Christmas day in the little house was a real celebration. It was the first one in the Jocelyns’ married life, and the entire household entered into the spirit of Yuletide with enthusiasm. At Bambi’s suggestion, they hid the presents all over the house. The subsequent search and discovery were carried on with much laughter and shouting. Ardelia’s delight over her gifts was vocal and extreme. The Professor continually forgot which presents were his, and collected every one else’s into his pile, from which the owner laughingly rescued them. A pair of silk stockings for Bambi which he absent-mindedly appropriated caused much mirth.
Jarvis’s gift to Bambi was a dull gold chain, hung with tassels of baroque pearls, an exquisite feminine bauble.
“Oh, Jarvis, how charming! It’s like a lovely lady’s happy tears!” she exclaimed.
He blushed happily.
“I thought it looked like you.”
“A thousand thanks! Fasten the clasp for me.”
He fumbled it awkwardly, but with final success. She turned for inspection, her eyes avid for praise. He nodded.
“It is where it belongs,” he said.
The day passed happily. Ardelia’s dinner was a Christmas poem. When the Professor complimented her on the success of everything, she replied:
“Yassuh, dis heah day been all right. But I hopes befo’ nex’ Chris’mus we all gwine to have some chilluns to make dis a sho’ nuff pahty.”
Bambi’s face was scarlet, but she faced it out.
“Oh, not children, Ardelia—singular, you mean, I hope.”
“No, I don’t mean sing’lar. We don’ want no singular chilluns. I mean jes’ plain chilluns.”
“The holiday seems to be peculiarly the children’s day,” said the Professor, unaware of the situation, and so saved it!
Thus it was that Jarvis was welcomed into the family circle again, and this time he became an integral part as he had never been before. The day after Christmas he came to Bambi with her story.
“You told me you had read this book, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I’ve read it.”
“What do you think of it?” he asked her, curiously.
“I adore it!” she replied.
He sat down beside her, gravely.
“It’s a strange thing, but the book grows on you. When I first read it, I thought it was a clever little trifle. But as I work with it, I have come to see that it is remarkable in its human quality. You feel the charm of the author all through it.”
“Do you?” eagerly.
“I don’t know. I loved the girl. She seemed very true to me.”
“I’ve never known any girls except you, and I don’t know you very well, but there are spots where you and the other Francesca are strikingly alike. I suppose it is not you, but feminine. I mix them up.”
“If we are to make a play of it, I am glad we both love it.”
“I find myself intensely interested in the mysterious woman who wrote it. To me there is no hint in the story of the infelicity Mr. Frohman hinted at. I would like to know her.”
“Don’t you expect to see her when the play is finished?”
“She says she wishes me not to know her.”
“But she will have to come to rehearsals?”
“I must ask her about that. Maybe she will come, then.”
“You write to her?”
“Oh, yes. I have to keep her in touch with my progress.”
“I thought you told her to keep out.”
“I did. But she has been so agreeable about it that I decided to keep her posted as I went along.”
“I’ve no doubt she is very fascinating,” she said, coldly.
“You don’t object to my interest in her?”
“Object? My dear Jarvis, you may be interested in all the women in creation without any objection from me!”
“And you have the same freedom?”
“Naturally. Now let’s get to work. I was surprised at what you said about the young musician in the book. I thought he was so real.”
“Strange. That is what the author said, that it was a close portrait of a near friend.”
“What is it, about him, that you do not like?”
“Oh, I like him, in a way. But these reformers, idealists, thinking they can dream the world into Arcadia!”
Bambi’s clear laugh startled him.
“What amuses you so?” he asked, shortly.
“I suppose I rather like the idealist type.”
He looked at her closely.
“Good heavens, you don’t think I’m like that, do you?”
“A little,” she admitted.
“If I thought that I was that particular brand of idiot I’d learn bookkeeping and be a clerk,” was the reply.
“Maybe it isn’t you—maybe it is just man I recognize.”
“You can see how terribly clever the woman is—to set each of us accusing the other.”
“She is just a student of types, that’s all,” Bambi disparaged the lady.
So they began their co-partnership. The shyness, the appeal, the new self-conscious element Bambi had sensed in Jarvis gave way to the old mental relationship as fellow workman. They had regular office hours, as they called it. They experimented to see whether they obtained the best results, when they each worked at a scene alone and went over it together for the final polishing; or when they actually worked on it in unison. Four hours in the morning they laboured, took an hour of recess after lunch, then two hours more, followed by a tramp off into the country, talking play, play, play.
These were days of keen delight to them both. They worked together so smoothly and so well. Jarvis’s high-handed superiority had given way to a well-grounded respect for Bambi’s quick apprehension of a false note, an unnatural line, or a bungled climax.
The first interruption came with the advent of Richard Strong to spend the weekend, and Jarvis made no comment when Bambi announced his coming and declared Saturday a holiday. He even agreed to meet their guest at the station. The two men came back together in amicable converse.
“I am so glad you could come, Richard,” Bambi greeted him, in her eager way.
Jarvis started at the Christian name, and flushed angrily at Strong’s reply.
“Happy New Year, Francesca!”
Richard and Francesca—so they had gone as far as that on the road to intimacy was Jarvis’s hurt comment to himself.
After that he watched Strong every minute for signs of special devotion, and before the day was over he had satisfied himself that these two cared deeply for each other. The way Strong’s eyes followed her every movement, the way he anticipated her wants, understood her before she spoke—they were all damning evidences of the situation. That Bambi showed herself grateful, as vividly as she did everything else, entirely escaped Jarvis. She loved him, that was the truth, and he alone stood between her and happiness.
The two days dragged by, in torment, for him. It seemed as if they would never be over, so that he might face the truth by himself, with Strong out of the picture, and decide what must be done. Bambi noticed his strained politeness to their guest, but set it down to the same inconsistency he had shown before, of being jealous of what he did not especially value himself.
Monday, after Strong’s departure, she began to realize that there was a change in him. He was taciturn and moody. The work went badly. He disagreed with her at every point, and when she suggested that they stop an hour earlier than usual, he went off by himself, without asking her to go. She began to wonder whether his dislike of Strong was really serious and something to be taken cognizance of.
Jarvis strode off into the country in a state of nerves unknown before. A sleepless night and the irritation of the day’s work had played their havoc with him. He went over the thing again and again. Bambi and Strong loved each other—he stood in the way. Why should he not take himself out of the situation at once? “She married me for a whim; she will unmarry me the same way,” he reiterated to himself. “Why did she do it, in the first place, unless she cared something for me? But she told me she had no sentiment for me,” he replied to his other self. “It was ambition that made her do it. She thought I would be famous. I’ve disappointed her, and she’s through with me.” He went over every incident of their reunion—his thrill at her welcome. “She didn’t really care; it was just her way,” he assured himself.
For hours he plunged through the woods, pursued by his bitter thoughts. When he turned back at last, into the garden, he knew that a precious, new-born thing, which he had brought back with him after his exile, was laid away, never to be allowed to come into full flower and maturity.
His decision was made. He temporized on one point. He would stay on until the play was produced, so that if it succeeded, as he was determined it should, Bambi would have that much satisfaction from her matrimonial experiment. Then he would let her divorce him, and he would take himself out of her life.
She was in the library when he went in. She caught sight of his face, and exclaimed:
“Jarvis, my dear, how tired you look!”
He started to go, but she detained him.
“Is anything the matter, Jarvis?”
“No, what should be the matter?”
“I don’t know, but if there is anything you want to talk out with me, let’s have it now. We can’t afford to have any misunderstandings between us.”
“There is nothing,” he said, and left the room.
That night, after dinner, he sat late in his study, writing. Two days later the result of the evening’s work came to Bambi:
“DEAR AUTHOR LADY: Some days ago I sent you my new address, so that you need not send letters to the theatre, but so far I have not heard from you. To-night, for some reason, I feel moved to write to you as I would wish to talk to you were you near me.
“I say for some reason, and yet I know the reason. It is because of your human understanding of the things that make men glad or sad. I am beginning to know that only through the ache of experience can we come to understand each other. Surely there must be something of sadness back of your life, Lady of Mystery, to give you this power.
“To-day I have fought out a bitter fight with myself, and I feel the loneliness that comes in a crisis, when each man of us must stand or fall, alone.
“The play goes ahead rapidly. As I told you, Mrs. Jocelyn and I have great satisfaction in our work on it. I am determined to wring success from it. Both for your sake and for mine, I must!
“Is this personal letter distasteful to you? Do I depend too much upon your gracious understanding? If I do, say so, and I will not offend again.
Bambi read this letter over and over again, behind the locked door of her bedroom. What did it all mean? What was the bitter fight that drove Jarvis to this other woman for solace? How far did she dare draw him out on it, without offending her own sense of fitness? Had this innocent plot of hers, to startle him into amazed admiration, led them both into a labyrinth of misunderstanding?
She answered Jarvis’s letter and sent it to the theatre, asking them to forward it:
“DEAR MR. JOCELYN: Your letter touched me very much in its appeal for my sympathy and understanding. I am regretful that sorrow has found you out. I think of you always as young and strong and happy, with a young wife, and the world before you. I hate to have you spoil my picture.
“I repeat my satisfaction that you and your wife enjoy your work on ‘Francesca.’ I found such happiness myself in doing her, that I like to think we share the pleasure between us, we three.
“Is it your own ambition that drives you so that you say ‘I must,’ in regard to success? Sometimes, if we set our hearts too much on a thing, our very determination thwarts us. Is it not so? Perhaps it is for the sake of some one else that you are so eager for accomplishment. I feel that it is to come to you in this play, and I am glad.
“Be of good cheer, Comrade. Even the memory of bitter fights grows dim. I will not think of you as daunted by anything life can offer. No, nor death. Why have I this confidence in you, I wonder?
“In all friendliness,
“THE LADY OF MYSTERY.”
