Cupid’s Understudy
By Edward Salisbury Field

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Chapter Ten

When Blakely returned with the grand duke, he came straight to me. What he expected was an explanation; what he actually received was the worst scolding of his life. But the poor boy was so apologetic and so humble, I finally relented, and kissed him, and told him all about his mother’s call, and its surprising consequences.

“I suppose I should be grateful,” I said, “but the idea of going to the ducal dinner fills me with rage.”

“Let’s be ill, and dine together.”

“I can’t, I’ve given my word. And then there’s Dad; he feels now that all the prophecies he has uttered in regard to your mother have at last come true. It’s only my wicked pride that’s talking, dear. Please don’t pay any attention to it.”

And then Blakely said one of the sweetest things he ever said to me. Of course, it wasn’t true but it made me so happy. “Dearest,” he said “everything I should love best to be, you are.”

Before dressing for dinner, Dad came to my room “to talk things over,” as he put it. He was so superbly satisfied with himself and the world, I could hardly forbear a smile.

“Naturally, I should be the last person to say ’I told you so’, Elizabeth, but you see what patience has done. It is always best to be patient, my child.”

“Yes, Dad.” “Blakely’s mother has acted very handsomely toward us, considering—”

“Very handsomely, CONSIDERING,” I agreed.

“And we must try to meet her half way.” “Yes, Dad.”

“No doubt she had her reasons for behaving as she did.”

“I’m sure of it.”

“You see, my dear, I’ve understood the situation from the very first.”

“You sweet old simpleton, of course you have! But here it is half past seven, and you haven’t begun to dress. Be off with you.”

Although, at first, I had felt it would be all but impossible for me to attend Mrs. Porter’s dinner, my talk with Blakely had so raised my spirits that now I was able to face the ordeal with something very like serenity. What did it matter? What did anything matter, so long as Blakely loved me? Then, too, I knew I was looking my very best; my white lace gown was a dream; Valentine had never done my hair so becomingly.

When Blakely called at our rooms for Dad and me, I was not at all unhappy. And the dear boy was so relieved to see it! I will confess, however, to one moment of real terror as we approached the drawing room where we were to join our hostess. But her greeting was most cordial and reassuring. And when she begged me to stand up with her, and help her receive her guests, I almost felt at home, for I knew it meant her surrender was unconditional.

After, that, it was like a beautiful dream. Except that some of the “Choicest Flowers” of San Francisco society were fearfully and fashionably late, nothing occurred to disturb the social atmosphere. And when, on entering the dining room, I saw how the guests were placed, I could have hugged Blakely’s mother. For where do you suppose she had put Dad? On her left! Of course the duke, as guest of honor, was on her right; and I sat next to the duke, and Blakely sat next to me.

By placing us so, Mrs. Porter had supplied the balance of the table with a topic of conversation, always a desirable addition to a dinner party; I noted with amusement the lifted eyebrows, the expressions of wonder and resentment on the faces of some of the guests. Nor did it seem to add to their pleasure that their hostess devoted herself to Dad, while the duke and Blakely developed a spirited, though friendly, rivalry as to which should monopolize little Mimi.

But the real sensation was to occur when the champagne was poured. (I could hardly believe my eyes, of my ears, either). For who should rise in his place but Dad! Yes, there he stood, the old darling, a brimming champagne glass in his hand, a beatific expression on his face. And this is what he was saying:

“Our hostess has asked me to do something, which is to announce the engagement of my daughter and her son. Let us drink to their happiness.”

“Bravo!” cried the Duke. “I give the American three cheers: Rah, rah, rah!” “How delightfully boyish the dear Duke is,” observed Mrs. Sanderson-Spear, beaming at him from across the table.

“So ingenious, I mean so ingenuous,” assented a languid lady from San Francisco. “But we must stand up; toute le monde is standing up, my dear.”

And so it was, standing up to drink our healths, Blakely’s and mine, while Blakely held my hand under the table.

“Bravo!” cried the Duke. “It ees delightful. I cannot make the speech, mais, mademoiselle, monsieur—I drink your health.” He drained his glass, then flung it, with a magnificent gesture, over his shoulder. “It ees so we drink to royalty,” he said.

Such a noble example naturally had its effect; there followed a perfect shower of glasses. Indeed, I think every one at table indulged in this pretty piece of extravagance except the third son of an English baronet, who was too busy explaining how it was done at home: “Purely a British custom, you understand—the wardroom of a man-of-war, d’ye see.—They were officers of a Scotch regiment, and they drank it standing on their chairs, with one foot on the table. And, by gad, I didn’t care for it!"—No doubt I should have learned more concerning this purely British custom if the Pierpont Morgan of Pennsylvania hadn’t called on Blakely for a speech, just then. Poor Blakely! He didn’t know at all how to make a speech. Thought I must say I was rather glad of it; the most tiresome thing about Americans is their eternal speechmaking, I think.

Blakely having faltered his few words of thanks, some one proposed the duke’s health; but that had to wait till new glasses were brought in and filled. Altogether, then, instead of being a solemn, dignified affair, such as one might have expected, it was a tremendously jolly dinner—a little rowdy, perhaps, but delightfully friendly. If I had entered the dining room as Old Tom Middleton’s daughter, “who actually used to live over a livery stable, my dear," it was not so I left it; for the nimbus of the sacred name of Porter had already begun to shed its beautiful light on my many graces and social accomplishments. Indeed, when I retired with my hostess to the drawing room, it was to hold a sort of reception; Mrs. Tudor Carstairs vied with Mrs. Sanderson-Spear in assurances of regard, “Choicest Flowers” expressed approval, the German baroness, bless her, conferred the distinction of a motherly kiss. And Blakely’s mother was so gracious, so kind and considerate, it was hard to believe we had faced each other, five hours before, with something very like hatred in our eyes.

When Blakely and Dad, and the other men joined us, I was so happy I could have kicked both my slippers to the ceiling. I might have disgraced myself doing it, too, if the third son of the English baronet hadn’t come up just then to felicitate me. He would. have done it charmingly if he hadn’t felt constrained to add that Americans always say “dook” instead of “duke,” that nobody present seemed to realize the proper way to address a nephew of the Czar was to call him Monseigneur, that the Olympic games in London had been conducted admirably, arid that he didn’t believe in marriage, anyway.

But the sweetest thing to me of all that wonderful evening was to see the love and gratitude in Blakely’s eyes when he looked at his mother; for a man who doesn’t love his mother misses much, and I love Blakely so tenderly, I couldn’t bear to have him miss the last then that makes for contentment and happiness.


Chapter One  •  Chapter Two  •  Chapter Three  •  Chapter Four  •  Chapter Five  •  Chapter Six  •  Chapter Seven  •  Chapter Eight  •  Chapter Nine  •  Chapter Ten  •  Chapter Eleven  •  Chapter Twelve

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Cupids understudy,
By Edward Salisbury Field
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