Bambi (Cooke)/Chapter 13

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XIII

MR. STRONG’S visit left its impress on all three members of the household. The Professor referred to him as the man with the thirteen sisters, and wished him reinvited to the house. Bambi treasured the day he spent with her as a turning point in her life. Surely new vistas opened up to her as a result of his coming. But to Jarvis the memory of the day was extremely painful. He took Bambi’s punishment very seriously. He conceived Strong to be a former lover whom she welcomed back with affectionate ardour. He knew enough of her odd personality to be totally in the dark as to what she would do if she found herself suddenly in love with Strong. The main difficulty was, however, that he cared what she did—he, Jarvis, the free man! He realized that this was a flag of danger, and he answered the warning by sedulously avoiding Bambi for the next few days. She was too busy with the plans for the book to notice, although she caught him looking at her once or twice in a strange, speculative way.

Their peace was broken, however, a few days after Mr. Strong’s famous visit by a letter from the Belasco office, accompanied by the play. Mr. Belasco regretted that the play was not just what he wanted. It had some excellent points, etc., but as he had already arranged for so many productions during the coming season, he felt he could not take on anything more at present. He would be glad to read anything Mr. Jocelyn might submit. Jarvis handed it on to Bambi.

“As I told you,” he remarked.

“It never got to Belasco,” said Bambi, confidently. “If it had, he would have seen its possibilities.”

“Is something the matter?” inquired the Professor.

“Belasco has refused Jarvis’s play.”

“So. He didn’t like that abominable woman any better than I did.”

“She is not abominable!” from Jarvis.

“Be quiet, you two, and let me think.”

“If you would learn concentration you would not need quiet in which to think,” protested her parent.

“Oh, if I would learn to be a camel I wouldn’t need a hump,” returned Bambi, shortly.

“I don’t think a hump would be becoming to you,” mused the Professor, turning back to his book.

“We’ll send it to Parke, Jarvis.”

“What’s the use?”

“Don’t be silly. Every manager in New York shall see that play before we stop. We will send it to his wife. Maybe she will read it.”

“Do as you like about it,” he answered, with superb impersonality.

She took his advice and got it off at once, addressed to the actress. In a week came a letter in reply saying that Miss Harper would like to talk to Mr. Jocelyn about the play, and making an appointment at her house two days later.

This letter threw them into great excitement. Jarvis protested, first, that he could not be interrupted at his present work, which interested him. Bambi pooh-poohed that excuse. Then he said he had never talked to an actress, and he had heard they were a fussy lot. She would probably want him to change the play; as he would not do that, there was no use seeing the woman. Bambi informed him that if Miss Harper would get the play produced, it would pay Jarvis to do exactly what she wanted done. Then he protested he hated New York. He didn’t want to go back there. Bambi finally lost her temper.

“If you are going to act like a balky horse, I give you up. Until you get started, you will have to do a great many things you will not like, but if I were a man, I would never let any obstacles down me.”

“When can I get a train?” meekly.

“You can take the same train we took before, to-morrow morning.”

A great light broke for Jarvis.

“I can’t go. I haven’t any money.”

“I have. I’ll lend it to you.”

“I must owe you thousands now.”

“Not quite. We can do this all right.”

“Have you got it all down?”

“In the Black Maria,” she nodded.

So the long and the short of it was that Jarvis went off to New York again. No martyr ever approached the stake with a more saddened visage than he turned upon Bambi as the train pulled out. She waved her hand at him, smiling pleasantly, but he was sorrowful to the last glimpse.

“Poor old baby!” she laughed. “He shall stay in New York a while. He is getting too dependent on mamma.”

She really welcomed his absence. It gave her so much more time for her own work, which absorbed and delighted her. She had never known any sensation so pleasurable as that sense of adventure with which, each morning, she went to work. First, she patted the manuscript pile, which grew so amazingly fast. Then she filled her fountain pen and looked off over the treetops, beyond her window, until, like Peter Pan, she slipped off into another world, the Land of Make Believe, a country she had discovered for herself and peopled with human beings to suit her own taste. To be sure, her story concerned itself mainly with herself, Jarvis, and the Professor, but only the traits that made them individual, that made them “they,” were selected, and the experiences she took them through were entirely of her own making. It was such fun to make them real by the power of words; to make many people know them and love them, or condemn them, as the case might be. In fact, creation was absorbing.

“It’s very quiet around here since Jarvis left,” commented the Professor a few days later.

“I never thought Jarvis was noisy.”

“Well, he’s like distant thunder.”

“And heat lightning,” laughed Bambi.

“Do you happen to miss him?”

“Me? Oh, not at all. Do you?”

“It always frets me to have things mislaid that I am used to seeing around. When you change the furnishings about, it upsets me.”

“Do you look upon Jarvis as furniture?” she teased him.

“I look upon him as an anomaly.”

“How so?”

“William Morris said, ‘You should never have anything in your house which you do not know to be useful, and believe to be beautiful.’”

“I think Jarvis is beautiful.”

“That great mammoth?”

“He’s like Apollo, or Adonis.”

