Twin Tales/Are All Men Alike/Chapter 4

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CHAPTER FOUR


Teddie, as a matter-of-fact girl, had scant patience with the undue attribution of the romantic to the commonplace. Yet the manner in which she had first met Raoul Uhlan, it must be admitted, was not without its touch of the picturesque.

Teddie, still a little intoxicated with her new-found liberty, and further elated by the sparkling morning sunshine of Fifth Avenue, was swinging smartly up that slope which an over-busy world no longer remembers as Murray Hill. She was in a slightly shortened blue serge skirt that whipped against her slim young knees suggestively akin to the drapery of the Nike of Samothrace, and was just approaching the uplands of the Public Library Square when she caught sight of a violet-peddler.

A glimpse of the seven earthy-smelling clumps of bloom, buskined in tin-foil and neatly arranged on their little wooden tray, promptly intrigued the girl into stopping, fumbling in her none too orderly hand-bag, and passing over to the sloe-eyed Greek a bank-note with double-X's imprinted on its silk-threaded surface. And having adjusted the sword-knotted clump to her belt by means of one of the peddler's glass-headed pins, she looked up to see this same peddler contemplating the bank-note with a frown of perplexity. He was explaining, in broken English, that his exchequer stood much too limited to make change for a bill so big. Then, with a smile of inspiration, he placed the tray of violets in the girl's hands, pointed toward a near-by store on the side-street, and plainly implied that he would break the twenty and return with more negotiable currency.

So Teddie stood patiently holding the tray of violets, in the clear white light of the sunny Avenue, happy in the flowery perfumes which were being wafted up to her delicately distended nostril.

But something else was at the same time being wafted in Teddie's direction. It was a tall and handsome stranger in tight-fitting tweeds, carrying a cane and an air of preoccupation. There was lightness in his step, notwithstanding his size, and any unseemly amplitude of ventral contour was fittingly corrected by a tightly laced obesity-belt, just as the somewhat heavy line of the lips was lightened by a short-trimmed and airily-pointed mustache. For the stranger was Raoul Uhlan, and Raoul Uhlan was an artist, though any thoughtless motion-picture director who had dared to flash him on the screen as a type of his profession would have been held up to ridicule and reproof. But this particular artist, who was neither dreamy-eyed nor addicted to velveteen jackets, found the quest of beauty both a professional and a personal necessity. So when he beheld a young lady of most unmistakable charm standing beside a gray-stone retaining wall with a street-peddler's violet-tray in her hands, he momentarily forgot about the prospective sitter from Pittsburgh with whom he was to breakfast. He hove-to in the offing, in fact, for the seemingly innocent purpose of buying a boutonnière. It would be gracious, he also decided as he soberly inquired the price of violets that morning, to give the little thing a thrill. For Raoul often wondered what it was about him that made him so attractive to women.

"One dollar a bunch," soberly responded the little thing, in answer to his question, giving scant evidence of being thrilled. She was uncertain about prices, and her thoughts, in fact, were fixed on the matter of not cheating the humble and honest tradesman whose wares had been delegated to her hands. She noticed the strange man's momentary wince, but never dreamed it arose from a confrontation with profiteering. She nonchalantly took his dollar, however, tucked it into one corner of the tray, and handed him the violets and the essential pin.

She was quite prepared to repeat the operation with a dandified old gentleman in pearl spats, who was hovering near, when an officer in uniform sauntered up and, being out of sorts with the world that morning, confronted her with a lowering and saturnine brow.

"Yuh gotta license t' peddle them flowers?" he demanded.

Teddie, in no wise disturbed, explained the situation and further announced that the gentleman who owned the tray would return immediately.

Her urbanity, however, was wasted on the Avenue air.

"Yuh just made a sale to this guy here, didn't yuh?" persisted the officer of the law, with a none too respectful thumb-jerk toward the immaculately tweeded figure with the over-sized bouquet in his button-hole.

"Yes, this is the dollar he paid me," Teddie sweetly acknowledged.

"That's enough," averred her persecutor. "Yuh're street peddlin' without a license. So yuh'll have to come along wit' me."

"But, odd as it may seem, I rather want my nineteen dollars," maintained Teddie, with an intent gaze down the side-street.

"Your nineteen dollars and seventy-five cents," corrected the man in tweeds, not forgetful of a recent extortion.

"Yuh're likely to clap eyes on that Dago again, ain't yuh!" The open scorn of the officer was monumental. "He'll be spendin' what's left of his days tryin' to ferret yuh out, I s'pose, wastin' his young life away battlin' to get that easy coin back to yuh! What he's breakin' now isn't a twenty-dollar bill, my gerrl, but a travelin' record down to the Third Ward. And I guess the sooner yuh come along wit' me, and the quieter yuh come, the better."

"But you really can't do this sort of thing, you know, Officer," the man in tweeds interposed. "This girl——"

"Yuh shut your trap," announced the upholder of law and order, with an indifferent side-glance at the interloper, "or I'll gather yuh in wit' the dame here."

"That's an eventuality which I'd rather welcome," averred the other, with his blood up.

"All right, then, come along, the both o' yuh," was the prompt and easy response. "And come quick or I'll make it a double pinch for blockin' traffic."

But Raoul Uhlan, clinging to what was left of his dignity, insisted on calling a taxi-cab (which Teddie paid for when they arrived at the Forty-Seventh Street station-house) and in transit managed to say many soothing and valorous things, so that by the time Teddie stood before a somewhat grim-looking desk in the neighboring receiving depot for miscreants, her courage had come back to her and she didn't even resort to home addresses and influences for a short-cut out of her difficulty. She soon had the satisfaction, indeed, of seeing her moody patrolman picturesquely berated by his higher official behind the desk, who apologized for retaining the dollar-bill and the tray of violets and announced that as there was no case and no charge against her—which any one but a pin-headed flatty with a double-barreled grouch could have seen!—she was quite free to enjoy the morning air once more.

So Teddie sallied forth with a great load off her mind and with Raoul Uhlan at her side. And the latter, instead of breakfasting with the plutocrat from Pittsburgh who wished to perpetuate his obesity in oils, sent a polite fib of explanation over the wires which were more or less inured to such things, and carried Teddie off to luncheon at the Brevoort, where he learned that she was one of the Haydens of Tuxedo and had a studio on the fringe of Greenwich Village and wanted to paint. And before she quite knew how it had all been arranged it was agreed that Uhlan was to come three times a week and give her lessons in Art, for the sake of Art.