Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

XXIII

Until one o’clock Baby Warren lay in bed, reading one of Marion Crawford’s curiously inanimate Roman stories; then she went to a window and looked down into the street. Across from the hotel two carabinieri, grotesque in swaddling capes and harlequin hats, swung voluminously from this side and that, like mains’ls coming about, and watching them she thought of the guards’ officer who had stared at her so intensely at lunch. He had possessed the arrogance of a tall member of a short race, with no obligation save to be tall. Had he come up to her and said: “Let’s go along, you and I,” she would have answered: “Why not?”— at least it seemed so now, for she was still disembodied by an unfamiliar background.

Her thoughts drifted back slowly through the guardsman to the two carabinieri, to Dick — she got into bed and turned out the light.

A little before four she was awakened by a brusque knocking.

“Yes — what is it?”

“It’s the concierge, Madame.”

She pulled on her kimono and faced him sleepily.

“Your friend name Deever he’s in trouble. He had trouble with the police, and they have him in the jail. He sent a taxi up to tell, the driver says that he promised him two hundred lire.” He paused cautiously for this to be approved. “The driver says Mr. Deever in the bad trouble. He had a fight with the police and is terribly bad hurt.”

“I’ll be right down.”

She dressed to an accompaniment of anxious heartbeats and ten minutes later stepped out of the elevator into the dark lobby. The chauffeur who brought the message was gone; the concierge hailed another one and told him the location of the jail. As they rode, the darkness lifted and thinned outside and Baby’s nerves, scarcely awake, cringed faintly at the unstable balance between night and day. She began to race against the day; sometimes on the broad avenues she gained but whenever the thing that was pushing up paused for a moment, gusts of wind blew here and there impatiently and the slow creep of light began once more. The cab went past a loud fountain splashing in a voluminous shadow, turned into an alley so curved that the buildings were warped and strained following it, bumped and rattled over cobblestones, and stopped with a jerk where two sentry boxes were bright against a wall of green damp. Suddenly from the violet darkness of an archway came Dick’s voice, shouting and screaming.

“Are there any English? Are there any Americans? Are there any English? Are there any — oh, my God! You dirty Wops!”

His voice died away and she heard a dull sound of beating on the door. Then the voice began again.

“Are there any Americans? Are there any English?”

Following the voice she ran through the arch into a court, whirled about in momentary confusion and located the small guard-room whence the cries came. Two carabinieri started to their feet, but Baby brushed past them to the door of the cell.

“Dick!” she called. “What’s the trouble?”

“They’ve put out my eye,” he cried. “They handcuffed me and then they beat me, the goddamn — the —”

Flashing around Baby took a step toward the two carabinieri.

“What have you done to him?” she whispered so fiercely that they flinched before her gathering fury.

“Non capisco inglese.”

In French she execrated them; her wild, confident rage filled the room, enveloped them until they shrank and wriggled from the garments of blame with which she invested them. “Do something! Do something!”

“We can do nothing until we are ordered.”

“Bene. BAY-NAY! BENE!”

Once more Baby let her passion scorch around them until they sweated out apologies for their impotence, looking at each other with the sense that something had after all gone terribly wrong. Baby went to the cell door, leaned against it, almost caressing it, as if that could make Dick feel her presence and power, and cried: “I’m going to the Embassy, I’ll be back.” Throwing a last glance of infinite menace at the carabinieri she ran out.

She drove to the American Embassy where she paid off the taxi- driver upon his insistence. It was still dark when she ran up the steps and pressed the bell. She had pressed it three times before a sleepy English porter opened the door to her.

“I want to see some one,” she said. “Any one — but right away.”

“No one’s awake, Madame. We don’t open until nine o’clock.”

Impatiently she waved the hour away.

“This is important. A man — an American has been terribly beaten. He’s in an Italian jail.”

“No one’s awake now. At nine o’clock —”

“I can’t wait. They’ve put out a man’s eye — my brother-in-law, and they won’t let him out of jail. I must talk to some one — can’t you see? Are you crazy? Are you an idiot, you stand there with that look in your face?”

“Hime unable to do anything, Madame.”

“You’ve got to wake some one up!” She seized him by the shoulders and jerked him violently. “It’s a matter of life and death. If you won’t wake some one a terrible thing will happen to you —”

“Kindly don’t lay hands on me, Madame.”

From above and behind the porter floated down a weary Groton voice.

“What is it there?”

The porter answered with relief.

“It’s a lady, sir, and she has shook me.” He had stepped back to speak and Baby pushed forward into the hall. On an upper landing, just aroused from sleep and wrapped in a white embroidered Persian robe, stood a singular young man. His face was of a monstrous and unnatural pink, vivid yet dead, and over his mouth was fastened what appeared to be a gag. When he saw Baby he moved his head back into a shadow.

“What is it?” he repeated.

Baby told him, in her agitation edging forward to the stairs. In the course of her story she realized that the gag was in reality a mustache bandage and that the man’s face was covered with pink cold cream, but the fact fitted quietly into the nightmare. The thing to do, she cried passionately, was for him to come to the jail with her at once and get Dick out.

