There was music from my neighbour’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his 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 fruiterer in New York—every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his 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 coloured 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 his female 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 pitful 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 colours, and hair bobbed 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 women 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 girls who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the centre of a group, and then, excited with triumph, glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and colour 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 her hands like Frisco, dances out alone on the canvas platform. A momentary hush; the orchestra leader varies his rhythm obligingly for her, and there is a burst of chatter as the erroneous news goes around that she 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 behaviour associated with an amusement park. 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 his employer: the honour would be entirely Gatsby’s, it said, if I would attend his ‘little party’ that night. He 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 his 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 Englishmen 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 his whereabouts stared at me in such an amazed way, and denied so vehemently any knowledge of his movements, that I slunk off in the direction of the cocktail table—the only place in the garden where a single man 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 her. My voice seemed unnaturally loud across the garden.
‘I thought you might be here,’ she responded absently as I came up. ‘I remembered you lived next door to—’
She held my hand impersonally, as a promise that she’d take care of me in a minute, and gave ear to two girls in twin yellow dresses, who stopped at the foot of the steps.
‘Hello!’ they cried together. ‘Sorry you didn’t win.’
That was for the golf tournament. She had lost in the finals the week before.
‘You don’t know who we are,’ said one of the girls 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 girls had moved casually on and her 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 girls in yellow and three men, each one introduced to us as Mr Mumble.
‘Do you come to these parties often?’ inquired Jordan of the girl beside her.
‘The last one was the one I met you at,’ answered the girl, in an alert confident voice. She turned to her 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 he 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 fellow that’ll do a thing like that,’ said the other girl eagerly. ‘He doesn’t want any trouble with anybody.’
‘Who doesn’t?’ I inquired.
‘Gatsby. Somebody told me—’
The two girls and Jordan leaned together confidentially.
‘Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once.’
A thrill passed over all of us. The three Mr Mumbles bent forward and listened eagerly.
‘I don’t think it’s so much that,’ argued Lucille sceptically; ‘It’s more that he was a German spy during the war.’
One of the men nodded in confirmation.
‘I heard that from a man who knew all about him, grew up with him in Germany,’ he assured us positively.
‘Oh, no,’ said the first girl, ‘it couldn’t be that, because he was in the American army during the war.’ As our credulity switched back to her she leaned forward with enthusiasm. ‘You look at him sometimes when he thinks nobody’s looking at him. I’ll bet he killed a man.’
She narrowed her eyes and shivered. Lucille shivered. We all turned and looked around for Gatsby. It was testimony to the romantic speculation he inspired that there were whispers about him from those who had 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 her 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 him up her 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 gaiety.
‘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 she explained that we were going to find the host: I had never met him, she 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. She couldn’t find him from the top of the steps, and he wasn’t on the veranda. On a chance we tried an important-looking door, and walked into a high Gothic library, panelled with carved English Oak, and probably transported complete from some ruin overseas.
A stout, middle-aged man, 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 he wheeled excitedly around and examined Jordan from head to foot.
‘What do you think?’ he demanded impetuously.
He waved his 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 scepticism for granted, he rushed to the bookcases and returned with Volume One of the Stoddard Lectures.
‘See!’ he cried triumphantly. ‘It’s a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella’s 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?’
He 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?’ he demanded. ‘Or did you just come? I was brought. Most people were brought.’
Jordan looked at him alertly, cheerfully, without answering.
‘I was brought by a woman named Roosevelt,’ he continued. ‘Mrs Claud Roosevelt. Do you know her? I met her 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 him gravely and went back outdoors.
There was dancing now on the canvas in the garden; old men pushing young girls backward in eternal graceless circles, superior couples holding each other tortuously, fashionably, and keeping in the corners—and a great number of single girls dancing individually 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 girls 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 man of about my age and a rowdy little girl, 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 man looked at me and smiled.
‘Your face is familiar,’ he said politely. ‘Weren’t you in the First Division during the war?’
‘Why yes. I was in the Twenty-eighth Infantry.’
