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CHAPTER TWO


The Friday Junior Cotillions for the "Not-Outs," in those older days when the Banquet-Room at Sherry's was still a beehive of youth and beauty, had no particular appeal to a girl who preferred spanners and monkey-wrenches to dance-favors. And even the charity-façaded carnivals of the Junior League, which couldn't be open to her before she "had gone down the skids" (as Teddie flippantly phrased her long-discussed début), stood without that glamour which consecrated them to the humbler-born social climber. For the Tuxedo and Meadow Brook colonies, Teddie had always mistily understood, were the salt of the earth and the elect of the Social Register. Many a time, indeed, with amused and indifferent eyes she had witnessed the gentle art of freezing-out exercised at even so romping a thing as the Toboggan Slide, and many a time, warm in her own security, she had beheld the tennis and squash courts translated into frigidities which left Dante's Seventh Inferno sultry in comparison. Yet she heard diatribes on the new-rich with a rather disdainful indifference, for not a few of these Want-to-Be's seems much handsomer to the eye than most of the Have-Beens, to say nothing of being brighter and brisker. Teddie, in fact, nursed a secret disdain for the hereditary millionaire, since it was the dullness of the brood, she maintained, which was embittering her blighted young life. For Teddie still chafed against the bars of her gilded cage and nursed the pardonably human illusion that the thing you can't quite get is the thing you must have.

Now, most girls of Teddie's set and inclination escape from their adolescent boredom by excursion into amorous adventure. But Teddie felt that she had exhausted love very early in life. For at the tender age of nine she had fallen in love with the Park policeman who'd so easily gathered her up in his arm after a fall on the Bridle Path just under the Seventy-Second Street bridge, where the deep shadow of the arch gave too abrupt a change from sunlight to gloom and caused her horse to swerve, buck, and then bolt riderless as far as the Sheep-fold. But it was Officer McGlinchy who picked up Teddie, with what he described as "a foine bump on the bean," little dreaming that through his purely official and impersonal ministrations he was bruising Teddie's heart almost as badly as the Bridle Path had bruised her head. Teddie's passion remained a secret one, it is true, but the promised vision of the statuesque Patrick McGlinchy gave a new interest to her morning canter along the Bridle Path and a richer coloring to the sward and rocks of Central Park. It was not until she was on the eve of forlornly engineering still another fall in the neighborhood of that over-taciturn officer that Teddie learned McGlinchy was sedately married and the father of seven little McGlinchys down in the Ninth Ward.

Then she fell in love with Biquet, the second chauffeur, who had been a flying-man and had a slashing wound of honor across his well-tanned young cheek-bone. But her feeling for Biquet proved an odd confusion of issues, for she found that she liked him only when he permitted her to assist in eviscerating one of the car-engines or let her help overhaul and assemble the landaulet's differential, with her ready little paws covered with oil and axle- grease and her white corduroy frock as black as a sweep's. But she realized, on witnessing Biquet kissing the pantry-maid, one night when blockade-running for certain residuary oyster pâtés, that it was not really Biquet she loved, but the machinery over which he presided.

There was a time, too, during this period of potential romantic alliances, when she might possibly have entertained some tenderer feeling for Gerry Rhindelander West, her next-door neighbor whose grilled iron gateway in the midst of its manorial stone wall was quite as munificent as her own. But Gerry disappointed her. He primarily disappointed her by meanly resorting to the habit of addressing her as "Nero" (the soubriquet of a Great Dane of uncertain temper owned by her mother) after Teddie had bit him on the wrist when forcibly held down in a bitter struggle to recover from her possession a domesticated and one-eyed Russian rat which had been indiscreet enough to invade the Hayden estate. And he finally disappointed her by abandoning his fixed intention of becoming an engine-driver and deciding to waste a once promising young life on due preparation for the study of law. Gerry, it is true, later on attempted to revive this blighted romance by bombarding her with purple-tinted boxes of English violets done up in glazed paper and surmounted by small and neatly addressed white envelopes, and sometimes with striped boxes so big they looked like baby-coffins, except for the thorny stalks which protruded from one cut-away end, until the matter-of-fact Teddie reminded him that he was wasting a tremendous amount of money, as her mother's head-gardener grew those things in abundance. So before retiring into his professional shell Gerry was at pains to point out, in a somewhat stilted little note, that he had quite overlooked the etymology of "Tuxedo," which he found to be an Algonquin word derived from "Tuxcito," which in the original language meant "the meeting place of bears"—with the "bears" heavily underlined.

