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 peninsulawas blazing with light which fell unreal on the shrubbery and made thinelongating glints upon the roadside wires. Turning a corner I saw that itwas Gatsby's house, lit from tower to cellar.
At first I thought it was another party, a wild rout that had resolveditself into "hide-and-go-seek" or "sardines-in-the-box" with all thehouse thrown open to the game. But there wasn't a sound. Only wind inthe trees which blew the wires and made the lights go off and on againas if the house had winked into the darkness. As my taxi groaned away Isaw 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 glancinginto 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 useof 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 upDaisy tomorrow and invite her over here to tea."
"Oh, that's all right," he said carelessly. "I don't want to put you toany trouble."
"What day would suit you?"
"What day would suit YOU?" he corrected me quickly. "I don't want to putyou 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 at the grass--there was a sharp line where my ragged lawnended and the darker, well-kept expanse of his began. I suspected thathe 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 ofbeginnings. "Why, I thought--why, look here, old sport, you don't makemuch 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 alittle business on the side, a sort of sideline, you understand. And Ithought that if you don't make very much--You're selling bonds, aren'tyou, old sport?"
"Well, this would interest you. It wouldn't take up much of yourtime and you might pick up a nice bit of money. It happens to bea rather confidential sort of thing."
I realize now that under different circumstances that conversation mighthave been one of the crises of my life. But, because the offer wasobviously and tactlessly for a service to be rendered, I had no choiceexcept to cut him off there.
"I've got my hands full," I said. "I'm much obliged but I couldn't takeon any more work."
"You wouldn't have to do any business with Wolfshiem." Evidently hethought 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'dbegin a conversation, but I was too absorbed to be responsive, so he wentunwillingly home.
The evening had made me light-headed and happy; I think I walked into adeep sleep as I entered my front door. So I didn't know whether or notGatsby went to Coney Island or for how many hours he "glanced intorooms" while his house blazed gaudily on. I called up Daisy from theoffice 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 araincoat dragging a lawn-mower tapped at my front door and said thatMr. Gatsby had sent him over to cut my grass. This reminded me that Ihad forgotten to tell my Finn to come back so I drove into West EggVillage to search for her among soggy white-washed alleys and to buysome cups and lemons and flowers.
The flowers were unnecessary, for at two o'clock a greenhouse arrivedfrom Gatsby's, with innumerable receptacles to contain it. An hourlater the front door opened nervously, and Gatsby in a white flannelsuit, silver shirt and gold-colored tie hurried in. He was pale andthere 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 lookedout the window at it, but judging from his expression I don't believehe saw a thing.
"Looks very good," he remarked vaguely. "One of the papers said theythought the rain would stop about four. I think it was 'The Journal.' Haveyou got everything you need in the shape of--of tea?"
I took him into the pantry where he looked a little reproachfully at theFinn. Together we scrutinized the twelve lemon cakes from the delicatessenshop.
"Will they do?" I asked.
"Of course, of course! They're fine!" and he added hollowly, ". . .oldsport."
The rain cooled about half-past three to a damp mist through whichoccasional thin drops swam like dew. Gatsby looked with vacant eyesthrough a copy of Clay's "Economics," starting at the Finnish tread thatshook the kitchen floor and peering toward the bleared windows from timeto time as if a series of invisible but alarming happenings were takingplace outside. Finally he got up and informed me in an uncertain voicethat he was going home.
"Nobody's coming to tea. It's too late!" He looked at his watch as ifthere was some pressing demand on his time elsewhere. "I can't waitall day."
"Don't be silly; it's just two minutes to four."
He sat down, miserably, as if I had pushed him, and simultaneously therewas 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 thedrive. It stopped. Daisy's face, tipped sideways beneath athree-cornered lavender hat, looked out at me with a bright ecstaticsmile.
"Is this absolutely where you live, my dearest one?"
The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain. I hadto follow the sound of it for a moment, up and down, with my ear alonebefore any words came through. A damp streak of hair lay like a dash ofblue paint across her cheek and her hand was wet with glistening drops asI took it to help her from the car.
