Bambi (Cooke)/Chapter XVII

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Bambi (Cooke) by Marjorie Benton Cooke
Chapter XVII

Bambina Parkhurst was a young woman not much given to wrath, but as she read the two letters from New York she grew thoroughly enraged at Jarvis. Evidently, he had been exceedingly rude to Mr. Strong, and evidently Mr. Strong had been exceedingly annoyed. She was so furious at him that when she sat down to her desk to write her daily chapters no ideas came. Her mind just went over and over the situation of kind Mr. Strong putting himself out to be polite for her sake--Jarvis, stiff and ill-mannered, repulsing him. She determined to omit the daily letter to the offender until she cooled off. She gave up work for the morning and descended upon Ardelia.

"Ardelia, I am so mad I can't think of anything to do but put up fruit."

"Law, Miss Bambi, you ain't mad wif me, is you?"

"No. I'm mad with man."

"Man! Wat's the Perfessor bin doin'? Has he don' forgot somfin'?"

"It isn't the Professor. It's the sex."

"Well, don' you go meddlin' round wid fruit and gettin' yo' hands stained up, jus' caus' yo's mad wid de sex."

"I have got to do something violent, Ardelia. I am going to jerk the stems off of berries, chop the pits out of cherries, and skin peaches."

"Laws a-massy, you suttinly is fierce this mohnin'. All right, go ahead, but der ain't no need of it. I mos' generally always has put up the fruit for the fam'ly wifout no help."

"I know you don't need me, Ardelia, but I need you."

"Well, chile, heah's de fust few bushels ob cherries."

"Bushels? Mercy on us! Are you going to do all those?"

"Yassum. And den some more. Dat's the Perfessor's favourite fruit."

Bambi was promptly enveloped in a huge apron and settled on the back piazza, surrounded with pans and baskets. Ardelia stood by, and handed her things, until she got started.

"Hurry up, and come out, Ardelia. I want you to talk to me and take my mind off of things."

"I'll be 'long, by and by."

[Illustration "I HAVE GOT TO DO SOMETHING VIOLENT, ARDELIA. I AM GOING TO JERK THE STEMS OFF OF BERRIES, CHOP THE PITS OUT OF CHERRIES, AND SKIN PEACHES."]

Bambi held up a bright-red cherry, named it Jarvis, pulled out its stem, cut out its heart, and finally plumped it into her mouth and chewed it viciously. Then she felt better. There was a cool morning breeze lifting the leaves of the big elms, and nodding the hollyhocks' heads. The sound of late summer buzzing and humming, and bird songs, made the back porch a pleasant, placid spot--no place in which to keep rage hot.

Ardelia lumbered out, after a while, to sit near by, her slow movements and her beaming smile far from conducive to a state of excitement.

"Mighty purty out here, ain't it?"

"Yes."

"I reckon Massa Jarvis be mighty glad to be home, a-sittin' here a-seedin' cherries 'longside ob you?"

"Jarvis never did anything so useful. As for being alongside of me, that doesn't interest him at all."

"Yo're suttinly the onlovingest bride and groom I've eber seen. You ain't neber lovin' nor kissin' nor nottin', when I come aroun'."

"Mercy no, Ardelia!"

"I 'low if I was married to such a han'som' man, like Massa Jarvis, I'd be a lovin' ob him all the time."

"Suppose he wouldn't let you?"

"Can't tell me der's a man libin' who wouldn't be crazy fur yo' to lub him, Miss Bambi. Look at dat Mister Strong keeps a-comin' here."

"What about him?" asked Bambi in surprise.

"I see him lookin' at you. I see him."

"Nonsense! He has to look at me to talk with me."

"He don' need to do no talkin', wid his eyes a-workin' like dat."

"You old romancer!"

"Look a-heah, chile, dose cherries fo' to preserve. Dey ain't fo' eatin'. You're eatin' two and puttin' one in de pan."

Bambi made a face at her.

"What is your opinion of men, Ardelia?"

"I tink dey's all right in dey place."

"Where's their place?"

"Out in the kennel wid the dawg!" said Ardelia, shaking with laughter. "All 'cepin' the Perfessor and Massa Jarvis," she added.

"You think they are a lower order, do you?"

"Yassum. I sho' do. Mos' of dem just clutterin' up the earth."

"That's the reason you don't take that Johnson man on for good, is it?"

"Sho'! I ain't a-goin' to cook and wash fo' no nigger dat ain't got no appreciashun, when I can cook and wash fo' the Perfessor dat know a lady when he sees her."

