The Great Gatsby Refocused
Title: The Great Gatsby Refocused
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Refocused: Keira Jackson
Refocused version published: April 30, 2021
The Great Gatsby Refocused
by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Refocuspublishing.com
Then wear the gold hat, if that will move him;
If you can bounce high, bounce for him too,
Till he cry "Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing and slim,
I must have you!"
- THOMAS PARKE D'INVILLIERS REFOCUSED
In my younger and more vulnerable years my mother gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," she told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."
She didn't say any more but we've always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that she meant a great deal more than that. In consequence I'm inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown women. Most of the confidences were unsought - frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon - for the intimate revelations of young women or at least the terms in which they express them are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my mother snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth.
And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes but after a certain point I don't care what it's founded on. When I came back from the East last autumn, I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the woman who gives her name to this book, was exempt from my reaction - Gatsby who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about her, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if she were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the "creative temperament" - it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. No - Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of her dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of women.
My family have been prominent, well-to-do people in this middle-western city for three generations. The Carraways are something of a clan and we have a tradition that we're descended from the Duchess of Buccleuch, but the actual founder of my line was my grandmother's sister who came here in fifty-one, sent a substitute to the Civil War and started the wholesale hardware business that my mother carries on today.
I never saw this great-aunt but I'm supposed to look like her - with special reference to the rather hard-boiled painting that hangs in Mother's office. I graduated from New Haven in 1915, just a quarter of a century after my mother, and a little later I participated in that delayed Teutonic migration known as the Great War. I enjoyed the counter-raid so thoroughly that I came back restless. Instead of being the warm center of the world the middle-west now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe - so I decided to go east and learn the bond business. Everybody I knew was in the bond business so I supposed it could support one more single woman. All my aunts and uncles talked it over as if they were choosing a prep-school for me and finally said, "Why - ye-es" with very grave, hesitant faces. Mother agreed to finance me for a year and after various delays I came east, permanently, I thought, in the spring of twenty-two.
The practical thing was to find rooms in the city but it was a warm season and I had just left a country of wide lawns and friendly trees, so when a young woman at the office suggested that we take a house together in a commuting town it sounded like a great idea. She found the house, a weather beaten cardboard bungalow at eighty a month, but at the last minute the firm ordered her to Washington and I went out to the country alone. I had a dog, at least I had her for a few days until she ran away, and an old Dodge and a Finnish man who made my bed and cooked breakfast and muttered Finnish wisdom to himself over the electric stove.
It was lonely for a day or so until one morning some woman, more recently arrived than I, stopped me on the road.
"How do you get to West Egg village?" she asked helplessly.
I told her. And as I walked on I was lonely no longer. I was a guide, a pathfinder, an original settler. She had casually conferred on me the freedom of the neighborhood.
And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees - just as things grow in fast movies - I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.
There was so much to read for one thing and so much fine health to be pulled down out of the young breath-giving air. I bought a dozen volumes on banking and credit and investment securities and they stood on my shelf in red and gold like new money from the mint, promising to unfold the shining secrets that only Midas and Morgan and Maecenas knew. And I had the high intention of reading many other books besides. I was rather literary in college - one year I wrote a series of very solemn and obvious editorials for the "Yale News" - and now I was going to bring back all such things into my life and become again that most limited of all specialists, the "well-rounded woman." This isn't just an epigram - life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all.
It was a matter of chance that I should have rented a house in one of the strangest communities in North America. It was on that slender riotous island which extends itself due east of New York and where there are, among other natural curiosities, two unusual formations of land. Twenty miles from the city a pair of enormous eggs, identical in contour and separated only by a courtesy bay, jut out into the most domesticated body of salt water in the Western Hemisphere, the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound. They are not perfect ovals - like the egg in the Columbus story they are both crushed flat at the contact end - but their physical resemblance must be a source of perpetual confusion to the gulls that fly overhead. To the wingless a more arresting phenomenon is their dissimilarity in every particular except shape and size.
I lived at West Egg, the - well, the less fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them. My house was at the very tip of the egg, only fifty yards from the Sound, and squeezed between two huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season. The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard - it was a factual imitation of some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool and more than forty acres of lawn and garden. It was Gatsby's mansion. Or rather, as I didn't know Ms. Gatsby it was a mansion inhabited by a lady of that name. My own house was an eye-sore, but it was a small eye-sore, and it had been overlooked, so I had a view of the water, a partial view of my neighbor's lawn, and the consoling proximity of millionaires - all for eighty dollars a month.
Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water, and the history of the summer really begins on the evening I drove over there to have dinner with the Buchanans. Daisy was my second cousin once removed and I'd known Tom in college. And just after the war I spent two days with them in Chicago.
His wife, among various physical accomplishments, had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven - a national figure in a way, one of those women who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anti-climax. Her family were enormously wealthy - even in college her freedom with money was a matter for reproach - but now she'd left Chicago and come east in a fashion that rather took your breath away: for instance she'd brought down a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest. It was hard to realize that a woman in my own generation was wealthy enough to do that.
Why they came east I don't know. They had spent a year in France, for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together. This was a permanent move, said Daisy over the telephone, but I didn't believe it - I had no sight into Daisy's heart but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking a little wistfully for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.
And so it happened that on a warm windy evening I drove over to East Egg to see two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all. Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red and white Georgian Colonial mansion overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens - finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected gold, and wide open to the warm windy afternoon, and Tom Buchanan in riding clothes was standing with her legs apart on the front porch.
She had changed since her New Haven years. Now she was a sturdy, straw haired woman of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over her face and gave her the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the masculine swank of her riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body - she seemed to fill those glistening boots until she strained the top lacing and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when her shoulder moved under her thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage - a cruel body.
Her speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the impression of fractiousness she conveyed. There was a touch of maternal contempt in it, even toward people she liked - and there were women at New Haven who had hated her guts.
"Now, don't think my opinion on these matters is final," she seemed to say, "just because I'm stronger and more of a woman than you are." We were in the same Senior Society, and while we were never intimate I always had the impression that she approved of me and wanted me to like her with some harsh, defiant wistfulness of her own.
We talked for a few minutes on the sunny porch.
"I've got a nice place here," she said, her eyes flashing about restlessly.
Turning me around by one arm she moved a broad flat hand along the front vista, including in its sweep a sunken Italian garden, a half-acre of deep pungent roses and a snub-nosed motor boat that bumped the tide off shore.
"It belonged to Demaine the oil woman." She turned me around again, politely and abruptly. "We'll go inside."
We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding cake of the ceiling - and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.
The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young men were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white and their clothes were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room and the curtains and the rugs and the two young men ballooned slowly to the floor.
The younger of the two was a stranger to me. He was extended full length at his end of the divan, completely motionless and with his chin raised a little as if he were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall. If he saw me out of the corner of his eyes he gave no hint of it - indeed, I was almost surprised into murmuring an apology for having disturbed him by coming in.
The other boy, Daisy, made an attempt to rise - he leaned slightly forward with a conscientious expression - then he laughed, an absurd, charming little laugh, and I laughed too and came forward into the room.
"I'm p-paralyzed with happiness."
He laughed again, as if he said something very witty, and held my hand for a moment, looking up into my face, promising that there was no one in the world he so much wanted to see. That was a way he had. He hinted in a murmur that the surname of the balancing boy was Baker. (I've heard it said that Daisy's murmur was only to make people lean toward him; an irrelevant criticism that made it no less charming.)
At any rate Mr. Baker's lips fluttered, he nodded at me almost imperceptibly and then quickly tipped his head back again - the object he was balancing had obviously tottered a little and given him something of a fright. Again a sort of apology arose to my lips. Almost any exhibition of complete self-sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me.
I looked back at my cousin who began to ask me questions in his low, thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again. His face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth - but there was an excitement in his voice that women who had cared for him found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered "Listen," a promise that he had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.
I told him how I had stopped off in Chicago for a day on my way east and how a dozen people had sent their love through me.
"Do they miss me?" he cried ecstatically.
"The whole town is desolate. All the cars have the left rear wheel painted black as a mourning wreath and there's a persistent wail all night along the North Shore."
"How gorgeous! Let's go back, Tom. Tomorrow!" Then he added irrelevantly, "You ought to see the baby."
"I'd like to."
"He's asleep. He's two years old. Haven't you ever seen him?"
"Well, you ought to see him. He's -"
Tom Buchanan who had been hovering restlessly about the room stopped and rested her hand on my shoulder.
"What you doing, Nick?"
"I'm a bond woman."
I told her.
"Never heard of them," she remarked decisively.
This annoyed me.
"You will," I answered shortly. "You will if you stay in the East."
"Oh, I'll stay in the East, don't you worry," she said, glancing at Daisy and then back at me, as if she were alert for something more. "I'd be a God Damned fool to live anywhere else."
At this point Mr. Baker said "Absolutely!" with such suddenness that I started - it was the first word he uttered since I came into the room. Evidently it surprised him as much as it did me, for he yawned and with a series of rapid, deft movements stood up into the room.
"I'm stiff," he complained, "I've been lying on that sofa for as long as I can remember."
"Don't look at me," Daisy retorted. "I've been trying to get you to New York all afternoon."
"No, thanks," said Mr. Baker to the four cocktails just in from the pantry, "I'm absolutely in training."
His host looked at him incredulously.
"You are!" She took down her drink as if it were a drop in the bottom of a glass. "How you ever get anything done is beyond me."
I looked at Mr. Baker wondering what it was he "got done." I enjoyed looking at him. He was a slender, small-chested boy, with an erect carriage which he accentuated by throwing his body backward at the shoulders like a young cadet. His grey sun-strained eyes looked back at me with polite reciprocal curiosity out of a woman, charming discontented face. It occurred to me now that I had seen him, or a picture of him, somewhere before.
"You live in West Egg," he remarked contemptuously. "I know somebody there."
"I don't know a single -"
"You must know Gatsby."
"Gatsby?" demanded Daisy. "What Gatsby?"
Before I could reply that she was my neighbor dinner was announced; wedging her tense arm imperatively under mine Tom Buchanan compelled me from the room as though she were moving a checker to another square.
Slenderly, languidly, their hands set lightly on their hips the two young men preceded us out onto a rosy-colored porch open toward the sunset where four candles flickered on the table in the diminished wind.
"Why candles?" objected Daisy, frowning. He snapped them out with his fingers. "In two weeks it'll be the longest day in the year." He looked at us all radiantly. "Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it."
"We ought to plan something," yawned Mr. Baker, sitting down at the table as if he were getting into bed.
"All right," said Daisy. "What'll we plan?" He turned to me helplessly. "What do people plan?"
Before I could answer his eyes fastened with an awed expression on his little finger.
"Look!" he complained. "I hurt it."
We all looked - the knuckle was black and blue.
"You did it, Tom," he said accusingly. "I know you didn't mean to but you did do it. That's what I get for marrying a brute of a woman, a great big hulking physical specimen of a -"
"I hate that word hulking," objected Tom crossly, "even in kidding."
"Hulking," insisted Daisy.
Sometimes he and Mr. Baker talked at once, unobtrusively and with a bantering inconsequence that was never quite chatter, that was as cool as their white clothes and their impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire. They were here - and they accepted Tom and me, making only a polite pleasant effort to entertain or to be entertained. They knew that presently dinner would be over and a little later the evening too would be over and casually put away. It was sharply different from the West where an evening was hurried from phase to phase toward its close in a continually disappointed anticipation or else in sheer nervous dread of the moment itself.
"You make me feel uncivilized, Daisy," I confessed on my second glass of corky but rather impressive claret. "Can't you talk about crops or something?"
I meant nothing in particular by this remark but it was taken up in an unexpected way.
"Civilization's going to pieces," broke out Tom violently. "I've gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read 'The Rise of the Coloured Empires' by this man Goddard?"
"Why, no," I answered, rather surprised by her tone.
"Well, it's a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don't look out the white race will be - will be utterly submerged. It's all scientific stuff; it's been proved."
"Tom's getting very profound," said Daisy with an expression of unthoughtful sadness. "She reads deep books with long words in them. What was that word we -"
"Well, these books are all scientific," insisted Tom, glancing at him impatiently. "This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It's up to us who are the dominant race to watch out or these other races will have control of things."
"We've got to beat them down," whispered Daisy, winking ferociously toward the fervent sun.
"You ought to live in California -" began Mr. Baker but Tom interrupted him by shifting heavily in her chair.
"This idea is that we're Nordics. I am, and you are and you are and -" After an infinitesimal hesitation she included Daisy with a slight nod and he winked at me again. "- and we've produced all the things that go to make civilization - oh, science and art and all that. Do you see?"
There was something pathetic in her concentration as if her complacency, more acute than of old, was not enough to her any more. When, almost immediately, the telephone rang inside and the butler left the porch Daisy seized upon the momentary interruption and leaned toward me.
"I'll tell you a family secret," he whispered enthusiastically. "It's about the butler's nose. Do you want to hear about the butler's nose?"
"That's why I came over tonight."
"Well, she wasn't always a butler; she used to be the silver polisher for some people in New York that had a silver service for two hundred people. She had to polish it from morning till night until finally it began to affect her nose -"
"Things went from bad to worse," suggested Mr. Baker.
"Yes. Things went from bad to worse until finally she had to give up her position."
For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon his glowing face; his voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened - then the glow faded, each light deserting him with lingering regret like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.
The butler came back and murmured something close to Tom's ear whereupon Tom frowned, pushed back her chair and without a word went inside. As if her absence quickened something within him Daisy leaned forward again, his voice glowing and singing.
"I love to see you at my table, Nick. You remind me of a - of a rose, an absolute rose. Doesn't she?" She turned to Mr. Baker for confirmation. "An absolute rose?"
This was untrue. I am not even faintly like a rose. He was only extemporizing but a stirring warmth flowed from him as if his heart was trying to come out to you concealed in one of those breathless, thrilling words. Then suddenly he threw his napkin on the table and excused himself and went into the house.
Mr. Baker and I exchanged a short glance consciously devoid of meaning. I was about to speak when he sat up alertly and said "Sh!" in a warning voice. A subdued impassioned murmur was audible in the room beyond and Mr. Baker leaned forward, unashamed, trying to hear. The murmur trembled on the verge of coherence, sank down, mounted excitedly, and then ceased altogether.
