Cupid’s Understudy Part 5

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 spirited, though friendly, rivalry as to which should monopolize little Mimi.

But the real sensation was to occur when the champagne was poured. (I could hardly believe my eyes, of my ears, either). For who should rise in his place but Dad! Yes, there he stood, the old darling, a brimming champagne glass in his hand, a beatific expression on his face. And this is what he was saying:

“Our hostess has asked me to do something, which is to announce the engagement of my daughter and her son. Let us drink to their happiness.”

“Bravo!” cried the Duke. “I give the American three cheers: Rah, rah, rah!” “How delightfully boyish the dear Duke is,” observed Mrs. Sanderson-Spear, beaming at him from across the table.

“So ingenious, I mean so ingenuous,” assented a languid lady from San Francisco. “But we must stand up; toute le monde is standing up, my dear.”

And so it was, standing up to drink our healths, Blakely’s and mine, while Blakely held my hand under the table.

“Bravo!” cried the Duke. “It ees delightful. I cannot make the speech, mais, mademoiselle, monsieur—I drink your health.” He drained his glass, then flung it, with a magnificent gesture, over his shoulder. “It ees so we drink to royalty,” he said.

Such a noble example naturally had its effect; there followed a perfect shower of glasses. Indeed, I think every one at table indulged in this pretty piece of extravagance except the third son of an English baronet, who was too busy explaining how it was done at home: “Purely a British custom, you understand—the wardroom of a man-of-war, d’ye see.—They were officers of a Scotch regiment, and they drank it standing on their chairs, with one foot on the table. And, by gad, I didn’t care for it!”—No doubt I should have learned more concerning this purely British custom if the Pierpont Morgan of Pennsylvania hadn’t called on Blakely for a speech, just then. Poor Blakely! He didn’t know at all how to make a speech. Thought I must say I was rather glad of it; the most tiresome thing about Americans is their eternal speechmaking, I think.

Blakely having faltered his few words of thanks, some one proposed the duke’s health; but that had to wait till new glasses were brought in and filled. Altogether, then, instead of being a solemn, dignified affair, such as one might have expected, it was a tremendously jolly dinner—a little rowdy, perhaps, but delightfully friendly. If I had entered the dining room as Old Tom Middleton’s daughter, “who actually used to live over a livery stable, my dear,” it was not so I left it; for the nimbus of the sacred name of Porter had already begun to shed its beautiful light on my many graces and social accomplishments. Indeed, when I retired with my hostess to the drawing room, it was to hold a sort of reception; Mrs. Tudor Carstairs vied with Mrs. Sanderson-Spear in assurances of regard, “Choicest Flowers” expressed approval, the German baroness, bless her, conferred the distinction of a motherly kiss. And Blakely’s mother was so gracious, so kind and considerate, it was hard to believe we had faced each other, five hours before, with something very like hatred in our eyes.

When Blakely and Dad, and the other men joined us, I was so happy I could have kicked both my slippers to the ceiling. I might have disgraced myself doing it, too, if the third son of the English baronet hadn’t come up just then to felicitate me. He would. have done it charmingly if he hadn’t felt constrained to add that Americans always say “dook” instead of “duke,” that nobody present seemed to realize the proper way to address a nephew of the Czar was to call him Monseigneur, that the Olympic games in London had been conducted admirably, arid that he didn’t believe in marriage, anyway.

But the sweetest thing to me of all that wonderful evening was to see the love and gratitude in Blakely’s eyes when he looked at his mother; for a man who doesn’t love his mother misses much, and I love Blakely so tenderly, I couldn’t bear to have him miss the last then that makes for contentment and happiness.

Chapter Eleven

When I awoke, late next morning, it was to find myself, if not famous, at least conspicuous; in the Los Angeles newspaper Valentine brought me with my coffee, much space was devoted to the ducal dinner.

GRAND DUKE SMASHES CHAMPAGNE GLASSES

Miss Middleton Toasted in Truly Royal Fashion by Distinguished Nephew of Russia’s Reigning Czar.

Brilliant Dinner Reaches Climax in Shower of Costly Crystal While Hostess Smiles Approval.

Disgusting as it was, I couldn’t help laughing at the pen-and-ink sketch which accompanied it—a sketch of the duke, with crowned head, and breast covered with decorations, smiling fatuously from within a rakish bordef, of broken champagne glasses.

