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PAGE 2

Love At Martinmas
by [?]

I

Since Colonel Denstroude proved a profane and dissolute and helpful person, Lady Allonby was shortly re-established in her villa at Tunbridge Wells, on the Sussex side, where she had resolved to find a breathing-space prior to the full season in London. And thereupon she put all thoughts of Usk quite out of her mind: it had been an unhappy business, but it was over. In the meanwhile her wardrobe needed replenishing now that spring was coming in; the company at the Wells was gay enough; and Lady Allonby had always sedulously avoided anything that was disagreeable.

Mr. Erwyn Lady Allonby was far from cataloguing under that head. Mr. George Erwyn had been for years a major-general, at the very least, in Fashion’s army, and was concededly a connoisseur of all the elegancies.

Mr. Erwyn sighed as he ended his recital–half for pity of the misguided folk who had afforded Tunbridge its latest scandal, half for relief that, in spite of many difficulties, the story had been set forth in discreet language which veiled, without at all causing you to miss, the more unsavory details.

“And so,” said he, “poor Harry is run through the lungs, and Mrs. Anstruther has recovered her shape and is to be allowed a separate maintenance.”

“‘Tis shocking!” said Lady Allonby.

“‘Tis incredible,” said Mr. Erwyn, “to my mind, at least, that the bonds of matrimony should be slipped thus lightly. But the age is somewhat lax and the world now views with complaisance the mad antics of half-grown lads and wenches who trip toward the altar as carelessly as if the partnership were for a country-dance.”

Lady Allonby stirred her tea and said nothing. Notoriously her marriage had been unhappy; and her two years of widowhood (dating from the unlamented seizure, brought on by an inherited tendency to apoplexy and French brandy, which carried off Lord Stephen Allonby of Prestonwoode) had to all appearance never tempered her distrust of the matrimonial state. Certain it was that she had refused many advantageous offers during this period, for her jointure was considerable, and, though in candid moments she confessed to thirty-three, her dearest friends could not question Lady Allonby’s good looks. She was used to say that she would never re-marry, because she desired to devote herself to her step-daughter, but, as gossip had it at Tunbridge, she was soon to be deprived of this subterfuge; for Miss Allonby had reached her twentieth year, and was nowadays rarely seen in public save in the company of Mr. Erwyn, who, it was generally conceded, stood high in the girl’s favor and was desirous of rounding off his career as a leader of fashion with the approved comoedic dénouement of marriage with a young heiress.

For these reasons Lady Allonby heard with interest his feeling allusion to the laxity of the age, and through a moment pondered thereon, for it seemed now tolerably apparent that Mr. Erwyn had lingered, after the departure of her other guests, in order to make a disclosure which Tunbridge had for many months expected.

“I had not thought,” said she, at length, “that you, of all men, would ever cast a serious eye toward marriage. Indeed, Mr. Erwyn, you have loved women so long that I must dispute your ability to love a woman–and your amours have been a byword these twenty years.”

“Dear lady,” said Mr. Erwyn, “surely you would not confound amour with love? Believe me, the translation is inadequate. Amour is but the summer wave that lifts and glitters and laughs in the sunlight, and within the instant disappears; but love is the unfathomed eternal sea itself. Or–to shift the metaphor–Amour is a general under whom youth must serve: Curiosity and Lustiness are his recruiting officers, and it is well to fight under his colors, for it is against Ennui that he marshals his forces. ‘Tis a resplendent conflict, and young blood cannot but stir and exult as paradoxes, marching and countermarching at the command of their gay generalissimo, make way for one another in iridescent squadrons, while through the steady musketry of epigram one hears the clash of contending repartees, or the cry of a wailing sonnet. But this lord of laughter may be served by the young alone; and by and by each veteran–scarred, it may be, but not maimed, dear lady–is well content to relinquish the glory and adventure of such colorful campaigns for some quiet inglenook, where, with love to make a third, he prattles of past days and deeds with one that goes hand in hand with him toward the tomb.”