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 his lawn.
‘Your place looks like the World’s Fair,’ I said.
‘Does it?’ He turned his 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.’
He waited, looking at me with suppressed eagerness.
‘I talked with Miss Baker,’ I said after a moment. ‘I’m going to call up Daisy tomorrow and invite her over here to tea.’
‘Oh, that’s all right,’ he said carelessly. ‘I don’t want to put you to any trouble.’
‘What day would suit you?’
‘What day would suit you?’ he corrected me quickly. ‘I don’t want to put you to any trouble, you see.’
‘How about the day after tomorrow?’
He considered for a moment. Then, with reluctance: ‘I want to get the grass cut,’ he said.
We both looked down at the grass—there was a sharp line where my ragged lawn ended and the darker, well-kept expanse of his began. I suspected that he meant my grass.
‘There’s another little thing,’ he said uncertainly, and hesitated.
‘Would you rather put it off for a few days?’ I asked.
‘Oh, it isn’t about that. At least—’ He 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 him and he 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 side line, 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 he thought that I was shying away from the ‘gonnegtion’ mentioned at lunch, but I assured him he was wrong. He waited a moment longer, hoping I’d begin a conversation, but I was too absorbed to be responsive, so he 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 don’t know whether or not Gatsby went to Coney Island, or for how many hours he ‘glanced into rooms’ while his house blazed gaudily on. I called up Daisy from the office next morning, and invited her to come to tea.
‘Don’t bring Tom,’ I warned her.
‘Don’t bring Tom.’
‘Who is “Tom”?’ she asked innocently.
The day agreed upon was pouring rain. At eleven o’clock a man in a raincoat, dragging a lawn-mower, tapped at my front door and said that Mr Gatsby had sent him 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 her among soggy whitewashed 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-coloured tie, hurried in. He was pale, and there were dark signs of sleeplessness beneath his eyes.
‘Is everything all right?’ he asked immediately.
‘The grass looks fine, if that’s what you mean.’
‘What grass?’ he inquired blankly. ‘Oh, the grass in the yard.’ He looked out the window at it, but, judging from his expression, I don’t believe he saw a thing.
‘Looks very good,’ he 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 him into the pantry, where he 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 he 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 towards the bleared windows from time to time as if a series of invisible but alarming happenings were taking place outside. Finally he got up and informed me, in an uncertain voice, that he was going home.
‘Nobody’s coming to tea. It’s too late!’ He looked at his watch as if there was some pressing demand on his time elsewhere. ‘I can’t wait all day.’
‘Don’t be silly; it’s just two minutes to four.’
He sat down miserably, as if I had pushed him, 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 her 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 her cheek, and her hand was wet with glistening drops as I took it to help her from the car.
‘Are you in love with me,’ she 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: ‘His name is Ferdie.’
‘Does the gasoline affect his nose?’
‘I don’t think so,’ she said innocently. ‘Why?’
We went in. To my overwhelming surprise the living-room was deserted.
‘Well, that’s funny,’ I exclaimed.
She turned her head as there was a light dignified knocking at the front door. I went out and opened it. Gatsby, pale as death, with his hands plunged like weights in his coat pockets, was standing in a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes.
With his hands still in his coat pockets he stalked by me into the hall, turned sharply as if he 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, his hands still in his pockets, was reclining against the mantelpiece in a strained counterfeit of perfect ease, even of boredom. His head leaned back so far that it rested against the face of a defunct mantelpiece clock, and from this position his 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. His eyes glanced momentarily at me, and his lips parted with an abortive attempt at a laugh. Luckily the clock took this moment to tilt dangerously at the pressure of his head, whereupon he turned and caught it with trembling fingers, and set it back in place. Then he sat down, rigidly, his elbow on the arm of the sofa and his chin in his hand.
‘I’m sorry about the clock,’ he 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.