Bambi (Cooke)/Chapter V
Bambi was out of bed and at her window the next morning early. Her room faced on Gramercy Park, and the early morning sun fell across the little square so sacred to the memory of past glories, and bathed the trees in their new green drapery with a soft, impressionistic colour. Her eyes swept around the square, hastening over the great white apartment buildings, our modern atrocities, to linger over the old houses, which her swift imagination peopled with the fashion and pomp of another day.
"Spring in the city!" breathed Bambi. "Spring in New York!"
She was tempted to run to Jarvis's door and tap him awake, to drink it in too, but she remembered that Jarvis did not care for the flesh-pots, so she enjoyed her early hour alone. It was very quiet in the Park; only an occasional milk wagon rattled down the street. There is a sort of hush that comes at that hour, even in New York. The early traffic is out of the way. The day's work is not yet begun. There comes a pause before the opening gun is fired in the warfare of the day.
Many a gay-hearted girl has sat, as Bambi sat, looking off over the housetops in this "City of Beautiful Nonsense," dreaming her dreams of conquest and success. Youth makes no compromise with life. It demands all, passionately; loses all, or wins, with anguish of spirit. So it was with Bambi, the high-handed, imperious little mite. She willed Fame and Fortune for Jarvis and herself in full measure. She wanted to count in this great maelstrom of a city. She wanted two pedestals--one for Jarvis and one for herself--to lift them above the crowd. If all the young things who think such thoughts as these, in hall bedrooms and attic chambers, could mount their visioned pedestals, the traffic police would be powerless, and all the road to Albany lined like a Hall of Fame.
But, fortunately, our practical heroine took no account of failure. She planned a campaign for Jarvis. She would go first to Belasco with his play. Mr. Belasco would receive him at once, recognize a master mind, and accept the play after an immediate hearing. Of course Jarvis would insist on reading his play aloud, so that Mr. Belasco might get the points clearly. He would come away with a thousand dollars advance
royalty in his pocket, and then would come the delicious excitement of rehearsals, in which she would help. She saw Jarvis before the curtain making a first-night's speech. A brilliant series of pictures followed, with the Jarvis Jocelyns as central figures, surrounded by the wealth and brains of New York, London, Paris!
While Jarvis was mounting like a meteor, she was making a reputation as a writer. When her place in the literary ranks was so assured that the _Saturday Evening Post_ accepted her stories without so much as reading them; when everybody was asking "Who is this brilliant writer?--this combination of O. Henry, Edith Wharton, and W.D. Howells?" then, and only then, would she come out from behind her _nom-de-plume_ and assume her position as Mrs. Jarvis Jocelyn, wife of the famous playwright.
So absorbed was she in her moving pictures that Jarvis's rap sounded to her like a cannon shot.
"Yes? Who is it?" she called.
"Jarvis," he answered. "Are you ready for breakfast?"
"Just a minute," she prevaricated. "Wait for me in the library."
She plunged into her tub and donned her clothes in record time. Fortunately, Jarvis did not fret over her tardiness. He was lost in an article on the drama in a current magazine.
"Good morrow, my liege lord," quoth Bambi, radiant, fresh, bewitching.
"This man has no standards at all," he replied, out of the magazine.
She quietly closed it and took it from him.
"I prefer to test the breakfast standards of this club," she laughed. "Did you sleep?" she added.
"I always sleep."
"Let's play to-day," she added, over the coffee cups.
"Yes. We've never been anywhere together before. I've put aside an appropriation for amusement. I say we draw on that to-day."
"All right. Where shall we go?"
"Let's go on top of the stage to Claremont for lunch, and then we might see some pictures this afternoon, dine here, and the theatre to-night."
"Had it all thought out, did you?"
"What would you plan?" she inquired.
"We will do my way to-morrow, and your way to-day," he said.
"All right. I promise to enjoy your way if you will promise to enjoy mine, not just endure it scornfully."
"You must think I'm a boor."
