Twin Tales/Are All Men Alike/Chapter 6

 

CHAPTER SIX


Theodora Lydia Lorillard Hayden, confronted by the first entirely sleepless night of her career, hugged her wounded pride to her breast and went pioneering. She lay on her narrow bed blazing new trails of thought. She turned and twisted and waited for morning, as torn in spirit as a Belgian villager over whom the iron hooves of war had trampled. For she found herself a victim of strange and violent reactions and her body a small but seething cauldron of bitterness.

The more she thought of Raoul Uhlan and his affront to her the more she hated him. The scene in her studio began to take on the distorted outlines of a nightmare, merging into something as disquieting as remembered dreams of being denuded. Even when the ordained reactions of nature demanded lassitude after tempest she found the incandescent coals of her hatred fanned by the thought of her helplessness. For it was for more than the mere indignities to her person that she hated the man. She hated him for crushing down with an over-brutal heel the egg-shell dream of her emancipation. She hated him for defiling her peace of mind, for undermining her faith in a care-free world which she had fought so hard to attain. He had done more than hurt her pride; he had shaken her temple of art down about her ears.

Teddie began to see, as she felt seismic undulations in what she had so foolishly accepted as bed-rock, that her home-life had perhaps stood for more than she imagined. It had meant not an accidental but an elaborately sustained dignity, a harboring seclusion, an achieved though cluttered-up spaciousness where the wheels of existence revolved on bearings so polished that one was apt to forget their power. And all this took her thoughts on to Ruby Reamer, the businesslike young girl of the studios from whom, without quite realizing it, she had learned so much. Beside the worldly-wise and sophisticated Ruby, Teddie remembered, she had more than once felt like a petted and pampered and slightly over-fed Pomeranian beside a quick-witted street-wanderer who'd only too early learned to forage for a living. And the question as to what Ruby might do in any such contingency led her to a calmer and colder assessment of her own resources.

But these, she found, were even more limited than she had imagined. There seemed no one to whom she could turn in her emergency, no one to whom she could look for any restoration of dignity without involving some still greater loss of dignity. And that one word of "dignity," for all her untoward impulses of insurrection, was a very large word in the lexicon of Teddie's life. She had been mauled and humiliated. She had been unthinkably misjudged and cheapened. And it was as much the insult to her intelligence as the hammer-blow to her pride which made her ache with the half-pagan hunger of rebellious youth for adequate atonement.

It wasn't until daylight came that any possible plan of procedure presented itself. Then, as she paced her studio in the more lucid white light of morning, with the sheathed blade of her indignation still clanking at her heels, her eye fell on the crayon sketch of Gunboat Dorgan's well muscled right arm.

She stopped short, arrested by a thought as new as though it had bloomed out of the cherrywood table beside her. Then she sat down in the velvet-draped armchair, letting this somewhat disturbing thought slip from her head to her heart, as it were, where it paced its silent parliaments of instinct until she had breakfasted. In leaving it thus to instinct she felt that she was leaving it to a conference of ancestral ghosts to argue over and fight out to a finish. But when that decision was once made she accepted it without questioning. Her only hope, she suddenly felt, lay in Gunboat Dorgan. Her only chance of balancing life's ledger of violence rested with that East Side youth with the foreshortened Celtic nose and the cauliflower ear. It was Gunboat Dorgan who could do for her what the situation demanded.

Her only way of getting in touch with young Dorgan, she remembered, was through Ruby Reamer. But Ruby's telephone number had been left with her in case of need, and with impulse still making her movements crisp she went to the telephone and called up her model.

"Ruby," she said in the most matter-of-fact tone of which she was capable, "can you tell me where I can find your friend, Mr. Dorgan?"

There was a ponderable space of silence.

"And what do you want with me friend Mr. Dorgan?" asked the voice over the wire, not without a slight saber-edge of suspicion.

Teddie entrenched herself behind a timely but guarding trill of laughter.

"It's for something I can't very well tell you," she said, "something that I'll be able to explain to you later on."

And again a silence that was obviously meditative intervened.

"Of course I've never tried to butt in on Gunnie's personal affairs," announced a somewhat dignified Miss Reamer, remembering that the lady on the other end of the wire was much more attractive than anything she could fashion out of pastels. "But when Gunnie makes a date he's never held himself above explainin' it to me."

Teddie fortified herself with a deep breath.

"Then suppose we leave the explaining to him, when he feels that the psychological moment has arrived," she suggested. "So I'll be obliged if you can tell me just where and how I might get in touch with Mr. Dorgan?"

"I guess maybe you'll find him at the Aldine Athletic Club about this time any morning," Ruby finally conceded, without any perceptible decrease of dignity. And with that the conference ended.