But there was worse to come. On another page under the heading:

WHIRLWIND WOOING WINS WESTERN GIRL

a distorted Cupid supported pictures of Blakely and me, while beneath our pictures, a most fulsome chronicle of untruths was presented. “Mr. Porter first met his fiancee on shipboard . . . Being of that fine old New York stock which never takes ’no’ for an answer, he followed her to Santa Barbara . . . If rumor is to be credited, the Grand Duke Alexander, as well as Cupid, was concerned in this singularly up-to-date love affair . . . Mr. Porter’s sister, the Countess de Bienville, is a well-known leader in exclusive Parisian circles . . . Miss Middleton an only daughter of Thomas Middleton, the mining magnate . . . Although slightly indisposed, His Imperial Highness granted an interview to our representative late last evening. If the time-worn adage, in vino veritas, is to be believed; it is certain that the wedding will not only take place soon, but that the favorite nephew of the Czar of all the Russias will himself appear in this charming romance of throbbing hearts, playing the role of best man.”

It was really too dreadful; my cheeks burned with mortification and anger.

People had assured me the horrid little American newspaper published in Paris was not typical of America—that it was no more than a paid panderer to seekers after notoriety. Yet here in California, my own dear California, a newspaper had dared print my picture without my consent, had thrown its ugly light on the sweet story of my love serving it up in yellow paragraphs for the benefit of the bootblack, the butcher, the waiter in cheap restaurants. What a hideous world!

Pleading a sick headache, I stayed in my room till tea time.

We had tea at five, Blakely and I, on the roof of the hotel. I looked across the channel to the distant islands, followed the sweet contour of the shore, watched the aimless flight of sea-gulls; turning, I scanned the friendly hills, the mountains painted in the tender colors of late afternoon—I looked into Blakely’s eyes. It was a beautiful world, after all. “Let’s try and forget that awful newspaper,” I said.

“I forgot it long ago, dear.”

“You also seem to have forgotten that some one may appear any minute.”

“Let’s try and forget that some one may appear any minute.”

“I can’t.”

“You shouldn’t say ’I can’t,’ Elizabeth; you should say ’I’ll try’.”

It is really surprising what one can do when one tries.

Chapter Twelve

“What would we have done with-out the duke`?” I murmured a moment later.

“There’s a more important question than that to be answered,” said Blakely; “we have still to decide what we shall do with the duke.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s my charming way of breaking news gently, sweetheart.”

“Bad news?”

“Not exactly. It may annoy you.”

“It annoys me that you seems afraid to tell it,” I said.

“I’m not afraid, not the least bit. I’m, a little ashamed, though. You see mother is . . .”

“Don’t dare adopt an apologizing attitude towards your mother. Hasn’t she done everything in the world for us?”

“There are some things one would rather do for oneself, girlie. I had quite set my heart on Perry Arnold being best man at our wedding.”

“And so he shall be.”

“I wrote him a week ago, and his answer came this morning. He was delighted, poor chap! He’s in Denver, now, and could be here in three days.” “You won’t need him for three months,” I warned. “But why can’t you have him, dear?”

“Because mother has already engaged the duke in that capacity.”

“Not really?”

“It’s the gospel truth. Perry will think me no end of a snob. I won’t know what explanation to make.”

“Nonsense! I’ll explain it to him myself.”

“Then you feel I ought to accept mother’s arrangements?”

“You must, if it will make her happy.”

“She assured me she would be most miserable if I didn’t.”

“Then it’s settled,” I said.

“That’s not all, Elizabeth; the duke is sailing for Japan on the twenty-sixth of February.”

“And this is the twentieth!” I gasped.

“Yes, sweetheart. And mother has arranged our wedding for the twenty-fourth.”

I was silent from sheer indignation.

“I told mother you wouldn’t like it. But will you . . .? Do you . . .? Would you mind very much being married on the twenty-fourth?”

“Would you mind?” I asked.

“Mind? I should love it above everything! Life is so uncertain, each day is so precious, and I’ve waited so long for you, Elizabeth.”

“You’ve only known me a little over a month.”

“But I’ve waited years for you;”

“Yes,” I said, “I believe you have: It shall be as you wish, dear.”

And then, as a woman’s greatest happiness lies in making the man she loves happy, and as no one ever looked so radiantly happy as Blakely, I was so glad I had said “yes,” I didn’t know what to do.

But Blakely knew exactly what to do; he kissed me.

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