It was when curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest that the lights in his house failed to go on one Saturday night — and, as obscurely as it had begun, his career as Trimalchio was over. Only gradually did I become aware that the automobiles which turned expectantly into his drive stayed for just a minute and then drove sulkily away. Wondering if he were sick I went over to find out — an unfamiliar butler with a villainous face squinted at me suspiciously from the door.
“Is Mr. Gatsby sick?”
“Nope.” After a pause he added “sir” in a dilatory, grudging way.
“I hadn’t seen him around, and I was rather worried. Tell him Mr. Carraway came over.”
“Who?” he demanded rudely.
“Carraway. All right, I’ll tell him.” Abruptly he slammed the door.
My Finn informed me that Gatsby had dismissed every servant in his house a week ago and replaced them with half a dozen others, who never went into West Egg Village to be bribed by the tradesmen, but ordered moderate supplies over the telephone. The grocery boy reported that the kitchen looked like a pigsty, and the general opinion in the village was that the new people weren’t servants at all.
Next day Gatsby called me on the phone.
“Going away?” I inquired.
“No, old sport.”
“I hear you fired all your servants.”
“I wanted somebody who wouldn’t gossip. Daisy comes over quite often — in the afternoons.”
So the whole caravansary had fallen in like a card house at the disapproval in her eyes.
“They’re some people Wolfsheim wanted to do something for. They’re all brothers and sisters. They used to run a small hotel.”
He was calling up at Daisy’s request — would I come to lunch at her house to-morrow? Miss Baker would be there. Half an hour later Daisy herself telephoned and seemed relieved to find that I was coming. Something was up. And yet I couldn’t believe that they would choose this occasion for a scene — especially for the rather harrowing scene that Gatsby had outlined in the garden.
The next day was broiling, almost the last, certainly the warmest, of the summer. As my train emerged from the tunnel into sunlight, only the hot whistles of the National Biscuit Company broke the simmering hush at noon. The straw seats of the car hovered on the edge of combustion; the woman next to me perspired delicately for a while into her white shirtwaist, and then, as her newspaper dampened under her fingers, lapsed despairingly into deep heat with a desolate cry. Her pocket-book slapped to the floor.
“Oh, my!” she gasped.
I picked it up with a weary bend and handed it back to her, holding it at arm’s length and by the extreme tip of the corners to indicate that I had no designs upon it — but every one near by, including the woman, suspected me just the same.
“Hot!” said the conductor to familiar faces. “Some weather! hot! hot! hot! Is it hot enough for you? Is it hot? Is it.. .?”
My commutation ticket came back to me with a dark stain from his hand. That any one should care in this heat whose flushed lips he kissed, whose head made damp the pajama pocket over his heart!
. . . Through the hall of the Buchanans’ house blew a faint wind, carrying the sound of the telephone bell out to Gatsby and me as we waited at the door.
“The master’s body!” roared the butler into the mouthpiece. “I’m sorry, madame, but we can’t furnish it — it’s far too hot to touch this noon!”
What he really said was: “Yes . . . yes . . . I’ll see.”
He set down the receiver and came toward us, glistening slightly, to take our stiff straw hats.
“Madame expects you in the salon!” he cried, needlessly indicating the direction. In this heat every extra gesture was an affront to the common store of life.
The room, shadowed well with awnings, was dark and cool. Daisy and Jordan lay upon an enormous couch, like silver idols weighing down their own white dresses against the singing breeze of the fans.
“We can’t move,” they said together.
Jordan’s fingers, powdered white over their tan, rested for a moment in mine.
“And Mr. Thomas Buchanan, the athlete?” I inquired.
Simultaneously I heard his voice, gruff, muffled, husky, at the hall telephone.
Gatsby stood in the centre of the crimson carpet and gazed around with fascinated eyes. Daisy watched him and laughed, her sweet, exciting laugh; a tiny gust of powder rose from her bosom into the air.
“The rumor is,” whispered Jordan, “that that’s Tom’s girl on the telephone.”
We were silent. The voice in the hall rose high with annoyance: “Very well, then, I won’t sell you the car at all. . . . I’m under no obligations to you at all . . . and as for your bothering me about it at lunch time, I won’t stand that at all!”
“Holding down the receiver,” said Daisy cynically.
“No, he’s not,” I assured her. “It’s a bona-fide deal. I happen to know about it.”
Tom flung open the door, blocked out its space for a moment with his thick body, and hurried into the room.
“Mr. Gatsby!” He put out his broad, flat hand with well-concealed dislike. “I’m glad to see you, sir. . . . Nick . . . .”
“Make us a cold drink,” cried Daisy.
