Bambi (Cooke)/Chapter XXII
Christmas day in the little house was a real celebration. It was the first one in the Jocelyns' married life, and the entire household entered into the spirit of Yuletide with enthusiasm. At Bambi's suggestion, they hid the presents all over the house. The subsequent search and discovery were carried on with much laughter and shouting. Ardelia's delight over her gifts was vocal and extreme. The Professor continually forgot which presents were his, and collected every one else's into his pile, from which the owner laughingly rescued them. A pair of silk stockings for Bambi which he absent-mindedly appropriated caused much mirth.
Jarvis's gift to Bambi was a dull gold chain, hung with tassels of baroque pearls, an exquisite feminine bauble.
"Oh, Jarvis, how charming! It's like a lovely lady's happy tears!" she exclaimed.
He blushed happily.
"I thought it looked like you."
"A thousand thanks! Fasten the clasp for me."
He fumbled it awkwardly, but with final success. She turned for inspection, her eyes avid for praise. He nodded.
"It is where it belongs," he said.
The day passed happily. Ardelia's dinner was a Christmas poem. When the Professor complimented her on the success of everything, she replied:
"Yassuh, dis heah day been all right. But I hopes befo' nex' Chris'mus we all gwine to have some chilluns to make dis a sho' nuff pahty."
Bambi's face was scarlet, but she faced it out.
"Oh, not children, Ardelia--singular, you mean, I hope."
"No, I don't mean sing'lar. We don' want no singular chilluns. I mean jes' plain chilluns."
"The holiday seems to be peculiarly the children's day," said the Professor, unaware of the situation, and so saved it!
Thus it was that Jarvis was welcomed into the family circle again, and this time he became an integral part as he had never been before. The day after Christmas he came to Bambi with her story.
"You told me you had read this book, didn't you?"
"Yes, I've read it."
"What do you think of it?" he asked her, curiously.
"I adore it!" she replied.
He sat down beside her, gravely.
"It's a strange thing, but the book grows on you. When I first read it, I thought it was a clever little trifle. But as I work with it, I have come to see that it is remarkable in its human quality. You feel the charm of the author all through it."
"Do you?" eagerly.
"I don't know. I loved the girl. She seemed very true to me."
"I've never known any girls except you, and I don't know you very well, but there are spots where you and the other Francesca are strikingly alike. I suppose it is not you, but _feminine_. I mix them up."
"If we are to make a play of it, I am glad we both love it."
"I find myself intensely interested in the mysterious woman who wrote it. To me there is no hint in the story of the infelicity Mr. Frohman hinted at. I would like to know her."
"Don't you expect to see her when the play is finished?"
"She says she wishes me not to know her."
"But she will have to come to rehearsals?"
"I must ask her about that. Maybe she will come, then."
"You write to her?"
"Oh, yes. I have to keep her in touch with my progress."
"I thought you told her to keep out."
"I did. But she has been so agreeable about it that I decided to keep her posted as I went along."
"I've no doubt she is very fascinating," she said, coldly.
"You don't object to my interest in her?"
"Object? My dear Jarvis, you may be interested in all the women in creation without any objection from me!"
"And you have the same freedom?"
"Naturally. Now let's get to work. I was surprised at what you said about the young musician in the book. I thought he was so real."
"Strange. That is what the author said, that it was a close portrait of a near friend."
"What is it, about him, that you do not like?"
"Oh, I like him, in a way. But these reformers, idealists, thinking they can dream the world into Arcadia!"
Bambi's clear laugh startled him.
"What amuses you so?" he asked, shortly.
"I suppose I rather like the idealist type."
He looked at her closely.
"Good heavens, you don't think I'm like that, do you?"
"A little," she admitted.
"If I thought that I was that particular brand of idiot I'd learn bookkeeping and be a clerk," was the reply.
"Maybe it isn't you--maybe it is just _man_ I recognize."