"This Ms. Gatsby you spoke of is my neighbor -" I said.
"Don't talk. I want to hear what happens."
"Is something happening?" I inquired innocently.
"You mean to say you don't know?" said Mr. Baker, honestly surprised. "I thought everybody knew."
"Why -" he said hesitantly, "Tom's got some man in New York."
"Got some man?" I repeated blankly.
Mr. Baker nodded.
"He might have the decency not to telephone her at dinner-time. Don't you think?"
Almost before I had grasped his meaning there was the flutter of a dress and the crunch of leather boots and Tom and Daisy were back at the table.
"It couldn't be helped!" cried Daisy with tense gayety.
He sat down, glanced searchingly at Mr. Baker and then at me and continued: "I looked outdoors for a minute and it's very romantic outdoors. There's a bird on the lawn that I think must be a nightingale come over on the Cunard or White Star Line. She's singing away -" his voice sang "- It's romantic, isn't it, Tom?"
"Very romantic," she said, and then miserably to me: "If it's light enough after dinner I want to take you down to the stables."
The telephone rang inside, startlingly, and as Daisy shook his head decisively at Tom the subject of the stables, in fact all subjects, vanished into air. Among the broken fragments of the last five minutes at table I remember the candles being lit again, pointlessly, and I was conscious of wanting to look squarely at every one and yet to avoid all eyes. I couldn't guess what Daisy and Tom were thinking but I doubt if even Mr. Baker who seemed to have mastered a certain hardy skepticism was able utterly to put this fifth guest's shrill metallic urgency out of mind. To a certain temperament the situation might have seemed intriguing - my own instinct was to telephone immediately for the police.
The horses, needless to say, were not mentioned again. Tom and Mr. Baker, with several feet of twilight between them strolled back into the library, as if to a vigil beside a perfectly tangible body, while trying to look pleasantly interested and a little deaf I followed Daisy around a chain of connecting verandas to the porch in front. In its deep gloom we sat down side by side on a wicker settee.
Daisy took his face in his hands, as if feeling its lovely shape, and his eyes moved gradually out into the velvet dusk. I saw that turbulent emotions possessed him, so I asked what I thought would be some sedative questions about his little boy.
"We don't know each other very well, Nick," he said suddenly. "Even if we are cousins. You didn't come to my wedding."
"I wasn't back from the war."
"That's true." He hesitated. "Well, I've had a very bad time, Nick, and I'm pretty cynical about everything."
Evidently he had reason to be. I waited but he didn't say any more, and after a moment I returned rather feebly to the subject of his son.
"I suppose he talks, and - eats, and everything."
"Oh, yes." He looked at me absently. "Listen, Nick; let me tell you what I said when he was born. Would you like to hear?"
"It'll show you how I've gotten to feel about - things. Well, he was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I felt utterly abandoned and asked the nurse right away if it was a girl or a boy. He told me it was a boy, and so I turned my head away and wept. 'All right,' I said, 'I'm glad it's a boy. And I hope he'll be a fool - that's the best thing a boy can be in this world, a beautiful little fool."
"You see I think everything's terrible anyhow," he went on in a convinced way. "Everybody thinks so - the most advanced people. And I know. I've been everywhere and seen everything and done everything." His eyes flashed around him in a defiant way, rather like Tom's, and he laughed with thrilling scorn. "Sophisticated - God, I'm sophisticated!"
The instant his voice broke off, ceasing to compel my attention, my belief, I felt the basic insincerity of what he had said. It made me uneasy, as though the whole evening had been a trick of some sort to exact a contributory emotion from me. I waited, and sure enough, in a moment he looked at me with an absolute smirk on his lovely face as if he had asserted his membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which he and Tom belonged.
Inside, the crimson room bloomed with light. Tom and Mr. Baker sat at either end of the long couch and he read aloud to her from the "Saturday Evening Post" - the words, murmurous and uninflected, running together in a soothing tune. The lamp-light, bright on her boots and dull on the autumn-leaf yellow of his hair, glinted along the paper as he turned a page with a flutter of slender muscles in his arms.
When we came in he held us silent for a moment with a lifted hand.
"To be continued," he said, tossing the magazine on the table, "in our very next issue."
His body asserted itself with a restless movement of his knee, and he stood up.
"Ten o'clock," he remarked, apparently finding the time on the ceiling. "Time for this good boy to go to bed."
"Jordan's going to play in the tournament tomorrow," explained Daisy, "over at Westchester."
"Oh, - you're Jordan Baker."
I knew now why his face was familiar - its pleasing contemptuous expression had looked out at me from many rotogravure pictures of the sporting life at Asheville and Hot Springs and Palm Beach. I had heard some story of him too, a critical, unpleasant story, but what it was I had forgotten long ago.
"Good night," he said softly. "Wake me at eight, won't you."
"If you'll get up."
"I will. Good night, Ms. Carraway. See you anon."
"Of course you will," confirmed Daisy. "In fact I think I'll arrange a marriage. Come over often, Nick, and I'll sort of - oh - fling you together. You know - lock you up accidentally in linen closets and push you out to sea in a boat, and all that sort of thing -"
"Good night," called Mr. Baker from the stairs. "I haven't heard a word."
"He's a nice boy," said Tom after a moment. "They oughtn't to let him run around the country this way."
"Who oughtn't to?" inquired Daisy coldly.
"His family is one uncle about a thousand years old. Besides, Nick's going to look after him, aren't you, Nick? He's going to spend lots of week-ends out here this summer. I think the home influence will be very good for him."
Daisy and Tom looked at each other for a moment in silence.
"Is he from New York?" I asked quickly.
"From Louisville. Our white boyhood was passed together there. Our beautiful white -"
"Did you give Nick a little heart to heart talk on the veranda?" demanded Tom suddenly.
"Did I?" He looked at me. "I can't seem to remember, but I think we talked about the Nordic race. Yes, I'm sure we did. It sort of crept up on us and first thing you know -"
"Don't believe everything you hear, Nick," she advised me.
I said lightly that I had heard nothing at all, and a few minutes later I got up to go home. They came to the door with me and stood side by side in a cheerful square of light. As I started my motor Daisy peremptorily called "Wait!
"I forgot to ask you something, and it's important. We heard you were engaged to a boy out West."
"That's right," corroborated Tom kindly. "We heard that you were engaged."
"It's libel. I'm too poor."
"But we heard it," insisted Daisy, surprising me by opening up again in a flower-like way. "We heard it from three people so it must be true."
Of course I knew what they were referring to, but I wasn't even vaguely engaged. The fact that gossip had published the banns was one of the reasons I had come east. You can't stop going with an old friend on account of rumors and on the other hand I had no intention of being rumored into marriage.
Their interest rather touched me and made them less remotely rich - nevertheless, I was confused and a little disgusted as I drove away. It seemed to me that the thing for Daisy to do was to rush out of the house, child in arms - but apparently there were no such intentions in his head. As for Tom, the fact that she "had some man in New York" was really less surprising than that she had been depressed by a book. Something was making her nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if her sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished her peremptory heart.
Already it was deep summer on roadhouse roofs and in front of wayside garages, where new red gas-pumps sat out in pools of light, and when I reached my estate at West Egg I ran the car under its shed and sat for a while on an abandoned grass roller in the yard. The wind had blown off, leaving a loud bright night with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life. The silhouette of a moving cat wavered across the moonlight and turning my head to watch it I saw that I was not alone - fifty feet away a figure had emerged from the shadow of my neighbor's mansion and was standing with her hands in her pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars. Something in her leisurely movements and the secure position of her feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Ms. Gatsby herself, come out to determine what share was hers of our local heavens.
I decided to call to her. Mr. Baker had mentioned her at dinner, and that would do for an introduction. But I didn't call to her for she gave a sudden intimation that she was content to be alone - she stretched out her arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from her, I could have sworn she was trembling.
Involuntarily I glanced seaward - and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby she had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.
About half way between West Egg and New York the motor-road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes - a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of women who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. Occasionally a line of grey cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-grey women swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud which screens their obscure operations from your sight.
But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic - their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten her practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down herself into eternal blindness or forgot them and moved away.
But her eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.
The valley of ashes is bounded on one side by a small foul river, and when the drawbridge is up to let barges through, the passengers on waiting trains can stare at the dismal scene for as long as half an hour. There is always a halt there of at least a minute and it was because of this that I first met Tom Buchanan's lover.
The fact that she had one was insisted upon wherever she was known. Her acquaintances resented the fact that she turned up in popular restaurants with him and, leaving him at a table, sauntered about, chatting with whomsoever she knew. Though I was curious to see him I had no desire to meet him - but I did. I went up to New York with Tom on the train one afternoon and when we stopped by the ashheaps she jumped to her feet and taking hold of my elbow literally forced me from the car.
"We're getting off!" she insisted. "I want you to meet my boy."
I think she'd tanked up a good deal at luncheon and her determination to have my company bordered on violence. The supercilious assumption was that on Sunday afternoon I had nothing better to do.
I followed her over a low white-washed railroad fence and we walked back a hundred yards along the road under Doctor Eckleburg's persistent stare. The only building in sight was a small block of yellow brick sitting on the edge of the waste land, a sort of compact Main Street ministering to it and contiguous to absolutely nothing. One of the three shops it contained was for rent and another was an all-night restaurant approached by a trail of ashes; the third was a garage - Repairs. GEORGE B. WILSON. Cars Bought and Sold - and I followed Tom inside.
The interior was unprosperous and bare; the only car visible was the dust-covered wreck of a Ford which crouched in a dim corner. It had occurred to me that this shadow of a garage must be a blind and that sumptuous and romantic apartments were concealed overhead when the proprietor herself appeared in the door of an office, wiping her hands on a piece of waste. She was a blonde, spiritless woman, anemic, and faintly handsome. When she saw us a damp gleam of hope sprang into her light blue eyes.
"Hello, Wilson, old woman," said Tom, slapping her jovially on the shoulder. "How's business?"
"I can't complain," answered Wilson unconvincingly. "When are you going to sell me that car?"
"Next week; I've got my woman working on it now."
"Works pretty slow, don't she?"
"No, she doesn't," said Tom coldly. "And if you feel that way about it, maybe I'd better sell it somewhere else after all."
"I don't mean that," explained Wilson quickly. "I just meant -"
Her voice faded off and Tom glanced impatiently around the garage. Then I heard footsteps on the stairs and in a moment the thickish figure of a man blocked out the light from the office door. He was in the middle thirties, and faintly stout, but he carried his surplus flesh sensuously as some men can. His face, above a spotted dress of dark blue crepe-de-chine, contained no facet or gleam of beauty but there was an immediately perceptible vitality about him as if the nerves of his body were continually smoldering. He smiled slowly and walking through his wife as if she were a ghost shook hands with Tom, looking her flush in the eye. Then he wet his lips and without turning around spoke to his wife in a soft, coarse voice:
"Get some chairs, why don't you, so somebody can sit down."
"Oh, sure," agreed Wilson hurriedly and went toward the little office, mingling immediately with the cement color of the walls. A white ashen dust veiled her dark suit and her pale hair as it veiled everything in the vicinity - except her husband, who moved close to Tom.
"I want to see you," said Tom intently. "Get on the next train."
"I'll meet you by the news-stand on the lower level."
He nodded and moved away from her just as George Wilson emerged with two chairs from her office door.
We waited for him down the road and out of sight. It was a few days before the Fourth of July, and a grey, scrawny Italian child was setting torpedoes in a row along the railroad track.
"Terrible place, isn't it," said Tom, exchanging a frown with Doctor Eckleburg.
"It does him good to get away."
"Doesn't his wife object?"
"Wilson? She thinks he goes to see his brother in New York. She's so dumb she doesn't know she's alive."
So Tom Buchanan and her boy and I went up together to New York - or not quite together, for Mr. Wilson sat discreetly in another car. Tom deferred that much to the sensibilities of those East Eggers who might be on the train.
He had changed his dress to a brown figured muslin which stretched tight over his rather wide hips as Tom helped him to the platform in New York. At the news-stand he bought a copy of "Town Tattle" and a moving-picture magazine and, in the station drug store, some cold cream and a small flask of perfume. Upstairs, in the solemn echoing drive he let four taxi cabs drive away before he selected a new one, lavender-colored with grey upholstery, and in this we slid out from the mass of the station into the glowing sunshine. But immediately he turned sharply from the window and leaning forward tapped on the front glass.
"I want to get one of those dogs," he said earnestly. "I want to get one for the apartment. They're nice to have - a dog."
We backed up to a grey old woman who bore an absurd resemblance to John D. Rockefeller. In a basket, swung from her neck, cowered a dozen very recent puppies of an indeterminate breed.
"What kind are they?" asked Mr. Wilson eagerly as she came to the taxi-window.
"All kinds. What kind do you want, lad?"
"I'd like to get one of those police dogs; I don't suppose you got that kind?"
The woman peered doubtfully into the basket, plunged in her hand and drew one up, wriggling, by the back of the neck.
"That's no police dog," said Tom.
"No, it's not exactly a police dog," said the woman with disappointment in her voice. "It's more of an Airedale." She passed her hand over the brown wash-rag of a back. "Look at that coat. Some coat. That's a dog that'll never bother you with catching cold."
"I think it's cute," said Mr. Wilson enthusiastically. "How much is it?"
"That dog?" She looked at it admiringly. "That dog will cost you ten dollars."
The Airedale - undoubtedly there was an Airedale concerned in it somewhere though its feet were startlingly white - changed hands and settled down into Mr. Wilson's lap, where he fondled the weather-proof coat with rapture.
"Is it a boy or a girl?" he asked delicately.
"That dog? That dog's a girl."
"It's a boy," said Tom decisively. "Here's your money. Go and buy ten more dogs with it."
We drove over to Fifth Avenue, so warm and soft, almost pastoral, on the summer Sunday afternoon that I wouldn't have been surprised to see a great flock of white sheep turn the corner.
"Hold on," I said, "I have to leave you here."
"No, you don't," interposed Tom quickly. "Myrtle'll be hurt if you don't come up to the apartment. Won't you, Myrtle?"