The day this letter came to Jarvis marked a change in him to Bambi’s watchful eye. He threw himself with renewed ardour into the work. For the first time in many days they walked together, and he seemed more himself than he had been since Strong’s unfortunate visit. Was it the effect of this letter? He was beginning to be easily influenced by this supposed stranger! The idea was too fantastic.
“What kind of a woman do you imagine the author of ‘Francesca’ to be?” she asked him as they trudged along a wintry road. He started a little, she thought.
“I scarcely know,” he evaded. “I always think of her as tall and thin and frail, with a rather sad face, white, with humorous gray eyes, and a sensitive mouth.”
“I always think of her as little and fat and cuddly.”
“Oh, not cuddly!” he protested.
“Any news from her lately?”
“Yes. I had a letter to-day.”
“Did you ask if she was coming to rehearsals?”
“Haven’t you any curiosity about her?”
“In a way, yes. But I respect her desire in the matter.”
“I don’t. If I could get it out of Richard Strong who she is, I’d go look her up in a minute.”
“Have you tried?” eagerly.
“He won’t tell. He’s the King of Clams.”
“He has no right to tell.”
“It is very smart of her to work up all this mystery about herself. No doubt she is a wobbly old fatty, instead of the Beatrice you think her.”
He made no answer, but she saw by his face how he resented it.
A wicked design grew in Bambi’s mind. She would make Jarvis Jocelyn fall so desperately and hopelessly in love with this dream-woman of his that she would be revenged upon him for the way he had shut her out since Strong’s visit. It never once occurred to her that it was a hurt she had given him which drove him to this other woman. But the something which he had offered her the night of his return he had deliberately withdrawn, before she had a chance to accept or refuse it. Well, here was a chance to punish him and she would take it.
From the day of her resolve absolute impersonality characterized their relations during Work hours. Sometimes they walked together; sometimes Bambi went alone or made visits to her friends. Jarvis felt more and more her withdrawal from him. He attributed it to her increased affection for Strong and a consequent abhorrence of her husband’s presence.
One morning she announced that she was going to New York for the day.
“But we were to work on the big climax to-day,” Jarvis protested.
“You work at it. You can do it without me,” she said, airily.
“You are as tired of the play as you are of me,” said Jarvis earnestly.
“Absurd. I am much interested in the play and I am not tired of you.”
“Shall you see Strong?”
“Yes. I shall spend part of the day with him. Did you wish to send him a message?”
“It wouldn’t be fit for you to carry,” he answered, fiercely.
“Richard is not your favourite companion, is he?” she tantalized.
“He is not!”
“Sorry. I am very fond of him.”
“That does not need saying.”
“I have never tried to disguise it.”
“No, I should say you were both frank about it.”
“Why shouldn’t we be, Jarvis?” said Bambi with irritation.
“Exactly. Why shouldn’t you be?”
“You naturally cannot expect to regulate or choose my friends.”
“I expect nothing.”
“Then I would be obliged to you if you made your dislike of my friend a trifle less conspicuous.”
“If you will let me know when he is expected, I will always go elsewhere.”
It was the first hint of disagreement that had ever occurred between them, and Bambi took the train to New York with a disagreeable taste in her mouth. She was going for a conference with Strong about the book, which had got a splendid start in the holiday sales. He had some plans to feature it in various conspicuous ways, so that it might advertise the play.
Arrived in Grand Central Station, she wired Jarvis, “Sorry was horrid about Strong,” just to make her self-esteem less flat. Then she went to Strong’s office. He greeted her in his cordial way, only his eyes admitting his joy at sight of her.
“It is good to see you,” he said.
“You won’t like me. I’m utterly detestable to-day. I was nasty to Jarvis, and cross with Ardelia.”
“I can’t imagine you either nasty or cross.”
“Me? Oh, I scratch and spit and bite!”
“You are the most human person I ever encountered,” he laughed.
“Be nice to me, and I may cheer up.”
“I shall try. I have news about the sale of the book that ought to cheer a tombstone. I think we have a best-seller on our hands.”
“I’m not a bit ashamed of it.”
“Why should you be?”
“Aren’t you a literary pariah, if you’re a best-seller?”
“How is the play coming on?”
“Pretty well, I think. We’re up to the climax of the second act. Jarvis is working on it to-day.”
“Still no suspicion of you?”
“Not a grain. I think he’s falling in love with the author of ‘Francesca,’ though.”
“Through their letters.”
“You certainly have a talent for comedy,” he laughed, and added, gravely, “I thought Jocelyn had always been in love with the author of ‘Francesca’?”
“I have always known that the author of ‘Francesca’ cared about Jarvis.”
“You must have dreamed that, Richard. Poor old Jarvis! Sometimes I think I will confess. Maybe I have no right to make game of him this way.”
“Doesn’t he suspect your style in your letters? I would know a letter from you, no matter what the circumstances.”
“Oh, I don’t write like myself. I write like an author. I found out what he thought she looked like, and I write tall, pale, sensitive-mouthed kind of letters, with a hint of sadness.”
“You imp!” he laughed.
“Improves my style. You ought to be glad. Let’s hear about the plans for the book.”
They settled down to discussing advertising plans, which kept them busy until late afternoon. When the last detail was settled, Bambi rose with a sigh.
“Whew! That was a long siege. Like Corp in ‘Sentimental Tommy,’ it makes me sweat to think.”
“I should not have kept it up so long. I forget you are not used to this drill,” he apologized.
“I think I’ll live. Remember the first time I came to see you?”
“Wasn’t I scared?”
“You were so kind and fatherly.”
“Fatherly?” he said.
“What lots of things have happened to me since then,” she mused.
“And to me,” said Richard, under his breath.
“Heigho! Life is a bubble.”
“You’ll feel better after a cup of tea. Where shall we go?”
“Let’s walk up to the Plaza.”
“Done,” said he, closing his desk.
It was a cold, crisp day, which stimulated the blood like a cocktail. Bambi breathed deep as she tried to fall in step with her companion.
“I can’t keep step with you. I’m too little and my skirt’s too tight.”
“I’ll keep step with you, my lady.”
“Mercy, don’t try. Jarvis says I hop along like a grasshopper.”
“I resent that. Your free, swaying walk is one of your charms. You always make me think of a wind-blown flower.”
She looked up at him, radiantly.
“Richard, you say the charmingest things!”
“Francesca, you do inspire them.”
“I’m a vain little peacock, and Jarvis never notices how I look.”
“Too bad to mate a peacock and an owl.”
A brilliant sunset bathed the avenue in a red, gold light. The steady procession of motors, taxis, and hansom cabs made its slow way uptown. The shop windows blazed in their most seductive moments. The sidewalks were crowded with smart men; fashionable women swathed in magnificent furs; slim, little pink-cheeked girls. All of them made their way up the broad highroad toward home or tea, as the case might be.
“Oh, you blessed fleshpots, how I adore you!”
“Referring to the men or the women?”
“Naughty Richard! I mean all the luxury and sensuousness which New York represents.”
“You hungry little beggar, how you do eat up your sensations!”
“They give me indigestion sometimes.”
The foyer of the Plaza was like a reception. The tea-room was a-clatter and a-clack with tongues.
“Like the clatter of sleek little squirrels,” said Bambi, as she followed the head-waiter to their table.
Her comments on people about them, the nicknames she donated to them, convulsed Strong. He would never again see that pompous head-waiter except as “Papa Pouter!”
“Would you get tired of it if you were here all the time?”
“I suppose so. It is all so alike. The women all look alike, and the men, and the waiters. If you dropped through the ceiling, you could hardly tell whether you were in the Ritz, the Plaza, the Manhattan, or the Knickerbocker. You would know it was New York—that’s all.”
“What train do you take to-night, or shall you stay over?”
“I shall go on the 11:50, if you’ll play with me until then.”
He smiled at her affectation.
“Suppose we try another kind of crowd to-night, and dine at the Lafayette.”
“Delighted! I’ve never been there.”
“It’s jolly. You’ll like it, I think.”
“Where is it?”
“Way downtown—University Place. What shall we do between now and dinner-time?”
“Let’s walk down.”
“Oh, that’s a long walk.”
“But I love to walk, unless it is too much for you.”
The walk was one never to be forgotten by Strong. To have Bambi all to himself, to look forward to hours of such bliss, to have her swinging along beside him, laughing and chattering, now and again laying her hand on his arm in confident friendliness—it was intoxicating.
By sheer force of will he kept his hand on the throttle of his emotions. One look, one false move, would ruin it all. He knew, without any doubts that she did not love him. He even told himself she loved Jocelyn. He knew that he must make himself a valuable friend and not an undesired lover, but his want of her was great, and his fury at Jarvis’s indifference white hot. She caught his set look.
He turned his eyes on her.
“You’re tired of me. I won’t talk any more.”
He drew her hand through his arm, and held her there.
“Don’t say that sort of thing, please; it isn’t fair.”
“Take it back.”
The Lafayette filled her with excitement. They had a table on a raised balcony overlooking the main dining-room. Richard pointed out celebrities, bowed to many friends, talked charming personalities. A feast of Lucullus was served them. Music and wine and excitement bewitched Bambi. She sparkled and laughed. She capped his every sally with a quick retort. She was totally different from the girl-boy who had walked downtown beside him.
“What are you thinking about me?” she challenged him, her head tipped back provokingly.
“Daughter of Joy!”
“I have spent a very pleasant fortnight with you, Richard!”
“Has it seemed that long?”
“Since I left Sunnyside this morning? Quite.”
“How many personalities have you been since then?”
“Oh, not nearly all my mes.”
“Headliner,” she nodded.
They drank to the success of the play. Later, as he stood beside her in the car, a few minutes before she was to leave, she put her hand in his.
“I’ve had the loveliest time,” she said. “You are the most accomplished playmate I ever had.”
“It has been a happy day.”
“Come to Sunnyside soon.”
The train began to move out and he hurried to get off. She waved to him from the window. She was tired, so she went to bed at once, with never a dream of the emptiness her small presence left in New York for the “Playmate.”
