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- Cupid's Understudy - 3/8 -

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 Five

Our train left Grand Central Station at two o'clock next afternoon; it was bitter cold, I remember, and I drove to the station, smothered in furs. But our car was wonderfully cozy and comfortable, and it warmed my heart to see how proud Dad was of it: I must inspect the kitchen; this was my stateroom, did I like it? I mustn't judge Amos by his appearance, but the way he could cook--he was a wonder at making griddle cakes. Did I still like griddle cakes? "And do look at the books and magazines Mr. Porter brought. And a box of chocolates, too. Wasn't it kind of him?" Dear Dad! He was like a child with a new toy.

I'm sure he enjoyed every minute of the trip. Mr. Porter played cribbage with him (Dad adores cribbage) by the hour; they talked railroads, and politics, and mining--I don't think Dad had been so happy in years. I know I had never been so happy, for I was sure Mr. Porter loved me. I couldn't help being sure; his heart was in his eyes every time he looked at me.

When we started from New York, we were Mr. Middleton, and Mr. Porter, and Miss Middleton to one another; at Chicago, it was Tom, and Blakely, and Miss Middleton; I became Elizabeth in Utah (I made him call me that. And when we reached Nevada . . .

It happened so naturally, so sweetly. Dad was taking a nap after luncheon, and Blakely and I were sitting on the rear platform of our car, the last car in the train. It was a heavenly day of blue sky and sunshine; the desert was fresh from recent rain. And then a few, dear, faltered words changed the desert into a garden that reached to the rim of the world.

"I love you. I didn't mean to tell you quite yet, but I . . . I . . ."

"I know. And it makes me so happy."

. . . . . .

You never saw anybody so delighted as Dad was when we told him. "This makes me glad clear through," he said. "Blakely, boy, I couldn't love you more if you were my own son. Elizabeth, girl, come and kiss your old Daddy."

"And you aren't surprised, Dad?"

"Not a bit."

"He's known I've loved you, all along. Haven't you, Tom?"

"I may have suspected it."

"But I'm sure he never dreamed I could possibly care for you," I said. And then, because I was too happy to do anything else, I went to my state-room, and had a good cry.

I have read somewhere that Love would grow old were it not for the tears of happy women.

Chapter Six

When we flew down the grade into California, everything seemed settled; we were going to Santa Barbara where Dad was building a little palace for his Elizabeth as a grand surprise (Blakely's mother was in Santa Barbara); we would take rooms at the same hotel; I would be presented to Mrs. Porter, and as soon as the palace on the hill was completed--a matter of two or three months--Blakely, and Dad, and I would move into it. Only, first, Blakely and I were going to San Bernardino on our wedding trip.

Wasn't that sweet of Blakely? When I told him about San Bernardino, and the livery-stable, and the cottage where Dad and I used to live, he said he'd rather spend our honeymoon there than any place in the world. Of course Dad had never sold the cottage, and it was touching to see how pleased he was with our plan.

"You'll find everything in first-class condition," he said; "I go there often myself. I built a little house in one corner of the garden for the caretakers. You should see that gold-of-Ophir rose, Elizabeth; it has grown beyond belief."

When we reached Oakland--where our car had to be switched off and attached to a coast line, train--we found we had four hours to kill, so Dad and Blakely and I (it was Blakely's idea) caught the boat across to San Francisco.

What do you suppose that dear boy wanted us to go over there for? And where do you suppose he took us? He took us straight to Shreve's, and he and Dad spent a beautiful two hours in choosing an engagement ring for me. So when we finally landed in Santa Barbara I was wearing a perfect love of a ruby on the third finger of my left hand. I was wearing my heart on my sleeve, too; I didn't care if all the world saw that I adored Blakely. We arrived in Santa Barbara in the morning, and it was arranged that Blakely should lunch with his mother and devote himself to her during the afternoon, but he was to dine with us in our rooms. Naturally, I had a lot to do, supervising the unpacking of my clothes, and straightening things about in our sitting-room so that it wouldn't look too hotelish. Then Dad wouldn't be happy till I'd inspected my new palace on the hill.

It was an alarming looking pile. If anybody but Dad had been responsible for it, I should have said it was hideous. Poor old Dad! He knows absolutely nothing about architecture. But of course I raved over it, and, really, when I came to examine it closer, I found it had its good points. Covered with vines, it would have been actually beautiful. Virginia creeper grows like mad in California and with English ivy and Lady Banksia roses to help out, I was sure I could transform my palace into a perfect. bower in almost no time. I was awfully glad I had seen it first, for now. I could break the bad news gently to Blakely. If I were a man, I couldn't love a girl who owned such a hideous house.

But I didn't have a chance to talk house to Blakely for some time.

Cupid's Understudy - 3/8

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