by Marjorie Benton Cooke
“Professor James Parkhurst, I consider you a colossal failure as an educator,” said Francesca, his daughter, known to friend and family as Bambina, or Bambi for short.
Professor Parkhurst lifted a startled face from his newspaper and surveyed his only child across the breakfast table.
“My dear, what causes this sweeping assertion of my incompetence?”
“I do! I do! Just what did you expect me to do when I grew up?”
“Why, to be happy.”
“That’s the profession you intended me for? Who’s to pay the piper? It’s expensive to be happy and also unlucrative.”
“I have always expected to support you until your husband claimed that privilege.”
“Suppose I want a husband who can’t support me?”
“Dear me, that would be unfortunate. It is the first duty of a husband to support his wife.”
“Old-fashioned husbands, yes—but not modern ones. Lots of men marry to be supported nowadays. How on earth could I support the man I love?”
“You are not without talents, my dear.”
“Talents? You almost said accomplishments! If you were not living in the Pliocene age, Professor James Parkhurst, you would know that accomplishments are a curse—accomplishment is the only thing that counts. I can sing a little, play the piano a little, auction bridge a good deal; I can cook, and sew fancy things. The only thing I can do well is to dance, and no real man wants to be supported by his wife’s toes.”
The Professor smiled mirthlessly. “Is this a general discussion, or are you leading to a specific point, Bambi?” he inquired.
“It’s a specific charge of incompetence against you and me. Why didn’t you teach me something? You know more about mathematics than the man who invented them, and I am not even sure that two and two make four.”
“You’re young yet, my dear; you can learn. What is it you want to study?”
“Success, and how to get it.”
“Success, in the general sense of the word, has never seemed very important to me. To do your work well——”
“Yes, I know. It is the fact that you have not thought success important that hampers me so in the choice of a husband.”
“Bambina, that is the second time a husband has been mentioned in this discussion. Have you some individual under consideration?”
“I have. I have practically decided on him.”
“You don’t tell me! Do I know the young man?”
“Oh, yes—Jarvis Jocelyn.”
“He has proposed to you?”
“Oh, no. He doesn’t know anything about it. I have just decided on him.”
“But, my dear, he is penniless.”
“That’s why I reproach you that you haven’t brought me up to support Jarvis in a luxury he will have to get used to.”
“But why have you settled on this youth? I seem to recall a great many young men who are always about. I presume they admire you. Certainly this dreamer is the most ineligible of them all.”
“Oh, that—yes. That’s why I must take him. He’ll starve to death unless some one takes him on, and looks after him.”
“Isn’t there some asylum, perhaps?”
Bambi’s laugh rang out like a chime.
“A home for geniuses. There’s an idea! No, Professor Parkhurst, Society does not yet provide for that particular brand of incompetents.”
“It seems as if you were going rather far in your quixotism to marry him.”
Again the girl laughed.
“I total him up like this: fine family, good blood, decent habits, handsome, healthy, poetic. He might even be affectionate. His one fault is that he is not adjusted to modern commercial standards. He cannot make money, or he will not—it comes to the same thing.”
“I am unable to see why you are elected to take care of him. He must fit his time, or perish. You don’t happen to be in love with him, do you?”
“No, I—I think not. He interests me more than anybody. I suppose I am fond of him rather.”
“Have you any reason for thinking him in love with you?”
“Mercy, no! He hardly knows I’m alive. He uses me for a conversational blotting-pad. That’s my only use in his eyes.”
“He’s so very impractical.”
“I am used to impractical men. I have taken care of you since I was five years old.”
“Yes, my dear. But I am not trying to feed the world bread when it demands cheese.”
“No, you are distinctly practical. You are only trying to prove a fourth dimension, when three have sufficed the world up to date.”
“No buts. If it had not been for me you would have gone naked and been arrested, or have forgotten to eat and starved to death.”
“Now, my dear Bambi, I protest——”
“It will do you no good. Don’t I remember how you started off to meet your nine o’clock class clad in your pyjamas?”
“Oh, my child!”
“Don’t talk to me about impracticality. It’s my birthright.”
“Well, I can prove to you——”
“I never believe anything you have to prove. If I can’t see it, first thing, without any process, it isn’t true.”
“But if you represent yourself as Y, and Jarvis as X, an unknown quantity——”
“Professor Parkhurst, stop there! There’s nothing so unreliable as figures, and everybody but a mathematician knows that. Figures lie right to your face.”
“Bambina, if you could coin your conversation——” Professor Parkhurst began.
“I am sorry to find you unreasonable about Jarvis, Professor.”
He gazed at her, in his absent-minded, startled way. He had never understood her since she was first put into his hands, aged six months, a fluffy bundle of motherless babyhood. She never ceased to startle him. She was an enigma beyond any puzzle in mathematics he had ever brought his mind to bear upon.
“How old are you, Bambina?”
“Shame on you, and you a mathematician. If James is forty-five, and Bambina is two thirds of half his age, how old is Bambi? I’m nineteen.”
His startled gaze deepened.
“Oh, you cannot be!” he objected.
“There you are. I told you figures lie. It says so in the family Bible, but maybe I’m only two.”
“Nineteen years old! Dearie me!”
“You see I’m quite old enough to know my own mind. Have you a nine o’clock class this morning?”
“Well, hasten, Professor, or you’ll get a tardy mark. It’s ten minutes of nine now.”
He jumped up from his chair and started for the door.
“Don’t you want this notebook?” she called, taking up the pad beside his plate.
“Yes, oh, yes, those are my notes. Where have I laid my glasses? Quick, my dear! I must not be late.”
“On your head,” said she.
She followed him to the hall, reminded him of his hat, his umbrella, restored the notebook, and finally saw him off, his thin back, with its scholarly stoop, disappearing down the street.
Bambina went back to the breakfast table, and took up the paper. She read all the want “ads” headed “female.”
“Nothing promising here,” she said. “I wonder if I could bring myself to teach little kids one, two, and one, two, three, in a select dancing class? I’d loathe it.”
A ponderous black woman appeared in the door and filled it.
“Is you froo?”
“Yes, go ahead, Ardelia.”
“Hab the Perfessor gone already?”
“Yes, he’s gone.”
“Well, he suttinly did tell me to remin’ him of suthin’ this mohnin’, and I cain’t des perzactly bemember what it was.”
“Was it important?”
“Yassum. Seemed lak I bemember he tell me it was impo’tant.”
“Serves him right for not telling me.”
“It suttinly am queer the way he can’t bemember. Seem lak his haid so full of figgers, or what you call them, ain’ no room for nuthin’ else.”
“You and father get zero in memory—that’s sure.”
“I ain’t got no trubble dat way, Miss Bambi. I bemember everything, ‘cepting wot you tell me to bemember.”
The dining-room door flew open at this point, and a handsome youth, with his hair upstanding, and his clothes in a wrinkle, appeared on the threshold. Bambi rose and started for him.
“Jarvis!” she exclaimed. “What has happened? Where have you been?”
“Sleeping in the garden.”
“Dat’s it—dat’s it! Dat was wat I was to remin’ the Perfessor of, dat a man was sleepin’ in the garden.”
“Sleeping in our garden? But why?”
“Because of the filthy commercialism of this age! Here I am, at the climax of my big play, a revolutionary play, I tell you, teeming with new and vital ideas, for a people on the down-slide, and a landlady, a puny, insignificant ant of a female, interrupts me to demand money, and when I assure her, most politely, that I have none, she puts me out, actually puts me out!”
Bambi choked back a laugh.
“Why didn’t you come here?”
“I did. Your father refused to see me; he was working at his crazy figures. I burst in, and demanded you, but he couldn’t remember where you had gone.”
“What a pity! Well——”
“I told him I would wait in the garden. If necessary, I would sleep there.”
“Yas’m, yas’m, dat’s when he called me in, to tell me to bemin’ him.”
“That will do, Ardelia.”
“Yassum,” said the handmaiden, and withdrew.
“Now, go on.”
“I was full of my big act, so I walked and walked for hours. Then I lay down in the summer-house, and I must have gone to sleep.”
“Go up and take a bath, and come down to some breakfast. I will send Ardelia to get some of father’s things for you if you need them.”
“All right, but don’t delay with breakfast. If I don’t get this act down, I may lose it. That fiend, in female guise, held my paper.”
“Go on! Get ready!”
He plunged out, and Bambi went to send Ardelia to him, while she cooked his eggs and fried his bacon. As she worked, she smiled, out of sheer amusement.
In due course of time, he appeared, freshened up, and with renewed eagerness to be at work. He scarcely noticed Bambina as she served his breakfast. He ate as if he were starved.
“I suppose the landlady held your clothes?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t ask. It was unimportant.”
“How much do you owe her?”
He looked at her in surprise.
“I have no idea.”
“Have you any money at all?”
“Certainly not. I’d have given it to her if I had, so she wouldn’t interrupt me.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I can’t think about it now. I am full of this big idea. It’s a dramatization of the Brotherhood of Man, of a sublime, socialistic world——”
“Has it occurred to you, ever, Jarvis, that the world isn’t ready for the Brotherhood of Man yet? It’s just out of the tent stage, where War is the whole duty of Man.”
“But it must be ready,” he urged, seriously, “for I am here with my message.”
She smiled at him as one would at a conceited child.
“Poor old Jarvis, strayed out of Elysian fields! Were you thinking of sleeping in the summer-house permanently?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter; only the play matters. Give me some paper, Bambi, and let me get to work.”
She rose and went to stand before him.
“Would you mind looking at me?”
He turned his eyes on her.
“Not just your eyes, Jarvis. Look at me with your mind.”
“What’s the matter with you?” he asked, slightly irritated.
“Do you like my looks?”
“I’ve never noticed them.”
“That’s what I’m asking you to do. Look me over.”
He stared at her.
“Yes, you’re pretty—you’re very pretty. Some people might call you beautiful.”
“Don’t overdo it, Jarvis! Have you ever noticed my disposition?”
“No—yes. Well, I know you’re patient, and you must be good-natured.”
“I am. I am also healthy and cheerful.”
“I don’t doubt it. Where is the paper?”
She put her hands on his shoulders and shook him gently.
“Jarvis, I want you to give me your full attention for five minutes.”
“What ails you to-day, Bambi?”
“The only thing I lack is a useful education, so that I am not sure I can make a very big living just at first, unless I dance on the stage.”
“What are you driving at?”
“Would you have any special objection to marrying me, Jarvis?”
“Marrying you? Are you crazy?”
“Obviously. Have you?”
