crossref-it.info texts.crossref-it.info connect.crossref-it.info

The Great Gatsby » Chapter 5

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."

"All right."

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 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 sideline, you understand. And I
thought that if you don't make very much--You're selling bonds, aren't
you, old sport?"

"Trying to."

"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 didn'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.

"What?"

"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 white-washed 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-colored 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 toward 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.

"Why's that?"

"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.

"What's funny?"

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.

I think we all believed for a moment that it had smashed in pieces on
the floor.

"We haven't met for many years," said Daisy, her voice as matter-of-fact
as it could ever be.

"Five years next November."

The automatic quality of Gatsby's answer set us all back at least another
minute. I had them both on their feet with the desperate suggestion that
they help me make tea in the kitchen when the demoniac Finn brought it in
on a tray.

Amid the welcome confusion of cups and cakes a certain physical decency
established itself. Gatsby got himself into a shadow and while Daisy
and I talked looked conscientiously from one to the other of us with
tense unhappy eyes. However, as calmness wasn't an end in itself I
made 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 to
side, "a terrible, terrible mistake."

"You're just embarrassed, that's all," and luckily I added: "Daisy's
embarrassed 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 only
that but you're rude. Daisy's sitting in there all alone."


He raised his hand to stop my words, looked at me with unforgettable
reproach 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 his
nervous circuit of the house half an hour before--and ran for a huge
black knotted tree whose massed leaves made a fabric against the rain.
Once more it was pouring and my irregular lawn, well-shaved by
Gatsby's gardener, abounded in small muddy swamps and prehistoric
marshes. There was nothing to look at from under the tree except
Gatsby's enormous house, so I stared at it, like Kant at his church
steeple, 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 pay
five years' taxes on all the neighboring cottages if the owners would
have their roofs thatched with straw. Perhaps their refusal took the
heart out of his plan to Found a Family--he went into an immediate
decline. His children sold his house with the black wreath still on the
door. Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always
been obstinate about being peasantry.

After half an hour the sun shone again and the grocer's automobile
rounded Gatsby's drive with the raw material for his servants' dinner--I
felt sure he wouldn't eat a spoonful. A maid began opening the upper
windows of his house, appeared momentarily in each, and, leaning from a
large central bay, spat meditatively into the garden. It was time I
went back. While the rain continued it had seemed like the murmur of
their voices, rising and swelling a little, now and then, with gusts of
emotion. But in the new silence I felt that silence had fallen within
the house too.

I went in--after making every possible noise in the kitchen short of
pushing over the stove--but I don't believe they heard a sound. They
were sitting at either end of the couch looking at each other as if
some question had been asked or was in the air, and every vestige of
embarrassment was gone. Daisy's face was smeared with tears and when I
came in she jumped up and began wiping at it with her handkerchief before
a mirror. But there was a change in Gatsby that was simply confounding.
He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new
well-being radiated from him and filled the little room.

"Oh, hello, old sport," he said, as if he hadn't seen me for years. I
thought 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 were
twinkle-bells of sunshine in the room, he smiled like a weather man,
like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light, and repeated the news to
Daisy. "What do you think of that? It's stopped raining."

"I'm glad, Jay." Her throat, full of aching, grieving beauty, told only
of her unexpected joy.

"I want you and Daisy to come over to my house," he said, "I'd like to
show 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 humiliation
of my towels--while Gatsby and I waited on the lawn.

"My house looks well, doesn't it?" he demanded. "See how the whole
front of it catches the light."

I agreed that it was splendid.

"Yes." His eyes went over it, every arched door and square tower. "It took
me 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 in
the big panic--the panic of the war."

I think he hardly knew what he was saying, for when I asked him what
business he was in he answered "That's my affair," before he realized
that it wasn't the appropriate reply.

"Oh, I've been in several things," he corrected himself. "I was in the
drug business and then I was in the oil business. But I'm not in either
one now." He looked at me with more attention. "Do you mean you've been
thinking over what I proposed the other night?"

Before I could answer, Daisy came out of the house and two rows of brass
buttons 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 who
do interesting things. Celebrated people."

Instead of taking the short cut along the Sound we went down the road and
entered by the big postern. With enchanting murmurs Daisy admired this
aspect or that of the feudal silhouette against the sky, admired the
gardens, the sparkling odor of jonquils and the frothy odor of hawthorn
and 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 bright
dresses in and out the door, and hear no sound but bird voices in the
trees.

And inside as we wandered through Marie Antoinette music rooms and
Restoration salons I felt that there were guests concealed behind
every couch and table, under orders to be breathlessly silent until we
had passed through. As Gatsby closed the door of "the Merton College
Library" I could have sworn I heard the owl-eyed man break into
ghostly laughter.

