I couldn't sleep all night; a fog-horn was groaning incessantly on theSound, and I tossed half-sick between grotesque reality and savagefrightening dreams. Toward dawn I heard a taxi go up Gatsby's driveand immediately I jumped out of bed and began to dress--I felt that Ihad something to tell him, something to warn him about and morningwould be too late.
Crossing his lawn I saw that his front door was still open and he wasleaning against a table in the hall, heavy with dejection or sleep.
"Nothing happened," he said wanly. "I waited, and about four o'clock shecame to the window and stood there for a minute and then turned outthe light."
His house had never seemed so enormous to me as it did that night when wehunted through the great rooms for cigarettes. We pushed aside curtainsthat were like pavilions and felt over innumerable feet of dark wall forelectric light switches--once I tumbled with a sort of splash upon thekeys of a ghostly piano. There was an inexplicable amount of dusteverywhere and the rooms were musty as though they hadn't been aired formany days. I found the humidor on an unfamiliar table with two stale drycigarettes inside. Throwing open the French windows of thedrawing-room we sat smoking out into the darkness.
"You ought to go away," I said. "It's pretty certain they'll traceyour car."
"Go away NOW, old sport?"
"Go to Atlantic City for a week, or up to Montreal."
He wouldn't consider it. He couldn't possibly leave Daisy until he knewwhat she was going to do. He was clutching at some last hope and Icouldn't bear to shake him free.
It was this night that he told me the strange story of his youth withDan Cody--told it to me because "Jay Gatsby" had broken up like glassagainst Tom's hard malice and the long secret extravaganza was playedout. I think that he would have acknowledged anything, now, withoutreserve, but he wanted to talk about Daisy.
She was the first "nice" girl he had ever known. In various unrevealedcapacities he had come in contact with such people but alwayswith indiscernible barbed wire between. He found her excitinglydesirable. He went to her house, at first with other officersfrom Camp Taylor, then alone. It amazed him--he had never beenin such a beautiful house before. But what gave it an air of breathlessintensity was that Daisy lived there--it was as casual a thing to heras his tent out at camp was to him. There was a ripe mystery about it,a hint of bedrooms upstairs more beautiful and cool than otherbedrooms, of gay and radiant activities taking place through itscorridors and of romances that were not musty and laid away already inlavender but fresh and breathing and redolent of this year's shiningmotor cars and of dances whose flowers were scarcely withered. Itexcited him too that many men had already loved Daisy--it increasedher value in his eyes. He felt their presence all about the house,pervading the air with the shades and echoes of still vibrant emotions.
But he knew that he was in Daisy's house by a colossal accident.However glorious might be his future as Jay Gatsby, he was at present apenniless young man without a past, and at any moment the invisiblecloak of his uniform might slip from his shoulders. So he madethe most of his time. He took what he could get, ravenously andunscrupulously--eventually he took Daisy one still October night,took her because he had no real right to touch her hand.
He might have despised himself, for he had certainly taken her underfalse pretenses. I don't mean that he had traded on his phantommillions, but he had deliberately given Daisy a sense of security; helet her believe that he was a person from much the same stratum asherself--that he was fully able to take care of her. As a matter offact he had no such facilities--he had no comfortable family standingbehind him and he was liable at the whim of an impersonal governmentto be blown anywhere about the world.
But he didn't despise himself and it didn't turn out as he hadimagined. He had intended, probably, to take what he could and go--butnow he found that he had committed himself to the following of a grail.He knew that Daisy was extraordinary but he didn't realize just howextraordinary a "nice" girl could be. She vanished into her richhouse, into her rich, full life, leaving Gatsby--nothing. He feltmarried to her, that was all.
When they met again two days later it was Gatsby who was breathless,who was somehow betrayed. Her porch was bright with the boughtluxury of star-shine; the wicker of the settee squeaked fashionablyas she turned toward him and he kissed her curious and lovely mouth.She had caught a cold and it made her voice huskier and more charmingthan ever and Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mysterythat wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothesand of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hotstruggles of the poor.
