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“And now for our programme," exclaimed Lord Byron. .“ What is to be the order of the day ?” . “ I shall have an hour's angling," observed Count G., beginning to set in order the fishing-tackle. “ By the body of Bacchus, though! I have forgotten the bait."
* Just like you, G. !" laughed Lord Byron.
“ There is some bait here," observed one of the gondoliers. “My lord had it brought down.”
“ I am greatly obliged to you," said the count to Lord Byron, joy. fully taking up the bait. “I remember now where I left it.”
“Ay, I have to think for all of you," was his observation. “Marquis, how do you mean to kill time ?"
" In killing birds. H. and I propose to have a shot or two. Will you join us?"
“Not I,” answered Lord Byron : “I have brought my English papers with me. You must lay the repast in the best spot you can find," he continued to the men. “We shall be ready for it soon, I suppose.”
The party dispersed. Count G., with one of the gondoliers, to the stream ; the marquis and the Frenchman to the remotest parts of the island, fully intending to kill all they came in sight of; the countess seated herself on a low bank, her sketch-book on her knee, and prepared her drawing materials; whilst the ill-starred English nobleman opened a review, and threw himself on the grass close by.
Do not cavil at the word “ill-starred :" for, ill-starred he eminently was, in all, save his genius. It is true that compensates for much, but in the social conditions of life, few have been so unhappy as was Lord Byron. It was a scene of warfare with himself, or with others, from the cradle to the grave. As a child, he was not loved; for it is not the shy and the passionate who make themselves friends. His mother, so we may gather from the records left to us, was not a judicious trainer : now indulging him in a reprehensible degree ; now thwarting him, and with fits of violence that terrified him. His greatest misfortune was his deformity, slight as it was, for it was ever present to his mind night and day, wounding his sensitiveness in the most tender point. An imaginative, intellectual nature, such as his, is always a vain one : not the vanity of a little mind, but that of one conscious of its superiority over the general multitude. None can have an idea of the blight such a personal defect will throw over the mind of its sufferer, rendering the manners, in most cases, awkward and reserved. Before his boyhood was over, came his deep, enduring, unrequited love for Miss Chaworth-a love which, there is no doubt, coloured the whole of his future existence, even to its last hour. A few years of triumph followed, when all bowed down to his surpassing genius : a triumph which, however gratifying it may have been to his vanity, touched not his heart ; for that heart was prematurely seared, and the only one whose appreciation could have set it throbbing, and whose praise would have been listened for as the greatest bliss on earth, was, to him, worse than nothing. Then came his marriage, and that need not be commented on here: few unions have brought less happiness. His affairs also became embarrassed. None can read those lines touching upon this fact, without a painful throb of pity: and, be assured that when he penned them, the greatest anguish was seated
in his heart. I forget what poem the lines are in, neither can I remember them correctly, but they run something in this fashion :
And he, poor fellow, had enough to wound him.
It was a trying moment, that which found him
Whilst all his household gods lay shiver'd round him. They may be in “Childe Harold”--they may be in “Don Juan"-they may be in a poem to themselves: no matter : they refer to a very unhappy period of his chequered life. Abandoned by those he may have expected to cherish him; abused and railed at by the public, who took upon themselves to judge what they knew nothing of; stung to the quick by accusations, most of which were exaggerated, and some wholly false, he once more went into exile. A foreign land became his home, and there, far from all he cared for, he led a solitary and almost isolated existence. His life had but one hope that ever cheered it; but one event to look forward to, as a break to its monotonous outline, and that, was the arrival of letters and news from England. Lord Byron, above all others, required the excitement of fame to sustain him: his vanity was constitutionally great, and he had been brought, in many ways, before the public. Only this one break—and how poor it was !- to fill the void in his life and heart ! He literally yearned for England—he yearned to know what was said, what thought of him-he yearned for the hour that should set him right with his accusers. It has been said that he met abuse with contempt, scorn with indifference : yes, but only to the world.'
That an hour would come when he should be compensated for his harsh treatment, when England would be convinced he was not the fiend she described him, Lord Byron never doubted. But those dreams were not to be realised. The unhappy nobleman lived on, in that foreign country, a stranger amongst strangers. There was nothing to bring him excitement, there was no companionship, no appreciation: it was enough to make him gnaw his heart, and die. He formed an acquaintance with one, whom the world was pleased to declare must have brought him all the consolation he required. They spoke of what they little understood. It may have served to while away a few of his weary hours, nothing more: all passion, all power to love, had passed away in that dream of his early life. A short period of this unsatisfactory existence, and the ill-fated poet went to Greece-to die. As he had lived, in exile from his own land, where he had so longed to be, so did he die. Could he have foreseen this early death, he probably would have gone home long beforeor not have quitted it.