‘I was in the Sixteenth 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 he lived in this vicinity, for he told me that he 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 his name when Jordan looked around and smiled.
‘Having a gay time now?’ she 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 man Gatsby sent over his chauffeur with an invitation.’
For a moment he looked at me as if he failed to understand.
‘I’m Gatsby,’ he 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.’
He 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 eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favour. 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 he introduced himself I’d got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care.
Almost at the moment when Mr Gatsby identified himself a butler hurried toward him with the information that Chicago was calling him on the wire. He excused himself with a small bow that included each of us in turn.
‘If you want anything just ask for it, old sport,’ he urged me. ‘Excuse me. I will rejoin you later.’
When he was gone I turned immediately to Jordan—constrained to assure her of my surprise. I had expected that Mr Gatsby would be a florid and corpulent person in his middle years.
‘Who is he?’ I demanded. ‘Do you know?’
‘He’s just a man named Gatsby.’
‘Where is he from, I mean? And what does he do?’
‘Now you’re started on the subject,’ she answered with a wan smile. ‘Well, he told me once he was an Oxford man.’
A dim background started to take shape behind him, but at her next remark it faded away.
‘However, I don’t believe it.’
‘I don’t know,’ she insisted, ‘I just don’t think he went there.’
Something in her tone reminded me of the other girl’s ‘I think he killed a man’, 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 men 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, he gives large parties,’ said Jordan, changing the subject with an urban 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,’ he cried. ‘At the request of Mr Gatsby we are going to play for you Mr Vladmir 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.’ He smiled with jovial condescension, and added: ‘Some sensation!’ Whereupon everybody laughed.
‘The piece is known,’ he concluded lustily, ‘as “Vladmir 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. His tanned skin was drawn attractively tight on his face and his short hair looked as though it were trimmed every day. I could see nothing sinister about him. I wondered if the fact that he was not drinking helped to set him off from his guests, for it seemed to me that he grew more correct as the fraternal hilarity increased. When the ‘Jazz History of the World’ was over, girls were putting their heads on men’s shoulders in a puppyish, convivial way, girls were swooning backward playfully into men’s arms, even into groups, knowing that someone 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.
‘Miss Baker?’ he inquired. ‘I beg your pardon, but Mr Gatsby would like to speak to you alone.’
‘With me?’ she exclaimed in surprise.
She got up slowly, raising her eyebrows at me in astonishment, and followed the butler toward the house. I noticed that she wore her evening-dress, all her dresses, like sports clothes—there was a jauntiness about her movements as if she 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 girls, and who implored me to join him, I went inside.
The large room was full of people. One of the girls in yellow was playing the piano, and beside her stood a tall, red-haired young lady from a famous chorus, engaged in song. She had drunk a quantity of champagne, and during the course of her song she had decided, ineptly, that everything was very, very sad—she was not only singing, she was weeping too. Whenever there was a pause in the song she filled it with gasping, broken sobs, and then took up the lyric again in a quavering soprano. The tears coursed down her cheeks—not freely, however, for when they came into contact with her heavily beaded eyelashes they assumed an inky colour, and pursued the rest of their way in slow black rivulets. A humorous suggestion was made that she sing the notes on her face, whereupon she threw up her hands, sank into a chair, and went off into a deep vinous sleep.
‘She had a fight with a man who says he’s her husband,’ explained a girl at my elbow.
I looked around. Most of the remaining women were now having fights with men said to be their husbands. Even Jordan’s party, the quartet from East Egg, were rent asunder by dissension. One of the men was talking with curious intensity to a young actress, and his wife, after attempting to laugh at the situation in a dignified and indifferent way, broke down entirely and resorted to flank attacks—at intervals she appeared suddenly at his side like an angry diamond, and hissed: ‘You promised!’ into his ear.
The reluctance to go home was not confined to wayward men. The hall was at present occupied by two deplorably sober men and their highly indignant wives. The wives were sympathizing with each other in slightly raised voices.
