By this time Dad had grown very respectful. To see his little Elizabeth treated like a queen, while on all sides angry women were having their best gowns pawed over and mussed; was a most wholesome lesson. He paid the thousand and odd dollars duty like a little man.
We'd been saved a lot of bother, and nobody hates a lot of bother more than Dad. So when the trunks were locked and strapped and ready to be sent to our hotel, Dad went up to the nice young man and said: "I'm Tom Middleton, from California, and this is my daughter Elizabeth. We're both very grateful to you, and if you should ever happen to come to California, I hope you'll look us up."
I never saw anybody look so pleased as the young man: "My name's Porter," he said, "Blakely Porter. If my mother were in New York I would ask if she might call on Miss Middleton, but, as it happens, she's in California, where I intend to join her, so I shall look forward to seeing you there."
Then Dad did just the right thing. "What's the use of waiting till we get to California?" he said. "Why not dine with us to-night!"
There are people, merely conventional people, who could never appreciate the fine directness and simplicity, of Dad's nature--not if they lived to be a thousand years old. But Mr. Blakely Porter understood perfectly; I know he did, for he told me so afterwards. "It was the greatest compliment I ever had paid me in my life," he said. "Your father knew nothing about me, absolutely nothing, yet he invited me to dine with him--and you. It was splendid, splendid!"
The dear boy didn't know, perhaps, that honesty shone in his eyes, that one could not look at him and deny he was a gentleman. And, of course, I didn't enlighten him, for it is well for men, particularly, young men, to feel grateful, and the least bit humble; it keeps them from being spoiled.
But to return to the dinner invitation: Mr. Porter accepted it eagerly. "It is more than kind of you," he said. "My mother is away, and her house is closed. It is my first home-coming in four years, and I should have been lonely to-night."
And poor Dad, who has been lonely--oh, so lonely!--ever since Ninette died, shook hands with him, and said: "If my daughter and I can keep you from feeling lonely, we shall be so. glad. We are stopping at The Plaza, and we dine at half past seven."