Trimalchio
by F. Scott Fitzgerald


CHAPTER VI

A few days later somebody brought Tom Buchanan into Gatsby’s house for a drink. It seemed strange to me that it hadn’t happened before.

It was Sunday afternoon and a party of three on horseback trotted up the drive—Tom and a man named Sloane and a pretty woman in a brown riding habit who had been there before.

“I’m delighted to see you,” said Gatsby standing on his porch. “Come right in. I’m delighted that you came.”

As though they cared!

“Sit right down. Have a cigarette or a cigar.” He walked around the room quickly, ringing bells. “I’ll have something to drink for you in just a minute.”

He was uneasy because Tom was there. But he would be uneasy anyhow until he had given them something, realizing in a vague way that that was all they came for. Mr. Sloane wanted nothing. A lemonade? No thanks. A little champagne? Nothing at all, thanks. I’m sorry——

“Did you have a nice ride?”

“Very good roads around here.”

“I suppose the automobiles——”

“Yeah.”

Gatsby turned to Tom who had accepted the introduction as a stranger.

“I believe we’ve met somewhere before, Mr. Buchanan.”

“Oh, yes,” said Tom, gruffly polite but obviously not remembering. “So we did. I remember very well.”

“About two weeks ago.”

“That’s right. You were with Nick here.”

Gatsby hesitated.

“I know your wife,” he said.

“That so?”

Tom turned to me.

“You live near here, Nick?”

“Next door.”

“That so?”

Mr. Sloane didn’t enter into the conversation but lounged back haughtily in his chair; the woman said nothing either—until unexpectedly, after two highballs, she became cordial.

“We’ll all come over to your next party, Mr. Gatsby,” she suggested. “What do you say?”

“Certainly. I’d be delighted to have you.” He nodded at Tom and at Mr. Sloane.

“Be ver’ nice,” said Mr. Sloane, without gratitude. “Well—think ought to be starting home.”

“Please don’t hurry,” Gatsby urged them. “Why don’t you—why don’t you stay for supper? I wouldn’t be surprised if some other people dropped in from New York.”

“You come to supper with me,” said the lady enthusiastically. “Both of you.”

This included me. Mr. Sloane got to his feet.

“Come along,” he said—but to her only.

“I mean it,” she insisted. “I’d love to have you. Lots of room.”

Gatsby looked at me questioningly. He was eager to go, but Mr. Sloane had evidently determined that he shouldn’t.

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to,” I said.

“Well, you come,” she urged, concentrating on Gatsby.

Mr. Sloane murmured something close to her ear.

“We won’t be late if we start now,” she protested impatiently.

“I haven’t got a horse,” apologized Gatsby. “I used to ride in the army but I’ve never bought a horse. I’ll have to follow you in my car. Excuse me for just a minute.”

The rest of us walked out on the porch where Sloane and the lady began an impassioned conversation aside.

“My God, I believe the man’s coming,” said Tom. “Doesn’t he know she doesn’t want him?”

“She says she does.”

“She has a big dinner party and he won’t know a soul there.”

Suddenly Mr. Sloane and the lady walked down the steps and mounted their horses.

“Come on,” said Mr. Sloane to Tom, “we’re late. We’ve got to go.”

Tom and I shook hands, the rest of us exchanged a cool nod and they trotted quickly down the drive, disappearing under the August foliage just as Gatsby with hat and light overcoat in hand came out of the house.

“They couldn’t wait,” I told him. “I really don’t believe there was room at the table for us. She said she’d call up another time.”

“That’s funny,” he said, with disappointment in his voice. “In fact it seems sort of rude to me.”

“It was.”

“What’s the idea, old sport?”

“They just didn’t have room for us, that’s all. She was a bit lit and didn’t realize it till she got out in the open air.”

He sat down, frowning. I think he would have liked to run into Daisy casually as a guest of someone she knew.

“Good looking fellow, isn’t he?” he said after a minute.

“Who?”

“Buchanan. Great football player wasn’t he?”

“One of the best.”

“And a good polo player too?”

“Yes, but they say the ponies he brought east aren’t any good, and he’s so stubborn he thinks they are.”