“What luck did you have with the climax, yesterday?” she asked Jarvis, next day, as she came into the workroom.
“None at all. I worked all day, and tore it up last night.”
“Oh, why did you do that?”
“It was hopeless. If you wanted to teach me how vital you are to this work, you did it.”
“Such a thing never entered my mind.”
“Shall we begin at it now?”
“Of course. I’m keen to get at it.”
She plunged into the situation and swept all obstacles before her. The entire reaction from yesterday’s pleasure and change went into her work. Lunch-time came as a shock, the morning had fled so fast. Jarvis sighed as he piled up the pages.
“You work like an electric dynamo,” he remarked.
“I always work better after a happy vacation. Why don’t you run off for a day, to get your breath, as it were?”
“Where would I run to?”
“You might go look up the author-lady you’re so interested in,” she remarked, wickedly.
He made no answer to that.
The noon mail brought Bambi’s latest letter from Jarvis. All mail was brought immediately to her, so she had a chance to extract the telltale letters. Jarvis wrote:
“DEAR LADY: Your letters are fast becoming a necessity to me. I look for them as eagerly as a boy. I find myself more and more absorbed in the ‘Francesca’ of your fancy, whom I feel sure is the essence of you. Is it not so?
“I am bitterly unhappy these days—lonely, as I have never been before. The emotional side of life has always been a closed book to me, one I disdained to read. So once my heart begins to call attention to itself, I suppose the more poignant will be my experience.
“I have lately come back from a long exile spent in a hideous place. I brought with me the first hunger for love I had ever known. But I found no answering need in the heart I turned to. I have been thrown back on myself, to eat my heart out, because I know now that it is my own fault. If I had tried sooner to make myself a lover, I would not have to resign that place to another man.
“Why do I pour these personal sorrows upon you, my Lady of Sympathy? I am heartsick for comfort.
Bambi laid her cheek against the poor, hurt letter, and cried.
“My poor, bungling Jarvis, how I must have hurt you!”
She read it again, and all at once light flooded in.
“Why, it’s Richard, of course! He thinks I am in love with Richard! The dear old goose! He sees so little and sees that crooked.”
She went in search of him, determined to tell the whole foolish story, to explain the imaginary obstacles that divided them. But he was not to be found, so the impulse died, and she determined to play the farce out to its end, and now, that she knew the core of the whole situation, she could make it count for their final readjustment.
She wrote him at once:
“MY DEAR JARVIS: At last I feel that there is truth between us. I have suspected that you were not happy in your love life. But I wanted not to pry into locked chambers. Now we can be glad of the bond that lies between us, for I, too, go heart hungry through the days.
“I have not spoken to you of my home, or my husband, but now that you have become such a part of my thought life, I feel no disloyalty in the truth.
“My husband is a man who has never felt the want of affection. He is so self-centred in his devotion to his work that I have always been shut out of his heart. At first this did not trouble me, for I was ambitious, too. But so many things have happened to develop me this last year, to awaken me to my full womanhood!
“I have had to face, as you do, the ache of an unwanted love, tossed back to eat its way like a corrosive acid. Once, not long ago, I thought, perhaps, things were going to change for me. I thought he wanted me. But now I have come to know that it is to another woman he turns for sympathy and understanding.
“So, you see, my dear, we two have the same heart history. No wonder we have felt our way through time and space, to clasp hands in such deep affinity. I lay my hands upon your head, Jarvis.
His reply came by the first mail.
“Oh, my dear, my dear, we have found each other at last, in all truth. It was meant from the beginning of time that it should be so. Let me come to you. I cannot bear to live another hour without the touch of your hand. To think that I do not know your name, or the colour of your kind eyes! Say that I may come?
“JARVIS, MY BIG BOY: You may not come yet. It is part of a dream, cherished since you came to be the heart of me, that we should not come together until the night of the opening of our play. I know you will poohpooh this as sentimental nonsense. You may even call it theatrical. But let me have my way, this last one time. Afterward, my way shall be yours, beloved. Write me to say you will be patient with my foolishness!
“I am afraid of our meeting. Suppose I should fall short of your ideal of me? That you should think me ugly or old, I could not bear it. I have come to know all my happiness lies in the balance of that one night, toward which we walk, you and I, every minute of every day.
His answer came, special delivery:
“It shall be as you wish, dear heart. But if anything should happen to delay the opening of the play, I think I should ask you to remit the sentence of banishment. I live only to look into your eyes!
“How can you say that you may disappoint me? If you were old, humpbacked, ugly—what difference? You are mine! We must find freedom for ourselves and a new life. I adore you.
“I wouldn’t have thought it of Jarvis,” said Bambi as she read it. “He makes a very creditable lover.”
“My DEAR ONE: I am as impatient as you are for our meeting. I gladly agree that we shall bring it about, at once, if anything happens to postpone the play opening.
“What you say about being indifferent to my looks makes me happy. I shall not try you too far, my lover. I’m quite pretty and young. Did you know I was young?
“You speak so confidently of freedom and a new life together. Are we to shed our old mates, like Nautilus shells? My new coming into love makes me pitiful. Must we be ruthless?
“DEAR, GENTLE HEART: I do not wish to seem ruthless to you, much less to be so. But has our suffering not entitled us to some joy? I know my wife to be absorbed in another man; you say your husband turns to another woman. We represent to them stumbling-blocks between them and their happiness. Surely it is only right that we should all be freed to find our true mates.
“I find it daily more of a burden to carry this secret in my heart, when knowledge of it would lighten my wife’s unhappiness. Shall we not confess the situation, and discuss plans for separation? I owe this girl who bears my name more than I can ever pay. I would not do anything to hurt her pride. Tell me what you think about it, dear one?
“JARVIS DEAR: Again I must seem to oppose you. Please let us keep our secrets to ourselves until our meeting. Suppose that something should happen even yet? Suppose we should not wish to take this step when the time comes? I do not want you to hurt your wife. I respect and love you for your sense of obligation to her. How can she help loving you, my Jarvis?
“When the day comes for me to prove my devotion, may you say about me that you owe me more than you can ever pay.
“I live only for the completion of the play.
Bambi felt the renewed vigour with which Jarvis attacked the final problems of their task. He was working toward the goal of his affections, a meeting with his lady. She, too, felt the strain of the situation, and keyed herself up to a final burst of speed. The middle of February came, bringing the day which ended their labours.
“Well, I believe that is the best we can do with it,” Jarvis said.
“Yes, our best best. For my part, I feel quite fatuously satisfied. I think it is perfectly charming.”
“I hope the author will be pleased,” he said earnestly.
“I’m much more concerned with Mr. Frohman’s satisfaction. If he likes it, hang the author!”
“But I want to please her more than I can say.”
“You have a great interest in that woman, Jarvis. What is it about her that has caught your attention?”
“It is difficult to say. As I have grown into her book, so that it has become a part of my thought, I have been more and more absorbed in the personality of the woman.”
“You told me the heroine was like me—once.”
“Did I?” in surprise.
“You’ve changed your mind, evidently?”
“No-o. Her brilliance is like you.”
“But not her other qualities?”
“She seems softer, more appealingly feminine to me, than you do. You have so much more executive ability——”
“You think I’m not feminine?”
“I didn’t say that,” he evaded.
“Why do you insist upon thinking the author and heroine to be one person?”
“Just a fancy, I suppose. But the book is so intimate that I feel consciously, or otherwise, the woman has written herself into ‘Francesca.’ ”
“You may be approaching an awful shock, my dear Jarvis, when you meet her.”
“I think not.”
“These author folk! She’ll be a middle-aged dowd, mark my words.”
He rose indignantly, and put the last sheets of the manuscript away. She watched him, smiling.
“Shall you go to New York to-morrow?”
“Yes, if I can get an appointment by wire. I am going to see about it now.”
“I do hope he will be sensible enough to put it on right away.”
“He told me to rush it. I think he means an immediate production.”
“The end of our work together,” mused Bambi.
He turned to her quickly.
“It has really been your work, Bambi.”
It was her turn to be startled, but evidently he had no ulterior meaning.
“Not at all. I think it is wonderful how well we work together, considering——”
“Considering?” he insisted.
“Oh, our difference in point of view, and, oh, everything!” she added.
“It would disappoint you if it were our last work together?”
“What an idea, Jarvis! I look forward to years and years of annual success by the Jocelyns.”
He frowned uncomfortably, as if to speak, thought better of it, and kept silence.
“I’ll go send my wire,” he said. She kissed her finger tips to his receding back. Later, too, she went to the telegraph office and sent the following wire.
“Mr. Charles Frohman:
“See Jarvis, if possible, to-morrow. Play finished. Sure success.
The secretary answered Jarvis’s wire at once, making the appointment at eleven o’clock on the morrow.
“It seems incredible that anything could run as smoothly as this for me,” said Jarvis, as he read the dispatch.
“That’s because I’m in it,” boasted Bambi, with a touch of her old impudence. “I’m your mascot.”
“That must be it.”
“It means a midnight train for you, to make it comfortably. Do you suppose you will stay more than a day?”
“I should think not. I don’t know.”
Ardelia came in with a yellow envelope.
“Sumpin’ doin’ roun’ dis heah house. Telegram boy des’ a-ringin’ at de’ do’ bell stiddy.”
“For me?” said Bambi.
“Mrs. Jarvis Jocelyn, Sunny side, New York.
“Mr. Frohman will see you at three o’clock to-morrow.”
Bambi gazed at it a moment, a bit dazed, then she laughed.
“Anything the matter?” Jarvis inquired.
“No-o. Oh, no.”
This was how it happened that Mr. Jarvis Jocelyn took the midnight train to New York, while Mrs. Jarvis Jocelyn followed on an early morning one.
“But why, if you both have to go to that city of abominations, do you not go together?” inquired the Professor.
“Part of the secret,” she reminded him.
“Dear me, I had forgotten we were living in a plot. How is it coming out?”
“I will know to-day, definitely, just how, when, and where it is coming out.”
