Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

XIV

When they reached Paris Nicole was too tired to go on to the grand illumination at the Decorative Art Exposition as they had planned. They left her at the Hotel Roi George, and as she disappeared between the intersecting planes made by lobby lights of the glass doors, Rosemary’s oppression lifted. Nicole was a force — not necessarily well disposed or predictable like her mother — an incalculable force. Rosemary was somewhat afraid of her.

At eleven she sat with Dick and the Norths at a houseboat café just opened on the Seine. The river shimmered with lights from the bridges and cradled many cold moons. On Sundays sometimes when Rosemary and her mother had lived in Paris they had taken the little steamer up to Suresnes and talked about plans for the future. They had little money but Mrs. Speers was so sure of Rosemary’s beauty and had implanted in her so much ambition, that she was willing to gamble the money on “advantages”; Rosemary in turn was to repay her mother when she got her start . . . .

Since reaching Paris Abe North had had a thin vinous fur over him; his eyes were bloodshot from sun and wine. Rosemary realized for the first time that he was always stopping in places to get a drink, and she wondered how Mary North liked it. Mary was quiet, so quiet save for her frequent laughter that Rosemary had learned little about her. She liked the straight dark hair brushed back until it met some sort of natural cascade that took care of it — from time to time it eased with a jaunty slant over the corner of her temple, until it was almost in her eye when she tossed her head and caused it to fall sleek into place once more.

“We’ll turn in early to-night, Abe, after this drink.” Mary’s voice was light but it held a little flicker of anxiety. “You don’t want to be poured on the boat.”

“It’s pretty late now,” Dick said. “We’d all better go.”

The noble dignity of Abe’s face took on a certain stubbornness, and he remarked with determination:

“Oh, no.” He paused gravely. “Oh, no, not yet. We’ll have another bottle of champagne.”

“No more for me,” said Dick.

“It’s Rosemary I’m thinking of. She’s a natural alcoholic — keeps a bottle of gin in the bathroom and all that — her mother told me.”

He emptied what was left of the first bottle into Rosemary’s glass. She had made herself quite sick the first day in Paris with quarts of lemonade; after that she had taken nothing with them but now she raised the champagne and drank at it.

“But what’s this?” exclaimed Dick. “You told me you didn’t drink.”

“I didn’t say I was never going to.”

“What about your mother?”

“I’m just going to drink this one glass.” She felt some necessity for it. Dick drank, not too much, but he drank, and perhaps it would bring her closer to him, be a part of the equipment for what she had to do. She drank it quickly, choked and then said, “Besides, yesterday was my birthday — I was eighteen.”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” they said indignantly.

“I knew you’d make a fuss over it and go to a lot of trouble.” She finished the champagne. “So this is the celebration.”

“It most certainly is not,” Dick assured her. “The dinner tomorrow night is your birthday party and don’t forget it. Eighteen — why that’s a terribly important age.”

“I used to think until you’re eighteen nothing matters,” said Mary.

“That’s right,” Abe agreed. “And afterward it’s the same way.”

“Abe feels that nothing matters till he gets on the boat,” said Mary. “This time he really has got everything planned out when he gets to New York.” She spoke as though she were tired of saying things that no longer had a meaning for her, as if in reality the course that she and her husband followed, or failed to follow, had become merely an intention.

“He’ll be writing music in America and I’ll be working at singing in Munich, so when we get together again there’ll be nothing we can’t do.”

“That’s wonderful,” agreed Rosemary, feeling the champagne.

“Meanwhile, another touch of champagne for Rosemary. Then she’ll be more able to rationalize the acts of her lymphatic glands. They only begin to function at eighteen.”

Dick laughed indulgently at Abe, whom he loved, and in whom he had long lost hope: “That’s medically incorrect and we’re going.” Catching the faint patronage Abe said lightly:

“Something tells me I’ll have a new score on Broadway long before you’ve finished your scientific treatise.”

“I hope so,” said Dick evenly. “I hope so. I may even abandon what you call my ‘scientific treatise.’”

“Oh, Dick!” Mary’s voice was startled, was shocked. Rosemary had never before seen Dick’s face utterly expressionless; she felt that this announcement was something momentous and she was inclined to exclaim with Mary “Oh, Dick!”

But suddenly Dick laughed again, added to his remark “— abandon it for another one,” and got up from the table.

“But Dick, sit down. I want to know —”

“I’ll tell you some time. Good night, Abe. Good night, Mary.”

“Good night, dear Dick.” Mary smiled as if she were going to be perfectly happy sitting there on the almost deserted boat. She was a brave, hopeful woman and she was following her husband somewhere, changing herself to this kind of person or that, without being able to lead him a step out of his path, and sometimes realizing with discouragement how deep in him the guarded secret of her direction lay. And yet an air of luck clung about her, as if she were a sort of token . . . .

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:06