Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

II

“We thought maybe you were in the plot,” said Mrs. McKisco. She was a shabby-eyed, pretty young woman with a disheartening intensity. “We don’t know who’s in the plot and who isn’t. One man my husband had been particularly nice to turned out to be a chief character — practically the assistant hero.”

“The plot?” inquired Rosemary, half understanding. “Is there a plot?”

“My dear, we don’t KNOW,” said Mrs. Abrams, with a convulsive, stout woman’s chuckle. “We’re not in it. We’re the gallery.”

Mr. Dumphry, a tow-headed effeminate young man, remarked: “Mama Abrams is a plot in herself,” and Campion shook his monocle at him, saying: “Now, Royal, don’t be too ghastly for words.” Rosemary looked at them all uncomfortably, wishing her mother had come down here with her. She did not like these people, especially in her immediate comparison of them with those who had interested her at the other end of the beach. Her mother’s modest but compact social gift got them out of unwelcome situations swiftly and firmly. But Rosemary had been a celebrity for only six months, and sometimes the French manners of her early adolescence and the democratic manners of America, these latter superimposed, made a certain confusion and let her in for just such things.

Mr. McKisco, a scrawny, freckle-and-red man of thirty, did not find the topic of the “plot” amusing. He had been staring at the sea — now after a swift glance at his wife he turned to Rosemary and demanded aggressively:

“Been here long?”

“Only a day.”

“Oh.”

Evidently feeling that the subject had been thoroughly changed, he looked in turn at the others.

“Going to stay all summer?” asked Mrs. McKisco, innocently. “If you do you can watch the plot unfold.”

“For God’s sake, Violet, drop the subject!” exploded her husband. “Get a new joke, for God’s sake!”

Mrs. McKisco swayed toward Mrs. Abrams and breathed audibly:

“He’s nervous.”

“I’m not nervous,” disagreed McKisco. “It just happens I’m not nervous at all.”

He was burning visibly — a grayish flush had spread over his face, dissolving all his expressions into a vast ineffectuality. Suddenly remotely conscious of his condition he got up to go in the water, followed by his wife, and seizing the opportunity Rosemary followed.

Mr. McKisco drew a long breath, flung himself into the shallows and began a stiff-armed batting of the Mediterranean, obviously intended to suggest a crawl — his breath exhausted he arose and looked around with an expression of surprise that he was still in sight of shore.

“I haven’t learned to breathe yet. I never quite understood how they breathed.” He looked at Rosemary inquiringly.

“I think you breathe out under water,” she explained. “And every fourth beat you roll your head over for air.”

“The breathing’s the hardest part for me. Shall we go to the raft?”

The man with the leonine head lay stretched out upon the raft, which tipped back and forth with the motion of the water. As Mrs. McKisco reached for it a sudden tilt struck her arm up roughly, whereupon the man started up and pulled her on board.

“I was afraid it hit you.” His voice was slow and shy; he had one of the saddest faces Rosemary had ever seen, the high cheekbones of an Indian, a long upper lip, and enormous deep-set dark golden eyes. He had spoken out of the side of his mouth, as if he hoped his words would reach Mrs. McKisco by a circuitous and unobtrusive route; in a minute he had shoved off into the water and his long body lay motionless toward shore.

Rosemary and Mrs. McKisco watched him. When he had exhausted his momentum he abruptly bent double, his thin thighs rose above the surface, and he disappeared totally, leaving scarcely a fleck of foam behind.

“He’s a good swimmer,” Rosemary said.

Mrs. McKisco’s answer came with surprising violence.

“Well, he’s a rotten musician.” She turned to her husband, who after two unsuccessful attempts had managed to climb on the raft, and having attained his balance was trying to make some kind of compensatory flourish, achieving only an extra stagger. “I was just saying that Abe North may be a good swimmer but he’s a rotten musician.”

“Yes,” agreed McKisco, grudgingly. Obviously he had created his wife’s world, and allowed her few liberties in it.

