She concluded by asking him to name another hour should this one be inconvenient .
The fish took the bait .
He replied that he could not imagine what importance there might be in thus meeting with a stranger , but -- joy of joys , he would be at home at the hour mentioned .
But when she called he had thought better of the matter and decided not to involve himself in a new entanglement .
She was told by the manservant who opened the door that his lordship was engaged on work from which he had left strict orders he was not to be disturbed .
Claire was bitterly disappointed but determined not to let the rebuff daunt her purpose .
She wrote again and now , abandoning for the moment the theme of love , she asked for help in the matter of her career .
She could act and she could write .
His lordship was concerned in the management of Drury Lane but , if there were no opportunities there , would he read and criticize her novel ? ?
At last he consented to meet her , and following that brief interview Claire wrote him a yet more remarkable proposal :
Have you any objection to the following plan ? ?
On Thursday evening we may go out of town together by some stage or mail about the distance of ten or twelve miles .
There we shall be free and unknown ; ;
we can return the following morning
She concluded by asking for a brief interview -- `` to settle with you where '' -- and she threw in a tribute to his `` gentle manners '' and `` the wild originality of your countenance '' .
She opened his reply with trembling fingers he agreed ! !
And he would see her that evening .
Victory at last ! !
At their meeting he told her not to bother about `` where '' -- he would attend to that .
There was one of the new forte-pianos in the room and , as Claire rose to go , he asked her to sing him one song before she left .
She sang him Scott's charming ballad `` Rosabelle '' , which was the vogue of the moment .
She had never sung better .
`` Your voice is delightful '' , he approved with a warm smile .
`` Tomorrow will be a new experience -- I have never before made love to a nightingale .
There have been cooing doves , chattering magpies , thieving jackdaws , a proud peacock , a silly goose , and a harpy eagle -- whom I was silly enough to mate with and who is now busy tearing at my vitals '' .
And so they went , he choosing of all places an inn near Medmenham Abbey , scene a generation ago of the obscene orgies of the Hellfire Club .
He regaled Claire with an account of the mock mass performed by the cassocked bloods , which he had had at firsthand from old Bud Dodington , one of the leaders of the so-called `` Order '' .
Each wore the monkish scourge at his waist but this , it seems , was not employed for self-flagellation .
Naked girls danced in the chancel of the Abbey , the youngest and seemingly the most innocent being chosen to read a sermon filled with veiled depravities .
The jaded amorist conjured up pictures of the blasphemous rites with relish .
Alas , all that belonged to the age of `` Devil Dashwood '' and `` Wicked Wilkes '' , abbot and beadsman of the Order ! !
The casual seduction of a seventeen-year-old bluestocking seemed tame by comparison .
They passed close by the turn to Bishopsgate .
A scant half mile away Shelley and Mary were doubtless sitting on their diminutive terrace , the air about them scented with stock , and listening to the nightingale who had nested in the big lime tree at the foot of the garden .
Charming and peaceful -- but what were charm and peace compared to high adventure ? ?
Alone with the fabulous Byron ! !
How many women had longed for the privilege that was hers .
How was she to behave , Claire wondered .
To be passive , to be girlishly shy was palpably absurd .
She was the pursuer as clearly as was Venus in Shakespeare's poem .
And while her Adonis did not suffer from inexperience , satiety might well be an equal handicap .
No , she would not pretend modesty , but neither must she be crudely bold .
Mystery -- that was the thing .
In the bedroom she would insist on darkness .
With his club foot he might well be grateful .
At the inn , which was situated close to a broad weir , Byron was greeted by the landlord with obsequious deference and addressed as `` milord '' .
The place was evidently a familiar haunt and Claire wondered what other illicit loves had been celebrated in the comfortable rooms to which they were shown .
The fire in the sitting room was lighted .
`` What about the bedroom '' ? ?
Byron inquired .
`` Seems to me last time I was here the grate bellowed out smoke as it might have been preparing us for hell '' .
`` We found some owls had built a nest in the chimney , milord , but I promise you you'll never have trouble of that sort again '' .
So , not only had he been here before , but it seemed he might well come again .
Claire felt suddenly small and cheap , heroine of a trivial episode in the voluminous history of Don Juan .
A cold supper was ordered and a bottle of port .
When Napoleon's ship had borne him to Elba , French wines had started to cross the Channel , the first shipments in a dozen war-ridden years , but the supplies had not yet reached rural hostelries where the sweet wines of the Spanish peninsula still ruled .
As they waited for supper they sat by the fire , glasses in hand , while Byron philosophized as much for his own entertainment as hers .
`` Sex is overpriced '' , he said .
`` The great Greek tragedies are concerned with man against Fate , not man against man for the prize of a woman's body .
So don't see yourself as a heroine or fancy this little adventure is an event of major importance '' .
`` The gods seemed to think sex pretty important '' , she rebutted .
`` Mars and Venus , Bacchus and Ariadne , Jupiter and Io , Byron and the nymph of the owl's nest .
That would be Minerva , I suppose .
Wasn't the owl her symbol '' ? ?
Byron laughed .