"Are you in love with me," she said low in my ear. "Or why did I haveto come alone?"
"That's the secret of Castle Rackrent. Tell your chauffeur to go faraway and spend an hour."
"Come back in an hour, Ferdie." Then in a grave murmur, "His name isFerdie."
"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 frontdoor. I went out and opened it. Gatsby, pale as death, with his handsplunged like weights in his coat pockets, was standing in a puddle ofwater glaring tragically into my eyes.
With his hands still in his coat pockets he stalked by me into thehall, turned sharply as if he were on a wire and disappeared into theliving room. It wasn't a bit funny. Aware of the loud beating of my ownheart I pulled the door to against the increasing rain.
For half a minute there wasn't a sound. Then from the living room Iheard a sort of choking murmur and part of a laugh followed by Daisy'svoice 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 wentinto the room.
Gatsby, his hands still in his pockets, was reclining against themantelpiece in a strained counterfeit of perfect ease, even of boredom.His head leaned back so far that it rested against the face of adefunct mantelpiece clock and from this position his distraught eyesstared down at Daisy who was sitting frightened but graceful on theedge of a stiff chair.
"We've met before," muttered Gatsby. His eyes glanced momentarily atme and his lips parted with an abortive attempt at a laugh. Luckilythe clock took this moment to tilt dangerously at the pressure of hishead, whereupon he turned and caught it with trembling fingers and setit back in place. Then he sat down, rigidly, his elbow on the arm of thesofa 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 upa 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 onthe floor.
"We haven't met for many years," said Daisy, her voice as matter-of-factas it could ever be.
"Five years next November."
The automatic quality of Gatsby's answer set us all back at least anotherminute. I had them both on their feet with the desperate suggestion thatthey help me make tea in the kitchen when the demoniac Finn brought it inon a tray.
Amid the welcome confusion of cups and cakes a certain physical decencyestablished itself. Gatsby got himself into a shadow and while Daisyand I talked looked conscientiously from one to the other of us withtense unhappy eyes. However, as calmness wasn't an end in itself Imade 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."
He 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," he said, shaking his head from side toside, "a terrible, terrible mistake."
"You're just embarrassed, that's all," and luckily I added: "Daisy'sembarrassed too."
"She's embarrassed?" he repeated incredulously.
"Just as much as you are."
"Don't talk so loud."
"You're acting like a little boy," I broke out impatiently. "Not onlythat but you're rude. Daisy's sitting in there all alone."
He raised his hand to stop my words, looked at me with unforgettablereproach and opening the door cautiously went back into the other room.
I walked out the back way--just as Gatsby had when he had made hisnervous circuit of the house half an hour before--and ran for a hugeblack knotted tree whose massed leaves made a fabric against the rain.Once more it was pouring and my irregular lawn, well-shaved byGatsby's gardener, abounded in small muddy swamps and prehistoricmarshes. There was nothing to look at from under the tree exceptGatsby's enormous house, so I stared at it, like Kant at his churchsteeple, for half an hour. A brewer had built it early in the "period"craze, a decade before, and there was a story that he'd agreed to payfive years' taxes on all the neighboring cottages if the owners wouldhave their roofs thatched with straw. Perhaps their refusal took theheart out of his plan to Found a Family--he went into an immediatedecline. His children sold his house with the black wreath still on thedoor. Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have alwaysbeen obstinate about being peasantry.
After half an hour the sun shone again and the grocer's automobilerounded Gatsby's drive with the raw material for his servants' dinner--Ifelt sure he wouldn't eat a spoonful. A maid began opening the upperwindows of his house, appeared momentarily in each, and, leaning from alarge central bay, spat meditatively into the garden. It was time Iwent back. While the rain continued it had seemed like the murmur oftheir voices, rising and swelling a little, now and then, with gusts ofemotion. But in the new silence I felt that silence had fallen withinthe house too.
I went in--after making every possible noise in the kitchen short ofpushing over the stove--but I don't believe they heard a sound. Theywere sitting at either end of the couch looking at each other as ifsome question had been asked or was in the air, and every vestige ofembarrassment was gone. Daisy's face was smeared with tears and when Icame in she jumped up and began wiping at it with her handkerchief beforea mirror. But there was a change in Gatsby that was simply confounding.He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a newwell-being radiated from him and filled the little room.
