Byron: The Cybernovel

PROLOGUE

I could hear the distant shushing of the waves; they were gentle tonight. The horse sent sprays of gravel scattering before us, side stepping swiftly down to the beach. We cantered along the verge in silence for a few moments, and then he began to softly sing. I did not recognize the song . . . Italian . . . newly popular no doubt.

The great heat of the day had passed, but a perfumed and comforting warmth still rose from the sand and stones. He turned the horse's head towards the moonlit water and took a few steps into the surf before reining in. He undid the clasps of the cape and we both dismounted. Folding the cape carefully, he fixed it onto the saddle and turned to face me. In the moonlight his beauty made me ache. He leaned towards me, kissed me gently on the lips and dropped into the sea. I shuddered and surrendered to the water.

When we had almost returned to shore, lying in those small waves that caress the very edge, he entered me and I was lost to rapture. We were rocked and soothed, bathed and cleansed by the sea. Suddenly, the waves increased and I got a mouthful and came up choking. Laughing and spluttering we moved further up the beach to prevent my drowning in more than love.

The air was still hot, even though the moon had risen far into a million starred sky. We lay together, sand, shells and pebbles sticking to our cooling skin. After a long while, we stood up and walked hand in hand away from the water. The bridle chinked as the horse moved slowly, cropping the yellow grass at the edge of the beach. "Philosophy, Shelley," he said, "Philo sophos", and began to move his hands up my thighs. "Now, if l can inspire some further attention from your little soldier, perhaps I can return the favour." I can't believe to this moment what he did then with me and what I did later with him, but I remember his remark that it was not too different than swallowing a little sea water, as I had just done.

After we had dressed and were riding back, he sighed deeply, " I won't be able to flirt with you any longer . . . nor with Mary. Don't be jealous of your wife though, not on my account . . . Teresa's all the woman I want or need. But Trelawny, now, he's so horribly hairy and was in the navy . . . and he threw his head back and laughed his wonderful low, rich laugh.

I felt deeply ashamed and yet elated. I knew I was horribly, painfully jealous. My wife was in love with Byron. I had seen it for weeks and no doubt he had, too . . . But he had come here with me. This confounded all my beliefs, I was shaken to the core. Again, he laughed his merry laugh.

"Damn jealousy! It has corrupted my whole life — though, certes, this is an unusually convoluted python of treachery and triangulation — a positive Laocoon of entanglements. Don't be worried about dear Leigh — when he arrives. It was all over between us years ago, and the devil makes me pay — in cash mostly!" And he laughed again and again.

I woke up.

It was the third night of these dreams. I rolled over and punched the pillows down to get comfortable. As I drifted towards sleep again, I saw him sitting on an outcropping of rock beside a shallow, pebble beach. The surf was gentle, the water grey with a diffuse sparkle. Not far off, a bank of mist obscured my view towards the horizon. He was turned toward the water — looking where I could not see. His right foot, in a delicate black leather boot, was on a smaller rock. He was wearing a long grey jacket, light trousers and a peaked cap. His right hand was on his knee and his left hand beside him. He was very relaxed. I asked him, "Did you? . . . with your sister Augusta, with little boys, with Shelley?" His answer is always the same.

"Look for it, it's all there. Look, look, look and think, think, think. It's essential to find the truth." He turned and faced me. "They must be able to find it, too . . . and you will have to defend what you say, not just against the criticism, but the lies as well. It is there, Anne, I promise you. But you must search. Tomorrow you will read The Bride and then the Prose."

In "The Bride of Abydos" there was passionate love, but no sexual consummation. In the book of miscellaneous prose there were entries from his school days at Harrow — names with coded marks beside them — the letter K and cross marks. I thought I knew what they meant. He was guiding my search.

With my help he would tell the truth — at last — — —