`` So you know something of the classics , do you '' ? ?
`` Tell me about Minerva , how she behaved , what she did to please you '' .
`` I'll tell you nothing .
I don't ask you who 'tis you're being unfaithful to , husband or lover .
Frankly , I don't care '' .
For a moment she thought of answering with the truth but she knew there were men who shied away from virginity , who demanded some degree of education in body as well as mind .
`` Very well '' , she said , `` I'll not catechize you .
What matter the others so long as I have my place in history '' .
She was striking the right note .
No man ever had a better opinion of himself and indeed , with one so favored , flattery could hardly seem overdone .
Brains and beauty , high position in both the social and intellectual worlds , athlete , fabled lover -- if ever the world was any man's oyster it was his .
The light supper over , Claire went to him and , slipping an arm about his shoulder , sat on his knee .
He drew her close and , hand on cheek , turned her face to his .
Her lips , moist and parted , spoke his name .
`` Byron '' ! !
His hand went to her shoulder and pushed aside the knotted scarf that surmounted the striped poplin gown ; ;
then , to better purpose , he took hold of the knot and with dextrous fingers , untied it .
The bodice beneath was buttoned and , withdrawing his lips from hers , he set her upright on his knee and started to undo it , unhurriedly as if she were a child .
But , kindled by his kiss , his caressing hand , her desire was aflame .
She sprang up and went swiftly to the bedroom .
Lord Byron poured himself another glass of wine and held it up to the candle flame admiring the rich color .
He drank slowly with due appreciation .
It was an excellent vintage .
He rose and went to the bedroom .
Pausing in the doorway he said : `` The form of the human female , unlike her mind and her spirit , is the most challenging loveliness in all nature '' .
When Claire returned to Bishopsgate she longed to tell them she had become Byron's mistress .
By odd coincidence , on the evening of her return Shelley chose to read Parisina , which was the latest of the titled poet's successes .
As he declaimed the sonorous measures , it was as much as Claire could do to restrain herself from bursting out with her dramatic tidings .
`` Although it is not the best of which he is capable '' , said Shelley as he closed the book , `` it is still poetry of a high order '' .
`` If he would only leave the East '' , said Mary .
`` I am tired of sultans and scimitars '' .
`` The hero of his next poem is Napoleon Bonaparte '' , said Claire , with slightly overdone carelessness .
`` How do you know that '' ? ?
Demanded Mary .
`` I was told it on good authority '' , Claire answered darkly .
`` I mustn't tell , I mustn't tell '' , she repeated to herself .
`` I promised him I wouldn't '' .
winter came , and with it Mary's baby -- a boy as she had wished .
William , he was called , in honor of the man who was at once Shelley's pensioner and his most bitter detractor .
With a pardonable irony Shelley wrote to the father who had publicly disowned his daughter :
`` Fanny and Mrs. Godwin will probably be glad to hear that Mary has safely recovered from a very favorable confinement , and that her child is well '' .
At the same time another child -- this one of Shelley's brain -- was given to the world : Alastor , a poem of pervading beauty in which the reader may gaze into the still depths of a fine mind's musings .
Alastor was published only to be savagely attacked , contemptuously ignored .
Shelley sent a copy to Southey , a former friend , and another to Godwin .
Neither acknowledged the gift .
Only Mary's praise sustained him in his disappointment .
She understood completely .
Not a thought nor a cadence was missed in her summary of appreciation .
`` You have made the labor worth while '' , he said to her , smiling .
`` And in the future , since I write for a public of one , I can save the poor publishers from wasting their money '' .
`` A public of one '' , Mary echoed reprovingly .
`` How can you say such a thing ? ?
There will be thousands who will thrill to the loveliness of Alastor .
There are some even now .
What about that dear , clever Mr. Thynne ? ?
I am sure he is in raptures '' .
`` Poor Mr. Thynne , he always has to be trotted out for my encouragement '' .
`` There are other Mr. Thynnes .
Not everyone is bewitched by Byron's caliphs and harem beauties '' .
Mary's supercritical attitude toward Byron had nothing to do with his moral disrepute .
She was resentful of his easy success as compared with Shelley's failure .
The same month that Alastor was published , Murray sold twenty thousand copies of The Siege Of Corinth , a slovenly bit of Byronism that even Shelley's generosity rebelled at .
The lordly poet was at low-water mark .
The careless writing was in keeping with his mood of savage discontent .
On all sides doors were being slammed in his face .
The previous scandals , gaily diverting as they were , had only served to increase his popularity .
Now , under the impact of his wife's disclosures , he was brought suddenly to the realization that there was a limit to tolerance , however brilliant , however far-famed the offender might be .
He tried defiance and openly flaunted his devotion to his half sister , but he soon saw , as did she , that this course if persisted in would involve them in a common ruin .
For the moment there was no woman in his life , and it was this vacuum that had given Claire her opportunity .
But the liaison successfully started in the last days of autumn was now languishing .
Byron , since the separation from his wife had been living in a smallish house in Piccadilly Terrace .
He refused to bring Claire to it even as an occasional visitor , claiming that his every move was watched by spies of the Milbankes .