He was impressed with Tom—that came out in a moment when he spoke of getting a horse.

“I’d like to ride tonight,” he said thoughtfully. “I could telephone a barn in New York and have one sent out in a big van.”

***

Whether Tom, seeking new fields of amusement, brought Daisy, or Daisy suggested it to Tom I don’t know—they were at Gatsby’s house the following Saturday night. The party was a little more elaborate than any of the others; there were two orchestras for example—jazz in the gardens and intermittent “classical stuff” from the veranda above. It was a harvest dance with the immemorial decorations—sheaves of wheat, crossed rakes, and corncobs in geometrical designs—straw knee deep on the floor and a negro dressed as a field hand serving cider, which nobody wanted, at a straw covered bar. The real bar was outside, under a windmill whose blades, studded with colored lights, revolved slowly through the summer air.

Only about a third of the guests were in costume, and this included the orchestra who were dressed as “village constables.” As most of the others were village constables also the effect was given that the members of the orchestra got up at intervals and danced with the ladies present—an illusion which added to the pleasant confusion of the scene. For those who came without country costumes straw hats and sunbonnets were provided at the door.

I dislike fancy dress enormously but as the nearest neighbor I cooperated to the extent of a pair of overalls and a grey goatee. The goatee kept getting in my mouth all evening until finally I tore it off ferociously, and much of my chin came with it. I’ve got a sort of deep dimple in my chin that’s always bothered me shaving—it caught in that.

Tom came in a dinner coat, but Daisy, buttoned into a tight Provencal peasant costume, was lovelier than I had ever seen her lovely. Her eyes were bright too and her voice was playing gay murmurous tricks in her throat.

“It’s wonderful,” she whispered. “These things excite me so. If you want to kiss me any time during the evening, Nick, just let me know and I’ll be glad to arrange it for you. Just mention my name. Or present a green—or present a green card. I’m giving out green——”

“I thought you’d like it,” said Gatsby, his eyes glittering with happiness. “Just look around.”

“I know. It’s wonderful——”

“I mean the people,” he interrupted. “You must see many faces of people you’ve heard of.”

Tom’s eyes roved here and there among the guests.

“We don’t go round very much,” he said. “In fact, I was just thinking that I don’t know a soul here.”

Gatsby stared at him, first incredulously and then with tolerance.

“I mean their pictures,” he explained more formally. “For instance there’s——”

In a low voice he began a roster of the more prominent names.

“But it will be a privilege to introduce you,” he said. And as we moved off he added, reassuringly: “They’re all as natural and unaffected as they can be.”

He took us politely from group to group until Tom and Daisy had met everyone of consequence in the garden. Finally we approached the moving picture celebrity whom I had seen there before. She was surrounded by at least a dozen men who from a distance seemed to be making violent love to her. Coming closer, however, we discovered that the men were some less important members of the moving picture profession, and that their attitude was one of marked respect. They swayed toward her, not with passion, but lest they miss one of the jokes to which she was addicted, and which they applauded with hilarious laughter. Through this reverent entourage Gatsby made way.

“Mrs. Buchanan—” he introduced her, “and Mr. Buchanan—” after an instant’s hesitation he added, “the polo player.”

“Oh, no,” said Tom quickly. “Not me.”

However the sound of it evidently pleased Gatsby, and Tom remained “the polo player” throughout the rest of the tour.

“I’ve never met so many grand celebrities before,” said Daisy. “I like that man, what was his name, with the sort of blue nose——”

“Augustus Waize,” said Gatsby. “Oh, he’s just a small producer. He only does one play a year.”

“I liked him anyhow. And it must be fascinating to know them all.”

“They like to come here,” he admitted, “and I enjoy having them.”

“I’d a little rather not be the polo player,” said Tom pleasantly. “I’d rather look at all these famous people in—in oblivion.”

He meant incognito but in any case Gatsby was surprised. He felt that in placing Tom, in attesting him as a spectacular figure among these other spectacular figures, he had done him a service.

