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CHAPTER TEN


When Teddie left Gerald Rhindelander West's office she left behind her more than a blue-fox canteen muff. She left the last of her confidence in life, the last of her belief in mankind. She found herself compelled to face a world that seemed too big and brutal for even the valorous spirit of youth. And after a vast amount of frantic and quite fruitless thinking she also found herself compelled to eat crow. The current was too strong for her. It had tired her out, and baffled her, and broken down both her will-power and her pride. Much as she hated to do it, she felt that her only way out was to compromise with Raoul Uhlan. Right or wrong, she would pay the man's claim and get the thing over with.

A quick assessment of her immediate means, however, showed her that she had little more than half enough money to meet his demand. So she promptly stopped in at the Waldorf telegraph desk and sent a message to her Uncle Chandler at Hot Springs.

"Please wire my banker," she said, "eleven thousand dollars without delay or foolish questions, as it is urgent. Lovingly, Teddie."

Her Uncle Chandler, after frowning for a full hour over this unexpected message, none too willingly wired instructions for eleven thousand dollars to be placed to the credit of his niece. Then, after still another hour of troubled thought, he sent a day-letter off to old Commodore Stillman at the Nasturtium Club explaining that he had reason to believe that Theodora was in some sort of trouble and requesting him to drop quietly down to the girl's studio and have a look around to see just what was wrong.

And the Commodore in question, instead of being upset by this calamitous intimation of beauty in distress, adjusted his cravat and stopped in at Thorley's for the insertion of a Richmond rose-bud in the button-hole of his right-hand lapel. Then he toddled blithely down to the wilds of Greenwich Village, where he arrived at Teddie's studio just in time to see an urbane old gentleman pocket, with an air of quiet but unqualified satisfaction, a narrow slip of paper which looked remarkably like a bank-check. He stood aside, however, until this triumphant-eyed old gentleman had bowed himself triumphantly out, whereupon it came to his attention that his somewhat abstracted young hostess remained undeniably divorced from the customary buoyancies of youth.

He was so impressed, in fact, by the shadows of fatigue about Teddie's starry eyes and the world-weariness in her forlorn little smile that he concluded the gravest fears of his old friend the Major to be quite well founded. But Teddie, accepting him as an emissary from a world of pomp and order which seemed eternally lost to her, was glad enough to ensconce him in the brown-velvet armchair and make tea for him in the battered old samovar. It was not particularly good tea, he soon discovered, but that in no way dampened his ardor or discouraged him in the object of his visitation. So he hummed and hawed, and touched lightly on the prerogatives of the elderly, and ventured the assertion that New York was an extremely bewildering city, especially for the young, and he became paternal and platitudinous over the perils of the wide, wide world in general, and then with rather awkward unconcern announced his hope that Teddie was making a go of it.

But Teddie wasn't making a go of it, as she very well knew, and for one weak moment she was tempted to take this kindly-eyed and clean-hearted old gentleman into her confidence and exteriorate her troubles by freely and frankly talking them over with one of her own kind. But a revival of her old spirit of independence nipped this impulse in the bud, so she merely gave the Commodore another cup of tea and somewhat pensively asked if the autumn ball at Tuxedo had been a success this year. Whereupon the old Commodore admitted that it had been a success, if you could call such things a success. But they "weren't like the good old days of the Patriarchs and the Assemblies and The Howling Swells. The spirit of the times had changed, had lamentably changed, and the relationship of the sexes in the younger generation seemed disturbing to the survivors of the older era when a lady was accepted as a lady and treated as one. And from this diatribe on the degeneration of the present day Teddie's counsellor glided easily and eloquently into the advantages, for the girl of to-day, of early marriage and adequate guardianship. Every girl of spirit ought to marry. Even Teddie herself, he finally ventured, ought to marry.

"No young whippersnapper, mind you," discreetly qualified the old Commodore, "but some older and steadier man who knows the world and its ways, a man to be relied on in times of trouble, a man who'd be a harbor of refuge when the seas got to kicking up a bit!"

But this didn't seem to impress Teddie as he had hoped it would.

"I've seen all I want to of men," she announced with unexpected passion. "I despise 'em, the whole pack of them!"

"And you don't intend to marry?" demanded the scion of the statelier years.

"Never!" retorted Teddie, staring fixedly at her unfinished sketch of the Macauley Mission by Moonlight.

"Then what, may I ask, do you intend doing?" inquired her stiff-shouldered old visitor.