And there he reclined on the grass this day, in that upinhabited island, poring over the bitter attacks of the critics on his last work—drinking in the remarks some did not scruple to make upon himself personally, and upon the life he was leading. The lady there, busy over her sketching, addressed a remark to him from time to time, but found she could not get an answer.
At length they were called to dine. Ere they sat down, all articles, not wanted, were returned to the gondola. Guns, lines, books, news papers—everything was put in order, and placed in the boat, the sketchbook and pencils of the signora alone excepted..
“What sport have you had?” inquired Lord Byron, sauntering towards his shooting friends.
“ Oh, passable-very passable." “ But where's the spoil?”
“ Everything's taken to the gondola,” replied the marquis, speaking very rapidly.
" I saw, borne towards the gondola, a bag full of-emptiness," observed Count G. “I hope that was not the spoil you bagged.”
“ What fish have you caught?” retorted the marquis, who, being a wretched sportsman, was keenly alive to all jokes upon the point.
“ Not one,” grumbled G. “I don't mind confessing it. I have not had a single bite. I shall try a different sort of bait next time: this is not good."
They sat down to table--if a cloth spread upon the grass could be called such. A party carré it might have been, for all the interest Lord Byron seemed to take in it. He often had these moody fits after receiving news from England. But, as the dinner progressed, and the generous wine began to circulate, he forgot his abstraction; his spirits rose to excitement, and he became the very life of the table.
“ One toast !” he exclaimed, when the meal was nearly over—" one toast before we resign our places to the gondoliers !”
“Let each give his own," cried Count G., “ and we will drink them together.”
« Agreed," laughed the party. “ Marquis, you begin.”
“By the holy chair! I have nothing to give. Well : the game we did not bag to-day.”
A roar of laughter followed. “Now H. ?”
“ France, la belle France, land of lands!" aspirated the Frenchman, casting the balls of his eyes up into the air, and leaving visible only the whites, as a patriotic Frenchman is apt to do, when going into raptures over his native country.
“ Il diavolo," continued young G., in his turn. “ Order, order,” cried Lord Byron.
“I will give it,” growled G., who had not yet recovered his good humour. "I owe him something for my ill-luck to-day. Il diavolo."
“ And you ?” said Lord Byron, turning to her who sat on his right hand.
“What! am I to be included in your toast-giving ?" she laughed. - Better manners to you all, then.”
“G., you deserved that. We wait for you, my lord.”
“My insane traducers. May they find their senses at last." And Lord Byron drained his glass to the bottom.
The party rose, quitted the spot, and dispersed about the island. The gentlemen to smoke, and the lady to complete her sketch, which wanted filling in. The gondoliers took the vacated places, and made a hearty meal. They then cleared away the things, and placed them in the gondola, ready to return.
It may have been from one to two hours afterwards, that Lord Byron and the Frenchman were standing by the side of the contessa, who was dreamily enjoying the calmness of an Italian evening. They were inquiring whether she was ready for departure, for the time was drawing
on, when Count G., her brother, appeared in the distance, running, shouting and gesticulating violently, as he advanced towards them.
“Of all the events, great and small, that can happen on this blessed world of ours, what can have put an Italian into such a fever as that?" muttered Lord Byron. “What's up now ?” he called out to G.
“ The gondola! the gondola!” he stuttered and panted; and so great was his excitement, that the countess, unable to comprehend his meaning, turned as white as death, and seized the arm of Lord Byron.
“Well, what of the gondola?" demanded the latter, petulantly. “You might speak plainly, I think ; and not come terrifying the contessa in this manner. Is it sunk, or blown up, or what?”
“ It's worse,” roared the count. “It has gone away-broken from its moorings. It is a league and a half distant by this time.”
Lord Byron took in the full meaning of his words on the instant, and all that they could convey to the mind—the embarrassment of their position, its unpleasantness, and-ay-perhaps its peril. He threw the arm of the lady from him, with much less ceremony than he would have used in any calmer moment, and flew towards the shore, the Frenchman and the Italian tearing after him.