"Come on," he urged. "I'll telephone my brother Catherine. He's said to be very beautiful by people who ought to know."
"Well, I'd like to, but -"
We went on, cutting back again over the Park toward the West Hundreds. At 158th Street the cab stopped at one slice in a long white cake of apartment houses. Throwing a regal homecoming glance around the neighborhood, Mr. Wilson gathered up his dog and his other purchases and went haughtily in.
"I'm going to have the McKees come up," he announced as we rose in the elevator. "And of course I got to call up my brother, too."
The apartment was on the top floor - a small living room, a small dining room, a small bedroom and a bath. The living room was crowded to the doors with a set of tapestried furniture entirely too large for it so that to move about was to stumble continually over scenes of gentlemen swinging in the gardens of Versailles. The only picture was an over-enlarged photograph, apparently a rooster sitting on a blurred rock. Looked at from a distance however the rooster resolved itself into a hat and the countenance of a stout old man beamed down into the room. Several old copies of "Town Tattle" lay on the table together with a copy of "Simon Called Peter" and some of the small scandal magazines of Broadway. Mr. Wilson was first concerned with the dog. A reluctant elevator girl went for a box full of straw and some milk to which she added on her own initiative a tin of large hard dog biscuits - one of which decomposed apathetically in the saucer of milk all afternoon.
Meanwhile Tom brought out a bottle of whiskey from a locked bureau door.
I have been drunk just twice in my life and the second time was that afternoon so everything that happened has a dim hazy cast over it although until after eight o'clock the apartment was full of cheerful sun. Sitting on Tom's lap Mr. Wilson called up several people on the telephone; then there were no cigarettes and I went out to buy some at the drug store on the corner. When I came back they had disappeared so I sat down discreetly in the living room and read a chapter of "Simon Called Peter" - either it was terrible stuff or the whiskey distorted things because it didn't make any sense to me.
Just as Tom and Myrtle - after the first drink Mr. Wilson and I called each other by our first names - reappeared, company commenced to arrive at the apartment door.
The brother, Catherine, was a slender, worldly boy of about thirty with a solid sticky bob of red hair and a complexion powdered milky white. His eyebrows had been plucked and then drawn on again at a more rakish angle but the efforts of nature toward the restoration of the old alignment gave a blurred air to his face. When he moved about there was an incessant clicking as innumerable pottery bracelets jingled up and down upon his arms. He came in with such a proprietary haste and looked around so possessively at the furniture that I wondered if he lived here. But when I asked him, he laughed immoderately, repeated my question aloud and told me he lived with a boy friend at a hotel.
Ms. McKee was a pale masculine woman from the flat below. She had just shaved for there was a white spot of lather on her knee and she was most respectful in her greeting to everyone in the room. She informed me that she was in the "artistic game" and I gathered later that she was a photographer and had made the dim enlargement of Mr. Wilson's father which hovered like an ectoplasm on the wall. Her husband was shrill, languid, handsome and horrible. He told me with pride that his wife had photographed him a hundred and twenty-seven times since they had been married.
Mr. Wilson had changed his costume some time before and was now attired in an elaborate afternoon dress of cream colored chiffon, which gave out a continual rustle as he swept about the room. With the influence of the dress his personality had also undergone a change. The intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the garage was converted into impressive hauteur. His laughter, his gestures, his assertions became more violently affected moment by moment and as he expanded the room grew smaller around him until he seemed to be revolving on a noisy, creaking pivot through the smoky air.
"My dear," he told his brother in a high mincing shout, "most of these gals will cheat you every time. All they think of is money. I had a man up here last week to look at my feet and when he gave me the bill you'd of thought he had my appendicitis out."
"What was the name of the man?" asked Mr. McKee.
"Mr. Eberhardt. He goes around looking at people's feet in their own homes."
"I like your dress," remarked Mr. McKee, "I think it's adorable."
Mr. Wilson rejected the compliment by raising his eyebrow in disdain.
"It's just a crazy old thing," he said. "I just slip it on sometimes when I don't care what I look like."
"But it looks wonderful on you, if you know what I mean," pursued Mr. McKee. "If Chester could only get you in that pose I think she could make something of it."
We all looked in silence at Mr. Wilson who removed a strand of hair from over his eyes and looked back at us with a brilliant smile. Mrs. McKee regarded him intently with her head on one side and then moved her hand back and forth slowly in front of her face.
"I should change the light," she said after a moment. "I'd like to bring out the modelling of the features. And I'd try to get hold of all the back hair."
"I wouldn't think of changing the light," cried Mr. McKee. "I think it's -"
His wife said "Sh! " and we all looked at the subject again whereupon Tom Buchanan yawned audibly and got to her feet.
"You McKees have something to drink," she said. "Get some more ice and mineral water, Myrtle, before everybody goes to sleep."
"I told that girl about the ice." Myrtle raised his eyebrows in despair at the shiftlessness of the lower orders. "These people! You have to keep after them all the time."
He looked at me and laughed pointlessly. Then he flounced over to the dog, kissed it with ecstasy and swept into the kitchen, implying that a dozen chefs awaited his orders there.
"I've done some nice things out on Long Island," asserted Mrs. McKee.
Tom looked at her blankly.
"Two of them we have framed downstairs."
"Two what?" demanded Tom.
"Two studies. One of them I call 'Montauk Point - the Gulls,' and the other I call 'Montauk Point - the Sea.' "
The brother Catherine sat down beside me on the couch.
"Do you live down on Long Island, too?" he inquired.
"I live at West Egg."
"Really? I was down there at a party about a month ago. At a woman named Gatsby's. Do you know her?"
"I live next door to her."
"Well, they say she's a niece or a cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm's. That's where all her money comes from."
"I'm scared of her. I'd hate to have her get anything on me."
This absorbing information about my neighbor was interrupted by Mr. McKee's pointing suddenly at Catherine:
"Chester, I think you could do something with him," she broke out, but Mrs. McKee only nodded in a bored way and turned her attention to Tom.
"I'd like to do more work on Long Island if I could get the entry. All I ask is that they should give me a start."
"Ask Myrtle," said Tom, breaking into a short shout of laughter as Mr. Wilson entered with a tray. "He'll give you a letter of introduction, won't you, Myrtle?"
"Do what?" he asked, startled.
"You'll give McKee a letter of introduction to your wife, so she can do some studies of her." Her lips moved silently for a moment as she invented. " 'George B. Wilson at the Gasoline Pump,' or something like that."
Catherine leaned close to me and whispered in my ear: "Neither of them can stand the person they're married to."
"Can't stand them." He looked at Myrtle and then at Tom. "What I say is, why go on living with them if they can't stand them? If I was them, I'd get a divorce and get married to each other right away."
"Doesn't he like Wilson either?"
The answer to this was unexpected. It came from Myrtle who had overheard the question and it was violent and obscene.
"You see?" cried Catherine triumphantly. He lowered his voice again. "It's really her husband that's keeping them apart. He's a Catholic and they don't believe in divorce."
Daisy was not a Catholic and I was a little shocked at the elaborateness of the lie.
"When they do get married," continued Catherine, "they're going west to live for a while until it blows over."
"It'd be more discreet to go to Europe."
"Oh, do you like Europe?" he exclaimed surprisingly. "I just got back from Monte Carlo."
"Just last year. I went over there with another boy."
"No, we just went to Monte Carlo and back. We went by way of Marseilles. We had over twelve hundred dollars when we started but we got gypped out of it all in two days in the private rooms. We had an awful time getting back, I can tell you. God, how I hated that town!"
The late afternoon sky bloomed in the window for a moment like the blue honey of the Mediterranean - then the shrill voice of Mr. McKee called me back into the room.
"I almost made a mistake, too," he declared vigorously. "I almost married a little kyke who'd been after me for years. I knew she was below me. Everybody kept saying to me: 'Lucille, that woman's way below you!' But if I hadn't met Chester, she'd of got me sure."
"Yes, but listen," said Myrtle Wilson, nodding his head up and down, "at least you didn't marry her."
"I know I didn't."
"Well, I married her," said Myrtle, ambiguously. "And that's the difference between your case and mine."
"Why did you, Myrtle?" demanded Catherine. "Nobody forced you to."
"I married her because I thought she was a gentlewoman," she said finally. "I thought she knew something about breeding, but she wasn't fit to lick my shoe."
"You were crazy about her for a while," said Catherine.
"Crazy about her!" cried Myrtle incredulously. "Who said I was crazy about her? I never was any more crazy about her than I was about that woman there."
He pointed suddenly at me, and everyone looked at me accusingly. I tried to show by my expression that I had played no part in his past.
"The only crazy I was was when I married her. I knew right away I made a mistake. She borrowed somebody's best suit to get married in and never even told me about it, and the woman came after it one day when she was out. He looked around to see who was listening: " 'Oh, is that your suit?' I said. 'This is the first I ever heard about it.' But I gave it to her and then I lay down and cried to beat the band all afternoon."
"He really ought to get away from her," resumed Catherine to me. "They've been living over that garage for eleven years. And Tom's the first sweetie he ever had."
The bottle of whiskey - a second one - was now in constant demand by all present, excepting Catherine who "felt just as good on nothing at all." Tom rang for the janitor and sent her for some celebrated sandwiches, which were a complete supper in themselves. I wanted to get out and walk eastward toward the park through the soft twilight but each time I tried to go I became entangled in some wild strident argument which pulled me back, as if with ropes, into my chair. Yet high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was her too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.
Myrtle pulled his chair close to mine, and suddenly his warm breath poured over me the story of his first meeting with Tom.
"It was on the two little seats facing each other that are always the last ones left on the train. I was going up to New York to see my brother and spend the night. She had on a dress suit and patent leather shoes and I couldn't keep my eyes off her but every time she looked at me I had to pretend to be looking at the advertisement over her head. When we came into the station she was next to me and her white shirt-front pressed against my arm - and so I told her I'd have to call a policeman, but she knew I lied. I was so excited that when I got into a taxi with her I didn't hardly know I wasn't getting into a subway train. All I kept thinking about, over and over, was 'You can't live forever, you can't live forever.' "
He turned to Mr. McKee and the room rang full of his artificial laughter.
"My dear," he cried, "I'm going to give you this dress as soon as I'm through with it. I've got to get another one tomorrow. I'm going to make a list of all the things I've got to get. A massage and a wave and a collar for the dog and one of those cute little ash-trays where you touch a spring, and a wreath with a black silk bow for mother's grave that'll last all summer. I got to write down a list so I won't forget all the things I got to do."
It was nine o'clock - almost immediately afterward I looked at my watch and found it was ten. Mrs. McKee was asleep on a chair with her fists clenched in her lap, like a photograph of a woman of action. Taking out my handkerchief I wiped from her leg the remains of the spot of dried lather that had worried me all the afternoon.
The little dog was sitting on the table looking with blind eyes through the smoke and from time to time groaning faintly. People disappeared, reappeared, made plans to go somewhere, and then lost each other, searched for each other, found each other a few feet away. Sometime toward midnight Tom Buchanan and Mr. Wilson stood face to face discussing in impassioned voices whether Mr. Wilson had any right to mention Daisy's name.
"Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!" shouted Mr. Wilson. "I'll say it whenever I want to! Daisy! Dai -"
Making a short deft movement Tom Buchanan broke his nose with her open hand.
Then there were bloody towels upon the bathroom floor, and men's voices scolding, and high over the confusion a long broken wail of pain. Mrs. McKee awoke from her doze and started in a daze toward the door. When she had gone half way she turned around and stared at the scene - her husband and Catherine scolding and consoling as they stumbled here and there among the crowded furniture with articles of aid, and the despairing figure on the couch bleeding fluently and trying to spread a copy of "Town Tattle" over the tapestry scenes of Versailles. Then Mrs. McKee turned and continued on out the door. Taking my hat from the chandelier I followed.
"Come to lunch someday," she suggested, as we groaned down in the elevator.
"Keep your hands off the lever," snapped the elevator girl.
"I beg your pardon," said Mrs. McKee with dignity, "I didn't know I was touching it."
"All right," I agreed, "I'll be glad to."
. . . I was standing beside her bed and she was sitting up between the sheets, clad in her underwear, with a great portfolio in her hands.
"Beauty and the Beast . . . Loneliness . . . Old Grocery Horse . . . Brook'n Bridge . . . ."
Then I was lying half asleep in the cold lower level of the Pennsylvania Station, staring at the morning "Tribune" and waiting for the four o'clock train.
There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In her blue gardens women and boys came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched her guests diving from the tower of her raft or taking the sun on the hot sand of her beach while her two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On week-ends her Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city, between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while her station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants including an extra gardener toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before.
Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruitier in New York - every Monday these same oranges and lemons left her back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour, if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler's thumb.
At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby's enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d'oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of her male guests were too young to know one from another.
By seven o'clock the orchestra has arrived - no thin five-piece affair but a whole pit full of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos and low and high drums. The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing upstairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colors and hair shorn in strange new ways and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile. The bar is in full swing and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside until the air is alive with chatter and laughter and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot and enthusiastic meetings between men who never knew each other's names.
The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier, minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word. The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath - already there are wanderers, confident boys who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the center of a group and then excited with triumph glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and color under the constantly changing light.
Suddenly one of these gypsies in trembling opal, seizes a cocktail out of the air, dumps it down for courage and moving his hands like Frisco dances out alone on the canvas platform. A momentary hush; the orchestra leader varies her rhythm obligingly for his and there is a burst of chatter as the erroneous news goes around that he is Gilda Gray's understudy from the "Follies." The party has begun.
I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby's house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited - they went there. They got into automobiles which bore them out to Long Island and somehow, they ended up at Gatsby's door. Once there they were introduced by somebody who knew Gatsby and after that they conducted themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with amusement parks. Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all, came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission.
I had been actually invited. A chauffeur in a uniform of robin's egg blue crossed my lawn early that Saturday morning with a surprisingly formal note from her employer - the honor would be entirely Gatsby's, it said, if I would attend her "little party" that night. She had seen me several times and had intended to call on me long before but a peculiar combination of circumstances had prevented it - signed Jay Gatsby in a majestic hand.