“It’s a bad business,” he said.

“Yes,” she agreed conciliatingly. “Yes?”

“This trying to fight the police.” A note of personal affront crept into his voice, “I’m afraid there’s nothing to be done until nine o’clock.”

“Till nine o’clock,” she repeated aghast. “But you can do something, certainly! You can come to the jail with me and see that they don’t hurt him any more.”

“We aren’t permitted to do anything like that. The Consulate handles these things. The Consulate will be open at nine.”

His face, constrained to impassivity by the binding strap, infuriated Baby.

“I can’t wait until nine. My brother-in-law says they’ve put his eye out — he’s seriously hurt! I have to get to him. I have to find a doctor.” She let herself go and began to cry angrily as she talked, for she knew that he would respond to her agitation rather than her words. “You’ve got to do something about this. It’s your business to protect American citizens in trouble.”

But he was of the Eastern seaboard and too hard for her. Shaking his head patiently at her failure to understand his position he drew the Persian robe closer about him and came down a few steps.

“Write down the address of the Consulate for this lady,” he said to the porter, “and look up Doctor Colazzo’s address and telephone number and write that down too.” He turned to Baby, with the expression of an exasperated Christ. “My dear lady, the diplomatic corps represents the Government of the United States to the Government of Italy. It has nothing to do with the protection of citizens, except under specific instructions from the State Department. Your brother-in-law has broken the laws of this country and been put in jail, just as an Italian might be put in jail in New York. The only people who can let him go are the Italian courts and if your brother-in-law has a case you can get aid and advice from the Consulate, which protects the rights of American citizens. The consulate does not open until nine o’clock. Even if it were my brother I couldn’t do anything —”

“Can you phone the Consulate?” she broke in.

“We can’t interfere with the Consulate. When the Consul gets there at nine —”

“Can you give me his home address?”

After a fractional pause the man shook his head. He took the memorandum from the porter and gave it to her.

“Now I’ll ask you to excuse me.”

He had manoeuvred her to the door: for an instant the violet dawn fell shrilly upon his pink mask and upon the linen sack that supported his mustache; then Baby was standing on the front steps alone. She had been in the embassy ten minutes.

The piazza whereon it faced was empty save for an old man gathering cigarette butts with a spiked stick. Baby caught a taxi presently and went to the Consulate but there was no one there save a trio of wretched women scrubbing the stairs. She could not make them understand that she wanted the Consul’s home address — in a sudden resurgence of anxiety she rushed out and told the chauffeur to take her to the jail. He did not know where it was, but by the use of the words semper dritte, dextra and sinestra she manoeuvred him to its approximate locality, where she dismounted and explored a labyrinth of familiar alleys. But the buildings and the alleys all looked alike. Emerging from one trail into the Piazzo d’Espagna she saw the American Express Company and her heart lifted at the word “American” on the sign. There was a light in the window and hurrying across the square she tried the door, but it was locked, and inside the clock stood at seven. Then she thought of Collis Clay.

She remembered the name of his hotel, a stuffy villa sealed in red plush across from the Excelsior. The woman on duty at the office was not disposed to help her — she had no authority to disturb Mr. Clay, and refused to let Miss Warren go up to his room alone; convinced finally that this was not an affair of passion she accompanied her.

Collis lay naked upon his bed. He had come in tight and, awakening, it took him some moments to realize his nudity. He atoned for it by an excess of modesty. Taking his clothes into the bathroom he dressed in haste, muttering to himself “Gosh. She certainly musta got a good look at me.” After some telephoning, he and Baby found the jail and went to it.

The cell door was open and Dick was slumped on a chair in the guard-room. The carabinieri had washed some of the blood from his face, brushed him and set his hat concealingly upon his head.

Baby stood in the doorway trembling.

“Mr. Clay will stay with you,” she said. “I want to get the Consul and a doctor.”

“All right.”

“Just stay quiet.”

“All right.”

“I’ll be back.”

She drove to the Consulate; it was after eight now, and she was permitted to sit in the ante-room. Toward nine the Consul came in and Baby, hysterical with impotence and exhaustion, repeated her story. The Consul was disturbed. He warned her against getting into brawls in strange cities, but he was chiefly concerned that she should wait outside — with despair she read in his elderly eye that he wanted to be mixed up as little as possible in this catastrophe. Waiting on his action, she passed the minutes by phoning a doctor to go to Dick. There were other people in the ante-room and several were admitted to the Consul’s office. After half an hour she chose the moment of some one’s coming out and pushed past the secretary into the room.

“This is outrageous! An American has been beaten half to death and thrown into prison and you make no move to help.”

“Just a minute, Mrs —”

“I’ve waited long enough. You come right down to the jail and get him out!”

“Mrs —”

“We’re people of considerable standing in America —” Her mouth hardened as she continued. “If it wasn’t for the scandal we can — I shall see that your indifference to this matter is reported in the proper quarter. If my brother-in-law were a British citizen he’d have been free hours ago, but you’re more concerned with what the police will think than about what you’re here for.”

“Mrs. —”

“You put on your hat and come with me right away.”

