Bambi (Cooke)/Chapter 16
THERE was a faint idea in Jarvis’s mind, as he staggered out of the all-night lunch, of swimming after the Mauretania to overtake the Parkes. Then his wandering senses collected themselves. He realized that the vessel did not sail until eleven, or thereabouts; that there were still several hours before that.
He hurried back to his room, dressed carefully, took the manuscript, and started out. It never occurred to him to telephone. Arrived at the house, the butler informed him that the Parkes had left in the motor at 8:30. No word had been left for Mr. Jocelyn.
Jarvis’s jaw was set as he started downtown. He went to the wharf where the steamer lay, but there was only fifteen minutes left before her sailing. It was impossible to find out anything from anybody. So, with a sardonic calm, he watched the steamer slowly loosing from the wharf and making her stately exit.
On the way uptown he made up his mind as to the next move. He would begin action to-day on the Charles Frohman forces. He must also try to find a job. His resources were about exhausted.
At the Empire Theatre, where the king of managers rules, there was actually an elevator to carry one up to the throne room and its antechambers. At a window, in a sort of cashier’s booth, a boy received Jarvis’s manuscript, numbered and entered it on the file.
“How soon will it be read?” Jarvis asked.
“Oh, six weeks or so,” said the youth.
“No possible chance of seeing Mr. Frohman?”
“Only by appointment. He is in Europe now.”
Jarvis relinquished his precious bundle and departed. It occurred to him, when he reached the street, that part of his depression was from hunger. He bought a sandwich and coffee at a Childs restaurant. Later, he went into a drug store and looked up magazine offices in the telephone book. Then he set out. From Collier's to the Cosmopolitan is many a weary mile. And Jarvis walked it, visiting all the intervening offices.
In only one case did he get to the editor. Mr. Davis, of Munsey's, let him come in, and was decent to him, promised to read anything he sent in at once, took his address, and made him feel like a human being. Many a young writer besides Jarvis has to thank Mr. Bob Davis for just such a bit of encouragement. For the most part, he saw clerks or secretaries who made excuses for the editor, took his name and address with the same old “Come in again.” Out in the hot sun the pavement wavered and melted into hillocks before his dizzy eyes. So he went back to the hot bedroom, which seemed, all at once, a haven of rest.
He threw himself on the hard bed and was asleep in a second. It seemed æons later that he was dragged up from the depths of slumber by continued pounding on his door. The slattern chambermaid announced that a gentleman wished to see him. He called to her it must be a mistake. He didn’t know any gentlemen.
“‘E h'ast for Jarvis Jocelyn. ‘Ere’s ‘is card,” she retorted, opening the door and marching to the bed with it.
“Richard Strong. Tell him I’m out.”
“Hi’ve already said you was in. Hi see you come hup.”
“The devil! Where is he?”
“Coolin’ ‘is ‘eels in the ‘all.”
“Say I’ll be down in a minute. Ask him to wait.”
“Hi get you,” said she, and clomped out.
Then Jarvis’s eye fell on Bambi’s letter on his table, unopened. It must have come the day before, when he was lost in his play. He glanced through it. At the mention of Strong’s visit he frowned. He read that part twice. There was no doubt of it. Strong had the only chance with her. He made no secret of his devotion to her, and the probabilities were that now that he, Jarvis, was out of the way, she would realize how much she cared for Strong.
“Well, what is, is,” he muttered. He’d have no favours from Strong, though, that was sure.
Twenty minutes later, shaved and dressed, he descended upon his guest, who sat in torment, on a hall-tree shelf, in Stygian darkness.
“How do you do?” said Jarvis, stiffly. “Sorry to keep you waiting in this hole of Calcutta.”
“How are you, Jocelyn?” said Strong, cordially. “Your wife gave me your address, and I thought you might save me from a deadly evening by dining with me at Claremont.”
“Thank you, I have dined,” replied Jarvis.
“So early? Well, come with me while I get a bite somewhere, and we will go to a show, or hear some music.”
“Much obliged. I am engaged for the evening.”
“Oh, that’s a pity. Your wife told me you were a friendless stranger in a foreign land, so I lost no time in coming to look you up.”
“Very kind of you.”
