Bambi (Cooke)/Chapter XXI
"God's in his heaven! All's right with the world!" carrolled Bambi gayly the next day.
She wrote Mr. Strong of her interview with Mr. Frohman and its happy outcome. It gave her some satisfaction to announce that the manager was willing to entrust Jarvis with the play. She explained that she was obliged to come home on the night train, so she had missed the pleasure of seeing him. Would he see that Mr. Frohman had the first bound copy of the book?
She added that she was happy, but it was superfluous. It sang itself through the note, so that Strong patted the paper, as he finished it, as if it were a personal belonging of the sender.
The letter finished, she mounted the stairs to Jarvis's house, as she always called the top floor. She wandered about, comparing it with that place of confinement where he now dwelt. To-day he would write or telegraph to her his news, if he had the interview with Frohman.
She began work on the play, up in his study. She outlined the main plot, marked scenes in the book she thought vital, scraps of conversation which would be effective. She planned the sets for the different acts, even deciding upon Francesca's clothes. Ever and anon, in the midst of her happy scheming, she fell to dreaming of the days to come, with Jarvis home again, and their work together resumed.
Whenever the doorbell rang she stopped and waited for Ardelia's heavy foot upon the stairs as she toiled up with the telegram or special delivery. But the morning passed, plus half the afternoon, with no word from him. She went down to the post-office herself in the hope that the late mail would reward her. There was nothing for her.
The next day brought only a note from Strong congratulating her enthusiastically, and prophesying a great success for the Jocelyn family. She spent a restless day waiting for the postman, afraid to leave the house for fear she would miss a wire. She grew so nervous that she scolded Ardelia and fussed at the Professor. Night found her entirely discouraged. Something had happened. Frohman had changed his mind, or Jarvis had refused. She had known all along that it was too good to be true. She tossed all night, sleepless, her mind running around like a squirrel in a trap, planning another trip to see the manager.
The early morning found her pacing the paths of the frostbitten garden, where the Professor found her later.
"Why, good morning, Bambi mia," said he, in surprise.
"Good day, Herr Vater!"
"What brings you forth so early, lady-bird?"
"My hateful thoughts! Oh, daddy, there's a crick in the secret."
"A crick? Dear me, what a pity!"
"If it doesn't get itself straightened out to-day, I shall go to New York again, to see what I can do."
"The companionship of a secret is often corruptive to good habits, such as sleep and appetite. Better tell me this mystery."
"If it isn't settled to-day, I will tell you."
"These late asters are hardy things?"
"Yes. The rest of the poor beds are full of ghosts."
"Ghosts always stalk, don't they?"
He looked at her in concern. "You are upset," he said, and they both laughed.
She followed him about for an hour, talking, watching his exact, methodical movements. The early morning air was keen, in spite of the sun. When the postman appeared on the block she ran to the gate to meet him. He was an old friend, on the route ever since she could remember.
"Hello, Miss Bambi, you're early this morning," he called.
"I couldn't sleep for my sins. If you don't give me a letter, Mr. Ben, I'll scream."
He laughed at her discomfited face and handed her the letter. A quick glance showed the Empire Theatre in one corner. She blew him a kiss on her finger tips.
"I knew you wouldn't disappoint me, dear Mr. Ben. That's it!"
"I tell you I'm a regular little Cupid. Don't know what the girls in this town would do without me," he laughed, as he trudged away. Bambi read:
"MY DEAR MRS. JOCELYN: It gives me pleasure to announce that Mr. Jarvis Jocelyn has almost agreed to accept the commission. I think he feels that it is condescension on his part, but he accepts conditionally. He carried off the copies of the magazine to read your story, and he is to give me his answer to-day. As I am sure of a favourable one, I think we may consider the matter settled.
"Hoping that this meets with your entire approval,
"I am, faithfully,
"P.S. I told him that I understood the author was an unhappy wife, who desired to be unknown."
The Professor looked up as Bambi pirouetted around the beds, waving a fluttering white sheet in good melodrama style.
"This letter that I longed for, it has come!" she sang, lifting a pointed toe over the top of a withered sunflower stalk.
"My dear, that ballet step is a trifle exaggerated for a lady!"
"The sunflower's dead, so it couldn't be shocked. The secret is working fine. Oh, I'm so happy, I'm so happy!" she trilled, and whirled off toward the house.