She had intended to say that she wanted to live for Art. But she hesitated. For Art, at that particular juncture, seemed a very anemic and elusive thing to live for. She had no idea, in fact, just what she did intend living for. She was less impatient of others than she might once have been. She even recognized kindliness under the intentions of that over-personal emissary from her older world, however heavy-handed he may have been in his executions of those intentions. And that, impinging on her desolated young spirit, intrigued her into a brief but depressing mood of self-pity. There was no trace of tears in her eyes, for Teddie was not habitually lachrymose. But before she found that mood conquered and killed she was unable to resist the temptation to let her bobbed head sink wearily into the crooked arm which rested on one end of the none-too-orderly cherrywood table.

"Oh, I say, you know; this sort of thing won't do!" ejaculated her obviously disturbed visitor. "It won't do, my dear," he repeated as he patted what was left of the bobbed hair with his fatherly old hand.

Teddie, however, was without the spirit either to agree or disagree with that statement. And her unhappiness so melted the heart of the benignant old Commodore that he took her hand and stroked it as he talked to her. And so gratified was he to see even the ghost of a grim little smile about her lips that a paternally commiserative impulse prompted him to stoop down and kiss the magnolia-white cheek.

So intent, indeed, had he been on his contemplation of this white cheek, faintly shot through with its shell-pink, that the door had opened and a third person had stepped into the studio without his being conscious of the fact. And it was the voice of this intruder, more than Teddie's sudden recoil of startled wonder, that promptly brought the Commodore to attention.

"So he's doin' it too!" called out Gunboat Dorgan, with a quaver of incredulity in his Celtic young voice. Whereupon he threw down his hat and advanced slowly toward the table-end. "Say it quick," he commanded. "D' yuh want me to knock his block off?"

"No, no," cried Teddie, already on her feet. "There's been too much of that already!"

"But I saw the old bird tryin' to kiss yuh!" proclaimed the indignant youth.

"Who is this young jackanapes?" interrupted the older man, in no way intimidated by the interloper with the cauliflower ear.

"Didn't I see this old mutt pullin' that muggin'-stuff?" persisted Gunboat, ignoring the stately old gentleman with the rose-bud in his lapel. But Teddie was herself by this time and she fixed her championfrom the East Side with a cold and steely stare.

"I want to talk to you!" she said, with great deliberation. And she made that announcement with such an unlooked-for note of masterfulness that, unimpressed as it left the newcomer, it rather bewildered the old Commodore.

"And I guess I gotta earful or two to unload to yuh!" countered Gunboat, betraying that he was laboring under an excitement which more recent events had only temporarily eclipsed.

"I should be obliged to know just who this young bounder is," repeated the older man, in his most authoritative quarter-deck manner. But that manner was entirely lost on Gunboat Dorgan.

"Yuh just play dead, yuh old Has-Been, until I say a word or two to me lady-friend here," he proclaimed as he confronted Teddie and gave his back to an all too negligible enemy. "I came here to find out what right a law-sharp named West has got to take that car of yours away from me. I wantta know what call he's got to load Ruby up wit' a lot o' talk about me goin' to State's Prison. And I may be a prize-fighter, but I've got the right to ask if I ain't lived decent and done my work on the square. I've got——"

"A prize-fighter?" interrupted the older man in the background. Then he strode valorously in between the two. "Do you mean to tell me, Miss Hayden, that a girl of your antecedents has—has come to have dealings with——"

But he in turn was destined to interruption.

"Say, d' yuh want me to throw this old cuff-shooter out o' here?" was Gunboat Dorgan's crisp and angry demand of the girl.

"Stop it!" cried Teddie, with a stamp of the foot. "Stop it, right here and right now! I'm tired of all this. I'm so tired of it. I can't stand another moment of it!" Then, with a deep breath, she turned about to the old gentleman with the rose-bud in his button-hole. "It's been very kind of you, I'm sure," she said in a voice of laboriously achieved patience, "but you can't possibly help me, and you can't possibly do any good by remaining here. So if you'll permit Mr. Dorgan and me to talk this quietly over, by ourselves——"

"You are requesting me to leave you?" her would-be benefactor inquired, as he reached for his hat.

"You must," announced Teddie.

"Then permit me, Miss Hayden," said the other with dignity, "to bid not only you, but also your—your professional boxer, a good afternoon."

And the old Commodore buttoned his coat and took his departure. He sallied forth with considerable trepidation, trepidation which remained with him even until he stopped in at a telegraph-office on lower Fifth Avenue and despatched a none too carefully worded message to the old Major in Hot Springs, announcing that things looked very dark indeed, as Theodora seemed to be mixed up with a young prize-fighter by the name of Dorgan, and suggesting that the sooner Theodora's uncle could get back to the city the better it might be for all concerned.