The old Major, a little out of breath rom the stairs, was glad of the chance to sit down and recover himself. He was also glad that he had found the roughly scrawled "Back at Two" sign on the door and the studio still empty, for when Teddie was about there was always small chance of studying anything beyond Teddie herself.
So, having returned to a normal manner of respiration, he proceeded to a quiet but none the less critical examination of the premises. He was disturbed, on the whole, by the baldness of the dingy-walled old studio with its broken and paint-spattered floor and its big north window entirely out of alignment. There was a long cherrywood table pretty well littered with brushes and paint-tubes and boxes of pastels and a wooden manikin and various disjointed portions of the human figure reproduced in plaster-of-paris. And there was an easel, and an armchair draped in faded brown velvet, and a number of hammered brass things, and a castered model-platform, and a bedraggled blue canvas blouse over a chair-back, and many drawings of very lean ladies and very muscular young gentlemen thumb-tacked to the walls. And behind the studio, to the right, was a much more orderly kitchenette, and, to the left, a rather nun-like little sleeping-alcove with a couch-bed about as wide as a tombstone.
Uncle Chandler sighed with relief, for he had resolutely keyed himself up to expect what he'd called "a goulash of the Oriental stuff," with ruby lanterns and draped divans and punk-sticks in jade bowls. But Uncle Chandler found himself in what looked more like a workshop than a palm-reader's parlor, and the frown of trouble lightened a little on his wrinkled old forehead. He even took up an oblong of draughting-board and was studying a pea-green omnibus going under a café-au-lait Washington Arch which veered a trifle to the right when the door opened and Teddie herself came in with a big pigskin portfolio under her arm.
"Hello there, Teddie," he said guardedly, as he watched her unspear a turban-thing of twisted velvet from her bobbed hair.
"Hello, Uncle Chandler," she rather indifferently responded as she put the pigskin portfolio on the cherrywood table. "How's the haute monde and your sciatica?"
"How's l'art pour l'art?" almost tartly responded her uncle, noting, however, with undivulged satisfaction the clear crispness of her movements and that she was thinner than usual, with an adorable little Lina-Cavaliera hollow in the center of the cheek where the butternut-brown had once more blanched into a magnolia-white.
Teddie laughed, without deigning an answer.
"How about some tea?" she said instead. And without waiting for his reply she lifted out a battered old samovar and pushed the cigarettes toward his end of the table as she proceeded, somewhat more deftly than her visitor had anticipated, with the business in hand.
"About those peaches and truffles, Uncle Chandler," she said as she stooped to adjust the flickering blue flame. "I sent them back because I'm out of the flapper class now. It was kind of you, of course. But I'm no longer a schoolgirl. I've cut out that boarding-school stuff. I intend to be something more than a Strasbourg goose, and if I'm suffering from any sort of hunger, it's more a hunger of the soul than of the body."
This was a new note from Teddie, and not unlike most newnesses, it came with a slight sense of shock.
"My dear girl, I was only trying to get even with you for that—that delightful little water-color of the Palisades above Fort Lee. It was clever, my dear, and I always did like our Hudson River scenery."
Teddie stood up straight. She stood inspecting him with a cold and slightly combative eye.
"That was the Flatiron Building in a snow-storm," she somewhat frigidly explained.
"Ah!" said the astute old Major, settling into the brown-velvet armchair. "That's what I said, all along. That's precisely what I told Higginson. And Higginson, who is always a bit bullheaded, y' understand, insisted that it was Palisades, saying he'd lived on 'em all his life and ought to know. But I didn't come here to talk about Higginson. I came here to find out how you're getting along."
This was a question which Teddie found necessary to sit back and consider carefully.
"You see, Uncle Chandler, I've so much to unlearn! You can't keep a girl under glass most of her life and then expect her to horn in where the dairy-lunchers learned the game in their infancy."
The Major winced a little. Here was still another newness to disturb him, a newness not so much of phraseology as of outlook.
"This is a new life," Teddie gravely continued, "and I've got to get in step with it or get walked over. There are people down here who have the gift of making poverty romantic, people who can turn an empty pocketbook into a sort of adventure. They can eat onion soup and spaghetti au gratin and wash cold-storage capon down with that eau-de-quinine stuff they drink and be happy on it because they know they are free, free to express themselves as they want to express themselves, free to work and live and think, and come and go as they like. And that's wonderful, Uncle Chandler, when you come to think of it."
Uncle Chandler sat thinking this over, with no ponderable amount of enthusiasm on his face.
"And just how do you intend expressing yourself?" he asked as the samovar began to bubble.
"I think it will be in color," said Teddie with the utmost solemnity. "I began with modeling, but it was rather messy, and I didn't make much headway. I'm beginning to feel that pastel or dry-point is more my penchant. Raoul Uhlan is giving me three lessons a week."