“Certainly I won’t marry you. I am too busy. You disappoint me, Bambi; you do, indeed. I always thought you were such a sensible girl——”
“Father can help out a little, at first, but I may as well tell you, he doesn’t approve of you as a son-in-law.”
“I don’t approve of him, impractical dreamer! Where is that paper?”
“You’ve got to be taken care of until you get an awful tumble. Then you will wake up and do big things, but in the meantime you must eat.”
“You talk nonsense, and you’re interrupting me. If I don’t get at that scene——”
“Will you marry me? I can’t take care of you if you don’t, because the neighbours will talk.”
“I won’t marry you. I don’t love you.”
“No more do I love you. That’s got nothing to do with it. Here’s one of father’s empty notebooks. Say yes, and you can have it.”
His eyes fairly glistened as they fell on the book.
“For heaven’s sake, don’t torture me. Give me the book and have it your own way, whatever it is you want.”
She laughed, gave him the book, and he was at the table instantly, sweeping back the dishes with a ruthless hand.
“No, no, into the study you go, while I make a descent on your landlady, rescue your clothes, and get the license and the minister, my liege lord.”
She settled him at his desk, where he was immediately lost to his surroundings.
Bambi slipped out noiselessly, dressed for the street, humming a little song, and presently departed.
Meanwhile, his first recitations being over, the Professor returned for two hours’ research in his study, to find Jarvis ensconced there, oblivious to the outside world. “Go away, go away!” he shouted to Professor Parkhurst.
“I’ll trouble you to get out of my study,” said the Professor.
“You’ll get your filthy money in due time, my good woman, so go away!” cried Jarvis.
“Whom are you addressing? Good woman, indeed!”
At this moment Bambi returned, and sensed the situation.
“Oh, I didn’t expect you back, Father Professor. This is Jarvis. You see he’s come. He has no objection at all to my marrying him, so I got a minister.”
“A minister? You got him?”
“Yes, you see Jarvis is busy. There is no need of our waiting, so we are going to be married in half an hour or so.”
“Yes, right here, as soon as Jarvis finishes this scene.”
“Is he going to occupy my library permanently?” wailed the Professor.
“No, no. I’ll fix him a place on the top floor.”
“He’s not at all my choice,” said Professor Parkhurst firmly, gazing at the unconscious Jocelyn. “You can see by the way he tosses paper about that he is neither methodical nor orderly.”
“Those are husband traits that I can do without, thank you.”
” ‘Scuse me, but yo’ all expectin’ the preacher up here? He say Miss Bambi tol’ him to cum here at eleben o’clock.”
“Yes, show him right in here.”
Ardelia reappeared with the Reverend Dr. Short at her heels. Bambi greeted him, and Professor Parkhurst shook hands absently. Bambi went to lean over Jarvis. He suddenly threw down his pen, stretched himself, and groaned.
“Now, if I can just get the last act outlined——”
“Jarvis, just a minute, please.”
He suddenly looked at her, and at the other two.
“This is Reverend Dr. Short, Mr. Jarvis Jocelyn.”
“I have nothing to say to orthodoxy,” Jarvis began, but Bambi interrupted him.
“Doctor Short has come to marry us. Stand up here for a few moments, and then you can go on with your third act.”
She laid her hand on his arm, and drew him to his feet.
“The shortest possible service, please, Doctor Short. Jarvis is so busy to-day.”
Doctor Short looked from the strange pair to Professor Parkhurst, who looked back at him.
“You are sure this is all right?” he questioned.
“Do tell him to be quick, Bambi. If it’s about that landlady I cannot——”
” ‘Sh! Go ahead, Doctor Short.”
Doctor Short read the service, and between the three of them they induced Jarvis to make the proper responses. He seemed utterly unaware of what was going on about him, and at the end of a brief service, when Bambi’s hand was taken from his arm, he sat down to work at once. Bambi led the other two men from the room.
“He acted as if he were drunk, or drugged, but he isn’t. He’s just full of an idea,” she smilingly explained.
“Have you known this young man long?” Doctor Short asked the Professor.
“Have we, my dear?”
“We have known him fifteen years,” she answered.
“Well, of course that makes a difference,” murmured the reverend gentleman. “I wish you every happiness, Mrs. Jocelyn,” he added, and took his departure.
“How soon can you get him out of my study?” asked the Professor, looking at his watch. “I have only one hour left before lunch.”
“Felicitate me, Professor, felicitate me on my marriage.”
“I hope you will be happy, my dear, but I doubt it. His lack of consideration in taking my study——”
Bambina looked at him, and began to laugh. Peal followed peal of laughter until tears stood in her eyes.
“I’ll go rescue the study, Herr Professor. Oh, this is too rich! Bernard Shaw ought to know about me,” she laughed, as she tripped upstairs.
So it was that Bambina acquired a husband.
Two days later Jarvis, shaved, properly dressed, and apparently sane, appeared on the piazza, where Bambi and the Professor were at lunch. He hesitated on the threshold until they both turned toward him.
“Good morning,” he ventured.
“Good morning, Jarvis,” said Bambi gayly.
“Morning,” tersely, from the head of the house.
“Might I ask how long I have been sojourning on the top floor of this house, and how I got there?”
“Do you mean to say you don’t know?”
“Haven’t an idea. I have a faint recollection of a big disturbance, and then peace, heavenly peace, with black coffee every once in a while, and big ideas flowing like Niagara.”
Bambina’s eyes shone at him, but her father looked troubled.
“You know what the big disturbance was, don’t you?” he asked.
“It seems to me I wanted paper—that somebody was taking my things away——”
“You’d better tell him, Francesca; he doesn’t remember, so I don’t think it can be legal.”
Jarvis looked from one to the other.
“What’s all this? I don’t seem to get you.”
Bambi’s laugh bubbled over.
“You get me, all right.”
“For goodness’ sake, talk sense.”
“You came here, three days ago, in a trance, and announced that you had been bounced from the boarding-house, and that you needed paper to blot up the big ideas—the Niagara ideas——”
“So I took you in, redeemed your clothes for you——”
“It was you who planted me upstairs in that heavenly quiet place, and brought black coffee?”
“God bless you for it.”
“I did something else, too.”
“Did you? What?”
“I married you.”
He looked at her, dazed, and then at the Professor.
“What’s the joke?” he asked.
“There is no joke,” said the Professor sternly. “She did it. I tried to stop her, but she never listens to me.”
“Do you mean, Bambi——” he began.
“I mean you told me to go ahead, so I got a license and a minister, and married you.”
“But where was I when you did it?”
“You were there, I thought, but it didn’t seem to take. Can’t you remember anything at all about it, Jarvis?”
“Not a thing. Word of honour! How long have we been married?”
“Three days. You couldn’t come out of the play, so I dragged you upstairs, fed you at stated periods, and let you alone.”
He looked at her as if for the first time.
“Why, Bambi,” he said, “you are a wonderful person.”
“I have known it all along,” she replied, sweetly.
“But why, in God’s name, did you do it?”
“That’s what I say,” interpolated the Professor.
“Oh, it just came to me when I saw you needed looking after——”
“Don’t you believe it. She intended to do it all along,” said her father, grimly. “I tried to dissuade her. I told her you were a dreamer, penniless, and always would be, but she wouldn’t listen to my practical talk.”
“I seem to get a pretty definite idea of your opinion of me, sir. Why didn’t you wake me up, so I could prevent this catastrophe?”
“I supposed you were awake. I didn’t know you worked in a cataleptic fit.”
“Catastrophe!” echoed Bambina.
“Certainly. Why don’t you look at it in a practical way, as your father says? I never had any money. I probably never will. I hate the stuff. It’s the curse of the age.”
“I know all that.”
“You will be wanting food and clothes no doubt, and you will expect me to provide them.”
“Oh, never! You don’t think I would take such an advantage of you, Jarvis, as to marry you when you were in a work fit and then expect you to support me?”
The Professor shook his head in despair, and arose.
“It’s beyond me, all this modern madness. I wash my hands of the whole affair.”
“That’s right, Professor Parkhurst. I married him, you know; you didn’t.”
“Well, keep him out of my study,” he warned.
Then he gathered up his scattered belongings, and turned his absent gaze on Bambi.
“What is it I want? Oh, yes. Call Ardelia.”
Bambi rang, and Ardelia answered the summons.
“Ardelia, did I ask you to remind me of anything this morning?”
She scratched her head in deep thought.
“No, sah, not’s as I recolleck. It was yistiddy you tol’ me to remin’ you, and I done forgot what it was.”
“Ardelia, you are not entirely reliable,” he remarked, as he passed her.
“No, sah. I ain’t jes’ what you call——” she muttered, following him out.
Bambi brought up the rear, chuckling over this daily controversy, which never failed to amuse her.
When the front door slammed, she came back to where Jarvis sat, his untouched luncheon before him. He watched her closely as she flashed into the room, like some swift, vivid bird perching opposite him.
“I spoiled your luncheon,” she laughed.
“Bambi, why did you do this thing?”
“Good heavens, I don’t know. I did it because I’m I, I suppose.”
“You wanted to marry me?” he persisted.
“I thought I ought to. Somebody had to look after you, and I am used to looking after father. I like helpless men.”
“So you were sorry for me? It was pity——”
“Rubbish. I believe in you. If you have a chance to work out your salvation you will be a big man. If you are hectored to death, you will kill yourself, or compromise, and that will be the end of you.”
“You see that—you understand——”
He pushed back his chair and came to her.
“You think that little you can stand between me and these things that I must compromise with?”
She nodded at him, brightly. He leaned over, took her two small hands, and leaned his face against them.
“Thank you,” he said, simply; “but I won’t have it.”
“Because I am not worth it. You saw me in a work fit. I’m a devil. I’m like one possessed. I swear and rave if I am interrupted. I can’t eat nor sleep till I get the madness out of me. I am not human. I am not normal. I am not fit to live with.”
“Very well, we will build a cage at the top of the house, and when you feel a fit coming on you can go up there. I’ll slip you food through a wire door so you can’t bite me, and I’ll exhibit you for a fee as the wildest genius in captivity.”
“Bambi, be serious. This is no joke. This is awful!”
“You consider it awful to be married to me?”
“I am not thinking of myself. I am thinking of you. You have got yourself into a pretty mess, and I’ve got to get you out of it.”
“I’ll divorce you.”
“You’ve got no grounds. I’ve been a kind, dutiful wife to you. I haven’t been near you since I married you, except to give you food.”
“How do you expect we are to live? Nobody wants my plays.”
