Bambi (Cooke)/Chapter 18
JARVIS certainly had matriculated in the school of experience, and he entered in the freshman class. He first wrote a series of articles dealing with the historical development of the drama. He took them to the Munsey offices and offered them to Mr. Davis.
“Did you intend these for Munsey's Magazine?”
“Yes. I thought possibly—”
“Ever read a copy of the Magazine?”
“No. I think not.”
“Well, if you intend to make a business of selling stuff to magazines, young man, it would pay you to study the market. What you are trying to do is to unload coal on a sugar merchant. This stuff belongs in the Atlantic Monthly, or some literary magazine.”
“Isn’t your magazine literary?”
“Certainly not in that sense. We publish a dozen magazines and this kind of thing doesn’t fit any of them. We entertain the public—we rarely instruct them.”
“I see. I’m obliged to you for your trouble. I’ll try the Atlantic.”
“Bring in some stories, light, entertaining stuff with a snap, and we will take them.”
“Thanks! ’Fraid that isn’t in my line.”
Jarvis went over to the Public Library and deliberately studied the style of stuff used by the various monthly publications, making notes.
For the next few days he worked all day and a good part of the night on things he thought he could sell, according to these notes. Then he began a campaign to peddle them. The Atlantic refused his drama articles, and he tried them elsewhere, with no success. The other things were equally a drug on the market. He saved postage by taking them to the editors’ offices himself, and calling for them in ten days or so. He always found them ready for him. He took a cheaper room, and got down to one square meal a day. Finally, an opportunity came for him to review some books for a literary supplement of a newspaper. Confident that his luck had changed, he proceeded to demolish three out of the four books assigned to him in the most scathing reviews, whereupon the editor paid him half price and dismissed him.
The week when things reached the lowest ebb he was summoned by a postal from an acquaintance, made during one of his night prowls, an old English cabman. When he arrived at the address indicated he found the old man sick in bed with rheumatism. He wanted Jarvis to drive his hansom for a week, on a percentage, until he could get about again. There was no choice. It was that or the park benches, so Jarvis accepted. Old Hicks fitted, or rather misfitted, him in a faded blue tailed coat and a topper, Jarvis looked like an Otto Gushing cartoon of Apollo in the attire, but he never once thought of that. He hitched up the bony old horse, mounted the box, with full instructions as to traffic rules, and headed for the avenue. He found the new trade amusing. He drove ladies on shopping tours, took nurses and their charges around the Park. He did not notice that his face and manners caused many a customer to stare in astonishment. When one woman said audibly to her companion, “Good heavens! what a handsome creature!” he never dreamed she referred to him.
It was the fourth day of his employment as a cabby when a summons came from the Frohman offices bidding him appear at the theatre at eleven o’clock on the following day. It was embarrassing. Old Hicks was entirely dependent on what Jarvis brought in at night, and they could neither of them afford to have the cab idle a full day. So he decided to stop at the theatre in the morning, and then deduct his time off duty. Promptly at eleven the cab arrived at the Empire Theatre and Jarvis descended from the box. He gave the boy a cent to hold his horse, although nothing except a bushel of oats could have urged the old bone-rack into motion. Up to the booth window he marched, and presented the letter. The boy inspected the old blue coat, the topper, and the worn gloves.
“Character costume,” he grinned: then he opened the letter, and his face changed.
“Excuse me, sir, I’ll see if Mr. Frohman will see you.”
He was out and back, almost at once, bowing and holding the door open.
“Right ahead, into the private office,” he said, importantly. A clerk took charge of our hero at the far door, announcing formally, “Mr. Jarvis Jocelyn, Mr. Frohman.”
Jarvis entered the big room and crossed eyes with the man at the far end. What Mr. Frohman saw was a tall, splendidly set-up youth, with a head held high, and a fearless, free carriage, attired in the very strange and battered habiliments of a cabby. What Jarvis saw was a fat little man, with a round face, sharp, twinkling eyes, and a genial mouth. The whole face had a humorous cast, a kindly expression.