“Antheil’s my man.” Mrs. McKisco turned challengingly to Rosemary, “Anthiel and Joyce. I don’t suppose you ever hear much about those sort of people in Hollywood, but my husband wrote the first criticism of Ulysses that ever appeared in America.”

“I wish I had a cigarette,” said McKisco calmly. “That’s more important to me just now.”

“He’s got insides — don’t you think so, Albert?”

Her voice faded off suddenly. The woman of the pearls had joined her two children in the water, and now Abe North came up under one of them like a volcanic island, raising him on his shoulders. The child yelled with fear and delight and the woman watched with a lovely peace, without a smile.

“Is that his wife?” Rosemary asked.

“No, that’s Mrs. Diver. They’re not at the hotel.” Her eyes, photographic, did not move from the woman’s face. After a moment she turned vehemently to Rosemary.

“Have you been abroad before?”

“Yes — I went to school in Paris.”

“Oh! Well then you probably know that if you want to enjoy yourself here the thing is to get to know some real French families. What do these people get out of it?” She pointed her left shoulder toward shore. “They just stick around with each other in little cliques. Of course, we had letters of introduction and met all the best French artists and writers in Paris. That made it very nice.”

“I should think so.”

“My husband is finishing his first novel, you see.”

Rosemary said: “Oh, he is?” She was not thinking anything special, except wondering whether her mother had got to sleep in this heat.

“It’s on the idea of Ulysses,” continued Mrs. McKisco. “Only instead of taking twenty-four hours my husband takes a hundred years. He takes a decayed old French aristocrat and puts him in contrast with the mechanical age —”

“Oh, for God’s sake, Violet, don’t go telling everybody the idea,” protested McKisco. “I don’t want it to get all around before the book’s published.”

Rosemary swam back to the shore, where she threw her peignoir over her already sore shoulders and lay down again in the sun. The man with the jockey cap was now going from umbrella to umbrella carrying a bottle and little glasses in his hands; presently he and his friends grew livelier and closer together and now they were all under a single assemblage of umbrellas — she gathered that some one was leaving and that this was a last drink on the beach. Even the children knew that excitement was generating under that umbrella and turned toward it — and it seemed to Rosemary that it all came from the man in the jockey cap.

Noon dominated sea and sky — even the white line of Cannes, five miles off, had faded to a mirage of what was fresh and cool; a robin-breasted sailing boat pulled in behind it a strand from the outer, darker sea. It seemed that there was no life anywhere in all this expanse of coast except under the filtered sunlight of those umbrellas, where something went on amid the color and the murmur.

Campion walked near her, stood a few feet away and Rosemary closed her eyes, pretending to be asleep; then she half-opened them and watched two dim, blurred pillars that were legs. The man tried to edge his way into a sand-colored cloud, but the cloud floated off into the vast hot sky. Rosemary fell really asleep.

She awoke drenched with sweat to find the beach deserted save for the man in the jockey cap, who was folding a last umbrella. As Rosemary lay blinking, he walked nearer and said:

“I was going to wake you before I left. It’s not good to get too burned right away.”

“Thank you.” Rosemary looked down at her crimson legs.

“Heavens!”

She laughed cheerfully, inviting him to talk, but Dick Diver was already carrying a tent and a beach umbrella up to a waiting car, so she went into the water to wash off the sweat. He came back and gathering up a rake, a shovel, and a sieve, stowed them in a crevice of a rock. He glanced up and down the beach to see if he had left anything.

“Do you know what time it is?” Rosemary asked.

“It’s about half-past one.”

They faced the seascape together momentarily.

“It’s not a bad time,” said Dick Diver. “It’s not one of worst times of the day.”

He looked at her and for a moment she lived in the bright blue worlds of his eyes, eagerly and confidently. Then he shouldered his last piece of junk and went up to his car, and Rosemary came out of the water, shook out her peignoir and walked up to the hotel.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/f/fitzgerald/f_scott/tender/chapter2.html

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