The Great Gatsby (Chapter 2 Part 2)
The a Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Chapter 2 Part 2
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 influence of the dress her personality had also undergone a change. The intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the garage was converted into impressive hauteur. Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently affected 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 smoky air.
“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 homes.”
“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 when 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 from 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 back hair.”
“I wouldn’t think of changing the light,” cried Mrs. McKee. “I think it’s ——”
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 keep 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 to Tom.
“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 that.”
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 is, why go on living with them if they can’t stand them? If I was them I’d get 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 overheard 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 elaborateness 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 me 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 my shoe.”
“You were crazy about him for a while,” said Catherine.
“Crazy about him!” cried Myrtle incredulously. “Who said I was crazy about him? I never was any more crazy about him than I was about that man there.”
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 out. ‘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 all afternoon.”
“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 tried 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 of 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 and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled 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 laughter.
“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 open hand.
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 door. 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 elevator.
“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 touching it.”
“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 o’clock train.