Jarvis presented himself at the theatre at eleven sharp, and felt a thrill of righteous pride when he was ushered into the private office without delay. His vow that he would enter without so much as a calling-card had come true sooner than he had hoped.
Mr. Frohman smiled in his friendly way, and shook hands.
“How’s my friend, the ex-Jehu?” he laughed.
“Fine! I hope you are well.”
“I’m all right. How’s the play?”
“I have it here. It is good.”
“Good, is it?” Mr. Frohman’s eyes twinkled.
“Yes. My—Mrs. Jocelyn worked at it with me, and I have to admit that the success, if it is one, is largely due to her.”
“She is a writer, too?”
“No, but she has a keen dramatic sense. She understands character, too.”
“So? Lucky for you. Does she want her name on the bills?”
“She has never spoken of it, but I wish her to go on as co-dramatist.”
“All right. Clever wife is an asset. Now we’ve got just two hours. Go ahead—read me what you’ve got there.”
Jarvis unpacked the manuscript and began. He had worked over the scenes so often with Bambi that he fell into her dramatic way of “doing” the scenes. Once or twice the manager chuckled as he recognized her touch and intonation on a line. Certainly Jarvis had never read so well. He was encouraged by frequent laughs from his audience. There were interruptions now and then, criticisms and suggestions. As he read and laid down the last page, Mr. Frohman nodded his head.
“Pretty clever work for amateurs,” he said.
“You think it will go?”
“With some changes and rearrangements. Yes, I should say so.”
“Are you thinking of producing it soon?”
“Yes, if I can make satisfactory arrangements with the author I’ll put it in rehearsal right away.”
“I think the author will be satisfied.”
The manager looked a question.
“We have been corresponding during my work on it,” Jarvis explained.
Mr. Frohman stared, then laughed.
“We can soon find out whether she’s pleased. She is due here at three o’clock to-day.”
“She is coming here to-day?” Jarvis exclaimed.
“Could I talk to her then—there is so much——”
“Sorry. I promised there would be no one here. Some crazy idea about keeping her name a secret.”
“Of course. I would not intrude,” said Jarvis, hastily. “She wrote me that she would leave rehearsals to you and me.”
“Did she? Will your wife want to come to rehearsals?”
“I think so. Would there be any objections?”
“Not if she is co-author.”
“She is very clever.”
“I don’t doubt it. You leave that copy here. I’ll go over it, in part, with the author, and let her take it to look over. I will wire you what day I want to get the company together for a reading.”
“All right, sir.”
“If the author is satisfied with this, I’ll have a contract made out to submit to you and your wife. In the meantime, do you want an advance?”
“All right. You’ll hear from me. You’ve done surprisingly well with this, Jocelyn—you, or your wife.”
“Thank you. Good-day.”
At three o’clock the other member of the Jocelyn family arrived.
“You are good to see me. I would have burst with curiosity before Jarvis got back,” she began the minute she got inside the door.
“I naturally wanted to consult the author before I accepted the play.”
“Is it any good? Are you going to take it?”
“What do you think about it? Are you satisfied?”
“Yes. I think it’s a love of a play.”
“How much of it did Jarvis do?”
“Oh, a great deal!”
“Not enough to spoil it, eh?”
“He has worked very hard,” she said seriously.
“He tells me he has corresponded with the author during his work, and he begged to be here for this meeting.”
“Did he? Bless his heart! It has been so funny—that correspondence! He’s crazy about that author-lady.”
“Either you are very clever, or he’s very stupid, which is it?”
“When are you going to tell him the truth?”
“The opening night.”
“Upon my word, you have got a dramatic sense. Blaze of success, outbursts of applause, husband finds wife is the centre and cause of it. That sort of thing, eh?”
“Yes, but don’t say it like that. It sounds silly and cheap.”
“Husband will be mad as fury at the whole thing.”
“You don’t think that, do you? That would spoil the whole thing so entirely,” she said in concern.
“You’re the dramatist, I’m only the manager,” he laughed.
They talked about the cast, the sets, and other practical details.
“You’re coming to rehearsals, aren’t you?” he asked her.
“Jarvis prepared me for that.”
“Did he? Well, he won’t be much good. He can’t act.”
“I told him you would look over the play, then I would call the company together for a reading.”
“Consider the script looked over. Do call it quick, Mr. Frohman; I can hardly wait.”
“What about contracts? Do you want one as author, with another to you and Jarvis as playwrights?”
“No, that’s too complicated. Let’s have one for the whole thing, then we can divvy up what there is.”
“Suits me. I’ll see you next week, then. Better make arrangements to stay in town during rehearsals.”
“Oh, yes, we will”
“I think we will pull off a success. This is very human, this stuff. Good-bye.”
“You’ve been such a dear. We’ve just got to succeed for your sake. Good-bye, and thanks.”
Bambi hurried to catch the 5:30 train for home, and as it rushed through the station she spied Jarvis striding on ahead, evidently bound for the same train. With the caution of a lady detective she kept behind him until he got aboard. Then she rushed ahead and got into the first car. At Sunnyside she astonished the town hackman by leaping into his cab and ordering him to drive her home, top speed.
The situation appealed to her taste for intrigue. Into the house she sped and to her room. The Professor and Ardelia were in bed and asleep. When Jarvis came in she descended, to inquire about the fate of their play, with the calm of a finished actress.
“I’m waiting for you! What news?” she demanded.
“He likes it. If the author is satisfied, we go ahead at once.”
“Hooray!” shouted Bambi, pirouetting madly. “Mr. and Mrs. Jarvis Jocelyn, the talk of the town,” she sang.
“You did want your name on the bills, then?”
She stopped in alarm. Had she given it away after all her trouble?
“How do you mean on the bills?”
“As co-author? Mr. Frohman asked me. I told him you had never spoken of it, but that I wanted you to have full credit.”
“What else did you tell Mr. Frohman about me?”
“I told him you were clever.”
“What did he say?” she laughed.
“Said he didn’t doubt it. He will allow you to come to rehearsals.”
“I should hope so! So it’s all settled?”
“Yes, if the author consents. She was to see the play at three this afternoon.”
“Was she? Why didn’t you wait and see her?”
“She wished to talk to Mr. Frohman alone.”
“Isn’t she tiresome, with all her mystery? You don’t think she could hold us up on it now, at the last minute, do you?”
“She could, but I don’t think she will. Rehearsals will be called next week.”
“Oh, goody! Jarvis, aren’t you happy about it?”
“But you aren’t happy enough!”
He sighed. It was all so different from the way he had planned to bring her his first success.
“Something seems to have gone amiss with us, doesn’t it, Bambi?”
“I haven’t noticed it.”
“You’re satisfied to go on as we are now?”
“I can think of a few improvements. I’ll tell you about them later.”
“So many things seem to hinge on the success of this play!”
“They do! May the gods take notice,” she laughed.
On the following Tuesday came the call for a reading of the play with the company, Wednesday, at eleven. Bambi was as excited as a child over the announcement.
“I think we had better plan to stay at the National Arts Club again, during rehearsals, Jarvis.”
“I am not sure I can finance that. I told Mr. Frohman I did not need an advance.”
“I’ve got some left. You can borrow back the hundred you paid me, to start off on.”
“You’re like the old woman with the magic purse.”
“I’m thrifty and saving.”
“Well, if we can accomplish it without robbing you I agree with you that it would be better to stay in town.”
“Settled. You go pack your things, and I’ll look after mine.”
They prepared to make their second pilgrimage, this time to the “Land of Promise.”
The Professor showed an unusual amount of interest in the matter.
“How long will it take to rehearse it?” he asked.
“We don’t know yet, we’re such amateurs. But as soon as we know the date set for the opening you and Ardelia are to prepare to come. You can come up the day of the performance, and if you can’t stand it, you may come home the next day.”
“A trip to New York? What an upsetting idea!”
“Would you rather stay here, and miss the first play Jarvis and I ever did together?” said Bambi, disappointedly.
“No, certainly not. I’ll come. Just make a note of it, and put it in a conspicuous place,” he added.
“We’ll keep you reminded, never fear.”
Ardelia gasped when she heard she was to go.
“I’ll send you a list of the clothes to bring for the Professor in plenty of time. I shall give you a new black silk dress for the occasion.”
“Lawd a’ massy, Miss Bambi! I’se so excited I cain’t talk. A noo silk dress an’ a-goin’ to Noo Yawk wid de Perfessor. I decla’ dey ain’t no niggah woman in dis heah town got sech quality to work fo’ as dis old niggah has.”
“Why, Ardelia, we couldn’t have it without you.”
“Am I gwine sit wid de’ white folks in de’ theatre, or up in niggah heaven?”
“You’ll sit in a box with the rest of us.”
“Gawd-a’mighty, honey, dis gwine to be de happies’ ‘casion ob my life.”
The co-authors took the night train.
“Not quite a year ago since our first journey together,” said Bambi.
“That’s so. It seems a century, doesn’t it?”
“That is a distinctly husband remark.”
“I was only thinking of how much had happened in that time.”
“Two new beings have happened—a new you and a new me,” she answered him.
“Are you as changed as I am?” he asked.
“Yes. You haven’t noticed me enough to realize it, I suppose.”
He made no reply to that. Arrived in New York, they went to the clubhouse, and took the same rooms they had before. As Bambi looked about the room, she turned to Jarvis in the doorway:
“It is a century since I knelt at that window and arranged our spectacular success.”
“Well, we’re a year nearer to it. Let’s get a good night’s rest, for to-morrow we enter on a new chapter.”
“It’s jolly we enter it together, isn’t it, Jarvis?”
He nodded, embarrassed.
“I should like to wish you luck in the new venture, Mr. Jarvis Jocelyn.”
“I wish you the same, Miss Mite,” he said, clasping her hand warmly.
“You haven’t called me Miss Mite for a long time,” she said, softly. “I like it.”
“Good-night,” said Jarvis abruptly, and left.