Daisy and Gatsby danced; it was the first time I had ever seen him dance. Formally, with neither awkwardness nor grace, he moved at a conservative foxtrot around the platform. They were both very solemn about it, as if it were a sort of rite—perhaps they were thinking of some other summer night when they had danced together back in the old, sad, poignant days of the war. Once she looked up at him in such a way that I glanced sharply around to see if Tom were watching. But he’d found amusement elsewhere—he was bringing some girl a cocktail from the bar.

When the music stopped Daisy and Gatsby strolled over to me.

“Where’s Tom?” she inquired. Then she saw: “Oh—well, don’t let’s disturb him. She’s pretty, isn’t she. Common but——”

She stopped herself suddenly but Gatsby was occupied in looking around the garden.

“There’s several other people I want you to meet,” he said, “but one of them hasn’t arrived yet.”

“We’ll wait till they all get here,” she suggested. “We’ll leave Nick here in case there’s a fire or a flood or anything and wander around. You’ll tell us, Nick, in case there’s a fire or a flood—or any act of God? We insured the house last week and I remember——”

The tumultuous clamor, like a prolongation of the nervous sounds of New York, soothed me, and I felt at home. But I tried to imagine how the party would appear to Daisy, how it had appeared to me on that June night two months before. It seemed less bizarre now—it seemed a world complete in itself, with its own standards and its own great figures, bounded, to its own satisfaction, by its own wall. It was second to nothing because it had no consciousness of being so. But Daisy might well regard it as the preposterous and rather sinister fringe of the universe.

“Listen, Nick——” She was back beside me. “Would you mind if we went over and sat on the steps of your bungalow or whatever it is?”

“You and Tom?”

“No, Jay and me.”

She never saw any humor except her own—not always that.

“It’s so noisy here,” she explained, “and I have this ear drum, you see. I thought if we sat on your steps I’d get all——What’s that girl yelling about?”

“She’s tight and she has hysterics.”

“Oh!… Well, we want to sit on your steps.” She hesitated. “If Tom starts paging me around the garden you’ll come and tell us won’t you. I wouldn’t want him to think I was bad.”

She winked solemnly and I began to laugh as she went back toward the house.

An hour later Tom asked me casually if I’d seen Daisy; I sent him inside. Crossing the two lawns I found them sitting on the steps in the bright moonlight.

“Nick,” she called.

“Yes.”

“We’re having a row.”

“What about?”

“Oh, about things,” she replied vaguely. “About the future—the future of the black race. My theory is we’ve got to beat them down.”

“You don’t know what you want,” said Gatsby suddenly.

She didn’t answer. Without haste we strolled back over the dark lawn to the area of hilarity, and Daisy and I danced. Gatsby made a complete circuit of the garden, speaking to people here and there, and then stood alone for a while in his habitual place on the steps.

“Do you think I’m making a mistake?” asked Daisy, leaning back and looking up into my face.

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, I’m going to leave Tom.”

I was illogically startled.

“Do you mean immediately?”

“No. When I’m ready. When it can be arranged.” Her eyes were sincere, her voice was full and sad.

“Have you told Tom?”

“No, not yet. I’m not going to do anything for a month or two. Then I’ll decide.”

“I thought you’d decided.”

“Yes, but—then I’ll decide the details and all that.” She laughed. “You know if you’ve never gone through a thing like this it’s not so easy. In fact—I want to just go, and not tell Tom anything.

“Do you think I’m making a mistake?”

“I don’t know Gatsby well,” I said cautiously. “I like him, but I’m not competent to give advice.”

“He’s wonderful,” she said confidently.

As we sat down at a table I found that I was illogically depressed at what she had told me. These break-ups, however justified, however wise, always have a tragic irony of their own.

Supper was being served. Gatsby joined us at the table and, discovering us, Tom came across the garden.

“Mind if I sit with some people over here?” he inquired. “It’s that man with the blue nose. He’s been getting off some funny stuff.”

“Go right ahead,” said Daisy genially. “If you want to take down any more addresses here’s my gold pencil.”

Tom laughed and hurried away.

Gatsby, who had been talking to the moving picture celebrity, remarked suddenly that she had been very complimentary about Daisy. His voice was proud and pleased.

