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years to come. Most maidens of seventeen would have been at great pains to hide that lock of prematurely gray hair. Lady Isobel brought it forward for all to see-and to admire or criticize according to their sex.
Sir Jon and Lady Isobel fell so deeply in love that even Queen Fleur, who was inclined to be cynical about matters of the heart, was touched. She released Lady Isobel from her duties at Court. Then, after a wedding in the Queen's own chapel, Sir Jon and his bride rode away to his castle a few leagues distant.
And it came to pass that they reined their weary steeds beside the moat, dry these many years, just as the flaming sunset touched the minarets of the gloomy old castle with liquid gold. And Sir Jon tenderly led his bride through the high grilled doors into the great flagged hall, hung with the medieval weapons his ancestors had used in the cause of the Kingdom of Loveana. And in a vaulted room with high mullioned windows the end of a long refectory table was laid for two.
Sir Jon and Lady Isobel sat down to a dinner to which the majordomo had given much thought. The pièce de résistance was the head of a wild boar to which Sir Jon himself had given the coup de grâce. Crisp and odorous, it was brought to them upon a huge silver platter by the majordomo, who was followed by a retinue of lesser retainers each with a steaming savory dish.
And as they marched around the long table they decorously chanted the quite indecorous Song to Hy
Lady Isobel smiled and blushed and looked altogether adorable. The white tress gleamed like a silver crescent against the burnished midnight of her hair. And Sir Jon, being young and deeply in love, kissed his bride and swore a great oath that during all the years of his life, on their wedding-day, there should be served to them the head of a wild boar and sung to them the Song to Hymenæus.
And Lady Isobel, being young and deeply in love, fondly believed that life would be thus kind to her.
They were happy in the gloomy old castle. Lady Isobel made many soft warm cushions for the massive stone settles that lined the vast hall, which was cold in winter even when the logs blazed in the big fireplace. Cuddled beside Sir Jon, she sat on the cushions of evenings and listened to him discuss the next war. For it was now publicly known that King Borel, in reckoning the revenues of his Kingdom, was including the coal in a certain contiguous province.
Then war was declared. Sir Jon kissed his wife many times and rode away at the head of his retainers, who overnight had become soldiers. Lady Isobel sat alone on the soft cushions. Infrequently she wept. Even at eighteen Lady Isobel was not given to crying about matters over which she had no control. She really had a mind of her own, though many husbands deemed such a possession not only unnecessary in a wife, but undesirable. Was not everything admirably arranged for them by the men?
Nevertheless, Lady Isobel continued her habit of looking unpleasant situations squarely in the
face and deriving therefrom such pleasure or profit as she might.
The war lasted a year. And, as before mentioned, King Borel's remnant of an army returned without any coal. Sir Jon came home with a limp and with a great concern for the future of Loveana. And on the night of his return such of his faithful retainers who had escaped interment in foreign soil served him and his Lady with the head of a wild boar. And as they marched around the long table they decorously chanted the quite indecorous Song of Hy
And Lady Isobel smiled and blushed and looked altogether adorable. And they were very happy. For a time.
Following the momentous conference with his Generals, King Borel despatched his couriers to the nobles of his Kingdom to acquaint them with His with His Majesty's decree making polygamy mandatory throughout his domains. Later a proclamation was issued for the peasantry. And King Borel derived no little pleasure from informing the nobles of the impending change in their domestic arrangements, remembering the many occasions on which Queen Fleur had expressed her mind frankly about the attractive morganatic ladies.
Sir Jon read the King's mandate with trained facial immobility, as he would have read an order to attack a superior enemy. But soon around his blue eyes came the little lines that betokened a quizzical mood. When he gave the mandate to Lady Isobel something akin to amused speculation shone in his eyes.
But Lady Isobel's black eyes were quickly tear-dimmed. There was heartbreak in her cry as she threw herself into Sir Jon's arms. Of course he comforted her and when she was more composed he reasoned with her, as a General might have done. King Borel was counting on the patriotism of the noble women of Loveana, on whom the future existence of the Kingdom depended. Without an army, Loveana might find herself annexed as a mere province to a rival kingdom.
