Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

XVI

She woke up cooled and shamed. The sight of her beauty in the mirror did not reassure her but only awakened the ache of yesterday and a letter, forwarded by her mother, from the boy who had taken her to the Yale prom last fall, which announced his presence in Paris was no help — all that seemed far away. She emerged from her room for the ordeal of meeting the Divers weighted with a double trouble. But it was hidden by a sheath as impermeable as Nicole’s when they met and went together to a series of fittings. It was consoling, though, when Nicole remarked, apropos of a distraught saleswoman: “Most people think everybody feels about them much more violently than they actually do — they think other people’s opinions of them swing through great arcs of approval or disapproval.” Yesterday in her expansiveness Rosemary would have resented that remark — to-day in her desire to minimize what had happened she welcomed it eagerly. She admired Nicole for her beauty and her wisdom, and also for the first time in her life she was jealous. Just before leaving Gausse’s hotel her mother had said in that casual tone, which Rosemary knew concealed her most significant opinions, that Nicole was a great beauty, with the frank implication that Rosemary was not. This did not bother Rosemary, who had only recently been allowed to learn that she was even personable; so that her prettiness never seemed exactly her own but rather an acquirement, like her French. Nevertheless, in the taxi she looked at Nicole, matching herself against her. There were all the potentialities for romantic love in that lovely body and in the delicate mouth, sometimes tight, sometimes expectantly half open to the world. Nicole had been a beauty as a young girl and she would be a beauty later when her skin stretched tight over her high cheekbones — the essential structure was there. She had been white-Saxon-blonde but she was more beautiful now that her hair had darkened than when it had been like a cloud and more beautiful than she.

“We lived there,” Rosemary suddenly pointed to a building in the Rue des Saints-Péres.

“That’s strange. Because when I was twelve Mother and Baby and I once spent a winter there,” and she pointed to a hotel directly across the street. The two dingy fronts stared at them, gray echoes of girlhood.

“We’d just built our Lake Forest house and we were economizing,” Nicole continued. “At least Baby and I and the governess economized and Mother travelled.”

“We were economizing too,” said Rosemary, realizing that the word meant different things to them.

“Mother always spoke of it very carefully as a small hotel —” Nicole gave her quick magnetic little laugh, “— I mean instead of saying a ‘cheap’ hotel. If any swanky friends asked us our address we’d never say, ‘We’re in a dingy little hole over in the apache quarter where we’re glad of running water,’— we’d say ‘We’re in a small hotel.’ As if all the big ones were too noisy and vulgar for us. Of course the friends always saw through us and told everyone about it, but Mother always said it showed we knew our way around Europe. She did, of course: she was born a German citizen. But her mother was American, and she was brought up in Chicago, and she was more American than European.”

They were meeting the others in two minutes, and Rosemary reconstructed herself once more as they got out of the taxi in the Rue Guynemer, across from the Luxembourg Gardens. They were lunching in the Norths’ already dismantled apartment high above the green mass of leaves. The day seemed different to Rosemary from the day before — When she saw him face to face their eyes met and brushed like birds’ wings. After that everything was all right, everything was wonderful, she knew that he was beginning to fall in love with her. She felt wildly happy, felt the warm sap of emotion being pumped through her body. A cool, clear confidence deepened and sang in her. She scarcely looked at Dick but she knew everything was all right.

After luncheon the Divers and the Norths and Rosemary went to the Franco-American Films, to be joined by Collis Clay, her young man from New Haven, to whom she had telephoned. He was a Georgian, with the peculiarly regular, even stencilled ideas of Southerners who are educated in the North. Last winter she had thought him attractive — once they held hands in an automobile going from New Haven to New York; now he no longer existed for her.

In the projection room she sat between Collis Clay and Dick while the mechanic mounted the reels of Daddy’s Girl and a French executive fluttered about her trying to talk American slang. “Yes, boy,” he said when there was trouble with the projector, “I have not any benenas.” Then the lights went out, there was the sudden click and a flickering noise and she was alone with Dick at last. They looked at each other in the half darkness.

“Dear Rosemary,” he murmured. Their shoulders touched. Nicole stirred restlessly at the end of the row and Abe coughed convulsively and blew his nose; then they all settled down and the picture ran.