“And, here’s a chance to become famous—she wants to know where you got your hair cut.”

“You tell her I think she’s lovely too,” said Daisy pleasantly.

Gatsby took out a pencil and a notebook.

“Where do you get your hair cut? I promised her I’d ask you.”

“It’s a secret,” whispered Daisy. “It’s a man I discovered myself and I wouldn’t tell anybody for the world.”

“You don’t understand,” he said impressively. “She’ll probably have hers done the same way and you’ll be the originator of a new vogue all over the country.”

“No thanks,” said Daisy lightly. The disappointment in his face bothered her, and she added: “Do you think I want that person to go around with her hair cut exactly like mine? It’d spoil it for me.”

Without a word Gatsby replaced the notebook in his pocket.

“We’re together here in your garden, Jay—your beautiful garden,” broke out Daisy suddenly. “It doesn’t seem possible, does it? I can’t believe it’s possible. Will you have somebody look up in the encyclopedia and see if it’s really true. Look it up under G.”

For a moment I thought this was casual chatter—then I realized that she was trying to drown out from us, from herself, a particularly obscene conversation that four women were carrying on at a table just behind.

“I thought if we ever met it’d be when we were old—and decrepit——” She broke off and glanced around in a frightened way. “What is it?” she whispered. “Why is that woman acting like that? Is she drunk?”

“I think you’re probably nervous,” said Gatsby. “She’s just having a good time.” He hesitated. “I don’t know what’s the matter tonight; very few people seem to be enjoying themselves.”

Her wandering eyes caught his and perceived his disappointment.

“Why, they are, Jay,” she cried quickly. “Everybody’s having a wonderful time. Have I said something that you—here——!”

With her little gold pencil she wrote an address on the tablecloth. “There’s where I get my hair cut. Is that what she wanted to know?”

But there was no such intimacy between them as would allow them to criticize each other’s friends. Gatsby took out his pencil and slowly obliterated her markings with his own.

***

At one o’clock we sat on the moonlit front steps waiting for Gatsby to come and say goodbye.

“Who is our host anyhow?” inquired Tom. “Some big boot-legger?”

“Be quiet!” Daisy warned him sharply. “You have no reason for talking like that.”

“Well—” Tom yawned placidly, “he certainly went into the highways and byways to get this crowd together.”

“At least they accomplish something. They’re more interesting than—the people we see.”

“You didn’t look so interested.”

“Well, I was,” she asserted stoutly. “I was having a marvellous time.”

Tom laughed scoffingly.

“Did you see Daisy’s face when that girl wanted her to put her to bed?”

Daisy began to sing in a low voice, resolutely disregarding him; then, frowning, she broke off and made a sudden attempt to separate Gatsby from his party.

“Lots of people come who haven’t been invited,” she said. “He told me so himself. That girl who was so—so funny hadn’t been invited. They simply force their way in and he’s too kind to object.” She hesitated. “Of course he’s much nicer than the people he entertains.”

“He’s just like them,” said Tom.

“Be quiet!”

Gatsby was coming down the steps. With exaggerated enthusiasm Daisy thanked him for their good time.

“I suppose it’ll last quite late,” she said.

“Oh, yes. Some time longer.”

She got into the limousine.

“Good night——” Her lips formed the word “dear,” her fingers just brushed the back of his hand. Tom, his eyes closed sleepily, was already leaning back in a corner of the car.

“Good night,” repeated Daisy. Her glance left Gatsby and sought the lighted top of the steps where a contralto song was drifting out the open door. After all in the very casualness of Gatsby’s party there were romantic possibilities totally absent from her world. What was it up there in the song that seemed to be calling him back inside? What would happen now in the dim, incalculable hours? Perhaps some unbelievable guest would -a person infinitely rare and to be marvelled at, who would arrive never be seen anywhere again… or perhaps some authentically radiant young girl who with one fresh glance at Gatsby, one moment of magical encounter, would blot out those five years of unwavering devotion.

As the car moved off a flush of apprehension made her stretch out her hand, trying to touch his once more.


Next: chapter 7

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