"You can see how terribly clever the woman is--to set each of us accusing the other."
"She is just a student of types, that's all," Bambi disparaged the lady.
So they began their co-partnership. The shyness, the appeal, the new self-conscious element Bambi had sensed in Jarvis gave way to the old mental relationship as fellow workman. They had regular office hours, as they called it. They experimented to see whether they obtained the best results, when they each worked at a scene alone and went over it together for the final polishing; or when they actually worked on it in unison. Four hours in the morning they laboured, took an hour of recess after lunch, then two hours more, followed by a tramp off into the country, talking play, play, play.
These were days of keen delight to them both. They worked together so smoothly and so well. Jarvis's high-handed superiority had given way to a well-grounded respect for Bambi's quick apprehension of a false note, an unnatural line, or a bungled climax.
The first interruption came with the advent of Richard Strong to spend the weekend, and Jarvis made no comment when Bambi announced his coming and declared Saturday a holiday. He even agreed to meet their guest at the station. The two men came back together in amicable converse.
"I am so glad you could come, Richard," Bambi greeted him, in her eager way.
Jarvis started at the Christian name, and flushed angrily at Strong's reply.
"Happy New Year, Francesca!"
Richard and Francesca--so they had gone as far as that on the road to intimacy was Jarvis's hurt comment to himself.
After that he watched Strong every minute for signs of special devotion, and before the day was over he had satisfied himself that these two cared deeply for each other. The way Strong's eyes followed her every movement, the way he anticipated her wants, understood her before she spoke--they were all damning evidences of the situation. That Bambi showed herself grateful, as vividly as she did everything else, entirely escaped Jarvis. She loved him, that was the truth, and he alone stood between her and happiness.
The two days dragged by, in torment, for him. It seemed as if they would never be over, so that he might face the truth by himself, with Strong out of the picture, and decide what must be done. Bambi noticed his strained politeness to their guest, but set it down to the same inconsistency he had shown before, of being jealous of what he did not especially value himself.
Monday, after Strong's departure, she began to realize that there was a change in him. He was taciturn and moody. The work went badly. He disagreed with her at every point, and when she suggested that they stop an hour earlier than usual, he went off by himself, without asking her to go. She began to wonder whether his dislike of Strong was really serious and something to be taken cognizance of.
Jarvis strode off into the country in a state of nerves unknown before. A sleepless night and the irritation of the day's work had played their havoc with him. He went over the thing again and again. Bambi and Strong loved each other--he stood in the way. Why should he not take himself out of the situation at once? "She married me for a whim; she will unmarry me the same way," he reiterated to himself. "Why did she do it, in the first place, unless she cared something for me? But she told me she had no sentiment for me," he replied to his other self. "It was ambition that made her do it. She thought I would be famous. I've disappointed her, and she's through with me." He went over every incident of their reunion--his thrill at her welcome. "She didn't really care; it was just her way," he assured himself.
For hours he plunged through the woods, pursued by his bitter thoughts. When he turned back at last, into the garden, he knew that a precious, new-born thing, which he had brought back with him after his exile, was laid away, never to be allowed to come into full flower and maturity.
His decision was made. He temporized on one point. He would stay on until the play was produced, so that if it succeeded, as he was determined it should, Bambi would have that much satisfaction from her matrimonial experiment. Then he would let her divorce him, and he would take himself out of her life.
She was in the library when he went in. She caught sight of his face, and exclaimed:
"Jarvis, my dear, how tired you look!"
He started to go, but she detained him.
"Is anything the matter, Jarvis?"
"No, what should be the matter?"
"I don't know, but if there is anything you want to talk out with me, let's have it now. We can't afford to have any misunderstandings between us."
"There is nothing," he said, and left the room.
That night, after dinner, he sat late in his study, writing. Two days later the result of the evening's work came to Bambi:
"DEAR AUTHOR LADY: Some days ago I sent you my new address, so that you need not send letters to the theatre, but so far I have not heard from you. To-night, for some reason, I feel moved to write to you as I would wish to talk to you were you near me.