‘Whenever he sees I’m having a good time he 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 men sheepishly. ‘The orchestra left half an hour ago.’
In spite of the wives’ agreement that such malevolence was beyond credibility, the dispute ended in a short struggle, and both wives 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. He was saying some last word to her, but the eagerness in his manner tightened abruptly into formality as several people approached him to say good-bye.
Jordan’s party were calling impatiently to her from the porch, but she lingered for a moment to shake hands.
‘I’ve just heard the most amazing thing,’ she whispered. ‘How long were we in there?’
‘Why, about an hour.’
‘It was . . . simply amazing,’ she repeated abstractedly. ‘But I swore I wouldn’t tell it and here I am tantalizing you.’ She yawned gracefully in my face. ‘Please come and see me . . . Phone book . . . Under the name of Mrs Sigourney Howard . . . My aunt . . .’ She was hurrying off as she talked—her brown hand waved a jaunty salute as she melted into her 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 him. I wanted to explain that I’d hunted for him early in the evening and to apologize for not having known him in the garden.
‘Don’t mention it,’ he 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 his shoulder:
‘Philadelphia wants you on the phone, sir.’
‘All right, in a minute. Tell them I’ll be right there . . . Good night.’
‘Good night.’ He smiled—and suddenly there seemed to be a pleasant significance in having been among the last to go, as if he 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 man in a long duster had dismounted from the wreck and now stood in the middle of the road, looking from the car to the tyre and from the tyre to the observers in a pleasant, puzzled way.
‘See!’ he explained. ‘It went in the ditch.’
The fact was infinitely astonishing to him, and I recognized first the unusual quality of wonder, and then the man—it was the late patron of Gatsby’s library.
‘How’d it happen?’
He shrugged his shoulders.
‘I know nothing whatever about mechanics,’ he said decisively.
‘But how did it happen? Did you run into the wall?’
‘Don’t ask me,’ said Owl Eyes, washing his 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,’ he 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 man 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 he perceived the man in the duster.
‘Wha’s matter?’ he inquired calmly. ‘Did we run outa gas?’
Half a dozen fingers pointed at the amputated wheel—he stared at it for a moment, and then looked upward as though he suspected that it had dropped from the sky.
‘It came off,’ someone explained.
‘At first I din’ notice we’d stopped.’
A pause. Then, taking a long breath and straightening his shoulders, he remarked in a determined voice:
‘Wonder’ff tell me where there’s a gas’line station?’
At least a dozen men, some of them a little better off than he was, explained to him that wheel and car were no longer joined by any physical bond.
‘Back out,’ he suggested after a moment. ‘Put her in reverse.’
‘But the wheel’s off!’
‘No harm in trying,’ he 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 his 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, his 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 girl who lived in Jersey City and worked in the accounting department, but her brother began throwing mean looks in my direction, so when she went on her 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 33rd 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 men and women and machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women 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 lined five deep with throbbing taxicabs, 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 made unintelligible circles inside. Imagining that I, too, was hurrying towards gaiety and sharing their intimate excitement, I wished them well.
For a while I lost sight of Jordan Baker, and then in midsummer I found her again. At first I was flattered to go places with her, because she was a golf champion, and everyone knew her 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 she 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, she left a borrowed car out in the rain with the top down, and then lied about it—and suddenly I remembered the story about her that had eluded me that night at Daisy’s. At her first big golf tournament there was a row that nearly reached the newspapers—a suggestion that she had moved her ball from a bad lie in the semi-final round. The thing approached the proportions of a scandal—then died away. A caddy retracted his statement, and the only other witness admitted that he might have been mistaken. The incident and the name had remained together in my mind.
Jordan Baker instinctively avoided clever, shrewd men, and now I saw that this was because she felt safer on a plane where any divergence from a code would be thought impossible. She was incurably dishonest. She wasn’t able to endure being at a disadvantage and, given this unwillingness, I suppose she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep that cool, insolent smile turned to the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard, jaunty body.
