Bambi (Cooke)/Chapter III
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.