"I can't describe to you how surprised I was to find out I loved her,old sport. I even hoped for a while that she'd throw me over, but shedidn't, because she was in love with me too. She thought I knew a lotbecause I knew different things from her. . . . Well, there I was,way off my ambitions, getting deeper in love every minute, andall of a sudden I didn't care. What was the use of doing greatthings if I could have a better time telling her what I was goingto do?"
On the last afternoon before he went abroad he sat with Daisy inhis arms for a long, silent time. It was a cold fall day with firein the room and her cheeks flushed. Now and then she moved and hechanged his arm a little and once he kissed her dark shining hair. Theafternoon had made them tranquil for a while as if to give them a deepmemory for the long parting the next day promised. They had never beencloser in their month of love nor communicated more profoundly onewith another than when she brushed silent lips against his coat'sshoulder or when he touched the end of her fingers, gently, as thoughshe were asleep.
He did extraordinarily well in the war. He was a captain before he wentto the front and following the Argonne battles he got his majority andthe command of the divisional machine guns. After the Armisticehe tried frantically to get home but some complication ormisunderstanding sent him to Oxford instead. He was worried now--therewas a quality of nervous despair in Daisy's letters. She didn't see whyhe couldn't come. She was feeling the pressure of the world outsideand she wanted to see him and feel his presence beside her and bereassured that she was doing the right thing after all.
For Daisy was young and her artificial world was redolent of orchidsand pleasant, cheerful snobbery and orchestras which set the rhythm ofthe year, summing up the sadness and suggestiveness of life in newtunes. All night the saxophones wailed the hopeless comment of the"Beale Street Blues" while a hundred pairs of golden and silverslippers shuffled the shining dust. At the grey tea hour there werealways rooms that throbbed incessantly with this low sweet fever,while fresh faces drifted here and there like rose petals blown by thesad horns around the floor.
Through this twilight universe Daisy began to move again with theseason; suddenly she was again keeping half a dozen dates a day withhalf a dozen men and drowsing asleep at dawn with the beads andchiffon of an evening dress tangled among dying orchids on the floorbeside her bed. And all the time something within her was crying for adecision. She wanted her life shaped now, immediately--and the decisionmust be made by some force--of love, of money, of unquestionablepracticality--that was close at hand.
That force took shape in the middle of spring with the arrival of TomBuchanan. There was a wholesome bulkiness about his person and hisposition and Daisy was flattered. Doubtless there was a certainstruggle and a certain relief. The letter reached Gatsby while he wasstill at Oxford.
It was dawn now on Long Island and we went about opening the rest ofthe windows downstairs, filling the house with grey turning,gold turning light. The shadow of a tree fell abruptly across the dewand ghostly birds began to sing among the blue leaves. There was aslow pleasant movement in the air, scarcely a wind, promising a coollovely day.
"I don't think she ever loved him." Gatsby turned around from a windowand looked at me challengingly. "You must remember, old sport, she wasvery excited this afternoon. He told her those things in a way thatfrightened her--that made it look as if I was some kind of cheap sharper.And the result was she hardly knew what she was saying."
He sat down gloomily.
"Of course she might have loved him, just for a minute, when they werefirst married--and loved me more even then, do you see?"
Suddenly he came out with a curious remark:
"In any case," he said, "it was just personal."
What could you make of that, except to suspect some intensity inhis conception of the affair that couldn't be measured?
He came back from France when Tom and Daisy were still on their weddingtrip, and made a miserable but irresistible journey to Louisvilleon the last of his army pay. He stayed there a week, walking thestreets where their footsteps had clicked together through theNovember night and revisiting the out-of-the-way places to whichthey had driven in her white car. Just as Daisy's house had alwaysseemed to him more mysterious and gay than other houses so hisidea of the city itself, even though she was gone from it, was pervadedwith a melancholy beauty.
