Bambi (Cooke)/Chapter VIII
After Jarvis had departed on his conquering way Bambi turned her attention to herself. She made a most careful toilette. When she was hatted, and veiled, and gloved, she tripped up and down before her mirror, trying herself out, as it were. She made several entrances into editorial sanctums. Once she entered haltingly, drawn to her full five-feet-one; once she bounced in, confidently, but she vetoed that, and decided upon a dignified but cordial entrance. One more trip to the mirror for a close inspection.
"Oh, you pretty thing!" she nodded to herself.
She set forth, as Jarvis had done, with the address on the publisher's letter clasped in her hand. She marched uptown with a singing heart. She saw everything and everybody. She wondered how many of them carried happy secrets, like hers, in their thoughts--how many of them were going toward thrilling experiences. She shot her imagination, like a boomerang, at every passing face, in the hope of getting back secrets that lay behind the masks. She was unaware how her direct gaze riveted attention to her own eager face. She thought the people who smiled at her were friendly, and she tossed them back as good as they gave. Even when a waxed and fashionable old dandy remarked, "Good morning, my dear," she only laughed. Naturally, he misunderstood, and fell in step beside her.
"Are you alone?" he asked, coyly.
She gave him a direct glance and answered seriously.
"No. I am walking with my five little brothers and sisters." He looked at her in such utter amazement that she laughed again. This time he understood.
"Good day," said he, and right-about-faced.
She knew she had plenty of time, so she sauntered into a bookshop and turned over the new books, thinking that maybe some day she would come into such a shop and ask for her own books, or Jarvis's published plays. She chatted with a clerk for a few minutes, then went back to the avenue, like a needle to a magnet.
In and out of shops she went. She looked at hats and frocks, and touched with envious fingers soft stuffs and laces.
"Some day," she hummed, "some day!"
She even turned in at Tiffany's seductive door. Colour was a madness with her, and her little cries of delight over a sapphire encouraged a young clerk to take it out of the case and lay it on the velvet square.
"Oh, it's so beautiful it hurts!" Bambi exclaimed.
He smiled at her sympathetically.
"Magnificent, isn't it? Are you interested in jewels?" he added.
"I am interested, but I am not a buyer," she admitted to him. "I adore colour."
"Let me show you some things," he said.
"Oh, no. I mustn't take up your time."
"That's all right. I have nothing else to do just now."
So he laid before her enraptured gaze the wealth of the Indies--the treasure baubles of a hundred queens--blue and green, and red and yellow, they gleamed at her. In an instinctive gesture she put out her hand, then drew it back quickly.
"Mustn't touch?" she asked, so like a child that he laughed.
"Take it up if you like."
She took the superb emerald. "Do you suppose it knows how beautiful it is?"
"It takes a fine colour on your hand. Some people kill stones, you know. You ought to wear them."
He told her some of the history of the jewels he showed her. He explained how stones were judged. He described the precautions necessary when famous jewels were to be taken from one place to another. Bambi sat hypnotized, and listened. She might have spent the entire day there if the man had not been called by an important customer. "I have been here hours, haven't I? I feel as if I ought to buy something. Could you show me something about $1.55?" The man laughed so spontaneously and Bambi joined him so gayly, that they felt most friendly.
"Come in next week. I'll show you a most gorgeous string of pearls which is coming to be restrung," he said.
"Oh, thank you. I have had such a good time."
He took her to the door as if she were a Vanderbilt, and bowed her out. The carriage man bowed, too, and Bambi felt that she was getting on.
This time she loitered no longer. She inspected her address for the hundredth time, and went to the magazine office, where she was to find the golden egg. She was impressed by the elegance of the busy reception room, with its mahogany and good pictures. She sent her card to the editor and waited fifteen minutes, then the card bearer returned. She was sorry, but the editor was extremely occupied this morning. Was there anything she could do for Mrs. Jocelyn? Bambi's face registered her disappointment.
"Would it do any good for me to wait?"
"Have you a letter of introduction? Mr. Strong seemed not to know your name."
"He told me to come."
"Told you? How do you mean?"
Bambi offered the letter to her. As she read it her face changed.
"Oh, are you the girl who won the prize?" Bambi nodded.
"You are?" she protested her amazement.
"I'm just as surprised as you are," Bambi assured her.
"Of course Mr. Strong will see you. He didn't understand." She was off in great haste, and back in a jiffy.
"Come right in," she invited.
Bambi wanted to run. Her breath came in little, short gasps. She wished she could take hold of the other girl's hand and hold on tight. A door stood open into an outside office, and several clerks stared at her. The sanctum door was open.