As he left the room again she got up and went over to Gatsby and pulled his face down, kissing him on the mouth.
“You know I love you,” she murmured.
“You forget there’s a lady present,” said Jordan.
Daisy looked around doubtfully.
“You kiss Nick too.”
“What a low, vulgar girl!”
“I don’t care!” cried Daisy, and began to clog on the brick fireplace. Then she remembered the heat and sat down guiltily on the couch just as a freshly laundered nurse leading a little girl came into the room.
“Bles-sed pre-cious,” she crooned, holding out her arms. “Come to your own mother that loves you.”
The child, relinquished by the nurse, rushed across the room and rooted shyly into her mother’s dress.
“The bles-sed pre-cious! Did mother get powder on your old yellowy hair? Stand up now, and say — How-de-do.”
Gatsby and I in turn leaned down and took the small, reluctant hand. Afterward he kept looking at the child with surprise. I don’t think he had ever really believed in its existence before.
“I got dressed before luncheon,” said the child, turning eagerly to Daisy.
“That’s because your mother wanted to show you off.” Her face bent into the single wrinkle of the small, white neck. “You dream, you. You absolute little dream.”
“Yes,” admitted the child calmly. “Aunt Jordan’s got on a white dress too.”
“How do you like mother’s friends?” Daisy turned her around so that she faced Gatsby. “Do you think they’re pretty?”
“She doesn’t look like her father,” explained Daisy. “She looks like me. She’s got my hair and shape of the face.”
Daisy sat back upon the couch. The nurse took a step forward and held out her hand.
With a reluctant backward glance the well-disciplined child held to her nurse’s hand and was pulled out the door, just as Tom came back, preceding four gin rickeys that clicked full of ice.
Gatsby took up his drink.
“They certainly look cool,” he said, with visible tension.
We drank in long, greedy swallows.
“I read somewhere that the sun’s getting hotter every year,” said Tom genially. “It seems that pretty soon the earth’s going to fall into the sun — or wait a minute — it’s just the opposite — the sun’s getting colder every year.
“Come outside,” he suggested to Gatsby, “I’d like you to have a look at the place.”
I went with them out to the veranda. On the green Sound, stagnant in the heat, one small sail crawled slowly toward the fresher sea. Gatsby’s eyes followed it momentarily; he raised his hand and pointed across the bay.
“I’m right across from you.”
“So you are.”
Our eyes lifted over the rose-beds and the hot lawn and the weedy refuse of the dog-days along-shore. Slowly the white wings of the boat moved against the blue cool limit of the sky. Ahead lay the scalloped ocean and the abounding blessed isles.
“There’s sport for you,” said Tom, nodding. “I’d like to be out there with him for about an hour.”
We had luncheon in the dining-room, darkened too against the heat, and drank down nervous gayety with the cold ale.
“What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon?” cried Daisy, “and the day after that, and the next thirty years?”
“Don’t be morbid,” Jordan said. “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”
“But it’s so hot,” insisted Daisy, on the verge of tears, “and everything’s so confused. Let’s all go to town!”
Her voice struggled on through the heat, beating against it, molding its senselessness into forms.
“I’ve heard of making a garage out of a stable,” Tom was saying to Gatsby, “but I’m the first man who ever made a stable out of a garage.”
“Who wants to go to town?” demanded Daisy insistently. Gatsby’s eyes floated toward her. “Ah,” she cried, “you look so cool.”
Their eyes met, and they stared together at each other, alone in space. With an effort she glanced down at the table.
“You always look so cool,” she repeated.
She had told him that she loved him, and Tom Buchanan saw. He was astounded. His mouth opened a little, and he looked at Gatsby, and then back at Daisy as if he had just recognized her as some one he knew a long time ago.
“You resemble the advertisement of the man,” she went on innocently. “You know the advertisement of the man ——”
“All right,” broke in Tom quickly, “I’m perfectly willing to go to town. Come on — we’re all going to town.”
He got up, his eyes still flashing between Gatsby and his wife. No one moved.
“Come on!” His temper cracked a little. “What’s the matter, anyhow? If we’re going to town, let’s start.”
His hand, trembling with his effort at self-control, bore to his lips the last of his glass of ale. Daisy’s voice got us to our feet and out on to the blazing gravel drive.
“Are we just going to go?” she objected. “Like this? Aren’t we going to let any one smoke a cigarette first?”
“Everybody smoked all through lunch.”
“Oh, let’s have fun,” she begged him. “It’s too hot to fuss.” He didn’t answer.
“Have it your own way,” she said. “Come on, Jordan.”
