Three Christmas Tales
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by E.P. Roe
Category: Classic Literature
Description: A lawyer argues for love in "The Christmas Eve Suit." A young woman must choose between two men who go to fight with General Putnam in the Revolutionary War in "Suzie Rolliffe's Christmas." And in the final tale, the author draws from his own experience in "A Civil War Christmas" the story of a soldier's return.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net, 2005 1869-01-01
eBookwise Release Date: October 2005
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [98 KB]
Reading time: 65-91 min.
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
A CHRISTMAS EVE SUIT
The Christmas holidays had come, and with them a welcome vacation for Hedley Marstern. Although as yet a briefless young lawyer, he had a case in hand which absorbed many of his thoughts--the conflicting claims of two young women in his native village on the Hudson. It must not be imagined that the young women were pressing their claims except as they did so unconsciously, by virtue of their sex and various charms. Nevertheless, Marstern was not the first lawyer who had clients over whom midnight oil was burned, they remaining unaware of the fact.
If not yet a constitutional attorney, he was at least constitutionally one. Falling helplessly in love with one girl simplifies matters. There are no distracting pros and cons--nothing required but a concentration of faculties to win the enslaver, and so achieve mastery.
Marstern did not appear amenable to the subtle influences which blind the eyes and dethrone reason, inspiring in its place an overwhelming impulse to capture a fortuitous girl because (to a heated imagination) she surpasses all her sex. Indeed, he was levelheaded enough to believe that he would never capture any such girl; but he hoped to secure one who promised to make as good a wife as he would try to be a husband, and with a fair amount of self-esteem, he was conscious of imperfections. Therefore, instead of fancying that any of his fair acquaintances were angels, he had deliberately and, as some may think, in a very cold-blooded fashion, endeavored to discover what they actually were.
He had observed that a good deal of prose followed the poetry of wooing and the lunacy of the honeymoon; and he thought it might be well to criticize a little before marriage as well as after it.
There were a number of charming girls in the social circle of his native town; and he had, during later years, made himself quite impartially agreeable to them. Indeed, without much effort on his part he had become what is known as a general favorite.
He had been too diligent a student to become a society man, but was ready enough in vacation periods to make the most of every country frolic, and even on great occasions to rush up from the city and return at some unearthly hour in the morning when his partners in the dance were not half through their dreams. While on these occasions he had shared in the prevailing hilarity, he nevertheless had the presentiment that some one of the laughing, light-footed girls would one day pour his coffee and send him to his office in either a good or a bad mood to grapple with the problems awaiting him there.
He had in a measure decided that when he married it should be to a girl whom he had played with in childhood and whom he knew a good deal about, and not to a chance acquaintance of the world at large. So, beneath all his diversified gallantries he had maintained a quiet little policy of observation, until his thoughts had gradually gathered around two of his young associates who, unconsciously to themselves, as we have said, put in stronger and stronger claims every time he saw them.
They asserted these claims in the only way in which he would have recognized them--by being more charming, agreeable, and, as he fancied, by being better than the others. He had not made them aware, even by manner, of the distinction accorded to them; and as yet he was merely a friend.
But the time had come, he believed, for definite action. While he weighed and considered, some prompter fellows might take the case out of his hands entirely; therefore he welcomed this vacation and the opportunities it afforded.
The festivities began with what is termed in the country a "large party"; and Carrie Mitchell and Lottie Waldo were both there, resplendent in new gowns made for the occasion. Marstern thought them both charming.
They danced equally well and talked nonsense with much the same ease and vivacity. He could not decide which was the prettier, nor did the eyes and attentions of others afford him any aid. They were general favorites, as well as himself, although it was evident that to some they might become more, should they give encouragement. But they were apparently in the heyday of their girlhood, and thus far had preferred miscellaneous admiration to individual devotion.
By the time the evening was over Marstern felt that if life consisted of large parties he might as well settle the question by the toss of a copper.
It must not be supposed that he was such a conceited prig as to imagine that such a fortuitous proceeding, or his best efforts afterward, could settle the question as it related to the girls. It would only decide his own procedure.
He was like an old marauding baron, in honest doubt from which town he can carry off the richest booty--that is, in case he can capture any one of them. His overtures for capitulation might be met with the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" and he be sent limping off the field.
Nevertheless, no man regrets that he must take the initiative, and he would be less than a man who would fear to do so. When it came to this point in the affair, Marstern shrugged his shoulders and thought, I must take my chances like the rest. But he wished to be sure that he had attained this point, and not lay siege to one girl only to wish afterward it had been the other.
His course that evening proved that he not only had a legal cast of mind but also a judicial one. He invited both Miss Mitchell and Miss Waldo to take a sleigh-ride with him the following evening, fancying that when sandwiched between them in the cutter he could impartially note his impressions. His unsuspecting clients laughingly accepted, utterly unaware of the momentous character of the trial scene before them.
As Marstern smoked a cigar before retiring that night, he admitted to himself that it was rather a remarkable court that was about to be held. He was the only advocate for the claims of each, and finally he proposed to take a seat on the bench and judge between them. Indeed, before he slept he decided to take that august position at once, and maintain a judicial impartiality while noting his impressions.
Christmas Eve happened to be a cold, clear, starlit night; and when Marstern drove to Miss Waldo's door, he asked himself, "Could a fellow ask for anything daintier and finer" than the red-lipped, dark-eyed girl revealed by the hall-lamp as she tripped lightly out, her anxious mama following her with words of unheeded caution about not taking cold, and coming home early.
He had not traversed the mile which intervened between the residences of the two girls before he almost wished he could continue the drive under the present auspices, and that, as in the old times, he could take toll at every bridge, and encircle his companion with his arm as they bounced over the "thank-'ee ma'ams."
The frosty air appeared to give keenness and piquancy to Miss Lottie's wit, and the chime of the bells was not merrier or more musical than her voice. But when a little later he saw blue-eyed Carrie Mitchell in her furs and hood silhouetted in the window, his old dilemma became as perplexing as ever.
Nevertheless, it was the most delightful uncertainty that he had ever experienced; and he had a presentiment that he had better make the most of it, since it could not last much longer. Meanwhile, he was hedged about with blessings clearly not in disguise, and he gave utterance to this truth as they drove away.
"Surely there never was so lucky a fellow. Here I am kept warm and happy by the two finest girls in town."
"Yes," said Lottie; "and it's a shame you can't sit on both sides of us."
"I assure you I wish it were possible. It would double my pleasure."
"I'm very well content," remarked Carrie, quietly, "as long as I can keep on the right side of people--"
"Well, you are not on the right side tonight," interrupted Lottie.
Good gracious! thought Marstern, she's next to my heart. I wonder if that will give her unfair advantage; but Carrie explained: "Of course I was speaking metaphorically."
"In that aspect of the case it would be a shame to me if any side I have is not right toward those who have so honored me," he hastened to say.
"Oh, Carrie has all the advantage--she is next to your heart."
"Would you like to exchange places?" was the query flashed back by Carrie.
"Oh, no, I'm quite as content as you are."