Bambi (Cooke)/Chapter XXVIII
Bambi kept to her room next day until it was time to meet the train on which Ardelia and the Professor were to arrive. It was due at four o'clock. She went to Jarvis's door, but he was not in his room. She had heard nothing of him since his confession of the night before.
Her telephone bell startled her, and she took up the receiver to hear Jarvis's voice.
"How are you?"
"Don't you want me to meet the Professor and Ardelia? There's no need of your going up to Grand Central."
"I'd rather go thank you, Jarvis. Where are you?"
"At the theatre."
"Anything the matter?"
"Oh, no. I came to talk to the stage manager. He says everything will be all right to-night. Are you resting?"
"Yes. I've had a quiet day, sitting on my nervous system. Where have you been?"
"Walking the streets."
"Come home and take some rest. I'll meet the train. Thank you just as much for thinking of it."
"I'll be at the information booth at five minutes to four."
She hung up the phone with a dazed face. The idea of Jarvis taking care of her, inquiring after her health, and trying to spare her!
"Every blessed thing is topsy-turvy," she exclaimed aloud.
At four o'clock she walked up to the booth, and there he stood, anxiously scanning the faces that passed.
"Hello!" she said cheerfully.
He looked grateful and smiled.
"You look as if you had had a spell of sickness, you're so white," he said.
"I'm all right, but you look like a nervous pros. case. Aren't we pitiful objects for eminently successful playwrights?"
"I suppose one gets used to this strain in time," he said, taking her arm to help her through the crowd.
No sooner had the train come to a stop than they saw Ardelia's huge frame descend from the car, holding a dress suitcase in each hand. After her came the Professor, looking very small and shrunken. Ardelia saw them afar, and waved the heavy suitcase in the air like a banner as she hurried toward them.
"Howdy, Miss Bambi? Howdy, Mistah Jarvis? Heah we is."
"Bless your old hearts!" said Bambi, hugging them both.
"How are you, children?" the Professor inquired.
"We're fine! Did you have a comfortable time on the trip? Why did you sit in the day coach, father?"
"De Perfessor, he won't set in de' chaih cah, cause'n dey won't let me in dere, an' he's 'fraid he fergit to git off less'n he was 'longside ob me."
"But the train stops here--it doesn't go any farther. My! Ardelia, you do look stylish!"
"Yas'm. Wait until yo' see my noo black silk. I'se got me a tight skirt, an' a Dutch neck--Lawzee, honey, but dis ole niggah's gittin' mighty frisky."
She and Jarvis had an argument about the bags. She insisted upon carrying them herself, and indignantly refused the help of the coloured porter.
"Go way f'um heah, boy. Yo' reckon I gwine trust yo' all wid ma' noo silk dress an de Perfessor's dress suit? No, sah!"
She kept them laughing all the way to the club with her tales of their difficulties and excitements in getting off. Her exclamations on everything she saw were convulsing. When they arrived at the club, and she discovered that she was to have the little room next to Bambi's, her satisfaction was complete.
Bambi ordered the entire family to repose on its respective backs for an hour before they dressed for dinner. So they parted to obey orders. For that hour Bambi held herself firmly upon her bed, completing her plans. They had agreed, she and Jarvis, that if there should be a call for the author, they would take it together, and Jarvis would speak. She was not sure just how she was to make the revelation to him of her dual personality. She decided to leave it to chance.
Never in her life had she been so excited. The double responsibility as author and playwright shrank to second place in comparison with the fact that this night she was to tell Jarvis of her love for him--hear him speak his love for her.
Before the hour of enforced quiet was over she could hear Ardelia tiptoeing about her room. Presently her head was cautiously inserted through the door. When she saw a hand waved at her, she bounced in.
"Laws, honey, I'se so excited, I cain't hol' my eyes shet. I got de Perfessor's dress suit cloes all laid out smooth, wif de buttons in de shirt, an' de white tie ready. Now, yo' let me help yo' all git dressed befo' I begin to wrassle wid dat tight skirt ob mine."
"All right, sit down and hold your hands till I jump into my bath."
While Bambi bathed, Ardelia shouted all the gossip of home through the bathroom door. Upon Bambi's reappearance, she insisted upon dressing her like a child. She put on her silk stockings and slippers, getting herself down and up with many a grunt. She constituted herself a critical judge in the hairdressing process, and fussed about every pin.
"Why ain't yo' all had one ob dese heah hair-fixers do yo' haid?"
"And make me look like a hair-shop model? Not much!"
"Well, yo' done purty good."
"Wait till I curl it," said Bambi, throwing up the window and popping her head out into the night air.
"Fo' de Lawd's sake, yo' curl yo' haih in Noo Yawk jes' lak yo' do at home."
"Why not? This cold, damp air is just the thing. Now look at me," she boasted, shaking her head so that the soft, curly rings fluttered like little bells about her face.
"Yo'll do," said Ardelia.
Bambi disappeared into the closet, and presently she popped out her head.
"Ardelia, prepare to die of joy. When you have seen my new dress, life has nothing more to offer you."