He left feeling that if he had searched harder he might have foundher--that he was leaving her behind. The day-coach--he was pennilessnow--was hot. He went out to the open vestibule and sat down on afolding-chair, and the station slid away and the backs of unfamiliarbuildings moved by. Then out into the spring fields, where a yellowtrolley raced them for a minute with people in it who might once haveseen the pale magic of her face along the casual street.
The track curved and now it was going away from the sun which, as itsank lower, seemed to spread itself in benediction over the vanishingcity where she had drawn her breath. He stretched out his handdesperately as if to snatch only a wisp of air, to save a fragment ofthe spot that she had made lovely for him. But it was all going by toofast now for his blurred eyes and he knew that he had lost that part ofit, the freshest and the best, forever.
It was nine o'clock when we finished breakfast and went out on theporch. The night had made a sharp difference in the weather and therewas an autumn flavor in the air. The gardener, the last one of Gatsby'sformer servants, came to the foot of the steps.
"I'm going to drain the pool today, Mr. Gatsby. Leaves'll start fallingpretty soon and then there's always trouble with the pipes."
"Don't do it today," Gatsby answered. He turned to me apologetically."You know, old sport, I've never used that pool all summer?"
I looked at my watch and stood up.
"Twelve minutes to my train."
I didn't want to go to the city. I wasn't worth a decent stroke of workbut it was more than that--I didn't want to leave Gatsby. I missed thattrain, and then another, before I could get myself away.
"I'll call you up," I said finally.
"Do, old sport."
"I'll call you about noon."
We walked slowly down the steps.
"I suppose Daisy'll call too." He looked at me anxiously as if hehoped I'd corroborate this.
"I suppose so."
We shook hands and I started away. Just before I reached the hedge Iremembered something and turned around.
"They're a rotten crowd," I shouted across the lawn. "You're worth thewhole damn bunch put together."
I've always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gavehim, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. First he noddedpolitely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understandingsmile, as if we'd been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time.His gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of color against thewhite steps and I thought of the night when I first came to his ancestralhome three months before. The lawn and drive had been crowded with thefaces of those who guessed at his corruption--and he had stood on thosesteps, concealing his incorruptible dream, as he waved them goodbye.
I thanked him for his hospitality. We were always thanking him forthat--I and the others.
"Goodbye," I called. "I enjoyed breakfast, Gatsby."
Up in the city I tried for a while to list the quotations on aninterminable amount of stock, then I fell asleep in my swivel-chair.Just before noon the phone woke me and I started up with sweatbreaking out on my forehead. It was Jordan Baker; she often calledme up at this hour because the uncertainty of her own movementsbetween hotels and clubs and private houses made her hard to findin any other way. Usually her voice came over the wire as somethingfresh and cool as if a divot from a green golf links had comesailing in at the office window but this morning it seemed harsh and dry.
"I've left Daisy's house," she said. "I'm at Hempstead and I'm going downto Southampton this afternoon."
Probably it had been tactful to leave Daisy's house, but the actannoyed me and her next remark made me rigid.
"You weren't so nice to me last night."
"How could it have mattered then?"
Silence for a moment. Then--
"However--I want to see you."
"I want to see you too."
"Suppose I don't go to Southampton, and come into town this afternoon?"
"No--I don't think this afternoon."
"It's impossible this afternoon. Various----"
We talked like that for a while and then abruptly we weren't talking anylonger. I don't know which of us hung up with a sharp click but I know Ididn't care. I couldn't have talked to her across a tea-table that day ifI never talked to her again in this world.
I called Gatsby's house a few minutes later, but the line was busy. Itried four times; finally an exasperated central told me the wire wasbeing kept open for long distance from Detroit. Taking out mytime-table I drew a small circle around the three-fifty train. Then Ileaned back in my chair and tried to think. It was just noon.
When I passed the ashheaps on the train that morning I had crosseddeliberately to the other side of the car. I suppose there'd be acurious crowd around there all day with little boys searching for darkspots in the dust and some garrulous man telling over and over whathad happened until it became less and less real even to him and hecould tell it no longer and Myrtle Wilson's tragic achievement wasforgotten. Now I want to go back a little and tell what happened at thegarage after we left there the night before.