"Mr. Strong, this is Mrs. Jocelyn," said her guide, and the door closed behind her. A tall, pleasant-faced young man rose and tried to cover his surprise.
"How do you do?" he said cordially, with outstretched hand.
Bambi laid hers in it.
"I'm frightened to death," she answered.
"Well, not you, exactly, but editorism." He laughed.
"I can match amazement with your terror, then. You are a surprise."
"You are disappointed in me," she said quickly.
"I expected a--a--well, a bigger woman, and older."
"I see. You didn't expect a half portion?"
"Exactly," he smiled. "Well, we were extremely interested in your story."
"I am so glad."
"What else have you done?"
"That your first story?"
"How did you happen to write it, Mrs. Jocelyn?"
"I am looking for a career," she began, but his surprised glance stopped her. "You see I ought to dance. That's what the Lord intended me to do. I can dance."
"I can imagine that."
"But dancing would take me away from home so much, and the 'Heavenly Twins' need me so."
"Twins? You haven't twins!"
"Yes. Oh, no, not real ones, but my father and Jarvis."
"Jarvis is a poet and a dreamer."
"Is Jarvis a friend?"
"Oh, no, I am married to him. They are both so helpless. My father is a mathematician. I have to take care of them both, you see."
"You mean in a financial way?"
"My father makes a fair income, and of course Jarvis may sell his plays, but when I married him I expected to support him."
"He is delicate, I suppose?"
"He's six feet and over, wide and strong as a battleship."
"And he expects you to support him?"
"No. He protests, but you see I took a sort of advantage of him when I married him. He didn't want to marry me."
"You are a most extraordinary young woman," remarked Mr. Strong.
"Oh, no, I am usual enough. I help Jarvis with his plays, and what I say seems to have sense. Do you know?"
"So just for fun I wrote the story, and just for fun I sent it to your contest."
"Well, just for fun we gave you the prize."
"We want a whole series of tales about that girl. She's new."
"How many is a series?"
"Oh, eight or ten, if you have material enough."
"Oh, yes, I live--I mean I get material all the time."
"What do you want for them?"
"Oh, I'd like a lot for them. New York is full of things I want."
He laughed again.
"We could give you $150 a story. That would be $1,500 for the ten. Then, eventually, we would make a book of them, and you would get 10 per cent. on that."
"A book? A book, with illustrations, and covers, and all?"
He nodded. "Are those terms satisfactory?"
"Oh, mercy, yes. It sounds like a fortune!"
"When could you begin, Mrs. Jocelyn?"
"Right away, to-day!"
"Well, that will hardly be necessary. If you send copy to us by the fifth, that will be soon enough."
"All right. Jarvis is selling a play to-day, so probably we will be rich shortly."
"To whom is Mr. Jocelyn selling his play?"
"So! That's fine! You'll never have to support him, at that rate."
"He doesn't know about my getting the prize and coming to see you, and all. I want to keep it a secret for a time."
"It would be rather awful for me to be famous first."
"I don't know about that. It would be selfish of your husband to stand in your way."
"Oh, Jarvis is selfish. He's utterly, absorbedly selfish, but not just that way. He'd never stand in my way."
"I'd like to meet Jarvis."
"Well, when the secret is out I'll bring him here. He's unusual, Jarvis is. Some day he'll be great."
"He is in luck to be Mr. to your Mrs."
She flushed furiously.
"Yes, I think he is," she admitted, as she rose.
"How long are you to be in New York?"
"As long as your five hundred holds out."
"You must come in again. If I can be of any use to you, while you are here, give you letters to anybody, have you meet people, I'll be delighted to do so."
"You're a very nice man," said she. "You have removed the ban from the whole tribe of editors in twenty minutes' talk."
"That's a tribute worth living for. It has been a delightful twenty minutes. Come in again."
Out in the office, and in the impressive reception room, interested faces turned toward her. The girl who had acted sponsor for her nodded. She tasted the first fruits of success, and they were sweet. The only imperfection was the fact she could not tell Jarvis. She could not brag of her triumphs nor repeat the friendly chat with Mr. Strong. It would be such fun to see his surprise at the news--he had so lately patronized her. "You are not the stuff of which creative artists are made, of course."
Tra-la-la! She'd make him eat those words.
Then she began at once to do the next story of the series, and by the time she reached the club she had it all thought out. It was then that Jarvis's telephone message came to her, and she decided that he was even now reading his play aloud to Belasco; that he, too, had found a golden key.
She worked on the new story all the afternoon, and waited for Jarvis's triumphant return, in a seventh heaven of joyous anticipation.