“Well?” he challenged her.
“Oh, I hate ugliness so. It’s like pain. Is it very weak of me to hate ugliness?” she begged.
“It’s very natural, and no doubt weak.”
“I wouldn’t mind the thought of poverty so much—not hunger, nor thirst, nor cold—but dirt and hideousness—they are too terrible.”
“This is life in the raw. You like it dressed for Fifth Avenue better,” he taunted.
“Do you prefer this?”
She looked about again, with a sense of having missed his point.
“Because it’s fight, hand-to-throat fight?”
“Yes. You can teach these people. They don’t know anything. They are dumb beasts. You can give them tongue. It’s too late to teach your Upper End.”
A woman passed close, with a baby, covered with great sores. Bambi caught at Jarvis’s sleeve and tottered a step.
“I feel a little sick,” she faltered.
He caught her hand through his arm, and hurried her quickly back the way they had come. As they mounted the stage, he looked at her white face.
“We will have to expurgate life for you, Miss Mite.”
“No, no. I want it all. I must get hardened.”
Back at the club, she hurried into her hot bath, with a vague hope of washing off all traces of that awful street. But their talk at dinner was desultory and rather serious. Jarvis talked for the most part, elaborating schemes of social reform and the handling of our immigrant brothers.
They started off to the theatre, with no definite plan. Bambi’s spirits rose to the lights of Broadway, like a trout to a silver shiner. There is a hectic joyousness on Broadway, a personification of the “Eat, drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die” spirit which warms you, like champagne, or chills you, like the icy hand of despair, according to your mood. Bambi skipped along beside Jarvis, twittering gayly.
“People are happy, aren’t they?”
“Jarvis, you old bogie-man, hiding in the dark, to jump out and say ‘Boo!’”
“That’s my work—booing frauds. Let’s go in here,” he added.
“‘Damaged Goods,’” Bambi read on the theatre poster. “Do you know anything about it?”
“I’ve read it. It is not amusing,” he added.
She followed him without replying. The theatre was packed with a motley audience of unrelated people. Professors and their wives, reformers, writers, mothers with adolescent sons, mothers with young daughters—what, in Broadway parlance, is called a “high-brow” audience—a striking group of people gathered together to mark a daring experiment of our audacious times; a surgical clinic on a social sore, up to this moment hidden, neglected, whispered about.
Bambi came to it with an open mind. She had heard of Brieux, his dramatic tracts, but she had not seen the text of this play, nor was she prepared for it. The first act horrified her into silence during the whole intermission. The second act racked her with sobs, and the last act piled up the agony to the breaking point. They made their way out to the street, part of that quiet audience which scarcely spoke, so deep was the impression of the play.