"I ain' gwine to die till after dis show."
Out of the closet Bambi danced, her arms full of sunset clouds apparently She held it up, and Ardelia's eyes bulged.
"Yo' don' call dat a dress?"
"Put it on me, and you'll call it a poem."
"Dey ain't nuthin' to it," she protested, as she slipped it over Bambi's head.
It was certainly a diaphanous thing of many layers of chiffon, graduating in colour from flame to palest apricot pink. It hung straight and simple on Bambi's lithe figure, bringing out all the colour, the dash, the fire-like quality in the girl's personality. The flush in her cheeks, the glow in her eyes, even the little curls, were like twisted tongues of flame. She whirled for Ardelia's inspection.
"I know dat ain't no decent dress, but yo' sho' is beautiful as Pottypar's wife."
"She's in the Bible!"
"I look like the 'fire of spring,'" she nodded to her reflection. "Of course I'm beautiful! This is the biggest, happiest night of my life!"
A boy came for the Professor's clothes, and a little later that distracted gentleman presented himself to have his tie arranged, and to be looked over generally in case of omissions.
"My dear!" he exclaimed at sight of his daughter.
"_Aren't_ I wonderful?"
He put his hand under her chin and tipped her face to him.
"There is something about you to-night--elemental is the word--fire, water, and air."
She hugged him.
"Oh, but you've got a surprise coming to you this night. You are about to discover other unsuspected elements in your offspring."
"My dear, I'm so excited now I'm counting backward. Don't explode anything on me or I'll lose control."
"The secret is coming out to-night."
"Is it painful?"
"No, it's heavenly!"
"May I come in?"
He stood on the threshold a moment, a truly magnificent figure in his evening clothes.
"Jarvis!" breathed Bambi.
"Bambi!" exclaimed Jarvis, and they stood a-gaze. She recovered first.
"Do you like me?" she coquetted.
He walked about her slowly, considering her from all sides.
"Ariel!" he said at last.
"Oh, thank you, Apollo," she laughed, to cover the lump in her throat at his awed admiration.
They sent Ardelia's supper up to her, and the rest of them made an attempt at dining, but nobody could eat a thing. Bambi talked incessantly from excitement, and all eyes in the dining-room were focussed upon her.
Ardelia was in a tremor of pride when they went upstairs again. She shone like ebony, and grinned like a Hindoo idol. They admired her, to her heart's content, and she descended to the cab in a state of sinful pride.
Although they were early, the motors were already unloading before the theatre. They were to sit in the stage box, and as soon as the rest of them were seated Bambi went back on the stage to say good-evening to the company. The first-night excitement prevailed back there. Every member of the company was dressed and made up a good half hour too soon. They all assured the perturbed author that she need have no fears, everything would go off in fine shape. Somewhat relieved, she started to go out front, when she ran into Mr. Frohman.
"Good-evening. If you are as well as you look, you're all right," he smiled at her.
"I feel like a loaded mine about to blow to pieces," she answered.
"Hold on for a couple of hours more. Does Jarvis know yet?"
He laughed and went on. Bambi returned to the box, where she sat far back in the corner. The house was filling fast now. More than a little interest was evinced in the strange box party of big Jarvis, the Professor, and Ardelia. Richard Strong nodded and smiled from a nearby seat.
"We should have come in late, just as the curtain rose," whispered Bambi. "We must not be so green again."
"Why so, daughter?"
"Then we wouldn't be stared at."
"Are we stared at? By whom?"
The overture interrupted her reply. The seats were full now as high as the eye could reach the balconies. Bambi scanned the faces eagerly. Would they like the play? If they only knew what it meant to Jarvis and to her to have them like it!
The curtain rose. For two full moments she could not breathe. The act started off briskly, and little by little her tension relaxed. She laid her hand on Jarvis's knee and it was stiff with nervous concentration. The first genuine laugh came to both of them like manna from heaven.
"It's all right," Bambi whispered to Jarvis. He nodded, his eyes glued to the stage. Of all kinds of creative work, dramatic writing can be the most poignant or the most satisfactory. It is the keenest pleasure to see characters whom you have invented given life and personality if the actors are clever. The Jocelyns had the aid of practically a perfect cast. The sense of power that comes with the laughter or the tears of an audience aroused by your thoughts is a very real experience. Bambi "ate up her sensations," as Strong had said. As the curtain descended after the first act the applause was instantaneous and long.
"They like it," Bambi said with a sigh.
"Yes, thank God!" from Jarvis.
"You told me not to take this seriously, Jarvis," she reminded him.
"Does anybody know who wrote this book?" the Professor inquired.
"Not yet. We are to know to-night. I wonder where she is?" Jarvis added to Bambi.
"I've thought that fat old one in the opposite box," she said wickedly. "Why did you ask, father?"
"It is a diverting idea. The girl is like you, or maybe it is the similarity of the names that suggests it."
"What do you think about the play, Ardelia?"