Now the Lady Isobel was intensely patriotic, but she couldn't help but feel there was a catch in it somewhere, especially for women.
"You understand, darling," said Sir Jon, "we must have men for the army. The census showed that the girls outnumbered the boys five to one.'
"Then put the girls in the army," cried Lady Isobel.
"Dearest, don't be foolish. Women must be protected from suffering."
"I'd like to know where you get the idea that having babies is a dress parade," said Lady Isobel irritably.
"You can not speak from experience," Sir Jon reminded her, casually. And with a pang Lady Isobel realized that her appeals for personal exemption would come to naught in light of her childless
Eventually the Lady Isobel resigned herself, as did most of the women. After her first pitiful outburst she did not cry again. She had less reason than ever for wanting the little wrinkles around her eyes that women get who cry too much. Sir Jon was considerate. He made no
haste to bring home another consort, being in love with the one he had.
wild boar, nor was there chanted the Song of Hymenæus. And for many long years the head of a wild boar never again graced Sir Jon's table.
No one troubled to ascertain what Marthe thought about it. She settled down comfortably in the wing of the castle prepared for her. She
Lady Isobel knew her time of ate quantities of food at dinner. She reprieve was ended. sewed endlessly for the babies that came with exemplary promptness. She seemed content to have no real existence aside from her children, a trait said to have been not uncommon among women at that time.
"Let her be dark and homely," prayed Lady Isobel. She disliked blonds as instinctively as she distrusted them. Were not the attractive morganatic ladies fair of hair?
Lady Isobel passed a most unpleasant week. Not until Sir Jon returned with Marthe did she fully realize how great the strain had been. For at sight of Marthe she almost giggled. Which shows that much comfort may be derived from looking unpleasant situations squarely in the face, for of course it really wasn't a laughing matter. Never had Sir Jon displayed Sir Jon displayed greater love for his wife than when he chose her successor. For Marthe was too short, too plump, too sallow, too colorless of hair.
Nearly a year slipped by and Sir Jon's failure to comply with the King's mandate reached the ears of King Borel. Sir Jon was summoned to the Palace.
Perhaps Queen Fleur, who was fond of Lady Isobel, had something to do with it. Thanks to the King's mandate, a certain nobleman had disposed of all but one of a large family of girls. Marthe, in spite of all the marrying and giving in marriage, remained unclaimed. The Queen pointed out that Marthe came of a prolific family, which would please the King. She was plain, which would please Lady Isobel.
Really, an excellent arrangement. So Sir Jon brought Marthe home. The wedding-feast was ample, but there was not served the head of a
Lady Isobel carried all the soft warm cushions from the big hall, where she and Sir Jon had sat of evenings, up to her boudoir.
Sir Jon followed the cushions. Lady Isobel was not unhappy. As the years passed Sir Jon remained as devoted as can reasonably be expected of a husband. He was fond of Marthe's children, stolid boys, and romped with them up and down the great hall and taught them the use of the medieval weapons and impressed upon them the honorable future awaiting in the army-that army which was the reason for their being.
And throughout the Kingdom Sir Jon was pointed out as an example of what husbands should have done under the King's mandate, especially by the wives whose husbands had brought home young and handsome consorts. Goodness knows, there are always plenty of homely girls to be had. And homely girls make good
But the harassed husbands asserted that Sir Jon was henpecked and did not dare take a handsome wife. Indeed, so insistent were the
husbands on Sir Jon's henpecked condition that in time the gossip reached Sir Jon's ears, where it buzzed suggestively.
Tall, slender, spirited, at forty Lady Isobel was conceded to be the handsomest woman of her age in the Kingdom. Her lovely face was as smooth as a girl's. There were no sullen lines around her mouth such as were discernible on the faces of the wives who had taken the King's mandate and their husbands-too seriously.