It made no difference to me. Dishonesty in a woman 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 she passed so close to some workmen that our fender flicked a button on one man’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,’ she said lightly.
‘What’s that got to do with it?’
‘They’ll keep out of my way,’ she insisted. ‘It takes two to make an accident.’
‘Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself.’
‘I hope I never will,’ she answered. ‘I hate careless people. That’s why I like you.’
Her grey, sun-strained eyes stared straight ahead, but she had deliberately shifted our relations, and for a moment I thought I loved her. 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 girl played tennis, a faint moustache of perspiration appeared on her upper lip. Nevertheless there was a vague understanding that had to be tactfully broken off before I was free.
Everyone suspects himself 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 alongshore, the world and its mistress returned to Gatsby’s house and twinkled hilariously on his lawn.
‘He’s a bootlegger,’ said the young ladies, moving somewhere between his cocktails and his flowers. ‘One time he killed a man who had found out that he 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 him the subtle tribute of knowing nothing whatever about him.
From East Egg, then, came the Chester Beckers and the Leeches, and a man 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 Mr Chrystie’s wife), 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. He 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 he went to the penitentiary, so drunk out on the gravel drive that Mrs Ulysses Swett’s automobile ran over his 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 girls.
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. Schwartz (the son) and Arthur McCarty, all connected with the movies in one way or another. And the Catlips and the Bembergs and G. Earl Muldoon, brother to that Muldoon who afterward strangled his wife. 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 he was cleaned out and Associated Traction would have to fluctuate profitably next day.
A man named Klipspringer was there so often that he became known as ‘the boarder’—I doubt if he had any other home. Of theatrical people there were Gus Waize and Horace O’Donavan and Lester Myer 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 himself by jumping in front of a subway train in Times Square.
Benny McClenahan arrived always with four girls. 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 girls and young Brewer, who had his nose shot off in the war, and Mr Albrucksburger and Miss Haag, his fiancée, and Ardita Fitz-Peters and Mr P. Jewett, once head of the American Legion, and Miss Claudia Hip, with a man reputed to be her chauffeur, and a prince of something, whom we called Duke, 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 he had called on me, though I had gone to two of his parties, mounted in his hydroplane, and, at his urgent invitation, made frequent use of his beach.
‘Good morning, old sport. You’re having lunch with me today and I thought we’d ride up together.’
He was balancing himself on the dashboard of his car with that resourcefulness of movement that is so peculiarly American—that comes, I suppose, with the absence of lifting work in youth and, even more, with the formless grace of our nervous, sporadic games. This quality was continually breaking through his punctilious manner in the shape of restlessness. He was never quite still; there was always a tapping foot somewhere or the impatient opening and closing of a hand.
He saw me looking with admiration at his car.
‘It’s pretty, isn’t it, old sport?’ He 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 colour, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes 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 him perhaps half a dozen times in the past month and found, to my disappointment, that he had little to say. So my first impression, that he was a person of some undefined consequence, had gradually faded and he 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 his elegant sentences unfinished and slapping himself indecisively on the knee of his caramel-coloured suit.
‘Look here, old sport,’ he 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,’ he interrupted. ‘I don’t want you to get a wrong idea of me from all these stories you hear.’
So he was aware of the bizarre accusations that flavoured conversation in his halls.
‘I’ll tell you God’s truth.’ His right hand suddenly ordered divine retribution to stand by. ‘I am the son 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.’
He looked at me sideways—and I knew why Jordan Baker had believed he was lying. He hurried the phrase ‘educated at Oxford’, or swallowed it, or choked on it, as though it had bothered him before. And with this doubt, his whole statement fell to pieces, and I wondered if there wasn’t something a little sinister about him, after all.
‘What part of the Middle West?’ I inquired casually.
‘My family all died and I came into a good deal of money.’
His voice was solemn, as if the memory of that sudden extinction of a clan still haunted him. For a moment I suspected that he was pulling my leg, but a glance at him 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 the remains of my machine-gun battalion 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 men 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! He lifted up the words and nodded at them—with his 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.
