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THE CENTURY MAGAZINE: Published monthly: 50 cents a copy, $5.00 a year in the United States, $5.60 in Canada, and $6.00 in all other countries (postage included). Publication and circulation office, Concord, N. H. Editorial and advertising offices, 353 Fourth Avenue, New York, N. Y. Subscriptions may be forwarded to either of the above offices. Pacific Coast office, 327 Van Nuys Building, Los Angeles, California. W. Morgan Shuster, President; Dana H. Ferrin, Secretary; George L. Wheelock, Treasurer; James Abbott, Assistant Treasurer. Board of Trustees: George H. Hazen, Chairman; George C. Fraser; W. Morgan Shuster. The Century Co. and its editors receive manuscripts and art material, submitted for publication, only on the understanding that they shall not be responsible for loss or injury thereto while in their possession or in transit. All material herein published under copyright, 1927, by The Century Co. Title registered in the U. S. Patent Office. Entered as second-class matter August 18, 1920, at the U. S. post-office, Concord, N. H., under the act of March 3, 1879; entered also at the Post Office Department, Ottawa, Canada. Printed in U. S. A.
The CENTURY MAGAZINE
LADY ISOBEL'S HUSBAND
A Romantic Experiment in Polygamy
ESTELLE AUBREY BROWN
OLLOWING a devastating war a devastating war the small Kingdom of Loveana had found itself in a bad way. Loveana had no coal mines. King Borel, commendably desirous of giving his subjects cheaper fuel, sent his army to conquer and annex a certain contiguous province rich in coal but at the time a part of a weak country whose army was reported to be small and poorly disciplined.
Unfortunately for Loveana the rival army proved to be neither small nor undisciplined. So Loveana did not obtain her coveted coal but received in lieu thereof something for which she had little liking a sound trouncing. King Borel was forced to make a disadvantageous peace. The remnant of his army returned home and the country took stock of its disaster.
In addition to its scarcity of coal, Loveana now lacked men. The war had dangerously depleted the army. A rather alarming state, for Loveana had valuable potash deposits on which a predatory neighbor on the north had long cast covetous eyes. King Borel had definite opinions regard
ing a nation so infamous as to steal its neighbor's potash. Still, the King felt that Loveana must continue to rely upon its army to maintain its sovereignty-and its potash.
But where were the men for the army?
Far too many of the young men of Loveana, the potential fathers of the soldiers who should have waged the next war, lay buried in a hostile country. The latest census had disclosed a distressing surplus of girls. King Borel was deeply concerned.
He mentioned the matter to Queen Fleur, who at once suggested a remedy.
Now King Borel had married his Queen for reasons of state, a fact of which her mirror daily reminded her. Queen Fleur was young, younger than the King, but her dark face was marred with sullenness-for Queen Fleur nourished a grievance. Yes, there were certain morganatic ladies to whom the King was known to be attentive. Queen Fleur bitterly resented these ladies and, of course, every woman in the Kingdom knew of her resentment and talked about it.
Copyright, 1927, by THE CENTURY Co. All rights reserved.
Queen Fleur never could meet the ladies of the nobility-and she was forever meeting them-without sensing their pity for her. They conveyed their sympathy in delicate and highly irritating ways.
No doubt Queen Fleur shed bitter tears about it-in private, for the King hated tears as any peasant woman might have done. And like any peasant woman when opportunity offered she sought revenge upon the women who had presumed to pity a queen.
So Queen Fleur recommended polygamy.
The idea was so simple, so remedial, that King Borel marveled he had not thought of it himself. But of course the credit did really belong to him. Had he not first set the example it is quite probable Queen Fleur would never have thought of it.
King Borel despatched his couriers to summon his Generals-for of course all the Generals had returned with the remnant of the army. Naturally no women were summoned to such an important conference. Yet the King realized that polygamy was a matter in which women would be interested. The King even thought it possible that some of them might prove antagonistic. But he anticipated no serious opposition, for he had always found the women of Loveana amenable to reason when appeals were couched in terms of patriotism.