To be sure, the silver crescent of hair had broadened into a halo of soft white waves on her fair forehead. But the long strands of Lady Isobel's abundant hair were yet black and when she coiled them high on her proud head against the gleaming silver halo the result was startlingly becoming. And some wives deemed it almost immoral that Lady Isobel should thus turn a woman's greatest liability into an asset.
And the Kingdom of Loveana prospered. Once more the annual levies filled the army with fresh young recruits. As the years passed machinery became more general and time-wasting methods stopped. The peasantry became bourgeois.
Skirts began to go up.
Lady Isobel was the first woman of the nobility to wear her skirts a bit shorter than she should have. She imported and wore at Court the first pair of chiffon hose to reach the Kingdom of Loveana. The other ladies hastened to follow her example, for it was noticeable that King Borel, who had grown old, was once more taking an active interest in his Court functions.
When Marthe shortened her skirts not wisely but too well, Lady Isobel did giggle.
"How perfectly silly I would have been," she thought, "to have ever been jealous of a woman with such dreadful legs." For of all the legs that began to appear publicly none were more shapely than the Lady Isobel's.
When Sir Jon was forty-five he went out one day and brought home Clotilde.
At sight of Clotilde the Lady Isobel withdrew precipitately to her rooms. Phlegmatic Marthe unexpectedly dissolved into tears and lamentations. For Clotilde was very young, and pretty in a bold, redlipped way, and her ankles were slender and extremely active.
The first week of Sir Jon's third honeymoon was interrupted at frequent intervals, but not by the Lady Isobel. It was Marthe whose red eyes and reproaches followed Sir Jon like a guilty conscience. Fortunately for Sir Jon, Marthe's youngest son-the only one not now in the army came down with mumps and Marthe the wife was absorbed in Marthe the mother.
The Lady Isobel remained in seclusion. And her grief was very deep.
But if grief can be strong, so can habit. All her life Lady Isobel had practised looking unpleasant situations squarely in the face and deriving therefrom such pleasure or profit as she might. Whenever she had occasion to weep she had wept into her mirror, for she had a theory that if a pretty woman saw how hideous she looked crying, she wouldn't cry.
Waves of passion and sorrow
Resolutely, Lady Isobel repeated, "happiness is a state of mind, not an arrangement of circumstances." Now usually when a cold hard fact is brought to bear against a broken heart, the cold hard fact retires a wreck. But not when the broken heart is Lady Isobel's.
"Humph! Arrangement of circumstances. Meaning my husband and that little blond cat who has got her claws into him. Really, it's just Really, it's just silly in him. A man of forty-five, with a thin place on top of his head and a bulge in front!"
"It's odd that men never see their own silliness," thought Lady Isobel.
Well, who better than a wife is qualified to point it out?
But discreetly. And laughter wins more victories than tears.
The idea of reproaching her husband never entered Lady Isobel's pretty head. She knew only too well that a reproached husband instinctively justifies himself. Once his justification is made vocal he believes it. Lady Isobel wisely left reproaches to Marthe.
Nevertheless, Lady Isobel passed a most unpleasant fortnight.
Not so Sir Jon. Clotilde was very sweet. She carried him off every evening to all the Inns in the neighborhood to dance. She taught him the new steps and laughed when he got out of breath. Sir Jon discovered several things about the younger generation, one of which was the lateness of the hours it kept.
But of course he enjoyed it immensely and felt a young blade and a gay dog. At the end of a fortnight he realized he had missed a lot of sleep and had not once seen Lady Isobel in the interim.
Sir Jon felt aggrieved thereat. "Hang it," he said, "I thought Isobel was fond of me. She might at least show a little feeling."
Husbandlike, he blamed Lady Isobel. "She's damned inconsiderate," he stormed. "She knows I might have brought home a blond wife years ago." Which was quite
"She knows perfectly well that Clotilde needn't make any difference between us-I feel just the same toward her. Anyway, it's the law."
Sir Jon felt he had a strong case, as of course he had. He stormed up