"But he so infrequently sees her," giggled Bambi, _sotto voce_.

"No, ma'am, I's eatin' my white bread right here, and I knows it. I ain't goin' to experimentify wid no marryin', nor givin' in marriage."

"In your case, I believe you're right. In my own, however, I know that, mad as I am this morning, 'experimentification' is the breath of life to me."

They spent the morning in such peaceful converse. While Bambi may not have added greatly to the cherry-pitting, she rose rested and with a collected mind.

"Ardelia, I thank you for a dose of calm," she said, laying her hand affectionately on the black woman's broad shoulder.

"Law, honey, I done enjoyed your sassiety," she said, laughing and patting her hand.

Within the course of a few days Bambi had an appeal from Jarvis:

"Are you ill? Is anything the matter? Are you merely tired of me that you do not write? Your letters are the only event of my days."

This gave her the chance she wanted.

"You seem to be unaware, my dear Jarvis, that in offering a rude rebuff to Mr. Strong you offended me, since he is my good friend and came to see you at my request. I think you made as poor an impression on him as he did upon you, at the time of your meeting, and it was as a politeness to me that he came to look you up. I think an apology to both of us is rather necessary."

A week elapsed, with no reply. Then came a characteristic answer:

"DEAR BAMBI: Please find enclosed copy of apology sent Strong to-day. I don't like him, but I have apologized. I also apologize to you. Please don't omit letters any more. They mean a great deal these days."

She pondered this for some time. That Jarvis was going through new and trying experiences she realized. But this human appeal for her letters was so unlike the old Jarvis that she had to read it many times to believe it was actually there.

She wrote him at once, accepting his apology gracefully.

"Can't you come out for a few days' rest here, and go back in time to hear Frohman's verdict? We'd love to have you, especially the Professor and Ardelia."

He answered that it was impossible to get away now. Later, possibly, he might come. He was grateful for the invitation. He never mentioned how he lived, and she did not ask him. The Professor's check he returned, with a note of thanks, saying he did not need it. The summer went by and fall came to town. Still there was no word of his return.

"My, this is a fat letter from Jarvis! Frohman must have accepted the play!" exclaimed Bambi one morning in September. She opened out the thick, folded paper.

"It's poetry," she added. "'Songs of the Street,' If he's gone back to poetry, I'm afraid he's lost."

She began to glance through them.

"My dear, I've asked you for coffee twice."

"These are powerful and ugly. Think of Jarvis seeing these things."

"Coffee," reiterated the Professor.

"Yes, yes. You must read these. They're upsetting. I wonder what is happening to Jarvis."

"Is he in trouble?"

"No, he doesn't say so. But there's a new note in these."

"Coffee," repeated the Professor, patiently.

"For goodness' sake, father, stop shouting coffee. You are the epitome of the irritating this morning."

"I always am until I have my coffee."

All day long Bambi thought about Jarvis's "Street Songs." It was not the things themselves. They were crude enough, in spots, but it was the new sense in Jarvis that made him see and understand human suffering. She felt an irresistible impulse to take the next train and go to him. Would he be glad to see her? For the first time she wanted him, eagerly. But the impulse passed, and weeks stretched into months. She worked steadily at the book, which grew apace. She loved every word of it. Sometimes she wondered what would become of her without that work, during this waiting time, while Jarvis was making his career. For, in her mind, she always thought of herself and her writing as a side issue of no moment. Jarvis's work was the big, important thing in her life.

He wrote freely about his work on the other plays, asking her judgment and advice, as he had on "Success." She gave her best thought and closest attention to the problems he put to her, and he showed the same respect for her decisions.

The six weeks grew into two months, and no answer from the Frohman offices. He wrote her that he went in there every other day, but could get no satisfaction. They always said his play was in the hands of the readers. It had to take its turn.

He finished "The Vision" and offered it to Winthrop Ames, of the Little Theatre. "I am hopeful of this man. I have never seen him, but the theatre is well bred, and, to my surprise, a capable, intelligent secretary received me courteously in the office and promised a quick reading. This augurs well for the man at the head of it, I think."

In reply to her insistence that he must come for Thanksgiving, he told her that he had made a vow that he would never come back to her until he had absolutely succeeded or hopelessly failed. "If you knew how hard it is to keep that resolve you would be kind, and not ask me again," he added.

A little piqued, and yet proud, Bambi reported his decision to the Professor, and began to turn over in her busy mind a plan to carry the mountain to Mohammed, if Christmas found the wanderer still obdurate.