"Oh, hello, old sport," he said, as if he hadn't seen me for years. Ithought for a moment he was going to shake hands.
"It's stopped raining."
"Has it?" When he realized what I was talking about, that there weretwinkle-bells of sunshine in the room, he smiled like a weather man,like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light, and repeated the news toDaisy. "What do you think of that? It's stopped raining."
"I'm glad, Jay." Her throat, full of aching, grieving beauty, told onlyof her unexpected joy.
"I want you and Daisy to come over to my house," he said, "I'd like toshow her around."
"You're sure you want me to come?"
"Absolutely, old sport."
Daisy went upstairs to wash her face--too late I thought with humiliationof my towels--while Gatsby and I waited on the lawn.
"My house looks well, doesn't it?" he demanded. "See how the wholefront of it catches the light."
I agreed that it was splendid.
"Yes." His eyes went over it, every arched door and square tower. "It tookme just three years to earn the money that bought it."
"I thought you inherited your money."
"I did, old sport," he said automatically, "but I lost most of it inthe big panic--the panic of the war."
I think he hardly knew what he was saying, for when I asked him whatbusiness he was in he answered "That's my affair," before he realizedthat it wasn't the appropriate reply.
"Oh, I've been in several things," he corrected himself. "I was in thedrug business and then I was in the oil business. But I'm not in eitherone now." He looked at me with more attention. "Do you mean you've beenthinking over what I proposed the other night?"
Before I could answer, Daisy came out of the house and two rows of brassbuttons on her dress gleamed in the sunlight.
"That huge place THERE?" she 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 whodo interesting things. Celebrated people."
Instead of taking the short cut along the Sound we went down the road andentered by the big postern. With enchanting murmurs Daisy admired thisaspect or that of the feudal silhouette against the sky, admired thegardens, the sparkling odor of jonquils and the frothy odor of hawthornand 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 brightdresses in and out the door, and hear no sound but bird voices in thetrees.
And inside as we wandered through Marie Antoinette music rooms andRestoration salons I felt that there were guests concealed behindevery couch and table, under orders to be breathlessly silent until wehad passed through. As Gatsby closed the door of "the Merton CollegeLibrary" I could have sworn I heard the owl-eyed man break intoghostly laughter.
We went upstairs, through period bedrooms swathed in rose and lavendersilk and vivid with new flowers, through dressing rooms and poolrooms,and bathrooms with sunken baths--intruding into one chamber where adishevelled man in pajamas was doing liver exercises on the floor. Itwas Mr. Klipspringer, the "boarder." I had seen him wandering hungrilyabout 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 aglass of some Chartreuse he took from a cupboard in the wall.
He hadn't once ceased looking at Daisy and I think he revaluedeverything in his house according to the measure of response it drewfrom her well-loved eyes. Sometimes, too, he stared around at hispossessions in a dazed way as though in her actual and astoundingpresence none of it was any longer real. Once he nearly toppled down aflight of stairs.
His bedroom was the simplest room of all--except where the dresser wasgarnished with a toilet set of pure dull gold. Daisy took the brushwith delight and smoothed her hair, whereupon Gatsby sat down andshaded his eyes and began to laugh.
"It's the funniest thing, old sport," he said hilariously. "I can't--whenI try to----"
He had passed visibly through two states and was entering upon a third.After his embarrassment and his unreasoning joy he was consumed withwonder at her presence. He had been full of the idea so long, dreamed itright through to the end, waited with his teeth set, so to speak, at aninconceivable pitch of intensity. Now, in the reaction, he was runningdown like an overwound clock.
Recovering himself in a minute he opened for us two hulking patentcabinets which held his massed suits and dressing-gowns and ties, andhis shirts, piled like bricks in stacks a dozen high.
"I've got a man in England who buys me clothes. He sends over a selectionof things at the beginning of each season, spring and fall."