“I had a charming weekend in the country. We missed you very much.”
“You’re a lucky chap, Jocelyn. Your wife is one of the most enchanting women I ever met. She is unique.”
“I am glad she pleases you.”
“My dear fellow, I hope I haven’t annoyed you. I meant no disrespect in complimenting you on Mrs. Jocelyn’s charm.”
“You made your admiration a trifle conspicuous the last time I saw you,” said Jarvis in a rage.
“I apologize, I assure you. I bid you good night.”
“Unmannerly boor,” was Strong’s comment as he turned toward the avenue.
“Hope that settles Mr. Richard Strong,” fumed Jarvis as he turned away from the avenue.
Two letters were written Bambi that night concerning this meeting. Mr. Strong wrote:
“Dear Lady: I cannot possibly tell you how much of the fragrance of the garden, and of you, stays with me even in the heat and ugliness of New York. I am so grateful to you and the Professor for your hospitality and your friendship.
“I went to see your Jarvis to-night, as I promised to do, but he made it exceedingly plain to me that he desired neither my visit nor my acquaintance. I thought he looked very tired and a trifle hectic. No doubt the heat has worn on him. I don’t mean to alarm you. I am only searching for some excuse for my own comfort for his reception of me.
“I shall look for the next chapters with eagerness. None of your many readers knows my proprietary delight in that tale of yours.
“My cordial regards to your father, and to yourself my thanks and my best wishes. Faithfully,
Jarvis was not so politic. He permitted himself some rancor.
“Dear Bambina: I did not get your letter announcing Strong’s visit, and his approaching descent upon me, until this evening. He followed close upon its heels. I have no doubt you intended it kindly sending him here to look me up, but the truth is I am in no mood for callers, and I fear I made that rather plain to your friend. I may as well say, frankly, I disliked him exceedingly on the occasion of his visit to you. It would be useless for me to try to disguise the fact. I would never dream of asking him for work on his magazine, which I consider of a very low grade.
“By some misunderstanding the Parkes sailed sooner than they expected, and failed to see my play. I have offered it to Charles Frohman. I should prefer him to any other New York manager.
“The weather here is extremely hot, and I have been working rather hard, so I am a little knocked out. Will you send me the manuscript of my two unfinished plays you will find on the table in my study? With regards to the Professor and yourself. Hastily,
Having got this off his mind and into the mailbox, Jarvis went for his nightly prowl. His steps turned toward the crowded East Side district, where a new interest was beginning to attract him. Until now “men” were his only concern. These hot nights, as he tramped along, discouraged with his own futility, he was beginning to discover “Man.”
It seemed to him that all the children in the world were playing in these crowded streets. He had never turned his attention to children before. And he began to look at the shrewd, old faces, even to talk to a group here and there. They made him think of monkeys, clever, nervous little beasts.
He skirted several mothers’ meetings conducted on the sidewalk. He even went into a saloon to have a look at the men, but the odour of stale beer and hot bodies was insufferable and drove him out. As he sauntered along, he passed an unlighted business building. Out of the shadow a girl stole, and fell in step beside him.
“Hello, kid!” she began, her hand tucked under his arm. Before she could complete her sentence, a policeman was upon them. He laid hold of the girl roughly.
“Now I got you! I told you to keep off'n this block,” he growled.
“What’s the matter with you? What do you want?” Jarvis demanded.
“I want her to come along with me. That’s what I want.”
“She hasn’t done anything.”
“You bet she hasn’t. I didn’t give her time.”
“Let go of her! What charge are you taking her on?”
“Don’t get fresh, young guy. The charge is s’licitin’."
“That’s a lie! She’s a friend of mine, and she merely said, ‘Good evening.’”
The copper laughed derisively, and the girl turned a cynical young-old face to Jarvis.
“Much obliged, kid, but it ain’t no use. He’s got me spotted.”
“If you arrest her, you must arrest me.”
“I got nottin’ on you.”
“Yes, you have. I said ‘Good evening’ to her, just what she said to me.”
“Get the hell out of here, and don’t give me none of your lip, or I’ll run you in. Come along!” the policeman ordered, and he and the girl started on toward Jefferson Market. Jarvis marched beside them. When they turned in at the door where prisoners are entered, the policeman again ordered Jarvis off.