"If you are still thinking of a career, why not a whirling dervish?" called her father.
She stopped, and turned to him.
"Career? Career, did you say, for stupid little me?"
"I never called you stupid," he protested.
"I should hope not. I'm the smartest child you ever had!" she cried as a period to their discourse.
All day she waited for word from Jarvis and none came. She could have cried with disappointment. Could he have been insane enough to refuse, after he had read the story? Or did he think she was indifferent to his good fortune? She went to bed determined to write him on the morrow.
The morning mail brought a second letter from the Empire Theatre. It contained a line from Mr. Frohman, "He accepts," and an enclosure. This proved to be a letter from Jarvis:
_"To the Author of 'Francesca,' care of Mr. Frohman, Empire Theatre, New York._
"MY DEAR MADAM: Mr. Charles Frohman has given me your story 'Francesca' to read, with a view to making it into a play. Of course you are familiar with his plans in this respect. He has offered to entrust me with the dramatization, and I have consented to accept, on the condition that both you and he will allow me to use my own discretion in the work, and not hamper me by superimposing your own ideas and desires. When I have finished all I can do with it, I will then try to incorporate any ideas you may have in the final version.
"I think the story very charming, the characters interesting. The part of the musician seems to me rather fantastic, but I suppose there are such men. The girl, Francesca, is delightful; the old fiddler, a fine study.
"You are to be congratulated on your work, and I trust I may be able to make as good a play as you have made a book.
"Very truly yours,
Bambi chuckled as she read, and patted the part which praised her. Whatever else had happened, Jarvis's dignity was still intact. He calmly told the author to keep her hands off her own book! She flew to the typewriter to answer him.
_"Mr. Jarvis Jocelyn, care of Mr. Charles Frohman, Empire Theatre, New York._
"MY DEAR MR. JOCELYN: Your letter in regard to the dramatization of my book, 'Francesca,' seems to demand immediate assurance that you will have free rein in the work you are to do. Mr. Frohman has told me something of you and of your work, and I shall be very happy if my story gives you your first opportunity to succeed as a playwright.
"I am glad you are pleased with my story. Did you know that it was my first one? Your comment on the character of the musician interested me, as it is a close portrait of a friend.
"Trusting that we may work together to a successful end, I am
"P.S. For private reasons I prefer to remain unknown to you. You can always reach me through Mr. Frohman's office. You must forgive typed letters."
This she sent to the Frohman office, with a request that it be forwarded. The next day brought Jarvis's news:
"DEAR BAMBI: For three days I have resisted the constant temptation to send you word of what seemed to be extraordinarily good news, but many disappointments have made me a doubting Thomas, so I held off until I was really sure. To begin at the beginning, I was at the lowest ebb of disgust with myself last week for my inability to get in step with the grand march. Only a fool can be excused for failure, and I am not that. So a summons from the Frohman office somewhat restored my self-respect. It seems that Mr. Frohman has never forgotten my previous interview, so when he decided to make a play of a popular novel entitled 'Francesca,' he immediately thought of me.
"Of course this is not the kind of play I want to do, so I said I would look over the book and if I liked it I would have a try at it. The long and the short of it is I have accepted. The woman who wrote the thing has promised to keep out of it. She seems to be a nice kind of person, but for some reason wants to make a mystery of herself. Frohman hints at a domestic tragedy as her reason. I'm sure I do not care about her private affairs.
"She has written a clever and delightful book. The heroine, oddly enough called Francesca, suggests you in places, except that she is a more practical sort than you are. The hero, a musician, is a sort of sublimated madman. The best character of all is an old fiddler. There is a play in it. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced of that.
"Would you care to help me on it? Both of our names could go on the bill. I have come to know, these last months, since I have been working at things here alone, how much the growth in my work is due to you. The human touch you have given my characters, or helped me to give them, is the essential element in my improvement. You started a good many wires to jangling that spring day when you indulged your mad impulse to marry an impossibility!
"Regards to the Professor.
Bambi went to the telegraph office and wired him:
"Congratulations. Of course I'll help! Come home.
He answered, by letter, that he thought it best to stay on until Mr. Frohman and the author were both satisfied with the framework of the play. Then he would come, most gladly, to work in the old study. He would submit his ideas for a scenario the next day or so.
