The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Then wear the gold
hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry "Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!"
THOMAS PARKE D'INVILLIERS.
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice
that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just
remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages
that you've had."
He didn't say any more, but we've always been unusually communicative
in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more
than that. In consequence, I'm inclined to reserve all judgments,
a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also
made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind
is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it
appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I
was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the
secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were
unsought--frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile
levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an
intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon; for the intimate
of young men, or at least the terms in which they express them, are
usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving
judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of
missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested,
and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is
parcelled out unequally at birth.
And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission
that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet
marshes, but after a certain point I don't care what it's founded on.
When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the
world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I
wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the
human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was
exempt from my reaction--Gatsby, who represented everything for which I
have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of
successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some
heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related
to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten
thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that
flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the
"creative temperament."--it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a
readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it
is not likely I shall ever find again. No--Gatsby turned out all right
at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the
wake of his dreams that
temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and
elations of men.
My family have been prominent, well-to-do people in this Middle Western
city for three generations. The Carraways are something of a clan, and
have a tradition that we're descended from the Dukes of Buccleuch, but
actual founder of my line was my grandfather's brother, who came here in
fifty-one, sent a substitute to the Civil War, and started the wholesale
hardware business that my father carries on to-day.
I never saw this great-uncle, but I'm supposed to look like him--with
special reference to the rather hard-boiled painting that hangs in
father's office. I graduated from New Haven in 1915, just a quarter of a
century after my father, and a little later I participated in that
delayed Teutonic migration known as the Great War. I enjoyed the
counter-raid so thoroughly that I came back restless. Instead of being
the warm centre of the world, the Middle West now seemed like the
ragged edge of the universe--so I decided to go East and learn the bond
business. Everybody I knew was in the bond business, so I supposed it
could support one more single man. All my aunts and uncles talked it
over as if they were choosing a prep school for me, and finally said,
"Why--ye--es," with very grave, hesitant faces. Father agreed to finance
me for a year, and after various delays I came East, permanently, I
thought, in the spring of twenty-two.
The practical thing was to find rooms in the city, but it was a warm
season, and I had just left a country of wide lawns and friendly trees,
so when a young man at the office
suggested that we take a house together in a commuting town, it sounded
like a great idea. He found the house, a weather-beaten cardboard
at eighty a month, but at the last minute the firm ordered him to
and I went out to the country alone. I had a dog--at least I had him
for a few days
until he ran away--and an old Dodge and a Finnish woman, who made my bed
and cooked breakfast and muttered Finnish wisdom to herself over the
It was lonely for a day or so until one morning some man, more recently
arrived than I, stopped me on the road.
"How do you get to West Egg village?" he asked helplessly.
I told him. And as I walked on I was lonely no longer. I was a guide, a
pathfinder, an original settler. He had casually conferred on me the
freedom of the neighborhood.
And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the
trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar
conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.
There was so much to read, for one thing, and so much fine health to be
pulled down out of the young breath-giving air. I bought a dozen
volumes on banking and credit and investment securities, and they stood
on my shelf in red and gold like new money from the mint, promising to
unfold the shining secrets that only Midas and Morgan and Maecenas
knew. And I had the high intention of reading many other books besides.
I was rather literary in college--one year I wrote a series of very
solemn and obvious editorials for the "Yale News."--and now I was going
to bring back all such things into my life and become again that most
limited of all
specialists, the "well-rounded man." This isn't just an epigram
--life is much more successfully looked at from a single window,
It was a matter of chance that I should have rented a house in one of
the strangest communities in North America. It was on that slender
riotous island which extends itself due east of New York--and where
there are, among other natural curiosities, two unusual formations of
land. Twenty miles from the city a pair of enormous eggs, identical in
contour and separated only by a courtesy bay, jut out into the most
domesticated body of salt water in the Western hemisphere, the great
wet barnyard of Long Island Sound. they are not perfect ovals--like the
egg in the Columbus story, they are both crushed flat at the contact
end--but their physical resemblance must be a source of perpetual
confusion to the gulls that fly overhead. To the wingless a more
arresting phenomenon is their dissimilarity in every particular except
shape and size.
I lived at West Egg, the--well, the less fashionable of the two, though
this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little
sinister contrast between them. My house was at the very tip of the
egg, only fifty yards from the Sound, and squeezed between two huge
places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season. The one on
my right was a colossal affair by any standard--it was a factual
imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side,
spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool,
and more than forty acres of lawn and garden. It was Gatsby's mansion.
Or, rather, as I didn't know Mr. Gatsby, it was a mansion inhabited by
a gentleman of that name. My own house was an eyesore,
but it was a small eyesore, and it had been overlooked, so I had a view
of the water, a partial view of my neighbor's lawn, and the consoling
proximity of millionaires--all for eighty dollars a month.
Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg
glittered along the water, and the history of the summer really begins
on the evening I drove over there to have dinner with the Tom
Buchanans. Daisy was my second cousin once removed, and I'd known Tom
in college. And just after the war I spent two days with them in
Her husband, among various physical accomplishments, had been one of
the most powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven--a
national figure in a way, one of those men who reach such an acute
limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of
anti-climax. His family were enormously wealthy--even in college his
freedom with money was a matter for reproach--but now he'd left Chicago
and come East in a fashion that rather took your breath away: for
instance, he'd brought down a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest.
It was hard to realize that a man in my own generation was wealthy
enough to do that.
Why they came East I don't know. They had spent a year in France for no
particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever
people played polo and were rich together. This was a permanent move,
said Daisy over the telephone, but I didn't believe it--I had no sight
into Daisy's heart, but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking,
a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable
And so it happened that on a warm windy evening I drove over
to East Egg to see two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all. Their
was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red-and-white
Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach
and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over
sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens--finally when it reached
the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the
momentum of its run. The front was broken by a line of French windows,
glowing now with reflected gold and wide open to the warm windy
afternoon, and Tom Buchanan in riding clothes was standing with his
legs apart on the front porch.
He had changed since his New Haven years. Now he was a sturdy
man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner.
Two shining arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and
gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not
even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous
power of that body--he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he
strained the top lacing, and you could see a great pack of muscle
shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body
capable of enormous leverage--a cruel body.
His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the impression of
fractiousness he conveyed. There was a touch of paternal contempt in
it, even toward people he liked--and there were men at New Haven who had
hated his guts.
"Now, don't think my opinion on these matters is final," he seemed to
say, "just because I'm stronger and more of a man than you are." We
were in the same senior society, and while we were never intimate I
always had the impression
that he approved of me and wanted me to like him with some harsh,
wistfulness of his own.
We talked for a few minutes on the sunny porch.
"I've got a nice place here," he said, his eyes flashing about
Turning me around by one arm, he moved a broad flat hand along the
front vista, including in its sweep a sunken Italian garden, a half
acre of deep, pungent roses, and a snub-nosed motor-boat that bumped
the tide offshore.
"It belonged to Demaine, the oil man." He turned me around again,
politely and abruptly. "We'll go inside."
We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space,
fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end.
The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass
outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze
blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other
like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of
the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a
shadow on it as wind does on the sea.
The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch
on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored
balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and
fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight
around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the
whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall.
Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the
wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two
young women ballooned slowly to the floor.
The younger of the two was a stranger to me. She was extended full
at her end of the divan, completely motionless, and with her chin raised
a little, as if she were balancing something on it which was quite
to fall. If she saw me out of the corner of her eyes she gave no hint of
it--indeed, I was almost surprised into murmuring an apology for having
disturbed her by coming in.
The other girl, Daisy, made an attempt to rise--she leaned slightly
forward with a conscientious expression--then she laughed, an absurd,
charming little laugh, and I laughed too and came forward into the
"I'm p-paralyzed with happiness." She laughed again, as if she said
something very witty, and held my hand for a moment, looking up into my
face, promising that there was no one in the world she so much wanted
to see. That was a way she had. She hinted in a murmur that the surname
of the balancing girl was Baker. (I've heard it said that Daisy's
murmur was only to make people lean toward her; an irrelevant criticism
that made it no less charming.)
At any rate, Miss Baker's lips fluttered, she nodded at me almost
imperceptibly, and then quickly tipped her head back again--the object
she was balancing had obviously tottered a little and given her
of a fright. Again a sort of apology arose to my lips. Almost any
exhibition of complete self-sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me.