He reached in his 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 man on my left is now the Earl of Doncaster.’
It was a photograph of half a dozen young men 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 his hand.
Then it was all true. I saw the skins of tigers flaming in his palace on the Grand Canal; I saw him opening a chest of rubies to ease, with their crimson-lighted depths, the gnawings of his broken heart.
‘I’m going to make a big request of you today,’ he said, pocketing his 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 things that happened to me.’ He hesitated. ‘You’ll hear about it this afternoon.’
‘No, this afternoon. I happened to find out that you’re taking Miss Baker to tea.’
‘Do you mean you’re in love with Miss Baker?’
‘No, old sport, I’m not. But Miss 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 Mr 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 his over-populated lawn.
He wouldn’t say another word. His correctness grew on him 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 Mrs 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 motorcycle, and a frantic policeman rode alongside.
‘All right, old sport,’ called Gatsby. We slowed down. Taking a white card from his wallet, he waved it before the man’s eyes.
‘Right you are,’ agreed the policeman, tipping his cap. ‘Know you next time, Mr Gatsby. Excuse me!’
‘What was that?’ I inquired. ‘The picture of Oxford?’
‘I was able to do the commissioner a favour once, and he 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 nonolfactory 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 man 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 sombre holiday. As we crossed Blackwell’s Island a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish negroes, two bucks and a girl. 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 him out obscurely in the anteroom, talking to another man.
‘Mr Carraway, this is my friend Mr Wolfshiem.’
A small, flat-nosed Jew raised his large head and regarded me with two fine growths of hair which luxuriated in either nostril. After a moment I discovered his tiny eyes in the half-darkness.
‘—So I took one look at him,’ said Mr Wolfshiem, shaking my hand earnestly, ‘and what do you think I did?’
‘What?’ I inquired politely.
But evidently he was not addressing me, for he dropped my hand and covered Gatsby with his expressive nose.
‘I handed the money to Katspaugh and I said: “All right, Katspaugh, don’t pay him a penny till he shuts his mouth.” He shut it then and there.’
Gatsby took an arm of each of us and moved forward into the restaurant, whereupon Mr Wolfshiem swallowed a new sentence he was starting and lapsed into a somnambulatory abstraction.
‘Highballs?’ asked the head waiter.
‘This is a nice restaurant here,’ said Mr Wolfshiem, looking at the presbyterian nymphs on the ceiling. ‘But I like across the street better!’
‘Yes, highballs,’ agreed Gatsby, and then to Mr Wolfshiem: ‘It’s too hot over there.’
‘Hot and small—yes,’ said Mr Wolfshiem, ‘but full of memories.’
‘What place is that?’ I asked.
‘The old Metropole.’
‘The old Metropole,’ brooded Mr 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 waiter came up to him with a funny look and says somebody wants to speak to him outside. “All right,” says Rosy, and begins to get up, and I pulled him down in his 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 he go?’ I asked innocently.
‘Sure he went.’ Mr Wolfshiem’s nose flashed at me indignantly. ‘He turned around in the door and says: “Don’t let that waiter take away my coffee!” Then he went out on the sidewalk, and they shot him three times in his full belly and drove away.’
‘Four of them were electrocuted,’ I said, remembering.
‘Five, with Becker.’ His 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,’ he exclaimed, ‘this isn’t the man.’
‘No?’ Mr Wolfshiem seemed disappointed.
‘This is just a friend. I told you we’d talk about that some other time.’
‘I beg your pardon,’ said Mr Wolfshiem, ‘I had a wrong man.’
A succulent hash arrived, and Mr Wolfshiem, forgetting the more sentimental atmosphere of the old Metropole, began to eat with ferocious delicacy. His eyes, meanwhile, roved very slowly all around the room—he completed the arc by turning to inspect the people directly behind. I think that, except for my presence, he 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 Miss Baker?’
‘Oh, it’s nothing underhand,’ he assured me. ‘Miss Baker’s a great sportswoman, you know, and she’d never do anything that wasn’t all right.’