“How do you know? You never try to sell them. You told me so yourself. You feel so superior to managers and audiences that you never offer them.”
“I know. I occasionally go to the theatre, by mistake, and I see what they want.”
“That’s no criterion. We won’t condemn even a Broadway manager until he proves himself such a dummy as not to want your plays.”
“Broadway? Think of a play of mine on Broadway! Think of the fat swine who waddle into those theatres!”
“My dear, there are men of brains writing for the theatre to-day who do not scorn those swine.”
“Men of brains? Who, who, I ask you?”
“Pinero knows his trade,” he admitted.
“Galsworthy is a pamphleteer. Brieux is no artist. He is a surgeon. They have nothing to say to Broadway. Broadway swallows the pills they offer because of their names, but they might just as well give them the sugar drip they want, for all the good it does.”
“Well, they get heard, anyhow. What’s the use of writing a play if it isn’t acted? Of course we’ll sell your plays.”
“But if we don’t, where will you be?”
“Oh, I’ll be all right. I mean to support myself, anyhow, and you, too, if the plays don’t go.”
“You are an amusing mite. Queer I never noticed you before.”
“You’ll like me, if you continue to be aware of me. I’m nice,” she laughed up at him, and he smiled back.
“How do you intend to make this fortune, may I ask?”
“I haven’t decided yet. Of course I can dance. If worst came to worst, I can make a big salary dancing.”
“Dancing?” he exploded.
“Yes, didn’t you ever hear of it? With the feet, you know, and the body, and the eyes, and the arms. So!”
She twirled about him in a circle, like a gay little figurine. He watched her, fascinated.
“You can dance, can’t you?”
“I can. At times I am quite inspired. Now, if you and the Professor will be sensible, and let me go to New York and take a job, I could support us all in luxury. You could write and he could figure.”
“I don’t see that it is any business of ours what you do, but I certainly won’t let you support me.”
“Do you really mean it isn’t your business?”
“Why should it be?”
“Well, if I am your wife, and his daughter, some people would think that it was distantly related to your business.”
“Why New York? Why not here?”
“In this town they think I am crazy now. But if I burst out as a professional dancer——Wow!”
“That’s so. It’s a mean little town, but it’s quiet. That’s why I stay. It’s quiet.”
“You wouldn’t mind my being away, if I went to New York, would you?”
“Oh, no. I’d be busy.”
“That’s good. I really think you are almost ideal.”
“As a husband. They are usually so exacting and interfering.”
“I’ve not decided yet to be your husband.”
“But you are it.”
“Suppose you should fall in love with somebody else?”
“I’m much more apt to fall in love with you.”
“Heaven forbid!” he exclaimed, and came to her side quickly. “Bambi, promise me that no matter what happens you will not do that. You will not fall in love with me.”
She looked at him a minute, and then laughed contagiously.
“I am serious about this. My work is everything to me. Nothing matters but just that, and it might be a dreadful interruption if you fell in love with me.”
“I don’t see why, unless you fell in love with me.”
“No danger of that,” said he, and at her laugh turned to her again. “If ever you see any signs of my being such a fool as that, you warn me, will you?”
“And what will you do then?”
“I’ll run away. I will go to the ends of the earth. That particular madness is death to creative genius.”
“All right. I’ll warn you.”
“I’ve got to begin to polish my first draft to-day, so I’ll go upstairs and get at it.”
“Will you be gone two days this trip?”
He turned to smile at her.
“Some people would think you were eccentric,” he said.
“They might,” she responded.
“I am almost sane when I polish,” he laughed. “It’s only when I create that I am crazy.”
“It’s all right then, is it? We go on?”
“Well, I have no objection, if you insist, but you’d better think over what I told you. I think you have made a mistake; and you shall never support me.”
“I never think over my mistakes,” said Bambi. “I just live up to them.”
“I agree with your father that you risk a good deal.”
“Risks are exciting.”
“If you don’t like it, you can divorce me the next time I am in a work fit. I’ll never know it, so it will be painless.”
“Jarvis, that’s unfair.”
He came back quickly.
“That was intended for humour,” he explained.
“I so diagnosed it,” she flashed back at him.
He looked down at her diminutive figure with its well-shaped, patrician head, its sensitive mouth, its wide-set, shining eyes.
“Star-shine,” he smiled.
She poked him with a sharp “What?”
“You don’t think I ought to—to—kiss you, possibly, do you?”
“Good! I was afraid you might expect something of me.”
“Oh, no. Think what you have done for the girl,” she quoted, and he heard her laugh down the hall and out into the garden. He took a step as if to follow her. Then, with a shake of his shoulders, he climbed the stairs to his new workshop with a smile on his lips.
The Professor was working in his garden. It was one of his few relaxations, and he took it as seriously as a problem. He had great success with flowers, owing to what he called his system. He was methodical as a machine in everything he did, so the plants were fed with the regularity of hospital patients, and flourished accordingly. To-day he was in pursuit of slugs. He followed up one row, and down the next, slaying with the ruthlessness of fate.
The general effect of his garden was rather striking. He laid out each bed in the shape of an arithmetical figure. The pansy beds were in figure eights, the nasturtiums were pruned and ordered into stubby figure ones, while the asters and fall flowers ranged from fours to twenties.
The Professor carried his arithmetical sense to extremes. He insisted that figures had personality, just as people have, and it was a favourite method of his to nickname his friends and pupils according to a numeral. He was watching the death-throes of a slug, with scientific indifference, as his son-in-law approached him, carrying a wide-brimmed hat.
“Professor Parkhurst, your daughter desires you to put on your hat. You forgot it.”
“Oh, yes. Thank you!”
“I should like the opportunity of a few words with you, sir, if you can spare the time.”
“Well, I cannot. My time is very precious. If you desire to walk along with me while I destroy these slugs, I will listen to what you say.”
He pursued his course, and Jarvis, perforce, followed.
“I have been in your house for a week, now, Professor Parkhurst, and I have merely encountered you at meals.”
“Often enough,” said the Professor, making a sudden turn that almost upset Jarvis. “I go fifty steps up, and fifty steps back,” he explained, and Jarvis stared at him open-mouthed.
“You count your steps?” he repeated.
“Certainly, no matter what I do, I count. When I eat, when I sleep, walk, talk, think, I always count.”
“How awful! A human metronome. I must make a note of that.” And Jarvis took out a notebook to make an entry.
“You have the notebook habit?” snorted the Professor.
“Yes, I can’t afford to waste ideas, suggestions, thoughts.”
“Bah! A most offensive habit.”
“I gather, from your general attitude,” Jarvis began again, “that you dislike me.”
“I neither like nor dislike you. I don’t know you.”
“You never will know me, at this rate.”
“I am not sure that I care to.”
“Why not? What have you against me?”
“You are not practical.”
“Do you consider yourself practical?”
“I do. I am the acme of practical. I am mathematical.”
He slew another bug.
“How can you do that?” cried Jarvis, his concern in his face. “That slug has a right to life. Why don’t you get the point of view of the slug?”
“He kills my roses,” justified the Professor. “He’s a murderer. Society has a right to extinguish him.”
“The old fallacy, a tooth for a tooth?”
“You’d sacrifice my roses to save this insect?”
“I’d teach the rose to take care of itself.”
“You’re crazy,” he snapped, and walked on, Jarvis at his heels.
“I didn’t come to quarrel with you about our views of gardening, or of life. I realize that we have no common ground. You are of the Past, and I am of the Future.”
“There is nobody more modern than I am!” cried the Professor.
“Rubbish! No modern wastes his life in rows of inanimate numerals. We get out and work at humanity and its problems.”
“What are the problems of humanity?”
“Food, employment, education, health.”
“All of them mathematical. Economics is mathematical.”
“Well, I wish instead of teaching a few thousand students higher algebra that you had taught your own daughter a little common sense.”
“Common sense is not taught. It is a gift of the gods, like genius,” said the Professor.
Jarvis glanced at him quickly, and took out the notebook.
“Put that thing away!” shouted the Professor. “I will not be annotated.”
Jarvis meekly returned it to his pocket, but as the Professor right-about faced, he exploded:
“For heaven’s sake, sit down and listen to me! This mathematical progression makes me crazy.”
“I have just so many rows to do,” the Professor replied, as he marched along. “Do I understand you to criticise my daughter’s education?”
“I don’t know anything about her education. I didn’t know she had one,” said Jarvis, “but this whim of hers, in marrying me, is very trying to me. It is most upsetting.”
“Have it annulled. It can’t possibly be legal.”
“She won’t hear of it. She desires to be married to me.”
The Professor rose and faced him.
“Then you may as well resign yourself. I have lived with her nineteen years and I know.”
“But it is absurd that a child like that should always have her own way. You have spoiled her.”
Even the Professor’s bent back showed pity.
“You have a great deal to learn, young man.”
“Can’t you persuade her to divorce me?”
“I cannot. I tried to persuade her to do that before she married you.”
“I suppose you think I ought to make a living for her?”
“At the risk of being called a back number, I do.”
“Just when I am beginning to count.”
“Count? Count what?”
“Count as a creative artist.”
“Just what is it you do, Jocelyn?”
“I try to express the Philosophy of Modernism through the medium of the Drama.”
“Who buys it?”
“How are you beginning to count, then?”
“Oh, not in the market-place. In my own soul.”
“Forty-nine, fifty,” said the Professor. “Turn here. In your own soul, you say?” He glanced at the youth beside him. “Bambi has sold her birthright for a mess of pottage,” he muttered.
“That’s just the question. Whose duty is it to provide the pottage?”
“Maybe you think it’s mine?”
“Why shouldn’t Science support Art?”
“Humph! Why not let Bambi support you? She says she wants to.”
“I am willing she should support herself, but not me.”
“So the only question is, will I support you?”
“Exactly. With Bambi off your hands, you will have no other responsibility, and you could not do a bigger thing for the world than to help me to instruct and inspire it.”
“Aristophanes!” exclaimed the Professor. “You are unique! You are number twenty-three.”
“Because that is neither much nor little.”
“Your daughter thinks my plays will sell, but I tell you frankly I doubt it.”
“How can you instruct and inspire if nobody listens?”
“They must listen in the end, else why am I here?”
The Professor relinquished his chase, to stare again. “You are at least sincere in your belief in yourself—twenty-three. I’d like to hear some of these great ideas of yours.”
“Very well. I am going to read a play to your daughter this evening. If you care to come, you may listen. Then you will see that it would pay you to stake me for a couple of years.”
“I’ll come and listen.”