From that moment the fun began for Bambi. He wrote daily about the outline, and weekly letters to the author were forwarded to her from the Frohman office. These she answered, disguised as the author, with many a chuckle of amusement. A sort of friendliness crept into these letters as they increased in number.
Christmas week arrived with no definite assurance from Jarvis as to his plans, but Bambi was confident that he would be at home for the holiday. Professor Parkhurst demanded daily bulletins of his son-in-law's intentions, while Ardelia bemoaned and bewailed lest he fail to return.
The day before Kris Kringle was due a white snow descended like a benediction. Bambi and the Professor sat before a huge, crackling fire in the library. She was restless as a spirit. She sat at the piano and sang "O Lonely Pine Tree Standing," until the Professor objected.
"Sing something gay, my child."
"God rest ye, merry gentleman, Let nothing ye dismay, For Jesus Christ, the Saviour, Was born on Christmas Day,"
she sang gladly.
All at once her hands fell silent on the keys, while she stared at the doorway a full second before she rose. Jarvis stood there looking at her. He was powdered with snowflakes. He held his soft hat crushed against him, showing his hair, glistening with snow, and curled close to his head with dampness. It was his face that focussed her attention. The old proud carriage of the head was there, but an asking look had come into his eyes and mouth in place of the old arrogance. In the second she hesitated she saw all this--caught the glow and the beauty of him, as well as the appeal.
"Jarvis!" she cried, and met him halfway across the room, both hands out.
"Bambi!" he answered her huskily, and she knew that he was moved at the sight of her. He crushed her hands in his, and drank her in, from her shining eyes to her boots, oblivious to the startled Professor, who stood looking on.
"Welcome home!" said Bambi, unsteadily.
"Did you come through the roof?" inquired Professor Parkhurst.
"I had a passkey. How are you?" Jarvis laughed, mangling the Professor's hand. The latter rescued and inspected his limp fingers.
"I am well, but I shall never use that hand again."
"You have come home," said Bambi, foolishly.
"I have. My, but it's good to be here! I got Frohman's approval on the framework of the play to-day, and ran for the first train."
"Does the author approve, too?"
"She does. She is more or less a figurehead, but she seems reasonable."
"Oh, Jarvis, you're a nice Christmas present. Go put these wet things in the hall, call on Ardelia, and come back. It will take at least a week to say all the things I want to say to you."
He smiled at her, and marched off to do her bidding.
"He looks fine, doesn't he? I never realized before how handsome he is," said the Professor.
"He's thrilling!" replied Bambi.
Her father inspected her thoughtfully.
"What a talent you have for hitting people off! That is just it: he thrills you with a feeling of youth and power."
"Plus some new and softer quality," added Bambi, as if to herself.
The powwow in the kitchen could be heard all over the house, Ardelia welcoming home the Prodigal Son. It was only after long argument he escaped the fatted calf. She could not conceive of him except as hungry after many months in the heathen city.
When he came back into the library he swept with his eyes its caressing harmony of colour, tone, and atmosphere. He had never noticed it before. The Professor's beautiful profile, like a fine steel engraving, thrown into high relief by the lamplight, seemed a part of it. The vibrant little figure on the hearth rug, in a flame-coloured gown, was the high note that gave it all climax. His mind swept the gamut of dirty hall bedrooms, back to this, and the sigh with which he sank into the big couch caught Bambi's amused attention.
"It was satisfaction," he assured her. "For the first time in my life, I've got the home feeling."
She nodded understandingly. Her mind, too, swept up those dirty stairs, peeped into the cell, and flew back, singing.
The Professor moved over beside Jarvis, and the wander tales began. Bambi fluttered about like a scarlet tanager, tantalizing Jarvis with a desire to catch her in his hand and hold her still.
At eleven the Professor said good night. Immediately Bambi led the talk to their proposed work, and held it there, firmly, until midnight chimed. Jarvis told her of the sale of the "Street Songs" to Strong's magazine, and announced that one hundred dollars of it was to be set down in the Black Maria account. She laughed and congratulated him.
Finally she rose.
"Your rooms are always ready for you, so I do not need to go up and see about them. A Merry Christmas, Jarvis Jocelyn."
He laid his hands on her shoulders and looked deep into her eyes. He thought he felt her tremble under his touch, but her glance was as frank and emotionless as a boy's.
"A Merry Christmas to you, Miss Mite," he answered, with a sigh. She laughed, unexpectedly patted his cheek with her hand, and ran upstairs.