I looked back at my cousin, who began to ask me questions in her low,
thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that
the ear follows up and
down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be
played again. Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it,
bright eyes and a
bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that
men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing
a whispered "Listen," a promise that she had done gay, exciting things
just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in
the next hour.
I told her how I had stopped off in Chicago for a day on my way East,
and how a dozen people had sent their love through me.
"Do they miss me?" she cried ecstatically.
"The whole town is desolate. All the cars have the left rear wheel
painted black as a mourning wreath, and there's a persistent wail all
night along the north shore."
"How gorgeous! Let's go back, Tom. To-morrow!" Then she added
irrelevantly: "You ought to see the baby."
"I'd like to."
"She's asleep. She's three years old. Haven't you ever seen her?"
"Well, you ought to see her. She's----"
Tom Buchanan, who had been hovering restlessly about the room, stopped
and rested his hand on my shoulder.
"What you doing, Nick?"
"I'm a bond man."
I told him.
"Never heard of them," he remarked decisively.
This annoyed me.
"You will," I answered shortly. "You will if you stay in the East."
"Oh, I'll stay in the East, don't you worry," he said,
glancing at Daisy and then back at me, as if he were alert for
more. "I'd be a God damned fool to live anywhere else."
At this point Miss Baker said: "Absolutely!" with such suddenness that I
started--it was the first word she uttered since I came into the room.
Evidently it surprised her as much as it did me, for she yawned and
with a series of rapid, deft movements stood up into the room.
"I'm stiff," she complained, "I've been lying on that sofa for as long
as I can remember."
"Don't look at me," Daisy retorted, "I've been trying to get you to New
York all afternoon."
"No, thanks," said Miss Baker to the four cocktails just in from the
pantry, "I'm absolutely in training."
Her host looked at her incredulously.
"You are!" He took down his drink as if it were a drop in the bottom of
a glass. "How you ever get anything done is beyond me."
I looked at Miss Baker, wondering what it was she "got done." I enjoyed
looking at her. She was a slender, small-breasted girl, with an erect
carriage, which she accentuated by throwing her body backward at the
shoulders like a young cadet. Her gray sun-strained eyes looked back at
me with polite reciprocal curiosity out of a wan, charming, discontented
face. It occurred to me now that I had seen her, or a picture of her,
"You live in West Egg," she remarked contemptuously. "I know somebody
"I don't know a single----"
"You must know Gatsby."
"Gatsby?" demanded Daisy. "What Gatsby?"
Before I could reply that he was my neighbor dinner was announced;
wedging his tense arm imperatively under mine, Tom Buchanan compelled
me from the room as though he were moving a checker to another square.
Slenderly, languidly, their hands set lightly on their hips, the two
young women preceded us out onto a rosy-colored porch, open toward the
sunset, where four candles flickered on the table in the diminished
"Why CANDLES?" objected Daisy, frowning. She snapped them out with her
fingers. "In two weeks it'll be the longest day in the year."
She looked at us all radiantly. "Do you always watch for the longest day
of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day in the
year and then miss it."
"We ought to plan something," yawned Miss Baker, sitting down at the
table as if she were getting into bed.
"All right," said Daisy. "What'll we plan?" She turned to me helplessly:
"What do people plan?"
Before I could answer her eyes fastened with an awed expression on her
"Look!" she complained; "I hurt it."
We all looked--the knuckle was black and blue.
"You did it, Tom," she said accusingly. "I know you didn't mean to,
but you DID do it. That's what I get for marrying a brute of a man,
a great, big, hulking physical specimen of a----"
"I hate that word hulking," objected Tom crossly, "even in kidding."
"Hulking," insisted Daisy.
Sometimes she and Miss Baker talked at once, unobtrusively and with a
bantering inconsequence that was never
quite chatter, that was as cool as their white dresses and their
eyes in the absence of all desire. They were here, and they accepted
and me, making only a polite pleasant effort to entertain or to be
entertained. They knew that presently dinner would be over and a little
later the evening too would be over and casually put away. It was
different from the West, where an evening was hurried from phase to
toward its close, in a continually disappointed anticipation or else in
sheer nervous dread of the moment itself.
"You make me feel uncivilized, Daisy," I confessed on my second glass
of corky but rather impressive claret. "Can't you talk about crops or
I meant nothing in particular by this remark, but it was taken up in an
"Civilization's going to pieces," broke out Tom violently.
"I've gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read
'The Rise of the Colored Empires' by this man Goddard?"
"Why, no," I answered, rather surprised by his tone.
"Well, it's a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if
we don't look out the white race will be--will be utterly submerged.
It's all scientific stuff; it's been proved."
"Tom's getting very profound," said Daisy, with an expression of
unthoughtful sadness. "He reads deep books with long words in them.
What was that word we----"
"Well, these books are all scientific," insisted Tom, glancing at her
impatiently. "This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It's up to us,
who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have
control of things."
"We've got to beat them down," whispered Daisy, winking ferociously
toward the fervent sun.
"You ought to live in California--" began Miss Baker, but Tom
interrupted her by shifting heavily in his chair.
"This idea is that we're Nordics. I am, and you are, and you are,
and----" After an infinitesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a
slight nod, and she winked at me again. "--And we've produced all the
things that go to make civilization--oh, science and art, and all that.
Do you see?"
There was something pathetic in his concentration, as if his
more acute than of old, was not enough to him any more. When, almost
immediately, the telephone rang inside and the butler left the porch
seized upon the momentary interruption and leaned toward me.
"I'll tell you a family secret," she whispered enthusiastically. "It's
about the butler's nose. Do you want to hear about the butler's nose?"
"That's why I came over to-night."
"Well, he wasn't always a butler; he used to be the silver polisher for
some people in New York that had a silver service for two hundred
He had to polish it from morning till night, until finally it began to
affect his nose----"
"Things went from bad to worse," suggested Miss Baker.
"Yes. Things went from bad to worse, until finally he had to give up
For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon
her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as
I listened--then the glow faded, each light deserting her with
lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.
The butler came back and murmured something close to Tom's ear,
whereupon Tom frowned, pushed back his chair, and without a word went
inside. As if his absence quickened something within her, Daisy leaned
forward again, her voice glowing and singing.
"I love to see you at my table, Nick. You remind me of a--of a rose, an
absolute rose. Doesn't he?" She turned to Miss Baker for confirmation:
"An absolute rose?"
This was untrue. I am not even faintly like a rose. She was only
extemporizing, but a stirring warmth flowed from her, as if her
heart was trying to come out to you concealed in one of those
breathless, thrilling words. Then suddenly she threw her napkin on the
table and excused herself and went into the house.
Miss Baker and I exchanged a short glance consciously devoid of
meaning. I was about to speak when she sat up alertly and said "Sh!" in
a warning voice. A subdued impassioned murmur was audible in the room
beyond, and Miss Baker leaned forward unashamed, trying to hear. The
murmur trembled on the verge of coherence, sank down, mounted
excitedly, and then ceased altogether.
"This Mr. Gatsby you spoke of is my neighbor----" I said.
"Don't talk. I want to hear what happens."
"Is something happening?" I inquired innocently.
"You mean to say you don't know?" said Miss Baker, honestly surprised.
"I thought everybody knew."
"Why----" she said hesitantly, "Tom's got some woman in New York."
"Got some woman?" I repeated blankly.
Miss Baker nodded.
"She might have the decency not to telephone him at dinner time. Don't
Almost before I had grasped her meaning there was the flutter of
a dress and the crunch of leather boots, and Tom and Daisy were back
at the table.
"It couldn't be helped!" cried Daisy with tense gaiety.
She sat down, glanced searchingly at Miss Baker and then at me, and
continued: "I looked outdoors for a minute, and it's very romantic
outdoors. There's a bird on the lawn that I think must be a nightingale
come over on the Cunard or White Star Line. He's
singing away----" Her
voice sang: "It's romantic, isn't it, Tom?"
"Very romantic," he said, and then miserably to me: "If it's light
after dinner, I want to take you down to the stables."
The telephone rang inside, startlingly, and as Daisy shook her
head decisively at Tom the subject of the stables, in fact all
subjects, vanished into air. Among the broken fragments of the
last five minutes at table I remember the candles being lit again,
pointlessly, and I was conscious of wanting to look squarely at every
one, and yet to avoid all eyes. I couldn't guess what Daisy and Tom
were thinking, but I doubt if even Miss Baker, who seemed to have
mastered a certain hardy scepticism, was able utterly to put this fifth
guest's shrill metallic urgency out of mind. To a certain temperament
the situation might have seemed intriguing--my own instinct was to
telephone immediately for the police.