“If you decide to undertake me, I insist that you shall not continue this scornful avoidance of me. If we three are to live together, we must live in harmony, which is necessary to my work.”
“Whose favour is this, yours or mine?”
“Favour? Good heavens! you don’t think it is a favour to give me food and a roof for two years, do you? I thought it was an opportunity for you.”
The Professor, not easily moved to mirth, did an imitation of laughter, holding both his sides. Jarvis turned his charming, boyish smile upon him, and walked up the path to the house. Strange what things amused Bambi and her parent!
That night, after dinner, Bambi arranged the electric reading light in the screened porch, drew a big chair beside it, placed the Professor’s favourite chaise-lounge near by, and got him into it. Then she went in search of her performer. She looked all over the house for him, to finally discover him on the top floor in hiding.
“Come on! I’ve got everything all ready, even the Professor.”
“I am terrified,” Jarvis admitted. “Suppose you should not understand what I have written? Suppose you thought it was all rubbish?”
“If I think so, I will say so. Isn’t that the idea? You are trying it on the dog to see if it goes?”
“If you think it is rubbish, don’t say anything.”
“How silly! If you are spending your time on trash, you ought to know it, and get over it, and begin to write sense.”
“I feel like one of the Professor’s slugs,” he muttered.
“Better try us on the simplest one.”
“Well, I will read you ‘Success.’ ”
She ran downstairs, and he followed, to the piazza.
There was no sign of the Professor.
“Ardelia,” called Bambi, “where is the Professor?”
“I don’t know, ma’am. I seen him headed for the garden.”
“Professor Parkhurst, come in here!” Bambi called. “We are to hear Jarvis’s play.”
“Oh, that is it. I couldn’t remember why I was placed in that chair, and Ardelia couldn’t remember. So it occurred to me that I had forgotten my trowel,” he said. He put the trowel, absent-mindedly, in the tea basket, and took the seat arranged for Jarvis.
“Here, you sit in your regular seat,” Bambi objected, hauling him up.
“That isn’t wise, my dear. I am sure to go to sleep.”
“We’ll see that you don’t,” she laughed.
“I’ve never heard a play read aloud that I can remember,” said the Professor.
“You will probably be very irritating, then. Don’t interrupt me. If you fumble things, or make a noise, I’ll stop.”
“That knowledge helps some,” retorted the Professor, with a twinkle. “If I can’t stand it, I’ll whistle.”
“Be quiet,” said his daughter. “Go ahead, Jarvis.”
“What is this play supposed to be about?” Professor Parkhurst inquired.
“The title is ‘Success.’ It is about a woman who sold herself for success, and paid with her soul.”
“Is it a comedy?”
“Good Lord, no! I don’t try to make people laugh. I make them think.”
“Don’t interrupt again, father.”
Jarvis began to read, nervously at first, then with greater confidence. He read intelligently, but without dramatic value, and Bambi longed to seize the manuscript and do it herself. Once, during the first act, the Professor cleared his throat.
“Don’t do that!” said Jarvis, without pausing for the Professor’s hasty apology.
The play told the story of a woman whose God was Success. She sacrificed everything to him. First her mother and father were offered up, that she might have a career. Then her lover. She married a man she did not love, that she might mount one step higher, and finally she sacrificed her child to her devouring ambition. When she reached the goal she had visioned from the first, she was no longer a human being, with powers of enjoyment or suffering. She was, instead, a monster, incapable of appreciating what she had won, and in despair she killed herself.
There were big scenes, some bold, telling strokes, in Jarvis’s handling of his theme. Again, it was utterly lacking in drama. The author stopped the action and took to the pulpit.
At the end of the first act he stopped and looked at the faces of his audience. The Professor was awake and deeply puzzled. This strange young man was holding up to his view a perfectly strange anomaly which he called a woman. The Professor had never dreamed of such a hybrid. He couldn’t grasp it. He gasped at Jarvis’s audacity.
Bambi sat curled up in the end of a wicker couch, her feet drawn under her, like a Chinese idol, every nerve attuned to attention. He noticed how, without words, she seemed to emanate responsiveness and understanding.
“Well?” he said.
“Let’s wait until you have finished to discuss it,” she said.
“Is it any good?”
“In spots it’s great. In other spots it is incredibly rotten.”
“My child,” protested the Professor.
“Go on!” she ordered.
The second act began well, mounted halfway to its climax, and fell flat. Some of the lines, embodying the new individualistic philosophy of woman, roused the Professor to protest.
“Rubbish, sir!” he cried. “Impossible rubbish! No woman ever thought such things.”
“Take your nose out of your calculus, and look about you, Professor,” retorted Jarvis. “You haven’t looked around since the stone age.”
Bambi gurgled with laughter, then looked serious.
“He’s fallen on an idea just the same, Jarvis. Your woman isn’t convincing.”
“But she’s true,” he protested.
“We don’t care a fig whether she’s true, unless she’s true to us,” she answered him. “Go on with your last act.”
“You don’t like it—what’s the use?”
“Don’t be silly. I am deeply interested. Go on!”
He began a little hopelessly, feeling the atmosphere, by that subtle sense that makes the creative artist like a sensitive plant where his work is at stake. The third act failed to ascend, or to resolve the situation. He merely carried it as far as it interested him, and then dropped it. As he closed the manuscript Bambi reached out her hand for it.
“Give it to me, in my hand!” she ordered. He obeyed, questioningly.
“I feel as if it was such a big thing, mangled and bleeding. I want to hold it and help it.”
“Yes. Don’t you feel it? She isn’t a woman! She’s a monster. You don’t believe her. You won’t believe her, because you hate her.”
“But she’s true. She lives to-day. She is the woman of now,” he repeated.
“No, no, no! Woman may approximate this, but she doesn’t reason it out. Let her be fine, and big, and righteously ambitious. Make us sympathize with her.”
“But I am preaching against her.”
“All the better. Make her a tragedy. Show the futility of it all. She didn’t kill herself. You killed her.”
“Do you write plays?” he asked her.
“No, but I feel drama. This is big, but it is all man psychology. You don’t know your woman.”
“I should hope not,” said the Professor. “You needn’t tell me there are such women in the world. She is worse than Lucretia Borgia.”
“Of course she is in the world, Father Professor. You haven’t looked at a woman since mother died, nineteen years ago, so you are not strictly up-to-date.”
“I have hundreds of young women in my classes.”
“Learning Euclid,” interpolated Jarvis.
“Well, Euclid is more desirable than what your heroine learned and taught.”
“Not at all. She learned life.”
The Professor turned to Bambi.
“Have you any ideas in common with this person, my dear?”
“Oh, yes, some. All of us are freebooters in this generation.”
“Why have you never spoken to me of them?”
“Oh, Professor, I never bother you with ideas. Jarvis, I think if you do it over, you could sell it.”
“I hate doing things over—the spontaneity all gone.”
“Well, you’ve got to do it over, that’s all. You’ve murdered that woman, and it is wicked. She must be resuscitated and given another chance.”
“Will you help me?”
She looked at him with a quick flash of pleasure.
“Oh, I would so love to. I can’t help you build it, but I can tell you what I feel is wrong.”
“We will begin to-morrow.”
“Are all your works as extreme as this?” queried the Professor.
“They are all cross-sections of life, which is extreme,” replied Jarvis.
“You young people read riddles into life. It is as simple as two plus two is four.”
“There you are—two plus two does not necessarily make four. It makes five or forty. It depends on the symbols. Nothing in the world is exact, or final. Everything is changeable, fluidic. That’s the whole fabric of modern thought.”
The Professor’s horrified glance was turned upon them.
“Oh, dear, oh, dear, there you go, upsetting everything. You are a pair of maniacs, both of you. You ought to be shut away from people, with your wild ideas.”
He rushed out into his garden, sure of its calm, its mathematical exactness. He was really disturbed by the ultra-modern theories these ardent young iconoclasts forced him to consider.
“Poor Father Professor,” laughed Bambi, at his retreat.
“Why do you let him stay back there in the Middle Ages?”
“He’s happier there. It’s peaceful. Modern times distress him so when he remembers them.”
“I suppose you are not an average family, are you?” he asked.
“I suppose not,” she admitted.
“You are irritating, but interesting.”
“I warn you to let father alone. He’s too old to be hauled up-to-date. Just consider him an interesting survival and let him be.”
“I’ll let him be. I’ll put him in a play. He’s good copy.”
“He’ll never know himself, so it won’t matter.”
They talked late about Jarvis’s work, his methods of writing, the length of time it took him to conceive and work out a play. It all fascinated Bambi. She felt that a wonderful interest had come into her life. A new thing was to be created, each day, under her roof, near her. She was to have part in it, help in its shaping to perfection. She gloated over the days to come, and a warm rush of gratitude to Jarvis for bringing her this sense of his need of her made her burst out:
“Oh, life is such fun!”
He looked at her closely.
“You are a queer little mite,” said he.
“The mite is mightier than the sword,” she laughed, starting for the garden. “You go to bed, so you can get an early start on that play. I’ll round up the Professor. He’s forgotten to bring himself in.”
He obeyed without objection. He felt, all at once, like a ship at anchor after long years of floating aimlessly, but, manlike, he took his good fortune as his just right, and it never occurred to him to thank Bambi for his new sense of peace and well-being.
The marriage of Jarvis and Bambi furnished the town with a ten days’ topic of conversation, a fact to which they were perfectly indifferent. Then it was accepted, as any other wonder, such as a comet passing, or an airship disaster.
In the meantime the strangely assorted trio fell into a more or less comfortable relationship. Jarvis and the Professor almost came to blows, but for the most part the diplomatic Bambi kept peace. Both men appealed to her for everything and she took care of them like babies. She called them the “Heavenly Twins” and found endless amusement in their dependence on her. Sometimes she did not see Jarvis for days. His study and bedroom were on the top floor, and when he was in a work fit he forgot to come to meals. She let him alone, only seeing that he ate what she sent up to him. Sometimes his light burned all night. She would go to the foot of the stairs and listen to him reading scenes aloud in the early dawn, but she never interfered with him in any way. He plunged into the remaking of “Success” with characteristic abandon. He destroyed the old version entirely, and began on a new one. When he had the framework completed, he summoned Bambi for a private view. She condemned certain parts, praised others, flashed new thoughts upon him, forced him to new viewpoints. He raved at her, defended his ideas, refuted her arguments, and invariably accepted every contribution. When he came to an impasse, he howled through the house for her, like a lost child wailing for its mother.
