Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

XVII

It was a house hewn from the frame of Cardinal de Retz’s palace in the Rue Monsieur, but once inside the door there was nothing of the past, nor of any present that Rosemary knew. The outer shell, the masonry, seemed rather to enclose the future so that it was an electric-like shock, a definite nervous experience, perverted as a breakfast of oatmeal and hashish, to cross that threshold, if it could be so called, into the long hall of blue steel, silver-gilt, and the myriad facets of many oddly bevelled mirrors. The effect was unlike that of any part of the Decorative Arts Exhibition — for there were people IN it, not in front of it. Rosemary had the detached false-and-exalted feeling of being on a set and she guessed that every one else present had that feeling too.

There were about thirty people, mostly women, and all fashioned by Louisa M. Alcott or Madame de Ségur; and they functioned on this set as cautiously, as precisely, as does a human hand picking up jagged broken glass. Neither individually nor as a crowd could they be said to dominate the environment, as one comes to dominate a work of art he may possess, no matter how esoteric, no one knew what this room meant because it was evolving into something else, becoming everything a room was not; to exist in it was as difficult as walking on a highly polished moving stairway, and no one could succeed at all save with the aforementioned qualities of a hand moving among broken glass — which qualities limited and defined the majority of those present.

These were of two sorts. There were the Americans and English who had been dissipating all spring and summer, so that now everything they did had a purely nervous inspiration. They were very quiet and lethargic at certain hours and then they exploded into sudden quarrels and breakdowns and seductions. The other class, who might be called the exploiters, was formed by the sponges, who were sober, serious people by comparison, with a purpose in life and no time for fooling. These kept their balance best in that environment, and what tone there was, beyond the apartment’s novel organization of light values, came from them.

The Frankenstein took down Dick and Rosemary at a gulp — it separated them immediately and Rosemary suddenly discovered herself to be an insincere little person, living all in the upper registers of her throat and wishing the director would come. There was however such a wild beating of wings in the room that she did not feel her position was more incongruous than any one else’s. In addition, her training told and after a series of semi-military turns, shifts, and marches she found herself presumably talking to a neat, slick girl with a lovely boy’s face, but actually absorbed by a conversation taking place on a sort of gun-metal ladder diagonally opposite her and four feet away.

There was a trio of young women sitting on the bench. They were all tall and slender with small heads groomed like manikins’ heads, and as they talked the heads waved gracefully about above their dark tailored suits, rather like long-stemmed flowers and rather like cobras’ hoods.

“Oh, they give a good show,” said one of them, in a deep rich voice. “Practically the best show in Paris — I’d be the last one to deny that. But after all —” She sighed. “Those phrases he uses over and over —‘Oldest inhabitant gnawed by rodents.’ You laugh once.”

“I prefer people whose lives have more corrugated surfaces,” said the second, “and I don’t like her.”

“I’ve never really been able to get very excited about them, or their entourage either. Why, for example, the entirely liquid Mr. North?”

“He’s out,” said the first girl. “But you must admit that the party in question can be one of the most charming human beings you have ever met.”

It was the first hint Rosemary had had that they were talking about the Divers, and her body grew tense with indignation. But the girl talking to her, in the starched blue shirt with the bright blue eyes and the red cheeks and the very gray suit, a poster of a girl, had begun to play up. Desperately she kept sweeping things from between them, afraid that Rosemary couldn’t see her, sweeping them away until presently there was not so much as a veil of brittle humor hiding the girl, and with distaste Rosemary saw her plain.

“Couldn’t you have lunch, or maybe dinner, or lunch the day after?” begged the girl. Rosemary looked about for Dick, finding him with the hostess, to whom he had been talking since they came in. Their eyes met and he nodded slightly, and simultaneously the three cobra women noticed her; their long necks darted toward her and they fixed finely critical glances upon her. She looked back at them defiantly, acknowledging that she had heard what they said. Then she threw off her exigent vis-à-vis with a polite but clipped parting that she had just learned from Dick, and went over to join him. The hostess — she was another tall rich American girl, promenading insouciantly upon the national prosperity — was asking Dick innumerable questions about Gausse’s Hôtel, whither she evidently wanted to come, and battering persistently against his reluctance. Rosemary’s presence reminded her that she had been recalcitrant as a hostess and glancing about she said: “Have you met any one amusing, have you met Mr. —” Her eyes groped for a male who might interest Rosemary, but Dick said they must go. They left immediately, moving over the brief threshold of the future to the sudden past of the stone façade without.