"No. But I think that until you learn that an artist cannot afford to scorn any phase of life that is human, you will never do great work."
He looked at her keenly.
"Fifth Avenue isn't human. It's an imitation," he objected.
"You're very young, Jarvis," she commented.
"Upon my soul," he laughed, so spontaneously that an old fogy at the next table said audibly to his waitress, "Bride and groom," and for some reason Bambi resented it with a flare of colour.
"It's true," she continued; "until you realize that Fifth Avenue and the Bowery are as inevitable as the two ends of the teeter-totter, you won't see the picture true."
"Sometimes you show a most surprising poise," he granted her. "But of course you are not the stuff of which creative artists are made."
She chuckled, and patted her bag where the bill fold lay, with its crisp hundreds due to some imitation of creative impulse.
"Just where, and in what, am I lacking?" she asked, most humbly.
"A creative artist would not care a fig for truth. He creates an impression of truth out of a lie if necessary."
"But I am in the direct line from Ananias," she protested. "I inherit creative talent of that brand."
So they laughed and chattered, in the first real companionship they had ever known.
True to the plan, they ascended the stage at Eighteenth Street, Bambi in a flutter of happiness. As the panorama of that most fascinating highway unrolled before them, she constantly touched this and that and the other object with the wand of her vivid imagination. Jarvis watched her with amused astonishment, for the first time really thoroughly aware of her. Again he noticed that wherever she was she was a lodestone for all eyes. He decided that it was not beauty, in the strictest sense of the word, but a sort of radiance which emanated from her like an aura.
Twenty-third Street cut across their path with its teeming throngs. Madison Square lay smiling in the sunshine like a happy courtesan, with no hint of its real use as Wayside Inn for all the old, the poor, the derelict, whose tired feet could find refuge there. The vista of the avenue lay ahead.
"It's like a necklace of sparkling pearls," Bambi said, with incessant craning of her neck. "I feel like standing up and singing 'The Song of the Bazaars.' There isn't a stuff, nor a silk, nor a gem from Araby to Samarkand that isn't here."
"It bewitches you, doesn't it?" Jarvis commented.
"Think of the wonder of it! Camel trains, and caravans, merchant ships on all the seas, trains, and electric trucks, all bringing the booty of the world to this great, shining bazaar for you and me. It's thrilling."
"So it is," he agreed. "I hope you mark the proportion of shops for men--dresses, hats, jewels, furs, motor clothes, tea rooms, candy shops, corseti�res, florists, bootmakers, all for women. Motor cars are full of women. Are there no men in this menagerie?"
"No. They are all cliff-dwellers downtown. They probably wear loin cloths of a fashionable cut," she laughed back at him.
"They all look just alike--so many manikins on parade. I suppose there are distinctions in class. There must be some shopgirls in this crowd. Can you distinguish them?" he asked.
"Oh, yes. Not by cut, for the general line is the same for 'Judy O'Grady and the Captain's Lady,' but there is a subtle difference to the feminine eye."
"But you don't look like all the rest of them."
"No, alas, I look distinctly suburban. All I need is a package to make the disguise complete. Oh, Jarvis, do let's hurry and make much red gold, so I can look like these finished things that trip up Fifth Avenue."
"You want to be like them--like those dolls?" he scorned, with a magnificent gesture.
"Yes. I'd like to be so putrid with wealth that I could have rows of wardrobe trunks, with full sets of clothes for every me."
"How many of you are there?"
"Oh, lots. I've never counted myself. Some days I'd dress up like a Broadway siren, some days I'd be a Fifth Avenue lady, or a suburbanite, or a reformer, or a ballet dancer, or a visitor from Boston."
"What would I be doing while you were all these?"
"Oh, you'd be married to all of us. We'd keep you busy."
"The idea is appalling. A harem of misfits."
"We'd be good for your character."
"And death to my work."
"You'd know more about life when you had taken a course of us."
"Too much knowledge is a dangerous thing," he remarked. "Shall we get off and go into the Library?"