The horses, needless to say, were not mentioned again. Tom and Miss
Baker, with several feet of twilight between them, strolled back into
the library, as if to a vigil beside a perfectly tangible body, while,
trying to look pleasantly
interested and a little deaf, I followed Daisy around a chain of
verandas to the porch in front. In its deep gloom we sat down side by
on a wicker settee.
Daisy took her face in her hands as if feeling its lovely shape, and
her eyes moved gradually out into the velvet dusk. I saw that turbulent
emotions possessed her, so I asked what I thought would be some
sedative questions about her little girl.
"We don't know each other very well, Nick," she said suddenly.
"Even if we are cousins. You didn't come to my wedding."
"I wasn't back from the war."
"That's true." She hesitated. "Well, I've had a very bad time, Nick,
and I'm pretty cynical about everything."
Evidently she had reason to be. I waited but she didn't say any more,
and after a moment I returned rather feebly to the subject of her
"I suppose she talks, and--eats, and everything."
"Oh, yes." She looked at me absently. "Listen, Nick; let me tell you
I said when she was born. Would you like to hear?"
"It'll show you how I've gotten to feel about--things. Well, she was
than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether
with an utterly abandoned feeling, and asked the nurse right away if it
was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head
away and wept. 'all right,' I said, 'I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope
she'll be a fool--that's the best thing a girl can be in this world,
a beautiful little fool."
"You see I think everything's terrible anyhow," she went
on in a convinced way. "Everybody thinks so--the most advanced people.
And I KNOW. I've been everywhere and seen everything and done
Her eyes flashed around her in a defiant way, rather like Tom's, and she
laughed with thrilling scorn. "Sophisticated--God, I'm sophisticated!"
The instant her voice broke off, ceasing to compel my attention,
my belief, I felt the basic insincerity of what she had said.
It made me uneasy, as though the whole evening had been a trick
of some sort to exact a contributory emotion from me. I waited,
and sure enough, in a moment she looked at me with an absolute smirk
on her lovely face, as if she had asserted her membership in a rather
distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged.
Inside, the crimson room bloomed with light.
Tom and Miss Baker sat at either end of the long couch and she read
aloud to him from the SATURDAY EVENING POST.--the words, murmurous and
uninflected, running together in a soothing tune. The lamp-light,
bright on his boots and dull on the autumn-leaf yellow of her hair,
glinted along the paper as she turned a page with a flutter of slender
muscles in her arms.
When we came in she held us silent for a moment with a lifted hand.
"To be continued," she said, tossing the magazine on the table, "in our
very next issue."
Her body asserted itself with a restless movement of her knee, and she
"Ten o'clock," she remarked, apparently finding the time on the
ceiling. "Time for this good girl to go to bed."
"Jordan's going to play in the tournament to-morrow," explained Daisy,
"over at Westchester."
"Oh--you're Jordan BAKER."
I knew now why her face was familiar--its pleasing contemptuous
expression had looked out at me from many rotogravure pictures of
the sporting life at Asheville and Hot Springs and Palm Beach. I
had heard some story of her too, a critical, unpleasant story,
but what it was I had forgotten long ago.
"Good night," she said softly. "Wake me at eight, won't you."
"If you'll get up."
"I will. Good night, Mr. Carraway. See you anon."
"Of course you will," confirmed Daisy. "In fact I think I'll arrange
a marriage. Come over often, Nick, and I'll sort of--oh--fling you
together. You know--lock you up accidentally in linen closets and push
you out to sea in a boat, and all that sort of thing----"
"Good night," called Miss Baker from the stairs. "I haven't heard a
"She's a nice girl," said Tom after a moment. "They oughtn't to let her
run around the country this way."
"Who oughtn't to?" inquired Daisy coldly.
"Her family is one aunt about a thousand years old. Besides, Nick's
going to look after her, aren't you, Nick? She's going to spend lots of
week-ends out here this summer. I think the home influence will be very
good for her."
Daisy and Tom looked at each other for a moment in silence.
"Is she from New York?" I asked quickly.
"From Louisville. Our white girlhood was passed together there. Our
"Did you give Nick a little heart to heart talk on the veranda?"
demanded Tom suddenly.
"Did I?" She looked at me.
"I can't seem to remember, but I think we talked about the Nordic race.
Yes, I'm sure we did. It sort of crept up on us and first thing you
"Don't believe everything you hear, Nick," he advised me.
I said lightly that I had heard nothing at all, and a few minutes later
I got up to go home. They came to the door with me and stood side by
side in a cheerful square of light. As I started my motor Daisy
peremptorily called: "Wait!"
"I forgot to ask you something, and it's important. We heard you were
engaged to a girl out West."
"That's right," corroborated Tom kindly. "We heard that you were
"It's libel. I'm too poor."
"But we heard it," insisted Daisy, surprising me by opening up again in
a flower-like way. "We heard it from three people, so it must be true."
Of course I knew what they were referring to, but I wasn't even vaguely
engaged. The fact that gossip had published the banns was one of the
reasons I had come East. You can't stop going with an old friend on
account of rumors, and on the other hand I had no intention of being
rumored into marriage.
Their interest rather touched me and made them less remotely
rich--nevertheless, I was confused and a little disgusted
as I drove away. It seemed to me that the thing for Daisy to do was to
rush out of the house, child in arms--but apparently there were no such
intentions in her head. As for Tom, the fact that he "had some woman in
New York." was really less surprising than that he had been depressed
a book. Something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as
his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart.
Already it was deep summer on roadhouse roofs and in front of wayside
garages, where new red gas-pumps sat out in pools of light, and when I
reached my estate at West Egg I ran the car under its shed and sat for
a while on an abandoned grass roller in the yard. The wind had blown
off, leaving a loud, bright night, with wings beating in the trees and
a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the
frogs full of life. The silhouette of a moving cat wavered across the
moonlight, and turning my head to watch it, I saw that I was not
alone--fifty feet away a figure had emerged from the shadow of my
neighbor's mansion and was standing with his hands in his pockets
regarding the silver pepper of the stars. Something in his leisurely
movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested
that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was
his of our local heavens.
I decided to call to him. Miss Baker had mentioned him at dinner, and
that would do for an introduction. But I didn't call to him, for he gave
a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone--he stretched out
arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was
from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced
seaward--and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute
far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once
for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet
About half way between
West Egg and New York the motor road hastily
joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to
shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of
ashes--a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and
hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and
chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of
men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.
Occasionally a line of gray cars crawls along an invisible track, gives
out a ghastly creak, and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-gray
men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud,
which screens their obscure operations from your sight.
But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift
endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T.
J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and
gigantic--their irises are one yard high. They look out of no face, but,
instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a
nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them
there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank
down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away.
But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and
brood on over the solemn dumping ground.
The valley of ashes is bounded on one side by a small foul river, and,
when the drawbridge is up to let barges through, the passengers on
waiting trains can stare at the dismal scene for as long as half an
hour. There is always a halt there of at least a minute, and it was
because of this that I first met Tom Buchanan's mistress.
The fact that he had one was insisted upon wherever he was known. His
acquaintances resented the fact that he turned up in popular
restaurants with her and, leaving her at a table, sauntered about,
chatting with whomsoever he knew. Though I was curious to see her, I
had no desire to meet her--but I did. I went up to New York with Tom on
the train one afternoon, and when we stopped by the ashheaps he jumped
to his feet and, taking hold of my elbow, literally forced me from the
"We're getting off," he insisted. "I want you to meet my girl."
I think he'd tanked up a good deal at luncheon, and his determination to
have my company bordered on violence. The supercilious assumption was
on Sunday afternoon I had nothing better to do.
I followed him over a low whitewashed railroad fence, and we walked
back a hundred yards along the road under Doctor Eckleburg's persistent
stare. The only building in sight was a small block of yellow brick
sitting on the edge of the waste land, a sort of compact Main Street
ministering to it, and contiguous to absolutely nothing. One of the
three shops it contained was for rent and another was an all-night
restaurant, approached by a trail of ashes; the third was a
garage--Repairs. GEORGE B. WILSON. Cars bought and sold.--and
I followed Tom inside.