“You’re a poor actor, my Jarvis,” she chuckled to herself.
At eleven o’clock they presented themselves at the theatre. The reading was to take place in Mr. Frohman’s big room. Jarvis and Bambi were admitted at once.
“Good-morning,” said Mr. Frohman.
“Good-morning. This is Mrs. Jocelyn, Mr. Frohman.”
Bambi offered her hand to the manager with a solemn face, but the laugh twinkled in her eyes.
“How do you do, Mrs. Jocelyn? I understand that you had a great deal to do with this play?”
“I did,” she admitted. “Without me this play would have been nothing.”
“This leaves you no ground to stand on, Mr. Jocelyn,” he laughed.
The members of the company arrived and were presented to the authors. Bambi kept them all laughing until Mr. Frohman called order. They sat in state around the big table.
“I propose that Mrs. Jocelyn read us the play,” Mr. Frohman said.
“Oh, shall I? It is really Jarvis——”
“If you please,” said Mr. Frohman, indicating a chair.
So Bambi began, with a smile at Jarvis, and another at the audience. They all felt in a good humour. The play was so peculiarly hers, the intimate quality which had made the book “go” had been wonderfully retained, so that spontaneous laughter marked her progress through the comedy. It was all so true and universal, the characters so well drawn, the denouement so happy! At the climax of the third act the company broke into irresistible and unpremeditated applause.
“Oh, God bless you for that!” said Bambi, her eyes wet with gratitude.
“We ought to cast you for the girl. You are enough like her to have sat for the portrait,” said Mr. Frohman, wickedly.
Jarvis turned to look at Bambi in his earnest way. He marked the likeness, again, himself.
“I shall play it just as you read it, Mrs. Jocelyn,” said the girl who was cast for the lead.
“You will greatly improve on my Francesca, I’m sure,” Bambi nodded to her.
Parts were distributed, much discussion followed as to character drawing and business, then they separated to meet for rehearsal the next day at 10:30. Mr. Frohman had an immediate appointment, so the Jocelyns had no opportunity for a word in private.
“Queer that Mr. Frohman should think that you are like Francesca, too,” said Jarvis, on their way to the club.
“Oh, I don’t know. We are the same type. That’s all.”
“You could play the part wonderfully.”
“Could I? It would be fun! Still, I think we can make more money and have more fun writing plays.”
She seemed always to be harping on their future together!
The next day was full of surprises for them both. They were entirely ignorant of conditions in and about the theatre. The big, dark house, with its seats all swathed in linen covers, the empty, barn-like stage, with chairs set about to indicate properties; the stage hands coming and going, the stage manager shouting directions—it was all new to them. The members of the company were as businesslike as bank clerks. No hint of illusion, no scrap of romance!
“Mercy! it’s like a ghost house,” said Bambi.
A deal table was set at one side, down stage, for the Jocelyns, with two scripts of the play. They sat down like frightened school children, bewildered as to what would be expected of them.
The actors sat in a row of chairs at one side. The stage manager made some explanations and remarks about rehearsals, and then the first act was called. It was slow and tedious work. Over and over again the scenes were tried. Some of the actors fumbled their lines as if they had never read English before. Now and then the manager appealed to the authors for the reading of a line, or an intonation, and Bambi always answered. At the end of one scene the man who was to play the young musician came to them.
“I’ve been thinking over my part, Mrs. Jocelyn, and I think that if you could write in a scene right here, in act first, to let me explain to the old fiddler my reason for being in this situation——”
“Oh, no, you mustn’t explain. The whole point of the first act is that you explain nothing.”
“Yes, but it would play better,” he began, in the patronizing tone always used to newcomers in the theatre.
“I can’t help that. I cannot spoil the truth of a whole character, even if it does play better,” said Bambi, smiling sweetly.
The actor took it up with the stage manager after rehearsal, and was referred to the authors.
“These new playwrights always have to learn at our expense,” he said, importantly.
“Can’t be helped. We have to use playwrights, however irritating they are,” remarked the stage manager.
Day after day they assembled at the same hour and slowly built up the structure of the play. Many nights Jarvis and Bambi worked on new scenes, or the rearrangement of the old ones. The first act was twisted about many times before it “played” to the stage manager’s satisfaction. New lines had to be introduced, new business worked out every day. It was hard work for everybody except Bambi, and she declared it was fun. No matter how trying the rehearsals, nor how hard she had to work, she enjoyed every minute of it. They soon discovered that Jarvis had no talent for rehearsing. In fact, the mechanics of the thing bored him. When a new scene was demanded quickly, his mind refused to work. It was Bambi’s quick wits that saved the day. After the first few days she was the only one to be consulted and appealed to by everybody.
“I can’t see that you need me at all in this business. I’m no good at it.”
“Yes, you are, too. You saw where that new scene in the third act belonged at once.”
“Yes, after you wrote the scene.”
“But this is why we need each other. I didn’t see where the scene belonged at all. If we both could do the same thing, we wouldn’t need to collaborate. Thank heaven, we don’t have the author underfoot interfering all the time.”
“I don’t believe she would interfere.”
“Heard anything from her, lately?”
“No, she is waiting for the production, I suppose.”
“And then the deluge! I may lose you to that story-writing female yet!” she teased him.
“Don’t!” he protested, quickly.
“I won’t,” she retorted, meaningly.
In late March the date of the production was set. It gave Bambi unbelievable pleasure to read the announcements on the billboards, and to stand in front of the three-sheets in the foyer of the theatre.
She wrote Ardelia full directions in regard to packing the Professor’s dress clothes; she told her the train they were to take; she worked out every detail, so that nothing might be left to the sievelike memories of the principals on this foreign journey.
She ordered a new frock for herself, and succeeded in getting Jarvis measured for new dress clothes. Then she threw herself, heart and soul, into the last few days of work at the theatre, helping to polish and strengthen the play. The night of dress rehearsal came, and with it a new development for her consideration and management.
Dress rehearsal was called at midnight, as two of the principals were playing in other theatres. There was an air of suspense and confusion on the stage, where the new sets were being put on, which threw Jarvis into a cold sweat of terror. It only added one degree to Bambi’s mounting excitement. She and Jarvis made their way to the front of the house, where Mr. Frohman, the leader of the orchestra, and a few other people interested in the production were assembled.
“I never realized before how many people, how much work and money and brain go into the production of the simplest comedy for one night’s amusement,” she said to Mr. Frohman.
“And yet managers are always blamed because they don’t take more chances on new playwrights,” he smiled.
“Jarvis looks as if he were walking to the guillotine, doesn’t he?”
“It is a strain, isn’t it, Jocelyn? You get used to it after a few first-nights.”
Jarvis nodded, wetting his dry lips with a nervous tongue.
The curtain went down and came up. The first act began. Bambi scarcely breathed. Jarvis could be heard all over the house. The first part of the act hitched along and had to be repeated; the stage manager came out and scolded, while Mr. Frohman called directions from the front. Bambi turned to Jarvis.
“It’s going to be a failure,” she said.
“Oh, don’t say that!” he fairly groaned.
“Don’t be discouraged!” said Mr. Frohman, noting their despairing looks. “Dress rehearsals are usually the limit.”
“But it can’t go like this, and succeed,” Bambi wailed.
“Don’t you worry. It won’t go like this.”
The night wore on, miserably, for the authors. Everything had to be done over—lines were forgotten—everybody was in a nervous stew.
“The awful part of it is that we’ve done all we can do,” moaned Bambi. “If they ruin it, we can’t prevent them.”
“We’ll make them rehearse all day to-morrow,” said Jarvis, fiercely. “They were better than this two weeks ago.”
The end of the agony finally came. The stage manager assembled the weary company and gave them a few select and sarcastic remarks as to their single and collective failure. Mr. Frohman added a few words, and ordered them all to dismiss the play from their minds until the morrow night. Bambi tried to say a word of encouragement and thanks to them, but in the midst of it she broke down and wept.
“Take her home and keep her in bed to-morrow, Jocelyn,” Mr. Frohman said.
Jarvis hurried her into a cab, and she sobbed softly all the way home. He made no effort to touch her or comfort her; he was in torment himself. At the club he ordered eggnog and sandwiches sent to her room, whither he followed her, helpless to cope with her tears.
She threw her things off and bathed her eyes, while he set out the table for the food. When the boy appeared with it, Jarvis led her to her chair and served her. She smiled mistily at him.
“It’s nerves and excitement and overwork,” she explained. He nodded.
“If it failed now, it would be too awful,” he said.
“Don’t say that word; don’t even think it!” she cried.
“You mustn’t care so much,” he begged her.
“Don’t you care?”
“Of course, more than you know. But I am prepared for failure, if it comes.”
“I can’t be prepared for it. It cannot happen!” she sobbed.
He stood looking down at her helplessly.
“What can I do for you? What is it you want?” he demanded gently.
“I want to be rocked,” she sobbed.
She pushed him into a big chair, and climbed into his arms.
“Rocked,” she finished.
He held her a minute closely, then he rose and set her down.
“I can’t do it,” he began. “I have something to tell you that must be said——”
“Not to-night, Jarvis, I’m too tired.”
“Yes, to-night, before another hour passes. Sit down there, please.”
She obeyed, curiously.
“Do you remember Christmas Eve, when I came home?”
“Did you notice anything different about me?”
“Did it occur to you that I cared about you, for the first time?”
“I—I—suspicioned it a little.”
“Then you deliberately ignored it because you did not want my love?”
“I—I—didn’t mean to ignore it.”
“But you did.”
“I wasn’t sure; you never spoke of it, never said you cared. After that first night I thought I must have been mistaken.”
“But you were glad to be mistaken?”
“No. I was sorry,” she said, softly.
“I wanted your love, Jarvis.”
“You can’t mean that.”
“But I do!”
“But, Strong—you love Strong——”
She rose quickly, her face flushed.
“I love Richard Strong as my friend, and in no other way.”
“Certainly he loves you.”
“He has never told me so.”
“You let me believe you cared for him; you tortured me with your show of preference for him.”
“You imagined that, Jarvis. It is not true!”
“It is true!” he cried, passionately. “I came to you, eager for your love, wanting you as I had never wanted anything. You flaunted this man in my face, you shut me out, you drove me back on myself——”
“What did you expect me to do? Endure forever in silence?”
“What did you do? Or what do you mean to do?”
“I have come to care for a woman who understands me——”
“A woman, Jarvis?”
“The woman who wrote ‘Francesca.’ I cared first because she had put into her heroine so many things that were like you.”
“Well?” she said again.
“She has come to care for me. I wanted to tell you so long ago, when we first knew, but she begged me not to until after the play was tried out. But I can’t stand it another minute. There must be truth between us, Bambi. I want you to read her letters. I want you to try to understand how this has crept into my heart.”
“You wish to be free—to go to her?”
“There is no happiness for us, is there?”
“I’m too tired to think it out now, Jarvis. You must go away and let me get myself together.”
She looked like a pitiful little wraith, and his heart ached for her.
“I’m sorry I had to add to your hard day, but I had to say this to-night.”
“It’s all right. I must ask you not to speak to me of it again until after to-morrow night. I need all my strength for that ordeal. After that, we must turn our attention to this new problem, and work it out together, somehow.”
“Thank you. I’m sorry I’ve been such a disappointment to you, my dear,” he added.
“Good-night. Take the letters—I could not bear to read them.”
With an agonized look he took them and left her.
“Dear lord, I’m through with plots! I’m sick unto death of the secret,” she sighed, as she climbed into bed.
Bambi kept to her room next day until it was time to meet the train on which Ardelia and the Professor were to arrive. It was due at four o’clock. She went to Jarvis’s door, but he was not in his room. She had heard nothing of him since his confession of the night before.
Her telephone bell startled her, and she took up the receiver to hear Jarvis’s voice.
“How are you?”
“Don’t you want me to meet the Professor and Ardelia? There’s no need of your going up to Grand Central.”
“I’d rather go thank you, Jarvis. Where are you?”
“At the theatre.”
“Anything the matter?”
“Oh, no. I came to talk to the stage manager. He says everything will be all right to-night. Are you resting?”
“Yes. I’ve had a quiet day, sitting on my nervous system. Where have you been?”
“Walking the streets.”
“Come home and take some rest. I’ll meet the train. Thank you just as much for thinking of it.”
“I’ll be at the information booth at five minutes to four.”
She hung up the phone with a dazed face. The idea of Jarvis taking care of her, inquiring after her health, and trying to spare her!
“Every blessed thing is topsy-turvy,” she exclaimed aloud.
At four o’clock she walked up to the booth, and there he stood, anxiously scanning the faces that passed.
“Hello!” she said cheerfully.
He looked grateful and smiled.
“You look as if you had had a spell of sickness, you’re so white,” he said.
“I’m all right, but you look like a nervous pros. case. Aren’t we pitiful objects for eminently successful playwrights?”
“I suppose one gets used to this strain in time,” he said, taking her arm to help her through the crowd.
No sooner had the train come to a stop than they saw Ardelia’s huge frame descend from the car, holding a dress suitcase in each hand. After her came the Professor, looking very small and shrunken. Ardelia saw them afar, and waved the heavy suitcase in the air like a banner as she hurried toward them.
“Howdy, Miss Bambi? Howdy, Mistah Jarvis? Heah we is.”
“Bless your old hearts!” said Bambi, hugging them both.
“How are you, children?” the Professor inquired.
“We’re fine! Did you have a comfortable time on the trip? Why did you sit in the day coach, father?”
“De Perfessor, he won’t set in de’ chaih cah, cause’n dey won’t let me in dere, an’ he’s ‘fraid he fergit to git off less’n he was ‘longside ob me.”
“But the train stops here—it doesn’t go any farther. My! Ardelia, you do look stylish!”
“Yas’m. Wait until yo’ see my noo black silk. I’se got me a tight skirt, an’ a Dutch neck—Lawzee, honey, but dis ole niggah’s gittin’ mighty frisky.”
She and Jarvis had an argument about the bags. She insisted upon carrying them herself, and indignantly refused the help of the coloured porter.
“Go way f’um heah, boy. Yo’ reckon I gwine trust yo’ all wid ma’ noo silk dress an de Perfessor’s dress suit? No, sah!”
She kept them laughing all the way to the club with her tales of their difficulties and excitements in getting off. Her exclamations on everything she saw were convulsing. When they arrived at the club, and she discovered that she was to have the little room next to Bambi’s, her satisfaction was complete.
Bambi ordered the entire family to repose on its respective backs for an hour before they dressed for dinner. So they parted to obey orders. For that hour Bambi held herself firmly upon her bed, completing her plans. They had agreed, she and Jarvis, that if there should be a call for the author, they would take it together, and Jarvis would speak. She was not sure just how she was to make the revelation to him of her dual personality. She decided to leave it to chance.
Never in her life had she been so excited. The double responsibility as author and playwright shrank to second place in comparison with the fact that this night she was to tell Jarvis of her love for him—hear him speak his love for her.
Before the hour of enforced quiet was over she could hear Ardelia tiptoeing about her room. Presently her head was cautiously inserted through the door. When she saw a hand waved at her, she bounced in.
“Laws, honey, I’se so excited, I cain’t hol’ my eyes shet. I got de Perfessor’s dress suit cloes all laid out smooth, wif de buttons in de shirt, an’ de white tie ready. Now, yo’ let me help yo’ all git dressed befo’ I begin to wrassle wid dat tight skirt ob mine.”
“All right, sit down and hold your hands till I jump into my bath.”
While Bambi bathed, Ardelia shouted all the gossip of home through the bathroom door. Upon Bambi’s reappearance, she insisted upon dressing her like a child. She put on her silk stockings and slippers, getting herself down and up with many a grunt. She constituted herself a critical judge in the hairdressing process, and fussed about every pin.
“Why ain’t yo’ all had one ob dese heah hair-fixers do yo’ haid?”
“And make me look like a hair-shop model? Not much!”
“Well, yo’ done purty good.”
“Wait till I curl it,” said Bambi, throwing up the window and popping her head out into the night air.
“Fo’ de Lawd’s sake, yo’ curl yo’ haih in Noo Yawk jes’ lak yo’ do at home.”
“Why not? This cold, damp air is just the thing. Now look at me,” she boasted, shaking her head so that the soft, curly rings fluttered like little bells about her face.
“Yo’ll do,” said Ardelia.
Bambi disappeared into the closet, and presently she popped out her head.
“Ardelia, prepare to die of joy. When you have seen my new dress, life has nothing more to offer you.”
“I ain’ gwine to die till after dis show.”
Out of the closet Bambi danced, her arms full of sunset clouds apparently She held it up, and Ardelia’s eyes bulged.
“Yo’ don’ call dat a dress?”
“Put it on me, and you’ll call it a poem.”
“Dey ain’t nuthin’ to it,” she protested, as she slipped it over Bambi’s head.
It was certainly a diaphanous thing of many layers of chiffon, graduating in colour from flame to palest apricot pink. It hung straight and simple on Bambi’s lithe figure, bringing out all the colour, the dash, the firelike quality in the girl’s personality. The flush in her cheeks, the glow in her eyes, even the little curls, were like twisted tongues of flame. She whirled for Ardelia’s inspection.
“I know dat ain’t no decent dress, but yo’ sho’ is beautiful as Pottypar’s wife.”
“She’s in the Bible!”
“I look like the ‘fire of spring,’ ” she nodded to her reflection. “Of course I’m beautiful! This is the biggest, happiest night of my life!”
A boy came for the Professor’s clothes, and a little later that distracted gentleman presented himself to have his tie arranged, and to be looked over generally in case of omissions.
“My dear!” he exclaimed at sight of his daughter.
“Aren’t I wonderful?”
He put his hand under her chin and tipped her face to him.
“There is something about you to-night—elemental is the word—fire, water, and air.”
She hugged him.
“Oh, but you’ve got a surprise coming to you this night. You are about to discover other unsuspected elements in your offspring.”
“My dear, I’m so excited now I’m counting backward. Don’t explode anything on me or I’ll lose control.”
“The secret is coming out to-night.”
“Is it painful?”
“No, it’s heavenly!”
“May I come in?”
He stood on the threshold a moment, a truly magnificent figure in his evening clothes.
“Jarvis!” breathed Bambi.
“Bambi!” exclaimed Jarvis, and they stood a-gaze. She recovered first.
“Do you like me?” she coquetted.
He walked about her slowly, considering her from all sides.
“Ariel!” he said at last.
“Oh, thank you, Apollo,” she laughed, to cover the lump in her throat at his awed admiration.
They sent Ardelia’s supper up to her, and the rest of them made an attempt at dining, but nobody could eat a thing. Bambi talked incessantly from excitement, and all eyes in the dining-room were focussed upon her.
Ardelia was in a tremor of pride when they went upstairs again. She shone like ebony, and grinned like a Hindoo idol. They admired her, to her heart’s content, and she descended to the cab in a state of sinful pride.
Although they were early, the motors were already unloading before the theatre. They were to sit in the stage box, and as soon as the rest of them were seated Bambi went back on the stage to say good-evening to the company. The first-night excitement prevailed back there. Every member of the company was dressed and made up a good half hour too soon. They all assured the perturbed author that she need have no fears, everything would go off in fine shape. Somewhat relieved, she started to go out front, when she ran into Mr. Frohman.
“Good-evening. If you are as well as you look, you’re all right,” he smiled at her.
“I feel like a loaded mine about to blow to pieces,” she answered.
“Hold on for a couple of hours more. Does Jarvis know yet?”
He laughed and went on. Bambi returned to the box, where she sat far back in the corner. The house was filling fast now. More than a little interest was evinced in the strange box party of big Jarvis, the Professor, and Ardelia. Richard Strong nodded and smiled from a nearby seat.
