(A Christmas Tale Countdown series, Part 11; see Part 10)
Ebenezer welcomed Horace into his house. As they walked toward the drawing-room and sat down, Ebenezer explained to Horace that he had taken Aunt Maisey to stay with another aunt for a fortnight with the pretext that there was a hole in the roof that required repair. With Christmas coming so soon, Ebenezer had told his aunt that it might take a little longer than usual to get it fixed.
“It just won’t do to have a Christmas meal prepared under shabby conditions,” Ebenezer said. “Also, Aunt Maisey had become quite a meddler since I told her about my distraction and the subsequent taking of some of her birds. She made me feel indebted. I’m relieved to be temporarily rid of her. Ah, a fortnight too!”
“You old sod. Your Aunt Maisey is a wonderful woman.”
“Funny you say that when you couldn’t even bear to visit me when she was around.”
They both laughed, knowing that they despised meddlesome old biddies going on about other people’s business.
“There is a matter I wish to confide in you, Horace. During these last few days when I haven’t been with Elizabeth, I found my heart growing colder toward her. In fact, I’ve dallied with a voluptuous young maid, whom I met while looking for a gift for Elizabeth.”
“You lusty lad . . .”
“So, I thought I would concede to Silas and be done with this whole gift giving thing. I don’t want to continue with it.”
“I’m in a bit of a quandary here myself, old friend. I hope not to alienate you from me or Silas, but I have made a horrid discovery. I believe myself to be smitten by Elizabeth. Since we have three more days left, counting today, I think perhaps I can give the gifts on the last two remaining days that you would have—today and the day after tomorrow. I will take your place in the ranking.”
“How can you be fair to our friend, Silas, when you are clearly in a conflicted state?”
“Trust me to be full of integrity in keeping myself objective to her ranking on the eve of Christmas. Please allow me the chance to win her hand.”
“You put me in a difficult situation for I consider myself to be a loyal friend to both you and Silas.”
They both sat silently, reflecting on this strange turn of events.
“I have a suggestion,” Horace said. “I will be ranked based only on the gifts I will be giving for the two days that would have been your turn to give. If Elizabeth places my gifts low in her evaluation, then I am out. If your gifts turn out to be the most highly ranked, the credit will go to Silas. You will have to trust my word that I shall restrain myself from directly communicating to her of my growing affection. Because I have been the one seeing her daily, I will bear the beast of burden of nursing a broken heart. Is that not a fair consequence of what I confess may sound traitorous to you and Silas? How did I know that I would fall under her spell? Is love not fickle? Look at you, my friend. You are a good example too.”
“You have a way with words, Horace. You are highly convincing. I will agree to this with your promise to back me up when I tell Silas that I said I would concede to him, but that you had persuaded me to listen to your side. I shall not want to lose Silas’ friendship over this seeming conspiracy.”
“Nor do I.”
Since Horace gave his word not to directly speak to Elizabeth of his newfound attachment to her, he decided to go to The Gentlemen’s Club, where generations of men in his family tree have belonged and formed strong fraternal relationships. He would recruit some of the young lords there to go to Elizabeth’s house and deliver his message of affection–his first present.
Horace led the ten young men down the lane. He surprised Elizabeth’s Aunt Beatrice, who stared at what looked like a mob to her. Horace said the men had a message to deliver to Elizabeth, who could see what was to unfold from her doorstep. He also asked her to tell Elizabeth he would return tomorrow for the next present, but had to leave now. Elizabeth’s aunt hurriedly went to get her niece.
Elizabeth and her curious family members went to the door to see what the message might be. The ten men bowed together and they all leaped at the same time as high as they could and shouted in unison, “You make my heart leap, dearest Elizabeth.”