These daily councils of war, his incessant need of her, interfered with her plan of a career as a danseuse. She found that her days were resolving themselves into two portions—times when Jarvis needed her, and times when he did not. The hours they devoted together to his work constituted the core of her day, her happy time. She considered Jarvis as impersonally as she did the typewriter. It was the sense of being needed, of helping in his work, that filled her with such new zest. But the hours hung heavy between the third-floor summons, and one day, as she lay in the hammock, a book in her hand, it came to her that she might try it herself. She might put down her thoughts, her dreams, her ambitions, and make a story of them. Thought and action were one with Bambi. In five minutes’ time she had pencil and paper, and had set forth on her new adventure.
For the next few days she was so absorbed in her experiment that she almost neglected the “Heavenly Twins.” The Professor commented on her abstraction, and Ardelia complained that “everybody in dis heah house is crazy, all of them studyin’ and writin’; yo’ cain’t even sing a hallelujah but somebody is a shoutin’, ‘Sh!’ ”
Only Jarvis failed to note any change. It was too much to expect that the great Jocelyn could concentrate on any but his own mental attitudes.
Like most facile people, Bambi was bored with her masterpiece at the end of a week, and abandoned it without a sigh. She decided that literature was not to be enriched by her. In fact, she never gave a thought to her first-born child until a month after its birth, when a New York magazine fell into her hands offering a prize of $500 for a short story. She took out her manuscript and read it over with a sense of surprise. She marched off to a stenographer, had it typed, and sent it to the contest, using a pen name as a signature, and then she promptly forgot about it.
Six weeks more of hard labour brought “Success” almost to completion. Bambi was absorbed in the play. It was undoubtedly much better; her hopes were high that it would get a production. If only Jarvis could get to New York with it and show it to the managers; but that meant money, and they had none. Her busy brain spent hours scheming, but no light came.
Then out of the blue fell a shining bolt! A long envelope, with a magazine imprint on it, came with her morning’s mail and nearly ended a young and useful life. The editor begged to inform her that the committee of judges had awarded her the short-story prize, that her tale would be published in the forth-coming issue, and she would please find check enclosed. Had she any other manuscript that they might see? Would she honour them with a visit the next time she came to New York? They would like to talk over a series of stories similar to the prize winner.
BAMBI FLUTTERED THE JOY-BRINGING LETTER ABOVE HER HEAD AND CIRCLED THE BREAKFAST-ROOM IN A WHIRL OF HAPPINESS.
The Professor and Jarvis had both departed to their lairs, or they would have witnessed the best pas seul of Bambi’s life. She fluttered the joy-bringing letter above her head, and circled the breakfast room in a whirl of happiness. Ardelia entered as she reached her climax.
“Mah good Lud, Miss Bambi, yo’ sho’ can dance better’n Jezebel! I ‘low the debil do git into yo’, the way yo’ all dance! Go ‘way frum me! Don’ yo’ drag me into no cunjer dance.”
“Ardelia, the gods do provide!” cried Bambi. “Such unutterably crazy good luck—to think of my getting it!”
“Did yo’ get a lottery prize, Miss Bambi?”
“That’s just what I got—a lottery prize.”
“Foh the Lud’s sake! What you gwine to do with it?”
“I am going to take Jarvis Jocelyn to New York, and between us we are going to harness Fame and drive her home.”
“Well, I don’ know who Fame is, but if she’s a hoss, wher’ yo’ goin’ to keep her when yo’ get her? We ain’t got no barn for her.”
“We’ll stable her all right, Ardelia, if we can catch her. This is a secret between you and me. Don’t you breathe it to a soul that I have won anything.”
“No, ma’am; yo’ kin trust me to the death.”
“I’ll bring you a present from New York if you won’t tell.”
She rushed off to her own room, to look over her clothes and plan. Having married Jarvis out of hand, she would now take him on a moneymoon; they would seek their fortune instead of love. He would peddle his play; she would honour the publisher with a visit. She hugged herself with joy over the prospect. She worked out various schemes by which she could break it to Jarvis and the Professor that she had money enough for a trip to New York, without saying how she got it. Fortunately, they were not of an inquiring mind, so she hoped that she could convince them without much difficulty. She tried out a scene or two just to prove how she would do it. At luncheon she paved the way.
“How much more work is there on the play, Jarvis?”
“I ought to finish it this week,” he answered. “It is good, too. It is a first-rate play.”
“You ought to go to New York with it, and see the managers,” she said.
“Well, it’s got to be done. You can’t teach school unless you have pupils.”
“I am not a pedant,” he protested.
“You’re a reformer, and you’ve got to get something to reform.”
“The work itself satisfies me.”
“It doesn’t satisfy me. You have got to produce and learn before you will grow.”
“You’re a wise body for such a small package.”
“That’s the way wisdom comes.”
“Perhaps, O sibyl, you will read the future and tell me how I am to finance a trip to New York.”
“Oh, the money will be provided,” airily.
“Yes, I suppose it will. It always is when actual need demands it, but how?”
“Never mind how. Just rest in the assurance that it will.”
He looked at her, smiling.
“Do you know I sometimes suspect that Fate had a hand in bringing us together? We are so alike.”
“We are so alike we’re different,” she amended, laughing.
She waited until next day to explode her bomb.
“I think if you finish up the play this week, Jarvis, we can have it typed early next week, and get off to New York on Friday or Saturday.”
He stared at her.
“On foot?” he inquired.
“Oh, no. I find I have the money.”
“You find you have it! You had that much and didn’t know it?” he exploded so loudly that the Professor came to, and paid attention.
“I am careless about these things,” Bambi murmured.
“What’s all this?” queried the Professor.
“What I can’t see is that if you had money enough to pay up my board bill, why you married me,” continued Jarvis.
“Just one of my whims. I am so whimsical,” retorted Bambi.
“Would you mind telling me?” begged the Professor.
“She’s got money enough to take us to New York,” repeated Jarvis.
“Thank you. I don’t wish to go to that terrible place. Of all the distressing, improbable places, New York is the worst,” replied Professor Parkhurst.
“Be calm, Professor. I was not planning to take you,” soothed his daughter.
“But what is to be done with me?” he inquired, anxiously.
“You are to be left the one sole duty of Ardelia, to be overfed and pampered until you aren’t fit to live with.”
“But you can’t go off alone with Jarvis.”
“Why not? I am married to him.”
“Yes, I suppose you are, but you seem so unmarried,” he objected.
“We will have to practise up a few married poses, Jarvis. You must not act so interested in me. Father says we don’t act married.”
“I am not in the least interested in you,” Jarvis defended himself, valiantly.
“There, father, could anything be more husband-like?”
“Where did you get the money, Jarvis?” the Professor asked.
“I didn’t get it. She got it.”
“Why, my dear,” protested her father, “where did you get any money?”
“I have turned lady burglar.”
“Cheer up. It’s butter-‘n’-eggs money.”
“Butter-‘n’-eggs money?” repeated Jarvis.
“Certainly. The downtrodden farmer’s wife always gives up her butter-‘n’-eggs money to save the family fortunes, or build a new barn.”
“What are you talking about?” interrupted the Professor.
“I don’t know why the fact that I have a little money saved up should start a riot in this family. I have to go to New York on business, and as Jarvis has to go to see managers about ‘Success,’ I merely proposed that we go together.”
“What business have you in New York, my dear?”
“My own, Professor darling.”
“Excuse me,” he hastened to add.
“Certainly,” she replied, blithely.
“I hate New York,” said Jarvis. “How long do you suppose we will have to stay?”
“I adore New York, and we will stay as long as the money holds out.”
“Would you mind stating, in round figures, how much you have?” the Professor remarked.
“I would. I detest figures, round or oblong. I have enough.”
“I hope you won’t get there, and then call on me for a supply, as you usually do, my dear. I am a little short this spring.”
“You two have no confidence in me. If you will just put your trust in Bambi, I’ll mend the fortunes of this family so you will never be able to find the patch.”
The two men laughed in spite of themselves, and the matter was dropped, but Bambi herself took the manuscript of “Success” to the stenographer, with strict orders as to a time limit; she led Jarvis, protesting, to a tailor’s, to order a suit of clothes; she restocked him in collars, shirts, and ties. In fact, she handled the situation like a diplomat, buying the railroad tickets with a thrill of anticipation.
Jarvis made no protest at all, until the night before they were to start. He came to her and offered her a little black notebook.
“What is this?”
“I want you to put down every cent we spend. This is a loan, you understand.”
“It’s a gift from the gods. Go offer libations. I don’t want your old debit and credit book.”
He laid his hand on her shoulder, and looked into her shining eyes.
“Good little fairy,” he said, “I want to put some gold dust in the pot, too.”
“Wait until we get to the end of the rainbow.”
“Just keep a record for me. My mind is such a sieve,” he said, offering the spurned black book.
“All right. Give me the Black Maria. I will ride your figures in it.”
“That was a pun. You ought to be spanked.”
“Oh, Jarvis, isn’t it fun?” she cried to him.
“Is it? I feel that turning salesman and approaching a manager is like marching to the block.”
“Poor old dreamer! Suppose you stay home, and let me peddle the play.”
“Not much. I will shoulder my own pack.”
“I feel like a Crusader myself. I’d rather be me than anybody on earth.”
“The most extraordinary thing about you is your rapture,” he commented, seriously.
She ran away, singing “Then Longen folke to go on Pilgrimauges.”
The next day they set forth on their journey. Bambi left lists all over the house as reminders for the Professor. Ardelia had orders enough to manoeuvre an army. The Professor went to the station with them, and absent-mindedly kissed Jarvis good-bye, which infuriated his victim and nearly sent Bambi into hysterics. As the train pulled out, she leaned from the window and called, “Go home, now, Professor!” and with a mechanical jerk he turned and started off in the direction indicated.
“I never leave him with any comfort,” she admitted to Jarvis. “He is so apt to mislay himself.”
“He always makes me think of a mechanical toy, ever since he told me that he always counted whatever he did. I am sure that you wind him up, like a watch, every night.”
“Poor old dear! Funny I should have chosen him for a father, isn’t it?”
“I think your choice of relations is distinctly queer.”
“My queer relations! That’s a good title. Everybody would understand it at once.”
“Thank heaven, I haven’t any, queer, or otherwise.”
“Didn’t you ever have any?”
“I remember a funny old man you lived with, when I first knew you. Wasn’t he a relative?”
“No, he found me some place. What’s the difference? Do you care?”
“No, I’m glad. I am sure I couldn’t abide ‘in-laws.’ ”
Over the luncheon table he suddenly looked at her, as if for the first time. He noticed that all the eyes in the crowded diner were upon her.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, intercepting his glance.