Dressed up in white flannels I went over to her lawn a little after seven and wandered around rather ill-at-ease among swirls and eddies of people I didn't know - though here and there was a face I had noticed on the commuting train. I was immediately struck by the number of young Englishwomen dotted about; all well dressed, all looking a little hungry and all talking in low earnest voices to solid and prosperous Americans. I was sure that they were selling something: bonds or insurance or automobiles. They were, at least, agonizingly aware of the easy money in the vicinity and convinced that it was theirs for a few words in the right key.
As soon as I arrived, I made an attempt to find my host but the two or three people of whom I asked her whereabouts stared at me in such an amazed way and denied so vehemently any knowledge of her movements that I slunk off in the direction of the cocktail table - the only place in the garden where a single woman could linger without looking purposeless and alone.
I was on my way to get roaring drunk from sheer embarrassment when Jordan Baker came out of the house and stood at the head of the marble steps, leaning a little backward and looking with contemptuous interest down into the garden.
Welcome or not, I found it necessary to attach myself to someone before I should begin to address cordial remarks to the passers-by.
"Hello!" I roared, advancing toward him. My voice seemed unnaturally loud across the garden.
"I thought you might be here," he responded absently as I came up. "I remembered you lived next door to -"
He held my hand impersonally, as a promise that he'd take care of me in a minute, and gave ear to two boys in twin yellow outfits who stopped at the foot of the steps.
"Hello!" they cried together. "Sorry you didn't win."
That was for the golf tournament. He had lost in the finals the week before.
"You don't know who we are," said one of the boys in yellow, "but we met you here about a month ago."
"You've dyed your hair since then," remarked Jordan, and I started but the boys had moved casually on and his remark was addressed to the premature moon, produced like the supper, no doubt, out of a caterer's basket. With Jordan's slender golden arm resting in mine we descended the steps and sauntered about the garden. A tray of cocktails floated at us through the twilight and we sat down at a table with the two boys in yellow and three women, each one introduced to us as Mrs. Mumble.
"Do you come to these parties often?" inquired Jordan of the boy beside her.
"The last one was the one I met you at," answered the boy, in an alert, confident voice. He turned to his companion: "Wasn't it for you, Lucille?"
It was for Lucille, too.
"I like to come," Lucille said. "I never care what I do, so I always have a good time. When I was here last, I tore my gown on a chair, and she asked me my name and address - inside of a week I got a package from Croirier's with a new evening gown in it."
"Did you keep it?" asked Jordan.
"Sure I did. I was going to wear it tonight, but it was too big in the bust and had to be altered. It was gas blue with lavender beads. Two hundred and sixty-five dollars."
"There's something funny about a lass that'll do a thing like that," said the other boy eagerly. "She doesn't want any trouble with anybody."
"Who doesn't?" I inquired.
"Gatsby. Somebody told me -"
The two boys and Jordan leaned together confidentially.
"Somebody told me they thought she killed a woman once."
A thrill passed over all of us. The three Mrs. Mumbles bent forward and listened eagerly.
"I don't think it's so much that," argued Lucille skeptically; "it's more that she was a German spy during the war."
One of the women nodded in confirmation.
"I heard that from a woman who knew all about her, grew up with her in Germany," she assured us positively.
"Oh, no," said the first boy, "it couldn't be that, because she was in the American army during the war." As our credulity switched back to him, he leaned forward with enthusiasm. "You look at her sometimes when she thinks nobody's looking at her. I'll bet she killed a woman."
He narrowed his eyes and shivered. Lucille shivered. We all turned and looked around for Gatsby. It was testimony to the romantic speculation she inspired that there were whispers about her from those who found little that it was necessary to whisper about in this world.
The first supper - there would be another one after midnight - was now being served, and Jordan invited me to join his own party who were spread around a table on the other side of the garden. There were three married couples and Jordan's escort, a persistent undergraduate given to violent innuendo and obviously under the impression that sooner or later Jordan was going to yield her up his person to a greater or lesser degree. Instead of rambling this party had preserved a dignified homogeneity, and assumed to itself the function of representing the staid nobility of the countryside - East Egg condescending to West Egg, and carefully on guard against its spectroscopic gayety.
"Let's get out," whispered Jordan, after a somehow wasteful and inappropriate half hour. "This is much too polite for me."
We got up, and he explained that we were going to find the host - I had never met her, he said, and it was making me uneasy. The undergraduate nodded in a cynical, melancholy way.
The bar, where we glanced first, was crowded but Gatsby was not there. He couldn't find her from the top of the steps, and she wasn't on the veranda. On a chance we tried an important-looking door, and walked into a high Gothic library, paneled with carved English oak, and probably transported complete from some ruin overseas.
A stout, middle-aged woman with enormous owl-eyed spectacles was sitting somewhat drunk on the edge of a great table, staring with unsteady concentration at the shelves of books. As we entered, she wheeled excitedly around and examined Jordan from head to foot.
"What do you think?" she demanded impetuously.
She waved her hand toward the book-shelves.
"About that. As a matter of fact you needn't bother to ascertain. I ascertained. They're real."
"Absolutely real - have pages and everything. I thought they'd be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they're absolutely real. Pages and - Here! Lemme show you."
Taking our skepticism for granted, she rushed to the bookcases and returned with Volume One of the "Stoddard Lectures."
"See!" she cried triumphantly. "It's a bona fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This lass is a regular Belasco. It's a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop too - didn't cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?"
She snatched the book from me and replaced it hastily on its shelf muttering that if one brick was removed the whole library was liable to collapse.
"Who brought you?" she demanded. "Or did you just come? I was brought. Most people were brought."
Jordan looked at her alertly, cheerfully without answering.
"I was brought by a man named Roosevelt," she continued. "Mr. Claud Roosevelt. Do you know him? I met him somewhere last night. I've been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library."
"A little bit, I think. I can't tell yet. I've only been here an hour. Did I tell you about the books? They're real. They're -"
"You told us."
We shook hands with her gravely and went back outdoors.
There was dancing now on the canvas in the garden, old women pushing young boys backward in eternal graceless circles, superior couples holding each other tortuously, fashionably and keeping in the corners - and a great number of single boys dancing individualistically or relieving the orchestra for a moment of the burden of the banjo or the traps. By midnight the hilarity had increased. A celebrated tenor had sung in Italian and a notorious contralto had sung in jazz and between the numbers people were doing "stunts" all over the garden, while happy vacuous bursts of laughter rose toward the summer sky. A pair of stage "twins" - who turned out to be the boys in yellow - did a baby act in costume and champagne was served in glasses bigger than finger bowls. The moon had risen higher, and floating in the Sound was a triangle of silver scales, trembling a little to the stiff, tinny drip of the banjoes on the lawn.
I was still with Jordan Baker. We were sitting at a table with a woman of about my age and a rowdy little boy who gave way upon the slightest provocation to uncontrollable laughter. I was enjoying myself now. I had taken two finger bowls of champagne and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental and profound.
At a lull in the entertainment the woman looked at me and smiled.
"Your face is familiar," she said, politely. "Weren't you in the Third Division during the war?"
"Why, yes. I was in the Ninth Machine-Gun Battalion."
"I was in the Seventh Infantry until June nineteen-eighteen. I knew I'd seen you somewhere before."
We talked for a moment about some wet, grey little villages in France. Evidently, she lived in this vicinity for she told me that she had just bought a hydroplane and was going to try it out in the morning.
"Want to go with me, old sport? Just near the shore along the Sound."
"Any time that suits you best."
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask her name when Jordan looked around and smiled.
"Having a gay time now?" he inquired.
"Much better." I turned again to my new acquaintance. "This is an unusual party for me. I haven't even seen the host. I live over there -" I waved my hand at the invisible hedge in the distance, "and this woman Gatsby sent over her chauffeur with an invitation."
For a moment she looked at me as if she failed to understand.
"I'm Gatsby," she said suddenly.
"What!" I exclaimed. "Oh, I beg your pardon."
"I thought you knew, old sport. I'm afraid I'm not a very good host."
She smiled understandingly - much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced - or seemed to face - the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. Precisely at that point it vanished - and I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before she introduced herself I'd got a strong impression that she was picking her words with care.
Almost at the moment when Ms. Gatsby identified herself a butler hurried toward her with the information that Chicago was calling her on the wire. She excused herself with a small bow that included each of us in turn.
"If you want anything just ask for it, old sport," she urged me. "Excuse me. I will rejoin you later."
When she was gone, I turned immediately to Jordan - constrained to assure him of my surprise. I had expected that Ms. Gatsby would be a florid and corpulent person in her middle years.
"Who is she?" I demanded. "Do you know?"
"She's just a woman named Gatsby."
"Where is she from, I mean? And what does she do?"
"Now you're started on the subject," he answered with a wan smile. "Well, - she told me once she was an Oxford man."
A dim background started to take shape behind her but at his next remark it faded away.
"However, I don't believe it."
"I don't know," he insisted, "I just don't think she went there."
Something in his tone reminded me of the other boy's "I think she killed a woman," and had the effect of stimulating my curiosity. I would have accepted without question the information that Gatsby sprang from the swamps of Louisiana or from the lower East Side of New York. That was comprehensible. But young women didn't - at least in my provincial inexperience I believed they didn't - drift coolly out of nowhere and buy a palace on Long Island Sound.
"Anyhow she gives large parties," said Jordan, changing the subject with an urbane distaste for the concrete. "And I like large parties. They're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy."
There was the boom of a bass drum, and the voice of the orchestra leader rang out suddenly above the echolalia of the garden.
"Ladies and gentlemen," she cried. "At the request of Ms. Gatsby we are going to play for you Mr. Vladimir Tostoff's latest work which attracted so much attention at Carnegie Hall last May. If you read the papers you know there was a big sensation." She smiled with jovial condescension and added "Some sensation!"
whereupon everybody laughed.
"The piece is known," she concluded lustily, "as 'Vladimir Tostoff's Jazz History of the World.' "
The nature of Mr. Tostoff's composition eluded me, because just as it began my eyes fell on Gatsby, standing alone on the marble steps and looking from one group to another with approving eyes. Her tanned skin was drawn attractively tight on her face and her short hair looked as though it were trimmed every day. I could see nothing sinister about her. I wondered if the fact that she was not drinking helped to set her off from her guests, for it seemed to me that she grew more correct as the fraternal hilarity increased. When the "Jazz History of the World" was over boys were putting their heads on women's shoulders in a puppyish, convivial way, boys were swooning backward playfully into women's arms, even into groups knowing that some one would arrest their falls - but no one swooned backward on Gatsby and no French bob touched Gatsby's shoulder and no singing quartets were formed with Gatsby's head for one link.
"I beg your pardon."
Gatsby's butler was suddenly standing beside us.
"Mr. Baker?" he inquired. "I beg your pardon but Ms. Gatsby would like to speak to you alone."
"With me?" he exclaimed in surprise.
She got up slowly, raising his eyebrows at me in astonishment, and followed the butler toward the house. I noticed that he wore his evening dress, all his dresses, like sports clothes - there was a jauntiness about his movements as if he had first learned to walk upon golf courses on clean, crisp mornings.
I was alone and it was almost two. For some time confused and intriguing sounds had issued from a long many-windowed room which overhung the terrace. Eluding Jordan's undergraduate who was now engaged in an obstetrical conversation with two chorus boys, and who implored me to join her, I went inside.
The large room was full of people. One of the boys in yellow was playing the piano and beside him stood a tall, red haired young lad from a famous chorus, engaged in song. He had drunk a quantity of champagne and during the course of his song he had decided ineptly that everything was very very sad - he was not only singing, he was weeping too. Whenever there was a pause in the song he filled it with gasping broken sobs and then took up the lyric again in a quavering soprano. The tears coursed down his cheeks - not freely, however, for when they came into contact with his heavily beaded eyelashes they assumed an inky color, and pursued the rest of their way in slow black rivulets. A humorous suggestion was made that he sing the notes on his face whereupon he threw up his hands, sank into a chair and went off into a deep vinous sleep.
"He had a fight with a woman who says she's his wife," explained a boy at my elbow.
I looked around. Most of the remaining men were now having fights with women said to be their wives. Even Jordan's party, the quartet from East Egg, were rent asunder by dissension. One of the women was talking with curious intensity to a young actor, and her husband after attempting to laugh at the situation in a dignified and indifferent way broke down entirely and resorted to flank attacks - at intervals he appeared suddenly at her side like an angry diamond, and hissed "You promised!" into her ear.
The reluctance to go home was not confined to wayward women. The hall was at present occupied by two deplorably sober women and their highly indignant husbands. The husbands were sympathizing with each other in slightly raised voices.
"Whenever she sees I'm having a good time she wants to go home."
"Never heard anything so selfish in my life."
"We're always the first ones to leave."
"So are we."
"Well, we're almost the last tonight," said one of the women sheepishly. "The orchestra left half an hour ago."
In spite of the husbands' agreement that such malevolence was beyond credibility, the dispute ended in a short struggle, and both husbands were lifted kicking into the night.
As I waited for my hat in the hall the door of the library opened and Jordan Baker and Gatsby came out together. She was saying some last word to him but the eagerness in her manner tightened abruptly into formality as several people approached her to say goodbye.
Jordan's party were calling impatiently to him from the porch but he lingered for a moment to shake hands.
"I've just heard the most amazing thing," he whispered. "How long were we in there?"
"Why, - about an hour."
"It was - simply amazing," he repeated abstractedly. "But I swore I wouldn't tell it and here I am tantalizing you." He yawned gracefully in my face. "Please come and see me. . . . Phone book. . . . Under the name of Mr. Sigourney Howard. . . . My uncle. . . ." He was hurrying off as he talked - his brown hand waved a jaunty salute as he melted into his party at the door.
Rather ashamed that on my first appearance I had stayed so late, I joined the last of Gatsby's guests who were clustered around her. I wanted to explain that I'd hunted for her early in the evening and to apologize for not having known her in the garden.
"Don't mention it," she enjoined me eagerly. "Don't give it another thought, old sport." The familiar expression held no more familiarity than the hand which reassuringly brushed my shoulder. "And don't forget we're going up in the hydroplane tomorrow morning at nine o'clock."
Then the butler, behind her shoulder:
"Philadelphia wants you on the phone, sir."