Suddenly he looked at his watch, jumped up, and hurried from the room, leaving me with Mr Wolfshiem at the table.
‘He has to telephone,’ said Mr Wolfshiem, following him with his eyes. ‘Fine fellow, isn’t he? Handsome to look at and a perfect gentleman.’
‘He’s an Oggsford man.’
‘He 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,’ he answered in a gratified way. ‘I made the pleasure of his acquaintance just after the war. But I knew I had discovered a man of fine breeding after I talked with him an hour. I said to myself: “There’s the kind of man you’d like to take home and introduce to your mother and sister.” ’ He 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,’ he informed me.
‘Well!’ I inspected them. ‘That’s a very interesting idea.’
‘Yeah.’ He flipped his sleeves up under his coat. ‘Yeah, Gatsby’s very careful about women. He would never so much as look at a friend’s wife.’
When the subject of this instinctive trust returned to the table and sat down Mr Wolfshiem drank his coffee with a jerk and got to his feet.
‘I have enjoyed my lunch,’ he said, ‘and I’m going to run off from you two young men before I outstay my welcome.’
‘Don’t hurry Meyer,’ said Gatsby, without enthusiasm. Mr Wolfshiem raised his hand in a sort of benediction.
‘You’re very polite, but I belong to another generation,’ he announced solemnly. ‘You sit here and discuss your sports and your young ladies and your—’ He supplied an imaginary noun with another wave of his hand. ‘As for me, I am fifty years old, and I won’t impose myself on you any longer.’
As he shook hands and turned away his tragic nose was trembling. I wondered if I had said anything to offend him.
‘He becomes very sentimental sometimes,’ explained Gatsby. ‘This is one of his sentimental days. He’s quite a character around New York—a denizen of Broadway.’
‘Who is he, anyhow, an actor?’
‘Meyer Wolfshiem? No, he’s a gambler.’ Gatsby hesitated, then added, coolly: ‘He’s the man 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 man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people—with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.
‘How did he happen to do that?’ I asked after a minute.
‘He just saw the opportunity.’
‘Why isn’t he in jail?’
‘They can’t get him, old sport. He’s a smart man.’
I insisted on paying the check. As the waiter 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 he saw us Tom jumped up and took half a dozen steps in our direction.
‘Where’ve you been?’ he demanded eagerly. ‘Daisy’s furious because you haven’t called up.’
‘This is Mr Gatsby, Mr 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 Mr Gatsby.’
I turned toward Mr Gatsby, but he 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 knobs 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. She was just eighteen, two years older than me, and by far the most popular of all the young girls in Louisville. She dressed in white, and had a little white roadster, and all day long the telephone rang in her house and excited young officers from Camp Taylor demanded the privilege of monopolizing her that night. ‘Anyways, for an hour!’
When I came opposite her house that morning her white roadster was beside the kerb, and she was sitting in it with a lieutenant I had never seen before. They were so engrossed in each other that she didn’t see me until I was five feet away.
‘Hello, Jordan,’ she called unexpectedly. ‘Please come here.’
I was flattered that she wanted to speak to me, because of all the older girls I admired her most. She asked me if I was going to the Red Cross to make bandages. I was. Well, then, would I tell them that she couldn’t come that day? The officer looked at Daisy while she was speaking, in a way that every young girl wants to be looked at sometime, and because it seemed romantic to me I have remembered the incident ever since. His name was Jay Gatsby, and I didn’t lay eyes on him again for over four years—even after I’d met him on Long Island I didn’t realize it was the same man.
That was nineteen-seventeen. By the next year I had a few beaux myself, and I began to play in tournaments, so I didn’t see Daisy very often. She went with a slightly older crowd—when she went with anyone at all. Wild rumours were circulating about her—how her mother had found her packing her bag one winter night to go to New York and say good-bye to a soldier who was going overseas. She was effectually prevented, but she wasn’t on speaking terms with her family for several weeks. After that she didn’t play around with the soldiers any more, but only with a few flat-footed, short-sighted young men in town, who couldn’t get into the army at all.