Oh yes, it was quite true. There was the gondola, nearly out of sight, drifting majestically over the Adriatic. It had broken its fastenings, and had gone away of its own accord, consulting nobody's convenience and pleasure but its own. The four gondoliers stood staring after it, in the very height of dismay. Lord Byron addressed them.
• Whose doing is this ?” he inquired. “Who pretended to fasten the gondola ?”
A shower of exclamations, and gestures, and protestations interrupted him. Of course “nobody" had done it : nobody ever does do anything.
They had all fastened it; and fastened it securely : and the private opinion of some of them was given forth, that nobody had accomplished the mischief save, il diavolo.
“ Just so," cried Lord Byron. “ You invoked him, you know, G.”
“ It would be much better to consider what's to be done, than to talk nonsense,” retorted the count, who was not of the sweetest temper.
And Lord Byron burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter, not at him, but at beholding how the false teeth of the marquis chattered, when he now, for the first time, was made acquainted with the calamity.
“We shall never get away again! We shall be forced to stop on this dreadful island for ever-and with nothing to eat!” groaned the marquis. “Milord, what is to be done?”
Lord Byron did not reply ; but one accustomed to his countenance might have read the deepest perplexity there ; for wild, undefined ideas of famine were fitting like shadows across his own brain.
Their position was undoubtedly perilous. Left on that uninhabited isle without sustenance or means of escape, the only hope they could encourage was, that some vessel might pass and perceive them : perhaps a pleasure party, like their own, might be making for the islands. But this hope was a very forlorn one, for weeks might elapse ere that was the case. They had no covering, save what they had on; even the wrapperings of the countess were in the unlucky gondola.
“ Can you suggest no means of escape ?” again implored the marquis of Lord Byron, to whom all the party, as with one accord, seemed to look
for succour, as if conscious they were in the presence of a superior mind. They thought that if any could devise a way of escape, it must be he. But there they erred. They had yet to learn that for all the practical uses of every-day life, none are so entirely helpless as these minds of inward pride and power. There was probably not a single person then present, who could not, upon an emergency, have acted far more to the purpose than could Lord Byron.
“There's nothing to be suggested," interrupted one or two of the boatmen. “We canuot help ourselves : we have no means of help. We must watch for a sail, or an oar, passing, and if none see us, we must stay here and die.”
Lord Byron turned to the men, and spoke in a low voice. “Do not be discouraged,” he said : “ if ever there was a time when your oftquoted saying ought to be practically remembered, it is now. Asutato, e Dio l'asutero.'"
The first suggestion was made by the marquis. He proposed that a raft should be constructed, sufficient to carry one person, who might then go in search of assistance. This was very good in theory, but when they came to talk of practice, it was found that if there had been any wood on the island suitable for the purpose, which there was not, they had neither tools nor means to fashion it.
“ At all events,” resumed the marquis, “let us hoist a signal of distress, and then, if any vessel should pass, it will see us.”
“ It may, you mean," returned Lord Byron. “But what are we to do for a pole? Suppose, marquis, we tie a flag to you: you are the tallest."
“Where are you to find a flag ?” added the count, in perplexity. 4 All our things have gone off in that cursed gondola.”
“Dio mio!" uttered the half-crazed marquis.
" I once,” said Lord Byron, musingly, “swam across the Hellespont. I might try my skill again now, and perhaps gain one of the neighbouring isles.”
“And to what good if the signor did attempt it?" inquired one of the gondoliers, “since the immediate isles are, like this, uninhabited. That would not further our escape, or his."
“ Can none of you fellows think of anything?" asked the count, impatiently, of the gondoliers. “You should be amply rewarded.”
“ The signor need not speak of reward," answered Cyclops, the oneeyed boatman: and it may be stated that “ Cyclops” was merely a name bestowed upon him by the public, suggested by his infirmity. “We are as anxious to escape as he is, for we have wives and families, who must starve, if we perish. Never let the signor talk about reward.”
“ The gondola must have been most carelessly fastened,” growled the marquis.
“Had it sunk, instead of floated, we should have known it was caused by the weight of your birds,” cried Lord Byron.
“ There was not a single bird in it,” rejoined the marquis, too much agitated, now, to care for his renown as a sportsman.
“ Then what in the world did you do with them? There must be a whole battue of dead game down yonder.”
“You are merry!" uttered the lady, reproachfully, to Lord Byron.
“What is the use of being sad, and showing it?" was his answer. “ All the groans extant won't bring us aid."