There she was — the school girl of a year ago, hair down her back and rippling out stiffly like the solid hair of a tanagra figure; there she was — SO young and innocent — the product of her mother’s loving care; there she was — embodying all the immaturity of the race, cutting a new cardboard paper doll to pass before its empty harlot’s mind. She remembered how she had felt in that dress, especially fresh and new under the fresh young silk.

Daddy’s girl. Was it a ‘itty-bitty bravekins and did it suffer? Ooo-ooo-tweet, de tweetest thing, wasn’t she dest too tweet? Before her tiny fist the forces of lust and corruption rolled away; nay, the very march of destiny stopped; inevitable became evitable, syllogism, dialectic, all rationality fell away. Women would forget the dirty dishes at home and weep, even within the picture one woman wept so long that she almost stole the film away from Rosemary. She wept all over a set that cost a fortune, in a Duncan Phyfe dining-room, in an aviation port, and during a yacht-race that was only used in two flashes, in a subway and finally in a bathroom. But Rosemary triumphed. Her fineness of character, her courage and steadfastness intruded upon by the vulgarity of the world, and Rosemary showing what it took with a face that had not yet become mask-like — yet it was actually so moving that the emotions of the whole row of people went out to her at intervals during the picture. There was a break once and the light went on and after the chatter of applause Dick said to her sincerely: “I’m simply astounded. You’re going to be one of the best actresses on the stage.”

Then back to Daddy’s Girl: happier days now, and a lovely shot of Rosemary and her parent united at the last in a father complex so apparent that Dick winced for all psychologists at the vicious sentimentality. The screen vanished, the lights went on, the moment had come.

“I’ve arranged one other thing,” announced Rosemary to the company at large, “I’ve arranged a test for Dick.”

“A what?”

“A screen test, they’ll take one now.”

There was an awful silence — then an irrepressible chortle from the Norths. Rosemary watched Dick comprehend what she meant, his face moving first in an Irish way; simultaneously she realized that she had made some mistake in the playing of her trump and still she did not suspect that the card was at fault.

“I don’t want a test,” said Dick firmly; then, seeing the situation as a whole, he continued lightly, “Rosemary, I’m disappointed. The pictures make a fine career for a woman — but my God, they can’t photograph me. I’m an old scientist all wrapped up in his private life.”

Nicole and Mary urged him ironically to seize the opportunity; they teased him, both faintly annoyed at not having been asked for a sitting. But Dick closed the subject with a somewhat tart discussion of actors: “The strongest guard is placed at the gateway to nothing,” he said. “Maybe because the condition of emptiness is too shameful to be divulged.”

In the taxi with Dick and Collis Clay — they were dropping Collis, and Dick was taking Rosemary to a tea from which Nicole and the Norths had resigned in order to do the things Abe had left undone till the last — in the taxi Rosemary reproached him.

“I thought if the test turned out to be good I could take it to California with me. And then maybe if they liked it you’d come out and be my leading man in a picture.”

He was overwhelmed. “It was a darn sweet thought, but I’d rather look at YOU. You were about the nicest sight I ever looked at.”

“That’s a great picture,” said Collis. “I’ve seen it four times. I know one boy at New Haven who’s seen it a dozen times — he went all the way to Hartford to see it one time. And when I brought Rosemary up to New Haven he was so shy he wouldn’t meet her. Can you beat that? This little girl knocks them cold.”

Dick and Rosemary looked at each other, wanting to be alone, but Collis failed to understand.

“I’ll drop you where you’re going,” he suggested. “I’m staying at the Lutetia.”

“We’ll drop you,” said Dick.

“It’ll be easier for me to drop you. No trouble at all.”

“I think it will be better if we drop you.”

“But —” began Collis; he grasped the situation at last and began discussing with Rosemary when he would see her again.

Finally, he was gone, with the shadowy unimportance but the offensive bulk of the third party. The car stopped unexpectedly, unsatisfactorily, at the address Dick had given. He drew a long breath.

“Shall we go in?”

“I don’t care,” Rosemary said. “I’ll do anything you want.”

He considered.

“I almost have to go in — she wants to buy some pictures from a friend of mine who needs the money.”

Rosemary smoothed the brief expressive disarray of her hair.

“We’ll stay just five minutes,” he decided. “You’re not going to like these people.”

She assumed that they were dull and stereotyped people, or gross and drunken people, or tiresome, insistent people, or any of the sorts of people that the Divers avoided. She was entirely unprepared for the impression that the scene made on her.

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