Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

XXI

After three-quarters of an hour of standing around, he became suddenly involved in a human contact. It was just the sort of thing that was likely to happen to him when he was in the mood of not wanting to see any one. So rigidly did he sometimes guard his exposed self-consciousness that frequently he defeated his own purposes; as an actor who underplays a part sets up a craning forward, a stimulated emotional attention in an audience, and seems to create in others an ability to bridge the gap he has left open. Similarly we are seldom sorry for those who need and crave our pity — we reserve this for those who, by other means, make us exercise the abstract function of pity.

So Dick might, himself, have analyzed the incident that ensued. As he paced the Rue des Saintes-Anges he was spoken to by a thin-faced American, perhaps thirty, with an air of being scarred and a slight but sinister smile. As Dick gave him the light he requested, he placed him as one of a type of which he had been conscious since early youth — a type that loafed about tobacco stores with one elbow on the counter and watched, through heaven knew what small chink of the mind, the people who came in and out. Intimate to garages, where he had vague business conducted in undertones, to barber shops, to the lobbies of theatres — in such places, at any rate, Dick placed him. Sometimes the face bobbed up in one of Tad’s more savage cartoons — in boyhood Dick had often thrown an uneasy glance at the dim borderland of crime on which he stood.

“How do you like Paris, Buddy?”

Not waiting for an answer the man tried to fit in his footsteps with Dick’s: “Where you from?” he asked encouragingly.

“From Buffalo.”

“I’m from San Antone — but I been over here since the war.”

“You in the army?”

“I’LL say I was. Eighty-fourth Division — ever heard of that outfit?”

The man walked a little ahead of him and fixed him with eyes that were practically menacing.

“Staying in Paris awhile, Buddy? Or just passing through.”

“Passing through.”

“What hotel you staying at?”

Dick had begun laughing to himself — the party had the intention of rifling his room that night. His thoughts were read apparently without self-consciousness.

“With a build like yours you oughtn’t to be afraid of me, Buddy. There’s a lot of bums around just laying for American tourists, but you needn’t be afraid of me.”

Becoming bored, Dick stopped walking: “I just wonder why you’ve got so much time to waste.”

“I’m in business here in Paris.”

“In what line?”

“Selling papers.”

The contrast between the formidable manner and the mild profession was absurd — but the man amended it with:

“Don’t worry; I made plenty money last year — ten or twenty francs for a Sunny Times that cost six.”

He produced a newspaper clipping from a rusty wallet and passed it over to one who had become a fellow stroller — the cartoon showed a stream of Americans pouring from the gangplank of a liner freighted with gold.

“Two hundred thousand — spending ten million a summer.”

“What you doing out here in Passy?”

His companion looked around cautiously. “Movies,” he said darkly. “They got an American studio over there. And they need guys can speak English. I’m waiting for a break.”

Dick shook him off quickly and firmly.

It had become apparent that Rosemary either had escaped on one of his early circuits of the block or else had left before he came into the neighborhood; he went into the bistro on the corner, bought a lead disk and, squeezed in an alcove between the kitchen and the foul toilet, he called the Roi George. He recognized Cheyne-Stokes tendencies in his respiration — but like everything the symptom served only to turn him in toward his emotion. He gave the number of the hotel; then stood holding the phone and staring into the café; after a long while a strange little voice said hello.

“This is Dick — I had to call you.”

A pause from her — then bravely, and in key with his emotion: “I’m glad you did.”

“I came to meet you at your studio — I’m out in Passy across the way from it. I thought maybe we’d ride around through the Bois.”

“Oh, I only stayed there a minute! I’m so sorry.” A silence.

“Rosemary.”

“Yes, Dick.”

“Look, I’m in an extraordinary condition about you. When a child can disturb a middle-aged gent — things get difficult.”

“You’re not middle-aged, Dick — you’re the youngest person in the world.”

“Rosemary?” Silence while he stared at a shelf that held the humbler poisons of France — bottles of Otard, Rhum St. James, Marie Brizzard, Punch Orangeade, André Fernet Blanco, Cherry Rochet, and Armagnac.

“Are you alone?”

— Do you mind if I pull down the curtain?

“Who do you think I’d be with?”

“That’s the state I’m in. I’d like to be with you now.”

Silence, then a sigh and an answer. “I wish you were with me now.”

There was the hotel room where she lay behind a telephone number, and little gusts of music wailed around her —

“And two — for tea.
And me for you,
And you for me
Alow-own.”

There was the remembered dust of powder over her tan — when he kissed her face it was damp around the corners of her hair; there was the flash of a white face under his own, the arc of a shoulder.

“It’s impossible,” he said to himself. In a minute he was out in the street marching along toward the Muette, or away from it, his small brief-case still in his hand, his gold-headed stick held at a sword-like angle.

Rosemary returned to her desk and finished a letter to her mother.

“— I only saw him for a little while but I thought he was wonderful looking. I fell in love with him (Of course I Do Love Dick Best but you know what I mean). He really is going to direct the picture and is leaving immediately for Hollywood, and I think we ought to leave, too. Collis Clay has been here. I like him all right but have not seen much of him because of the Divers, who really are divine, about the Nicest People I ever Knew. I am feeling not very well to-day and am taking the Medicine, though see No need for it. I’m not even Going to Try to tell you All that’s Happened until I see YOU!!! So when you get this letter WIRE, WIRE, WIRE! Are you coming north or shall I come south with the Divers?”

At six Dick called Nicole.

“Have you any special plans?” he asked. “Would you like to do something quiet — dinner at the hotel and then a play?”

“Would you? I’ll do whatever you want. I phoned Rosemary a while ago and she’s having dinner in her room. I think this upset all of us, don’t you?”

“It didn’t upset me,” he objected. “Darling, unless you’re physically tired let’s do something. Otherwise we’ll get south and spend a week wondering why we didn’t see Boucher. It’s better than brooding —”

This was a blunder and Nicole took him up sharply.

“Brooding about what?”

“About Maria Wallis.”

She agreed to go to a play. It was a tradition between them that they should never be too tired for anything, and they found it made the days better on the whole and put the evenings more in order. When, inevitably, their spirits flagged they shifted the blame to the weariness and fatigue of others. Before they went out, as fine-looking a couple as could be found in Paris, they knocked softly at Rosemary’s door. There was no answer; judging that she was asleep they walked into a warm strident Paris night, snatching a vermouth and bitters in the shadow by Fouquet’s bar.

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