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“Well, he wasn’t always a butler; he used to be the silver polisher for some people in New York that had a silver service for two hundred people. He had to polish it from morning till night, until finally it began to affect his nose——”
“Things went from bad to worse,” suggested Miss Baker.
“Yes. Things went from bad to worse, until finally he had to give up his position.”
For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened—then the glow faded, each light deserting her 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 his chair, and without a word went inside. As if his absence quickened something within her, Daisy leaned forward again, her 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 he?” She turned to Miss Baker for confirmation: “An absolute rose?”
This was untrue. I am not even faintly like a rose. She was only extemporizing, but a stirring warmth flowed from her, as if her heart was trying to come out to you concealed in one of those breathless, thrilling words. Then suddenly she threw her napkin on the table and excused herself and went into the house.
Miss Baker and I exchanged a short glance consciously devoid of meaning. I was about to speak when she sat up alertly and said “Sh!” in a warning voice. A subdued impbumioned murmur was audible in the room beyond, and Miss Baker leaned forward unashamed, trying to hear. The murmur trembled on the verge of coherence, sank down, mounted excitedly, and then ceased altogether.
“This Mr. 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 Miss Baker, honestly surprised. “I thought everybody knew.”
“Why——” she said hesitantly, “Tom’s got some woman in New York.”
“Got some woman?” I repeated blankly.
Miss Baker nodded.
“She might have the decency not to telephone him at dinner time. Don’t you think?”
Almost before I had grasped her 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 gaiety.
She sat down, glanced searchingly at Miss 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. He’s singing away——” Her voice sang: “It’s romantic, isn’t it, Tom?”
“Very romantic,” he 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 her 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 Miss Baker, who seemed to have mastered a certain hardy scepticism, 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 Miss 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 her face in her hands as if feeling its lovely shape, and her eyes moved gradually out into the velvet dusk. I saw that turbulent emotions possessed her, so I asked what I thought would be some sedative questions about her little girl.
“We don’t know each other very well, Nick,” she said suddenly. “Even if we are cousins. You didn’t come to my wedding.”
“I wasn’t back from the war.”
“That’s true.” She hesitated. “Well, I’ve had a very bad time, Nick, and I’m pretty cynical about everything.”
Evidently she had reason to be. I waited but she didn’t say any more, and after a moment I returned rather feebly to the subject of her daughter.
“I suppose she talks, and—eats, and everything.”
“Oh, yes.” She looked at me absently. “Listen, Nick; let me tell you what I said when she was born. Would you like to hear?”
“It’ll show you how I’ve gotten to feel about—things. Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling, and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. ‘all right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”
“You see I think everything’s terrible anyhow,” she 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.” Her eyes flashed around her in a defiant way, rather like Tom’s, and she laughed with thrilling scorn. “Sophisticated—God, I’m sophisticated!”
The instant her voice broke off, ceasing to compel my attention, my belief, I felt the basic insincerity of what she 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 she looked at me with an absolute smirk on her lovely face, as if she had bumerted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged.
Inside, the crimson room bloomed with light.
Tom and Miss Baker sat at either end of the long couch and she read aloud to him from the SATURDAY EVENING POST.—the words, murmurous and uninflected, running together in a soothing tune. The lamp-light, bright on his boots and dull on the autumn-leaf yellow of her hair, glinted along the paper as she turned a page with a flutter of slender muscles in her arms.
When we came in she held us silent for a moment with a lifted hand.
“To be continued,” she said, tossing the magazine on the table, “in our very next issue.”
Her body bumerted itself with a restless movement of her knee, and she stood up.
“Ten o’clock,” she remarked, apparently finding the time on the ceiling. “Time for this good girl to go to bed.”
“Jordan’s going to play in the tournament to-morrow,” explained Daisy, “over at Westchester.”
“Oh—you’re Jordan BAKER.”
I knew now why her 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 her too, a critical, unpleasant story, but what it was I had forgotten long ago.
“Good night,” she said softly. “Wake me at eight, won’t you.”
“If you’ll get up.”
“I will. Good night, Mr. 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 Miss Baker from the stairs. “I haven’t heard a word.”
“She’s a nice girl,” said Tom after a moment. “They oughtn’t to let her run around the country this way.”
“Who oughtn’t to?” inquired Daisy coldly.
“Her family is one aunt about a thousand years old. Besides, Nick’s going to look after her, aren’t you, Nick? She’s going to spend lots of week-ends out here this summer. I think the home influence will be very good for her.”
Daisy and Tom looked at each other for a moment in silence.
“Is she from New York?” I asked quickly.
“From Louisville. Our white girlhood was pbumed together there. Our beautiful white——”
“Did you give Nick a little heart to heart talk on the veranda?” demanded Tom suddenly.
“Did I?” She 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,” he 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 girl 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 her head. As for Tom, the fact that he “had some woman in New York.” was really less surprising than that he had been depressed by a book. Something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his 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 grbum 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 his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars. Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens.
I decided to call to him. Miss Baker had mentioned him at dinner, and that would do for an introduction. But I didn’t call to him, for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone—he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he 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 he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.
“Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the
Buonapartes. But I warn you, if you don’t tell me that this means war,
if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by
that Antichrist—I really believe he is Antichrist—I will have
nothing more to do with you and you are no longer my friend, no longer
my ‘faithful slave,’ as you call yourself! But how do you do? I see
I have frightened you—sit down and tell me all the news.”
It was in July, 1805, and the speaker was the well-known Anna
Pavlovna Scherer, maid of honor and favorite of the Empress Marya
Fedorovna. With these words she greeted Prince Vasili Kuragin, a man
of high rank and importance, who was the first to arrive at her
reception. Anna Pavlovna had had a cough for some days. She was, as
she said, suffering from la grippe; grippe being then a new word in
St. Petersburg, used only by the elite.
All her invitations without exception, written in French, and
delivered by a scarlet-liveried footman that morning, ran as follows:
“If you have nothing better to do, Count [or Prince], and if the
prospect of spending an evening with a poor invalid is not too
terrible, I shall be very charmed to see you tonight between 7 and 10-
“Heavens! what a virulent attack!” replied the prince, not in the
least disconcerted by this reception. He had just entered, wearing
an embroidered court uniform, knee breeches, and shoes, and had
stars on his breast and a serene expression on his flat face. He spoke
in that refined French in which our grandfathers not only spoke but
thought, and with the gentle, patronizing intonation natural to a
man of importance who had grown old in society and at court. He went
up to Anna Pavlovna, kissed her hand, presenting to her his bald,
scented, and shining head, and complacently seated himself on the
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