"Not to-day. That's part of your day. I want just people and things in mine."
"What are you to-day?" he inquired.
"An houri, a soulless houri," she retorted.
As they approached the University Club, Jarvis recognized it with scorn.
"Monument to the stupidity of modern education, probably full this minute of provincials from Harvard and Yale, all smugly resting in the assurance that they are men of culture."
"I adore the way you demolish worlds," Bambi sparkled up at him.
"Another monument," he remarked, indicating a new church lifting its spires among the money-changers' booths.
"_Hic jacet,_ education and religion. Look at that slim white lady called the Plaza."
"You ought to name her 'Miss New York.'"
"Good, Jarvis. In time you will learn to play with me."
He frowned slightly.
"I know," she added, "I am scheduled under _Interruptions_ in that famous notebook. Unless you play with me occasionally I shall become actively interruptive."
"You are as clever as a squirrel," he said. "Always hiding things and finding them."
"_Hic jacet_ Bambi, along with the other self-important, modern institutions," she sighed humbly.
They rattled across the Circle and up Broadway. Bambi was silent, bored with its stupidity. It was not until they turned on to Riverside Drive that her enthusiasm bubbled up again.
"Don't you love rivers?" she exclaimed, as the Hudson sparkled at them in the sun.
"I've never known any," he replied.
"Oh, Mr. Hudson, Mr. Jocelyn," she said, instantly. "I thought, of course, you had met."
"You absurdity!" laughed Jarvis. "What is it that you love about rivers?"
"Oh, their subtlety, I suppose. They look and act so aimless, and they are going somewhere all the time. They are lazy and useful and--wet. I like them."
"Is there anything in the universe you don't like?" Jarvis inquired.
"Yes, but I can't think what it is just now," she answered, and sang "Ships of mine are floating--will they all come home?" so zestfully that an old gentleman in the front seat turned, with a smiling "I hope so, my dear!"
She nodded back at him gayly, to Jarvis's annoyance. As they approached Grant's Tomb, she glanced at him suspiciously. When they got safely by, she sighed with content.
"If you had said anything bromidic about Grant's Tomb, Jarvis Jocelyn, I should have thrown myself off the top of the stage to certain death."
"At times you underestimate me," he replied.
At Claremont, Bambi ordered a most enticing repast, and they were very gay. Everybody seemed gay, too. The sun shone, the early spring air was soft, and a certain gala "stolen sweets" air of Claremont made it seem their most intimate meal.
Everybody smiled at Bambi and she smiled back.
"Nice sort of hookey place, isn't it?" she commented.
"Do you know the man at the next table?"
"The fat one, who is staring so."
"Oh, no. I thought you meant the one who lifts his glass to me every time he drinks."
Jarvis pushed back his chair furiously.
"I will smash his head," he said, rising.
"Jarvis! Sit down! You silly thing! He's only in fun. It's the spirit of the place."
"I won't have you toasted by strange men," he thundered.
"All right. I'll make a face at him next time," she said, soothingly; but somewhere, down in the depths of her being, where her cave ancestor lurked, she was pleased. As they finished their coffee, Bambi picked up the check, which the waiter laid beside Jarvis's plate.
"Do you mind my paying it? Would you rather do it?"
"Certainly not. It's your money. Why should I pretend about it?"
She could have hugged him for it. Instead, she overfed the waiter.
"It's too heavenly, out of doors, for pictures, after all," she said, as they came out on to the drive. "What shall we do?"
"Let's get that double-decker again, and ride until we come to the end of the world."
"Righto. Here it comes, now."
Downtown they went, to Washington Square, where they dismounted, to wander off at random. All at once they were in another world. It was like an Alice in Wonderland adventure. They stepped out of the quiet of the green, shady quadrangle into a narrow street, swarming with life.