The interior was unprosperous and bare; the only car visible was the
dust-covered wreck of a Ford which crouched in a dim corner. It had
occurred to me that this shadow of a garage must be a blind, and that
sumptuous and romantic apartments were concealed overhead, when the
proprietor himself appeared in the door of an office, wiping his hands
on a piece of waste. He was a blond, spiritless man, anaemic, and
faintly handsome. When he saw us a damp gleam of hope sprang into his
light blue eyes.
"Hello, Wilson, old man," said Tom, slapping him jovially on the
shoulder. "How's business?"
"I can't complain," answered Wilson unconvincingly. "When are you going
to sell me that car?"
"Next week; I've got my man working on it now."
"Works pretty slow, don't he?"
"No, he doesn't," said Tom coldly. "And if you feel that way about it,
maybe I'd better sell it somewhere else after all."
"I don't mean that," explained Wilson quickly. "I just meant----"
His voice faded off and Tom glanced impatiently around the garage. Then
I heard footsteps on a stairs, and in a moment the thickish figure of a
woman blocked out the light from the office door. She was in the middle
thirties, and faintly stout, but she carried her surplus flesh
as some women can. Her face, above a spotted dress of dark blue
crepe-de-chine, contained no facet or gleam of beauty, but there was an
immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body
were continually smouldering. She smiled slowly and, walking through her
husband as if he were a ghost, shook hands with Tom, looking him flush
the eye. Then she wet her lips, and without turning around spoke to her
husband in a soft, coarse voice:
"Get some chairs, why don't you, so somebody can sit down."
"Oh, sure," agreed Wilson hurriedly, and went toward the little office,
mingling immediately with the cement color of the walls. A white ashen
dust veiled his dark suit and his pale hair as it veiled everything in
the vicinity--except his wife, who moved close to Tom.
"I want to see you," said Tom intently. "Get on the next train."
"I'll meet you by the news-stand on the lower level." She nodded and
moved away from him just as George Wilson emerged with two chairs from
his office door.
We waited for her down the road and out of sight. It was a few days
the Fourth of July, and a gray, scrawny Italian child was setting
torpedoes in a row along the railroad track.
"Terrible place, isn't it," said Tom, exchanging a frown with Doctor
"It does her good to get away."
"Doesn't her husband object?"
"Wilson? He thinks she goes to see her sister in New York. He's so dumb
he doesn't know he's alive."
So Tom Buchanan and his girl and I went up together to New York--or not
quite together, for Mrs. Wilson sat discreetly in another car. Tom
deferred that much to the sensibilities of those East Eggers who might
on the train.
She had changed her dress to a brown figured muslin, which stretched
tight over her rather wide hips as Tom helped her to the platform in
New York. At the news-stand she bought a copy of TOWN TATTLE. and a
moving-picture magazine, and in the station drug-store some cold cream
and a small flask of perfume. Up-stairs, in the solemn echoing drive
she let four taxicabs drive away before she selected a new one,
lavender-colored with gray upholstery, and in this we slid out from the
mass of the station into the glowing sunshine. But immediately she
turned sharply from the window and, leaning forward, tapped on the
"I want to get one of those dogs," she said earnestly. "I want to get
for the apartment. They're nice to have--a dog."
We backed up to a gray old man who bore an absurd resemblance to John
D. Rockefeller. In a basket swung from his neck cowered a dozen very
recent puppies of an indeterminate breed.
"What kind are they?" asked Mrs. Wilson eagerly, as he came to the
"All kinds. What kind do you want, lady?"
"I'd like to get one of those police dogs; I don't suppose you got that
The man peered doubtfully into the basket, plunged in his hand and drew
one up, wriggling, by the back of the neck.
"That's no police dog," said Tom.
"No, it's not exactly a polICE dog," said the man with disappointment
in his voice. "It's more of an Airedale." He passed his hand over the
brown wash-rag of a back. "Look at that coat. Some coat. That's a dog
that'll never bother you with catching cold."
"I think it's cute," said Mrs. Wilson enthusiastically. "How much is
"That dog?" He looked at it admiringly. "That dog will cost you ten
The Airedale--undoubtedly there was an Airedale concerned in it
though its feet were startlingly white--changed hands and settled down
into Mrs. Wilson's lap, where she fondled the weather-proof coat with
"Is it a boy or a girl?" she asked delicately.
"That dog? That dog's a boy."
"It's a bitch," said Tom decisively. "Here's your money. Go and buy ten
more dogs with it."
We drove over to Fifth Avenue, so warm and soft, almost pastoral, on the
summer Sunday afternoon that I wouldn't have been surprised to see a
flock of white sheep turn the corner.
"Hold on," I said, "I have to leave you here."
"No, you don't," interposed Tom quickly.
"Myrtle'll be hurt if you don't come up to the apartment. Won't you,
"Come on," she urged. "I'll telephone my sister Catherine. She's said to
be very beautiful by people who ought to know."
"Well, I'd like to, but----"
We went on, cutting back again over the Park toward the West Hundreds.
At 158th Street the cab stopped at one slice in a long white cake of
apartment-houses. Throwing a regal homecoming glance around the
neighborhood, Mrs. Wilson gathered up her dog and her other purchases,
and went haughtily in.
"I'm going to have the McKees come up," she announced as we rose in the
elevator. "And, of course, I got to call up my sister, too."
The apartment was on the top floor--a small living-room, a small
dining-room, a small bedroom, and a bath. The living-room was crowded to
the doors with a set of tapestried furniture entirely too large for it,
so that to move about was to stumble continually over scenes of
ladies swinging in the gardens of Versailles. The only picture was
an over-enlarged photograph, apparently a hen sitting on a blurred
rock. Looked at from a distance, however, the hen resolved itself
into a bonnet, and the countenance of a stout old lady beamed down
into the room. Several old copies of TOWN TATTLE. lay on the table
together with a copy of SIMON CALLED PETER, and some of the small
scandal magazines of Broadway. Mrs. Wilson was first concerned with
the dog. A reluctant elevator-boy went for a box full of straw and
some milk, to which he added on his own initiative a tin of large,
hard dog-biscuits--one of which decomposed apathetically in the saucer
of milk all afternoon. Meanwhile Tom brought out a bottle of whiskey
from a locked bureau door.
I have been drunk just twice in my life, and the second time was that
afternoon; so everything that happened has a dim, hazy cast over it,
although until after eight o'clock the apartment was full of cheerful
sun. Sitting on Tom's lap Mrs. Wilson called up several people on the
telephone; then there were no cigarettes, and I went out to buy some at
the drugstore on the corner. When I came back they had disappeared, so
I sat down discreetly in the living-room and read a chapter of SIMON
CALLED PETER.--either it was terrible stuff or the whiskey distorted
things, because it didn't make any sense to me.
Just as Tom and Myrtle (after the first drink Mrs. Wilson and I called
each other by our first names) reappeared, company commenced to arrive
at the apartment-door.
The sister, Catherine, was a slender, worldly girl of about thirty,
with a solid, sticky bob of red hair, and a complexion powdered milky
white. Her eye-brows had been plucked and then drawn on again at a more
rakish angle, but the efforts of nature toward the restoration of the
old alignment gave a blurred air to her face. When she moved about
there was an incessant clicking as innumerable pottery bracelets
jingled up and down upon her arms. She came in with such a proprietary
haste, and looked around so possessively at the furniture that I
if she lived here. But when I asked her she laughed immoderately,
my question aloud, and told me she lived with a girl friend at a hotel.
Mr. McKee was a pale, feminine man from the flat below. He had just
shaved, for there was a white spot of lather on his cheekbone, and he
was most respectful in his greeting to every one in the room. He
informed me that he was in the "artistic game," and I gathered later
that he was a photographer and had made the dim enlargement of Mrs.
Wilson's mother which hovered like an ectoplasm on the wall. His wife
was shrill, languid, handsome, and horrible. She told me with pride
that her husband had photographed her a hundred and twenty-seven times
since they had been married.
Mrs. Wilson had changed her costume some time before, and was now
attired in an elaborate afternoon dress of cream-colored chiffon, which
gave out a continual rustle as she swept about the room.With the
the dress her personality had also undergone a change. The intense
that had been so remarkable in the garage was converted into impressive
Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently
moment by moment, and as she expanded the room grew smaller around her,
until she seemed to be revolving on a noisy, creaking pivot through the
"My dear," she told her sister in a high, mincing shout, "most of these
fellas will cheat you every time. All they think of is money. I had a
woman up here last week to look at my feet, and when she gave me the
bill you'd of thought she had my appendicitis out."