“Wasn’t it terrible?” he said.

“Terrible,” she echoed obediently.

“Rosemary?”

She murmured, “What?” in an awed voice.

“I feel terribly about this.”

She was shaken with audibly painful sobs. “Have you got a handkerchief?” she faltered. But there was little time to cry, and lovers now they fell ravenously on the quick seconds while outside the taxi windows the green and cream twilight faded, and the fire- red, gas-blue, ghost-green signs began to shine smokily through the tranquil rain. It was nearly six, the streets were in movement, the bistros gleamed, the Place de la Concorde moved by in pink majesty as the cab turned north.

They looked at each other at last, murmuring names that were a spell. Softly the two names lingered on the air, died away more slowly than other words, other names, slower than music in the mind.

“I don’t know what came over me last night,” Rosemary said. “That glass of champagne? I’ve never done anything like that before.”

“You simply said you loved me.”

“I do love you — I can’t change that.” It was time for Rosemary to cry, so she cried a little in her handkerchief.

“I’m afraid I’m in love with you,” said Dick, “and that’s not the best thing that could happen.”

Again the names — then they lurched together as if the taxi had swung them. Her breasts crushed flat against him, her mouth was all new and warm, owned in common. They stopped thinking with an almost painful relief, stopped seeing; they only breathed and sought each other. They were both in the gray gentle world of a mild hangover of fatigue when the nerves relax in bunches like piano strings, and crackle suddenly like wicker chairs. Nerves so raw and tender must surely join other nerves, lips to lips, breast to breast . . . .

They were still in the happier stage of love. They were full of brave illusions about each other, tremendous illusions, so that the communion of self with self seemed to be on a plane where no other human relations mattered. They both seemed to have arrived there with an extraordinary innocence as though a series of pure accidents had driven them together, so many accidents that at last they were forced to conclude that they were for each other. They had arrived with clean hands, or so it seemed, after no traffic with the merely curious and clandestine.

But for Dick that portion of the road was short; the turning came before they reached the hotel.

“There’s nothing to do about it,” he said, with a feeling of panic. “I’m in love with you but it doesn’t change what I said last night.”

“That doesn’t matter now. I just wanted to make you love me — if you love me everything’s all right.”

“Unfortunately I do. But Nicole mustn’t know — she mustn’t suspect even faintly. Nicole and I have got to go on together. In a way that’s more important than just wanting to go on.”

“Kiss me once more.”

He kissed her, but momentarily he had left her.

“Nicole mustn’t suffer — she loves me and I love her — you understand that.”

She did understand — it was the sort of thing she understood well, not hurting people. She knew the Divers loved each other because it had been her primary assumption. She had thought however that it was a rather cooled relation, and actually rather like the love of herself and her mother. When people have so much for outsiders didn’t it indicate a lack of inner intensity?

“And I mean love,” he said, guessing her thoughts. “Active love — it’s more complicated than I can tell you. It was responsible for that crazy duel.”

“How did you know about the duel? I thought we were to keep it from you.”

“Do you think Abe can keep a secret?” He spoke with incisive irony. “Tell a secret over the radio, publish it in a tabloid, but never tell it to a man who drinks more than three or four a day.”

She laughed in agreement, staying close to him.

“So you understand my relations with Nicole are complicated. She’s not very strong — she looks strong but she isn’t. And this makes rather a mess.”

“Oh, say that later! But kiss me now — love me now. I’ll love you and never let Nicole see.”

“You darling.”

They reached the hotel and Rosemary walked a little behind him, to admire him, to adore him. His step was alert as if he had just come from some great doings and was hurrying on toward others. Organizer of private gaiety, curator of a richly incrusted happiness. His hat was a perfect hat and he carried a heavy stick and yellow gloves. She thought what a good time they would all have being with him to-night.

They walked upstairs — five flights. At the first landing they stopped and kissed; she was careful on the next landing, on the third more careful still. On the next — there were two more — she stopped half way and kissed him fleetingly good-by. At his urgency she walked down with him to the one below for a minute — and then up and up. Finally it was good-by with their hands stretching to touch along the diagonal of the banister and then the fingers slipping apart. Dick went back downstairs to make some arrangements for the evening — Rosemary ran to her room and wrote a letter to her mother; she was conscience-stricken because she did not miss her mother at all.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/f/fitzgerald/f_scott/tender/chapter17.html

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