“Do people always stare at you?” he inquired.
She swept the car with an indifferent glance.
“I don’t know. I never noticed.”
“It’s queer for us to be going off like this,” he said, in a startled tone.
“It seems perfectly natural to me. Are you embarrassed?” she asked, suddenly aware of a new quality in him.
“No, certainly not,” he defended himself.
It was five o’clock when they drew into Grand Central Station, a time when the whole duty of man seems to be to get out of New York and into the suburbs. An army of ants ran through the great blue-vaulted rotunda, streaming into the narrow tunnels, where the steel horses were puffing and steaming. The sense of rushing waters was upon Jarvis. He halted, stunned and helpless.
“Isn’t it great? All the tribes of Shem, Ham, and Japhet,” cried Bambi, at his elbow. She piloted him through—big, powerful, bewildered Jarvis. Many a hurrying suburbanite slowed up enough to look after them, the tall, blond giant, and a little girl with shining eyes.
“Where are we going?” Jarvis asked, with child-like confidence that she would know.
“Gramercy Park. We’ll put up at a club. We’ll act rich and take a taxi.”
She ordered the driver to go down the avenue slowly, and as he jolted around the crowded corner of Forty-second Street, on to the smooth asphalt, Bambi leaned forward eagerly.
“Good evening, home of the books,” she nodded to the Library. “Good evening, Mrs. New York, and all you people there! We’re here, Jarvis and I.”
She turned and caught his rare smile.
“You’re happy, aren’t you?” he remarked.
“Perfectly. I feel as if I were breathing electricity. Don’t you like all these people?”
“No, I feel that there are too many of them. There should be half as many, and better done. Until we learn not to breed like rabbits, we will never accomplish a creditable race.”
“Such good-looking rabbits though, Jarvis.”
“Yes. Sleek and empty-headed.”
“All hopping uptown, to nibble something,” she chuckled.
“Life is such foolishness,” he said, in disgust.
“Oh, no. Life is such ecstasy,” she threw back at him, as the cab drew up to the clubhouse door.
Bambi was out of bed and at her window the next morning early. Her room faced on Gramercy Park, and the early morning sun fell across the little square so sacred to the memory of past glories, and bathed the trees in their new green drapery with a soft, impressionistic colour. Her eyes swept around the square, hastening over the great white apartment buildings, our modern atrocities, to linger over the old houses, which her swift imagination peopled with the fashion and pomp of another day.
“Spring in the city!” breathed Bambi. “Spring in New York!”
She was tempted to run to Jarvis’s door and tap him awake, to drink it in too, but she remembered that Jarvis did not care for the flesh-pots, so she enjoyed her early hour alone. It was very quiet in the Park; only an occasional milk wagon rattled down the street. There is a sort of hush that comes at that hour, even in New York. The early traffic is out of the way. The day’s work is not yet begun. There comes a pause before the opening gun is fired in the warfare of the day.
Many a gay-hearted girl has sat, as Bambi sat, looking off over the housetops in this “City of Beautiful Nonsense,” dreaming her dreams of conquest and success. Youth makes no compromise with life. It demands all, passionately; loses all, or wins, with anguish of spirit. So it was with Bambi, the high-handed, imperious little mite. She willed Fame and Fortune for Jarvis and herself in full measure. She wanted to count in this great maelstrom of a city. She wanted two pedestals—one for Jarvis and one for herself—to lift them above the crowd. If all the young things who think such thoughts as these, in hall bedrooms and attic chambers, could mount their visioned pedestals, the traffic police would be powerless, and all the road to Albany lined like a Hall of Fame.
But, fortunately, our practical heroine took no account of failure. She planned a campaign for Jarvis. She would go first to Belasco with his play. Mr. Belasco would receive him at once, recognize a master mind, and accept the play after an immediate hearing. Of course Jarvis would insist on reading his play aloud, so that Mr. Belasco might get the points clearly. He would come away with a thousand dollars advance royalty in his pocket, and then would come the delicious excitement of rehearsals, in which she would help. She saw Jarvis before the curtain making a first-night’s speech. A brilliant series of pictures followed, with the Jarvis Jocelyns as central figures, surrounded by the wealth and brains of New York, London, Paris!
While Jarvis was mounting like a meteor, she was making a reputation as a writer. When her place in the literary ranks was so assured that the Saturday Evening Post accepted her stories without so much as reading them; when everybody was asking “Who is this brilliant writer?—this combination of O. Henry, Edith Wharton, and W.D. Howells?” then, and only then, would she come out from behind her nom-de-plume and assume her position as Mrs. Jarvis Jocelyn, wife of the famous playwright.
So absorbed was she in her moving pictures that Jarvis’s rap sounded to her like a cannon shot.
“Yes? Who is it?” she called.
“Jarvis,” he answered. “Are you ready for breakfast?”
“Just a minute,” she prevaricated. “Wait for me in the library.”
She plunged into her tub and donned her clothes in record time. Fortunately, Jarvis did not fret over her tardiness. He was lost in an article on the drama in a current magazine.
“Good morrow, my liege lord,” quoth Bambi, radiant, fresh, bewitching.
“This man has no standards at all,” he replied, out of the magazine.
She quietly closed it and took it from him.
“I prefer to test the breakfast standards of this club,” she laughed. “Did you sleep?” she added.
“I always sleep.”
“Let’s play to-day,” she added, over the coffee cups.
“Yes. We’ve never been anywhere together before. I’ve put aside an appropriation for amusement. I say we draw on that to-day.”
“All right. Where shall we go?”
“Let’s go on top of the stage to Claremont for lunch, and then we might see some pictures this afternoon, dine here, and the theatre to-night.”
“Had it all thought out, did you?”
“What would you plan?” she inquired.
“We will do my way to-morrow, and your way to-day,” he said.
“All right. I promise to enjoy your way if you will promise to enjoy mine, not just endure it scornfully.”
“You must think I’m a boor.”
“No. But I think that until you learn that an artist cannot afford to scorn any phase of life that is human, you will never do great work.”
He looked at her keenly.
“Fifth Avenue isn’t human. It’s an imitation,” he objected.
“You’re very young, Jarvis,” she commented.
“Upon my soul,” he laughed, so spontaneously that an old fogy at the next table said audibly to his waitress, “Bride and groom,” and for some reason Bambi resented it with a flare of colour.
“It’s true,” she continued; “until you realize that Fifth Avenue and the Bowery are as inevitable as the two ends of the teeter-totter, you won’t see the picture true.”
“Sometimes you show a most surprising poise,” he granted her. “But of course you are not the stuff of which creative artists are made.”
She chuckled, and patted her bag where the bill fold lay, with its crisp hundreds due to some imitation of creative impulse.
“Just where, and in what, am I lacking?” she asked, most humbly.
“A creative artist would not care a fig for truth. He creates an impression of truth out of a lie if necessary.”
“But I am in the direct line from Ananias,” she protested. “I inherit creative talent of that brand.”
So they laughed and chattered, in the first real companionship they had ever known.
True to the plan, they ascended the stage at Eighteenth Street, Bambi in a flutter of happiness. As the panorama of that most fascinating highway unrolled before them, she constantly touched this and that and the other object with the wand of her vivid imagination. Jarvis watched her with amused astonishment, for the first time really thoroughly aware of her. Again he noticed that wherever she was she was a lodestone for all eyes. He decided that it was not beauty, in the strictest sense of the word, but a sort of radiance which emanated from her like an aura.
Twenty-third Street cut across their path with its teeming throngs. Madison Square lay smiling in the sunshine like a happy courtesan, with no hint of its real use as Wayside Inn for all the old, the poor, the derelict, whose tired feet could find refuge there. The vista of the avenue lay ahead.
“It’s like a necklace of sparkling pearls,” Bambi said, with incessant craning of her neck. “I feel like standing up and singing ‘The Song of the Bazaars.’ There isn’t a stuff, nor a silk, nor a gem from Araby to Samarkand that isn’t here.”
“It bewitches you, doesn’t it?” Jarvis commented.
“Think of the wonder of it! Camel trains, and caravans, merchant ships on all the seas, trains, and electric trucks, all bringing the booty of the world to this great, shining bazaar for you and me. It’s thrilling.”
“So it is,” he agreed. “I hope you mark the proportion of shops for men—dresses, hats, jewels, furs, motor clothes, tea rooms, candy shops, corsetières, florists, bootmakers, all for women. Motor cars are full of women. Are there no men in this menagerie?”
“No. They are all cliff-dwellers downtown. They probably wear loin cloths of a fashionable cut,” she laughed back at him.
“They all look just alike—so many manikins on parade. I suppose there are distinctions in class. There must be some shopgirls in this crowd. Can you distinguish them?” he asked.
“Oh, yes. Not by cut, for the general line is the same for ‘Judy O’Grady and the Captain’s Lady,’ but there is a subtle difference to the feminine eye.”
“But you don’t look like all the rest of them.”
“No, alas, I look distinctly suburban. All I need is a package to make the disguise complete. Oh, Jarvis, do let’s hurry and make much red gold, so I can look like these finished things that trip up Fifth Avenue.”
“You want to be like them—like those dolls?” he scorned, with a magnificent gesture.
“Yes. I’d like to be so putrid with wealth that I could have rows of wardrobe trunks, with full sets of clothes for every me.”
“How many of you are there?”
“Oh, lots. I’ve never counted myself. Some days I’d dress up like a Broadway siren, some days I’d be a Fifth Avenue lady, or a suburbanite, or a reformer, or a ballet dancer, or a visitor from Boston.”
“What would I be doing while you were all these?”
“Oh, you’d be married to all of us. We’d keep you busy.”
“The idea is appalling. A harem of misfits.”
“We’d be good for your character.”
“And death to my work.”
“You’d know more about life when you had taken a course of us.”
“Too much knowledge is a dangerous thing,” he remarked. “Shall we get off and go into the Library?”
“Not to-day. That’s part of your day. I want just people and things in mine.”
“What are you to-day?” he inquired.
“An houri, a soulless houri,” she retorted.
As they approached the University Club, Jarvis recognized it with scorn.
“Monument to the stupidity of modern education, probably full this minute of provincials from Harvard and Yale, all smugly resting in the assurance that they are men of culture.”
“I adore the way you demolish worlds,” Bambi sparkled up at him.
“Another monument,” he remarked, indicating a new church lifting its spires among the money-changers’ booths.
“Hic jacet, education and religion. Look at that slim white lady called the Plaza.”
“You ought to name her ‘Miss New York.’ ”
“Good, Jarvis. In time you will learn to play with me.”