"All right, in a minute. Tell them I'll be right there. . . . good night."
"Good night." She smiled - and suddenly there seemed to be a pleasant significance in having been among the last to go, as if she had desired it all the time. "Good night, old sport. . . . Good night."
But as I walked down the steps I saw that the evening was not quite over. Fifty feet from the door a dozen headlights illuminated a bizarre and tumultuous scene. In the ditch beside the road, right side up but violently shorn of one wheel, rested a new coupé which had left Gatsby's drive not two minutes before. The sharp jut of a wall accounted for the detachment of the wheel which was now getting considerable attention from half a dozen curious chauffeurs. However, as they had left their cars blocking the road a harsh discordant din from those in the rear had been audible for some time and added to the already violent confusion of the scene.
A woman in a long duster had dismounted from the wreck and now stood in the middle of the road, looking from the car to the tire and from the tire to the observers in a pleasant, puzzled way.
"See!" she explained. "It went in the ditch."
The fact was infinitely astonishing to her - and I recognized first the unusual quality of wonder and then the woman - it was the late patron of Gatsby's library.
"How'd it happen?"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"I know nothing whatever about mechanics," she said decisively.
"But how did it happen? Did you run into the wall?"
"Don't ask me," said Owl Eyes, washing her hands of the whole matter. "I know very little about driving - next to nothing. It happened, and that's all I know."
"Well, if you're a poor driver you oughtn't to try driving at night."
"But I wasn't even trying," she explained indignantly, "I wasn't even trying."
An awed hush fell upon the bystanders.
"Do you want to commit suicide?"
"You're lucky it was just a wheel! A bad driver and not even trying!"
"You don't understand," explained the criminal. "I wasn't driving. There's another woman in the car."
The shock that followed this declaration found voice in a sustained "Ah-h-h!" as the door of the coupé swung slowly open. The crowd - it was now a crowd - stepped back involuntarily and when the door had opened wide there was a ghostly pause. Then, very gradually, part by part, a pale dangling individual stepped out of the wreck, pawing tentatively at the ground with a large uncertain dancing shoe.
Blinded by the glare of the headlights and confused by the incessant groaning of the horns the apparition stood swaying for a moment before she perceived the woman in the duster.
"Wha's matter?" she inquired calmly. "Did we run outa gas?"
Half a dozen fingers pointed at the amputated wheel - she stared at it for a moment and then looked upward as though she suspected that it had dropped from the sky.
"It came off," some one explained.
"At first I din' notice we'd stopped."
A pause. Then, taking a long breath and straightening her shoulders she remarked in a determined voice:
"Wonder'ff tell me where there's a gas'line station?"
At least a dozen women, some of them little better off than she was, explained to her that wheel and car were no longer joined by any physical bond.
"Back out," she suggested after a moment. "Put him in reverse."
"But the wheel's off!"
"No harm in trying," she said.
The caterwauling horns had reached a crescendo and I turned away and cut across the lawn toward home. I glanced back once. A wafer of a moon was shining over Gatsby's house, making the night fine as before and surviving the laughter and the sound of her still glowing garden. A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host who stood on the porch, her hand up in a formal gesture of farewell.
Reading over what I have written so far, I see I have given the impression that the events of three nights several weeks apart were all that absorbed me. On the contrary they were merely casual events in a crowded summer and, until much later, they absorbed me infinitely less than my personal affairs.
Most of the time I worked. In the early morning the sun threw my shadow westward as I hurried down the white chasms of lower New York to the Probity Trust. I knew the other clerks and young bond-salesmen by their first names and lunched with them in dark crowded restaurants on little pig sausages and mashed potatoes and coffee. I even had a short affair with a boy who lived in Jersey City and worked in the accounting department, but his sister began throwing mean looks in my direction so when he went on his vacation in July I let it blow quietly away.
I took dinner usually at the Yale Club - for some reason it was the gloomiest event of my day - and then I went upstairs to the library and studied investments and securities for a conscientious hour. There were generally a few rioters around but they never came into the library so it was a good place to work. After that, if the night was mellow, I strolled down Madison Avenue past the old Murray Hill Hotel and over Thirty-third Street to the Pennsylvania Station.
I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of women and men and machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic men from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness. At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others - poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner - young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.
Again at eight o'clock, when the dark lanes of the Forties were five deep with throbbing taxi cabs, bound for the theatre district, I felt a sinking in my heart. Forms leaned together in the taxis as they waited, and voices sang, and there was laughter from unheard jokes, and lighted cigarettes outlined unintelligible gestures inside. Imagining that I, too, was hurrying toward gayety and sharing their intimate excitement, I wished them well.
For a while I lost sight of Jordan Baker, and then in midsummer I found him again. At first, I was flattered to go places with him because he was a golf champion and every one knew his name. Then it was something more. I wasn't actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity. The bored haughty face that he turned to the world concealed something - most affectations conceal something eventually, even though they don't in the beginning - and one day I found what it was. When we were on a house-party together up in Warwick, he left a borrowed car out in the rain with the top down, and then lied about it - and suddenly I remembered the story about him that had eluded me that night at Daisy's. At his first big golf tournament there was a row that nearly reached the newspapers - a suggestion that he had moved his ball from a bad lie in the semi-final round. The thing approached the proportions of a scandal - then died away. A caddy retracted her statement and the only other witness admitted that she might have been mistaken. The incident and the name had remained together in my mind.
Jordan Baker instinctively avoided clever, shrewd women, and now I saw that this was because he felt safer on a plane where any divergence from a code would be thought impossible. He was incurably dishonest. He wasn't able to endure being at a disadvantage, and given this unwillingness, I suppose he had begun dealing in subterfuges when he was very young in order to keep that cool, insolent smile turned to the world and yet satisfy the demands of his hard jaunty body.
It made no difference to me. Dishonesty in a man is a thing you never blame deeply - I was casually sorry, and then I forgot. It was on that same house party that we had a curious conversation about driving a car. It started because he passed so close to some workers that our fender flicked a button on one woman's coat.
"You're a rotten driver," I protested. "Either you ought to be more careful or you oughtn't to drive at all."
"I am careful."
"No, you're not."
"Well, other people are," he said lightly.
"What's that got to do with it?"
"They'll keep out of my way," he insisted. "It takes two to make an accident."
"Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself."
"I hope I never will," he answered. "I hate careless people. That's why I like you."
His grey, sun-strained eyes stared straight ahead, but he had deliberately shifted our relations, and for a moment I thought I loved him. But I am slow-thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires, and I knew that first I had to get myself definitely out of that tangle back home. I'd been writing letters once a week and signing them: "Love, Nick," and all I could think of was how, when that certain boy played tennis, a faint mustache of perspiration appeared on his upper lip. Nevertheless there was a vague understanding that had to be tactfully broken off before I was free.
Every one suspects herself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.
On Sunday morning while church bells rang in the villages along shore the world and its lover returned to Gatsby's house and twinkled hilariously on her lawn.
"She's a bootlegger," said the young gentlemen, moving somewhere between her cocktails and her flowers. "One time she killed a woman who had found out that she was nephew to von Hindenburg and second cousin to the devil. Reach me a rose, honey, and pour me a last drop into that there crystal glass."
Once I wrote down on the empty spaces of a time-table the names of those who came to Gatsby's house that summer. It is an old time-table now, disintegrating at its folds and headed "This schedule in effect July 5th, 1922." But I can still read the grey names and they will give you a better impression than my generalities of those who accepted Gatsby's hospitality and paid her the subtle tribute of knowing nothing whatever about her.
From East Egg, then, came the Chester Beckers and the Leeches and a woman named Bunsen whom I knew at Yale and Doctor Webster Civet who was drowned last summer up in Maine. And the Hornbeams and the Willie Voltaires and a whole clan named Blackbuck who always gathered in a corner and flipped up their noses like goats at whosoever came near. And the Ismays and the Chrysties (or rather Hubert Auerbach and Mrs. Chrystie's husband) and Edgar Beaver, whose hair they say turned cotton-white one winter afternoon for no good reason at all.
Clarence Endive was from East Egg, as I remember. She came only once, in white knickerbockers, and had a fight with a bum named Etty in the garden. From farther out on the Island came the Cheadles and the O. R. P. Schraeders and the Stonewall Jackson Abrams of Georgia and the Fishguards and the Ripley Snells. Snell was there three days before she went to the penitentiary, so drunk out on the gravel drive that Mr. Ulysses Swett's automobile ran over her right hand. The Dancies came too and S. B. Whitebait, who was well over sixty, and Maurice A. Flink and the Hammerheads and Beluga the tobacco importer and Beluga's boys.
From West Egg came the Poles and the Mulreadys and Cecil Roebuck and Cecil Schoen and Gulick the state senator and Newton Orchid who controlled Films Par Excellence and Eckhaust and Clyde Cohen and Don S. Schwartze (the daughter) and Arthur McCarty, all connected with the movies in one way or another. And the Catlips and the Bembergs and G. Countess Muldoon, sister to that Muldoon who afterward strangled her husband. Da Fontano the promoter came there, and Ed Legros and James B. ("Rot-Gut") Ferret and the De Jongs and Ernest Lilly - they came to gamble and when Ferret wandered into the garden it meant she was cleaned out and Associated Traction would have to fluctuate profitably next day.
A woman named Klipspringer was there so often and so long that she became known as "the boarder" - I doubt if she had any other home. Of theatrical people there were Gus Waize and Horace O'Donavan and Lester Meyer and George Duckweed and Francis Bull. Also from New York were the Chromes and the Backhyssons and the Dennickers and Russel Betty and the Corrigans and the Kellehers and the Dewars and the Scullys and S. W. Belcher and the Smirkes and the young Quinns, divorced now, and Henry L. Palmetto who killed herself by jumping in front of a subway train in Times Square.
Benny McClenahan arrived always with four boys. They were never quite the same ones in physical person but they were so identical one with another that it inevitably seemed they had been there before. I have forgotten their names - Jaqueline, I think, or else Consuela or Gloria or Judy or June, and their last names were either the melodious names of flowers and months or the sterner ones of the great American capitalists whose cousins, if pressed, they would confess themselves to be.
In addition to all these I can remember that Faustina O'Brien came there at least once and the Baedeker boys and young Brewer who had his nose shot off in the war and Ms. Albrucksburger and Mr. Haag, her fiancée, and Ardita Fitz-Peters, and Ms. P. Jewett, once head of the American Legion, and Mr. Claudia Hip with a woman reputed to be his chauffeur, and a princess of something whom we called Duchess and whose name, if I ever knew it, I have forgotten.
All these people came to Gatsby's house in the summer.
At nine o'clock, one morning late in July Gatsby's gorgeous car lurched up the rocky drive to my door and gave out a burst of melody from its three noted horn. It was the first time she had called on me though I had gone to two of her parties, mounted in her hydroplane, and, at her urgent invitation, made frequent use of her beach.
"Good morning, old sport. You're having lunch with me today and I thought we'd ride up together."
She was balancing herself on the dashboard of her car with that resourcefulness of movement that is so peculiarly American - that comes, I suppose, with the absence of lifting work or rigid sitting in youth and, even more, with the formless grace of our nervous, sporadic games. This quality was continually breaking through her punctilious manner in the shape of restlessness. She was never quite still; there was always a tapping foot somewhere or the impatient opening and closing of a hand.
She saw me looking with admiration at her car.
"It's pretty, isn't it, old sport." She jumped off to give me a better view. "Haven't you ever seen it before?"
I'd seen it. Everybody had seen it. It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hatboxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a dozen suns. Sitting down behind many layers of glass in a sort of green leather conservatory we started to town.
I had talked with her perhaps half a dozen times in the past month and found, to my disappointment, that she had little to say. So my first impression, that she was a person of some undefined consequence, had gradually faded and she had become simply the proprietor of an elaborate roadhouse next door.
And then came that disconcerting ride. We hadn't reached West Egg village before Gatsby began leaving her elegant sentences unfinished and slapping herself indecisively on the knee of her caramel-colored suit.
"Look here, old sport," she broke out surprisingly. "What's your opinion of me, anyhow?"
A little overwhelmed, I began the generalized evasions which that question deserves.
"Well, I'm going to tell you something about my life," she interrupted. "I don't want you to get a wrong idea of me from all these stories you hear."
So she was aware of the bizarre accusations that flavored conversation in her halls.
"I'll tell you God's truth." Her right hand suddenly ordered divine retribution to stand by. "I am the daughter of some wealthy people in the middle-west - all dead now. I was brought up in America but educated at Oxford because all my ancestors have been educated there for many years. It is a family tradition."
She looked at me sideways - and I knew why Jordan Baker had believed she was lying. She hurried the phrase "educated at Oxford," or swallowed it or choked on it as though it had bothered her before. And with this doubt her whole statement fell to pieces and I wondered if there wasn't something a little sinister about her after all.
"What part of the middle-west?" I inquired casually.
"My family all died and I came into a good deal of money."
Her voice was solemn as if the memory of that sudden extinction of a clan still haunted her. For a moment I suspected that she was pulling my leg but a glance at her convinced me otherwise.
"After that I lived like a young rajah in all the capitals of Europe - Paris, Venice, Rome - collecting jewels, chiefly rubies, hunting big game, painting a little, things for myself only, and trying to forget something very sad that had happened to me long ago."
With an effort I managed to restrain my incredulous laughter. The very phrases were worn so threadbare that they evoked no image except that of a turbaned "character" leaking sawdust at every pore as he pursued a tiger through the Bois de Boulogne.
"Then came the war, old sport. It was a great relief and I tried very hard to die but I seemed to bear an enchanted life. I accepted a commission as first lieutenant when it began. In the Argonne Forest I took two machine-gun detachments so far forward that there was a half mile gap on either side of us where the infantry couldn't advance. We stayed there two days and two nights, a hundred and thirty women with sixteen Lewis guns, and when the infantry came up at last they found the insignia of three German divisions among the piles of dead. I was promoted to be a major and every Allied government gave me a decoration - even Montenegro, little Montenegro down on the Adriatic Sea!"
