A week elapsed, with no reply. Then came a characteristic answer:
“DEAR BAMBI: Please find enclosed copy of apology sent Strong to-day. I don’t like him, but I have apologized. I also apologize to you. Please don’t omit letters any more. They mean a great deal these days.”
She pondered this for some time. That Jarvis was going through new and trying experiences she realized. But this human appeal for her letters was so unlike the old Jarvis that she had to read it many times to believe it was actually there.
She wrote him at once, accepting his apology gracefully.
“Can’t you come out for a few days’ rest here, and go back in time to hear Frohman’s verdict? We’d love to have you, especially the Professor and Ardelia.”
He answered that it was impossible to get away now. Later, possibly, he might come. He was grateful for the invitation. He never mentioned how he lived, and she did not ask him. The Professor’s check he returned, with a note of thanks, saying he did not need it. The summer went by and fall came to town. Still there was no word of his return.
“My, this is a fat letter from Jarvis! Frohman must have accepted the play!” exclaimed Bambi one morning in September. She opened out the thick, folded paper.
“It’s poetry,” she added. “‘Songs of the Street,’ If he’s gone back to poetry, I’m afraid he’s lost.”
She began to glance through them.
“My dear, I’ve asked you for coffee twice.”
“These are powerful and ugly. Think of Jarvis seeing these things.”
“Coffee,” reiterated the Professor.
“Yes, yes. You must read these. They’re upsetting. I wonder what is happening to Jarvis.”
“Is he in trouble?”
“No, he doesn’t say so. But there’s a new note in these.”
“Coffee,” repeated the Professor, patiently.
“For goodness’ sake, father, stop shouting coffee. You are the epitome of the irritating this morning.”
“I always am until I have my coffee.”
All day long Bambi thought about Jarvis’s “Street Songs.” It was not the things themselves. They were crude enough, in spots, but it was the new sense in Jarvis that made him see and understand human suffering. She felt an irresistible impulse to take the next train and go to him. Would he be glad to see her? For the first time she wanted him, eagerly. But the impulse passed, and weeks stretched into months. She worked steadily at the book, which grew apace. She loved every word of it. Sometimes she wondered what would become of her without that work, during this waiting time, while Jarvis was making his career. For, in her mind, she always thought of herself and her writing as a side issue of no moment. Jarvis’s work was the big, important thing in her life.
He wrote freely about his work on the other plays, asking her judgment and advice, as he had on “Success.” She gave her best thought and closest attention to the problems he put to her, and he showed the same respect for her decisions.
The six weeks grew into two months, and no answer from the Frohman offices. He wrote her that he went in there every other day, but could get no satisfaction. They always said his play was in the hands of the readers. It had to take its turn.
He finished “The Vision” and offered it to Winthrop Ames, of the Little Theatre. “I am hopeful of this man. I have never seen him, but the theatre is well bred, and, to my surprise, a capable, intelligent secretary received me courteously in the office and promised a quick reading. This augurs well for the man at the head of it, I think.”
In reply to her insistence that he must come for Thanksgiving, he told her that he had made a vow that he would never come back to her until he had absolutely succeeded or hopelessly failed. “If you knew how hard it is to keep that resolve you would be kind, and not ask me again,” he added.
A little piqued, and yet proud, Bambi reported his decision to the Professor, and began to turn over in her busy mind a plan to carry the mountain to Mohammed, if Christmas found the wanderer still obdurate.
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.”
“I am obliged to you, sir. I shall do it.”
[Illustration: HE TAUGHT HIMSELF TO ABANDON HIS OLD INTROSPECTIVE HABITS DURING THESE DAYS ON THE BOX.]
Mr. Frohman held out his hand. “Good luck to you. I shall hope for rain.”
“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.
The day came, in early December, when Bambi put the last word, the last period, to her book. Instead of a moment of high relief and of pride, as she had foreseen it, it was with a sigh of regret that she laid down her pen. She felt as a mother might feel who sends her child out to make its own way when she had put her last, finishing mother-touch upon his training. There would never be another first book. No matter how crude or how young this firstling might come to seem to her, there would never be such another. No such thrills, no such building as made this first-born dear, could go in another book. Then there was the pleasure in her new bank account, with the sense of freedom it brought. She could indulge herself in pretty things. She could buy little presents for people she loved. Best of all, she laid aside an amount which she called the “Homeseeker’s Fund,” to be used for that home which she and Jarvis would establish some day. She had won her independence, and it was sweet.
Mr. Strong was attending to the publication of the story in book form. And it was to be on the Christmas stalls, appearing simultaneously with the last chapters of the magazine. He was already begging her to promise a new serial for the coming year.
It seemed incredible that so much could have happened to her in the ten months that she had been married to Jarvis. Her threatened career, which seemed such a joke to her family, was here; she was well launched upon it, with the two scoffers still in ignorance of the fact. So she mused, as she sat at her desk, the heap of completed last chapters piled before her. Ardelia broke in upon her meditations.
“Mr. Strong in here!”
“Mr. Strong! Why, he sent me no word. I didn’t expect him!”
“I can’t help that. He’s here, settin’ in the liberry.”
“Dear me!” said Bambi. “Say I’ll be down at once. Wait! Help me to get into my gray gown before you go.”
“You look all right de way you is.”
“No, no. This man lives in New York, Ardelia. He’s used to real clothes.”
“I wish he’d stay in New York.”
“What’s the matter with Mr. Strong? I thought you liked him!”
“He’s gettin’ too frequentious round here, to suit me.”
“You silly thing, we have business to talk over. Hurry on, now, and say I’ll be down in a minute.”
Ardelia lumbered out, disapproval in every inch of her back.
Richard Strong turned away from the log fire at the sound of Bambi’s footsteps running down the stairs. The soft gray gown clung to her, and floated behind her, its ashen monotone making her face more vivid than ever. Her cheeks were pink, and her eyes looked gray-green in the shadowy room, with the deep, shining fire of opals. Both hands went out to his impulsive greeting.
“Welcome!” she said, smiling.
“Aren’t you surprised?”
“I’m pleased. Why should I be surprised?”
“It is so unheard of, for me to be running out of town on unexpected visits to a lady, that it seems as if everybody must be as surprised as I am.”
“The lady was thinking of you when your name was announced, which may account for her nonsurprise.”
“Really?” he said so warmly that she blushed a bit.
“Yes, I finished the book to-day. I was thinking it all over–this last year. My new sense of getting somewhere, and of you–the big part you play in it all. Have I ever told you how utterly grateful I am?”
He looked down at her, sunk among the cushions of the big couch, before replying.
“I think you need not say it,” he replied. “I have been so richly rewarded in knowing you.”
“You’ve been my secret garden this last year.”
“Oh, that is nice of you,” she interrupted, sensing an undercurrent of feeling. “If I am your secret garden, you’re my secret well, because nobody knows about us.”
“You haven’t told them yet?”
“No. When the book comes out I shall give them each a copy, and run and hide while they read it.”
“Little girl,” he smiled at her, “what do you think brought me down here to-day?”
“Can’t. Never guessed anything in my life.”
He took a letter from his pocket and handed it to her.
“I am to read this?”
He nodded. She opened it and read:
_”Mr. Richard Strong, New York City._
“My DEAR MR. STRONG: I have read, with very great interest, a serial story, published in your magazine, entitled ‘Francesca.’ I feel that there is the making of a delightful comedy in the plot of this novel, and I write to ask you whether it would be possible for me to secure the dramatic rights from the author. As the story is anonymous, I appeal to you to put me in touch with the writer in question. I shall appreciate an immediate reply.
“With thanks to you, in advance, Sincerely,
“CHARLES FROHMAN, “Empire Theatre, New York City.”
“Am I dreaming this? Does this mean my book?”
He smiled at her earnestness.
“It does. I came down to talk it over with you and see what you wanted me to do.”
“What do you think about it, yourself?”
“I think it’s a great idea. It will advertise the book enormously. The book will help the play. In the meantime, they both advertise you.”
“A play made of my thoughts? It’s too wonderful,” said Bambi. “Do you suppose he’d let me make the play?”
“I don’t know. Would you like to? Do you think you could?”
“I do. I’ve learned lots through—-” She stopped of a sudden, and gazed at him. “Why, Jarvis must make the play, of course. Why didn’t I think of it?”
“Mr. Frohman would, no doubt, wish to choose the playwright, in case you didn’t make the dramatic version yourself.”
“But why couldn’t Jarvis?”
“Jarvis is totally unknown, you know, and so far unsuccessful in playmaking. You could hardly expect Mr. Frohman to risk a tyro.”
She looked at him indignantly. He rated Jarvis like a Dun’s Agency.
“But I’m a tyro. Yet you think he might let me do it?”
“Excuse me, you are not a tyro. You are the author of one of the season’s most-talked-of books. Your name, in a double role, on Mr. Frohman’s three-sheets, will be a fine card.”
“All I know about play writing I learned from Jarvis,” she protested.
“Well, I didn’t come to argue about Jarvis’s ability or accomplishment, you know. Do you wish me to tell Frohman who you are, or will you come to town and see him yourself?”
“I’d love to go see him. Isn’t this exciting?” she cried, as the full force of what she was saying came to her. “Oh, it’s fun to do things, and be somebody, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know. I never tried it.”
“You! How absurd! Distinguished you, saying that to a nouveau like me, when there would have been no me except for you.”
“That’s complicated, but delightful of you, no matter how untrue it is.”
“It is true. If you hadn’t happened to like the first story I happened to write, we would never be here discussing my first play, which Mr. Frohman happens to want. It’s all you.”
Mr. Strong suddenly leaned over her, so that she felt his breath on her hair.
“Francesca, if it only were all me,” he said with unexpected passion. She looked up at him, frightened, amazed.
“Oh, you mustn’t do that!” she breathed. He straightened up at once.
“You’re right. I beg your pardon. ‘Twas just a slip.”
He took a turn up and down the room, and when he came back to the hearth rug he spoke in his usual matter-of-fact way.
“I am to make an appointment, then, for you, with Mr. Frohman, at his office?”
“If you will,” she answered gratefully.
“When will you come to New York?”
“Any day you can get the appointment. The sooner the better.”
“All right.” He looked at his watch. “I must get that 5:40 back to New York.”
“Oh, you’ll stay to dinner, and spend the night?”
“No, thanks. I must get back.”
“But the Professor will never forgive me.”
“You must make a good case for me. I really must go.”
She rose to give him her hand.
“It was so good of you to come with this wonderful news, that ‘thank you’ is inadequate.”
“I thought we had agreed not to say ‘thank you’ to each other.”
“You never have any occasion to say it to me,” she smiled ruefully.
“Haven’t I? I think you don’t know—-” She interrupted him nervously.
“Friends don’t need thank-yous. We will discard them.”
“Good! Can I be of service in getting you to Mr. Frohman’s office?”
“Oh, no. Jarvis will take me.”
“To be sure. For the moment I had forgotten Jarvis.”
“I’ll telephone you when I go to town, and find out about my plans.”
He took her hand and held it a moment.
“Forgive me when I seem a bad friend. Trust me.”
“I do, Richard, I do.”
“Oh, thank you. May I say Francesca?”
“If you like. No one ever calls me by that name.”
“That’s why I choose it. Good-bye. My regards to the father.”
“Good-bye, friend. I’m ecstatic over your news.”
“So am I over any news that brings you happiness. Good night.”
After he left she sank down on the couch again, her brain awhirl of her new sensations and ideas. That Richard Strong had learned to care for her, during these months of intimate association over the story, came with as great a surprise as the astonishing demand of Mr. Frohman. Her own thoughts had been so free of sentiment in regard to him; she went over every step of their advancing friendship, asking herself how much she was to blame for his outburst. She had only exerted her wiles for histrionic purposes on the occasion of his first visit. He certainly could not have misunderstood her intentions, then, when she had deliberately explained them to him. After close examination she exonerated herself.
Then, and only then, was she free to indulge her thoughts in the joyous news he had brought her. Chin on hand, before the fire, she worked it out. She and Jarvis would write the play together, together they would go through all the exciting stages of rehearsal and trying out, together they would make their bow before the curtain and their first-night’s speech. She decided what kind of frock she would wear. It was all picturesque and successful. She never faced the possibility of failure. Jarvis’s name would be made as a playwright. At the thought that she was to bring him his opportunity at last, she flushed and smiled, though her eyes misted.
Then she began to plan how she would tell it to Jarvis, the story of her adventuring into the new field, her swift success, and now this last laurel leaf. Suddenly a new idea lifted its head. Suppose Jarvis refused to come into his own, under her mantle, as it were? He would be proud and glad for her, of course, but maybe he would resent taking his first chance from her hands. With knitted brow she pondered that for some time. The more she thought of it, the more convinced she became that even though he accepted it, and showed gratitude, deep down in his heart would be the feeling that he would be only contributing to her success, that was in no way his own. Long she sat, and finally she laughed, nodded her head, and clapped her hands.
“Oh, yes, that’s the way!” said she.
The Professor came in upon her at this point.
“Are you saying an incantation, my dear?”
“No, offering thanks to the gods.”
“For the most unconscionable luck.”
“In what form, may I ask?”
“Look at me!” she ordered.
He fixed his faded eyes on her closely.
“I see you.”
“See how pretty I am?”
“You’re not bad-looking.”
“Bad-looking? I’m extremely near to being a beauty. Look at the father I have–distinguished, delightful!”
“Oh, my dear!”
“Look at the husband the gods gave me!”
“Yes, your long-distance husband.”
“Look at Ardelia! Who ever heard of such a cook? Consider my brains.”
“There, I grant you.”
“Besides that, I am the sole possessor of a secret which is too perfectly delicious to be true.”
“Do you intend to tell this secret to me?”
“Yes, as soon as it is ripe.”
She caught his hands and whirled him about.
“Oh, Professor, Professor, you ought to be very glad that you are related to me!”
“Bambina, one moment. I dislike being jerked around like a live jumping-jack.”
“It’s evident I didn’t get my dancing talents from you, old centipede. Sit down, and I’ll dance a joy dance.”
She pushed him on the couch, and began a wild, fantastic dance on the hearth rug before him, the firelight flashing through the thin, gray draperies. Even the Professor breathed a little faster as the lithe figure swayed and bent and curved into wonderful lines, which melted ever into new ones. It was young, elemental joy, every step of it; sexless, no Bacchante dance, but rather a paeon of ecstasy, such as a dryad might have danced in the woods. At the climax she stood poised, her arms lifted in exultation. Then she dropped beside him.
“My child!” he exclaimed. “That was most extraordinary! Where did you learn it?”
“Ages back, when I lived in a tree.”
“It must be a happy secret to make you dance like that.”
“Oh,” said she, snuggling up to him, putting her head on his shoulder, “it is the gayest, pleasantest, hopefulest secret a girl ever had. If I don’t hold my hands over my mouth, it will break out of me.”
“Does Jarvis know?”
“Oats, peas, beans, and barley grows, You, nor he, nor nobody knows!”
she laughed. “It’s going to be the most amusing moment of my life when I spring it on the two of you.”
“When is that to be?”
“Curiosity is death to mathematicians,” she warned him, nor could he extract another word from behind the hand she held over her laughing mouth.
“Appointment at three o’clock, Tuesday afternoon,” announced Strong’s wire on Monday morning.
“Hurray!” shouted Bambi, rushing into the kitchen to break the news to Ardelia, since the Professor was not there.
“Noo Yawk, bress yo’! Ain’t dat fine? Yo’ gwine see Mistah Jarvis?”
“Of course I’ll see him.”
“Yo’ can tote him back home, mebbe.”
“I’ll take the early morning train to-morrow.”
“I reckon I’ll fry up some chicken an’ bake some cakes, so yo’ can tote it right along wid yo’.”
“Now, look here, Ardelia. I’m not going to pack any basket along on the train to New York. Jarvis can buy his fried chicken there.”
“He say dey ain’t no cookin’ lak’ dere is in dis town.”
“Well, it will have to do for a little longer. I’ll have my bag and plenty to carry.”
“Yo’ ain’t got no nat’chal feelin’ fo’ dat boy,” Ardelia scolded her.
When the Professor heard the news he evinced a mild surprise.
“Have you any money for this trip? I’m a trifle short, now. The bank notified me yesterday that I was overdrawn.”
“Professor, not again? What is the use of being a mathematician if you are always overdrawn?”
“The trouble is I forget to look at my balance. I just continue to draw until I am notified. You will see Jarvis, of course?”
“You say you have business to attend to in the city?”
“About the secret?”
“Is the moment of disclosure approaching?”
“Well, I wish you the best of luck, my dear.”
“Thanks, Herr Professor.”
She took the early train in high good humour the next morning, clad in her most fetching frock.
“Even a stony-hearted manager could not be impervious to this hat,” was her parting comment to her glass.
She was very undecided as to whether she would go straight to Jarvis’s lodgings and surprise him, or wait until after the interview with Frohman. She finally decided that she could not wait until four o’clock, but that she would give Jarvis no hint of the coming momentous appointment. As she came into the city, she noted the bright, crisp winter day with pleasure–very different from that spring day when she and Jarvis had entered the gates together. But to-day was to-day and she was glad of it.
She took a taxi, with that sense of affluence which attacks one like a germ on entering the City of Spenders. The driver looked at her again as she gave the address. The trim, smart little figure did not look much like the neighbourhood she was headed for. Probably one of these settlement workers, he decided.
At first Bambi did not notice where she was going, so happy was she to be back in this gay city.
“I know you’re a Painted Lady, but you’re so pretty!” she smiled, as the streets ran by. Downtown and still downtown the taxi sped, past the Washington Square district, which they had explored together, shooting off at a tangent into the kind of neighbourhood where Bambi had fallen sick at the sights and the filth. They drew up before an old-fashioned house, with dirty steps and windows and curtains. It looked like a better-class citizen on the down grade, beside the neighbouring houses, which were frankly low-class. The driver opened the door and Bambi stared up at the place.
“Why, this can’t be it!” she exclaimed.
“This is the number you gave me.”
“Wait,” she said. She ran up the rickety steps, her heart sick with fear. She rang and waited and rang. Finally, a dirty head appeared out of an upstairs window.
“What d’yer want?” a voice demanded.
“Does Mr. Jarvis Jocelyn live here?”
“Three flights up-back,” and the window slammed.
“Wait for me, driver,” she called. She began to climb the dirty stairs, tears in her eyes.
“Oh, my dear, my dear!” she said, over and over again.
She knocked at the third-floor back, with no response; so she opened the door and entered. One dark area window, a bed, a chair, a dresser, an improvised table with piles of manuscript. It was cleaner than the awful entrance suggested. But, oh, it was pitiful! Such a place for a dreamer! Bambi leaned her head on the dresser and sobbed. That he had been reduced to this, that he had never told them, that he had refused the Professor’s money and chosen poverty! It nearly killed her, while it thrilled her with a pride unspeakable. If he had the strength for such a fight, nothing could conquer him. She started at a step outside, thinking that it might be he.
Suddenly she realized that he might not want even her to see this; that he might not want her to know of this drab tent where he crawled for sleep off the field of battle. She went to the narrow bed and laid her hand gently where his cheek would rest.
“Jarvis, my dear!” she whispered.
Then she went down the rickety stairs, out to the waiting cab. She was sick, heart and body, at the revelation of what his struggle meant. All the mother in her cried out at the physical distress of such surroundings to a nature sensitive to environment.
He could have come back to the sunny, airy rooms he had made his, at home; but he had chosen to stay and win. So many things she had not understood about him were made clear now, and she wondered if Richard Strong had found him there. No wonder Jarvis had repulsed him, taken unawares, and at such a disadvantage!
“Oh, why didn’t you let me know and help?” she repeated. She had the man take her round and round the Park, where it was quiet. She must get herself in hand. She felt that at the slightest excuse she would burst into hysterics! More than ever, now, must she be mistress of herself for the coming interview. She must fight to catch the big manager’s attention, and win her way with him. She drew her furs about her, closed her eyes, and tried to shut out the sight of that sordid, wretched room, where handsome big Jarvis was paying the toll to success–toll of blood and brain and nerves, paid by every man or woman who mounts to the top! She saw him climbing wearily those dirty stairs, coming into the cell. Over and over she saw it, like a moving-picture film repeated indefinitely.
At quarter before three she ordered the driver to the Empire Theatre. This time his face cleared. Actress, of course. Probably went to the slums to look up a drunken husband. He drew up at the theatre, demanded a queen’s ransom for her release, and stood at attention. She was too nervous to notice the amount, and paid it absently, dismissed him, and hurried to the elevator.
She was first shown into the general-domo’s office, where she was catechised as to her name and her business. She waited fifteen minutes while her name was passed down the line. Word came back that Mr. Frohman was engaged. Would she please wait?
“I’ll wait, but my appointment was at three,” she said.
The major-domo looked at her as if such _lese majeste_ deserved hanging. In fifteen minutes more she was conducted into an anteroom, where she was turned over to a secretary. Her business was explained to him. In due course of time word came out that Mr. Frohman would be through in ten minutes. She was moved, then, to a tiny room next the sacred door leading into the inner mystery. Twenty minutes passed, then a youth appeared.
“Mr. Frohman will receive you now,” he announced in solemn tones.
Bambi refrained from an impulse to say, “Thank you, St. Peter,” and followed into the private office. For a second she was petrified with fear, then with the courage of the terror-stricken she marched down the long room to the desk where Mr. Frohman sat looking at her.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” said he.
Bambi fixed her shining eyes upon him and smiled confidently.
“I feel as if I’d gotten into the Kingdom of Heaven for a short talk with God!”
The smile on the manager’s face broke into a laugh. “Is it as bad as that? Sit down and see how you like it up here?”
“Thanks,” she said, sinking into the big chair beside the desk.
“So you wrote ‘Francesca,’ did you?”
“You look pretty young to know as much about life as that book tells.”
“Oh, I’m old in experience,” she boasted.
He looked closely at her ingenuous face, and laughed again.
“You don’t look it. I think there’s a play in that book.”
“So do I.”
“Did you ever write a play?”
“No, but I’ve helped on several plays. I know a great deal about them,” she assured him.
“Do you? Well, that’s more than I do. Any of the plays that you have helped on been produced?”
“That isn’t fair of you,” she protested. “I should have boasted about it if they had.”
“A skilled playwright could take the heart of your story and build up a clever comedy.”
“Could we have Richard Bennett, Marguerite Clarke, and Albert Bruning play the parts?”
“Oh, ho, you’ve got it all cast, have you?”
“And I know just the man to make the play.”
“Do you? So do I. Whom do you choose?”
“Jarvis Jocelyn? Who’s he?”
“He’s a young playwright. He hasn’t had anything produced yet, but he’s extremely clever, and I do so want him to have the chance.”
“Jarvis Jocelyn! Seems as though I had heard that name. Oh, your name is Jocelyn,” he added. “Is this a relative?”
“Husband? So you’re married?” in surprise.
“Yes. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll have to tell you some personal history.”
“Go ahead. I wish I could think where I had heard that fellow’s name.”
“He submitted a play to you, called ‘Success.'”
“What–the cab-driver? You mean to say you’re married to the cab-driver?”
“The ‘Success’ fellow came in here, in a long coat and a top hat. Said he was driving a hansom to help a friend and incidentally turn a penny himself. Big, handsome, blond fellow. I remember, I liked him.”
Surprise, pain, then understanding, flashed across her face, and somehow the manager knew that he had betrayed a secret to her and that it hurt. She controlled herself quickly, and answered him.
“Yes, that was Jarvis. We were married last spring, and we both set out on a career. I kept mine a secret, and just by luck I succeeded. But Jarvis”–here her eyes filled with tears–“you’ve no idea how hard it is to be a playwright! Everybody thinks what a snap it is to collect royalties when you are a Broadway favourite, but they don’t know all those terrible days and nights before you get there, and what it means if you never do get there.”
“I know,” he nodded. “So you want to give this fellow the chance to make this play?”
“I want to more than I ever wanted anything in my life.”
“Well, well!” he said, in surprise at her earnestness.
“I want you to send for him, give him the commission, and never mention me.”
“I do not want him to know that I had anything to do with it.”
“He doesn’t know you wrote the book?”
“And you’re married to him, you say?”
“Upon my word, you’re a queer pair! Are you Francesca, and is he the musician of the story?”
“Well, they are based on us, rather.”
“Dear, kind Mr. Frohman, will you do this?”
“I told the fellow to try his hand at a comedy. He might handle this, if we could hold him down. Awful preacher, isn’t he?”
“He’s young,” she answered patronizingly. The manager covered a smile.
“Won’t he recognize himself and you in the book?”
“I think not. He’s so unobserving, and he does not suspect me at all. He’ll never know.”
“You may have to work with him on the play.”
“Oh, he’ll appeal to me for help. He always does. We will do it together, only he will not know about the author.”
“You will have to come to rehearsals.”
“I’ll come as wife of the playwright, or co-author.”
“You’ve got it all thought out, haven’t you?”
“Sounds like a farce plot to me. Give me my instructions again. You want me to send for him, tell him to make a play out of this book—-“
She smiled and nodded.
“Suppose he asks me who the author is?”
“You could say that she insisted upon preserving her anonymity.”
“What else do I do?”
“If this is your idea of a short interview with God, you certainly make good in dictating his policy to him!”
Bambi’s laughter rippled and sang.
“But you will do it?”
“I’ll make a start by calling the cabby.”
She rose and held out her hand.
“I’m so glad you’re like this,” she said. “I shall love doing things with you.”
“Much obliged. I’m glad you came in. You’ll probably hear from one of us as to the next move in the matter. Good-bye!”
“Good-bye and thanks, Mr. God.”
His laugh followed her out. He sat for several minutes thinking about her and her plan. He recalled Jarvis’s fine, unconscious exit at the time of his interview. He rang for a boy, and demanded Jarvis’s address.
Bambi walked out, treading on air. She had won her point. She had got Jarvis his chance. She thought it all out–the coming of Frohman’s letter, his joy over the commission, how he would announce it to her. She laughed aloud, so that several people turned to look at her and a man slowed up and fell in step.
She went into a tea-shop to have tea, calm down, and decide on the next step. Would she stay over-night, summoning Jarvis to meet her next day, or should she go home on the night train and not see him at all? Could she bear to see his face with the imprint of poverty and discouragement? He had been so reduced as to be forced to drive a cab, she might even meet him on the avenue! No, she would go home to-night, and let Jarvis come to her with news of his victory.
So she surprised the Professor at breakfast.
“Morning!” she cried.
“Bambi! We didn’t expect you so soon.”
“I finished what I had to do, so here I am.”
“Oh, he’s well.”
“Was he surprised to see you?”
“Is he getting on?”
“Slowly. But he will win.”
“If he can learn to be practical—-“
“He’s learning,” said Bambi, grimly.
“When is he coming home?”
“He did not say.”
“Nobody buys his plays yet?”
“I’m not surprised. That woman, you know, in the play he read us—-“
“Don’t talk about her till I get my breakfast.”
He looked at her in surprise, she was so seldom irritated. She rang for Ardelia.
“Why, Miss Bambi, honey! I didn’t see yo’ all comin’.”
“Here I am, and hungry, too.”
“How’s Mistah Jarvis?”
“All right. Breakfast, Ardelia, I perish.”
“Did you have a successful trip?” inquired her father.
“I did, very.”
“How did you find Babylon?”
“As Babylonish as ever.”
She seemed strangely disinclined for conversation, so her wise parent left her to her meditations and her breakfast. But he patted her as he passed to go out.
“We’re glad to have you back, my daughter.”
She brushed his cheek with her lips, understandingly.
“God’s in his heaven! All’s right with the world!” carrolled Bambi gayly the next day.
She wrote Mr. Strong of her interview with Mr. Frohman and its happy outcome. It gave her some satisfaction to announce that the manager was willing to entrust Jarvis with the play. She explained that she was obliged to come home on the night train, so she had missed the pleasure of seeing him. Would he see that Mr. Frohman had the first bound copy of the book?
She added that she was happy, but it was superfluous. It sang itself through the note, so that Strong patted the paper, as he finished it, as if it were a personal belonging of the sender.
The letter finished, she mounted the stairs to Jarvis’s house, as she always called the top floor. She wandered about, comparing it with that place of confinement where he now dwelt. To-day he would write or telegraph to her his news, if he had the interview with Frohman.
She began work on the play, up in his study. She outlined the main plot, marked scenes in the book she thought vital, scraps of conversation which would be effective. She planned the sets for the different acts, even deciding upon Francesca’s clothes. Ever and anon, in the midst of her happy scheming, she fell to dreaming of the days to come, with Jarvis home again, and their work together resumed.
Whenever the doorbell rang she stopped and waited for Ardelia’s heavy foot upon the stairs as she toiled up with the telegram or special delivery. But the morning passed, plus half the afternoon, with no word from him. She went down to the post-office herself in the hope that the late mail would reward her. There was nothing for her.
The next day brought only a note from Strong congratulating her enthusiastically, and prophesying a great success for the Jocelyn family. She spent a restless day waiting for the postman, afraid to leave the house for fear she would miss a wire. She grew so nervous that she scolded Ardelia and fussed at the Professor. Night found her entirely discouraged. Something had happened. Frohman had changed his mind, or Jarvis had refused. She had known all along that it was too good to be true. She tossed all night, sleepless, her mind running around like a squirrel in a trap, planning another trip to see the manager.
The early morning found her pacing the paths of the frostbitten garden, where the Professor found her later.
“Why, good morning, Bambi mia,” said he, in surprise.
“Good day, Herr Vater!”
“What brings you forth so early, lady-bird?”
“My hateful thoughts! Oh, daddy, there’s a crick in the secret.”
“A crick? Dear me, what a pity!”
“If it doesn’t get itself straightened out to-day, I shall go to New York again, to see what I can do.”
“The companionship of a secret is often corruptive to good habits, such as sleep and appetite. Better tell me this mystery.”
“If it isn’t settled to-day, I will tell you.”
“These late asters are hardy things?”
“Yes. The rest of the poor beds are full of ghosts.”
“Ghosts always stalk, don’t they?”
He looked at her in concern. “You are upset,” he said, and they both laughed.
She followed him about for an hour, talking, watching his exact, methodical movements. The early morning air was keen, in spite of the sun. When the postman appeared on the block she ran to the gate to meet him. He was an old friend, on the route ever since she could remember.
“Hello, Miss Bambi, you’re early this morning,” he called.
“I couldn’t sleep for my sins. If you don’t give me a letter, Mr. Ben, I’ll scream.”
He laughed at her discomfited face and handed her the letter. A quick glance showed the Empire Theatre in one corner. She blew him a kiss on her finger tips.
“I knew you wouldn’t disappoint me, dear Mr. Ben. That’s it!”
“I tell you I’m a regular little Cupid. Don’t know what the girls in this town would do without me,” he laughed, as he trudged away. Bambi read:
“MY DEAR MRS. JOCELYN: It gives me pleasure to announce that Mr. Jarvis Jocelyn has almost agreed to accept the commission. I think he feels that it is condescension on his part, but he accepts conditionally. He carried off the copies of the magazine to read your story, and he is to give me his answer to-day. As I am sure of a favourable one, I think we may consider the matter settled.
“Hoping that this meets with your entire approval,
“I am, faithfully,
“P.S. I told him that I understood the author was an unhappy wife, who desired to be unknown.”
The Professor looked up as Bambi pirouetted around the beds, waving a fluttering white sheet in good melodrama style.
“This letter that I longed for, it has come!” she sang, lifting a pointed toe over the top of a withered sunflower stalk.
“My dear, that ballet step is a trifle exaggerated for a lady!”
“The sunflower’s dead, so it couldn’t be shocked. The secret is working fine. Oh, I’m so happy, I’m so happy!” she trilled, and whirled off toward the house.
“If you are still thinking of a career, why not a whirling dervish?” called her father.
She stopped, and turned to him.
“Career? Career, did you say, for stupid little me?”
“I never called you stupid,” he protested.
“I should hope not. I’m the smartest child you ever had!” she cried as a period to their discourse.
All day she waited for word from Jarvis and none came. She could have cried with disappointment. Could he have been insane enough to refuse, after he had read the story? Or did he think she was indifferent to his good fortune? She went to bed determined to write him on the morrow.
The morning mail brought a second letter from the Empire Theatre. It contained a line from Mr. Frohman, “He accepts,” and an enclosure. This proved to be a letter from Jarvis:
_”To the Author of ‘Francesca,’ care of Mr. Frohman, Empire Theatre, New York._
“MY DEAR MADAM: Mr. Charles Frohman has given me your story ‘Francesca’ to read, with a view to making it into a play. Of course you are familiar with his plans in this respect. He has offered to entrust me with the dramatization, and I have consented to accept, on the condition that both you and he will allow me to use my own discretion in the work, and not hamper me by superimposing your own ideas and desires. When I have finished all I can do with it, I will then try to incorporate any ideas you may have in the final version.
“I think the story very charming, the characters interesting. The part of the musician seems to me rather fantastic, but I suppose there are such men. The girl, Francesca, is delightful; the old fiddler, a fine study.
“You are to be congratulated on your work, and I trust I may be able to make as good a play as you have made a book.
“Very truly yours,
Bambi chuckled as she read, and patted the part which praised her. Whatever else had happened, Jarvis’s dignity was still intact. He calmly told the author to keep her hands off her own book! She flew to the typewriter to answer him.
_”Mr. Jarvis Jocelyn, care of Mr. Charles Frohman, Empire Theatre, New York._
“MY DEAR MR. JOCELYN: Your letter in regard to the dramatization of my book, ‘Francesca,’ seems to demand immediate assurance that you will have free rein in the work you are to do. Mr. Frohman has told me something of you and of your work, and I shall be very happy if my story gives you your first opportunity to succeed as a playwright.
“I am glad you are pleased with my story. Did you know that it was my first one? Your comment on the character of the musician interested me, as it is a close portrait of a friend.
“Trusting that we may work together to a successful end, I am
“P.S. For private reasons I prefer to remain unknown to you. You can always reach me through Mr. Frohman’s office. You must forgive typed letters.”
This she sent to the Frohman office, with a request that it be forwarded. The next day brought Jarvis’s news:
“DEAR BAMBI: For three days I have resisted the constant temptation to send you word of what seemed to be extraordinarily good news, but many disappointments have made me a doubting Thomas, so I held off until I was really sure. To begin at the beginning, I was at the lowest ebb of disgust with myself last week for my inability to get in step with the grand march. Only a fool can be excused for failure, and I am not that. So a summons from the Frohman office somewhat restored my self-respect. It seems that Mr. Frohman has never forgotten my previous interview, so when he decided to make a play of a popular novel entitled ‘Francesca,’ he immediately thought of me.
“Of course this is not the kind of play I want to do, so I said I would look over the book and if I liked it I would have a try at it. The long and the short of it is I have accepted. The woman who wrote the thing has promised to keep out of it. She seems to be a nice kind of person, but for some reason wants to make a mystery of herself. Frohman hints at a domestic tragedy as her reason. I’m sure I do not care about her private affairs.
“She has written a clever and delightful book. The heroine, oddly enough called Francesca, suggests you in places, except that she is a more practical sort than you are. The hero, a musician, is a sort of sublimated madman. The best character of all is an old fiddler. There is a play in it. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced of that.
“Would you care to help me on it? Both of our names could go on the bill. I have come to know, these last months, since I have been working at things here alone, how much the growth in my work is due to you. The human touch you have given my characters, or helped me to give them, is the essential element in my improvement. You started a good many wires to jangling that spring day when you indulged your mad impulse to marry an impossibility!
“Regards to the Professor.
Bambi went to the telegraph office and wired him:
“Congratulations. Of course I’ll help! Come home.
He answered, by letter, that he thought it best to stay on until Mr. Frohman and the author were both satisfied with the framework of the play. Then he would come, most gladly, to work in the old study. He would submit his ideas for a scenario the next day or so.
From that moment the fun began for Bambi. He wrote daily about the outline, and weekly letters to the author were forwarded to her from the Frohman office. These she answered, disguised as the author, with many a chuckle of amusement. A sort of friendliness crept into these letters as they increased in number.
Christmas week arrived with no definite assurance from Jarvis as to his plans, but Bambi was confident that he would be at home for the holiday. Professor Parkhurst demanded daily bulletins of his son-in-law’s intentions, while Ardelia bemoaned and bewailed lest he fail to return.
The day before Kris Kringle was due a white snow descended like a benediction. Bambi and the Professor sat before a huge, crackling fire in the library. She was restless as a spirit. She sat at the piano and sang “O Lonely Pine Tree Standing,” until the Professor objected.
“Sing something gay, my child.”
“God rest ye, merry gentleman,
Let nothing ye dismay,
For Jesus Christ, the Saviour,
Was born on Christmas Day,”
she sang gladly.
All at once her hands fell silent on the keys, while she stared at the doorway a full second before she rose. Jarvis stood there looking at her. He was powdered with snowflakes. He held his soft hat crushed against him, showing his hair, glistening with snow, and curled close to his head with dampness. It was his face that focussed her attention. The old proud carriage of the head was there, but an asking look had come into his eyes and mouth in place of the old arrogance. In the second she hesitated she saw all this–caught the glow and the beauty of him, as well as the appeal.
“Jarvis!” she cried, and met him halfway across the room, both hands out.
“Bambi!” he answered her huskily, and she knew that he was moved at the sight of her. He crushed her hands in his, and drank her in, from her shining eyes to her boots, oblivious to the startled Professor, who stood looking on.
“Welcome home!” said Bambi, unsteadily.
“Did you come through the roof?” inquired Professor Parkhurst.
“I had a passkey. How are you?” Jarvis laughed, mangling the Professor’s hand. The latter rescued and inspected his limp fingers.
“I am well, but I shall never use that hand again.”
“You have come home,” said Bambi, foolishly.
“I have. My, but it’s good to be here! I got Frohman’s approval on the framework of the play to-day, and ran for the first train.”
“Does the author approve, too?”
“She does. She is more or less a figurehead, but she seems reasonable.”
“Oh, Jarvis, you’re a nice Christmas present. Go put these wet things in the hall, call on Ardelia, and come back. It will take at least a week to say all the things I want to say to you.”
He smiled at her, and marched off to do her bidding.
“He looks fine, doesn’t he? I never realized before how handsome he is,” said the Professor.
“He’s thrilling!” replied Bambi.
Her father inspected her thoughtfully.
“What a talent you have for hitting people off! That is just it: he thrills you with a feeling of youth and power.”
“Plus some new and softer quality,” added Bambi, as if to herself.
The powwow in the kitchen could be heard all over the house, Ardelia welcoming home the Prodigal Son. It was only after long argument he escaped the fatted calf. She could not conceive of him except as hungry after many months in the heathen city.
When he came back into the library he swept with his eyes its caressing harmony of colour, tone, and atmosphere. He had never noticed it before. The Professor’s beautiful profile, like a fine steel engraving, thrown into high relief by the lamplight, seemed a part of it. The vibrant little figure on the hearth rug, in a flame-coloured gown, was the high note that gave it all climax. His mind swept the gamut of dirty hall bedrooms, back to this, and the sigh with which he sank into the big couch caught Bambi’s amused attention.
“It was satisfaction,” he assured her. “For the first time in my life, I’ve got the home feeling.”
She nodded understandingly. Her mind, too, swept up those dirty stairs, peeped into the cell, and flew back, singing.
The Professor moved over beside Jarvis, and the wander tales began. Bambi fluttered about like a scarlet tanager, tantalizing Jarvis with a desire to catch her in his hand and hold her still.
At eleven the Professor said good night. Immediately Bambi led the talk to their proposed work, and held it there, firmly, until midnight chimed. Jarvis told her of the sale of the “Street Songs” to Strong’s magazine, and announced that one hundred dollars of it was to be set down in the Black Maria account. She laughed and congratulated him.
Finally she rose.
“Your rooms are always ready for you, so I do not need to go up and see about them. A Merry Christmas, Jarvis Jocelyn.”
He laid his hands on her shoulders and looked deep into her eyes. He thought he felt her tremble under his touch, but her glance was as frank and emotionless as a boy’s.
“A Merry Christmas to you, Miss Mite,” he answered, with a sigh. She laughed, unexpectedly patted his cheek with her hand, and ran upstairs.
Christmas day in the little house was a real celebration. It was the first one in the Jocelyns’ married life, and the entire household entered into the spirit of Yuletide with enthusiasm. At Bambi’s suggestion, they hid the presents all over the house. The subsequent search and discovery were carried on with much laughter and shouting. Ardelia’s delight over her gifts was vocal and extreme. The Professor continually forgot which presents were his, and collected every one else’s into his pile, from which the owner laughingly rescued them. A pair of silk stockings for Bambi which he absent-mindedly appropriated caused much mirth.
Jarvis’s gift to Bambi was a dull gold chain, hung with tassels of baroque pearls, an exquisite feminine bauble.
“Oh, Jarvis, how charming! It’s like a lovely lady’s happy tears!” she exclaimed.
He blushed happily.
“I thought it looked like you.”
“A thousand thanks! Fasten the clasp for me.”
He fumbled it awkwardly, but with final success. She turned for inspection, her eyes avid for praise. He nodded.
“It is where it belongs,” he said.
The day passed happily. Ardelia’s dinner was a Christmas poem. When the Professor complimented her on the success of everything, she replied:
“Yassuh, dis heah day been all right. But I hopes befo’ nex’ Chris’mus we all gwine to have some chilluns to make dis a sho’ nuff pahty.”
Bambi’s face was scarlet, but she faced it out.
“Oh, not children, Ardelia–singular, you mean, I hope.”
“No, I don’t mean sing’lar. We don’ want no singular chilluns. I mean jes’ plain chilluns.”
“The holiday seems to be peculiarly the children’s day,” said the Professor, unaware of the situation, and so saved it!
Thus it was that Jarvis was welcomed into the family circle again, and this time he became an integral part as he had never been before. The day after Christmas he came to Bambi with her story.
“You told me you had read this book, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I’ve read it.”
“What do you think of it?” he asked her, curiously.
“I adore it!” she replied.
He sat down beside her, gravely.
“It’s a strange thing, but the book grows on you. When I first read it, I thought it was a clever little trifle. But as I work with it, I have come to see that it is remarkable in its human quality. You feel the charm of the author all through it.”
“Do you?” eagerly.
“I don’t know. I loved the girl. She seemed very true to me.”
“I’ve never known any girls except you, and I don’t know you very well, but there are spots where you and the other Francesca are strikingly alike. I suppose it is not you, but _feminine_. I mix them up.”
“If we are to make a play of it, I am glad we both love it.”
“I find myself intensely interested in the mysterious woman who wrote it. To me there is no hint in the story of the infelicity Mr. Frohman hinted at. I would like to know her.”
“Don’t you expect to see her when the play is finished?”
“She says she wishes me not to know her.”
“But she will have to come to rehearsals?”
“I must ask her about that. Maybe she will come, then.”
“You write to her?”
“Oh, yes. I have to keep her in touch with my progress.”
“I thought you told her to keep out.”
“I did. But she has been so agreeable about it that I decided to keep her posted as I went along.”
“I’ve no doubt she is very fascinating,” she said, coldly.
“You don’t object to my interest in her?”
“Object? My dear Jarvis, you may be interested in all the women in creation without any objection from me!”
“And you have the same freedom?”
“Naturally. Now let’s get to work. I was surprised at what you said about the young musician in the book. I thought he was so real.”
“Strange. That is what the author said, that it was a close portrait of a near friend.”
“What is it, about him, that you do not like?”
“Oh, I like him, in a way. But these reformers, idealists, thinking they can dream the world into Arcadia!”
Bambi’s clear laugh startled him.
“What amuses you so?” he asked, shortly.
“I suppose I rather like the idealist type.”
He looked at her closely.
“Good heavens, you don’t think I’m like that, do you?”
“A little,” she admitted.
“If I thought that I was that particular brand of idiot I’d learn bookkeeping and be a clerk,” was the reply.
“Maybe it isn’t you–maybe it is just _man_ I recognize.”
“You can see how terribly clever the woman is–to set each of us accusing the other.”
“She is just a student of types, that’s all,” Bambi disparaged the lady.
So they began their co-partnership. The shyness, the appeal, the new self-conscious element Bambi had sensed in Jarvis gave way to the old mental relationship as fellow workman. They had regular office hours, as they called it. They experimented to see whether they obtained the best results, when they each worked at a scene alone and went over it together for the final polishing; or when they actually worked on it in unison. Four hours in the morning they laboured, took an hour of recess after lunch, then two hours more, followed by a tramp off into the country, talking play, play, play.
These were days of keen delight to them both. They worked together so smoothly and so well. Jarvis’s high-handed superiority had given way to a well-grounded respect for Bambi’s quick apprehension of a false note, an unnatural line, or a bungled climax.
The first interruption came with the advent of Richard Strong to spend the weekend, and Jarvis made no comment when Bambi announced his coming and declared Saturday a holiday. He even agreed to meet their guest at the station. The two men came back together in amicable converse.
“I am so glad you could come, Richard,” Bambi greeted him, in her eager way.
Jarvis started at the Christian name, and flushed angrily at Strong’s reply.
“Happy New Year, Francesca!”
Richard and Francesca–so they had gone as far as that on the road to intimacy was Jarvis’s hurt comment to himself.
After that he watched Strong every minute for signs of special devotion, and before the day was over he had satisfied himself that these two cared deeply for each other. The way Strong’s eyes followed her every movement, the way he anticipated her wants, understood her before she spoke–they were all damning evidences of the situation. That Bambi showed herself grateful, as vividly as she did everything else, entirely escaped Jarvis. She loved him, that was the truth, and he alone stood between her and happiness.
The two days dragged by, in torment, for him. It seemed as if they would never be over, so that he might face the truth by himself, with Strong out of the picture, and decide what must be done. Bambi noticed his strained politeness to their guest, but set it down to the same inconsistency he had shown before, of being jealous of what he did not especially value himself.
Monday, after Strong’s departure, she began to realize that there was a change in him. He was taciturn and moody. The work went badly. He disagreed with her at every point, and when she suggested that they stop an hour earlier than usual, he went off by himself, without asking her to go. She began to wonder whether his dislike of Strong was really serious and something to be taken cognizance of.
Jarvis strode off into the country in a state of nerves unknown before. A sleepless night and the irritation of the day’s work had played their havoc with him. He went over the thing again and again. Bambi and Strong loved each other–he stood in the way. Why should he not take himself out of the situation at once? “She married me for a whim; she will unmarry me the same way,” he reiterated to himself. “Why did she do it, in the first place, unless she cared something for me? But she told me she had no sentiment for me,” he replied to his other self. “It was ambition that made her do it. She thought I would be famous. I’ve disappointed her, and she’s through with me.” He went over every incident of their reunion–his thrill at her welcome. “She didn’t really care; it was just her way,” he assured himself.
For hours he plunged through the woods, pursued by his bitter thoughts. When he turned back at last, into the garden, he knew that a precious, new-born thing, which he had brought back with him after his exile, was laid away, never to be allowed to come into full flower and maturity.
His decision was made. He temporized on one point. He would stay on until the play was produced, so that if it succeeded, as he was determined it should, Bambi would have that much satisfaction from her matrimonial experiment. Then he would let her divorce him, and he would take himself out of her life.
She was in the library when he went in. She caught sight of his face, and exclaimed:
“Jarvis, my dear, how tired you look!”
He started to go, but she detained him.
“Is anything the matter, Jarvis?”
“No, what should be the matter?”
“I don’t know, but if there is anything you want to talk out with me, let’s have it now. We can’t afford to have any misunderstandings between us.”
“There is nothing,” he said, and left the room.
That night, after dinner, he sat late in his study, writing. Two days later the result of the evening’s work came to Bambi:
“DEAR AUTHOR LADY: Some days ago I sent you my new address, so that you need not send letters to the theatre, but so far I have not heard from you. To-night, for some reason, I feel moved to write to you as I would wish to talk to you were you near me.
“I say for some reason, and yet I know the reason. It is because of your human understanding of the things that make men glad or sad. I am beginning to know that only through the ache of experience can we come to understand each other. Surely there must be something of sadness back of your life, Lady of Mystery, to give you this power.
“To-day I have fought out a bitter fight with myself, and I feel the loneliness that comes in a crisis, when each man of us must stand or fall, alone.
“The play goes ahead rapidly. As I told you, Mrs. Jocelyn and I have great satisfaction in our work on it. I am determined to wring success from it. Both for your sake and for mine, I must!
“Is this personal letter distasteful to you? Do I depend too much upon your gracious understanding? If I do, say so, and I will not offend again.
Bambi read this letter over and over again, behind the locked door of her bedroom. What did it all mean? What was the bitter fight that drove Jarvis to this other woman for solace? How far did she dare draw him out on it, without offending her own sense of fitness? Had this innocent plot of hers, to startle him into amazed admiration, led them both into a labyrinth of misunderstanding?
She answered Jarvis’s letter and sent it to the theatre, asking them to forward it:
“DEAR MR. JOCELYN: Your letter touched me very much in its appeal for my sympathy and understanding. I am regretful that sorrow has found you out. I think of you always as young and strong and happy, with a young wife, and the world before you. I hate to have you spoil my picture.
“I repeat my satisfaction that you and your wife enjoy your work on ‘Francesca.’ I found such happiness myself in doing her, that I like to think we share the pleasure between us, we three.
“Is it your own ambition that drives you so that you say ‘I must,’ in regard to success? Sometimes, if we set our hearts too much on a thing, our very determination thwarts us. Is it not so? Perhaps it is for the sake of some one else that you are so eager for accomplishment. I feel that it is to come to you in this play, and I am glad.
“Be of good cheer, Comrade. Even the memory of bitter fights grows dim. I will not think of you as daunted by anything life can offer. No, nor death. Why have I this confidence in you, I wonder?
“In all friendliness, “THE LADY OF MYSTERY.”
The day this letter came to Jarvis marked a change in him to Bambi’s watchful eye. He threw himself with renewed ardour into the work. For the first time in many days they walked together, and he seemed more himself than he had been since Strong’s unfortunate visit. Was it the effect of this letter? He was beginning to be easily influenced by this supposed stranger! The idea was too fantastic.
“What kind of a woman do you imagine the author of ‘Francesca’ to be?” she asked him as they trudged along a wintry road. He started a little, she thought.
“I scarcely know,” he evaded. “I always think of her as tall and thin and frail, with a rather sad face, white, with humorous gray eyes, and a sensitive mouth.”
“I always think of her as little and fat and cuddly.”
“Oh, not cuddly!” he protested.
“Any news from her lately?”
“Yes. I had a letter to-day.”
“Did you ask if she was coming to rehearsals?”
“Haven’t you any curiosity about her?”
“In a way, yes. But I respect her desire in the matter.”
“I don’t. If I could get it out of Richard Strong who she is, I’d go look her up in a minute.”
“Have you tried?” eagerly.
“He won’t tell. He’s the King of Clams.”