He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by onebefore us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannelwhich lost their folds as they fell and covered the table inmany-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the softrich heap mounted higher--shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids incoral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange with monograms ofIndian blue. Suddenly with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head intothe shirts and began to cry stormily.
"They're such beautiful shirts," she sobbed, her voice muffled in thethick folds. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such--such beautifulshirts before."
After the house, we were to see the grounds and the swimming pool, and thehydroplane and the midsummer flowers--but outside Gatsby's window itbegan to rain again so we stood in a row looking at the corrugatedsurface of the Sound.
"If it wasn't for the mist we could see your home across the bay," saidGatsby. "You always have a green light that burns all night at the end ofyour dock."
Daisy put her arm through his abruptly but he seemed absorbedin what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that thecolossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Comparedto the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemedvery near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a starto the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count ofenchanted objects had diminished by one.
I began to walk about the room, examining various indefinite objects inthe half darkness. A large photograph of an elderly man in yachtingcostume attracted me, hung on the wall over his desk.
"That? That's Mr. Dan Cody, old sport."
The name sounded faintly familiar.
"He's dead now. He used to be my best friend years ago."
There was a small picture of Gatsby, also in yachting costume, on thebureau--Gatsby with his head thrown back defiantly--taken apparentlywhen he was about eighteen.
"I adore it!" exclaimed Daisy. "The pompadour! You never told me you hada pompadour--or a yacht."
"Look at this," said Gatsby quickly. "Here's a lot of clippings--aboutyou."
They stood side by side examining it. I was going to ask to see the rubieswhen the phone rang and Gatsby took up the receiver.
"Yes. . . . Well, I can't talk now. . . . I can't talk now, oldsport. . . . I said a SMALL town. . . . He must know what a small townis. . . . Well, he's no use to us if Detroit is his idea of a smalltown. . . ."
He 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," she whispered, and then after a moment: "I'd like tojust get one of those pink clouds and put you in it and push youaround."
I tried to go then, but they wouldn't hear of it; perhaps my presencemade them feel more satisfactorily alone.
"I know what we'll do," said Gatsby, "we'll have Klipspringer play thepiano."
He went out of the room calling "Ewing!" and returned in a fewminutes accompanied by an embarrassed, slightly worn young man withshell-rimmed glasses and scanty blonde hair. He was now decently clothedin a "sport shirt" open at the neck, sneakers and duck trousers of anebulous hue.
"Did we interrupt your exercises?" inquired Daisy politely.
"I was asleep," cried Mr. Klipspringer, in a spasm of embarrassment."That is, I'd BEEN asleep. Then I got up. . . ."
"Klipspringer plays the piano," said Gatsby, cutting him off. "Don't you,Ewing, old sport?"
"I don't play well. I don't--I hardly play at all. I'm all out ofprac----"
"We'll go downstairs," interrupted Gatsby. He flipped a switch. Thegrey windows disappeared as the house glowed full of light.
In the music room Gatsby turned on a solitary lamp beside the piano. Helit Daisy's cigarette from a trembling match, and sat down with her ona couch far across the room where there was no light save what thegleaming floor bounced in from the hall.
When Klipspringer had played "The Love Nest" he turned around on thebench 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 allout 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 theSound. All the lights were going on in West Egg now; the electric trains,men-carrying, were plunging home through the rain from New York. It wasthe hour of a profound human change, and excitement was generating onthe 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 bewildermenthad come back into Gatsby's face, as though a faint doubt had occurred tohim as to the quality of his present happiness. Almost fiveyears! There must have been moments even that afternoon whenDaisy tumbled short of his dreams--not through her own fault butbecause of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyondher, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creativepassion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every brightfeather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness canchallenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.
As I watched him he adjusted himself a little, visibly. His hand tookhold of hers and as she said something low in his ear he turned towardher with a rush of emotion. I think that voice held him most with itsfluctuating, feverish warmth because it couldn't be over-dreamed--thatvoice was a deathless song.
They had forgotten me, but Daisy glanced up and held out her hand;Gatsby didn't know me now at all. I looked once more at them and theylooked back at me, remotely, possessed by intense life. Then I went outof the room and down the marble steps into the rain, leaving them theretogether.