Innumerable children, everywhere, shrieking and running at games. Fat mothers and babies along the curb, bargaining with pushcart men. A wheezing hurdy-gurdy, with every other note gone to the limbo of lost chords, rasped and leaked jerky tunes. All the shops had foreign names on the windows--not even an "English spoken here" sign. The fresh wind blew down the dirty street, and peppered everything with dust. Newspapers increased their circulation in a most irritating manner under foot. The place was hideous, lifting its raucous cry to the fair spring sky.
Jarvis looked at Bambi, silenced, for once. Her face registered a loud protest.
"Well?" he challenged her.
"Oh, I hate ugliness so. It's like pain. Is it very weak of me to hate ugliness?" she begged.
"It's very natural, and no doubt weak."
"I wouldn't mind the thought of poverty so much--not hunger, nor thirst, nor cold--but dirt and hideousness--they are too terrible."
"This is life in the raw. You like it dressed for Fifth Avenue better," he taunted.
"Do you prefer this?"
She looked about again, with a sense of having missed his point.
"Because it's fight, hand-to-throat fight?"
"Yes. You can teach these people. They don't know anything. They are dumb beasts. You can give them tongue. It's too late to teach your Upper End."
A woman passed close, with a baby, covered with great sores. Bambi caught at Jarvis's sleeve and tottered a step.
"I feel a little sick," she faltered.
He caught her hand through his arm, and hurried her quickly back the way they had come. As they mounted the stage, he looked at her white face.
"We will have to expurgate life for you, Miss Mite."
"No, no. I want it all. I must get hardened."
Back at the club, she hurried into her hot bath, with a vague hope of washing off all traces of that awful street. But their talk at dinner was desultory and rather serious. Jarvis talked for the most part, elaborating schemes of social reform and the handling of our immigrant brothers.
They started off to the theatre, with no definite plan. Bambi's spirits rose to the lights of Broadway, like a trout to a silver shiner. There is a hectic joyousness on Broadway, a personification of the "Eat, drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die" spirit which warms you, like champagne, or chills you, like the icy hand of despair, according to your mood. Bambi skipped along beside Jarvis, twittering gayly.
"People are happy, aren't they?"
"Jarvis, you old bogie-man, hiding in the dark, to jump out and say 'Boo!'"
"That's my work--booing frauds. Let's go in here," he added.
"'Damaged Goods,'" Bambi read on the theatre poster. "Do you know anything about it?"
"I've read it. It is not amusing," he added.
She followed him without replying. The theatre was packed with a motley audience of unrelated people. Professors and their wives, reformers, writers, mothers with adolescent sons, mothers with young daughters--what, in Broadway parlance, is called a "high-brow" audience--a striking group of people gathered together to mark a daring experiment of our audacious times; a surgical clinic on a social sore, up to this moment hidden, neglected, whispered about.
Bambi came to it with an open mind. She had heard of Brieux, his dramatic tracts, but she had not seen the text of this play, nor was she prepared for it. The first act horrified her into silence during the whole intermission. The second act racked her with sobs, and the last act piled up the agony to the breaking point. They made their way out to the street, part of that quiet audience which scarcely spoke, so deep was the impression of the play.
Broadway glared and grinned and gambolled, goat-like. Bambi clung to Jarvis tightly. He looked down at her swollen face, red eyes, and bewildered mouth without a word. He put her into a taxicab and got in after her. In silence she looked out at the glittering white way.
"The veneer is all rubbed off. I can see only bones," she said, and caught her breath in a sob.
Jarvis awkwardly took her hand and patted it.
"I am sorry we went to that play to-night. You must not feel things so," he added.
"Didn't you feel it?"
"I felt it, didactically, but not dramatically. It's a big sermon and a poor play."
"I feel as if I had had an appendicitis operation, and I am glad it is over."
"I must meet young Richard Bennett. He has contributed to the big issues of the day. He's a fine actor. He must be an intelligent man."
For the rest of the way they drove in silence.
"Tired?" Jarvis asked as they neared the club.
She looked so little and crumpled, with all the shine drowned in her eyes.
"Life has beaten me raw to-day," she answered him, with a shadowy smile.