Earl James took a sideways glance at himself in his boudoir mirror.
'M-m-m, no jowls or dewlaps visible as yet,' he muttered. ''Thank heavens for that. The ladies are not fond of jowls.'
Glancing through the window at the bare October trees, he shaved a few more hairs off his moustache.
His footman, Harry, busied himself preparing the frock coat, dusting the lapels.
'Earl, do you plan on wearing the black frock coat this evening to meet Lady Antonia?' Harry enquired.
'Why yes, of course, Harry, after all the frock coat lends a youthful air to one's gait, does it not? One needs to project an air of youth when meeting one's lady love.'
'Yes indeed, ' Harry replied,'
Harry coughed nervously.
'Harry,' James asked, 'pray tell, if my greying hairs are visible at the nape of my neck or at the temples? Come closer Harry and have a good look. It is very important that Lady Antonia is not dissuaded from falling in love with me. An abundance of greying locks may be too much for the young lady.'
Harry felt duty- bound and set about locating some rogue grey hairs.
Harry folded down James's white collar and took a closer look. He was somewhat abashed at the large amount of grey hairs lurking among the Earl's curls.
'Earl James, it is clear that grey hairs have become established in your locks. Do you wish me to conceal them or simply cut them out?'
'Harry, cutting them out would be preposterous, would give the game away, as it were, would it not, large tufts of missing hairs?'
Harry thought for a moment before replying.
'Earl, perhaps there is a simpler solution. Your late father, Duke Ellis, who started losing his hair in middle age wore a wig for special occasions. The wig remains intact and is locked away in the wooden trunk in the attic. I shall instruct Reggie, our carpenter, to find it.'
Harry dashed from the boudoir. His anxious footsteps could be heard resounding loudly on the stone staircase leading to the servants' quarters.
Earl James was beset with indecision. He stared fixedly into the mirror turning this way and that.
'Lady Antonia must not be permitted to glimpse my grey hairs, my nascent middle age. Being at least twenty years my junior, she may be liable to swoon,' he muttered to himself.
Harry returned, slightly out of breath.
'Earl,' he began, 'we are having difficulty finding the wig. It may have been removed during renovations last Summer.'
Earl James began to pace the floor nervously.
'Harry,' what are we going to do? My grey hairs must not be on display when I meet Lady Antonia. Why my marriage prospects may be seriously compromised.'
Just then there was a brusque knock on the door. Reggie stood outside holding a large wooden trunk.
'Harry,' he said, 'we rummaged and found old Duke Ellis's wig and the powder too. Leastways, a half jar of powder. I remember it well, I do, the Duke powdering his wig, afore he got in the carriage for the Harvest Ball. Careful, he was, to powder lightly. '
Harry fidgeted nervously and replied, 'that will be all Reggie, thank you for your pains.'
Harry took the trunk and proceeded to check the contents.
On opening the lid a pungent smell of stale powder assailed his nostrils.
Earl James rushed to open the window as he coughed and spluttered.
'Harry, this is preposterous. I cannot approach Lady Antonia smelling of stale wig powder.'
'Earl,' Harry continued,' I shall air the wig on the patio and brush it vigorously with a suede brush. There is ample breeze blowing to divest the wig of its unpleasant smell.'
Meanwhile, Earl James combed the hairs at the nape of his neck, this way and that, trying to find the best way to conceal the grey ones.
As autumnal shadows began to fall, Earl James threw down his comb and brush in defeat,
'It will simply not work. I cannot conceal my grey hairs from Lady Antonia. She must learn the truth.'
Meanwhile Harry was outside beating the wig with a suede brush, as showers of powder fell to the ground. Eventually, he returned indoors.
'Earl James, you may now try on the wig.'
Earl James was aghast.
'You blithering idiot, Harry,' he said,' this is a blond wig. He ripped it from his head and threw it unceremoniously on the floor.
Harry retrieved the wig and shook the dust from it. He twirled it around his index finger and thumb.
'Sir, it is made of the finest nylon and wool, with a bow discreetly placed at the back.
Lady Antonia may consider it to be very becoming for you sir.'
Earl James was distraught.
The clip clop of horses hooves could be heard approaching on the avenue.
'Harry,' James said,' my carriage arrives and I am not yet attired for my evening encounter with Lady Antonia.'
Harry was bewildered. How was the Earl's dilemma regarding the wig to be resolved.
Earl James twisted the wig this way and that, as he stood before the mirror.
'Earl,' Harry said as he watched,' the blonde wig becomes you. It suits your olive skin, with its slight tanning from your summer travels.'
Earl James was at sixes and sevens. Yet, he was flattered by his footman's comments.
'It is imperative that I meet Lady Antonia this evening. It may be my only opportunity to propose marriage to her. She is due to leave for Italy in the morning.'
Unused to such plain speaking from the Earl, Harry was dumbfounded.
'Earl,' Harry continued, 'the blonde wig becomes you. Lady Antonia may be smitten.'
Reluctantly Earl James got into the waiting carriage.
Soon he was approaching Haven Manor, Lady Antonia's residence.
Arriving at the main door, he noticed a red carriage departing by a nearby exit. A handsome, dark-haired, young man sat upright in the seat.
Earl James became agitated,' darn it, perhaps that is a rival suitor departing, displaying dark hair and good looks. What chance do I have to woo Lady Antonia now?'
Adjusting his blond wig, he took a final look at himself in the carriage mirror.
'M-m-m,' he said,' what a handsome devil you are still, James.'
Lady Antonia greeted James in the morning room.
'Ah, it is a pleasure to meet you Earl James. Since my only brother , Eduardo, has just left for Italy, I am feeling lonely and bereft.'
Earl James was relieved. No rival suitors vying to woo Lady Antonia.
'I shall be honoured to keep you company, Lady Antonia, since I've had such a truly hair-raising day,' Earl James remarked, linking his arm in Antonia's, as he fastidiously brushed any telltale powder marks from his lapel.
October's Hunter Moon glowed in the evening sky.