"That big stiff!" ejaculated the philistine old Major.
"He's one of the cleverest painters in New York," Teddie calmly explained.
"And a professional tame-robin who gets portrait commissions, I understand, because he can dance like a stage acrobat!"
"I know nothing about his dancing," remarked Teddie, with her eyebrows up. "But I do know it's sinful the way the children of our idle rich are kept cooped up and shut away from real life. They're hemmed in with a lot of silly old taboos. They're laced up in a straight- jacket of social laws until they're too flabby to face a personal dilemma that an East Side shopgirl could decide before she'd finished powdering her nose."
Uncle Chandler took up his teacup and then put it down again.
"I rather fail to see what the personal predicaments of shop-girls have got to do with the matter," he said with some acerbity. "You're a Hayden, the third wealthiest woman in Orange County, and a girl who's had every comfort that money and machinery can give her. Yet you leave a home that cost about two-thirds of a million—without counting those cross-eyed marble lions your mother brought over from Florence for the Sunken Gardens!—and come down here into this moth-eaten backyard of the Eighth Ward and live on macaroni and red ink and dream that raw life is being dished up to you on the half-shell. You talk about liberty and expressing yourself, and all you're doing is slumming, just slumming!"
Teddie smiled. It was a languid smile and a superior one.
"Uncle Chandler," she remarked, "you really don't know what you're talking about. In the first place, I've decided that in one day you can see more life, real life, out of that crooked old window there than you could discern in Tuxedo Park in a century." She ushered him toward the casement in question. "Look at that Italian woman with the bundle of clothes on her head. And those kids crowding about the hokey-pokey man. And that gray-headed old candy-seller with the feather-duster in his hand. And that white hearse with the white angel kneeling on the top and that line of bareheaded Dago mourners marching along just as you'd see them in Naples or Ancona. And look at that wagon-load of crated geese that have just come from the Ganesvoort Market, with their necks craned out between the slats. Why, those poor things are fighting for liberty just about the same as I've been fighting for it!"
"And about as effectively," remarked Uncle Chandler.
"Well, whose funeral is it, anyway?" demanded Teddie, with her first touch of impatience. "This happens to be my show, and I happen to be running it in my own way. I know what's ahead of me, and I'm going straight for it."
Teddie's uncle was able to smile at the uncompromising ardor of youth. But there was a touch of impatience in his movements as he crossed over to what he hoped might prove a more comfortable chair. He had no intention of letting a snip of a girl Cook's-guide him about his own city, the city he'd lived in for some sixty-odd years. And he wasn't such a stranger to Greenwich Village as she imagined, for through the mists of time he could still remember Ned Harrigan and Perry Street, and Sim Sharp and certain Tough Club chowders of the olden and golden days.
"So you're going straight, are you!" he snapped out, with only the light in his kindly old eyes to contradict the bruskness of his speech. "Well, all I have to say is that you're a wonder if you can go straight in a district like this. Good gad, ma'am, even the streets don't go straight down here. They're as deluded as the benzine-daubers who tramp them. And it may be none of my business, but I've an itch to know what's going to happen to a high-spirited girl who's veering dead south when she dreams she's heading due west."
"And that means," suggested Teddie, "that you propose to hang around to see what's going to happen?"
"On the contrary, young lady, I'm going down to Hot Springs to-morrow morning to get some of the acid steamed out of my knee-joints. You're old enough to do as you like. I've always admitted that. And I've talked to Trummie about it, before he got away. I've talked to your dad. And he remarked that it wasn't a matter of such tremendous importance, after all, since he has just figured out that the planet on which we at present subsist will be completely obliterated in some six million years. And he seems to be more interested in Betelgeuse, at the moment, than he is in Greenwich Village. But I repeat that you've come into a crooked part of this old Island for any straight-cuts to freedom. You'll do just what the streets do down here: you'll get all twisted up. Just look at 'em! Look at 'em, I say. You've got Tenth Street doubling round and running into Fourth Street, and Waverley Place going in four directions at once—the same as the folks who live in it! They don't know where they're at, none of 'em. And even the upper side of your Square here is not only Washington Square North, but also Sixth Street, and at the same time also Waverley Place again. And the east side of your same old Square is University Place down as far as Fourth Street, and then without rhyme or reason it calls itself Wooster Street. And your south side is really Fourth Street, but on Fourth Street proper the numbers increase from east to west, but on what is really the same street called Washington Square South your numbers increase from west to east. And your Square isn't even a square, but a rectangle. And if you can straighten all that out in your beautiful little bean you know your old New York a trifle better than I do—and that, I acknowledge, would be going some."
"But I'm not interested in the streets and the mail-directory numbers," Teddie patiently explained. "What I've been talking about is the spirit of the place, its aura."
"Yes, I got a sniff of it as I came through that Italian settlement," acknowledged Uncle Chandler. "And it was quite a penetrating aura."