“Go round in front if you’re crazy to be in on this,” he said.
Jarvis hurried round to the front door and went in. The courtroom was packed. He had trouble in finding a seat, but he finally got into the front row, just behind the rail that divides the dock from the spectators. One half of the room was full of swine—fat, blowse-necked Jewish men, lawyers, cadets, owners of houses—all the low breeds who fatten off the degradation of women. Their business was to pay the fines or go bail.
The other half of the room, to Jarvis’s horror, was full of young boys and girls, some almost children, there out of curiosity. A goodly number of street walkers sat at the back. It was their habit to come into court to see what judge was sitting. If it was one who levied strict fines, or was prone to send girls up to Bedford, they spent the evening there, instead of on the streets.
The first case called, after Jarvis’s entrance, was that of the keeper of a disorderly house. She was horrible. He felt she ought to be branded in some way, so that she and her vile trade would be known wherever she went. A man went her bail, and she flounced out in a cloud of patchouli.
Two coloured girls were brought in, and sent up for thirty days. Then several old women, the kind of human travesties Jarvis had seen sleeping on the benches, were marched before the judge, who called them all by name.
“Well, Annie,” he said to one of them, “you haven’t been here for some weeks. How did it happen this time?”
“I’ve been a-walkin’ all day, your honour. I guess I fell asleep in the doorway.”
“You’ve been pretty good lately. I’ll let you off easy. Fine, one dollar.”
“Oh, thanks, your honour.” She was led off, and Jarvis sickened at the sight.
A series of young girls followed, cheaply modish, with their willow plumes and their vanity bags. Some cheerful, some cynical, some defiant. One slip of a thing heard her sentence, looked up in the judge’s face, and laughed. Jarvis knew that never, while he lived, would he forget that girl’s laugh. It was into the face of our whole hideous Society that she hurled that bitter laugh.
Then his girl was brought in. He saw her clearly for the first time. A thin, wizened little face, framed in curly red hair, with bright, birdlike eyes. Her thin, flat child’s figure was outlined in a tight, black satin dress, with a red collar and sash. Her quick glance darted to him, and she smiled. The policeman made his charge. The judge glanced at her.
“Anything to say for yourself?”
She shook her head wearily. Jarvis was out of his seat before he thought.
“I have something to say for her. I am the man she was supposed to have approached.”
“Silence in the courtroom,” said the judge, sternly.
“She didn’t say one word to me, except ‘Good evening,’” shouted Jarvis.
“Is that the man?” the judge asked the officer.
“Yes. He’s made a lot of trouble, too, trying to make me arrest him.”
“If you have any evidence to give in this case, come to the front and be sworn in.”
Jarvis jumped the railing and stood before him. The oath was administered.
“Now, tell me, briefly, what the girl said to you.”
“She said, ‘Hello, kid!'"
A titter went over the courtroom. The clerk rapped for order.
“Then what happened?”
“This officer arrested her. I told him what had passed between us, and insisted on being arrested, too. We said the same thing, the girl and I.”
“The girl has been here before. She has a record.”
“Where are the men she made the record with?” demanded Jarvis.
“We do not deal with that feature of it,” replied the judge, turning to the officer.
“And why not?” demanded Jarvis. “It takes a solicitor and the solicited to make a crime. What kind of laws are these which hound women into the trade and hound them for following it?”
“It is neither the time nor the place to discuss that. The case is dismissed. This court has no time to waste, Flynn, in cases where there’s no evidence,” he added, sternly, to the detective.
The girl nodded to Jarvis and beckoned him, but instead of following her he went back to his seat. He would follow this ghastly puppet show to its end.
At a word from the judge a tall, handsome, gray-haired woman approached the bench. She wore no hat, and Jarvis marked her broad brow and pleasant smile and the wise, philosophic eyes. Her face looked cheerful and normal in this place of abnormalities.
“Who is that woman?” Jarvis asked his neighbour.
“Probation officer,” came the answer.
Jarvis watched her with passionate interest. He noted her low-voiced answers to the judge’s questions about the girl in hand. The curiosity seekers in the audience could not hear, no matter how they craned their necks. He watched her calm smile as she turned to take the girl off into her own office. He made up his mind to talk with her before the night was over.