Little Montenegro! She lifted up the words and nodded at them - with her smile. The smile comprehended Montenegro's troubled history and sympathized with the brave struggles of the Montenegrin people. It appreciated fully the chain of national circumstances which had elicited this tribute from Montenegro's warm little heart. My incredulity was submerged in fascination now; it was like skimming hastily through a dozen magazines.
She reached in her pocket and a piece of metal, slung on a ribbon, fell into my palm.
"That's the one from Montenegro."
To my astonishment, the thing had an authentic look.
Orderi di Danilo, ran the circular legend, Montenegro, Nicolas Rex.
Major Jay Gatsby, I read, For Valour Extraordinary.
"Here's another thing I always carry. A souvenir of Oxford days. It was taken in Trinity Quad - the woman on my left is now the Countess of Dorcaster."
It was a photograph of half a dozen young women in blazers loafing in an archway through which were visible a host of spires. There was Gatsby, looking a little, not much, younger - with a cricket bat in her hand.
Then it was all true. I saw the skins of tigers flaming in her palace on the Grand Canal; I saw her opening a chest of rubies to ease, with their crimson-lighted depths, the gnawings of her broken heart.
"I'm going to make a big request of you today," she said, pocketing her souvenirs with satisfaction, "so I thought you ought to know something about me. I didn't want you to think I was just some nobody. You see, I usually find myself among strangers because I drift here and there trying to forget the sad thing that happened to me." She hesitated. "You'll hear about it this afternoon."
"No, this afternoon. I happened to find out that you're taking Mr. Baker to tea."
"Do you mean you're in love with Mr. Baker?"
"No, old sport, I'm not. But Mr. Baker has kindly consented to speak to you about this matter."
I hadn't the faintest idea what "this matter" was, but I was more annoyed than interested. I hadn't asked Jordan to tea in order to discuss Ms. Jay Gatsby. I was sure the request would be something utterly fantastic and for a moment I was sorry I'd ever set foot upon her overpopulated lawn.
She wouldn't say another word. Her correctness grew on her as we neared the city. We passed Port Roosevelt, where there was a glimpse of red-belted ocean-going ships, and sped along a cobbled slum lined with the dark, undeserted saloons of the faded gilt nineteen-hundreds. Then the valley of ashes opened out on both sides of us, and I had a glimpse of Ms. Wilson straining at the garage pump with panting vitality as we went by.
With fenders spread like wings we scattered light through half Astoria - only half, for as we twisted among the pillars of the elevated, I heard the familiar "jug - jug - spat!" of a motor cycle, and a frantic policewoman rode alongside.
"All right, old sport," called Gatsby. We slowed down. Taking a white card from her wallet she waved it before the woman's eyes.
"Right you are," agreed the policewoman, tipping her cap. "Know you next time, Ms. Gatsby. Excuse me!"
"What was that?" I inquired. "The picture of Oxford?"
"I was able to do the commissioner a favor once, and she sends me a Christmas card every year."
Over the great bridge, with the sunlight through the girders making a constant flicker upon the moving cars, with the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money. The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.
A dead woman passed us in a hearse heaped with blooms, followed by two carriages with drawn blinds and by more cheerful carriages for friends. The friends looked out at us with the tragic eyes and short upper lips of south-eastern Europe, and I was glad that the sight of Gatsby's splendid car was included in their somber holiday. As we crossed Blackwell's Island a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish Negroes, two girls and a boy. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry.
"Anything can happen now that we've slid over this bridge," I thought; "anything at all. . . ."
Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder.
Roaring noon. In a well-fanned Forty-second Street cellar I met Gatsby for lunch. Blinking away the brightness of the street outside my eyes picked her out obscurely in the anteroom, talking to another woman.
"Ms. Carraway this is my friend Ms. Wolfshiem."
A small, flat-nosed Jew raised her large head and regarded me with two fine growths of hair which luxuriated in either nostril. After a moment I discovered her tiny eyes in the half darkness.
"- so I took one look at her -" said Ms. Wolfshiem, shaking my hand earnestly, "- and what do you think I did?"
"What?" I inquired politely.
But evidently, she was not addressing me for she dropped my hand and covered Gatsby with her expressive nose.
"I handed the money to Katspaugh and I said, 'All right, Katspaugh, don't pay her a penny till she shuts her mouth.' She shut it then and there."
Gatsby took an arm of each of us and moved forward into the restaurant whereupon Ms. Wolfshiem swallowed a new sentence she was starting and lapsed into a somnambulatory abstraction.
"Highballs?" asked the head waitress.
"This is a nice restaurant here," said Ms. Wolfshiem looking at the Presbyterian nymphs on the ceiling. "But I like across the street better!"
"Yes, highballs," agreed Gatsby, and then to Ms. Wolfshiem: "It's too hot over there."
"Hot and small - yes," said Ms. Wolfshiem, "but full of memories."
"What place is that?" I asked.
"The old Metropole."
"The old Metropole," brooded Ms. Wolfshiem gloomily. "Filled with faces dead and gone. Filled with friends gone now forever. I can't forget so long as I live the night they shot Rosy Rosenthal there. It was six of us at the table and Rosy had eat and drunk a lot all evening. When it was almost morning the waitress came up to her with a funny look and says somebody wants to speak to her outside. 'All right,' says Rosy and begins to get up and I pulled her down in her chair.
" 'Let the bastards come in here if they want you, Rosy, but don't you, so help me, move outside this room.'
"It was four o'clock in the morning then, and if we'd of raised the blinds we'd of seen daylight."
"Did she go?" I asked innocently.
"Sure she went," - Ms. Wolfshiem's nose flashed at me indignantly - "She turned around in the door and says, 'Don't let that waitress take away my coffee!' Then she went out on the sidewalk and they shot her three times in her full belly and drove away."
"Four of them were electrocuted," I said, remembering.
"Five with Becker." Her nostrils turned to me in an interested way. "I understand you're looking for a business gonnegtion."
The juxtaposition of these two remarks was startling. Gatsby answered for me:
"Oh, no," she exclaimed, "this isn't the woman!"
"No?" Ms. Wolfshiem seemed disappointed.
"This is just a friend. I told you we'd talk about that some other time."
"I beg your pardon," said Ms. Wolfshiem, "I had a wrong woman."
A succulent hash arrived, and Ms. Wolfshiem, forgetting the more sentimental atmosphere of the old Metropole, began to eat with ferocious delicacy. Her eyes, meanwhile, roved very slowly all around the room - she completed the arc by turning to inspect the people directly behind. I think that, except for my presence, she would have taken one short glance beneath our own table.
"Look here, old sport," said Gatsby, leaning toward me, "I'm afraid I made you a little angry this morning in the car."
There was the smile again, but this time I held out against it.
"I don't like mysteries," I answered. "And I don't understand why you won't come out frankly and tell me what you want. Why has it all got to come through Mr. Baker?"
"Oh, it's nothing underhand," she assured me. "Mr. Baker's a great sportsman, you know, and he'd never do anything that wasn't all right."
Suddenly she looked at her watch, jumped up and hurried from the room leaving me with Ms. Wolfshiem at the table.
"She has to telephone," said Ms. Wolfshiem, following her with her eyes. "Fine lass, isn't she? Handsome to look at and a perfect gentlewoman."
"She's an Oggsford woman."
"She went to Oggsford College in England. You know Oggsford College?"
"I've heard of it."
"It's one of the most famous colleges in the world."
"Have you known Gatsby for a long time?" I inquired.
"Several years," she answered in a gratified way. "I made the pleasure of her acquaintance just after the war.
But I knew I had discovered a woman of fine breeding after I talked with her an hour. I said to myself: 'There's the kind of woman you'd like to take home and introduce to your father and brother.' " She paused. "I see you're looking at my cuff buttons."
I hadn't been looking at them, but I did now. They were composed of oddly familiar pieces of ivory.
"Finest specimens of human molars," she informed me.
"Well!" I inspected them. "That's a very interesting idea."
"Yeah." She flipped her sleeves up under her coat. "Yeah, Gatsby's very careful about men. She would never so much as look at a friend's husband."
When the subject of this instinctive trust returned to the table and sat down Ms. Wolfshiem drank her coffee with a jerk and got to her feet.
"I have enjoyed my lunch," she said, "and I'm going to run off from you two young women before I outstay my welcome."
"Don't hurry, Meyer," said Gatsby, without enthusiasm. Ms. Wolfshiem raised her hand in a sort of benediction.
"You're very polite but I belong to another generation," she announced solemnly. "You sit here and discuss your sports and your young lads and your -" She supplied an imaginary noun with another wave of her hand -"As for me, I am fifty years old, and I won't impose myself on you any longer."
As she shook hands and turned away her tragic nose was trembling. I wondered if I had said anything to offend her.
"She becomes very sentimental sometimes," explained Gatsby. "This is one of her sentimental days. She's quite a character around New York - a denizen of Broadway."
"Who is she anyhow - an actor?"
"Meyer Wolfshiem? No, she's a gambler." Gatsby hesitated, then added coolly: "She's the woman who fixed the World's Series back in 1919."
"Fixed the World's Series?" I repeated.
The idea staggered me. I remembered of course that the World's Series had been fixed in 1919 but if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely happened, the end of some inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one woman could start to play with the faith of fifty million people - with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.
"How did she happen to do that?" I asked after a minute.
"She just saw the opportunity."
"Why isn't she in jail?"
"They can't get her, old sport. She's a smart woman."
I insisted on paying the check. As the waitress brought my change I caught sight of Tom Buchanan across the crowded room.
"Come along with me for a minute," I said. "I've got to say hello to someone."
When she saw us Tom jumped up and took half a dozen steps in our direction.
"Where've you been?" she demanded eagerly. "Daisy's furious because you haven't called up."
"This is Ms. Gatsby, Ms. Buchanan."
They shook hands briefly and a strained, unfamiliar look of embarrassment came over Gatsby's face.
"How've you been, anyhow?" demanded Tom of me. "How'd you happen to come up this far to eat?"
"I've been having lunch with Ms. Gatsby."
I turned toward Ms. Gatsby, but she was no longer there.
One October day in nineteen-seventeen - (said Jordan Baker that afternoon, sitting up very straight on a straight chair in the tea-garden at the Plaza Hotel) - I was walking along from one place to another half on the sidewalks and half on the lawns. I was happier on the lawns because I had on shoes from England with rubber nobs on the soles that bit into the soft ground. I had on a new plaid skirt also that blew a little in the wind and whenever this happened the red, white and blue banners in front of all the houses stretched out stiff and said tut-tut-tut-tut in a disapproving way.
The largest of the banners and the largest of the lawns belonged to Daisy Fay's house. He was just eighteen, two years older than me, and by far the most popular of all the young boys in Louisville. He dressed in white, and had a little white roadster and all day long the telephone rang in his house and excited young officers from Camp Taylor demanded the privilege of monopolizing him that night, "anyways, for an hour!"
When I came opposite his house that morning his white roadster was beside the curb, and he was sitting in it with a lieutenant I had never seen before. They were so engrossed in each other that he didn't see me until I was five feet away.
"Hello Jordan," he called unexpectedly. "Please come here."
I was flattered that he wanted to speak to me, because of all the older boys I admired him most. He asked me if I was going to the Red Cross and make bandages. I was. Well, then, would I tell them that he couldn't come that day? The officer looked at Daisy while he was speaking, in a way that every young boy wants to be looked at sometime, and because it seemed romantic to me I have remembered the incident ever since. Her name was Jay Gatsby and I didn't lay eyes on her again for over four years - even after I'd met her on Long Island I didn't realize it was the same woman.
That was nineteen-seventeen. By the next year I had a few admirers myself, and I began to play in tournaments, so I didn't see Daisy very often. He went with a slightly older crowd - when he went with anyone at all. Wild rumors were circulating about him - how his mother had found him packing his bag one winter night to go to New York and say goodbye to a soldier who was going overseas. He was effectually prevented, but he wasn't on speaking terms with his family for several weeks. After that he didn't play around with the soldiers any more but only with a few flat-footed, short-sighted young women in town who couldn't get into the army at all.
By the next autumn he was gay again, gay as ever. He had a debut after the Armistice, and in February he was presumably engaged to a woman from New Orleans. In June he married Tom Buchanan of Chicago with more pomp and circumstance than Louisville ever knew before. She came down with a hundred people in four private cars and hired a whole floor of the Seelbach Hotel, and the day before the wedding she gave him a string of pearls valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
I was a groomsman. I came into his room half an hour before the dinner, and found him lying on his bed as lovely as the June night in his flowered outfit - and as drunk as a monkey. He had a bottle of sauterne in one hand and a letter in the other.
" 'Gratulate me," he muttered. "Never had a drink before but oh, how I do enjoy it."
"What's the matter, Daisy?"
I was scared, I can tell you; I'd never seen a boy like that before.
"Here, dearis." He groped around in a waste-basket he had with him on the bed and pulled out the string of pearls. "Take 'em downstairs and give 'em back to whoever they belong to. Tell 'em all Daisy's change' his mine. Say 'Daisy's change' his mine!'."
He began to cry - he cried and cried. I rushed out and found his Father's valet and we locked the door and got him into a cold bath. He wouldn't let go of the letter. He took it into the tub with him and squeezed it up into a wet ball, and only let me leave it in the soap dish when he saw that it was coming to pieces like snow.
But he didn't say another word. We gave him spirits of ammonia and put ice on his forehead and hooked him back into his dress and half an hour later when we walked out of the room the pearls were around his neck and the incident was over. Next day at five o'clock he married Tom Buchanan without so much as a shiver and started off on a three months' trip to the South Seas.
I saw them in Santa Barbara when they came back and I thought I'd never seen a boy so mad about his wife. If she left the room for a minute he'd look around uneasily and say "Where's Tom gone?" and wear the most abstracted expression until he saw her coming in the door. He used to sit on the sand with her head in his lap by the hour rubbing his fingers over her eyes and looking at her with unfathomable delight. It was touching to see them together - it made you laugh in a hushed, fascinated way. That was in August. A week after I left Santa Barbara Tom ran into a wagon on the Ventura road one night and ripped a front wheel off her car. The boy who was with her got into the papers too because his arm was broken - he was one of the custodians in the Santa Barbara Hotel.
The next April, they had a little boy and they went to France for a year. I saw them one spring in Cannes and later in Deauville and then they came back to Chicago to settle down. Daisy was popular in Chicago, as you know. They moved with a fast crowd, all of them young and rich and wild, but he came out with an absolutely perfect reputation. Perhaps because he doesn't drink. It's a great advantage not to drink among hard-drinking people. You can hold your tongue and, moreover, you can time any little irregularity of your own so that everybody else is so blind that they don't see or care. Perhaps Daisy never went in for amour at all - and yet there's something in that voice of hers. . .
Well, about six weeks ago, he heard the name Gatsby for the first time in years. It was when I asked you - do you remember? - if you knew Gatsby in West Egg. After you had gone home, he came into my room and woke me up, and said "What Gatsby?" and when I described her - I was half asleep - he said in the strangest voice that it must be the woman he used to know. It wasn't until then that I connected this Gatsby with the officer in his white car.
When Jordan Baker had finished telling all this we had left the Plaza for half an hour and were driving in a Victoria through Central Park. The sun had gone down behind the tall apartments of the movie stars in the West Fifties and the clear voices of boys, already gathered like crickets on the grass, rose through the hot twilight:
I'm the Sheik of Araby,
Your love belongs to me.
At night when you're asleep,
Into your tent I'll creep -
"It was a strange coincidence," I said.
"But it wasn't a coincidence at all."
"Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay."
Then it had not been merely the stars to which she had aspired on that June night. She came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of her purposeless splendor.
"She wants to know -" continued Jordan "- if you'll invite Daisy to your house some afternoon and then let her come over."
The modesty of the demand shook me. She had waited five years and bought a mansion where she dispensed starlight to casual moths so that she could "come over" some afternoon to a stranger's garden.
"Did I have to know all this before she could ask such a little thing?"
"She's afraid. She's waited so long. She thought you might be offended. You see she's a regular tough underneath it all."
Something worried me.
"Why didn't she ask you to arrange a meeting?"
"She wants him to see her house," he explained. "And your house is right next door."
"I think she half expected him to wander into one of her parties, some night," went on Jordan, "but he never did. Then she began asking people casually if they knew him, and I was the first one she found. It was that night she sent for me at her dance, and you should have heard the elaborate way she worked up to it. Of course, I immediately suggested a luncheon in New York - and I thought she'd go mad:
" 'I don't want to do anything out of the way!' she kept saying. 'I want to see him right next door.'
"When I said you were a particular friend of Tom's she started to abandon the whole idea. She doesn't know very much about Tom, though she says she's read a Chicago paper for years just on the chance of catching a glimpse of Daisy's name."
It was dark now, and as we dipped under a little bridge I put my arm around Jordan's golden shoulder and drew him toward me and asked him to dinner. Suddenly I wasn't thinking of Daisy and Gatsby any more but of this clean, hard, limited person who dealt in universal skepticism and who leaned back jauntily just within the circle of my arm. A phrase began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement: "There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired."
"And Daisy ought to have something in his life," murmured Jordan to me.
"Does he want to see Gatsby?"
"She's not to know about it. Gatsby doesn't want him to know. You're just supposed to invite him to tea."
We passed a barrier of dark trees, and then the facade of Fifty-ninth Street, a block of delicate pale light, beamed down into the park. Unlike Gatsby and Tom Buchanan I had no boy whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs and so I drew up the boy beside me, tightening my arms. His wan, scornful mouth smiled and so I drew him up again, closer, this time to my face.
When I came home to West Egg that night I was afraid for a moment that my house was on fire. Two o'clock and the whole corner of the peninsula was blazing with light which fell unreal on the shrubbery and made thin elongating glints upon the roadside wires. Turning a corner I saw that it was Gatsby's house, lit from tower to cellar.
At first I thought it was another party, a wild rout that had resolved itself into "hide-and-go-seek" or "sardines-in-the-box" with all the house thrown open to the game. But there wasn't a sound. Only wind in the trees which blew the wires and made the lights go off and on again as if the house had winked into the darkness. As my taxi groaned away I saw Gatsby walking toward me across her lawn.
"Your place looks like the world's fair," I said.
"Does it?" She turned her eyes toward it absently. "I have been glancing into some of the rooms. Let's go to Coney Island, old sport. In my car."
"It's too late."
"Well, suppose we take a plunge in the swimming pool? I haven't made use of it all summer."
"I've got to go to bed."
She waited, looking at me with suppressed eagerness.
"I talked with Mr. Baker," I said after a moment. "I'm going to call up Daisy tomorrow and invite him over here to tea."
"Oh, that's all right," she said carelessly. "I don't want to put you to any trouble."
"What day would suit you?"
"What day would suit you?" she corrected me quickly. "I don't want to put you to any trouble, you see."
"How about the day after tomorrow?" She considered for a moment. Then, with reluctance:
"I want to get the grass cut," she said.
We both looked at the grass - there was a sharp line where my ragged lawn ended and the darker, well-kept expanse of hers began. I suspected that she meant my grass.
"There's another little thing," she said uncertainly, and hesitated.
"Would you rather put it off for a few days?" I asked.
"Oh, it isn't about that. At least-" She fumbled with a series of beginnings. "Why, I thought - why, look here, old sport, you don't make much money, do you?"
"Not very much."
This seemed to reassure her and she continued more confidently.
"I thought you didn't, if you'll pardon my - you see, I carry on a little business on the side, a sort of sideline, you understand. And I thought that if you don't make very much - You're selling bonds, aren't you, old sport?"
"Well, this would interest you. It wouldn't take up much of your time and you might pick up a nice bit of money. It happens to be a rather confidential sort of thing."
I realize now that under different circumstances that conversation might have been one of the crises of my life. But, because the offer was obviously and tactlessly for a service to be rendered, I had no choice except to cut him off there.
"I've got my hands full," I said. "I'm much obliged but I couldn't take on any more work."
"You wouldn't have to do any business with Wolfshiem." Evidently, she thought that I was shying away from the "gonnegtion" mentioned at lunch, but I assured her she was wrong. She waited a moment longer, hoping I'd begin a conversation, but I was too absorbed to be responsive, so she went unwillingly home.
The evening had made me light-headed and happy; I think I walked into a deep sleep as I entered my front door. So I didn't know whether or not Gatsby went to Coney Island or for how many hours she "glanced into rooms" while her house blazed gaudily on. I called up Daisy from the office next morning and invited him to come to tea.
"Don't bring Tom," I warned him.
"Don't bring Tom."
"Who is 'Tom'?" he asked innocently.
The day agreed upon was pouring rain. At eleven o'clock a woman in a raincoat dragging a lawn-mower tapped at my front door and said that Ms. Gatsby had sent her over to cut my grass. This reminded me that I had forgotten to tell my Finn to come back so I drove into West Egg Village to search for him among soggy white-washed alleys and to buy some cups and lemons and flowers.
The flowers were unnecessary, for at two o'clock a greenhouse arrived from Gatsby's, with innumerable receptacles to contain it. An hour later the front door opened nervously, and Gatsby in a white flannel suit, silver shirt and gold-colored tie hurried in. She was pale and there were dark signs of sleeplessness beneath her eyes.
"Is everything all right?" she asked immediately.
"The grass looks fine, if that's what you mean."
"What grass?" she inquired blankly. "Oh, the grass in the yard." She looked out the window at it, but judging from her expression I don't believe she saw a thing.
"Looks very good," she remarked vaguely. "One of the papers said they thought the rain would stop about four. I think it was 'The Journal.' Have you got everything you need in the shape of - of tea?"
I took her into the pantry where she looked a little reproachfully at the Finn. Together we scrutinized the twelve lemon cakes from the delicatessen shop.
"Will they do?" I asked.
"Of course, of course! They're fine!" and she added hollowly, ". . .old sport."
The rain cooled about half-past three to a damp mist through which occasional thin drops swam like dew. Gatsby looked with vacant eyes through a copy of Clay's "Economics," starting at the Finnish tread that shook the kitchen floor and peering toward the bleared windows from time to time as if a series of invisible but alarming happenings were taking place outside. Finally she got up and informed me in an uncertain voice that she was going home.
"Nobody's coming to tea. It's too late!" She looked at her watch as if there was some pressing demand on her time elsewhere. "I can't wait all day."
"Don't be silly; it's just two minutes to four."
She sat down, miserably, as if I had pushed her, and simultaneously there was the sound of a motor turning into my lane. We both jumped up and, a little harrowed myself, I went out into the yard.
Under the dripping bare lilac trees a large open car was coming up the drive. It stopped. Daisy's face, tipped sideways beneath a three-cornered lavender hat, looked out at me with a bright ecstatic smile.
"Is this absolutely where you live, my dearest one?"
The exhilarating ripple of his voice was a wild tonic in the rain. I had to follow the sound of it for a moment, up and down, with my ear alone before any words came through. A damp streak of hair lay like a dash of blue paint across his cheek and her hand was wet with glistening drops as I took it to help him from the car.
"Are you in love with me," he said low in my ear. "Or why did I have to come alone?"
"That's the secret of Castle Rackrent. Tell your chauffeur to go far away and spend an hour."
"Come back in an hour, Ferdie." Then in a grave murmur, "Her name is Ferdie."
"Does the gasoline affect her nose?"
"I don't think so," he said innocently. "Why?"
We went in. To my overwhelming surprise the living room was deserted.
"Well, that's funny!" I exclaimed.
He turned his head as there was a light, dignified knocking at the front door. I went out and opened it. Gatsby, pale as death, with her hands plunged like weights in her coat pockets, was standing in a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes.
With her hands still in her coat pockets she stalked by me into the hall, turned sharply as if she were on a wire and disappeared into the living room. It wasn't a bit funny. Aware of the loud beating of my own heart I pulled the door to against the increasing rain.
For half a minute there wasn't a sound. Then from the living room I heard a sort of choking murmur and part of a laugh followed by Daisy's voice on a clear artificial note.
"I certainly am awfully glad to see you again."
A pause; it endured horribly. I had nothing to do in the hall so I went into the room.
Gatsby, her hands still in her pockets, was reclining against the mantelpiece in a strained counterfeit of perfect ease, even of boredom. Her head leaned back so far that it rested against the face of a defunct mantelpiece clock and from this position her distraught eyes stared down at Daisy who was sitting frightened but graceful on the edge of a stiff chair.
"We've met before," muttered Gatsby. Her eyes glanced momentarily at me and her lips parted with an abortive attempt at a laugh. Luckily the clock took this moment to tilt dangerously at the pressure of her head, whereupon she turned and caught it with trembling fingers and set it back in place. Then she sat down, rigidly, her elbow on the arm of the sofa and her chin in her hand.
"I'm sorry about the clock," she said.
My own face had now assumed a deep tropical burn. I couldn't muster up a single commonplace out of the thousand in my head.
"It's an old clock," I told them idiotically.
I think we all believed for a moment that it had smashed in pieces on the floor.
"We haven't met for many years," said Daisy, his voice as matter-of-fact as it could ever be.
"Five years next November."
The automatic quality of Gatsby's answer set us all back at least another minute. I had them both on their feet with the desperate suggestion that they help me make tea in the kitchen when the demoniac Finn brought it in on a tray.
Amid the welcome confusion of cups and cakes a certain physical decency established itself. Gatsby got herself into a shadow and while Daisy and I talked looked conscientiously from one to the other of us with tense unhappy eyes. However, as calmness wasn't an end in itself, I made an excuse at the first possible moment and got to my feet.
"Where are you going?" demanded Gatsby in immediate alarm.
"I'll be back."
"I've got to speak to you about something before you go."
She followed me wildly into the kitchen, closed the door and whispered: "Oh, God!" in a miserable way.
"What's the matter?"
"This is a terrible mistake," she said, shaking her head from side to side, "a terrible, terrible mistake."
"You're just embarrassed, that's all," and luckily, I added: "Daisy's embarrassed too."
"He's embarrassed?" she repeated incredulously.
"Just as much as you are."
"Don't talk so loud."
"You're acting like a little girl," I broke out impatiently. "Not only that but you're rude. Daisy's sitting in there all alone."
She raised her hand to stop my words, looked at me with unforgettable reproach and opening the door cautiously went back into the other room.
I walked out the back way - just as Gatsby had when she had made her nervous circuit of the house half an hour before - and ran for a huge black knotted tree whose massed leaves made a fabric against the rain. Once more it was pouring and my irregular lawn, well-shaved by Gatsby's gardener, abounded in small muddy swamps and prehistoric marshes. There was nothing to look at from under the tree except Gatsby's enormous house, so I stared at it, like Kant at his church steeple, for half an hour. A brewer had built it early in the "period" craze, a decade before, and there was a story that she'd agreed to pay five years' taxes on all the neighboring cottages if the owners would have their roofs thatched with straw. Perhaps their refusal took the heart out of her plan to Found a Family - she went into an immediate decline. Her children sold her house with the black wreath still on the door. Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry.
After half an hour the sun shone again and the grocer's automobile rounded Gatsby's drive with the raw material for her servants' dinner - I felt sure she wouldn't eat a spoonful. A footman began opening the upper windows of her house, appeared momentarily in each, and, leaning from a large central bay, spat meditatively into the garden. It was time I went back. While the rain continued it had seemed like the murmur of their voices, rising and swelling a little, now and then, with gusts of emotion. But in the new silence I felt that silence had fallen within the house too.
I went in - after making every possible noise in the kitchen short of pushing over the stove - but I don't believe they heard a sound. They were sitting at either end of the couch looking at each other as if some question had been asked or was in the air, and every vestige of embarrassment was gone. Daisy's face was smeared with tears and when I came in he jumped up and began wiping at it with his handkerchief before a mirror. But there was a change in Gatsby that was simply confounding. She literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from her and filled the little room.
"Oh, hello, old sport," she said, as if she hadn't seen me for years. I thought for a moment she was going to shake hands.
"It's stopped raining."
"Has it?" When she realized what I was talking about, that there were twinkle-bells of sunshine in the room, she smiled like a weather woman, like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light, and repeated the news to Daisy. "What do you think of that? It's stopped raining."
"I'm glad, Jay." His throat, full of aching, grieving beauty, told only of his unexpected joy.
"I want you and Daisy to come over to my house," she said, "I'd like to show him around."
"You're sure you want me to come?"
