chance of hurting people's
feelings," said he.

" If she did not go farther than merely to run
the chance, she would be vastly disappointed,"
said Miss Milbanke, with just a suggestion of bit-
terness to barb her shaft.

" She is witty, and people who are witty

"Yes; I suppose they should be judged from
the standpoint of a wit, not from the standpoint
of a gentlewoman. The most witty things ever
said sound to my ears extremely ill-natured.
As for yesterday but I feel that it was I who
drew her anger down upon myself. I have been
feeling all night that I was very silly I really
think that I was rude in obtruding myself upon
you yesterday; and yet the week before, when I
had risen warm from reading Childe Harold, my
scheme did not seem so absurd. I felt that I
must write to you, and I composed several let-
ters, but tore them all up; they did not satisfy
me. Then it was that I resolved to see you and
well, I was fortunate enough, or unfortunate
enough, to see you, and you know the rest."

" I know that you are the first person woman
or man who ever succeeded in telling me the
truth what I have myself felt to be the truth,
Miss Milbanke. You may assume that your
kindly mission undertaken on my behalf suc-
ceeded in impressing me so deeply that, as I told
you, I mean to take your advice and refrain from



Love Alone Is Lord 301

writing another line of verse that might possibly
give offence to Christian people."

Her face lightened ; he thought that with such
a light shining from her eyes she looked altogether
handsome. She felt pleased flattered, perhaps,
incidentally; but there was really no self -con-
sciousness in her expression, nor was there any
of that prim self-satisfaction which sits so visibly
on the face of a woman who has done her duty,
and perhaps a little more than her duty.

His liking for this girl was increasing. It was
not in his nature to make the attempt to under-
stand why he liked ; he was content to like. He
did not perceive that it was because he was be-
ginning to be palled by the affectations of Lady
Caroline that he felt it a great relief to be in the
company of this girl who was her opposite in
every way. Miss Milbanke dressed with Quaker-
like severity, but her enemies said that she would
not have shown herself so ready to do so, had she
not been well aware of the fact that this severity,
when carried out through the medium of expen-
sive silks and the rarest muslin, suited her style
of beauty. She was a prude, the sisterhood of
caprice affirmed, because the role went well with
thin lips and a pale complexion.

At any rate she appeared quite attractive in
the eyes of the man who had latterly not come
very closely in contact with prudery.

"You have made me very happy," she said,
after a thoughtful silence following his serious



302 Love Alone Is Lord

words. "And I think that you will be happier
also," she added.

"When I come to die?" he said, smiling.

"Yes; when you come to die; that was not
what was in my mind, but it is true, neverthe-
less," she said.

" I think that you are the sort of girl whom I
would like to have near me when I come to die,"
said he.

She looked at him, and for a moment he thought
that she was about to assure him that he would
be much safer in the hands of a clergyman, but
that still, if it were so ordered, she would endeav-
our to do her duty; but the expression on her
face changed and she said, smiling,

" Now you are wearing the expression which I
was told was habitual with you the expression of
the gloomy Childe Harold, who was tired of every-
thing wicked before he had begun to look for
anything good in the world. I had heard that
you were proud, reserved, and austere."

"And yet you were not afraid to face me with
your message and your rebuke?" he said.

"That was because I felt that that well,
that I should do so whatever happened," said she.
" I buoyed myself up with the thought that you
had no power to order my head to be cut off in
the front of the house, just where Charles the
First was beheaded. But when I entered the room
and found you putting the child asleep, I felt just
as if I had come to the wrong house. I was so



Love Alone Is Lord 303

much surprised that everything which I had meant
to say to you went out of my head. I had quite a
little speech prepared to hurl at your head."

" A denunciation? "

" Not exactly ; but I saw at once that it would
not meet the case of a man nursing a baby."

"And you were disappointed, I am sure."

" For a moment. You remember how Jonah
was disappointed when the people of Nineveh
repented. I think that I sympathised with the
prophet for a moment. But when I thought last
night what my speech contained, I felt very glad
that I had no chance of delivering it. Oh, it was
very foolish just what one would fancy might
be composed by a girl : I have written essays for
my governess, Mrs. Clermont. This was one."

He laughed at her frankness : it sounded charm-
ing to him. He had been looking across the room ;
when he turned to her he found that she had gone
to where her mother was sitting. She had fled
like a chick to its mother's wing on its enemy
coming in sight.

