"Nothing interesting ever happens here," complained Byron, lounging on the sofa with his foot propped up.
"Plenty of things happen," said Shelley without looking up from his manuscript. "Just last summerwinter, we had that stunning little party."
"Nothing has happened since then," Byron insisted. "And that was weeks ago. Thank God I'm off to Venice soon."
"Yes," said Shelley absently. "Thank God. How will I survive."
"We ought to have a game," Byron said, sitting up. "You and me, Shiloh. A delightful little game."
"Stop writing that whatever-it-is," said Byron, coming over to Shelley with his half-limp and nipping at the nape of Shelley's neck where his collar exposed the skin, "and listen to me."
Shelley half turned in his seat and smiled, draping an arm around Byron's hip. "You do know how to make a compelling argument, Albé."
Byron nuzzled him. "Probably why I'm a Lord and you're barely a Bysshe. Listen, you know all those damned epistolary novels? Shall we take a page from them and correspond as if we were characters? We'll write our own history of someone elses."
"These things have a life of their own, you know," said Shelley. "We'll end up writing something with living consequence."
"Ah, but you've already dedicated your life to me and mine," said Byron affectionately. "That means this life and any after. And why shouldn't we write out our own lives? A noble experiment if there ever were one."
"You're the noble, my lord," said Shelley, leaning against Byron's stomach. "I defer to your superior judgment."
"You defer to my superior kissing, more like," murmured Byron, leaning down. "Come, Shiloh. It'll be fun."
"Anything you set out upon is a delight," Shelley murmured back, brushing his lips against Byron's. "All right. What's your plan?"
"What would we be if not poets?" Byron asked, drawing Shelley over to the sofa.
"Something prosperous," said Shelley. "Something that would allow us to showcase our clear intellectual superiority and rapier-like wit. A profession that would support us in the manner to which we've become accustomed. Topcoats and all. I shouldn't stand for wearing no vest at a ball."
"Yes, with our brains and looks, we couldn't help making money. Shall we be doctors? Let's be doctors. And my name will be..." he looked around, "House. And you shall be Wilson."
"I don't get to chose my own name?"
"No, and anyway, you look like a fils de Guillaume."
"Logic never was your strong suit," grumbled Shelley.
"No," said Byron airily, putting his head in Shelley's lap. "That's what my genius and my good looks are for."
"Oh, clearly," said Shelley. "Your genius seduces one half of the population and your monstrous charm the other half?"
"Do stop talking and kiss me," Byron said.
+ + + +
This damned game was your idea and the burden of beginning falls upon me? Very well. This letter comes winging to you from your dearest physician friend Wilson, who hopes that you are suitably entertained in Venice without him, and that you remain free of catarrh despite the unavoidable throng of victims who must darken your pharmacological doorstep. My sympathies to them: they will get more than they counted on if they happen to bring their contagion into your sitting room. Ah, well, il dottor House è un genio del male, or della medicina, or di avoiding any semblance of being a reasonable or diligent correspondent. My only hope is that your precious words are turning into poetry, as they are not formed into such seemly sentences as I may read.
England is very dull, though my mistress takes to it with ease. She is deep in her own words at the moment, and all her love goes to that misshapen creature of ink and paper. Surely you know how it is, scrawling prescription upon prescription for the victims of the Venice fogs. Romance (in that old and misty sense) does have its price. Your own paramour swells and swells, all furrowed brow, more noire than claire. I fear that composition of yours may outlast all our others.
What do you think of this:
So, as we rode, we talked; and the swift thought,
Winging itself with laughter, lingered not,
But flew from brain to brain,--such glee was ours,
Charged with light memories of remembered hours,
None slow enough for sadness; till we came
Homeward, which always makes the spirit tame.
A beginning of something? We always did disguise ourselves very ill.
Yours truly is an awful loveliness.
+ + + +
Mon fils de Guillaume,
Alas fog, alas catarrh, alas the endless dull squalor of Venice sans toi. I hardly find a use for myself. Medicine, though the only true and noble profession et cetera, fails to delight the senses all the hours of the day.
Though black as his heart its hue,
Since his veins are corrupted to mud...