“You are Jarvis Jocelyn?” said Mr. Frohman, as Jarvis reached him.
“You wrote a play called ‘Success’?"
“I’ve read your play.”
“Well, the play isn’t,” Frohman interrupted, “It is extremely bad, but there are some ideas in it, and one good part.”
“The woman, you mean?”
“The woman nothing. She’s a wooden peg to hang your ideas on. I mean the man she married.”
“But he is so unimportant,” Jarvis protested.
“He was important enough to get this interview. I never would have bothered with you, or with your play, if it hadn’t been for that character. He’s new.”
“You want me to make him a bigger part in the play?”
“My advice is to throw this play in the wastebasket and write one about that man.”
“Will you produce it if I do?”
“Probably not, but I’ll look it over. What else have you done?”
“I have finished two things. One I call ‘The Vision’—this is a Brotherhood of Man play—the other I call ‘Peace,’ and it’s a dramatization of the Universal Peace idea.”
“Why don’t you write something human? Nobody wants dramatized movements. The public wants people, personalities, things we all know and feel. You can’t get much thrill out of Universal Peace.”
“But I believe the public should be taught.”
“Yes, I know. I get all of you ‘uplift boys’ sooner or later. Teach them all you like, but learn your trade so thoroughly that they will have no idea that they are being taught. That is the function of the artist-playwright. What do you do besides write plays?”
“Just at present I drive a cab,” Jarvis answered simply.
“You don’t say? How does that happen?”
“I was up against it for money, and I took this to oblige a friend cabby who has rheumatism.”
“’Pon my word! How long have you been at it?”
“This is my fifth day.”
“Business good?” The manager’s eyes twinkled. Jarvis smiled gravely.
“I have been wishing it would rain,” he confessed.
“When do you write?”
“At night, now. But this is only temporarily.”
“What do you think of my idea of another play?”
“The idea is all right, if you will only take it when I’ve done it.”
“How long have you been at this play writing?”
“How long do you suppose it took me to learn to be a manager?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, nearer three times ten than three years, and I am still learning. You writing fellows never want to learn your trade like other people. You talk about inspiration and uplifting the public, and all that, and you want to do it in six months. You go to work on this new idea, and come back here when you’ve finished it. Then it will be time enough to talk about my end of it.”
Jarvis rose.“I am obliged to you, sir. I shall do it.”
HE TAUGHT HIMSELF TO ABANDON HIS OLD INTROSPECTIVE HABITS DURING THESE DAYS ON THE BOX.
“Thanks! Good morning, sir.”
With the perfect ease of a lack of self-consciousness Jarvis made his exit, leaving Mr. Frohman with a twinkle in his eyes.
The rest of the day a certain blond cabman on the avenue drove to Franklin Simon’s when he was ordered to Altman’s, drew up in state at McCreery’s when he was told Bonwit Teller’s.
“You must be drunk, driver,” said one passenger. She held up her dollar bill, indignantly, to dismiss him. He lifted his hat, perfunctorily, and swept a bow.
“I am, madam, intoxicated with my own thoughts.” He rattled off down the street, leaving the woman rooted to the curb with astonishment.
He taught himself to abandon his old, introspective habits during these days on the box, and forced his attention to fix itself upon the crowds, his customers, the whole uptown panorama, so different from the night crowds he sought. He recalled Bambi’s saying to him that until he learned not to exclude any of the picture he would never do big work. Her words had a tantalizing way of coming back to him, things she had tossed off in the long ago of their visit to New York together. He longed for her vivid phrasing, her quick dart at the heart of the things they talked of. It seemed incredible now that he had ever taken her as a matter of course. As for the enigma of her marrying him, he never ceased to ponder it.
True to his promise, he went to call on the “Probation Lady,” as he named her, and they became friends. He admired her enormously, and owed much to her wise philosophy. He asked her to go riding in his cab, and she accepted without hesitation. They rode from five to seven, one afternoon, conversing through the shutter in the top of the cab, laughing and enjoying themselves hugely, to the great amusement of pedestrians along the way.