He frowned slightly.
“I know,” she added, “I am scheduled under Interruptions in that famous notebook. Unless you play with me occasionally I shall become actively interruptive.”
“You are as clever as a squirrel,” he said. “Always hiding things and finding them.”
“Hic jacet Bambi, along with the other self-important, modern institutions,” she sighed humbly.
They rattled across the Circle and up Broadway. Bambi was silent, bored with its stupidity. It was not until they turned on to Riverside Drive that her enthusiasm bubbled up again.
“Don’t you love rivers?” she exclaimed, as the Hudson sparkled at them in the sun.
“I’ve never known any,” he replied.
“Oh, Mr. Hudson, Mr. Jocelyn,” she said, instantly. “I thought, of course, you had met.”
“You absurdity!” laughed Jarvis. “What is it that you love about rivers?”
“Oh, their subtlety, I suppose. They look and act so aimless, and they are going somewhere all the time. They are lazy and useful and—wet. I like them.”
“Is there anything in the universe you don’t like?” Jarvis inquired.
“Yes, but I can’t think what it is just now,” she answered, and sang “Ships of mine are floating—will they all come home?” so zestfully that an old gentleman in the front seat turned, with a smiling “I hope so, my dear!”
She nodded back at him gayly, to Jarvis’s annoyance. As they approached Grant’s Tomb, she glanced at him suspiciously. When they got safely by, she sighed with content.
“If you had said anything bromidic about Grant’s Tomb, Jarvis Jocelyn, I should have thrown myself off the top of the stage to certain death.”
“At times you underestimate me,” he replied.
At Claremont, Bambi ordered a most enticing repast, and they were very gay. Everybody seemed gay, too. The sun shone, the early spring air was soft, and a certain gala “stolen sweets” air of Claremont made it seem their most intimate meal.
Everybody smiled at Bambi and she smiled back.
“Nice sort of hookey place, isn’t it?” she commented.
“Do you know the man at the next table?”
“The fat one, who is staring so.”
“Oh, no. I thought you meant the one who lifts his glass to me every time he drinks.”
Jarvis pushed back his chair furiously.
“I will smash his head,” he said, rising.
“Jarvis! Sit down! You silly thing! He’s only in fun. It’s the spirit of the place.”
“I won’t have you toasted by strange men,” he thundered.
“All right. I’ll make a face at him next time,” she said, soothingly; but somewhere, down in the depths of her being, where her cave ancestor lurked, she was pleased. As they finished their coffee, Bambi picked up the check, which the waiter laid beside Jarvis’s plate.
“Do you mind my paying it? Would you rather do it?”
“Certainly not. It’s your money. Why should I pretend about it?”
She could have hugged him for it. Instead, she overfed the waiter.
“It’s too heavenly, out of doors, for pictures, after all,” she said, as they came out on to the drive. “What shall we do?”
“Let’s get that double-decker again, and ride until we come to the end of the world.”
“Righto. Here it comes, now.”
Downtown they went, to Washington Square, where they dismounted, to wander off at random. All at once they were in another world. It was like an Alice in Wonderland adventure. They stepped out of the quiet of the green, shady quadrangle into a narrow street, swarming with life.
Innumerable children, everywhere, shrieking and running at games. Fat mothers and babies along the curb, bargaining with pushcart men. A wheezing hurdy-gurdy, with every other note gone to the limbo of lost chords, rasped and leaked jerky tunes. All the shops had foreign names on the windows—not even an “English spoken here” sign. The fresh wind blew down the dirty street, and peppered everything with dust. Newspapers increased their circulation in a most irritating manner under foot. The place was hideous, lifting its raucous cry to the fair spring sky.
Jarvis looked at Bambi, silenced, for once. Her face registered a loud protest.
“Well?” he challenged her.
“Oh, I hate ugliness so. It’s like pain. Is it very weak of me to hate ugliness?” she begged.
“It’s very natural, and no doubt weak.”
“I wouldn’t mind the thought of poverty so much—not hunger, nor thirst, nor cold—but dirt and hideousness—they are too terrible.”
“This is life in the raw. You like it dressed for Fifth Avenue better,” he taunted.
“Do you prefer this?”
She looked about again, with a sense of having missed his point.
“Because it’s fight, hand-to-throat fight?”
“Yes. You can teach these people. They don’t know anything. They are dumb beasts. You can give them tongue. It’s too late to teach your Upper End.”
A woman passed close, with a baby, covered with great sores. Bambi caught at Jarvis’s sleeve and tottered a step.
“I feel a little sick,” she faltered.
He caught her hand through his arm, and hurried her quickly back the way they had come. As they mounted the stage, he looked at her white face.
“We will have to expurgate life for you, Miss Mite.”
“No, no. I want it all. I must get hardened.”
Back at the club, she hurried into her hot bath, with a vague hope of washing off all traces of that awful street. But their talk at dinner was desultory and rather serious. Jarvis talked for the most part, elaborating schemes of social reform and the handling of our immigrant brothers.
They started off to the theatre, with no definite plan. Bambi’s spirits rose to the lights of Broadway, like a trout to a silver shiner. There is a hectic joyousness on Broadway, a personification of the “Eat, drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die” spirit which warms you, like champagne, or chills you, like the icy hand of despair, according to your mood. Bambi skipped along beside Jarvis, twittering gayly.
“People are happy, aren’t they?”
“Jarvis, you old bogie-man, hiding in the dark, to jump out and say ‘Boo!’ ”
“That’s my work—booing frauds. Let’s go in here,” he added.
” ‘Damaged Goods,’ ” Bambi read on the theatre poster. “Do you know anything about it?”
“I’ve read it. It is not amusing,” he added.
She followed him without replying. The theatre was packed with a motley audience of unrelated people. Professors and their wives, reformers, writers, mothers with adolescent sons, mothers with young daughters—what, in Broadway parlance, is called a “high-brow” audience—a striking group of people gathered together to mark a daring experiment of our audacious times; a surgical clinic on a social sore, up to this moment hidden, neglected, whispered about.
Bambi came to it with an open mind. She had heard of Brieux, his dramatic tracts, but she had not seen the text of this play, nor was she prepared for it. The first act horrified her into silence during the whole intermission. The second act racked her with sobs, and the last act piled up the agony to the breaking point. They made their way out to the street, part of that quiet audience which scarcely spoke, so deep was the impression of the play.
Broadway glared and grinned and gambolled, goat-like. Bambi clung to Jarvis tightly. He looked down at her swollen face, red eyes, and bewildered mouth without a word. He put her into a taxicab and got in after her. In silence she looked out at the glittering white way.
“The veneer is all rubbed off. I can see only bones,” she said, and caught her breath in a sob.
Jarvis awkwardly took her hand and patted it.
“I am sorry we went to that play to-night. You must not feel things so,” he added.
“Didn’t you feel it?”
“I felt it, didactically, but not dramatically. It’s a big sermon and a poor play.”
“I feel as if I had had an appendicitis operation, and I am glad it is over.”
“I must meet young Richard Bennett. He has contributed to the big issues of the day. He’s a fine actor. He must be an intelligent man.”
For the rest of the way they drove in silence.
“Tired?” Jarvis asked as they neared the club.
She looked so little and crumpled, with all the shine drowned in her eyes.
“Life has beaten me raw to-day,” she answered him, with a shadowy smile.
Bambi announced the next morning that she had to have an entire day in which to get over “Damaged Goods.” Jarvis was nothing loath to put off the evil hour when he was to start on his manager-hunt. So they agreed on one more day of freedom.
The clouds threatened, so they looked over the papers for an announcement of picture exhibitions, concerts, and lectures. The choice was bewildering. They finally decided on a morning lecture, at Berkeley Lyceum, entitled “The Religion of the Democrat.” They made their way to the little theatre, in a leisurely manner, to find the street blocked with motor cars, the sidewalk and foyer crowded with fashionable women, fully half an hour before the lecture was announced. Distracted ushers tried to find places for the endless stream of ardent culturites, until even the stage was invaded and packed in solid rows.
“This is astonishing,” said Jarvis. “What on earth do these fine birds care for democracy?”
“Must be the lecturer,” said wise Bambi.
“Humph! A little mental pap before they run on to lunch.”
The cackle and babble ceased suddenly as the chairman and lecturer appeared. After a few announcements, the leading man was introduced. Bambi was right. It was the man. You felt personality in the slow way he swept the audience with his eyes, in the charming, friendly smile, in the humour of his face. The women fairly purred.
Jarvis grunted impatiently, and Bambi felt a sense of guilt for her ready response to this man, who had not yet spoken. Then he began, in a good, resonant voice, to hook this lecture to the one of the week before.
“Oh, it’s a course,” Bambi whispered.
Jarvis nodded. He wished he was well out of it. He hated the woman-idol kind of lecturer. Then a stray phrase caught his wandering attention, and he began to listen. The man had the “gift of tongues.” That was evident. This was his last conscious comment. It seemed but a few minutes later that he turned to Bambi, as the lecturer sat down. She sat forward in her chair, with that absorbed responsiveness he had marked in her before. He touched her before she realized that it was time to go.
“That was big, wasn’t it?” she said.
“It was. He is somebody. He gave them real meat instead of pap.”
“And they liked it,” Bambi said, reaching for her furs, her bag, and her umbrella, strewn under the seat in her trance.
“That fellow is all right. He makes you feel that there are fine, big things to be done in the world, and that you must be about it—not to-morrow, but to-day,” Jarvis said, as they pushed their way out.
“I wonder what these women are doing about it?” Bambi speculated.
“Boo!” she scoffed at him.
They strolled, with the strollers, on the avenue. They ate what Jarvis dubbed “a soupçon” of lunch in a tea-shop, and to elude a dribble of rain they betook themselves to the Armory, down on Seventeenth Street, to the much-talked-of International Modern Art Exhibition.
Adam and Eve, the first day in the Garden, could not have been any more dazed than these two young things who had strayed in out of the rain. No sated sensibilities here, prodded by the constant shocks of metropolitan “latest thing,” but fresh, enthusiastic interest was their priceless possession. They wandered aimlessly through several rooms, until they emerged into the Cubist and Futurist sections and stood rooted to the floor with surprise and horror.
“What are these?” Bambi demanded.
“Damaged Goods,” Jarvis laughed, with a rare attempt at a joke.
“Are they serious?”
“Tragic, I should say.”
He looked about with an expression of amusement, but Bambi felt actual, physical nausea at the sight of the vivid blue and orange and purple.
“It’s wicked!” she said, between closed teeth.
