Cupid’s Understudy
By Edward Salisbury Field

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Public Domain Books

Chapter Eight

And so another two weeks passed. Then, one day, a comet of amazing brilliancy shot suddenly into our social orbit, and things happened. That this interesting stellar phenomenon was a Russian grand duke, a nephew of the Czar, but added to the piquancy of the situation.

The hotel was all in a flutter; the manager was beside himself with joy; bell-boys danced jig steps in the corridors; chambermaids went about with a distracted air—and all because the grand duke, Alexander Melovich, was to arrive on the morrow. It was an epoch- making event. It was better than a circus, for it was free. Copies of the Almanach de Gotha appeared, as if by magic. Everybody was interested. Everybody was charmed, until—

The rumor flew rapidly along the verandas. It was denied by the head waiter, it was confirmed by the chief clerk; it was referred to the manager himself and again confirmed. Alas, it was true! The Grand Duke Alexander was coming, not to honor the hotel, but to honor Mrs. Carmichael Porter; she would receive him as her guest, she would pay the royal hotel bill, she would pay the bills of the royal suite. Yes, Blakely’s mother had captured the grand duke.

A wave of indignation swept the columns of the rank and file. They didn’t want the grand duke themselves, but they didn’t want Blakely’s mother to have him; Blakely’s mother and Mrs. Sanderson- Spear, and Mrs. Tudor Carstairs. In a way, it was better than a comic opera; it was fearfully amusing.

The grand duke, accompanied, according to the newspapers, “by the Royal Suite and the Choicest Flower of San Francisco Society," arrived on a special train direct from Del Monte. Having captured a grand duke, these “Choicest Flowers” (ten in number) were loath to lose him, so they accompanied him. They did more; they paid for the special train. Blakely’s mother greeted them, one and all, in a most friendly manner. There was an aristocratic air about the whole proceeding that was distinctly uplifting.

And now began a round of gaieties, the first being a tea were real Russian samovars were in evidence, and sandwiches of real Russian caviar were served. Real Russian cigarettes were smoked, real Russian vodka was sipped; the Czar’s health was drunk; no bombs were thrown, no bonds were offered for sale, the Russian loan was not discussed; the Japanese servants were not present, having been given a half holiday. Oh, it was a little triumph, that tea! Blakely’s mother was showered with congratulations. The “Choicest Flowers" vied with one another in assurances of their distinguished approval.

Indeed, they were all crazy about it—except the grand duke. Blakely said the grand duke was bored to death, and that he had led him off to the bar and given him a whisky-and-soda out of sheer pity. From that time on the duke stuck to him like a postage stamp, so that Blakely had an awful time escaping that night to dine with Dad and me. He told us all about the tea at dinner, and I was surprised to learn (I hadn’t seen him yet) that the duke was just Blakely’s age, and, as Blakely put it, “a very decent sort.” Not that there is any reason why a grand duke shouldn’t be a decent sort, but Rumor was busy just then proclaiming that this particular grand duke was a perfect pig.

The next day I had a chance to judge for myself. It seems the duke noticed me as I got into my automobile for my morning ride, and after finding out who I was, sent for Blakely and demanded that I be presented to him.

Blakely was awfully angry. He said: “Look here, I don’t know what you’ve been used to, but in this country, where a man wishes to meet a young lady, he asks to be presented to her. Not only that, but he doesn’t take it for granted that she’ll be honored by the request. Miss Middleton is my fiancee. I don’t know whether she cares to meet you or not. If she does, I’ll let you know.” The duke was terribly mortified. He apologized beautifully.

Then Blakely apologized for getting angry, and they became better friends than ever, with the result that the duke was presented to me that very afternoon.

The Grand Duke Alexander was short and fat and fair, with a yellow mustache of the Kaiser Wilhelm variety. It was rather a shock to me, for I had expected a dashing black-haired person with flashing eyes and a commanding presence. No, he wasn’t at all my idea of what a grand duke should look like; he looked much more like a little brother to the ox (a well-bred, well-dressed, bath-loving little brother, of course) than a member of an imperial family. Not that he didn’t have his points: he had nice hands and nice feet, and his smile was charming.

You should have seen his face light up when he found I spoke French. The poor fellow wasn’t a bit at home in the English language and the eagerness with which he plunged into French was really pathetic. Luckily, Blakely spoke French, too—not very well, but he understood it lots better than he spoke it—so we three spent a pleasant hour together on the veranda. Of course, in a way, it was a little triumph for me; the women whom Blakely’s mother had snubbed enjoyed the sight immensely, and when she appeared, accompanied by Mrs. Sanderson-Spear and some of the “Choicest Flowers,” and saw what was happening to her duke, she was too angry for words. Heavens, how that woman did hate me that afternoon!

The next morning six more “Choicest Flowers” arrived from San Francisco (rare orchids whose grandfathers had come over from Ireland in the steerage). The third son of an English baronet who owned a chicken-ranch near Los Angeles and a German count who sold Rhine wines to the best families also appeared; for that night Blakely’s mother was to give such a dinner as had never before been given in Santa Barbara.

Under the heading:


an enterprising Los Angeles newspaper devoted a whole page to the coming event. Adjective was piled on adjective, split infinitive on split infinitive. The dinner was to be given in the ballroom of the hotel.... The bank accounts of the assembled guests would total $4oo,ooo,ooo.... The terrapin had been specially imported from Baltimore.... The decorations were to be magnificent beyond the wildest dream.... The duke was to sit on the right of his hostess.... Mr. Sanderson-Spear, the Pierpont Morgan of Pennsylvania, who would arrive that morning from Pittsburg in his private car, would sit on her left.... Count Boris Beljaski, intimate friend and traveling companion of the grand duke, would appear in the uniform of the imperial guard.... The Baroness Reinstadt was hurrying from San Diego, in her automobile.... As a winter resort, Santa Barbara was, as usual, eclipsing Florida, etc.,... Blakely and I read the paper together; we laughed over it till we cried.

“It would be lots funnier if it wasn’t my mother who was making such a holy show of herself,” Blakely said. “Do you know, my dear—”

He was silent for a moment. When he did speak, there was a wicked gleam in his eyes. “By Jove,” he cried, “I’ll do it!”

“Do what?” I asked.

“Oh, nothing much. I’ll tell you all about it later—if there’s anything to tell. Now I must run away. Good-by, dear.”


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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