They went up-stairs to get ready while we three men stood there shuffling the hot pebbles with our feet. A silver curve of the moon hovered already in the western sky. Gatsby started to speak, changed his mind, but not before Tom wheeled and faced him expectantly.
“Have you got your stables here?” asked Gatsby with an effort.
“About a quarter of a mile down the road.”
“I don’t see the idea of going to town,” broke out Tom savagely. “Women get these notions in their heads ——”
“Shall we take anything to drink?” called Daisy from an upper window.
“I’ll get some whiskey,” answered Tom. He went inside.
Gatsby turned to me rigidly:
“I can’t say anything in his house, old sport.”
“She’s got an indiscreet voice,” I remarked. “It’s full of ——” I hesitated.
“Her voice is full of money,” he said suddenly.
That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money — that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it. . . . high in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl. . . .
Tom came out of the house wrapping a quart bottle in a towel, followed by Daisy and Jordan wearing small tight hats of metallic cloth and carrying light capes over their arms.
“Shall we all go in my car?” suggested Gatsby. He felt the hot, green leather of the seat. “I ought to have left it in the shade.”
“Is it standard shift?” demanded Tom.
“Well, you take my coupe and let me drive your car to town.”
The suggestion was distasteful to Gatsby.
“I don’t think there’s much gas,” he objected.
“Plenty of gas,” said Tom boisterously. He looked at the gauge. “And if it runs out I can stop at a drug-store. You can buy anything at a drug-store nowadays.”
A pause followed this apparently pointless remark. Daisy looked at Tom frowning, and an indefinable expression, at once definitely unfamiliar and vaguely recognizable, as if I had only heard it described in words, passed over Gatsby’s face.
“Come on, Daisy,” said Tom, pressing her with his hand toward Gatsby’s car. “I’ll take you in this circus wagon.”
He opened the door, but she moved out from the circle of his arm.
“You take Nick and Jordan. We’ll follow you in the coupe.”
She walked close to Gatsby, touching his coat with her hand. Jordan and Tom and I got into the front seat of Gatsby’s car, Tom pushed the unfamiliar gears tentatively, and we shot off into the oppressive heat, leaving them out of sight behind.
“Did you see that?” demanded Tom.
He looked at me keenly, realizing that Jordan and I must have known all along.
“You think I’m pretty dumb, don’t you?” he suggested. “Perhaps I am, but I have a — almost a second sight, sometimes, that tells me what to do. Maybe you don’t believe that, but science ——”
He paused. The immediate contingency overtook him, pulled him back from the edge of the theoretical abyss.
“I’ve made a small investigation of this fellow,” he continued. “I could have gone deeper if I’d known ——”
“Do you mean you’ve been to a medium?” inquired Jordan humorously.
“What?” Confused, he stared at us as we laughed. “A medium?”
“About Gatsby! No, I haven’t. I said I’d been making a small investigation of his past.”
“And you found he was an Oxford man,” said Jordan helpfully.
“An Oxford man!” He was incredulous. “Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit.”
“Nevertheless he’s an Oxford man.”
“Oxford, New Mexico,” snorted Tom contemptuously, “or something like that.”
“Listen, Tom. If you’re such a snob, why did you invite him to lunch?” demanded Jordan crossly.
“Daisy invited him; she knew him before we were married — God knows where!”
We were all irritable now with the fading ale, and aware of it we drove for a while in silence. Then as Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s faded eyes came into sight down the road, I remembered Gatsby’s caution about gasoline.
“We’ve got enough to get us to town,” said Tom.
“But there’s a garage right here,” objected Jordan. “I don’t want to get stalled in this baking heat.” Tom threw on both brakes impatiently, and we slid to an abrupt dusty stop under Wilson’s sign. After a moment the proprietor emerged from the interior of his establishment and gazed hollow-eyed at the car.
“Let’s have some gas!” cried Tom roughly. “What do you think we stopped for — to admire the view?”
“I’m sick,” said Wilson without moving. “Been sick all day.”
“What’s the matter?”
“I’m all run down.”
“Well, shall I help myself?” Tom demanded. “You sounded well enough on the phone.”
With an effort Wilson left the shade and support of the doorway and, breathing hard, unscrewed the cap of the tank. In the sunlight his face was green.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt your lunch,” he said. “But I need money pretty bad, and I was wondering what you were going to do with your old car.”
“How do you like this one?” inquired Tom. “I bought it last week.”
“It’s a nice yellow one,” said Wilson, as he strained at the handle.
“Like to buy it?”
“Big chance,” Wilson smiled faintly. “No, but I could make some money on the other.”
“What do you want money for, all of a sudden?”