“We should have come in late, just as the curtain rose,” whispered Bambi. “We must not be so green again.”
“Why so, daughter?”
“Then we wouldn’t be stared at.”
“Are we stared at? By whom?”
The overture interrupted her reply. The seats were full now as high as the eye could reach the balconies. Bambi scanned the faces eagerly. Would they like the play? If they only knew what it meant to Jarvis and to her to have them like it!
The curtain rose. For two full moments she could not breathe. The act started off briskly, and little by little her tension relaxed. She laid her hand on Jarvis’s knee and it was stiff with nervous concentration. The first genuine laugh came to both of them like manna from heaven.
“It’s all right,” Bambi whispered to Jarvis. He nodded, his eyes glued to the stage. Of all kinds of creative work, dramatic writing can be the most poignant or the most satisfactory. It is the keenest pleasure to see characters whom you have invented given life and personality if the actors are clever. The Jocelyns had the aid of practically a perfect cast. The sense of power that comes with the laughter or the tears of an audience aroused by your thoughts is a very real experience. Bambi “ate up her sensations,” as Strong had said. As the curtain descended after the first act the applause was instantaneous and long.
“They like it,” Bambi said with a sigh.
“Yes, thank God!” from Jarvis.
“You told me not to take this seriously, Jarvis,” she reminded him.
“Does anybody know who wrote this book?” the Professor inquired.
“Not yet. We are to know to-night. I wonder where she is?” Jarvis added to Bambi.
“I’ve thought that fat old one in the opposite box,” she said wickedly. “Why did you ask, father?”
“It is a diverting idea. The girl is like you, or maybe it is the similarity of the names that suggests it.”
“What do you think about the play, Ardelia?”
“Law, honey, ’tain’t no play-actin’ to me. It’s jes’ lak’ bein’ home wid yo’ an’ de’ Perfessor and Marse Jarvis. Dose folkses is jes’ lak yo’ all.”
Bambi laughed outright. Ardelia was the only one who guessed.
“I trust you do not compare me to that impractical old fiddling man,” the Professor protested to Ardelia.
“Sh! Here’s the curtain!” warned Bambi.
The second act went like a breeze. Laughter and applause punctuated its progress. The house was warming up. Bambi slipped her hand into Jarvis’s, and he held it so tight that she could feel his heart beat through his palm. There was no doubt about it at the end of the second act. It was going. The company took repeated curtain calls, smiling at the Jocelyns.
“I’m grinning so I shall never get my face straight again,” Bambi said to Richard, who came to the box to congratulate them.
“Looks like a go,” he said, cordially.
Even Jarvis unbent to him, and insisted upon his sitting with them for the third act. Bambi added a smiling second. She had explained to Richard, in advance, why she did not invite him to share the box.
“I am having a most unexpectedly good time,” the Professor admitted to them all.
Jarvis’s state of mind was painful as the last act began. In the next thirty minutes he was to meet the woman he thought he loved. Since his confession to Bambi the night before, a doubt had raised its head to stare at him as to the real depth of his feeling for his unknown inamorata. Had he really been moved by love, or was it only a need of sympathy for his hurt pride that had driven him to her? Bambi’s strange behaviour, her admission that she did not love Strong, most of all those moments when she lay in his arms—they had upset all his convictions and emotions. He paid no attention to the act at all, torn as he was as to what the night would bring him.
He was aroused by storms of applause. The curtain went up again, and again; the company bowed solo and in a group. Then calls of “Author! Author!” were heard all over the house. Bambi clutched Jarvis’s sleeve and drew him back of the box.
“Go on! You’ve got to go out and bow. You do it alone, Jarvis——”
In answer he took her arm and propelled her in front of him, back on the stage.
“Here they are! give them full stage!” said the stage manager, ringing up the curtain. “Now, go ahead, right out there!”
He opened a door in the set and Jarvis and Bambi went on. There was a hush for a second, then a big round of applause. Bambi laughed and waved her hand. There was a hush of expectancy.
“Now, Jarvis, go on!” she prompted him.
Jarvis, cold as death, began to speak. He thanked everybody in the prescribed way, beginning with the audience, ending with the company. He said he was happy that they liked the play, but that he was making the speech under false pretenses. All the credit for the success must go to two women, his wife and collaborator——Here he turned to include Bambi, but to his astonishment she was gone. The audience laughed at his discomfiture, but he turned it off wittily. The other woman, the one to whom most of the credit was due, was the author of the book. She had so far hidden behind an anonymity, but he believed she was in the house to-night, and it was to her that their congratulations should be offered. Cries of “Author! Author of the book!” with much clapping of hands. Jarvis stood there, scarcely breathing, cold sweat on his brow, waiting for her to come. The applause became a clamour. The door opened and Bambi floated in. She did not see the audience, her eyes were fixed on Jarvis’s face, and the strange expression she saw there. She came to him, put her hand in his, and smiled. He was so obviously nonplussed that the people grasped a new situation and were suddenly still. Bambi smiled at him and spoke:
“Dear People: If you have had as much fun to-night as I have, we owe each other nothing! And the most fun of all is the astonishment of Mr. Jarvis Jocelyn, who discovers himself to be a bigamist. He’s married to the co-dramatist and the author, and he never knew it! That I wrote the book has been a secret until this minute. If you hadn’t liked the play, I never would have admitted that I wrote it. You’re the very nicest first-nighters I ever met, and we are both most grateful to you, the bigamist and I.”
There was wild applause, flowers were tossed from the boxes, calls of “Brava!” greeted the little bowing figure clinging tightly to the big man’s hand. They finally made their escape to the wings, and Bambi turned to Jarvis for what was to her the real climax of the evening.
He looked at her so strangely that she laid her hand on his arm.
“You aren’t glad?” she questioned, anxiously.
Some members of the company surrounded them with congratulations, and when they were free they had to hurry out to rescue the rest of the family.
“What did you think of the secret, Daddy?”
“My child, I am past all thought. I wish to be taken home, put to bed, and allowed to recover slowly. I have had a shock of surprise that would kill a less vigorous man.”
“But you liked it? You were glad I did it?”
“I am so proud of you that I am imbecile. Let us go home.”
Richard shook both her hands in silent congratulation.
“Where is Jarvis?” asked her father.
A search failed to find him. Richard made a trip back on the stage, but he was not there.
“We won’t wait, if you will put us into our cab,” Bambi said to him.
He saw them all off, promising to send Jarvis along if he saw him.
“What do you suppose became of him?” demanded the Professor.
But Bambi did not answer. All the triumph of the evening counted for nothing to her now. Jarvis had been hurt or angered at her revelation. He had deliberately gone off and left her, regardless of appearances. She spent the night in anxious listening for his return, but morning found his rooms vacant, his bed untouched. Bambi’s heart misgave her.
Jarvis was never sure what happened to him after he came off the stage with Bambi. Something had exploded in his brain, and his only thought was to get away, away from all the noisy, chattering, hand-shaking people, to some quiet place, where he could think.
On the way back to the box in Bambi’s train, he had been separated from her a minute, long enough to spy the stage door, to slip out and away. He headed uptown without design, walking, walking, at a furious pace. Bambi, herself, was the Lady of Mystery to whom he had offered his devotions. The thing which hurt him was that she had tricked him into declaring himself, probably laughed at his ardour. It made him rage to think of it. What had been her object? He could not decipher her riddle at all. If she wanted his love, she might have had it for the taking, without all this play-acting nonsense. These was no use in his ever expecting to understand her or her motives. He might as well give it up and be done with it.
He built up the whole story, bit by bit. Her mysterious trips to town were in regard to the book, of course. The “butter-‘n’-eggs” money came from royalties. Strong had published the story in his magazine: hence their intimacy. His thought attacked this idea furiously, then he remembered Bambi’s words, “I love Richard Strong as my good friend, and in no other way.”
There was no doubting the sincerity of that declaration. Besides, Bambi never lied. She had not deceived him, then, with any deliberate plan to alienate his affections so that she could be free to go to Strong. No light along that line of questioning.
He went on, feeling his way, step by step, to the point of the dramatization of the book. Here he paused long. Surely he had not been her dupe here. He was Frohman’s choice as dramatist. But was he? She and Frohman had come to some understanding, because she had gone to see him the day the play was delivered. No, that could not be, for he found her at home when he returned. He could not find a piece to fit into the puzzle at this point. He went over their joint work on the book—her book. He understood, now, how she was so sure of every move, why she knew her characters so well. What a blind fool he had been not to see that Francesca was herself! How she had played with him about that, too. How she drew him out about the other characters. He stopped in his tracks as the last blow fell. The musician was intended for a study of him—that hazy, impossible dreamer, with his half-baked, egotistical theories of his own divine importance. Why, in God’s name, had she married him if that was her opinion of him? His brain beat it over and over, to the click of his heels on the pavement.
The fiddler was the Professor, of course. Any one but a blind man would have seen it. So she had made mock of them, the two men nearest to her, for all the world to laugh at! That she wanted to punish him for not coming up to her expectations, that he could understand, but why had she betrayed the Professor whom she loved?
He reviewed the period of rehearsals—her sure touch revealed again. She knew every move. She even saw herself so clearly that she could correct the actress in a false move. She had held herself up for public inspection, too. He had to admit that. It seemed so shameless to him, so lacking in reserve.
He urged his mind on to the night now passing, the night he had looked forward to, for so many months, as the first white stone along the road to success. Well, it had been a success, but none of his. Bambi’s—all Bambi’s. She had conceived the book, worked out the play, and rehearsed it, to a triumphant issue. It was all hers! The only part he could claim was that Frohman had sent for him. But had he? Was it possible he had only humoured Bambi in her desire to give him a chance? He would find out the truth about that, and if it were so, he could never forgive her.
He saw her coming toward him in reply to the calls for “Author!” her eyes fixed on him, shining and expectant! What had she wanted him to do? Was it possible she expected him to be pleased?
