Cupid’s Understudy Part 1

By Edward Salisbury Field

Chapter One

If Dad had been a coal baron, like Mr. Tudor Carstairs, or a stock- watering captain of industry, like Mrs. Sanderson-Spear’s husband, or descended from a long line of whisky distillers, like Mrs. Carmichael Porter, why, then his little Elizabeth would have been allowed the to sit in seat of the scornful with the rest of the Four Hundred, and this story would never have been written. But Dad wasn’t any of these things; he was just an old love who had made seven million dollars by the luckiest fluke in the world.

Everybody in southern California knew it was a fluke, too, so the seven millions came in for all the respect that would otherwise have fallen to Dad. Of course we were celebrities, in a way, but in a very horrid way. Dad was Old Tom Middleton, who used to keep a livery-stable in San Bernardino, and I was Old Tom Middleton’s girl, “who actually used to live over a livery-stable, my dear!” It sounds fearfully sordid, doesn’t it?

But it wasn’t sordid, really, for I never actually lived over a stable. Indeed, we had the sweetest cottage in all San Bernardino. I remember it so well: the long, cool porch, the wonderful gold-of- Ophir roses, the honeysuckle where the linnets nested, the mocking birds that sang all night long; the perfume of the jasmine, of the orange-blossoms, the pink flame of the peach trees in April, the ever-changing color of the mountains. And I remember Ninette, my little Creole mother, gay as a butterfly, carefree as a meadow-lark. ’Twas she who planted the jasmine.

My little mother died when I was seven years old. Dad and I and my old black mammy, Rachel, stayed on in the cottage. The mocking-birds still sang, and the linnets still nested in the honeysuckle, but nothing was ever quite the same again. It was like a different world; it was a different world. There were gold-of-Ophir roses, and, peach blossoms in April, but there was no more jasmine; Dad had it all dug up. To this day he turns pale at the sight of it—poor Dad!

When I was twelve years old, Dad sold out his hardware business, intending to put his money in an orange grove at Riverside, but the nicest livery-stable in San Bernardino happened to be for sale just then, so he bought that instead, for he was always crazy about horses.

To see me trotting about in Paquin gowns and Doucet models, you’d never think I owed them to three owlish little burros, would you? But it’s a fact. When Dad took over the livery-stable, he found he was the proud possessor of three donkeys, as well as some twenty-odd horses, and a dozen or so buggies, buckboards and surries. The burros ate their solemn heads off all winter, but in May it had been the custom to send them to Strawberry Valley in charge of a Mexican who hired them out to the boarders at the summer hotel there. Luckily for us, when Fortune came stalking down the main street of San Bernardino to knock at the door of the Golden Eagle Stables, both dad and the burros were at home. If either had been out, we might be poor this very minute.

It is generally understood that when Fortune goes a-visiting, she goes disguised, so it’s small wonder Dad didn’t recognize her at first. She wasn’t even a “her”; she was a he, a great, awkward Swede with mouse-colored hair and a Yon Yonsen accent—you know the kind— slow to anger; slow to everything, without “j” in his alphabet—by the name of Olaf Knutsen.

Now Olaf was a dreamer. Not the conventional sort of a dreamer, who sees beauty in everything but an honest day’s work, but a brawny, pick-swinging dreamer who had dug holes in the ground at the end of many rainbows. That he had never yet uncovered the elusive pot of gold didn’t seem to bother him in the least; for him, that tender plant called Hope flowered perennially. And now he was bent on following another rainbow; a rainbow which; arching over the mountains, ended in that arid, pitiless waste known in the south country as Death Valley.

He wouldn’t fail this time. No, by Yimminy! With Dad’s three burros, and plenty of bacon and beans and water—it was to be a grub-stake, of course—he would make both their fortunes. And the beautiful part about it was, he did.

No doubt you have heard of the famous Golden Eagle mine. Well, that’s what Olaf and the three burros found in Death Valley. Good old Olaf! He named the mine after Dad’s livery-stable in San Bernardino, and he insisted on keeping only a half interest, even though Dad fought him about it. You see, Dad didn’t have the reputation of being the squarest man in San Bernardino for nothing.

Chapter Two

My mother’s family had never approved of her marriage with Dad, but Dad, poor and running a hardware shop or a livery-stable, and Dad with a fortune in his hands were two very different people—from their standpoint, at least; so as soon as Olaf and the three burros struck it rich, Dad sold his livery-stable, and mammy Rachel and I were bundled off to Ninette’s relations in New Orleans. I didn’t like it a bit at first, but one can get used to anything in time. Ninette’s maiden sister, Miss Marie Madeline Antoinette Hortense Prevost, was awfully nice to me; so was grandmere Prevost. I lived with them till I was sixteen, when I was sent to France.

If I wanted to (and you would let me) I could personally conduct you to Paris, where if you were ten feet tall and not averse to staring, you could look over a certain gray stone wall on the Boulevard des Invalides, and see me pacing sedately up and down the gravel walks in the garden of the Convent of the Sacred Heart. That is, you could have seen me three years ago. I’m not there now, thank goodness! I’m in California.

And just one word before we go any further any further. I don’t want you to think for a minute that I came back from Paris a little Frenchified miss. No, indeed! I’m as American as they make them. When I boasted to the other girls, whether in Paris or New Orleans, I always boasted about two things: Dad and California. And I’ve an idea I’ll go on boasting about them till my dying day.

Of course, when I returned from Paris, Dad met me in New York. It was a good thing he was rich, for it took a lot of money to get me and my seven trunks through the custom-house. It might have taken more, though, if it hadn’t been for a young man who came over on the same boat.

He was such a good-looking young man; tall and broad-shouldered and fair, with light-brown hair, and the nicest eyes you ever saw. It wasn’t their color so much (his eyes were blue) as the way they looked at you that made them so attractive. He was awfully well bred, too! He noticed me a lot on the boat (I had a perfect love of a Redfern coat to wear on deck), but he didn’t try to scrape acquaintance with me. He worshipped from afar (a woman can always tell when a man’s thinking about her), and while I wouldn’t have had him act otherwise for the world, I was crazy to have him speak to me.

Our boat docked at Hoboken, and by tipping right and left I managed to be the very first passenger down the gangway. I half ran, half slid, but I landed in Dad’s arms.

My boxes and bags passed through the custom-house with flying colors. But my trunks—I couldn’t even find them all. Five of them were stacked in the “M” division, but the other two. . . . Then there was my maid’s trunk to look for under the “V’s” (her name is Valentine). Dad and I were commencing at “A,” prepared to got through the whole alphabet, if necessary, when the nice young man stepped up and, raising his hat, asked if he might be of any service. He asked Dad, but he looked at me.

“Oh, If you please!” I said “I’ve lost two trunks. My brand is a white, ’M’ in a red circle.”

“I noticed them in the ’R’ pile” he replied. “I’ll have them moved to the ’M’s’ right away.”

“Now that’s what I call being decent,” said Dad, as soon as the young man had left us. “Did you notice, he didn’t wear a uniform? Probably an inspector, or something of the sort, eh, Elizabeth?”

“Well—er—not exactly,” I managed to say. “The fact is, Dad, he came over on the boat with me, and—”

Dad looked thoughtful.

“He never spoke to me once the whole trip,” I added hastily.

Dad looked less thoughtful.

“It was nice of him to wait till I had you with me, wasn’t it?”

Dad smiled. “If you think it was, it probably was, my dear,” he said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *