“Be of good courage, little daughter,” her father said.
“Oh, Father Professor, are the fruits of success always so bitter–so bitter?” she cried to him.
The first week of the play went by, and it was an assured success. The royalty for the first seven days was a surprise, which would have thrown Bambi into raptures under ordinary circumstances. But the Bambi of these days and rapture were no longer playmates.
There had been no word from Jarvis since that time of the first brief message. Bambi went about the house a thin, white-faced, little ghost, with never a song or a smile.
“Fo’ Gawd, Perfessor, it makes me cry to look at Miss Bambi, an’ I don’ dare ask her what’s de mattah.”
“I think we must just let her alone, Ardelia. She’ll work this thing out for herself.” But he, too, was alarmed at the change in her.
The more she thought of how she had thrown away Jarvis’s love, the more she lacerated herself with reproaches. Her fatal love of play-acting had brought her sorrow this time. How could she have done it? Why didn’t she see that Jarvis would never understand what made her do it, that he would resent it.
Some days she was in a fury at him for not understanding her. Other days she wanted him so that she could scarcely refrain from taking a train to New York and looking for him. In her sane moments she knew that the only thing she could do now was to wait.
Richard Strong came down to dine and spend the night, and one thing he said added to her misery.
“Jarvis stayed in town, didn’t he?” he remarked.
“Looking after things there, I suppose? I passed him on the street yesterday, but he didn’t see me.”
“You passed him yesterday?” breathlessly.
“Yes. The opening and the strain of the rehearsal knocked him out, didn’t it? He looked as gaunt as a monk.”
“Jarvis takes things very seriously.”
“By the way, how did he take your joke?”
She looked directly at him and answered frankly: “He didn’t think it was funny at all.”
“Oh, that’s a pity.”
“I’m through with jokes, Richard, through with them for all time,” she said, her lips quivering.
“Oh, no–try one on me, I’d like it,” he laughed to cover her emotion, and changed the subject quickly.
When he returned to town he called up the Frohman offices, asking for Jarvis’s address. He was still at the National Arts Club, they assured him. So that evening he presented himself there unannounced. He found Jarvis alone in the reading-room, a book open before sightless eyes. He rose to greet Strong, with evident reluctance.
“I’m glad to find you, Jocelyn. I have something particular to say to you.”
“So? Sit down, won’t you?”
“I’ve just come back from Sunnyside, where I spent the night. I wanted to settle the details of your wife’s next serial.”
“Have you seen her since the opening night?”
“I think she is either very ill, or very unhappy, possibly both. She seems such a frail little thing that one dreads any extra demands on her. I knew you stayed on to look after the business here, of course…. You know the dear, blind, old Professor. Naturally you are the person to look after her, and I thought it would be just like her not to say a word to you about it all, so here I am, playing tame cat, carrying tales. Go down to-night, Jocelyn, and take that girl away somewhere.”
“They think she’s ill?” Jarvis repeated.
“She looks it to me. If she were my wife, I’d be alarmed.”
He rose as he finished, and Jarvis rose, too. They looked each other in the eyes.
“Thank you!” said Jarvis.
He suddenly realized, without words of any kind, that this man suffered as he did, because he, too, loved Bambi. He was big enough to come to her husband with news of her need. By a common impulse their hands met in a warm hand-clasp.
“She needs you, Jocelyn,” Strong said.
“You’re a good friend, Strong,” Jarvis answered.
When he had gone, Jarvis hurried to his room and began to pack his bag. His heart beat like a trip-hammer with excitement. He was going to Bambi! She needed him. He had endured a week of the third degree, practised upon himself. He had peered into every nook and corner of his own soul. He knew himself for a blind, selfish egotist. He was ready now to fling his winter garments of repentance into the fires of spring. He understood himself, though Bambi baffled him more than ever. Never mind. She needed him. Strong said so–and he was going to her.
He was at the station an hour before the train left, pacing up and down the platform like an angry lion. Aboard the sleeper, and on the way, he tossed and turned in his berth in wakefulness. At dawn he was up and dressed, to sit in a fever of impatience while the landscape slowly slid by the car window.
At Sunnyside he hurried along the deserted street, where only the milkman wound his weary way in the early morning. There was a hint of spring in the air, fresh and exhilarating, with a faint earth smell.
The house lay, with closed blinds, still asleep. He let himself in with his latch-key, dropped his bag, hat, and coat in the hall, and rushed upstairs to Bambi’s rooms. No hesitation now. He would storm the citadel in truth. He opened her bedroom door softly and peered in. It was unknown country to him. The bed was empty. He entered and walked swiftly to the door beyond, where he heard a faint crackling, as of a fire burning. At the door he paused.
She was crouched before a fire, cross-legged, her face cupped on her hands. In her pink robe and cap she looked more like a child than ever. She half turned her head, as if feeling his presence, so he saw how pale she was, how black the circles round her eyes.
“My little love!” he cried to her. “My little love!”
She sprang to her feet, facing him; her hands went swiftly to her heart, as if a spasm shook her. As Jarvis came toward her, a great light in his face, she put her hands out to fend him off.
“I want you to know that I realize just how silly and cheap and theatrical I’ve been. I didn’t mean to hurt you,” she began in a monotone, as if it tired her too much to speak. He tried to stop her, but she shook her head.
“I have to say it all now. I cared so much when you came home that time, and after the first night I thought you didn’t care for me.”
“My best beloved, let me—-“
“No, no–please. I was piqued and angry and I thought I could punish you by pretending to be the other woman you thought you were writing to. I wanted to make you care for her, and then—-“
“It was you I cared for–you, you, you!”
“I thought that, when you knew I was both of us, you’d be so glad—-” She broke off into a sob.
“I am, dearest, I am.”
“I never meant to hurt you. This week has nearly killed me.”
He took her into his arms, and sat in the big chair, holding her close, while she clung to him and sobbed out her heart. He kissed her hair, her wet eyes, and her lips, saying over and over, “Oh, littlest, I love you so, I love you so!” When the sobs ceased, he lifted her face to his.
“I want to see the shine in your eyes, dearest, and then I want you to listen to me.”
She drew his head down to her and kissed him.
“The shine will come back now, beloved. Oh, Big”–she said with a sigh–“my old Jarvis.”
“No, your new Jarvis, little wife. The old, crazy Jarvis will be more to your liking. I may not understand you very well yet, but I know my need of you my pride in you—-“
“And my need of you?”
“And your need of me. We’re in step, now, honey girl–and we’ll march along together without any more misunderstandings, won’t we?”
“Oh, we will, if you’ll take short steps, so I can keep up.”
“I’m the one to do the running now, Miss Mite. A famous novelist and a successful playwright!” he laughed, pinching her cheek.
“None of it counts. The only title that means anything to me is Mrs. Jarvis Jocelyn.”
His comment on that was inaudible.
“Would you mind telling me just why you married me?”
“Because I was a seeress, and foresaw this day.”
More comment, inaudible. The door opened, cautiously, the Professor tiptoed in, followed by Ardelia, with a tray. At the sight of the two before him, engrossed in the inaudible comments, he stepped back into Ardelia and rattled the contents of the tray. Jarvis looked up and caught his astonished expression. He rose with Bambi in his arms.
“Good-morning, Father. I’m home,” he said.
“Thank de good Lawd!” from Ardelia.
“It’s Jarvis,” said Bambi, fatuously, patting his cheek.
“I suspected that it was when I saw him,” the Professor admitted. “I’m glad that you’re back, and I hope you’ll stay. This child needs a firmer hand than mine.”
“You’re speaking of a woman with a well-advanced career, Herr Professor Parkhurst!”
“Ardelia, we are not needed. She is well. A dose of Jarvis Jocelyn was the correct prescription.”
“Well, thank Gawd fo’ some sho’ nuff lovin’ at las'” said Ardelia, as she backed out behind the Professor, and closed the door.