Lady Caroline had slipped up the salon, and
was now standing just behind him. She was
looking at Miss Milbanke over her shoulder.

"You are here?" he said. "I did not observe
you coming up."

She never so much as glanced at him. She
continued watching the girl, as immovable as a
wildcat watching a bird. That was what was in
Byron's mind at the moment a wildcat rigid



304 Love Alone Is Lord

ready to spring. Miss Milbanke was not look-
ing at her ; she was answering a question that had
been put to her by her mother.

Lady Caroline stood quivering with the cat's
excitement, her fingers opening and closing upon
each palm claws.

Byron perceived that the scene which he had
dreaded, and used all his strategy to avert, was
imminent. The woman took a single stealthy
step toward the girl, and then crouched again, so
to speak. He startled her by getting behind her
and whispering in her ear :

"Caroline, listen to me before you move an-
other foot. If you speak a single word at this
moment to Miss Milbanke, you have seen the last
of me. I swear by the heavens above us that I
will never be seen in your company again, and I
shall take care that it is known that I will never
enter a room in which you are. Now you know
where you stand."

He spoke in a low, resolute tone, the force of
which could hardly be neglected even by Lady
Caroline Lamb. She was startled: turning her
head and looking at him, saw her master. The
fierceness went out of her eyes. She remained
gazing at him as if fascinated. Then, by the
exercise of a curious instinct, she closed her hands
gently, hiding her nails in the velvet hollow. She
laughed strangely, with her eyes still fixed upon
him.

"Come into the supper-room," he said.



Love Alone Is Lord 305

She did not move.

"Come," he said.

"Why should I obey you? Why should I fol-
low you?" she cried.

He turned about and walked away. She had
only a moment's hesitation. She made haste to
get alongside him.

"What," she said, "is the anchorite Lord Byron
turned sybarite? Is he abandoning his biscuits
and soda-water in favour of minced chicken and
champagne? Does his lordship seek a partner in
his orgy of beeves and muttons ? This is a change,
indeed. Byron the bon vivant. But, indeed,
Colonel Clifford was telling me just now that
when you were so minded you could drink your
claret like a lord like a real lord, not the sort
that boasts of brains. But listen to me, I swear
to you by the heavens above that if you drink
more than two bottles, you shall have seen the
last of me."

She laughed at her own quick parody of his
threat: she had done her imitation very neatly;
he was amused in a measure. Behind his diver-
sion, however, there was the solid satisfaction of
having averted a disagreeable excitement.

For the next hour he remained with her at the
supper table. He had never found her so full of
spirits. She sparkled; she rang all the changes
upon that carillon of wit which she had at her
command when she was at her best raillery of
the rarest, in a low key, badinage of the briskest,



306 Love Alone Is Lord

rising a note or two and quivering in quavers of
laughter, with her head thrown back, an arm in
the air, gracefully gesticulating, eyes brilliant,
sometimes coaxing, another moment drooping,
to match a pout on her pretty lips, and then a
satiric phrase or two, the irony that went so well
with her lisp, giving it exactly the right emphasis
of innocence.

She had never been so amusing since he had
come to know her.

"Claret," she cried, "another bottle of claret
for my Lord Byron?"

"Not after champagne," he said.

"Champagne? You have tasted nothing but
soda-water and hock."

"Champagne, I tell you. By heavens, I have
been drinking glass after glass of champagne all
the evening. That is how I feel. Can my senses
have deceived me? No, no; one cannot have
drunk merely hock and soda-water and be-
lieved it was champagne. I know the difference.
And served in such glass, too ! The daintiest that
ever came out of Venice tinkling, tinkling, while
the wine is twinkling in roseate beads and bubbles ;
and the whitest froth that ever made one think
of the infant Aphrodite."

"What i' the name of blessedness are you
scampering after with your tongue?" she said.
" What is it that you are chattering about in alle-
gorical form, Childe Harold?"

" There 's only one thing in the world to which



Love Alone is Lord 307

I could refer to wit the wit of the wittiest
creature in England," he cried. "To listen to
you, my Caroline, is like drinking champagne out
of a Venetian goblet."