At the end of two weeks he and Hicks divided the spoils, and Hicks resumed the box. It cemented a friendship which Jarvis enjoyed greatly, for the old Englishman was ripe with humour and experience. He, too, taught the teacher.
The day after he was free from cab duty Jarvis went to the Little Theatre to get a report from “The Vision.” The secretary said Mr. Ames had asked to see him when he came in. He found him a lean student type of man, finished in manner, and pleasant of speech.
“I have been interested in this play of yours, Mr. Jocelyn. I couldn’t do it, in my theatre, but I thought I would like to have a talk with you and ask you what else you’ve done.”
“A woman-question play, called ‘Success,’ this one, and one on Universal Peace.”
“Certainly. Why do managers always ask that?”
“Because serious plays are so many, I suppose. Good comedies are so few.”
“I thought you always gave serious things in the Little Theatre?”
“I am forced to, but I am always looking for good comedy. I would like to see your other plays.”
They sat, discussing things of the theatre, tendencies in drama, fashions and fads, Gordon Craig’s book, the Rheinhardt idea. They spent a pleasant half hour, like an oasis in Jarvis’s desert. He felt that Mr. Ames had time for him, was sincere in his interest in him. He left the Little Theatre cheered in some inexplicable way.
When he returned to his lodgings that day he found a note from Strong, forwarded from the old address. It acknowledged Jarvis’s apology gracefully, and suggested that they dine together the night of this very day, unless Jarvis was again engaged, in which case he might telephone, and they would make other plans. Jarvis frowned over it ten minutes.
“Might as well go and get it over,” he remarked ungraciously. He telephoned Strong his acceptance, and asked if he might meet him at the restaurant. He did not wish Strong to know the new address. He would keep his struggle and his poverty to himself. That was certain.
The two men met at a roof garden, each determined to suppress his instinctive dislike of the other because of Bambi. They found a table, and after a short period of stiffness they fell into easy talk of books and plays and men.
“How do you like New York? I remember you confessed to hating cities when I saw you.”
“I still hate cities, but I am getting a new point of view about it all.”
“It’s a great school.”
“So it is.”
“Is Mrs. Jocelyn well, and the Professor?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“It is some time since you were home?”
“I had a note from Mrs. Jocelyn a few days ago.”
“I wonder if you would let me see your ‘Songs of the Street,’ she told me about?”
“She spoke of them to you?”
“In the highest terms. Said she had no idea of your plans in regard to them, but that the poems were strong and true.”
“I am glad she liked them.”
“Would you consider letting me have them for the magazine if they seemed to fit our needs?”
“You can look them over, if you like. They won’t fit, though. They’ll stick out like a sore thumb. The only editor I showed them to said they weren’t prose, and they weren’t poetry, and, besides, he didn’t like them.”
“Mail them to me to-night when you go home. Better still, bring them in.”
Jarvis drew out an envelope that he pushed across the table to Strong.
“Look them over now,” he said.
Strong lifted his brows slightly, but took the proffered pages and began to read. While his host was so busied, Jarvis smoked a good cigar, the first in months, and enjoyed it. He didn’t care whether Strong liked them or not. Strong looked up suddenly.
“I’ll take these, Jocelyn. What do you want for them?”
“Oh, I don’t know. What are they worth to you?”
“I’ll pay two hundred dollars for them. Is that satisfactory?”
“I’ll mail you a check in the morning. I should say you have been learning things, Jocelyn. That is good stuff.”
“I told you I was getting a new point of view.”
At the close of the evening the two men parted with a surreptitious feeling that they would have liked each other under any other circumstances. They promised to meet soon again. As for Jarvis, he felt that a golden egg had been laid for him in the middle of the table on the Astor roof! The one thing that stood out in his mind was the thought that he could go home—home, to see Bambi. The only regret was that Strong had made it possible.