Case followed case as the night wore on. It seemed to Jarvis that this bedraggled line had neither beginning nor end. He saw it winding through this place night after night, year after year, the old-timers and the new recruits. Uptown reputable citizens slept peacefully in their beds; this was no concern of theirs. He was no better than the rest, with his precious preaching about the brotherhood of man. What the body politic needed was a surgeon to cut away this abscess, eating its youth and strength.
The screams of a girl who had just been given a sentence to Bedford startled him out of his thoughts. She pleaded and cried, she tried to throw herself at the judge’s feet, but the policeman dragged her out, the crowd craning forward with avid interest. She was the last case before the court adjourned. Jarvis leaned across the rail and asked the probation officer if he might speak to her.
“Perhaps you will walk along with me toward my home?” she suggested. He gladly assented. In a few moments she came out, hatted and ready for the street. She looked keenly at this tall, serious youth who had so unexpectedly arraigned the court.
“My name is Jarvis Jocelyn,” he began. “There are so many things I want to ask you about.”
“I shall be glad to tell you what I can,” she said quietly.
“Have you been in this work long?”
“Good God! how can you be so calm? How can you look so hopeful?”
“Because I am hopeful. In all the thousands of cases I have known I have never once lost hope. When I do, my work is over.”
“You’re wonderful!” he exclaimed.
“No, I am reasonable. I don’t expect the impossible. I am glad of every inch of ground gained. I don’t demand an acre. If one girl is rescued out of twenty—”
“But why does it need to be at all?” Jarvis interrupted her.
“Why does disease need to be? Why does unhappiness need to be, or war, or the money-lust that will one day wreck us? We only know that these things are. Our business is to set about doing what we can.”
“One girl out of twenty,” he repeated. “What becomes of the other nineteen?”
“I said I was glad of one girl in twenty. Sometimes several of the nineteen come out all right. Bedford helps a great many. They marry, they keep straight, or—they die very soon.”
“Tell me about Bedford.”
She outlined the work done in that farm home, which is such a credit to New York. She told him of the honour system, and all the modern methods employed there.
“Can you get opportunities for girls who want the chance?”
“Plenty of them. I have only to ask. When I need money, it comes. Lots of my girls are employed in uptown shops, leading good, hard-working lives.”
“Where does this money come from?”
“Private donations. That is one of my hope signs—the widespread interest in rescue work.”
“The old ones—those aged women?”
She sighed. “Yes, I know, they are terrible! There is a mighty army of them in New York. We grind them in and out of our courts, month after month. The institutions are all full. There is so much grafting that the poor-farm has been delayed, year after year, so there is no place to send them.”
“Where do they go?”
“Into East River, most of them, in the end.”
“Do you mean to say that we pay the machinery of the law to put these cases through the courts, over and over again, and then provide no place to harbour the derelicts?”
“That’s about the case,” she replied.
“How can we live and endure such things?” Jarvis demanded passionately.
“I used to feel that way about it. I used to be sick through and through with it, but I have grown to see that there is improvement, that there is a new social sense growing among us. Uptown women of leisure come to our night courts, take part in our working-girls’ strikes, and women, mind you, are always slowest to feel and react to new forces. Don’t be discouraged,” she smiled at him, stopping at the door.
“May I come and see you, some time? Are you ever free, or would that be asking too much?”
“No. Come! Come in Sunday afternoon if you like.”
She held out her hand, and he grasped it warmly.
“You’re great,” he said boyishly, at which she laughed.
“We need you young enthusiasts,” she said.
As he walked uptown to his lodgings Jarvis faced the fact that up to this present moment he had been on the wrong track. He had tried to pull from the top. That was all right, if only he also tried to push from the bottom. The world needed idealists, but not the old brand, blind to the actual, teaching out of a great ignorance. This probation officer woman, she was the modern idealist, as modern as Jesus Christ, who worked in the same spirit.
He would finish his vision-plays, as he called them, because he believed in them. But, in the meantime, he would learn something of the real issues of men and women as they live in great cities, so that he could write a play which would be so true, so vital, that it would be like watching the beating of the hot heart of life. That night was the beginning of a new era for Jarvis.