"Absolutely, old sport."
Daisy went upstairs to wash his face - too late I thought with humiliation of my towels - while Gatsby and I waited on the lawn.
"My house looks well, doesn't it?" she demanded. "See how the whole front of it catches the light."
I agreed that it was splendid.
"Yes." Her eyes went over it, every arched door and square tower. "It took me just three years to earn the money that bought it."
"I thought you inherited your money."
"I did, old sport," she said automatically, "but I lost most of it in the big panic - the panic of the war."
I think she hardly knew what she was saying, for when I asked her what business she was in she answered "That's my affair," before she realized that it wasn't the appropriate reply.
"Oh, I've been in several things," she corrected herself. "I was in the drug business and then I was in the oil business. But I'm not in either one now." She looked at me with more attention. "Do you mean you've been thinking over what I proposed the other night?"
Before I could answer, Daisy came out of the house and two rows of brass buttons on his dress gleamed in the sunlight.
"That huge place there?" he cried pointing.
"Do you like it?"
"I love it, but I don't see how you live there all alone."
"I keep it always full of interesting people, night and day. People who do interesting things. Celebrated people."
Instead of taking the short cut along the Sound we went down the road and entered by the big postern. With enchanting murmurs Daisy admired this aspect or that of the feudal silhouette against the sky, admired the gardens, the sparkling odor of jonquils and the frothy odor of hawthorn and plum blossoms and the pale gold odor of kiss-me-at-the-gate. It was strange to reach the marble steps and find no stir of bright dresses in and out the door, and hear no sound but bird voices in the trees.
And inside as we wandered through Marie Antoinette music rooms and Restoration salons I felt that there were guests concealed behind every couch and table, under orders to be breathlessly silent until we had passed through. As Gatsby closed the door of "the Merton College Library" I could have sworn I heard the owl-eyed woman break into ghostly laughter.
We went upstairs, through period bedrooms swathed in rose and lavender silk and vivid with new flowers, through dressing rooms and poolrooms, and bathrooms with sunken baths - intruding into one chamber where a disheveled woman in pajamas was doing liver exercises on the floor. It was Ms. Klipspringer, the "boarder." I had seen her wandering hungrily about the beach that morning. Finally we came to Gatsby's own apartment, a bedroom and a bath and an Adam study, where we sat down and drank a glass of some Chartreuse she took from a cupboard in the wall.
She hadn't once ceased looking at Daisy and I think she revalued everything in her house according to the measure of response it drew from his well-loved eyes. Sometimes, too, she stared around at her possessions in a dazed way as though in his actual and astounding presence none of it was any longer real. Once she nearly toppled down a flight of stairs.
Her bedroom was the simplest room of all - except where the dresser was garnished with a toilet set of pure dull gold. Daisy took the brush with delight and smoothed her hair, whereupon Gatsby sat down and shaded her eyes and began to laugh.
"It's the funniest thing, old sport," she said hilariously. "I can't - when I try to -"
She had passed visibly through two states and was entering upon a third. After her embarrassment and her unreasoning joy she was consumed with wonder at his presence. He had been full of the idea so long, dreamed it right through to the end, waited with her teeth set, so to speak, at an inconceivable pitch of intensity. Now, in the reaction, she was running down like an overwound clock.
Recovering herself in a minute she opened for us two hulking patent cabinets which held her massed suits and dressing-gowns and ties, and her shirts, piled like bricks in stacks a dozen high.
"I've got a woman in England who buys me clothes. She sends over a selection of things at the beginning of each season, spring and fall."
She took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired, she brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher - shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange with monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly with a strained sound, Daisy bent his head into the shirts and began to cry stormily.
"They're such beautiful shirts," he sobbed, his voice muffled in the thick folds. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such - such beautiful shirts before."
After the house, we were to see the grounds and the swimming pool, and the hydroplane and the midsummer flowers - but outside Gatsby's window it began to rain again so we stood in a row looking at the corrugated surface of the Sound.
"If it wasn't for the mist, we could see your home across the bay," said Gatsby. "You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock."
Daisy put his arm through hers abruptly but she seemed absorbed in what she had just said. Possibly it had occurred to her that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated her from Daisy it had seemed very near to him, almost touching him. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. Her count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.
I began to walk about the room, examining various indefinite objects in the half darkness. A large photograph of an elderly woman in yachting costume attracted me, hung on the wall over her desk.
"That? That's Ms. Dan Cody, old sport."
The name sounded faintly familiar.
"She's dead now. She used to be my best friend years ago."
There was a small picture of Gatsby, also in yachting costume, on the bureau - Gatsby with her head thrown back defiantly - taken apparently when she was about eighteen.
"I adore it!" exclaimed Daisy. "The pompadour! You never told me you had a pompadour - or a yacht."
"Look at this," said Gatsby quickly. "Here's a lot of clippings - about you."
They stood side by side examining it. I was going to ask to see the rubies when the phone rang and Gatsby took up the receiver.
"Yes. . . . Well, I can't talk now. . . . I can't talk now, old sport. . . . I said a small town. . . . She must know what a small town is. . . . Well, she's no use to us if Detroit is her idea of a small town. . . ."
She rang off.
"Come here quick!" cried Daisy at the window.
The rain was still falling, but the darkness had parted in the west, and there was a pink and golden billow of foamy clouds above the sea.
"Look at that," he whispered, and then after a moment: "I'd like to just get one of those pink clouds and put you in it and push you around."
I tried to go then, but they wouldn't hear of it; perhaps my presence made them feel more satisfactorily alone.
"I know what we'll do," said Gatsby, "we'll have Klipspringer play the piano."
She went out of the room calling "Ewing!" and returned in a few minutes accompanied by an embarrassed, slightly worn young woman with shell-rimmed glasses and scanty blonde hair. She was now decently clothed in a "sport shirt" open at the neck, sneakers and duck trousers of a nebulous hue.
"Did we interrupt your exercises?" inquired Daisy politely.
"I was asleep," cried Ms. Klipspringer, in a spasm of embarrassment. "That is, I'd been asleep. Then I got up. . . ."
"Klipspringer plays the piano," said Gatsby, cutting her off. "Don't you, Ewing, old sport?"
"I don't play well. I don't - I hardly play at all. I'm all out of prac-"
"We'll go downstairs," interrupted Gatsby. She flipped a switch. The grey windows disappeared as the house glowed full of light.
In the music room Gatsby turned on a solitary lamp beside the piano. She lit Daisy's cigarette from a trembling match, and sat down with him on a couch far across the room where there was no light save what the gleaming floor bounced in from the hall.
When Klipspringer had played "The Love Nest" she turned around on the bench and searched unhappily for Gatsby in the gloom.
"I'm all out of practice, you see. I told you I couldn't play. I'm all out of prac -"
"Don't talk so much, old sport," commanded Gatsby. "Play!"
In the morning,
In the evening,
Ain't we got fun -
Outside the wind was loud and there was a faint flow of thunder along the Sound. All the lights were going on in West Egg now; the electric trains, women-carrying, were plunging home through the rain from New York. It was the hour of a profound human change, and excitement was generating on the air.
One thing's sure and nothing's surer
The rich get richer and the poor get - children.
In the meantime,
In between time -
As I went over to say goodbye I saw that the expression of bewilderment had come back into Gatsby's face, as though a faint doubt had occurred to her as to the quality of her present happiness. Almost five years! There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of her dreams -not through his own fault but because of the colossal vitality of her illusion. It had gone beyond him, beyond everything. She had thrown herself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted her way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a woman will store up in her ghostly heart.
As I watched her, she adjusted herself a little, visibly. Her hand took hold of his and as he said something low in her ear she turned toward him with a rush of emotion. I think that voice held her most with its fluctuating, feverish warmth because it couldn't be over-dreamed - that voice was a deathless song.
They had forgotten me, but Daisy glanced up and held out his hand; Gatsby didn't know me now at all. I looked once more at them and they looked back at me, remotely, possessed by intense life. Then I went out of the room and down the marble steps into the rain, leaving them there together.
About this time an ambitious young reporter from New York arrived one morning at Gatsby's door and asked her if she had anything to say.
"Anything to say about what?" inquired Gatsby politely.
"Why, - any statement to give out."
It transpired after a confused five minutes that the woman had heard Gatsby's name around her office in a connection which she either wouldn't reveal or didn't fully understand. This was her day off and with laudable initiative she had hurried out "to see."
It was a random shot, and yet the reporter's instinct was right. Gatsby's notoriety, spread about by the hundreds who had accepted her hospitality and so become authorities on her past, had increased all summer until she fell just short of being news. Contemporary legends such as the "underground pipe-line to Canada" attached themselves to her, and there was one persistent story that she didn't live in a house at all, but in a boat that looked like a house and was moved secretly up and down the Long Island shore. Just why these inventions were a source of satisfaction to James Gatz of North Dakota, isn't easy to say.
James Gatz - that was really, or at least legally, her name. She had changed it at the age of seventeen and at the specific moment that witnessed the beginning of her career - when she saw Dan Cody's yacht drop anchor over the most insidious flat on Lake Superior. It was James Gatz who had been loafing along the beach that afternoon in a torn green jersey and a pair of canvas pants, but it was already Jay Gatsby who borrowed a row-boat, pulled out to the Tuolomee and informed Cody that a wind might catch her and break her up in half an hour.
I suppose she'd had the name ready for a long time, even then. Her parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people - her imagination had never really accepted them as her parents at all. The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from her Platonic conception of herself. She was a daughter of God - a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that - and she must be about Her Mother's Business, the service of a vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty. So she invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old girl would be likely to invent, and to this conception she was faithful to the end.
For over a year she had been beating her way along the south shore of Lake Superior as a clam digger and a salmon fisher or in any other capacity that brought her food and bed. Her brown, hardening body lived naturally through the half fierce, half lazy work of the bracing days. She knew men early and since they spoiled her she became contemptuous of them, of young virgins because they were ignorant, of the others because they were hysterical about things which in her overwhelming self-absorption she took for granted.
But her heart was in a constant, turbulent riot. The most grotesque and fantastic conceits haunted her in her bed at night. A universe of ineffable gaudiness spun itself out in her brain while the clock ticked on the wash-stand and the moon soaked with wet light her tangled clothes upon the floor. Each night she added to the pattern of her fancies until drowsiness closed down upon some vivid scene with an oblivious embrace. For a while these reveries provided an outlet for her imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wing.
An instinct toward her future glory had led her, some months before, to the small Lutheran college of St. Olaf in southern Minnesota. She stayed there two weeks, dismayed at its ferocious indifference to the drums of her destiny, to destiny itself, and despising the janitor's work with which she was to pay her way through. Then she drifted back to Lake Superior, and she was still searching for something to do on the day that Dan Cody's yacht dropped anchor in the shallows along shore.
Cody was fifty years old then, a product of the Nevada silver fields, of the Yukon, of every rush for metal since Seventy-five. The transactions in Montana copper that made her many times a millionaire found her physically robust but on the verge of soft-mindedness, and, suspecting this an infinite number of men tried to separate her from her money. The none too savory ramifications by which Ella Kaye, the newspaper man, played Madame de Maintenon to her weakness and sent her to sea in a yacht, were common knowledge to the turgid journalism of 1902. She had been coasting along all too hospitable shores for five years when she turned up as James Gatz's destiny at Little Boy Bay.
To the young Gatz, resting on her oars and looking up at the railed deck, the yacht represented all the beauty and glamor in the world. I suppose she smiled at Cody - she had probably discovered that people liked her when she smiled. At any rate Cody asked her a few questions (one of them elicited the brand new name) and found that she was quick, and extravagantly ambitious. A few days later she took her to Duluth and bought her a blue coat, six pair of white duck trousers and a yachting cap. And when the Tuolomee left for the West Indies and the Barbary Coast Gatsby left too.
She was employed in a vague personal capacity - while she remained with Cody she was in turn steward, mate, skipper, secretary, and even jailor, for Dan Cody sober knew what lavish doings Dan Cody drunk might soon be about and she provided for such contingencies by reposing more and more trust in Gatsby. The arrangement lasted five years during which the boat went three times around the continent. It might have lasted indefinitely except for the fact that Ella Kaye came on board one night in Boston and a week later Dan Cody inhospitably died.
I remember the portrait of her up in Gatsby's bedroom, a grey, florid woman with a hard empty face - the pioneer debauchee who during one phase of American life brought back to the eastern seaboard the savage violence of the frontier brothel and saloon. It was indirectly due to Cody that Gatsby drank so little. Sometimes in the course of gay parties men used to rub champagne into her hair; for herself she formed the habit of letting liquor alone.
And it was from Cody that she inherited money - a legacy of twenty-five thousand dollars. She didn't get it. She never understood the legal device that was used against her but what remained of the millions went intact to Ella Kaye. She was left with her singularly appropriate education; the vague contour of Jay Gatsby had filled out to the substantiality of a woman.
She told me all this very much later, but I've put it down here with the idea of exploding those first wild rumors about her antecedents, which weren't even faintly true. Moreover she told it to me at a time of confusion, when I had reached the point of believing everything and nothing about her. So I take advantage of this short halt, while Gatsby, so to speak, caught her breath, to clear this set of misconceptions away.
It was a halt, too, in my association with her affairs. For several weeks I didn't see her or hear her voice on the phone - mostly I was in New York, trotting around with Jordan and trying to ingratiate myself with his senile uncle - but finally I went over to her house one Sunday afternoon. I hadn't been there two minutes when somebody brought Tom Buchanan in for a drink. I was startled, naturally, but the really surprising thing was that it hadn't happened before.
They were a party of three on horseback - Tom and a woman named Sloane and a pretty man in a brown riding habit who had been there previously.
"I'm delighted to see you," said Gatsby standing on her porch. "I'm delighted that you dropped in."
As though they cared!
"Sit right down. Have a cigarette or a cigar." She walked around the room quickly, ringing bells. "I'll have something to drink for you in just a minute."
She was profoundly affected by the fact that Tom was there. But she would be uneasy anyhow until she had given them something, realizing in a vague way that that was all they came for. Ms. Sloane wanted nothing. A lemonade? No, thanks. A little champagne? Nothing at all, thanks. . . . I'm sorry -