Bambi (Cooke)/Chapter XV
Bambi sat, chin on hand, staring off into the distance so long that the Professor's attention was finally attracted to her. She held Jarvis's letter in her hand--his call-to-arms letter.
"No bad news, I hope?" ventured her father.
"Oh, no; good news. The best. Jarvis is alive!"
"Why, you didn't think he was dead?"
"Yes, in a sense he was dead."
"Strange I never noticed it."
"I mean that he was only fully alive to himself. He was dead to other people. He has been dangerously self-centred."
"Now many hands are knocking at his postern gate!"
"What enigmatic things you do say, my child!"
"Don't you understand? Jarvis has built a high wall about himself, his precious self. He was a sort of superman, called to sit in a high tower and dream, to think, to formulate a message to the world. No claims of earth were allowed to enter in."
"But you climbed over the wall? You were a claim of earth?"
"You know how I sneaked in when he wasn't looking."
"If you could read me the letter, Bambina, or such portions of it as are not private, I might understand better what you are trying to say."
"I'll read it to you. It's none of it private. He has nothing private to say to me."
The Professor composed himself to listen, while she read Jarvis's long screed aloud. At the end he, too, sat thoughtfully a few moments, his finger tips neatly matched in church steeples before him.
"I'm sometimes amazed at your judgment," he said.
"Why my judgment?"
"I never would have seen any possibilities, myself, in the Jarvis whom you married."
"Speaking of cryptic remarks----"
"I was trying to convey to your mind my belief that he may turn out a real man."
"Oh, Jarvis was a good investment. I knew it at the time. Poor old thing, he's frightfully lonesome."
"He ought to come home for a while, on a visit. I am saving several topics for disagreement."
"No, it's better for him to stick it out. No human being ever treated Jarvis like this Miss Harper is treating him, and it's fine for him."
"Aren't you rather Spartan, my dear?"
"I am. I have felt all along that I had pushed him overboard before I was sure he could swim. Now I know he can."
"You may tell him for me that our agreement was for two years, and it holds good."
"I don't know what your agreement was, Herr Professor, but if it had money in it, cancel it. I want him to learn that lesson, too."
"Poor old Jarvis!"
"Don't you poor old Jarvis me. Remember the abuse you heaped on him when I married him. I want him to be practical!"
The Professor rose and started for the garden.
"It's your own affair, my dear."
The outcome of Bambi's thoughts was a letter to Mr. Strong. She invited him to spend the weekend with her father and herself, to talk over the book and other things. She added that she hoped that he would prepare himself with data about the thirteen sisters, because her father would be primed with questions about them. Mr. Strong's acceptance came by return mail, and he, himself, followed Saturday morning.
Bambi met him, as on the other occasion, and at sight of his cordial smile she suddenly felt as if he were an old friend.
"I am so glad to see you!" she exclaimed in her impulsive way.
Mr. Strong shook her hand vigorously.
"It's mutual, I may say," and he fell into step. "Bless this old town, it's like----"
"A soporific," she supplied, and joined his laugh.
"How's the Professor? And my old friend Jarvis?"
"The Professor is in a quiver of expectation to talk sisters with you."
"Good! I am ready for him. And Jarvis?"
"Jarvis was the 'other things' I asked you here to talk about."
"He's in New York."
"He is? Why didn't he look me up?"
"He doesn't like you."
"He took us seriously the other day?"
"Jealous, is he? That isn't why he is in New York?"
"Oh, no! He went to sell a play."
"Belasco refused it?"
"Yes, and two others. The Parkes have it now. They are going to take it."
"Jarvis may have to stay in the city for some time. He doesn't know any one. He hates cities. I suspect he is economizing too much to be comfortable. I thought maybe you would look him up--keep an eye on him."
"I should be delighted to, if you think he doesn't dislike me too much."
"Oh, no, he was annoyed that day we flirted so outrageously, but I know he would be glad to see you."
"I had a wonderful time that day, myself."
"It was fun. Everybody was so at cross purposes."
"Do I continue the r�le of old beau?"
"Oh, no. You've established yourself with father, so there's no use in playing up."
"Old beau exit with regret," he sighed.
"You're a nice man, and I'm glad of you."
"Thanks. Give me Jocelyn's address before you forget it. Ah, there's the Professor now," he added, as he pocketed the card and hastened into the garden.
The rest of the two days they spent in easy companionship. They played tennis, they drove through the woods in an old surrey, Bambi as whip. Then, when the Professor's early bedtime removed him to the second story, they sat on the moonlit piazza and talked.
The novel had grown into ten chapters. Three instalments had been published, and the public was showing a most flattering interest in it. Strong brought a box of letters for her to read from enthusiastic readers.
"It's extraordinary how real you make your characters when you are such a novice," he said to her.
"I tell you I am a photographer. The musician in my story is Jarvis, with a thin disguise. The old fiddler is my father, and the girl is shamelessly 'me.'"
"Delightfully you," he corrected her. "Has the Professor or your husband read any of your stories?"
"No. They never read magazines. Jarvis saw the announcement of the prize story, and commented on the use of my name, but I threw him off the scent easily."
"I don't see why you don't 'fess' up, now that the thing is an established success."
"No, not yet. It's such a lovely secret. I want to wait for just the moment to spring it on them."
"Couldn't you invite me in when that moment comes?"
"We'll see. I may invite the neighbours in, and crown myself with a laurel wreath."
"I'd rely on your doing it in a novel way."
"The surest way of being considered eccentric is just to be yourself. So few of us have the nerve."
They talked late. He told her his plans and hopes for the magazine. He spoke of his people, of his past life, of his preparation for his work, and when the clock finally interrupted with twelve strokes, they arose, nearer friends than ever.
After Strong's departure Bambi wrote Jarvis to prepare him for the friendly visit:
"You'll remember Richard Strong, the brother of Maryland and the thirteen sisters? He came to spend the weekend with us, and expressed such disappointment at your absence that I gave him your address so he could look you up. Do be nice to him. I am sure you will like him when you get to know him. He is a fine, sensible fellow. He might find something for you to do on a magazine, if you wanted it. I did not speak to him about it, thinking you could do it best yourself, if you chose to. We had a pleasant two days' visit--much talk, tennis, drives, and more talk. It seemed to please and rest him, and we enjoyed him greatly. The Professor has taken a great liking to him.
"By the time this reaches you, you will have read the new third act to your leading lady. I feel so confident that she is going to like it. Wire me when she accepts. I can't wait for a letter. Good luck and congratulations, from both of us.
"P.S. Will you come home after the contract is signed?"
She tripped down to the corner in the moonlight to mail the letter, congratulating herself that she had handled the report of Mr. Strong's visit with great tact. She recalled Jarvis's unexpected jealousy with a smile. Where was he at this moment? Tossing in a hot bedroom, or prowling the streets, as he seemed prone to do these nights?
She pondered the processes which made success so easy for some people--hers, for instance, a happy accident--while others, Jarvis-like, had to be tied to the wheel before the fickle goddess released them and crowned them. Was it all chance? Or was there some big plan back of it all? Was she spared this incarnation that she might strive harder in the next? Was Jarvis expiating for past immunity? It was all a tangle, surely, to our mortal eyes.
She gave it up, snapped off her light, and went to bed. A shaft of silver, like a prayer rug, lay across the floor.
"Lady Moon, shine softly on my Knight of the Broken Lance," she whispered, as she closed her eyes.