Broad daylight found him far up toward the Bronx, weary, footsore, and hungry. When he came to himself he realized that he must send some word to the club of his whereabouts. He wrote a message to Bambi:
“I shall not come back to-day. I cannot. You have hurt me very deeply.
He put a special delivery stamp on it and mailed it. He found some breakfast, and went into the Bronx Park, where he sat down under the bare trees to face himself.
In the meantime Bambi, after a sleepless night, was up betimes. At breakfast she protested that she was not at all worried. Jarvis had no doubt decided to celebrate the success in the usual masculine way. He would come home later, with a headache.
“But Jarvis isn’t a drinking man, is he?” the Professor inquired.
“No, but it’s the way men always celebrate, isn’t it?”
The Professor wanted the whole story of the writing of the book, the prize winning, Mr. Frohman’s order, and all, so, after breakfast, she made a clean breast of it, and they laughed over it for a couple of hours. Then Jarvis’s message came. Her face quivered as she read it.
“What is it, dear? Is it Jarvis?”
She nodded, the slow tears falling.
“He isn’t hurt?”
“Not physically hurt, but I’ve hurt his feelings. Oh, Daddy, I’ve made such a mess of it. I wanted to be dazzled by my success, because he thinks I’m a helpless sort of thing, and now he only hates me for it.”
She broke down and wept bitterly. The Professor, distressed and helpless, took her into his arms and petted her.
“There, there, Baby, it will work out all right. Just let us go home, where we’re used to things, and everything will look different.”
“Yes, that’s it, we’ll all go home,” sobbed Bambi, wiping her eyes.
“Where is Jarvis?”
“I don’t know. But I can leave word for him here that we’ve gone back home.”
“Then we can get the two o’clock train. Nothing but misery comes to people in these cities.”
By dint of much hurry they caught the train, Ardelia protesting up to the moment when the train started that they couldn’t possibly make it. Bambi sat, chin on hand, all the way, a sad, pale-faced figure. No one could suspect, to see her now, that she had been the brilliant flame-thing of the night before. Once the Professor patted her hand and she tried to smile at him, but it wasn’t much of a success.
When they entered the house, and Ardelia bustled about to get them some tea, Bambi sat dejectedly, with all her things on, among the travelling-bags.
“Be of good courage, little daughter,” her father said.
“Oh, Father Professor, are the fruits of success always so bitter—so bitter?” she cried to him.
The first week of the play went by, and it was an assured success. The royalty for the first seven days was a surprise, which would have thrown Bambi into raptures under ordinary circumstances. But the Bambi of these days and rapture were no longer playmates.
There had been no word from Jarvis since that time of the first brief message. Bambi went about the house a thin, white-faced, little ghost, with never a song or a smile.
“Fo’ Gawd, Perfessor, it makes me cry to look at Miss Bambi, an’ I don’ dare ask her what’s de mattah.”
“I think we must just let her alone, Ardelia. She’ll work this thing out for herself.” But he, too, was alarmed at the change in her.
The more she thought of how she had thrown away Jarvis’s love, the more she lacerated herself with reproaches. Her fatal love of play-acting had brought her sorrow this time. How could she have done it? Why didn’t she see that Jarvis would never understand what made her do it, that he would resent it.
Some days she was in a fury at him for not understanding her. Other days she wanted him so that she could scarcely refrain from taking a train to New York and looking for him. In her sane moments she knew that the only thing she could do now was to wait.
Richard Strong came down to dine and spend the night, and one thing he said added to her misery.
“Jarvis stayed in town, didn’t he?” he remarked.
“Looking after things there, I suppose? I passed him on the street yesterday, but he didn’t see me.”
“You passed him yesterday?” breathlessly.
“Yes. The opening and the strain of the rehearsal knocked him out, didn’t it? He looked as gaunt as a monk.”
“Jarvis takes things very seriously.”
“By the way, how did he take your joke?”
She looked directly at him and answered frankly: “He didn’t think it was funny at all.”
“Oh, that’s a pity.”
“I’m through with jokes, Richard, through with them for all time,” she said, her lips quivering.
“Oh, no—try one on me, I’d like it,” he laughed to cover her emotion, and changed the subject quickly.
When he returned to town he called up the Frohman offices, asking for Jarvis’s address. He was still at the National Arts Club, they assured him. So that evening he presented himself there unannounced. He found Jarvis alone in the reading-room, a book open before sightless eyes. He rose to greet Strong, with evident reluctance.
“I’m glad to find you, Jocelyn. I have something particular to say to you.”
“So? Sit down, won’t you?”
“I’ve just come back from Sunnyside, where I spent the night. I wanted to settle the details of your wife’s next serial.”
“Have you seen her since the opening night?”
“I think she is either very ill, or very unhappy, possibly both. She seems such a frail little thing that one dreads any extra demands on her. I knew you stayed on to look after the business here, of course…. You know the dear, blind, old Professor. Naturally you are the person to look after her, and I thought it would be just like her not to say a word to you about it all, so here I am, playing tame cat, carrying tales. Go down to-night, Jocelyn, and take that girl away somewhere.”
“They think she’s ill?” Jarvis repeated.
“She looks it to me. If she were my wife, I’d be alarmed.”
He rose as he finished, and Jarvis rose, too. They looked each other in the eyes.
“Thank you!” said Jarvis.
He suddenly realized, without words of any kind, that this man suffered as he did, because he, too, loved Bambi. He was big enough to come to her husband with news of her need. By a common impulse their hands met in a warm handclasp.
“She needs you, Jocelyn,” Strong said.
“You’re a good friend, Strong,” Jarvis answered.
When he had gone, Jarvis hurried to his room and began to pack his bag. His heart beat like a trip-hammer with excitement. He was going to Bambi! She needed him. He had endured a week of the third degree, practised upon himself. He had peered into every nook and corner of his own soul. He knew himself for a blind, selfish egotist. He was ready now to fling his winter garments of repentance into the fires of spring. He understood himself, though Bambi baffled him more than ever. Never mind. She needed him. Strong said so—and he was going to her.
He was at the station an hour before the train left, pacing up and down the platform like an angry lion. Aboard the sleeper, and on the way, he tossed and turned in his berth in wakefulness. At dawn he was up and dressed, to sit in a fever of impatience while the landscape slowly slid by the car window.
At Sunnyside he hurried along the deserted street, where only the milkman wound his weary way in the early morning. There was a hint of spring in the air, fresh and exhilarating, with a faint earth smell.
The house lay, with closed blinds, still asleep. He let himself in with his latch-key, dropped his bag, hat, and coat in the hall, and rushed upstairs to Bambi’s rooms. No hesitation now. He would storm the citadel in truth. He opened her bedroom door softly and peered in. It was unknown country to him. The bed was empty. He entered and walked swiftly to the door beyond, where he heard a faint crackling, as of a fire burning. At the door he paused.
She was crouched before a fire, cross-legged, her face cupped on her hands. In her pink robe and cap she looked more like a child than ever. She half turned her head, as if feeling his presence, so he saw how pale she was, how black the circles round her eyes.
“My little love!” he cried to her. “My little love!”
She sprang to her feet, facing him; her hands went swiftly to her heart, as if a spasm shook her. As Jarvis came toward her, a great light in his face, she put her hands out to fend him off.
“I want you to know that I realize just how silly and cheap and theatrical I’ve been. I didn’t mean to hurt you,” she began in a monotone, as if it tired her too much to speak. He tried to stop her, but she shook her head.
“I have to say it all now. I cared so much when you came home that time, and after the first night I thought you didn’t care for me.”
“My best beloved, let me——”
“No, no—please. I was piqued and angry and I thought I could punish you by pretending to be the other woman you thought you were writing to. I wanted to make you care for her, and then——”
“It was you I cared for—you, you, you!”
“I thought that, when you knew I was both of us, you’d be so glad——” She broke off into a sob.
“I am, dearest, I am.”
“I never meant to hurt you. This week has nearly killed me.”
He took her into his arms, and sat in the big chair, holding her close, while she clung to him and sobbed out her heart. He kissed her hair, her wet eyes, and her lips, saying over and over, “Oh, littlest, I love you so, I love you so!” When the sobs ceased, he lifted her face to his.
“I want to see the shine in your eyes, dearest, and then I want you to listen to me.”
She drew his head down to her and kissed him.
“The shine will come back now, beloved. Oh, Big”—she said with a sigh—”my old Jarvis.”
“No, your new Jarvis, little wife. The old, crazy Jarvis will be more to your liking. I may not understand you very well yet, but I know my need of you my pride in you——”
“And my need of you?”
“And your need of me. We’re in step, now, honey girl—and we’ll march along together without any more misunderstandings, won’t we?”
“Oh, we will, if you’ll take short steps, so I can keep up.”
“I’m the one to do the running now, Miss Mite. A famous novelist and a successful playwright!” he laughed, pinching her cheek.
“None of it counts. The only title that means anything to me is Mrs. Jarvis Jocelyn.”
His comment on that was inaudible.
“Would you mind telling me just why you married me?”
“Because I was a seeress, and foresaw this day.”
More comment, inaudible. The door opened, cautiously, the Professor tiptoed in, followed by Ardelia, with a tray. At the sight of the two before him, engrossed in the inaudible comments, he stepped back into Ardelia and rattled the contents of the tray. Jarvis looked up and caught his astonished expression. He rose with Bambi in his arms.
“Good-morning, Father. I’m home,” he said.
“Thank de good Lawd!” from Ardelia.
“It’s Jarvis,” said Bambi, fatuously, patting his cheek.
“I suspected that it was when I saw him,” the Professor admitted. “I’m glad that you’re back, and I hope you’ll stay. This child needs a firmer hand than mine.”
“You’re speaking of a woman with a well-advanced career, Herr Professor Parkhurst!”
“Ardelia, we are not needed. She is well. A dose of Jarvis Jocelyn was the correct prescription.”
“Well, thank Gawd fo’ some sho’ nuff lovin’ at las’ ” said Ardelia, as she backed out behind the Professor, and closed the door.