"Law, honey, 'tain't no play-actin' to me. It's jes' lak' bein' home wid yo' an' de' Perfessor and Marse Jarvis. Dose folkses is jes' lak yo' all."
Bambi laughed outright. Ardelia was the only one who guessed.
"I trust you do not compare me to that impractical old fiddling man," the Professor protested to Ardelia.
"Sh! Here's the curtain!" warned Bambi.
The second act went like a breeze. Laughter and applause punctuated its progress. The house was warming up. Bambi slipped her hand into Jarvis's, and he held it so tight that she could feel his heart beat through his palm. There was no doubt about it at the end of the second act. It was going. The company took repeated curtain calls, smiling at the Jocelyns.
"I'm grinning so I shall never get my face straight again," Bambi said to Richard, who came to the box to congratulate them.
"Looks like a go," he said, cordially.
Even Jarvis unbent to him, and insisted upon his sitting with them for the third act. Bambi added a smiling second. She had explained to Richard, in advance, why she did not invite him to share the box.
"I am having a most unexpectedly good time," the Professor admitted to them all.
Jarvis's state of mind was painful as the last act began. In the next thirty minutes he was to meet the woman he thought he loved. Since his confession to Bambi the night before, a doubt had raised its head to stare at him as to the real depth of his feeling for his unknown inamorata. Had he really been moved by love, or was it only a need of sympathy for his hurt pride that had driven him to her? Bambi's strange behaviour, her admission that she did not love Strong, most of all those moments when she lay in his arms--they had upset all his convictions and emotions. He paid no attention to the act at all, torn as he was as to what the night would bring him.
He was aroused by storms of applause. The curtain went up again, and again; the company bowed solo and in a group. Then calls of "Author! Author!" were heard all over the house. Bambi clutched Jarvis's sleeve and drew him back of the box.
"Go on! You've got to go out and bow. You do it alone, Jarvis----"
In answer he took her arm and propelled her in front of him, back on the stage.
"Here they are! give them full stage!" said the stage manager, ringing up the curtain. "Now, go ahead, right out there!"
He opened a door in the set and Jarvis and Bambi went on. There was a hush for a second, then a big round of applause. Bambi laughed and waved her hand. There was a hush of expectancy.
"Now, Jarvis, go on!" she prompted him.
Jarvis, cold as death, began to speak. He thanked everybody in the prescribed way, beginning with the audience, ending with the company. He said he was happy that they liked the play, but that he was making the speech under false pretenses. All the credit for the success must go to two women, his wife and collaborator----Here he turned to include Bambi, but to his astonishment she was gone. The audience laughed at his discomfiture, but he turned it off wittily. The other woman, the one to whom most of the credit was due, was the author of the book. She had so far hidden behind an anonymity, but he believed she was in the house to-night, and it was to her that their congratulations should be offered. Cries of "Author! Author of the book!" with much clapping of hands. Jarvis stood there, scarcely breathing, cold sweat on his brow, waiting for her to come. The applause became a clamour. The door opened and Bambi floated in. She did not see the audience, her eyes were fixed on Jarvis's face, and the strange expression she saw there. She came to him, put her hand in his, and smiled. He was so obviously nonplussed that the people grasped a new situation and were suddenly still. Bambi smiled at him and spoke:
"Dear People: If you have had as much fun to-night as I have, we owe each other nothing! And the most fun of all is the astonishment of Mr. Jarvis Jocelyn, who discovers himself to be a bigamist. He's married to the co-dramatist and the author, and he never knew it! That I wrote the book has been a secret until this minute. If you hadn't liked the play, I never _would_ have admitted that I wrote it. You're the very nicest first-nighters I ever met, and we are both most grateful to you, the bigamist and I."
There was wild applause, flowers were tossed from the boxes, calls of "Brava!" greeted the little bowing figure clinging tightly to the big man's hand. They finally made their escape to the wings, and Bambi turned to Jarvis for what was to her the real climax of the evening.
He looked at her so strangely that she laid her hand on his arm.
"You aren't glad?" she questioned, anxiously.
Some members of the company surrounded them with congratulations, and when they were free they had to hurry out to rescue the rest of the family.
"What did you think of the secret, Daddy?"
"My child, I am past all thought. I wish to be taken home, put to bed, and allowed to recover slowly. I have had a shock of surprise that would kill a less vigorous man."
"But you liked it? You were glad I did it?"
"I am so proud of you that I am imbecile. Let us go home."
Richard shook both her hands in silent congratulation.
"Where is Jarvis?" asked her father.
A search failed to find him. Richard made a trip back on the stage, but he was not there.
"We won't wait, if you will put us into our cab," Bambi said to him.
He saw them all off, promising to send Jarvis along if he saw him.
"What do you suppose became of him?" demanded the Professor.
But Bambi did not answer. All the triumph of the evening counted for nothing to her now. Jarvis had been hurt or angered at her revelation. He had deliberately gone off and left her, regardless of appearances. She spent the night in anxious listening for his return, but morning found his rooms vacant, his bed untouched. Bambi's heart misgave her.