But the fact that Gerry essayed little more than a stiff bow as he passed by did not greatly trouble Teddie, for about this time she fell secretly in love with an Episcopalian curate of delicate health and indescribably melancholy eyes, a young man with a face like a Shelley and an audible and asthmatic manner of breathing. And at the same time that he sobered Teddie down a great deal his health improved perceptibly under Teddie's arduous campaign of forced feeding. She even extended those ventral activities to the despatching of marrons and bar de luc to hospital wards, and spoke of giving up her life to prison reform, and argued on the beauties of the monastic life, and for a time considered taking the veil. But the Shelley with the melancholy eyes unfortunately developed a cough and for the sake of his health was transferred to a curacy in southern California. This deportation gave every promise of fanning the flame which it should have tempered, translating the exile into a figure ideally romantic—until Teddie learned that on his western migration he had inconsiderately married a certain ex-contralto of the First Presbyterian Church who had graduated into the Chautauqua Circuit.

Teddie thereupon threw herself into golf and spent whole days on the Tuxedo links, and the gardenia-white once more darkened down to the beechnut brown. She became as hard as nails, both in body and spirit, and did her best to forget to remember her asthmatic young curate's pet story of the Bishop who said "Assouan" every time he fuzzled the turf, because Assouan, of course, was acknowledged to be the biggest "dam" in the world.

But the time came when Teddie was tired of golf, just as tired of making the rounds of her eighteen holes as she was of making the rounds of the circular ball-room of the Tuxedo Club with fox-trotting youngsters and sedately waltzing oldsters. She was tired of dinners at Table Rock, and tired of seeing the "No-One-Admitted-Without-Permit" signs, and tired of the Meadow Brook steeplechase, and tired of the stately and stupid dinners in town. She was tired of life and tired of even herself. But most of all she was tired of that complicated machinery of existence in which she found herself so inextricably enmeshed. She still dreamed of liberating herself from that ponderously engineered intricacy of protectional pulleys and powers. But even while she felt that she was encaged, encaged as a pulsing hair-spring is encaged in a watch-case of smothering gold, she scarcely knew which way to look for escape. She caught a momentary breath or two of freedom, it is true, by boldly introducing motor-polo within the "No-Admittance-Without-Permit" precincts, a brand of sublimated polo played with a football from a runabout with a stripped chassis. But the gardeners and the board of governors united in objecting to the havoc wrought to the Club turf, and Monty Tilford broke an arm in one of the collisions, so a ban was put on what might have proved a belated safety-valve for Teddie's spiritual steam-chest.

Still later, however, when her mother was undergoing hydropathic revision in Virginia, she made one last and listless effort to escape by taking up flying. This she did sub rosa and under an assumed name, and might have medicined her mysterious ailment with tail-spins and altitude-tests, but she suffered inordinately from nose-bleed and was unfortunately snapshotted for one of the Sunday papers the same week that she taxied into a sign-board—which demanded appallingly expensive repairs to the machine and involved a crocked patella and a month or two with a crick in her knee, though it was a rather ridiculous three-hundred-word telegram from Virginia which really dissuaded the hangar authorities from continuing the services of their ruthlawing young novitiate.

And it was then that Teddie tipped over the apple-cart. It was then that she broke jail, and bolted, and took her life in her own hands.

She took her life in her own hands, as even humbler prisoners of circumstance had done before her, by allying herself with Art. She abjured the parental roof, leased a studio in the well-policed wilderness of Greenwich Village, and announced that she intended to express herself through the pure and impersonal medium of dry-point or modeling-clay. She wasn't quite sure which it was to be, but that was a matter of secondary importance. She panted for freedom and she didn't stop to worry over what particular hand was to bring about her liberation. She installed the wine-colored roadster in a down-town garage (to be taken out rarely and rather shamefacedly), and bought a Latin-Quarter paint-smock and bobbed her hair and learned how to make her own coffee and manipulate a kitchenette gas-range without smothering herself.

And her old Uncle Chandler, on becoming duly acquainted with this state of affairs, assented to everything but the bobbing of the hair, which he regarded as much too lovely hair to be snipped off anybody's head. He even put the seal of his approval on her insurrection by sending down to her a hamper of potted truffles and brandied peaches.

Yet he stood aghast, the next day, when these were duly returned to him. That reversal of form, in fact, so disturbed him that he couldn't get Teddie out of his mind, for a Teddie without an appetite was a Teddie who was no longer her old self. And the more he thought about it the more he realized that it was his plain and bounden duty to go down to Greenwich Village and investigate.

"The fact of the matter is," he confidentially acknowledged to old Commodore Stillman before the hickory-logs of the Nasturtium Club, "that girl's a demmed sight too good-looking to be left lying around loose!"

"Oh, the kid'll take care of herself all right," ventured the Commodore, with rather vivid memories of a freckled young Artemis making a polo-pony jump the tennis nets out at the Park. "And the learning how will help her. It will help her considerable!"