"I'll be doing them a kindness," said the King when he came to tell Queen Fleur of the impending conference. "Without polygamy, most of our girls will be spinsters, or form illicit relationships. We can not sanction that, of course."
"Of course not," agreed the Queen politely.
King Borel and his Generals palavered at great length. Not, of course, in opposition to the Queen's suggestion. Being Generals, they were accustomed to weighing matters in terms of their country's welfare. Were they not all men of mature judgment and years, with wives of their own vintage? Not one selfishly objected to polygamy.
The palaver did not come from dissent. The discussions all tended to the elucidation of one point-the best method of broaching the subject of a new, young wife to the wife already installed. The diversity of opinion put a severe strain on even the wisest of King Borel's Generals.
In the end, Loveana being an enlightened Kingdom, kindness prevailed. It was decided that no old wife should be put aside, nor was she to be too severely reproved if she failed to see the righteous necessity of the new order. For a time polygamy was to be the law of the land and it was every man's duty to have as many wives as his estates permitted. Being the law, women must respect it.
So the Generals departed, filled with the commendable resolve to be fruitful and to multiply and replenish the army. For the first time in its history the rank and file of the army was in full accord with its Generals. Discussion ran high in the thinned ranks as to the quickest method of making King Borel's hint of a subsidy for the army a reality.
There was the expected opposition from a number of wives, but it was more than offset by the approval of the unattractive spinsters.
"Please be reasonable, Mary," argued the mature Generals to their mature wives. "Surely you can see that polygamy is our only solution. Why, Queen Fleur herself suggested it!"
"She would," sniffed Mary, "with those hussies.'
"We must have men for the army. It is either polygamy or widespread illegitimacy. You don't want that, do you?"
No, Mary did not want that. Enlightened Loveana dealt severely with its illegitimates. If Mary had vague doubts regarding the wisdom of raising an army by such methods, or of bearing sons to have them killed in early manhood, she wisely kept them to herself. She was, as her husband often reminded her, only a woman and hence subject to such vague doubts.
If wives wept bitterly when they were displaced, why, wives have always wept about one thing or another. If young girls with foolish rosy dreams of a young unshared husband cried because they found themselves with a husband that was neither, have not young girls cried since the dawn of time because their vision of romantic love faded into drab reality?
Once more the Kingdom of Loveana prospered. Lusty recruits for the army were being born with. exemplary regularity. The neighbor on the north fortunately was absorbed in civil warfare and was unable to do more than look covetously on Loveana's potash.
It was deemed highly commendable in the older wives to attain to such a state of grace, patriotically, that they welcomed the new wife
with a smile. So thoroughly was Loveana convinced of the righteousness of its cause that a certain wife was suggested for canonization for having embroidered with her own hands the trousseau of her youthful
Nothing came of this suggestion, for the Bishops, while conceding her act to be praiseworthy, decided it was not of a religious character. A few of the old wives had the temerity to question the decision, contending that such an act signified complete sanctification. But of this the Bishops asserted they were the best judges, as of course they should be.
Two years prior to the establishment of polygamy throughout the Kingdom of Loveana, Sir Jon Seggrick had taken unto himself a wife. Sir Jon was thought to be the most promising of King Borel's young officers-being then twentytwo. Tall and fair, not too unhandsome, Sir Jon wore his Court uniform with an easy grace few of the Generals could equal.
Among the Ladies in Waiting to Queen Fleur was the Lady Isobel, a modest maiden of seventeen. Lady Isobel's eyes were as dark as Sir Jon's were blue, but what first attracted his critical gaze was a curly white tress arranged low on her smooth forehead, where it shone a silver crescent against the burnished midnight of her hair.
The curly white tress was beautiful, as the minx knew full well. But it was more. It was a symbol of Lady Isobel's canny instinct for twisting a liability into an asset—a trait that was to serve her well in the