“Let’s sit down and try to get the idea,” said Jarvis.
“There isn’t any idea.”
“Oh, yes, there must be. The directors would never get together an acre of these atrocities unless there was some excuse.”
“It’s low and degenerate. It’s a school of hideousness. Come away!”
“You go sit in another room if you like. I am going to give these fellows a fair chance. Maybe they’ve got hold of something new.”
“There is nothing new about that awful woman with a decayed face. She has been dead for weeks.”
“Just put your emotions away, Bambi, and train your mind on this thing. Here is a whole school of men, working in a new medium, along new ideas. They can’t all be crazy, you know.”
“You like it?”
“Of course I don’t like it, but it interests me. I haven’t read or heard anything about it, so it is a shock.”
“You shall not make for yourselves false images,” she said, shaking her head.
“Maybe these maniacs are trying to break up the conventions of Painting and Sculpture. They want more freedom.”
“They are anarchists, vandals!”
“Possibly, but if they are necessary to the development of a bigger art expression——”
“They ought to work in secret, and exhibit in the dark.”
“No, no! We have to be prepared for it. Our old standards have got to go.”
“I feel as medieval as the Professor. I never really understood him before.”
“We ought to bring him here.”
“I think it would kill him,” Bambi answered.
They spent a couple of hours, and then went back to the club. For some reason the Cubists had stirred Jarvis deeply. He divined something new and sincere, where Bambi felt only pose and degeneracy.
“When you think of that awful street, and ‘Damaged Goods,’ and that exhibit of horrors, all in two days, I don’t wonder I feel like an old, old woman,” she said.
“Suppose we stay in to-night? There is some kind of special meeting announced here, to discuss the drama. We might go in for a little while.”
“All right. But ‘early to bed,’ for to-morrow we set out on our careers.”
“You haven’t told me what yours is, yet,” he objected.
“Mine is a secret.”
The dining-room of the club was entirely full when they went down, and the hum of talk and laughter roused Bambi’s tired sensibilities.
“It’s quite jolly,” she said. “Some of the people look interesting, don’t they?”
“I talked to that little man, over there, with the red necktie, while I was waiting for you, and he has ideas.”
“Lovely woman with him.”
They chatted personalities for a while.
“Seems ages since we left home, doesn’t it?”
“Yes. Big mental experiences obliterate time.”
“The Professor has forgotten to write, of course.”
“He has probably forgotten us.”
“I feel that I am getting rather well acquainted with you,” he nodded and smiled.
“How do you like me, now that you have met me?” she teased.
“You are an interesting specimen over-sensitized.”
“Jarvis!” she protested. “I sound like a Cubist picture.”
After dinner they drifted with the crowd into the art gallery, where they talked to several people who introduced themselves. It was very friendly and social. The lecturer they had heard in the morning was there. Jarvis went to speak to him, and brought him back to Bambi. She found him jolly and responsive. She even dared to twit him about his feminine audience.
People seated themselves in groups, and finally a chairman made some remarks about the Modern Drama and invited a discussion. A dramatic critic made cynical comment on the so-called “uplift plays,” which roused Jarvis to indignation. To Bambi’s surprise, he was on his feet instantly, and a torrent of words was spilled upon the dramatic critic. He held the attention closely, in an impassioned plea for thoughtful drama, not necessarily didactic, but the serious handling of vital problems in comedy, if necessary, or even in farce. It need not be such harrowing work as Brieux makes it, but if the man who had things to say could and would conquer the technique of dramatic writing, he would reach the biggest audiences that could be provided, which ought to pay him for the severity of his apprenticeship.
Bambi thrilled with pride in him, his handsome face, his passionate idealism, and his eloquence. He sat down, amid much applause, and Bambi knew he had made his place among these clever people. He took some part in the discussion that followed, and when they went upstairs she marked the flush of excitement and the alive look of his face.
“I was proud of you, Jarvis,” she said, as they stopped at her door.
“Nonsense. The man I talked against was a duffer, but this has been a great day,” he said. “This place stimulates you every minute.”
“Tomorrow we move on Broadway, Captain Jocelyn. Get your forces in order to advance.”
“Very good, General. Good night, sir.”
As she closed her door she skipped across the room. She knew the first gun had been fired when Jarvis rose to speak. If she was to act as commander in the making of his career, she was glad she had a personality to work with. Nobody would forget that Greek head, with its close-cropped brown curls, those dreaming blue eyes, and that sensitive, over-controlled mouth. Her own dreams were wrought about them.
The day which Bambi foretold would some time be famous in history dawned propitiously, with sun and soft airs. A sense of excitement got them up early. Breakfast was over, and Jarvis ready for action, by eight-thirty.
“I don’t believe Mr. Belasco will be down this early, Jarvis,” Bambi said.
“Well, he is a busy man. He’ll probably get an early start. I want to be on the ground when he arrives, anyhow. If he should want me to read the play this morning, we should need time.”
She made no more objections. She straightened his tie, and brushed his coat, with shining eyes, full of excitement.
“Just think! In five hours we may know.” He took up his hat and his manuscript.
“Yes,” he answered confidently. “Shall we lunch here?”
“Yes, and do hurry back, Jarvis.”
At the door he remembered her.
“Where are you going? Do you want to come?”
“No. I have something to attend to myself. Good luck.”
She held out her hand to him. He held it a second, looking at it as if it was a specimen of something hitherto unknown.
“I am not forgetting that you are giving me this chance,” he said, and left abruptly.
Bambi leaped about the rooms in a series of joy-leaps that would have shamed Mordkin, before she began the serious business of the day.
Jarvis had carefully looked up the exact location of the Belasco Theatre. He decided to walk uptown, in order to arrange his thoughts, and to make up his mind just how much and what he would say to Mr. Belasco. The stir, the people, the noise and the roar were unseen, unheard. He strolled along, towering above the crowd, a blond young Achilles, with many an admiring eye turned in his wake.
None of the perquisites of success, so dear to Bambi’s dreams, appealed to him. He saw himself, like John the Baptist, crying in the wilderness, which was the world, and all the people, in all the cities, were roused out of their lethargy and dull submission at his call—not to prayer, but to thought. It was a great mission he was upon, and even Broadway became consecrated ground. He walked far beyond the cross street of the theatre in his absorption, so it was exactly half-after nine when he arrived at the box office.
“I want to speak to Mr. Belasco,” he said to the man there.
“Three flights up.”
“Is there an elevator?”
He resented the man’s grin, but he made no reply. He began to climb the long flights of dark stairs. Arrived at the top, the doors were all locked, so he was forced to descend again to the box office.
“There is nobody up there,” he said.
“You didn’t expect anybody to be there at this hour of the dawn, did you?”
“What time does Mr. Belasco usually come?”
“There is nothing usual about him. He is liable to land here any time between now and midnight, if he comes at all.”
“He doesn’t come every day, then?”
The man grinned.
“Say, you’re new to this game, ain’t you? Sometimes he don’t show up for days. The steno can tell you whether he is coming to-day.”
“Yes. The skirt that’s in his office.”
“When does she come?”
“Oh, about ten or eleven.”
“Don’t mention it.”
Jarvis made the ascent again. He stood about for nearly an hour before the office girl arrived. “Those stairs is the limit,” she gasped. “You waiting for me?”
“I am waiting for Mr. Belasco.”
“Got a letter to him?”
“What do you want to see him about? A job?”
“No. About a play.”
She ushered him in, opened the windows, took off her hat, looked at herself in the mirror, while she patted her wonderful hair. She powdered her nose, fixed her neck ruffle, apparently oblivious of Jarvis.
“What time do you expect Mr. Belasco?”
“Goodness only knows.”
“Do you think he will come to-day?”
“Far be it from me to say.”
“But I wish to see him.”
“Many a blond has twirled his thumbs around here for weeks for the same reason.”
“But I am only in New York for a little while.”
“I should worry,” said she, opening her typewriter desk. “Give me your play. I’ll see that it gets to him.”
“I’d rather talk to him myself.”
“I suppose I can wait here?”
“No charge for chairs,” said the cheerful one.
An hour passed, broken only by the click of the typewriter. Conventional overtures from the cheerful one being discouraged, she smashed the keys in sulky silence. From eleven to twelve things were considerably enlivened. Many sleek youths, of a type he had seen on Broadway, arrived. They saluted the cheerful one gayly as “Sally” and indulged in varying degrees of witty persiflage before the inevitable “The Governor in?”
“Expect him to-day?”
“Thank you, little one.”
Sometimes they departed, sometimes they joined Jarvis’s waiting party. Lovely ladies, and some not so lovely. Old and young, fat and thin, they climbed the many stairs and met their disappointment cheerfully. They usually fell upon Jack, or Billy, or Jim, of the waiters, who, in turn, fell upon Belle, or Susan, or Fay.
“What are you with? How’s business?” were always the first questions, followed by shop talk, unintelligible to Jarvis. One youth said that he had been to this office ten successive mornings without getting an appointment. The others laughed, and one woman boasted that she had the record, for she had gone twenty-eight times before she saw Frohman, the last engagement she sought.
“But he engaged me the 29th,” she laughed.
They impressed Jarvis as the lightest-hearted set he had ever encountered. They laughed over everything and nothing. By one o’clock Jarvis and the cheerful one were again in sole possession.
“Don’t you ever eat?” she asked him.
“Oh, is it lunch time?” he inquired.
“Come out of the trance.”
She went through the entire performance before the mirror, in putting on her hat.
“Shall I bring you anything, dearie?” she asked him, as she completed her toilette.
“I’m going, too,” he said. “I’ll be back.”
He plunged down the stairs. When he reached the street he thought of Bambi’s face when he returned with the announcement of his futile morning. He went into a shop, telephoned the club that he had been detained and would not be back to lunch. Then he foraged for food and went back to his sitting on the top floor of the Belasco.
“Well, little stranger,” said the cheerful one, on her return.
His interest in the afternoon callers waned. At five o’clock he gave it up. He arranged with his new friend to call her up in the morning to see if she had any news from the front. Then he slowly turned his footsteps toward the club. He was irritated at the long delay, and for the first time aware that there might be more difficulty in seeing managers than he had anticipated. He had thought the condescension all on his part, but eight hours of airing his heels in the outer purlieus had altered his viewpoint a trifle.
His main concern was Bambi’s disappointment. She had sent him out with such high hopes—she would receive him back with his Big Chief feathers drooping. He was sorrier than he would admit to drown the shine in her eyes. He walked downtown to postpone the evil hour, but in the end it had to be faced.