"What was the name of the woman?" asked Mrs. McKee.
"Mrs. Eberhardt. She goes around looking at people's feet in their own
"I like your dress," remarked Mrs. McKee, "I think it's adorable."
Mrs. Wilson rejected the compliment by raising her eyebrow in disdain.
"It's just a crazy old thing," she said. "I just slip it on sometimes
I don't care what I look like."
"But it looks wonderful on you, if you know what I mean," pursued
Mrs. McKee. "If Chester could only get you in that pose I think he could
make something of it."
We all looked in silence at Mrs. Wilson, who removed a strand of hair
over her eyes and looked back at us with a brilliant smile. Mr. McKee
regarded her intently with his head on one side,
and then moved his hand back and forth slowly in front of his face.
"I should change the light," he said after a moment. "I'd like to bring
out the modelling of the features. And I'd try to get hold of all the
"I wouldn't think of changing the light," cried Mrs. McKee. "I think
Her husband said "SH!" and we all looked at the subject again, whereupon
Tom Buchanan yawned audibly and got to his feet.
"You McKees have something to drink," he said. "Get some more ice and
mineral water, Myrtle, before everybody goes to sleep."
"I told that boy about the ice." Myrtle raised her eyebrows in despair
at the shiftlessness of the lower orders. "These people! You have to
after them all the time."
She looked at me and laughed pointlessly. Then she flounced over to the
dog, kissed it with ecstasy, and swept into the kitchen, implying that
a dozen chefs awaited her orders there.
"I've done some nice things out on Long Island," asserted Mr. McKee.
Tom looked at him blankly.
"Two of them we have framed down-stairs."
"Two what?" demanded Tom.
"Two studies. One of them I call MONTAUK POINT--THE GULLS, and the
other I call MONTAUK POINT--THE SEA."
The sister Catherine sat down beside me on the couch.
"Do you live down on Long Island, too?" she inquired.
"I live at West Egg."
"Really? I was down there at a party about a month ago. At a man named
Gatsby's. Do you know him?"
"I live next door to him."
"Well, they say he's a nephew or a cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm's. That's
where all his money comes from."
"I'm scared of him. I'd hate to have him get anything on me."
This absorbing information about my neighbor was interrupted by
Mrs. McKee's pointing suddenly at Catherine:
"Chester, I think you could do something with HER," she broke out,
but Mr. McKee only nodded in a bored way, and turned his attention
"I'd like to do more work on Long Island, if I could get the entry. All
I ask is that they should give me a start."
"Ask Myrtle," said Tom, breaking into a short shout of laughter as
Mrs. Wilson entered with a tray. "She'll give you a letter of
introduction, won't you Myrtle?"
"Do what?" she asked, startled.
"You'll give McKee a letter of introduction to your husband, so he can
do some studies of him." His lips moved silently for a moment as he
invented. "GEORGE B. WILSON AT THE GASOLINE PUMP, or something like
Catherine leaned close to me and whispered in my ear: "Neither of them
can stand the person they're married to."
"Can't STAND them." She looked at Myrtle and then at Tom. "What I say
why go on living with them if they can't stand them? If I was them I'd
a divorce and get married to each other right away."
"Doesn't she like Wilson either?"
The answer to this was unexpected. It came from Myrtle, who had
the question, and it was violent and obscene.
"You see," cried Catherine triumphantly. She lowered her voice again.
"It's really his wife that's keeping them apart. She's a Catholic, and
they don't believe in divorce."
Daisy was not a Catholic, and I was a little shocked at the
of the lie.
"When they do get married," continued Catherine, "they're going West to
live for a while until it blows over."
"It'd be more discreet to go to Europe."
"Oh, do you like Europe?" she exclaimed surprisingly. "I just got back
from Monte Carlo."
"Just last year. I went over there with another girl." "Stay long?"
"No, we just went to Monte Carlo and back. We went by way of Marseilles.
We had over twelve hundred dollars when we started, but we got gypped
out of it all in two days in the private rooms. We had an awful time
getting back, I can tell you. God, how I hated that town!"
The late afternoon sky bloomed in the window for a moment like the blue
honey of the Mediterranean--then the shrill voice of Mrs. McKee called
back into the room.
"I almost made a mistake, too," she declared vigorously. "I almost
married a little kyke who'd been after me for years. I knew he was
below me. Everybody kept saying to me: 'Lucille, that man's 'way below
you!' But if I hadn't met Chester, he'd of got me sure."
"Yes, but listen," said Myrtle Wilson, nodding her head up and down,
"at least you didn't marry him."
"I know I didn't."
"Well, I married him," said Myrtle, ambiguously. "And that's the
difference between your case and mine."
"Why did you, Myrtle?" demanded Catherine. "Nobody forced you to."
"I married him because I thought he was a gentleman," she said finally.
"I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn't fit to lick
"You were crazy about him for a while," said Catherine.
"Crazy about him!" cried Myrtle incredulously. "Who said I was crazy
him? I never was any more crazy about him than I was about that man
She pointed suddenly at me, and every one looked at me accusingly.
I tried to show by my expression that I had played no part in her past.
"The only CRAZY I was was when I married him. I knew right away I made a
mistake. He borrowed somebody's best suit to get married in, and never
even told me about it, and the man came after it one day when he was
'oh, is that your suit?' I said. 'this is the first I ever heard about
it.' But I gave it to him and then I lay down and cried to beat the band
"She really ought to get away from him," resumed Catherine to me.
"They've been living over that garage for eleven years. And Tom's the
first sweetie she ever had."
The bottle of whiskey--a second one--was now in constant demand by all
present, excepting Catherine, who "felt just as good on nothing at all."
Tom rang for the janitor
and sent him for some celebrated sandwiches,
which were a complete supper in themselves. I wanted to get out and walk
southward toward the park through the soft twilight, but each time I
to go I became entangled in some wild, strident argument which pulled me
back, as if with ropes, into my chair. Yet high over the city our line
yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the
casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up
wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and
by the inexhaustible variety of life.
Myrtle pulled her chair close to mine, and suddenly her warm breath
poured over me the story of her first meeting with Tom.
"It was on the two little seats facing each other that are always the
last ones left on the train. I was going up to New York to see my
sister and spend the night. He had on a dress suit and patent leather
shoes, and I couldn't keep my eyes off him, but every time he looked at
me I had to pretend to be looking at the advertisement over his head.
When we came into the station he was next to me, and his white
shirt-front pressed against my arm, and so I told him I'd have to call
a policeman, but he knew I lied. I was so excited that when I got into
a taxi with him I didn't hardly know I wasn't getting into a subway
train. All I kept thinking about, over and over, was 'You can't live
forever; you can't live forever.'"
She turned to Mrs. McKee and the room rang full of her artificial
"My dear," she cried, "I'm going to give you this dress as soon as I'm
through with it. I've got to get another one to-morrow. I'm going to
make a list of all the things I've got to get. A massage and a wave,
and a collar for the dog, and one of those cute little ash-trays where
you touch a spring, and a wreath with a black silk bow for mother's
grave that'll last all summer. I got to write down a list so I won't
forget all the things I got to do."
It was nine o'clock--almost immediately afterward I looked at my watch
and found it was ten. Mr. McKee was asleep on a chair with his fists
clenched in his lap, like a photograph of a man of action. Taking out my
handkerchief I wiped from his cheek the remains of the spot of dried
lather that had worried me all the afternoon.
The little dog was sitting on the table looking with blind eyes through
the smoke, and from time to time groaning faintly. People disappeared,
reappeared, made plans to go somewhere, and then lost each other,
searched for each other, found each other a few feet away. Some time
toward midnight Tom Buchanan and Mrs. Wilson stood face to face
discussing, in impassioned voices, whether Mrs. Wilson had any right to
mention Daisy's name.
"Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!" shouted Mrs. Wilson. "I'll say it whenever I want
to! Daisy! Dai----"
Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his
Then there were bloody towels upon the bath-room floor, and women's
voices scolding, and high over the confusion a long broken wail of
pain. Mr. McKee awoke from his doze and started in a daze toward the
When he had gone half way he turned around and stared at the scene--his
wife and Catherine scolding and consoling as they stumbled here and
there among the crowded furniture with articles of aid, and the
despairing figure on the couch, bleeding fluently, and trying to spread
a copy of TOWN TATTLE. over the tapestry scenes of Versailles.