“I’ve been here too long. I want to get away. My wife and I want to go West.”
“Your wife does,” exclaimed Tom, startled.
“She’s been talking about it for ten years.” He rested for a moment against the pump, shading his eyes. “And now she’s going whether she wants to or not. I’m going to get her away.”
The coupe flashed by us with a flurry of dust and the flash of a waving hand.
“What do I owe you?” demanded Tom harshly.
“I just got wised up to something funny the last two days,” remarked Wilson. “That’s why I want to get away. That’s why I been bothering you about the car.”
“What do I owe you?”
The relentless beating heat was beginning to confuse me and I had a bad moment there before I realized that so far his suspicions hadn’t alighted on Tom. He had discovered that Myrtle had some sort of life apart from him in another world, and the shock had made him physically sick. I stared at him and then at Tom, who had made a parallel discovery less than an hour before — and it occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well. Wilson was so sick that he looked guilty, unforgivably guilty — as if he had just got some poor girl with child.
“I’ll let you have that car,” said Tom. “I’ll send it over to-morrow afternoon.”
That locality was always vaguely disquieting, even in the broad glare of afternoon, and now I turned my head as though I had been warned of something behind. Over the ashheaps the giant eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg kept their vigil, but I perceived, after a moment, that other eyes were regarding us with peculiar intensity from less than twenty feet away.
In one of the windows over the garage the curtains had been moved aside a little, and Myrtle Wilson was peering down at the car. So engrossed was she that she had no consciousness of being observed, and one emotion after another crept into her face like objects into a slowly developing picture. Her expression was curiously familiar — it was an expression I had often seen on women’s faces, but on Myrtle Wilson’s face it seemed purposeless and inexplicable until I realized that her eyes, wide with jealous terror, were fixed not on Tom, but on Jordan Baker, whom she took to be his wife.
There is no confusion like the confusion of a simple mind, and as we drove away Tom was feeling the hot whips of panic. His wife and his mistress, until an hour ago secure and inviolate, were slipping precipitately from his control. Instinct made him step on the accelerator with the double purpose of overtaking Daisy and leaving Wilson behind, and we sped along toward Astoria at fifty miles an hour, until, among the spidery girders of the elevated, we came in sight of the easy-going blue coupe.
“Those big movies around Fiftieth Street are cool,” suggested Jordan. “I love New York on summer afternoons when every one’s away. There’s something very sensuous about it — overripe, as if all sorts of funny fruits were going to fall into your hands.”
The word “sensuous” had the effect of further disquieting Tom, but before he could invent a protest the coupe came to a stop, and Daisy signaled us to draw up alongside.
“Where are we going?” she cried.
“How about the movies?”
“It’s so hot,” she complained. “You go. We’ll ride around and meet you after.” With an effort her wit rose faintly, “We’ll meet you on some corner. I’ll be the man smoking two cigarettes.”
“We can’t argue about it here,” Tom said impatiently, as a truck gave out a cursing whistle behind us. “You follow me to the south side of Central Park, in front of the Plaza.”
Several times he turned his head and looked back for their car, and if the traffic delayed them he slowed up until they came into sight. I think he was afraid they would dart down a side street and out of his life forever.
But they didn’t. And we all took the less explicable step of engaging the parlor of a suite in the Plaza Hotel.
The prolonged and tumultuous argument that ended by herding us into that room eludes me, though I have a sharp physical memory that, in the course of it, my underwear kept climbing like a damp snake around my legs and intermittent beads of sweat raced cool across my back. The notion originated with Daisy’s suggestion that we hire five bath-rooms and take cold baths, and then assumed more tangible form as “a place to have a mint julep.” Each of us said over and over that it was a “crazy idea.”— we all talked at once to a baffled clerk and thought, or pretended to think, that we were being very funny.. ..
The room was large and stifling, and, though it was already four o’clock, opening the windows admitted Only a gust of hot shrubbery from the Park. Daisy went to the mirror and stood with her back to us, fixing her hair.
“It’s a swell suite,” whispered Jordan respectfully, and every one laughed.
“Open another window,” commanded Daisy, without turning around.
“There aren’t any more.”
“Well, we’d better telephone for an axe ——”
“The thing to do is to forget about the heat,” said Tom impatiently. “You make it ten times worse by crabbing about it.”
He unrolled the bottle of whiskey from the towel and put it on the table.
“Why not let her alone, old sport?” remarked Gatsby. “You’re the one that wanted to come to town.”
There was a moment of silence. The telephone book slipped from its nail and splashed to the floor, whereupon Jordan whispered, “Excuse me.”— but this time no one laughed.