It took time, however, to get in touch with the gentleman in question. It was, in fact, three long hours before Gunboat had finished with his boxing-class at the Aldine Athletic Club, had taken his shower and his rub-down, and had apparelled himself in attire befitting a call on a rib, as he expressed it, who could bed her ponies down in bank-notes if she had a mind to. When he appeared before Teddie, accordingly, he did so in oxblood shoes and light tan gloves and a close-fitting "college" suit that translated him into anything but a knight of brawn.

"Mr. Dorgan," promptly began Teddie, with a quietness which was merely a mask to her inner excitement, "I'm in a very great difficulty and I've been wondering if you'd be willing to help me out of it."

"What's the trouble, lady?" asked Gunboat, a little stiff and embarrassed in his Sunday best as he gazed at her out of an honest but guarded eye. For the knights of the ring, in their own world and in their own way, have many advances of the softer sex to withstand and many blandishments of the rose-sheathed enemy to be wary of.

But Teddie was direct enough, once she was under way.

"I've just been insulted in this studio by a brute who calls himself a man, intolerably and atrociously insulted."

Gunboat Dorgan's face lost a little of its barricaded look. This was a matter which brought him back to earth again. And Teddie saw that nothing was to be gained by beating about the bush.

"And this man threatens to come here to-day and repeat that insult," she went on. "And, to speak quite plainly, I want some one to protect me."

Gunboat's face brightened. He moistened a hard young lip with the point of his tongue as he stood gazing into clouded eyes for which lances would surely have been shattered at Ashley.

"Who's the guy what's been gettin' fresh?" he demanded.

Teddie, looking very lovely in a tailored black suit with an Ophelia rose pinned to its front, did her best to resist all undue surrender to the lethal tides of sympathy.

"It's a beast called Raoul Uhlan," she announced, disturbed for a moment by the slenderness of her would-be champion. But it was only for a moment, for she remembered the flexed right arm Ruby Reamer had tried to caliper with her admiring fingers on the afternoon that the crayon-drawing had been made.

"That puddin'!" cried Gunboat, with a touch of ecstasy. "Why, that guy tried to pull the soft stuff with Ruby last winter, but nothin' put me wise until it was six months too late." He fell to pacing the studio-rug, as though it were a roped ring, with significant undulatory movement of the shoulders. "Say, lady, what d' yuh want me to do to that cuff-shooter? Blot 'im out?"

There was a hard light in the pagan young eyes of the girl in black.

"Yes," she announced, without hesitation.

"Then he'll get his!" affirmed the other, just as promptly.

"I want you to give him a lesson that he'll never, never forget," she explained, a little paler than usual. "I want you to show him it isn't safe to insult defenseless girls."

"Oh, I'll show 'im!" announced Gunboat, with his chin out and his heels well apart. "He'll know something when I get through wit' him. And he'll have a map like a fried egg!"

"But I don't want you to——"

"Leave that to me, lady," interrupted her champion, sensing what he recognized as purely feminine compunctions. "Yuh've gotta know when to quit, in this business, the same as when to start. Just leave it to me, and I'll do it, and do it right!"

"And what," demanded Teddie in the most businesslike tone of which she was capable, "will you expect me to pay you for this?"

"Pay me?" repeated Gunboat Dorgan, wheeling about on her. "Who said anything about a purse in this bout! I'm not doin' this for pay."

"Then what are you doing it for?" asked the slightly perplexed Teddie.

"I'm doin' it for yuh!" asserted Gunboat, leaning fraternally over the table-end.

"I've that little club-roadster of my own," the entirely unpractical Teddie rather feebly suggested, feeling the appropriateness of some effort to depersonalize the issue. "It wouldn't be pay, of course. But when you and Ruby settle down in your flat it would be nice for running out into the country in hot weather. You'd take that, surely!"

Gunboat essayed a hand-movement of repudiation which he'd seen quite often in the movies. He was warmly conscious, in fact, of an appeasing touch of the theatrical in this knight-errantry that had bobbed so unexpectedly up at the tail end of a humdrum morning of dub-drilling and bag-punching.

"Noth-thing doin'!" he said with decision. "I get enough out of it when I see that stiff go to the mat. Yuh say he's goin' to horn in here at three o'clock. Well, I'll breeze in at three-two, railroad time. And I'll learn him to think twice before he flies that zooin'-bug around a girl who's been born and bred a lady!"

And even Teddie, as she stood up and shook hands with her new-found champion, was troubled by a vague yet persistent touch of theatricality about the situation as a whole. But she had made her decision, and she intended to stick to it.

She watched Gunboat step to the door, with his hat in his hand, come to a stop, and then step back to the table-end.

"Say," he said with a slightly self-conscious and not altogether heroic look on his face, "don't say anything to—to Miss Reamer about this, lady, if yuh don't mind. It's not that I've got anything to hide. But yuh know what women are!"

And, with an even more fraternal nod of the head, he passed out through the door with his peculiarly light and panther-like tread, and was gone.