Bambi (Cooke)/Chapter 14

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THREE boiling days, and the major part of three boiling nights, Jarvis sweated and toiled over the scenario for the revised two acts. It was work that irked him, because he hated doing things over when the first glad joy of inspiration was gone, but he stuck to it. And the fourth day he set out for the house far up the Riverside Drive, armed with his manuscript and a sense of triumph.

Arrived at his destination, the butler announced that Miss Harper had gone on a motor trip for two days. No, she had left no word. Angry at himself for not having provided against such a situation by an appointment with the lady, furious at the thought of two days’ delay, he betook himself to the Parke offices in the hope of finding some word for him there. Mr. Parke was busy and could not see him, announced the keeper of the keys to heaven, who sat at the outer gate. No, Mrs. Parke had left no word for a Mr. Jocelyn. No, she knew nothing of Mrs. Parke’s plans or movements. No, she could not ask Mr. Parke. Besides, he wouldn’t know.

Jarvis descended the many stairs in a thickening gloom. Wait, wait, wait! That was part of the discipline Bambi talked of so wisely. Well, he then and there decided that the day would come when he would walk past every managerial outpost in the city, and invade the sanctum without so much as presenting a visiting-card.

The automobile trip lasted four days instead of two, and he spent them in a fret of impatience. He worked at the third act, sure of her approval. On the fifth day she received him. She liked the idea of the second act—she would have none of the new third act. At the end of his enthusiastic sketch of how it would run, the reading of new scenes, the telling of new business, she yawned slightly, and said she didn’t like it at all. Unless he could get a good third act, she wouldn’t care for the piece. He assured her this would be a good third act when it was worked up. No use working it up. She knew now she would never like it. Jarvis rose.

“I will submit the new third act to-morrow. Have you any suggestions you wish to incorporate?”

“Oh, no. If I could write plays, I would not be acting them. It’s easier and more lucrative to write.”

“I don’t find it easy enough to be a bore,” replied Jarvis. “I will be here at eleven to-morrow.”

“Make it three.”

“Very well, three.”

“Some of the pinches,” he muttered as he climbed the bus to go back to his hot hall bedroom, his mind a blank, and only twenty-five hours in which to work out a new third act.

He stripped for action and worked until midnight. Then he foraged on Fourth Avenue for food at an all-night cafe patronized by car-men, chauffeurs, and messenger boys. He ate ravenously. Afterward he swung downward to Madison Square Park, to stretch his tired body. The stars were very bright, but a warm wind crowded people on to the streets. A restless, aimless crowd of strollers! Several of them spoke to Jarvis. Many of them marked him. But he paid no attention to individuals. His mind was full of the whole picture. Mile after mile of narrow streets between blocks of stone and brick and wood. Thousands of people tramping the miles like so many animals driven from the jungle by fire or flood. This men called civilization—this City
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of Stone Blocks! How far was it from the jungle? Hunger, thirst, lust, jealousy, anger, courage, and cowardice—these were the passions of both fastnesses. How far was Man from his blood brother, the Wolf?

He reached the green square, and started to cross it. On every bench, crowded together, huddled the sleepers. He walked slowly, and looked at them closely. Most of them were old—old men and old women—warped out of all semblance to human beings, their hideous faces and crooked bodies more awful in the abandon of sleep. Some young ones there were, too: a thin boy with a cough; a tired girl of the streets, snatching a moment of sleep before she went about her trade. It was like some fantastic dream.

“Softlings! Poor softlings!” Jarvis muttered, Bambi’s words coming back to him. The tawdry little girl stirred, saw him, spoke to him, her hand upon his arm.

“Go get a decent bed, child,” he said, giving her some money.

Her eyes shone at him in the half light like Bambi’s, and he shuddered. As she sped away a sudden rage possessed him. Why did they endure, these patient beasts? They numbered thousands upon thousands, these down-and-outs. Why did they not stand together, rise up, and take? Why didn’t he shout them awake, and lead them himself? “Gimme a nickel to get a drink?” whined a voice at his elbow.

“Here, you, move on!” said the policeman, roughly, arousing Jarvis from his trance.

On the way uptown to his room he thought it over. If they could organize and stand together, they wouldn’t be what they were. It was because they were morally and physically disintegrated that they were derelicts. This waste was part of the price we must pay for commercial supremacy, for money power, for—oh, sardonic jest!—for a democracy.

He went back to work with squared shoulders, and worked until dawn. At three the next afternoon he again presented himself to the Parke butler. Madame was indisposed, could see no one. Mr. Jocelyn was to come the next day at three.

