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- Cupid's Understudy - 6/8 -


"P. S. Remember! We leave Ventura for Los Angeles at 4:50 p.m. sharp."

"Mrs. Porter," I said when I had finished reading the letter, "I am deeply humiliated that Blakely should have done this."

"Still, I suppose you would marry him if I gave my consent."

"I would not," I replied hotly. "I might marry him without your consent, for I love him dearly; but I would never consider you had given your consent if it were forced from you by trickery."

"You wouldn't?"

"I would not."

"But if he doesn't bring the duke back my dinner will be ruined."

"I will telegraph him myself," I said.

"Supposing he won't come?"

"Blakely will come if I ask him to."

"And you will do this for me?"

"No; I am not doing it for you."

"Then why--"

"Because I cannot bear to have Blakely act so ungenerously toward his mother."

"He has but used my own weapons against me," she remarked thoughtfully.

"Your weapons are quite unworthy of him, Mrs. Porter." "The telegram must be dispatched at once," she announced, glancing impatiently at her watch.

"If you will call the office and ask them to send up a boy with some forms, I will think over what I wish to say," I said.

When the boy arrived I had decided upon my message. It was:

"BLAKELY PORTER, Ventura."

"If you do not return at once with your captive I shall consider that we have never met."

"ELIZABETH."

I wrote it out on a form and handed it to Mrs. Porter. "Will that do?" I asked.

She read it at a glance. "Yes," she said, "it will do. Here, boy, see that this is rushed."

"I'm glad it was satisfactory," I said. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Porter."

"My dear girl . . ."

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Porter."

Still she did not go. I realized her predicament, and was childish enough to enjoy it, for Blakely's mother could not bear to accept a favor from a social inferior. Had I been a child, she would have patted me on the head and presented me with a sugar plum. As matters stood she was quite at sea; she wished to do something gracious--she didn't know how.

To make her position more impossible, who should come stalking into the room but Dad,--dear, unsuspecting Dad. When he saw Mrs. Porter he immediately jumped at a whole row of conclusions.

"Well, well well!" he said. "This is a sight that does me good. I'm very glad indeed to see you, Mrs. Porter. Your son has had an idea that you were opposed to meeting Elizabeth; but I knew he couldn't be right. And here you are; calling on her? Well, well, well! Elizabeth, haven't you any tea to offer Blakely's mother!"

"Mrs. Porter was just leaving" I managed to say. "She has been here some time."

Dad beamed on us both.

"I told Blakely, Elizabeth couldn't marry him until you consented," he blundered on, "but now I suppose it is all arranged. These children of ours are wonderfully impatient. I'm as fond of Blakely as if he were my own son, and you'll feel the same about Elizabeth when you've known her longer."

"Don't let Dad keep you, Mrs. Porter," I said. "I'm sure you have many things to attend to."

Blakely's mother who had been standing like one in a dream, now woke up.

"Yes," she said, "I must be going. I called informally on Elizabeth to beg you both to come to my dinner to-night."

"I told her we couldn't possibly come," I began. "Nonsense! Of course we can come," Dad declared. "It will quite upset Blakely if you don't come, and I shall be so disappointed."

"There, there," said Dad, "you're not going to disappoint Blakely's mother by refusing."

"No," I replied. "If Mrs. Porter really wants us we shall be delighted to come."

"If either of you fails me it will make me most unhappy" she said, and there was a note of sincerity, in her voice that was unmistakable.

"Thank you," I murmured. "We shall not fail you."

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


Cupid's Understudy - 6/8

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