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- Cupid's Understudy - 4/8 -


When he came in to dinner that night he looked awfully depressed; he brightened up a lot, though, when he saw me. I had on my most becoming gown, and Dad had ordered a grand dinner, including his own special brand of Burgundy. If Dad knew as much about architecture as he does about wine, they'd insist on his designing all the buildings for the next world's fair.

All through dinner Blakely wasn't quite himself--I could see it; I think Dad saw it, too-but I knew he would tell us what was the matter as soon as he had an opportunity. One, of the sweetest things about Blakely is his perfect frankness. I couldn't love a man who wasn't frank with me. That is, I suppose I could, but I should hate to; it would break my heart. Well, after dinner, when Dad had lighted his cigar, and Blakely his cigarette, it all came out.

"Tom!"

"Yes, my boy." (I think Dad loved to hear Blakely say Tom almost as much as I loved to hear him say Elizabeth.)

"Tom, I've got you and Elizabeth into a deuce of an unpleasant position. I've told you what a fine woman my mother is, and how she'd welcome Elizabeth with open arms, and now I find I was all wrong. My mother isn't a fine woman; she's an ancestor-worshiping, heartless, selfish snob. I'm ashamed of her, Tom. She refuses to meet Elizabeth."

Chapter Seven

I never was so sorry for anybody in my whole life as I was for Blakely; I would have done anything to have saved him the bitterness and humiliation of that moment. As for Dad, he couldn't understand it at all. That Blakely's mother should refuse to meet his Elizabeth was quite beyond his comprehension.

"This is very strange," he said, "very strange. There must be some mistake. Why shouldn't she meet Elizabeth?"

"There is no reason in the world," Blakely answered.

"Then why--?"

"She probably has other plans for her son, Daddy dear," I said. "And no doubt she has heard that we're fearfully vulgar."

"Well, we ain't," said Dad in a relieved voice; "and as for those plans of hers, I reckon she'll have to outgrow them. Buck up, my boy! One look at Elizabeth will show her she's mistaken"

"You don't know my mother," Blakely replied; "I feel that I haven't known her till now. It's out of the question, our staying here after what has happened. Let's go up to Del Monte, and let's not wait four months for the wedding. Why can't we be married this week? I'm done with my mother and with the whole tribe of Porters; they're not my kind, and you and Elizabeth are."

"Tom, I never felt, that I had a father till I found you. Elizabeth, girl, I never knew what happiness was till you told me you loved me. My mother says she would never consent to her son's marrying the daughter of a man who has kept a livery-stable. I say that I'm done with a family that made its money out of whisky. My mother's father was a distiller, her grandfather was a distiller, and if there's any shame, it's mine, for by all the standards of decency, a livery- stable is a hundred times more respectable than a warehouse full of whisky. You made your money honestly, but ours has been wrung out of the poor, the sick, the ragged, the distressed. The whisky business is a rotten business, Tom, rotten!"

"It was whisky that bought an ambassadorship for my mother's brother; it was whisky that paid for the French count my sister married; it was whisky that sent me to college. Whisky, whisky- always whisky!"

"I never thought twice about it before, but I've done some tall thinking today. I'm done with the Porters, root and branch. Elizabeth and I are going to start a little family tree, of our own, and we're not going to root it in a whisky barrel, either. We're-- we're--"

"There, there!" said Dad. "It's all right, Blakely, boy. It ain't so bad as you think. You ain't going to throw your mother over and your mother ain't going to throw you over. I take it that all mothers are alike; they love their sons. Naturally, you're sore and disappointed now, but I reckon that mother of yours is sore and disappointed, too. As for our going to Del Monte, I never heard of a Middleton yet that cut and ran at a time like this, and Elizabeth and I ain't going to start any precedent."

"No, my boy, we're going to stay right here, and you're going to stay here with us. There's lots of good times ahead for you and Elizabeth, and in the meantime, I want you to be mighty sweet to that mother of yours. She's the only mother you've got, boy. You don't know what it means for us old folks to be disappointed in our children. Now, don't disappoint me, lad. You be nice to that mother of yours, and keep on loving Elizabeth, and it will all come right, you see if it don't. If it don't come one way, it will come another; you can take my word for it." As if Dad knew anything about it. He thought then that every woman possessed a sweet mind and a loving heart; he thinks so now. But one glimpse of Blakely's mother was enough for me. She had a heart of stone; everything about her was militant, uncompromising; her eyes were of a piercing, steely blue; the gowns she wore were insolently elegant; she radiated a superb self-satisfaction. When she looked at you through her lorgnette, you felt as if you were on trial for your life. When she ceased looking, you knew you were sentenced to mount the social scaffold. If it hadn't been for Blakely and Dad, I should have died of rage during the first two weeks of our stay in Santa Barbara.

It was a cruel position for me, and it didn't make it easier that before we had been there three days the whole hotel was talking about it. Of course, every woman in the hotel who had been snubbed by Blakely's mother instantly took my part, and as there were only two women who hadn't been snubbed by her--Mrs. Tudor Carstairs and Mrs. Sanderson-Spear--I was simply overwhelmed with unsolicited advice and undesirable attention. Indeed, it was all I could do to steer a dignified course between that uncompromising Scylla, Blakely's mother, and the compromising Charybdis of my self-elected champions. But I managed it, somehow. Dad bought me a stunning big automobile in Los Angeles, and Blakely taught me how to run it; then, Blakely was awfully fond of golf; and we spent loads of time at the Country Club. And of course there was the palace on the hill to be inspected every little while.

Poor Blakely! How he did hate it all! Again and again he begged Dad to give his consent to our marrying at once. But Dad, as unconscious of what was going on round him as a two-months-old baby, would always insist that everything would come out all right.

"Give her time, my boy," he would say, "give her time. Your mother isn't used to our Western way of rushing things, and she wants a little time to get used to it."

"What if she never gets used to it?" Blakely would ask.

Then Dad would answer: "You're impatient, boy; all lovers are impatient. Don't I know?"

"But things can't go on this way forever."

"Of course they can't," Dad would agree. "When I think things have gone long enough, I'll have a little talk with your mother myself. She's a dashed fine-looking woman, your mother--a dashed fine- looking woman! Be patient with her, boy."

Poor Dad! Blakely and I were resolved that he should never have that little talk he spoke of with so much confidence. Ideals are awfully in the way sometimes, but nobody with a speck of decency can bear to stand by and see them destroyed. Dad's deals had to be preserved at any price.

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


Cupid's Understudy - 4/8

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