This time he wasted no energy in rage at the delay. He began to see that this was no sham battle on a green hillside of a summer’s day, but a real hand-to-hand fight. It was to place him, for all time, at the head of the regiment or with the discards. He had believed that what he had to say was the most important thing, that this errand Bambi had sent him on was a stupid interruption. But all at once he saw it straight. This was his fight, here and now. He would not go back to her until he had won. He must find the way to finance himself in the meantime. No more provisions from the Professor or his daughter. As he made his way downtown he thought over all the possibilities of making enough to live on. He had never bothered his head about it before. Like the sparrow, he had been provided for. But something of his arrogant demanding of life seemed to have fled, a sort of terror had been planted in him by that view of the park-bench sleepers.

How he wished Bambi were here to advise him, to laugh at him, or with him! The thought of her was constantly creeping into his mind, to be shoved out by a determined effort of his will. He told himself he was becoming as boneless as the Professor, who relied on her for everything. That night he wrote to her:

“I seem to have come to my senses to-day for the first time. Queer how a man can go on walking, talking, and thinking in his sleep. I don’t know why I should have wakened up to-day, but a walk I took last night at midnight stirred something in me. And a futile attempt to see Miss Harper to-day did the rest. You saw clearly, as you so often do. This is my fight, right here and now. I must make somebody believe in this play and produce it. It may take a long time—months, perhaps—but I must stay and face it out.

“I wanted you sorely to-night, Miss Mite, to talk it over with me. I am always coming upon things I want to talk over with you, these days. You have such a decided way of seeing things.

“I shall not be needing any more money, because I am about to make something, on the side, for myself. Keep the Black Maria, and when the play goes we will have a mighty reckoning. I am not going to say thanks for what you and the Professor have done for me. I am going to act thanks.

“I shall read the scenario of the third act to Miss Harper to-morrow, the gods and the lady permitting. This is the third third act. I trust it will be ‘three and out,’ or, rather, three and on. My regards to the Professor and you. It is very hot here, and I relax by thinking myself in the arithmetical garden. It seems years ago since I was there. Has the Professor laid out any new figures? I think the ‘X’ bed ought to be wild orchids. He will understand.”

He took the letter out to mail, and went for another walk. The night crowds began to interest him. He planned to take a different walk every night, and learn something of this city which he was setting out to conquer.

The next morning he went from one newspaper office to another trying to get a job. His lack of experience handicapped him everywhere. Cub reporters were as thick as summer flies. He walked, to save carfare.

At three he gained admittance to Miss Harper and read her the new scenario. She decided that she liked the second one better. He arranged to go to work on it at once, so that she might have Mr. Parke read it before she sailed. The siren Hope sang a happy song to Jarvis as he swung down the drive. He had the golden apple in his grasp this time.

“I’m coming, oh, you people,” he apostrophized them with his old assurance. “You’ll hear from me soon!”

He celebrated his coming fortune with a fifty-cent table d’hôte, to which he did full justice. Up in the hot hall bedroom he took stock of ammunition. If he went light on food, he could afford to keep right at the play until he finished it. He estimated just what amount he could spend a day, and divided up his cash into the daily portion, each in an envelope. He purchased an alcohol stove and a coffee-pot, and set to work.

There were only twelve days in which to do or die, and he went at it in a frenzy. Day faded into night, night faded into day, marked only by the thumping of the outraged chambermaid, at whom he thundered. When he remembered, he dashed out for food, but for the most part he drank coffee, and more coffee.

Once he went for a long walk. He could never remember, afterward, whether it was day or night. But during it he thought out a new scene, and ran miles to get back and get it down. He grew thinner and more hollow-eyed each day, but he cared for nothing but accomplishing this thing. He knew the act was good. He felt sure Miss Harper would like it.

At dawn of the day he was to finish it he rushed into a dairy lunch to get a sandwich and a glass of milk. While he waited for the heavy-eyed clerk to get it, he picked up a morning paper. The date caught his eye. This was his last day of grace, sure enough. He must call up and get an appointment for the afternoon, for Miss Harper would be sailing to-morrow. Idly his eye travelled across the page, and suddenly was riveted by a headline: “Bertram Parke and his wife, Helen Harper, sail on the Mauretania to-day. They will hasten to London, to sign a contract for a play for Miss Harper by Galsworthy. which will be produced in New York immediately on her return.”

The print blurred before Jarvis’s eyes. Everything swayed and swam. Out of the chaos came the voice of the tired clerk, shouting: “Say, you, what’s the matter with you? Can’t you take your sandwich? Think I’m going to hold it all day?”

Jarvis didn’t understand him. He didn’t even hear him. He just laid down his last quarter and went out, a bit unsteadily.

“Soused!” grinned the clerk, looking after him.