Then Mr. McKee turned and continued on out the door. Taking my hat from
the chandelier, I followed.
"Come to lunch some day," he suggested, as we groaned down in the
"Keep your hands off the lever," snapped the elevator boy.
"I beg your pardon," said Mr. McKee with dignity, "I didn't know I was
"All right," I agreed, "I'll be glad to."
. . . I was standing beside his bed and he was sitting up between the
sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands.
"Beauty and the Beast . . . Loneliness . . . Old Grocery Horse . . .
Brook'n Bridge . . . ."
Then I was lying half asleep in the cold lower level of the Pennsylvania
Station, staring at the morning TRIBUNE, and waiting for the four
There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In
his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the
whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the
afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or
taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats
slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of
foam. On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties
to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past
midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to
meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants, including an extra
gardener, toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers
and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before.
Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer
in New York--every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back
door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the
kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an
hour if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler's
At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several
hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas
tree of Gatsby's enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with
glistening hors-d'oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of
harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold.
In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked
with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of
his female guests were too young to know one from another.
By seven o'clock the orchestra has arrived, no thin five-piece affair,
but a whole pit full of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and
cornets and piccolos, and low and high drums. The last swimmers have
come in from the beach now and are dressing up-stairs; the cars from
New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and
salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colors, and hair shorn in
strange new ways, and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile. The
bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the
garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and
casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and
enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other's names.
The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and
now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of
voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier minute by minute,
spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word. The groups
change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the
same breath; already there are wanderers, confident girls who weave
here and there among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp,
joyous moment the centre of a group, and then, excited with triumph,
glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and color under the
constantly changing light.
Suddenly one of the
gypsies, in trembling opal, seizes a cocktail out
of the air, dumps it down for courage and, moving her hands like
Frisco, dances out alone on the canvas platform. A momentary hush; the
orchestra leader varies his rhythm obligingly for her, and there is a
burst of chatter as the erroneous news goes around that she is Gilda
Gray's understudy from the FOLLIES. The party has begun.
I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby's house I was one of
the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not
invited--they went there. They got into automobiles which bore them out
to Long Island, and somehow they ended up at Gatsby's door. Once there
they were introduced by somebody who knew Gatsby, and after that they
conducted themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with
amusement parks. Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby
at all, came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own
ticket of admission.
I had been actually invited. A chauffeur in a uniform of robin's-egg
blue crossed my lawn early that Saturday morning with a surprisingly
formal note from his employer: the honor would be entirely Gatsby's, it
said, if I would attend his "little party" that night. He had
seen me several times, and had intended to call on me long before,
but a peculiar combination of circumstances had prevented it--signed
Jay Gatsby, in a majestic hand.
Dressed up in white flannels I went over to his lawn a little after
seven, and wandered around rather ill at ease among swirls and eddies
of people I didn't know--though here and there was a face I had noticed
on the commuting train. I was immediately struck by the number of young
Englishmen dotted about; all well dressed, all looking a little hungry,
and all talking in low, earnest voices to solid and prosperous
Americans. I was sure that they were selling something: bonds or
insurance or automobiles. They were at least agonizingly aware of the
easy money in the vicinity and convinced that it was theirs for a few
words in the right key.
As soon as I arrived I made an attempt to find my host, but the two or
three people of whom I asked his whereabouts stared at me in such an
amazed way, and denied so vehemently any knowledge of his movements,
that I slunk off in the direction of the cocktail table--the only place
in the garden where a single man could linger without looking
purposeless and alone.
I was on my way to get roaring drunk from sheer embarrassment when
Jordan Baker came out of the house and stood at the head of the marble
steps, leaning a little backward and looking with contemptuous interest
down into the garden.
Welcome or not, I found it necessary to attach myself to some one
before I should begin to address cordial remarks to the passers-by.
"Hello!" I roared, advancing toward her. My voice seemed unnaturally
loud across the garden.
"I thought you might be here," she responded absently as I came up.
"I remembered you lived next door to----" She held my hand impersonally,
as a promise that she'd take care of me in a minute, and gave ear to
two girls in twin yellow dresses, who stopped at the foot of the steps.
"Hello!" they cried together. "Sorry you didn't win."
That was for the golf tournament. She had lost in the finals the week
"You don't know who we are," said one of the girls in yellow, "but we
met you here about a month ago."
"You've dyed your hair since then," remarked Jordan, and I started,
but the girls had moved casually on and her remark was addressed to the
premature moon, produced like the supper, no doubt, out of a caterer's
basket. With Jordan's slender golden arm resting in mine, we descended
the steps and sauntered about the garden. A tray of cocktails floated at
us through the twilight, and we sat down at a table with the two girls
yellow and three men, each one introduced to us as Mr. Mumble.
"Do you come to these parties often?" inquired Jordan of the girl
"The last one was the one I met you at," answered the girl, in an alert
confident voice. She turned to her companion: "Wasn't it for you,
It was for Lucille, too.
"I like to come," Lucille said. "I never care what I do, so I always
a good time. When I was here last I tore my gown on a chair, and he
me my name and address--inside of a week I got a package from Croirier's
with a new evening gown in it."
"Did you keep it?" asked Jordan.
"Sure I did. I was going to wear it to-night, but it was too big in the
bust and had to be altered. It was gas blue with lavender beads. Two
hundred and sixty-five dollars."
"There's something funny about a fellow that'll do a thing like that,"
said the other girl eagerly. "He doesn't want any trouble with ANYbody."
"Who doesn't?" I inquired.
"Gatsby. Somebody told me----"
The two girls and Jordan leaned together confidentially.
"Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once."
A thrill passed over all of us. The three Mr. Mumbles bent forward and
"I don't think it's so much THAT," argued Lucille skeptically; "it's
more that he was a German spy during the war."
One of the men nodded in confirmation.
"I heard that from a man who knew all about him, grew up with him in
Germany," he assured us positively.
"Oh, no," said the first girl, "it couldn't be that, because he was in
the American army during the war." As our credulity switched back to
her she leaned forward with enthusiasm. "You look at him sometimes when
he thinks nobody's looking at him. I'll bet he killed a man."
She narrowed her eyes and shivered. Lucille shivered. We all turned and
looked around for Gatsby. It was testimony to the romantic speculation
inspired that there were whispers about him from those who found little
that it was necessary to whisper about in this world.
The first supper--there would be another one after midnight--was now
being served, and Jordan invited me to join her own party, who were
spread around a table on the other side of the garden. There were
three married couples and Jordan's escort, a persistent undergraduate
given to violent innuendo, and obviously under the impression
that sooner or later Jordan was going to yield him up her person
to a greater or lesser degree. Instead of rambling, this party
had preserved a dignified homogeneity, and assumed to itself the
function of representing the staid nobility of the country-side--East
Egg condescending to West Egg, and carefully on guard against its
"Let's get out," whispered Jordan, after a somehow wasteful and
inappropriate half-hour. "This is much too polite for me."
We got up, and she explained that we were going to find the host:
I had never met him, she said, and it was making me uneasy. The
undergraduate nodded in a cynical, melancholy way.
The bar, where we glanced first, was crowded, but Gatsby was not there.
She couldn't find him from the top of the steps, and he wasn't on the
veranda. On a chance we tried an important-looking door, and walked
into a high Gothic library, panelled with carved English oak, and
probably transported complete from some ruin overseas.
A stout, middle-aged man, with enormous owl-eyed spectacles, was
sitting somewhat drunk on the edge of a great table, staring with
unsteady concentration at the shelves of books. As we entered he
wheeled excitedly around and examined Jordan from head to foot.
"What do you think?" he demanded impetuously.
He waved his hand toward the book-shelves.
"About that. As a matter of fact you needn't bother to ascertain. I
ascertained. They're real."
"Absolutely real--have pages and everything. I thought they'd be a nice
durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they're absolutely real. Pages
and--Here! Lemme show you."
Taking our scepticism for granted, he rushed to the bookcases and
returned with Volume One of the "Stoddard Lectures."
"See!" he cried triumphantly. "It's a bona-fide piece of printed matter.