We went upstairs, through period bedrooms swathed in rose and lavender
silk and vivid with new flowers, through dressing rooms and poolrooms,
and bathrooms with sunken baths--intruding into one chamber where a
dishevelled man in pajamas was doing liver exercises on the floor. It
was Mr. Klipspringer, the "boarder." I had seen him wandering hungrily
about 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 a
glass of some Chartreuse he took from a cupboard in the wall.

He hadn't once ceased looking at Daisy and I think he revalued
everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew
from her well-loved eyes. Sometimes, too, he stared around at his
possessions in a dazed way as though in her actual and astounding
presence none of it was any longer real. Once he nearly toppled down a
flight of stairs.

His bedroom was the simplest room of all--except where the dresser was
garnished with a toilet set of pure dull gold. Daisy took the brush
with delight and smoothed her hair, whereupon Gatsby sat down and
shaded his eyes and began to laugh.

"It's the funniest thing, old sport," he said hilariously. "I can't--when
I 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 with
wonder at her presence. He had been full of the idea so long, dreamed it
right through to the end, waited with his teeth set, so to speak, at an
inconceivable pitch of intensity. Now, in the reaction, he was running
down like an overwound clock.

Recovering himself in a minute he opened for us two hulking patent
cabinets which held his massed suits and dressing-gowns and ties, and
his shirts, piled like bricks in stacks a dozen high.

"I've got a man in England who buys me clothes. He sends over a selection
of things at the beginning of each season, spring and fall."

He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one
before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel
which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in
many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft
rich heap mounted higher--shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in
coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange with monograms of
Indian blue. Suddenly with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into
the shirts and began to cry stormily.

"They're such beautiful shirts," she sobbed, her voice muffled in the
thick folds. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such--such beautiful
shirts before."


After the house, we were to see the grounds and the swimming pool, and the
hydroplane and the midsummer flowers--but outside Gatsby's window it
began to rain again so we stood in a row looking at the corrugated
surface of the Sound.

"If it wasn't for the mist we could see your home across the bay," said
Gatsby. "You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of
your dock."

Daisy put her arm through his abruptly but he seemed absorbed
in what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the
colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared
to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed
very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star
to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of
enchanted objects had diminished by one.

I began to walk about the room, examining various indefinite objects in
the half darkness. A large photograph of an elderly man in yachting
costume attracted me, hung on the wall over his desk.

"Who's this?"

"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 the
bureau--Gatsby with his head thrown back defiantly--taken apparently
when he was about eighteen.

"I adore it!" exclaimed Daisy. "The pompadour! You never told me you had
a pompadour--or a yacht."

"Look at this," said Gatsby quickly. "Here's a lot of clippings--about
you."

They stood side by side examining it. I was going to ask to see the rubies
when the phone rang and Gatsby took up the receiver.

"Yes. . . . Well, I can't talk now. . . . I can't talk now, old
sport. . . . I said a SMALL town. . . . He must know what a small town
is. . . . Well, he's no use to us if Detroit is his idea of a small
town. . . ."

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 to
just get one of those pink clouds and put you in it and push you
around."

I tried to go then, but they wouldn't hear of it; perhaps my presence
made them feel more satisfactorily alone.

"I know what we'll do," said Gatsby, "we'll have Klipspringer play the
piano."

He went out of the room calling "Ewing!" and returned in a few
minutes accompanied by an embarrassed, slightly worn young man with
shell-rimmed glasses and scanty blonde hair. He was now decently clothed
in a "sport shirt" open at the neck, sneakers and duck trousers of a
nebulous 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 of
prac----"

"We'll go downstairs," interrupted Gatsby. He flipped a switch. The
grey windows disappeared as the house glowed full of light.

In the music room Gatsby turned on a solitary lamp beside the piano. He
lit Daisy's cigarette from a trembling match, and sat down with her on
a couch far across the room where there was no light save what the
gleaming floor bounced in from the hall.

When Klipspringer had played "The Love Nest" he turned around on the
bench 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 all
out 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 the
Sound. 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 was
the hour of a profound human change, and excitement was generating on
the 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 bewilderment
had come back into Gatsby's face, as though a faint doubt had occurred to
him as to the quality of his present happiness. Almost five
years! There must have been moments even that afternoon when
Daisy tumbled short of his dreams--not through her own fault but
because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond
her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative
passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright
feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can
challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.

As I watched him he adjusted himself a little, visibly. His hand took
hold of hers and as she said something low in his ear he turned toward
her with a rush of emotion. I think that voice held him most with its
fluctuating, feverish warmth because it couldn't be over-dreamed--that
voice 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 they
looked back at me, remotely, possessed by intense life. Then I went out
of the room and down the marble steps into the rain, leaving them there
together.
 

PreviousNext
Go to Home
Top of Page