"I say for some reason, and yet I know the reason. It is because of your human understanding of the things that make men glad or sad. I am beginning to know that only through the ache of experience can we come to understand each other. Surely there must be something of sadness back of your life, Lady of Mystery, to give you this power.
"To-day I have fought out a bitter fight with myself, and I feel the loneliness that comes in a crisis, when each man of us must stand or fall, alone.
"The play goes ahead rapidly. As I told you, Mrs. Jocelyn and I have great satisfaction in our work on it. I am determined to wring success from it. Both for your sake and for mine, I must!
"Is this personal letter distasteful to you? Do I depend too much upon your gracious understanding? If I do, say so, and I will not offend again.
"Faithfully, "JARVIS JOCELYN."
Bambi read this letter over and over again, behind the locked door of her bedroom. What did it all mean? What was the bitter fight that drove Jarvis to this other woman for solace? How far did she dare draw him out on it, without offending her own sense of fitness? Had this innocent plot of hers, to startle him into amazed admiration, led them both into a labyrinth of misunderstanding?
She answered Jarvis's letter and sent it to the theatre, asking them to forward it:
"DEAR MR. JOCELYN: Your letter touched me very much in its appeal for my sympathy and understanding. I am regretful that sorrow has found you out. I think of you always as young and strong and happy, with a young wife, and the world before you. I hate to have you spoil my picture.
"I repeat my satisfaction that you and your wife enjoy your work on 'Francesca.' I found such happiness myself in doing her, that I like to think we share the pleasure between us, we three.
"Is it your own ambition that drives you so that you say 'I must,' in regard to success? Sometimes, if we set our hearts too much on a thing, our very determination thwarts us. Is it not so? Perhaps it is for the sake of some one else that you are so eager for accomplishment. I feel that it is to come to you in this play, and I am glad.
"Be of good cheer, Comrade. Even the memory of bitter fights grows dim. I will not think of you as daunted by anything life can offer. No, nor death. Why have I this confidence in you, I wonder?
"In all friendliness, "THE LADY OF MYSTERY."
The day this letter came to Jarvis marked a change in him to Bambi's watchful eye. He threw himself with renewed ardour into the work. For the first time in many days they walked together, and he seemed more himself than he had been since Strong's unfortunate visit. Was it the effect of this letter? He was beginning to be easily influenced by this supposed stranger! The idea was too fantastic.
"What kind of a woman do you imagine the author of 'Francesca' to be?" she asked him as they trudged along a wintry road. He started a little, she thought.
"I scarcely know," he evaded. "I always think of her as tall and thin and frail, with a rather sad face, white, with humorous gray eyes, and a sensitive mouth."
"I always think of her as little and fat and cuddly."
"Oh, not cuddly!" he protested.
"Any news from her lately?"
"Yes. I had a letter to-day."
"Did you ask if she was coming to rehearsals?"
"Haven't you any curiosity about her?"
"In a way, yes. But I respect her desire in the matter."
"I don't. If I could get it out of Richard Strong who she is, I'd go look her up in a minute."
"Have you tried?" eagerly.
"He won't tell. He's the King of Clams."
"He has no right to tell."
"It is very smart of her to work up all this mystery about herself. No doubt she is a wobbly old fatty, instead of the Beatrice you think her."
He made no answer, but she saw by his face how he resented it.
A wicked design grew in Bambi's mind. She would make Jarvis Jocelyn fall so desperately and hopelessly in love with this dream-woman of his that she would be revenged upon him for the way he had shut her out since Strong's visit. It never once occurred to her that it was a hurt she had given him which drove him to this other woman. But the something which he had offered her the night of his return he had deliberately withdrawn, before she had a chance to accept or refuse it. Well, here was a chance to punish him and she would take it.