I would serve as a fair King Ludd these days, dark heart and all. I occupy myself not with flocks of whining patients, but with the profound and patient culture of Armenia. If only an individual would appear at my doorstep with something other than a cough or a pox, I might stir my bones to engage in treatment. But there's no mystery about them, no intrigue or guesswork to be done, though I of course have all the patience in the world. In short: no romances of any sort to be found in Venice this season, only plodders whose thoughts are as earth- and fog-bound as their ungraceful bodies. And to think it's our duty to inspire these pallid and mundane souls to think of higher things. My visitors can't get past the idea of their own lungs, much less breathe any of your rarified air. No Mont Blanc for these. Neither do the waves of the canals bound so much as slop; even the greenest gondolier stays steady.
Come now: be stalwart, we must weave ourselves better cloaks. Little point in mistaking our own identities if we cannot lose ourselves in the sheer amusement of it all.
With form our fancy, gaining as we give
The life we image, even as I do now.
If you manage at any point to slip away and escape your house of women, do come to Venice and see me. I fear for your health in all those London fogs, not so pure as our mists here in Italy. There is no restorative so fine as the unencumbered conversation of men of intellectual stature. The drama of the Italians daily loses its old power of entertaining, and I fear I may turn to the fresh and innocent youth of the city merely to find a worthy diversion. They, at least, are less concerned with wheezy lungs.
My regards to your Mrs. or however nearly Mrs. she is.
+ + + +
My dear House,
More is the pity; the entertainment here as my sister-in-law approaches her confinement proves too great to release me. Aside from that, we mourn the loss of my nearly-Mrs.' half-sister and wait for winter to gust the news to our door. After last summerwinter's dismal weather, the rain and cold are almost pleasant. At least now they are expected. I hope you find enough to divert you, and repeat my deeply felt sentiment that that your powers are astonishingly great, and that they ought to be exerted to their full extent. Spending your talents on the fresh-faced youth is a poor use of skill such as yours, and soon enough one of those pairs of bright eyes will greatly resemble yours. Do you plan to spatter Europe with bastards? I cannot be convinced that there are not better ways to leave a legacy, but then you are the genius of our era. Some good will doubtless come of all of this.
Anyway, you needn't worry about my health. We've settled at Bath, and a more healthful place there never was. Or so I'm told.
+ + + +
I think in the spring when the climate is somewhat tolerable I shall go to Rome. What do you think? Leave the ladies and find your way here. We'll discover muses enough in Rome. There must be a nymph in one of those fountains.
You would be well served to stop reminding me of my supposed paternal duties. I gave Claire what she wanted though it was never my deepest wish; now she might return the favor and keep away. I have paid my debts to her. Can we not agree that my time would be better spent deepening my art than interviewing nannies? I am not made for parenthood or nursemaiding, for more reasons than this limp which would hinder my running after the infant to prevent it from swallowing precious artifacts and despoiling works in progress. If you continue to pressure me, I will have to invoke the many sordid histories with which you already familiar. Perhaps you ought to raise the thing yourself. It concords perfectly with your ideas of free love, does it not? And if H. continues to be recalcitrant, you shall have an heir convenient.
+ + + +
Game be damned, Albé, but I had already begun a letter. What use in writing other lives when these are so full of upset and brief joy as to draw the breath from a man? Drama, tragedy, and strife abound. Harriet has killed herself. I am for the altar as soon as possible, in a last attempt to claim my children. Claire is half-miserable with the weight of your unborn.
I do wish you would come to Marlow.
As ever your Shiloh,
+ + + +
I am ill-formed for woe and comfort. You know that. I am also rather too wicked for Bath or Marlow or even sprawling London with its dark alleys. If my doctorly wisdom were real, I might come and see what sort of healing there was to be done, but with the ladies distraught it is best that I crouch here in Venice and wait, and perfect our other lives by writing both of us in some strange and wonderful future.
For there was soft remembrance, and sweet trust
In one fond breast, to which his own would melt,
And in its tenderer hour on that his bosom dwelt.
And he had learn'd to love,--I know not why,
For this in such as him seems strange of mood,--