They had difficulty in locating the sister, Catherine. She musthave broken her rule against drinking that night for when shearrived she was stupid with liquor and unable to understand that theambulance had already gone to Flushing. When they convinced her ofthis she immediately fainted as if that was the intolerable part ofthe affair. Someone kind or curious took her in his car and droveher in the wake of her sister's body.
Until long after midnight a changing crowd lapped up against the frontof the garage while George Wilson rocked himself back and forth on thecouch inside. For a while the door of the office was open andeveryone who came into the garage glanced irresistibly through it.Finally someone said it was a shame and closed the door. Michaelis andseveral other men were with him--first four or five men, later two orthree men. Still later Michaelis had to ask the last stranger to waitthere fifteen minutes longer while he went back to his own place and madea pot of coffee. After that he stayed there alone with Wilson until dawn.
About three o'clock the quality of Wilson's incoherent mutteringchanged--he grew quieter and began to talk about the yellow car. Heannounced that he had a way of finding out whom the yellow car belongedto, and then he blurted out that a couple of months ago his wife hadcome from the city with her face bruised and her nose swollen.
But when he heard himself say this, he flinched and began to cry "Oh,my God!" again in his groaning voice. Michaelis made a clumsy attemptto distract him.
"How long have you been married, George? Come on there, try and sitstill a minute and answer my question. How long have you been married?"
"Ever had any children? Come on, George, sit still--I asked you aquestion. Did you ever have any children?"
The hard brown beetles kept thudding against the dull light and wheneverMichaelis heard a car go tearing along the road outside it sounded to himlike the car that hadn't stopped a few hours before. He didn't like to gointo the garage because the work bench was stained where the body hadbeen lying so he moved uncomfortably around the office--he knew everyobject in it before morning--and from time to time sat down beside Wilsontrying to keep him more quiet.
"Have you got a church you go to sometimes, George? Maybe even if youhaven't been there for a long time? Maybe I could call up the churchand get a priest to come over and he could talk to you, see?"
"Don't belong to any."
"You ought to have a church, George, for times like this. You must havegone to church once. Didn't you get married in a church? Listen, George,listen to me. Didn't you get married in a church?"
"That was a long time ago."
The effort of answering broke the rhythm of his rocking--for a moment hewas silent. Then the same half knowing, half bewildered look came backinto his faded eyes.
"Look in the drawer there," he said, pointing at the desk.
"That drawer--that one."
Michaelis opened the drawer nearest his hand. There was nothing in it buta small expensive dog leash made of leather and braided silver. It wasapparently new.
"This?" he inquired, holding it up.
Wilson stared and nodded.
"I found it yesterday afternoon. She tried to tell me about it but Iknew it was something funny."
"You mean your wife bought it?"
"She had it wrapped in tissue paper on her bureau."
Michaelis didn't see anything odd in that and he gave Wilson a dozenreasons why his wife might have bought the dog leash. But conceivablyWilson had heard some of these same explanations before, from Myrtle,because he began saying "Oh, my God!" again in a whisper--his comforterleft several explanations in the air.
"Then he killed her," said Wilson. His mouth dropped open suddenly.
"I have a way of finding out."
"You're morbid, George," said his friend. "This has been a strain to youand you don't know what you're saying. You'd better try and sit quiettill morning."
"He murdered her."
"It was an accident, George."
Wilson shook his head. His eyes narrowed and his mouth widened slightlywith the ghost of a superior "Hm!"
"I know," he said definitely, "I'm one of these trusting fellas and Idon't think any harm to NObody, but when I get to know a thing I knowit. It was the man in that car. She ran out to speak to him and hewouldn't stop."
Michaelis had seen this too but it hadn't occurred to him that there wasany special significance in it. He believed that Mrs. Wilson had beenrunning away from her husband, rather than trying to stop anyparticular car.
"How could she of been like that?"
"She's a deep one," said Wilson, as if that answered the question."Ah-h-h----"
He began to rock again and Michaelis stood twisting the leash inhis hand.
