(Today I have a video talk up over on My Jane Austen Book Club, so please stop by and say hi!)
Yesterday, I promised to share the tale of Lady Caroline Lamb’s rather risqué and unusual love token to Lord Byron, and as a woman of my word I herby give you the excerpt from my book wherein Henry and Mary Crawford are discussing it:
The walked on companionably, until Henry thought of something to cheer his sister. “I say, Mary, did I tell you I got a letter from my friend Mr Honeycutt today?”
“No, you didn’t. Was there anything of interest in it?”
“It depends,” Henry said with a sly smile. “Are you at all interested in Lord Byron’s affair with Lady Caroline Lamb?”
The effect on his sister was as Henry had hoped; electrifying.
“Oh, tell me! Do not tease! Have they eloped? Is there are terrible scandal?”
“Peace! Peace, and I’ll tell you,” Henry was laughing at his sister’s animation. “I swear Mary, I have seen hounds less aquiver during a hunt.”
“Leaving aside that you just compared me to hound, if you do not tell me your news I shall push you in the river and see what that does to your boots!” Mary was trying to look fierce, but spoiled the effect by giggling.
“Spare my boots, if you please,” Henry begged. “What should have happened but that Byron and Lady Lamb have had a rupture? A complete breach.”
Mary was flabbergasted. “How can this be? Their affair — it was so immoderate! so hot! How can it be over so soon? Can Mr Honeycutt not be mistaken?”
“That is unlikely, since Honeycutt got it from Hobhouse himself,” Henry replied.
Considering the John Hobhouse was Byron’s dearest friend and confident, Mary was forced to admit that the information was probably accurate.
“But how did it all come about? Was Byron driven to yet another jealous rage by her affection for her husband? Did he become someone else’s lover? Did it end with a sigh or a cry?”
“Your avidity amuses me, sister. I wish I had half your energy! But have done with your entreaties; I’ll tell you all I know. According to Honeycutt, on the last Wednesday of July Hobhouse and Byron were to leave London for Harrow to the express purpose of escaping Lady Lamb, who had grown too persistent and open in her affections for Byron’s comfort. However, before they could affect their hegira, Lady Lamb showed up at No. 8 St James Street, without an escort or even her maid, and demanded an entrance.”
“No!” Mary was actually shocked. To do such a thing was an unforgivable action in a well-born lady. She could not imagine love for anyone driving her to such a rash and foolish act as visiting a man’s home unattended.
“Yes. Moreover, she was ‘disguised’ as a page.”
“She did, indeed. Upon my honour, that’s what Honeycutt wrote to me that she did. Breeches, jacket, boots, and all. You could, Hobhouse told Honeycutt, clearly see every inch of her lower limbs and the cleft of her buttocks.” Henry felt free to tell his sister this detail, and bravely mention anatomy, because they were still fortunately decades away from the Victorian uber-modesty which would deny that women, chairs, and pianos possessed legs. “Even with her hair cut into such a close crop, there was no mistaking her as anything but a woman.”
Mary was enthralled by the scandal. “Good God,” she gasped, “what did Byron do?”
“Well, he couldn’t just throw her out into the street, now could he? She was a lady, even if she was dressed as a boy. Honeycutt is given to understand a crowd was gathering. Moreover, Hobhouse was petrified that Lady Lamb would demand an elopement, and then what could Byron do but comply? When the poor devil tried to tell her that an elopement was infeasible, she grabbed a knife and threatened to commit self-murder. Byron — if Honeycutt can be believed, which I think he might inasmuch as he is an honest fellow — had to restrain Lady Lamb as if she were a madwoman.”
Mary nearly shrieked. What horrid novel could have such a dramatic turn of events? She had seen Lady Lamb at Almack’s, and could easily envision that slender, pale figure clasping a knife and threatening to end it all for love. In her mind’s eye she saw Byron, dashing and somehow windswept even in a windless room, rush to his lover and prevent her from making the fatal wound. Oh! What she would have given to be a fly on the wall!
Henry was enjoying revealing the scandal as much as Mary was enjoying hearing it. “Finally, after a dint of persuasion from both Byron and Hobhouse — all that they could do in fact — Lady Lamb was willing to don a servant’s dress and bonnet and let Hobhouse take her to a third party’s home. Byron had to promise to come to her again rather than leave London, though, for her to agree to leave. It was in every way a fracas.”
“How could you have waited all morning to tell me of this?” Mary demanded.
Henry shrugged. “I was going to tell you immediately, but you were out with Mrs Grant and by the time you returned to the parsonage my mind was filled with other thoughts. You know my brain cannot rest; it must be doing something. But I have not yet told you all my news, Mary.”
“There’s more?” Her voice was nearly ecstatic.
“What I have to tell you is so scandalous that I am not sure I should even breathe a word of it.”
“I will beat you to death with my reticule if you do not.”
“Under such a threat I have no choice but to comply,” Henry sighed dramatically. “Lady Lamb sent Byron a letter.”
“That’s it? A letter?”
“Not quite. Within the letter was a lover’s token,” Henry paused.
“Well, go on!”
“It was a lock of hair.”
“A lock of hair? That’s all? Why should that be so scandalous that I couldn’t hear it?” Mary was perplexed.
“It was a lock of hair of a most … personal … nature, dear sister. A very private lock of hair, if you will,” Henry smirked.
Mary was rendered absolutely speechless, and gaped at her brother like a very pretty fish. Finally, she spoke, “Can this be true?”
“I’ve always found Honeycutt a reliable source,” Henry said.
“Is that all?”
“Isn’t that enough?”
Mary made an exasperated sound. “You know well what I meant.”
“One final bit of news then. Lady Lamb has gone to Ireland with her husband. It is said that Byron himself ordered her to go. They are over forever,” Henry ended his tale with a flourish.
His sister’s bright eyes gleamed. “What a delightful débâcle. The Ton will feast on this for months.”
“Just don’t tell Mr Bertram,” Henry reminded her. “He’d faint if he knew half of the tale, and develop a brain-fever if he thought you knew a tenth of it.”