“He certainly needs all Olympus to stretch out on. He clutters up this little house.”

“I am sorry you don’t like Jarvis, Professor.”

“I do like him. I am used to him. I enjoy disagreeing with him. I wish he would come home.”

His daughter beamed on him.

“Then he is also useful as a whetstone upon which you sharpen your wits. William Morris had nothing on me when I added Jarvis to our Penates.”

Jarvis’s first letter she read aloud to her father, and they both laughed at it, it was so Jarvis-like.

“Dear Bambi,” he wrote, “I am in this vile cesspool of humanity again, and I feel like a drowning gnat. I did not go to the club, as you told me to, because I thought I could live more economically if I took a room somewhere and ‘ate around,’ I left my bag at the station, while I went to an address given me by a young man I met on the train. He said it was plain but clean. He told me some experiences he had had in boarding and lodging houses. They were awful! This place is an old three-story house, of the fiendish mid-Victorian brand—dark halls, high ceilings, and marble mantels. It seemed clean, so I took a room, almost as large as your linen closet, where I shall spend the few days I am here. My room has a court outlook, and was hotter than Tophet last night, but of course you expect to be hot in summer.

“I went to see Miss Harper, at the time appointed, this morning. She lives up Riverside Drive. She is a pleasant woman, who seems to know what she wants. She thinks that if I write a new third act, and change some things in the second act, Mr. Parke might produce it. I defended the present form, and tried to show her that the changes she wants will weaken the message of the play. She says she doesn’t care a fig for my message. She wants a good part. My impulse was to take my work and leave, but I remembered how important this chance seemed to you, so I swallowed my pride, though it choked me, and promised to make a scenario of the changes, to submit at once. I may have to stay on a few days to do things over as she wants me to do. The play is ruined for me, already.

“I suppose it is cool and quiet where you are. The noise and heat are terrible here. I forgot to say that I have to hurry with ‘Success,’ because the lady is going to Europe in a fortnight, and insists it must be finished by that time. I hope she won’t crack the whip. It makes me nervous. I am such a new trained bear.

“I’d rather argue with the Professor to-night than be here, or even talk with you. I wish you didn’t want me to be a success, Bambi. Couldn’t you let me off? My regards to you both. Tell Ardelia that nobody in New York knows anything about cooking. There seem to be thousands of people eating around, and oh, such food! Good night.

Jarvis.”

“He is homesick,” said the Professor, as Bambi finished and folded the letter.

“Homesick to argue with you,” snapped Bambi.

“He said, ‘Or talk with you.’”

“Excuse me. He said, ‘Or even talk with you.’ I shall punish him for that.”

“He isn’t comfortable. Hot and mid-Victorian. He isn’t responsible,” excused her father.

“He won’t be comfortable when he gets the penalty,” said Bambi, fiercely.

“I am surprised that he consented to change his play. Samson’s locks are certainly shorn.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“You have shaved him, my dear.”

“Are you calling me Delilah?”

“You can’t deny that he would never be where he is, doing what he is now, if he were not married to you.”

“What of it? Time he had a little discipline. He needs it and his work needs it.”

“Well, he’s getting it.”

“Are you pitying him because he isn’t as mad as he was when I caught him?”

“He’s still mad, nor’ by nor’east.”

“I’ll make a human being and a big artist out of Jarvis before I am through.”

“Be careful that you don’t lose everything in him that makes him Jarvis.”

“Do you think that I can’t do it?”

“I only say that creation, like vengeance, is God’s. It is dangerous when man tampers with it.”

Upon a sudden impulse, she went to lean over him and kiss his bald head.

“I’ll remember that, Herr Vater,” said she.

As the result of their talk, her reply to Jarvis was not so fierce as she had planned to make it, in her first indignation at his “even you.” She did not pat him on the back for making concessions about the play. She merely said she was glad he was acting so sensibly about it, and that if she was the mainspring of that action she was proud. As for letting him off, he was the only living person who could keep him on, or let him off. If he was the sort of softling who could not stand up under life’s discipline because it was uncomfortable or unpleasant, then no power on earth could hold him to accomplishment. But, endowed as he was, with brain, imagination, sensibilities, health, it lay in his power to actually create himself, to say “such and such a man will I be,” making every touch of life’s sculpturing fingers count, “even the pinches,” she added, picturesquely. Of course he must stay in New York as long as necessary. If he was uncomfortable, he must move. He could not do good work under irritating conditions. She told him that the Professor missed him, and Ardelia contemplated sending a box of goodies. She omitted any mention of her own state of mind or feelings in regard to him or his actions. Here was the punishment for his “even you,” and he pondered long over it.

“What on earth did she marry me for? She doesn’t care a straw about me, only what I can make of myself,” he mused, a trifle bitterly. But he went to work at “Success” with the abandon of a house-wrecker, pulling it to the foundation. He used the sledgehammer on scenes he loved. He loosened and pitched out phrases he had mulled over long, and in the dust of the affray he forgot the sting that lay behind Bambi’s words. If she wanted him famous, famous would he be.