It fooled me. This fella's a regular Belasco. It's a triumph. What
thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too--didn't cut the
But what do you want? What do you expect?"
He snatched the book from me and replaced it hastily on its shelf,
muttering that if one brick was removed the whole library was liable
"Who brought you?" he demanded. "Or did you just come? I was brought.
Most people were brought."
Jordan looked at him alertly, cheerfully, without answering.
"I was brought by a woman named Roosevelt," he continued. "Mrs. Claud
Roosevelt. Do you know her? I met her somewhere last night. I've
been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me
up to sit in a library."
"A little bit, I think. I can't tell yet. I've only been here
an hour. Did I tell you about the books? They're real. They're----"
"You told us." We shook hands with him gravely and went back outdoors.
There was dancing
now on the canvas in the garden; old men pushing
young girls backward in eternal graceless circles, superior couples
holding each other tortuously, fashionably, and keeping in the
corners--and a great number of single girls dancing individualistically
or relieving the orchestra for a moment of the burden of the banjo or
the traps. By midnight the hilarity had increased. A celebrated tenor
sung in Italian, and a notorious contralto had sung in jazz, and between
the numbers people were doing "stunts" all over the garden, while happy,
vacuous bursts of laughter rose toward the summer sky. A pair of stage
twins, who turned out to be the girls in yellow, did a baby act in
costume, and champagne was served in glasses bigger than finger-bowls.
The moon had risen higher, and floating in the Sound was a triangle of
silver scales, trembling a little to the stiff, tinny drip of the
banjoes on the lawn.
I was still with Jordan Baker. We were sitting at a table with a man of
about my age and a rowdy little girl, who gave way upon the slightest
provocation to uncontrollable laughter. I was enjoying myself now. I
had taken two finger-bowls of champagne, and the scene had changed
before my eyes into something significant, elemental, and profound.
At a lull in the
entertainment the man looked at me and smiled.
"Your face is familiar," he said, politely. "Weren't you in the Third
Division during the war?"
"Why, yes. I was in the Ninth Machine-gun Battalion."
"I was in the Seventh Infantry until June nineteen-eighteen. I knew I'd
seen you somewhere before."
We talked for a moment about some wet, gray little villages in France.
Evidently he lived in this vicinity, for he told me that he had just
bought a hydroplane, and was going to try it out in the morning.
"Want to go with me, old sport? Just near the shore along the Sound."
"Any time that suits you best."
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask his name when Jordan looked around
"Having a gay time now?" she inquired.
"Much better." I turned again to my new acquaintance. "This is an
party for me. I haven't even seen the host. I live over there----" I
my hand at the invisible hedge in the distance, "and this man Gatsby
over his chauffeur with an invitation." For a moment he looked at me as
he failed to understand.
"I'm Gatsby," he said suddenly.
"What!" I exclaimed. "Oh, I beg your pardon."
"I thought you knew, old sport. I'm afraid I'm not a very good host."
He smiled understandingly--much more than understandingly. It was
one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance
in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced--or
seemed to face--the whole external world for an instant, and then
concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It
understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in
you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it
had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to
convey. Precisely at that point it vanished--and I was looking at an
elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate
formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he
introduced himself I'd got a strong impression that he was picking his
words with care.
Almost at the moment when Mr. Gatsby identified himself, a butler
hurried toward him with the information that Chicago was calling him on
the wire. He excused himself with a small bow that included each of us
"If you want anything just ask for it, old sport," he urged me.
"Excuse me. I will rejoin you later."
When he was gone I turned immediately to Jordan--constrained to assure
of my surprise. I had expected that Mr. Gatsby would be a florid and
corpulent person in his middle years.
"Who is he?" I demanded.
"Do you know?"
"He's just a man named Gatsby."
"Where is he from, I mean? And what does he do?"
"Now YOU'RE started on the subject," she answered with a wan smile.
"Well, he told me once he was an Oxford man." A dim background started
to take shape behind him, but at her next remark it faded away.
"However, I don't believe it."
"I don't know," she insisted, "I just don't think he went
Something in her tone reminded me of the other girl's "I think
he killed a man," and had the effect of stimulating my curiosity. I
would have accepted without question the information that Gatsby sprang
from the swamps of Louisiana or from the lower East Side of New York.
That was comprehensible. But young men didn't--at least in my provincial
inexperience I believed they didn't--drift coolly out of nowhere and buy
a palace on Long Island Sound.
"Anyhow, he gives large parties," said Jordan, changing the subject
with an urbane distaste for the concrete. "And I like large parties.
They're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy."
There was the boom of a bass drum, and the voice of the orchestra leader
rang out suddenly above the echolalia of the garden.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he cried. "At the request of Mr. Gatsby we are
going to play for you Mr. Vladimir Tostoff's latest work, which
so much attention at Carnegie Hall last May. If you read the papers,
you know there was a big sensation." He smiled with jovial
and added: "Some sensation!" Whereupon everybody laughed.
"The piece is known," he concluded lustily, "as Vladimir Tostoff's
JAZZ HISTORY OF THE WORLD."
The nature of Mr. Tostoff's composition eluded me, because just as it
my eyes fell on Gatsby, standing alone on the marble steps and looking
one group to another with approving eyes. His tanned skin was drawn
tight on his face and his short hair looked as though it were trimmed
day. I could see nothing sinister about him. I wondered if the fact
was not drinking helped to set him off from his guests, for it seemed
to me that he grew more correct as the fraternal hilarity increased.
When the JAZZ HISTORY OF THE WORLD was over, girls were putting
their heads on men's shoulders in a puppyish, convivial way, girls were
swooning backward playfully into men's arms, even into groups, knowing
that some one would arrest their falls--but no one swooned backward on
Gatsby, and no French bob touched Gatsby's shoulder, and no singing
quartets were formed with Gatsby's head for one link.
"I beg your pardon."
Gatsby's butler was suddenly standing beside us.
"Miss Baker?" he inquired. "I beg your pardon, but Mr. Gatsby would like
to speak to you alone."
"With me?" she exclaimed in surprise.
She got up slowly, raising her eyebrows at me in astonishment,
and followed the butler toward the house. I noticed that she wore
her evening-dress, all her dresses, like sports clothes--there
was a jauntiness about her movements as if she had first learned to
walk upon golf courses on clean, crisp mornings.
I was alone and it was almost two. For some time confused and
intriguing sounds had issued from a long, many-windowed room which
overhung the terrace. Eluding Jordan's undergraduate, who was now
engaged in an obstetrical conversation with two chorus girls, and who
implored me to join him, I went inside.
The large room was full of people. One of the girls in yellow was
playing the piano, and beside her stood a tall, red-haired young lady
from a famous chorus, engaged in song. She had drunk a quantity of
champagne, and during the course of her song she had decided, ineptly,
that everything was very, very sad--she was not only singing, she was
weeping too. Whenever there was a pause in the song she filled it with
gasping, broken sobs, and then took up the lyric again in a quavering
soprano. The tears coursed down her cheeks--not freely, however, for
they came into contact with her heavily beaded eyelashes they assumed an
inky color, and pursued the rest of their way in slow black rivulets. A
humorous suggestion was made that she sing the notes on her face,
whereupon she threw up her hands, sank into a chair, and went off into
a deep vinous sleep.
"She had a fight with a man who says he's her husband," explained a
girl at my elbow.
I looked around. Most of the remaining women were now having fights
with men said to be their husbands. Even Jordan's party, the quartet
from East Egg, were rent asunder by dissension. One of the men was
talking with curious intensity to a young actress, and his wife, after
attempting to laugh at the situation in a dignified and indifferent
way, broke down entirely and resorted to flank attacks--at intervals she
appeared suddenly at his side like an angry diamond, and hissed: "You
promised!" into his ear.
The reluctance to go home was not confined to wayward men. The hall was
present occupied by two deplorably sober men and their highly indignant
wives. The wives were sympathizing with each other in slightly raised
"Whenever he sees I'm having a good time he wants to go home."
"Never heard anything so selfish in my life."
"We're always the first ones to leave."
"So are we."
"Well, we're almost the last to-night," said one of the men sheepishly.
"The orchestra left half an hour ago."
In spite of the wives' agreement that such malevolence was beyond
credibility, the dispute ended in a short struggle, and both wives were
lifted, kicking, into the night.
