The Viscountess

The Viscount was growing old and lonesome, and therefore decided to seek a young and sprightly bride. The Viscountess, his loved and loving wife, had died fifteen years ago and their youngest child was forty-six and well set up in Town, so the Viscount may perhaps be excused for wishing to recapture some of the fashionable gaiety that he remembed (now so dimly) from his youth. Because he was old, and enjoyed the reputation of wealth, many young ladies, some less foolish than others, were eager to claim his land. Then, too, time had but gently touched his noble physiognomy, leaving intact the marble skin and elegant forehead that had won him the Viscountess, the friendly and intelligent brown eyes which were yet his best feature, and a great mass of leonine white hair. Beauty is not a prerequisite in the marriages between May and December, but it seldom hurts.

He met with many, many young ladies, the aged Viscount, without chaperone or retainer to bear away the salving tale of gentlemanly behaviour, much to the disapproval of his staunchly settled progeny. What did the Viscount care? He acted surety for his own character, and he was not long for the barking gossips of the world, anyway. The thrill of raising even a minor scandal was a heady cordial indeed!

As he was a wise man, and well-travelled, he met always with his young fanciers by candlelight, knowing well the suggestive powers of that soft light. Many came, and many went, and yet was the Viscount unmarried. Though all were beautiful, what was beauty compared to the memory of the Viscountess? Though all were witty, yet what was wit when he remembered the unforced laughter that rang through the hall when the Viscountess made some telling point? Though all were kind and ardent, what was that to him? His cooling blood stirred and whispered nonsense into his pillow.

The finest beauties of the county had come to him, and gone away again, fed but unsatisfied. Then came the daughters of the burghers, sober and sensible women with little wit but much sturdy humour, and they too he sent away by candlelight with the finest meal his chef could devise filling their sturdy bellies. Then the soldiers’ daughters, then the artisans’, then the tradesmen’s; one by one they came to the Manor, to dine by candlelight and crook appealing eyebrows at the maddeningly single Viscount, and one by one they left, philosophically disappointed.

His married sons and daughters in Town heaved respectable sighs of relief, for after four years of daily searching, the Viscount had exhausted all the eligible women of his county without finding she who pleased him. Their name and their inheritances were secure. By night the Viscount murmured to his duvet his lonesomeness, and called it by the name of the Viscountess.

He went riding, to take refreshment in the June air and the quiet hum of the Duesenburg. By the side of the road he saw a muddy-haired young woman standing in a sunny cowpasture with her arm lazily upraised. The chauffeur pulled up next to her and beckoned to her. She sauntered over to the rear window and stared at the Viscount through the smokey glass. There was a long stem of grass hanging from the corner of her fleshy mouth. “Yeah?” she said to the chaffeur, without either grace or manners. “Gimme a lift, Mac?”

The Viscount was entranced, and opened the door for her himself.

At the end of two hours, they were engaged. Within a year they were married, the stately Viscount and the boorish hitchhiker. She refused to tell him her name, and behaved abominably whenever his children returned home; she terrorized the servants and drank to excess. The Viscount thrilled at all of it, and was absolutely devoted to her.

His children, of course, were appalled, and refused to speak to his new wife.