"But you're only croaking out of a swamp of prejudices," contended Teddie. "You don 't understand our ways of living or looking at life. You try to gauge Greenwich Village, which was once good enough for Poe and Masefield, by Fifth Avenue standards, and you get your numbers mixed." She looked up at him with a more commiserative light in her earnest young eyes. "But if you want to see us as we are, why not take chow with me at the Blue Pigeon to-night?"
"Not muchee!" averred Uncle Chandler, with great alacrity. "I've altogether too much respect for my Fifth-Avenuey Little Mary. I've seen 'em before, those futuristic smoke-boxes with a tinned sardine rolled up in a pimento-skin and Mimis from Waterbury and up-State Villons who muss their hair and get mixed up on the garlic and free-verse. So, much as I love you, Teddie, I'll toddle along to my benighted old Nasturtium Club and deaden my soul on Green Turtle clear and Terrapin, Philadelphia style, and breast of Chicken Fincise with sweet potatoes Dixie, and new peas Saute, and an ice and coffee to end up with."
Teddie tried to look indifferent. But it took a struggle. For her Uncle Chandler had rather disdainfully picked up an oblong of cardboard and sat inspecting it with a none too approving eye.
What he inspected was a crayon sketch of an extremely muscular right arm and shoulder, a right arm and shoulder which at least demanded some qualified respect. But his grizzled old eyebrows were closer together as he looked up at Teddie again.
"Did you say you drew from models?" he casually inquired.
"Of course," acknowledged Teddie, pausing long enough to answer her telephone and explain that she and not the landlord had ordered the new glass for the skylight.
"You don't mean to say you have men come up here and—and expose their muscles for this sort of thing?" demanded Uncle Chandler, with a gesture toward the ample biceps in crayon.
"Oh, no, that wasn't a professional model. That's the arm of Gunboat Dorgan, the prize-fighter. I sketched that the other afternoon when he was up here with Ruby Reamer, one of my regular models. He's Ruby's steady, as she calls it. She's very proud of him, and had him showing me some of his stunts. So I thought it would be a good chance to get a study of an arm like that. And Gunnie—that's what Ruby calls him—isn't a bit like what I thought a prize-fighter would be. He's rather a bright-minded boy, and a little shy, and if he wins the lightweight bout from Slim Britton, the English boxer, he's going to marry Ruby and take a flat down on Second Avenue."
"But you say he's a fighter, a ring-fighter?"
"Yes, that's how he makes his living. He's quite serious about it all, and trains hard, and plans about working his way up, just as a man in any other profession would."
Uncle Chandler sat thinking this over. He would have done considerably more thinking if he'd been in possession of the information that his niece had already allowed this same prize-fighter to pilot her and Ruby and the wine-colored roadster out to a sea-food dinner at a Sound roadhouse. But even as it was, Uncle Chandler seemed sufficiently upset.
"Say, Teddikins," he somewhat grimly remarked out of the silence that had fallen over the darkening studio, "what d'you suppose your mother would think about all this?"
"I'm not in the least interested in what mother thinks about it," was Teddie's altogether irresponsible and wilful rejoinder.
The old Major, who had already risen to go, turned this speech over, turned it over with great deliberation. Then he sat down again.
"It's not so much Lydia, my dear," he said. "It's what poor old Lydia embodies, the organized entrenchments that surround young girls, the machinery of service that may shut you in, but at the same time does things for you and gives you something to fall back on when the pinch comes!"
"But I don't understand what you mean by the pinch," Teddie told him, straightening the gardenia that stood so stiff and straight in his coat-lapel. For she liked her Uncle Chandler, and she liked him a lot. And she was a little disturbed by the look of anxiety that had come into his worldly-wise old face.
He stared at her for a moment, shrugged his shoulders, and took up his hat and stick.
"You're all right, Teddie," he announced with decision as he solemnly kissed her on the cheek-bone. "But—but I wish somebody was looking after you when I'm down there being boiled out."
This made Teddie laugh. She not only laughed, but she extended her arms, like a traffic-officer stopping a jay-driver, or a young eagle trying its wings.
"But I don't need any one to look after me, thank heaven! I'm free!"
The old Major stopped at the door.
"And you feel that you can manage it all right? That you can——"
For reasons entirely his own he did not finish the sentence.
"I am managing it," the girl quietly asserted.
And Uncle Chandler, in finally taking his departure, experienced at least a qualified relief. The girl was wrong, all wrong. And what was worse, she was much too lovely to the eye to remain unmolested by predaceous man. But she had a will of her own, had Teddie. And, what was more, she might have gone to Paris to "express herself," as she called it. Or she might have tried to find her soul by going on the stage. And the Major knew well enough what that would have meant. After all, the girl would learn to scratch for herself. She would have to. And as old Stillman had intimated, it might do her a world of good!