As I waited for my hat in the hall the door of the library opened and
Jordan Baker and Gatsby came out together. He was saying some last word
to her, but the eagerness in his manner tightened abruptly into
formality as several people approached him to say good-bye.
Jordan's party were calling impatiently to her from the porch, but she
lingered for a moment to shake hands.
"I've just heard the most amazing thing," she whispered. "How long were
we in there?"
"Why, about an hour."
"It was--simply amazing," she repeated abstractedly.
"But I swore I wouldn't tell it and here I am tantalizing
you." She yawned gracefully in my face: "Please come and see
me. . . . Phone book . . . Under the name of Mrs. Sigourney
Howard . . . My aunt . . ." She was hurrying off as she talked--her
hand waved a jaunty salute as she melted into her party at the door.
Rather ashamed that on my first appearance I had stayed so late, I
joined the last of Gatsby's guests, who were clustered around him. I
wanted to explain that I'd hunted for him early in the evening and to
apologize for not having known him in the garden.
"Don't mention it," he enjoined me eagerly. "Don't give it another
thought, old sport." The familiar expression held no more familiarity
than the hand which reassuringly brushed my shoulder. "And don't forget
we're going up in the hydroplane to-morrow morning, at nine o'clock."
Then the butler, behind his shoulder:
"Philadelphia wants you on the phone, sir."
"All right, in a minute. Tell them I'll be right there. . . . good night."
"Good night." He smiled--and suddenly there seemed to be a pleasant
significance in having been among the last to go, as if he had desired
it all the time. "Good night, old sport. . . . good night."
But as I walked down
the steps I saw that the evening was not quite over.
Fifty feet from the door a dozen headlights illuminated a bizarre and
tumultuous scene. In the ditch beside the road, right side up, but
violently shorn of one wheel, rested a new coupe which had left Gatsby's
drive not two minutes before. The sharp jut of a wall accounted for the
detachment of the wheel, which was now getting considerable attention
half a dozen curious chauffeurs. However, as they had left their cars
blocking the road, a harsh, discordant din from those in the rear had
audible for some time, and added to the already violent confusion of
A man in a long duster had dismounted from the wreck and now stood in
the middle of the road, looking from the car to the tire and from the
tire to the observers in a pleasant, puzzled way.
"See!" he explained. "It went in the ditch."
The fact was infinitely astonishing to him, and I recognized first the
unusual quality of wonder, and then the man--it was the late patron of
"How'd it happen?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I know nothing whatever about mechanics," he said decisively.
"But how did it happen? Did you run into the wall?" "Don't ask me,"
said Owl Eyes, washing his hands of the whole matter. "I know very
about driving--next to nothing. It happened, and that's all I know."
"Well, if you're a poor driver you oughtn't to try driving at night."
"But I wasn't even trying," he explained indignantly, "I wasn't even
An awed hush fell upon the bystanders.
"Do you want to commit suicide?"
"You're lucky it was just a wheel! A bad driver and not even TRYing!"
"You don't understand," explained the criminal. "I wasn't driving.
another man in the car."
The shock that followed this declaration found voice in a sustained
"Ah-h-h!" as the door of the coupe swung slowly open. The crowd--it was
now a crowd--stepped back involuntarily, and when the door had opened
there was a ghostly pause. Then, very gradually, part by part, a pale,
dangling individual stepped out of the wreck, pawing tentatively at the
ground with a large uncertain dancing shoe.
Blinded by the glare of the headlights and confused by the incessant
groaning of the horns, the apparition stood swaying for a moment before
he perceived the man in the duster.
"Wha's matter?" he inquired calmly. "Did we run outa gas?"
Half a dozen fingers pointed at the amputated wheel--he stared
at it for a moment, and then looked upward as though he suspected that
it had dropped from the sky.
"It came off," some one explained.
"At first I din' notice we'd stopped."
A pause. Then, taking a long breath and straightening his shoulders,
he remarked in a determined voice:
"Wonder'ff tell me where there's a gas'line station?"
At least a dozen men, some of them little better off than he was,
explained to him that wheel and car were no longer joined by any
"Back out," he suggested after a moment. "Put her in reverse."
"But the WHEEL'S off!"
"No harm in trying," he said.
The caterwauling horns had reached a crescendo and I turned away and
cut across the lawn toward home. I glanced back once. A wafer of a moon
was shining over Gatsby's house, making the night fine as before, and
surviving the laughter and the sound of his still glowing garden. A
sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great
doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host, who
stood on the porch, his hand up in a formal gesture of farewell.
Reading over what I have written so far, I see I have given the
impression that the events of three nights several weeks apart were all
that absorbed me. On the contrary, they were merely casual events in a
crowded summer, and, until much later, they absorbed me infinitely less
than my personal affairs.
Most of the time I worked. In the early morning the sun threw my shadow
westward as I hurried down the white chasms of lower New York to the
Probity Trust. I knew the other clerks and young bond-salesmen by their
first names, and lunched with them in dark, crowded restaurants on
little pig sausages and mashed potatoes and coffee. I even had a short
affair with a girl who lived in Jersey City and worked in the
accounting department, but her brother began throwing mean looks in my
direction, so when she went on her vacation in July I let it blow
I took dinner usually at the Yale Club--for some reason it was the
gloomiest event of my day--and then I went up-stairs to the library and
studied investments and securities for a conscientious hour.
There were generally a few rioters around, but they never came into the
library, so it was a good place to work. After that, if the night was
mellow, I strolled down Madison Avenue past the old Murray Hill Hotel,
and over 33rd Street to the Pennsylvania Station.
I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night,
and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and
machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and
pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few
minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever
know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their
apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled
back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness. At the
enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes,
and felt it in others--poor young clerks who loitered in front of
waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner--young clerks
in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.
Again at eight o'clock, when the dark lanes of the Forties were five
deep with throbbing taxi-cabs, bound for the theatre district, I felt a
sinking in my heart. Forms leaned together in the taxis as they waited,
and voices sang, and there was laughter from unheard jokes, and lighted
cigarettes outlined unintelligible gestures inside. Imagining that
I, too, was hurrying toward gayety and sharing their intimate
excitement, I wished them well.
For a while I lost sight of Jordan Baker, and then in midsummer I found
her again. At first I was flattered to go places with her, because she
was a golf champion, and every one knew her name. Then it was
something more. I wasn't actually in love, but I felt a sort of
tender curiosity. The
bored haughty face that she turned to the
world concealed something--most affectations conceal something
eventually, even though they don't in the beginning--and one day I found
what it was. When we were on a house-party together up in Warwick, she
left a borrowed car out in the rain with the top down, and then lied
about it--and suddenly I remembered the story about her that had eluded
me that night at Daisy's. At her first big golf tournament there was a
row that nearly reached the newspapers--a suggestion that she had moved
her ball from a bad lie in the semi-final round. The thing approached
the proportions of a scandal--then died away. A caddy retracted his
statement, and the only other witness admitted that he might have been
mistaken. The incident and the name had remained together in my mind.
Jordan Baker instinctively avoided clever, shrewd men, and now I saw
that this was because she felt safer on a plane where any divergence
from a code would be thought impossible. She was incurably dishonest.
She wasn't able to endure being at a disadvantage and, given this
unwillingness, I suppose she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she
was very young in order to keep that cool, insolent smile turned to the
world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard, jaunty body.
It made no difference to me. Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never
blame deeply--I was casually sorry, and then I forgot. It was on that
same house party that we had a curious conversation about driving a
car. It started because she passed so close to some workmen that our
fender flicked a button on one man's coat.
"You're a rotten driver," I protested. "Either you ought to be more
careful, or you oughtn't to drive at all."
"I am careful."
"No, you're not."
"Well, other people are," she said lightly.
"What's that got to do with it?"
"They'll keep out of my way," she insisted. "It takes two to make an
"Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself."
"I hope I never will," she answered. "I hate careless people. That's why
I like you."
Her gray, sun-strained eyes stared straight ahead, but she had
deliberately shifted our relations, and for a moment I thought I loved
her. But I am slow-thinking and full of interior rules that act as
on my desires, and I knew that first I had to get myself definitely out
that tangle back home. I'd been writing letters once a week and signing
them: "Love, Nick," and all I could think of was how, when that certain
girl played tennis, a faint mustache of perspiration appeared on her
upper lip. Nevertheless there was a vague understanding that had to be
tactfully broken off before I was free.
Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and
this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.