By the next autumn she was gay again, gay as ever. She had a début after the armistice, and in February she was presumably engaged to a man from New Orleans. In June she married Tom Buchanan of Chicago, with more pomp and circumstance than Louisville ever knew before. He came down with a hundred people in four private cars, and hired a whole floor of the Muhlbach Hotel, and the day before the wedding he gave her a string of pearls valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
I was a bridesmaid. I came into her room half an hour before the bridal dinner, and found her lying on her bed as lovely as the June night in her flowered dress—and as drunk as a monkey. She had a bottle of Sauterne in one hand and a letter in the other.
‘ ’Gratulate me,’ she 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 girl like that before.
‘Here, deares’.’ She groped around in a waste-basket she had with her 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’ her mine. Say: “Daisy’s change’ her mine!” ’
She began to cry—she cried and cried. I rushed out and found her mother’s maid, and we locked the door and got her into a cold bath. She wouldn’t let go of the letter. She took it into the tub with her and squeezed it up in a wet ball, and only let me leave it in the soap-dish when she saw that it was coming to pieces like snow.
But she didn’t say another word. We gave her spirits of ammonia and put ice on her forehead and hooked her back into her dress, and half an hour later, when we walked out of the room, the pearls were around her neck and the incident was over. Next day at five o’clock she 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 girl so mad about her husband. If he left the room for a minute she’d look around uneasily, and say: ‘Where’s Tom gone?’ and wear the most abstracted expression until she saw him coming in the door. She used to sit on the sand with his head in her lap by the hour, rubbing her fingers over his eyes and looking at him 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 his car. The girl who was with him got into the papers, too, because her arm was broken—she was one of the chambermaids in the Santa Barbara Hotel.
The next April Daisy had her little girl, 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 she came out with an absolutely perfect reputation. Perhaps because she 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, she 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 she came into my room and woke me up, and said: ‘What Gatsby?’ and when I described him—I was half asleep—she said in the strangest voice that it must be the man she used to know. It wasn’t until then that I connected this Gatsby with the officer in her 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 children, 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 he had aspired on that June night. He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendour.
‘He wants to know,’ continued Jordan, ‘if you’ll invite Daisy to your house some afternoon and then let him come over.’
The modesty of the demand shook me. He had waited five years and bought a mansion where he dispensed starlight to casual moths—so that he could ‘come over’ some afternoon to a stranger’s garden.
‘Did I have to know all this before he could ask such a little thing?’
‘He’s afraid, he’s waited so long. He thought you might be offended. You see, he’s regular tough underneath it all.’
Something worried me.
‘Why didn’t he ask you to arrange a meeting?’
‘He wants her to see his house,’ she explained. ‘And your house is right next door.’
‘I think he half expected her to wander into one of his parties, some night,’ went on Jordan, ‘but she never did. Then he began asking people casually if they knew her, and I was the first one he found. It was that night he sent for me at his dance, and you should have heard the elaborate way he worked up to it. Of course, I immediately suggested a luncheon in New York—and I thought he’d go mad:
‘ “I don’t want to do anything out of the way!” he kept saying. “I want to see her right next door.”
‘When I said you were a particular friend of Tom’s, he started to abandon the whole idea. He doesn’t know very much about Tom, though he says he’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 her toward me and asked her to dinner. Suddenly I wasn’t thinking of Daisy and Gatsby any more, but of this clean, hard, limited person, who dealt in universal scepticism, 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 her life,’ murmured Jordan to me.
‘Does she want to see Gatsby?’
‘She’s not to know about it. Gatsby doesn’t want her to know. You’re just supposed to invite her to tea.’
We passed a barrier of dark trees, and then the façade of Fifty-ninth Street, a block of delicate pale light, beamed down into the park. Unlike Gatsby and Tom Buchanan, I had no girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs, and so I drew up the girl beside me, tightening my arms. Her wan, scornful mouth smiled, and so I drew her up again closer, this time to my face.