"Maybe you got some friend that I could telephone for, George?"
This was a forlorn hope--he was almost sure that Wilson had no friend:there was not enough of him for his wife. He was glad a little later whenhe noticed a change in the room, a blue quickening by the window, andrealized that dawn wasn't far off. About five o'clock it was blue enoughoutside to snap off the light.
Wilson's glazed eyes turned out to the ashheaps, where small greyclouds took on fantastic shape and scurried here and there in the faintdawn wind.
"I spoke to her," he muttered, after a long silence. "I told her she mightfool me but she couldn't fool God. I took her to the window--" With aneffort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned with his facepressed against it, "--and I said 'God knows what you've been doing,everything you've been doing. You may fool me but you can't fool God!' "
Standing behind him Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at theeyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg which had just emerged pale and enormousfrom the dissolving night.
"God sees everything," repeated Wilson.
"That's an advertisement," Michaelis assured him. Something made him turnaway from the window and look back into the room. But Wilson stood there along time, his face close to the window pane, nodding into the twilight.
By six o'clock Michaelis was worn out and grateful for the sound of acar stopping outside. It was one of the watchers of the night beforewho had promised to come back so he cooked breakfast for three whichhe and the other man ate together. Wilson was quieter now and Michaeliswent home to sleep; when he awoke four hours later and hurried back to thegarage Wilson was gone.
His movements--he was on foot all the time--were afterward traced to PortRoosevelt and then to Gad's Hill where he bought a sandwich that hedidn't eat and a cup of coffee. He must have been tired and walkingslowly for he didn't reach Gad's Hill until noon. Thus far there wasno difficulty in accounting for his time--there were boys who had seen aman "acting sort of crazy" and motorists at whom he stared oddly fromthe side of the road. Then for three hours he disappeared from view.The police, on the strength of what he said to Michaelis, that he "hada way of finding out," supposed that he spent that time going fromgarage to garage thereabouts inquiring for a yellow car. On the otherhand no garage man who had seen him ever came forward--and perhaps hehad an easier, surer way of finding out what he wanted to know. Byhalf past two he was in West Egg where he asked someone the way toGatsby's house. So by that time he knew Gatsby's name.
At two o'clock Gatsby put on his bathing suit and left word with thebutler that if any one phoned word was to be brought to him at thepool. He stopped at the garage for a pneumatic mattress that had amusedhis guests during the summer, and the chauffeur helped him pump it up.Then he gave instructions that the open car wasn't to be taken outunder any circumstances--and this was strange because the front rightfender needed repair.
Gatsby shouldered the mattress and started for the pool. Once hestopped and shifted it a little, and the chauffeur asked him if heneeded help, but he shook his head and in a moment disappeared amongthe yellowing trees.
No telephone message arrived but the butler went without his sleep andwaited for it until four o'clock--until long after there was any one togive it to if it came. I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn'tbelieve it would come and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was truehe must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a highprice for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked upat an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as hefound what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight wasupon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without beingreal, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, driftedfortuitously about . . . like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding towardhim through the amorphous trees.
The chauffeur--he was one of Wolfshiem's protégés--heard theshots--afterward he could only say that he hadn't thought anything muchabout them. I drove from the station directly to Gatsby's house and myrushing anxiously up the front steps was the first thing that alarmed anyone. But they knew then, I firmly believe. With scarcely a word said, fourof us, the chauffeur, butler, gardener and I, hurried down to the pool.
There was a faint, barely perceptible movement of the water as thefresh flow from one end urged its way toward the drain at the other.With little ripples that were hardly the shadows of waves, the ladenmattress moved irregularly down the pool. A small gust of wind thatscarcely corrugated the surface was enough to disturb its accidentalcourse with its accidental burden. The touch of a cluster of leavesrevolved it slowly, tracing, like the leg of compass, a thin red circlein the water.
It was after we started with Gatsby toward the house that the gardenersaw Wilson's body a little way off in the grass, and the holocaust wascomplete.