Cupid’s Understudy
By Edward Salisbury Field

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Public Domain Books

Chapter Four

Mr. Porter arrived on time to the minute, looking perfectly splendid in a wonderful furlined coat. And if his eyes were anxious, and his manner a bit constrained at first, it didn’t last long; Dad’s greeting was too cordial, not to make him feel at home. Indeed, he talked delightfully all through dinner, and with the coffee, half laughingly, half apologizingly told us the story of his life. “For," said he, “although I feel as if I’d known you always,” (he looked at Dad, but I was sure he meant me, too) “you may not feel the same in regard to me—and I want you to.”

It was sweet to see Dad grow almost boyish in his insistence that he felt as Mr. Porter did. “Nonsense!” he said. “It seems the most natural thing in the world to have you here. Doesn’t it Elizabeth!”

It was rather embarrassing to be asked such a question in Mr. Porter’s presence, but I managed to murmur a weak “Yes, indeed!" Inside, though, I felt just as Dad did, and I was fearfully interested in Mr. Porter’s account of himself. I could see, too, that he belittled the real things, and magnified the unimportant. According to his narrative, the unimportant things were that he was a civil engineer, that he had been in Peru building a railroad for an English; syndicate, and that the railroad was now practically completed; he seemed, however, to attach great importance to the cable that had called him to London to appear before a board of directors, for that had been the indirect means of his taking passage on the same ship with me. Then there was the wonderful fact that he was to see us in California. He had been in harness now for four years, he said, and he felt as if he’d earned a vacation. At all events, he meant to take one.

As neither he nor Dad would hear of my leaving them to their cigars, I sat by and listened, and loved it all, every minute of it. I didn’t know, then (I don’t know to this day) whether I liked Mr. Porter best for being so boyish, or so manly. But manly men who retain all the enthusiasms of youth have a certain charm one likes instinctively, I think.

There is no doubt that Mr. Porter quite captivated Dad. “You make me feel like a boy,” he said, after listening to a delightfully whimsical account of conditions in Peru. “By George, that’s a country for you! And Ecuador, I’ve always thought that must be an interesting place. Have you ever been there?”

Yes, Mr. Porter had been to Ecuador. And there was a certain rail- road in India he had helped put through. India! Now that WAS a place! Had Dad ever been to India?

No, Dad had never been to India, but . . . “Good Lord, boy, how old are you, anyway?”


“Well, I never would have guessed it. Would you, Elizabeth?”

This, too, was rather embarrassing, but I managed to say I thought Mr. Porter didn’t look a day over twenty-eight.

“It’s the life he leads,” Dad declared with an air of proprietorship—"out of doors all day long. It must be great!”

“It IS interesting. But I think I like it best for what it has done for one; you see, I was supposed to have lungs once, long ago. Now I’m as sound as a dollar.”

“He looks it, doesn’t he, Elizabeth!”

If Dad hadn’t been such a dear, I should have been annoyed by his constant requests for my opinion where it was so obviously unnecessary. But Dad is such a dear. To make it worse, Mr. Porter seemed to consider that whether he was, or was not, as sound as a dollar, depended entirely on my answer.

“One would think I was a sort of supreme court from the way Dad refers all questions to me. But I warn you, Mr. Porter; my ’yes’ or ’no’ makes little difference in his opinions.”

“You are my supreme court, and they do,” declared Dad.

“I’m sure they do,” said Mr. Porter,

“When the novelty of having me with you has worn off, you’ll be your same old domineering self, Daddy dear.”

“Domineering! Hear the minx! I’m a regular lamb, Porter. That reminds me: When are you going to California!”

“I hadn’t thought. That is, I had thought . . . That is, I’ve wished . . . I mean I’ve wondered . . . I hope you won’t think me presumptuous, Mr. Middleton, but I’ve wondered if you’d allow me to go on the same train with you and Miss Middleton.”

“Why, my dear boy, we’d be delighted. Wouldn’t we, Elizabeth!”

Mr. Porter turned to me. “You see, Miss Middleton, you are the supreme court, after all,” his lips said. But his eyes told me why he wanted to go on the same train with Dad and me, told me plainer than words. Perhaps I should have remembered I had never spoken to him till that morning, but . . .

“The supreme court congratulates the inferior court on the wisdom of its decision,” I said, with an elaborate bow to Dad to hide my confusion.

“It’s settled!” cried Dad. “This is quite the nicest thing that ever happened,” said Mr. Porter. “If only you knew how grateful I am. I feel like—like giving three cheers, and tossing my hat in the air.”

“The inferior court rules against hat-tossing as irrelevant, immaterial, and incompetent.”

“Ruling sustained,” I said.

“And they call this a free country!”

“The newspapers don’t. Read the newspapers my boy.”

“At any rate, I now belong to the privileged class. When do we leave, Mr. Middleton?”

“Elizabeth says to-morrow. We go by rather a slow train.”

“But why?” I began.

“Because, my dear, an all-wise Providence has decreed that express trains shall not haul private cars.”

“Oh, I say!” exclaimed Mr. Porter. “That makes all the difference in the world.”

“Only a day’s difference.”

“I mean . . .”

“You’re going as our guest, you know.”

“But really, Mr. Middleton, I never . . .”

“Don’t be absurd, my boy.”

“No,” said Mr. Blakely Porter, “I won’t be absurd. I shall be more than glad to go as your guest.”

“That’s the way it should be. Isn’t it, Elizabeth!”

“I didn’t know you owned a private car, Dad.”

“Pshaw!” said Dad. “What’s a private car?”

I smiled at what I was pleased to term “Dad’s magnificence,” little thinking I was soon to look on private cars as one of the most delectable of modern inventions.


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,
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