She sparkled in exultation of her victory.
Belle Milbanke ! What a fool she had been to have
a moment's jealousy of Belle Milbanke an in-
sipid miss fresh from the schoolroom, brim with
the learning of the school spelling-book, simper-
ing in the joy of her sampler! Belle Milbanke?
Cider. What man that has drunk deep of cham-
pagne would turn to cider?

And still she had a feeling that Belle Milbanke
was somewhere at hand, smiling in that chill,
chaste way that she had, all the time that Byron
was sitting beside her at the supper table. She
felt an unaccountable dread of the girl, which all
the froth of gaiety with Byron failed to dissipate.
She had the instinct of a jealous animal quivering
with a desire to get its claws into its enemy of the
same sex.

With only the smallest pause and a glance
round the room to see who was watching her, she
plunged into the whirlpool again laughing a
little louder than before, railing a trifle harder,
mocking somewhat more shrilly. She wished
that Belle Milbanke had been in the room. She
wanted the girl to be a witness of her triumph.
Psha ! the growl, the snarl, the claws these were
only for the jungle, where victory could only be
snatched out of an opponent's teeth and at the



3o8 Love Alone is Lord

expense of much fur and a zigzag of lacerations.
Thank God we are civilised people who can ap-
preciate the joys of an intellectual victory the
victory of wit and cajolery and wish that our
defeated opponent were at hand to witness the
subjugation of the man. But Belle Milbanke re-
mained away, and so Lady Caroline's triumph
was shorn of half its glory.

Everyone else at Holland House witnessed it
and heard it. She became very noisy after the
end of an hour. The champagne was bubbling
over the mouth of the bottle, and its very exuber-
ance made it distasteful to fastidious eyes. Byron
felt that he had had enough of the brand which
had seemed to him so choice a short time before.
The louder she became, the more silent he. When
his chance came, he seized it. It came in form of
a summons from the House of Lords. Lord Hol-
land brought it. There was a debate on Eman-
cipation, and all the strength of the Opposition
was needed for the discomfiture of the Govern-
ment. Lord Holland was going in hot haste to
support his friends and so were several of his
Whig friends. He wanted Byron.

Byron flung away his napkin and rose from the
table.

" Crede Byron!" he cried. " My vote, my voice,
my song, my sword all are on the side of
Liberty ! Is your lordship's carriage at the
door?"

"You shall not go, Byron," said Lady Caroline,



Love Alone is Lord 309

springing up from the table. " You shall not go.
What are the Irish Catholics to you that you
should rush off in this mad fashion?"

"She is a pretty Irishwoman," said Byron, to
Lord Holland. "She would condemn five mil-
lions of her countrymen to the shackles which the
oppression of centuries has riveted to their limbs,
solely that she should have a chance of eating
another cup of ice!"

" Lady Caroline should not complain even if
her own husband were to be taken from her side
in the cause of Liberty," said Sheridan, who was
one of the emissaries of the Opposition sent to
Holland House to find supporters for Lord Mel-
bourne in the House of Lords.

Lord Holland examined the tips of his fingers.
Someone at a table hard by laughed.

"Never mind my husband, Mr. Sheridan,"
cried Lady Caroline, turning sharply upon him.

"Nay, madam," he replied. "I have not a
wife's prerogative: he votes on my side with
great regularity."

"And that is the side of Liberty," said Byron.

"Psha!" cried Lady Caroline, making a grim-
ace. "You look on Liberty as you would on a
young woman who is b la mode a pretty creature
to coquette with a dainty thing with a mob cap
and short petticoats like this."

She picked up a napkin that was already folded
up something in the form of a mob cap, placed it
on her head, and, lifting up her dress beyond her



3io Love Alone is Lord

ankles, went strutting with a French swagger
across the room.

Everyone laughed: there was some applause
from one of the tables.

" A perfect performance ! " said Sheridan. " An
inspiring performance ! Off, my Lord Byron, you
will vote for Liberty, and feel in doing so that you
are voting for Lady Caroline. Madam, one word
with you. Seriously I am talking seriously now
I am talking of the playhouse now, not of
politics." His voice sank to a whisper that en-
grossed her attention. "Why should such un-
equalled talents be exhibited only to a score of
admirers? Drury Lane will be opened in the


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Online LibraryFrank Frankfort MooreLove alone is lord → online text (page 17 of 28)