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Cupid's Understudy   By: (1878-1936)

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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... Continue reading book >>

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