The mention of his hat alarmed the Consul who began to clean his spectacles hurriedly and to ruffle his papers. This proved of no avail: the American Woman, aroused, stood over him; the clean- sweeping irrational temper that had broken the moral back of a race and made a nursery out of a continent, was too much for him. He rang for the vice-consul — Baby had won.

Dick sat in the sunshine that fell profusely through the guard-room window. Collis was with him and two carabinieri, and they were waiting for something to happen. With the narrowed vision of his one eye Dick could see the carabinieri; they were Tuscan peasants with short upper lips and he found it difficult to associate them with the brutality of last night. He sent one of them to fetch him a glass of beer.

The beer made him light-headed and the episode was momentarily illumined by a ray of sardonic humor. Collis was under the impression that the English girl had something to do with the catastrophe, but Dick was sure she had disappeared long before it happened. Collis was still absorbed by the fact that Miss Warren had found him naked on his bed.

Dick’s rage had retreated into him a little and he felt a vast criminal irresponsibility. What had happened to him was so awful that nothing could make any difference unless he could choke it to death, and, as this was unlikely, he was hopeless. He would be a different person henceforward, and in his raw state he had bizarre feelings of what the new self would be. The matter had about it the impersonal quality of an act of God. No mature Aryan is able to profit by a humiliation; when he forgives it has become part of his life, he has identified himself with the thing which has humiliated him — an upshot that in this case was impossible.

When Collis spoke of retribution, Dick shook his head and was silent. A lieutenant of carabinieri, pressed, burnished, vital, came into the room like three men and the guards jumped to attention. He seized the empty beer bottle and directed a stream of scolding at his men. The new spirit was in him, and the first thing was to get the beer bottle out of the guard-room. Dick looked at Collis and laughed.

The vice-consul, an over-worked young man named Swanson, arrived, and they started to the court; Collis and Swanson on either side of Dick and the two carabinieri close behind. It was a yellow, hazy morning; the squares and arcades were crowded and Dick, pulling his hat low over his head, walked fast, setting the pace, until one of the short-legged carabinieri ran alongside and protested. Swanson arranged matters.

“I’ve disgraced you, haven’t I?” said Dick jovially.

“You’re liable to get killed fighting Italians,” replied Swanson sheepishly. “They’ll probably let you go this time but if you were an Italian you’d get a couple of months in prison. And how!”

“Have you ever been in prison?”

Swanson laughed.

“I like him,” announced Dick to Clay. “He’s a very likeable young man and he gives people excellent advice, but I’ll bet he’s been to jail himself. Probably spent weeks at a time in jail.”

Swanson laughed.

“I mean you want to be careful. You don’t know how these people are.”

“Oh, I know how they are,” broke out Dick, irritably. “They’re god damn stinkers.” He turned around to the carabinieri: “Did you get that?”

“I’m leaving you here,” Swanson said quickly. “I told your sister- in-law I would — our lawyer will meet you upstairs in the courtroom. You want to be careful.”

“Good-by.” Dick shook hands politely. “Thank you very much. I feel you have a future —”

With another smile Swanson hurried away, resuming his official expression of disapproval.

Now they came into a courtyard on all four sides of which outer stairways mounted to the chambers above. As they crossed the flags a groaning, hissing, booing sound went up from the loiterers in the courtyard, voices full of fury and scorn. Dick stared about.

“What’s that?” he demanded, aghast.

One of the carabinieri spoke to a group of men and the sound died away.

They came into the court-room. A shabby Italian lawyer from the Consulate spoke at length to the judge while Dick and Collis waited aside. Some one who knew English turned from the window that gave on the yard and explained the sound that had accompanied their passage through. A native of Frascati had raped and slain a five- year-old child and was to be brought in that morning — the crowd had assumed it was Dick.

In a few minutes the lawyer told Dick that he was freed — the court considered him punished enough.

“Enough!” Dick cried. “Punished for what?”

“Come along,” said Collis. “You can’t do anything now.”

“But what did I do, except get into a fight with some taxi-men?”

“They claim you went up to a detective as if you were going to shake hands with him and hit him —”

“That’s not true! I told him I was going to hit him — I didn’t know he was a detective.”

“You better go along,” urged the lawyer.

“Come along.” Collis took his arm and they descended the steps.

“I want to make a speech,” Dick cried. “I want to explain to these people how I raped a five-year-old girl. Maybe I did —”

“Come along.”

Baby was waiting with a doctor in a taxi-cab. Dick did not want to look at her and he disliked the doctor, whose stern manner revealed him as one of that least palpable of European types, the Latin moralist. Dick summed up his conception of the disaster, but no one had much to say. In his room in the Quirinal the doctor washed off the rest of the blood and the oily sweat, set his nose, his fractured ribs and fingers, disinfected the smaller wounds and put a hopeful dressing on the eye. Dick asked for a quarter of a grain of morphine, for he was still wide awake and full of nervous energy. With the morphine he fell asleep; the doctor and Collis left and Baby waited with him until a woman could arrive from the English nursing home. It had been a hard night but she had the satisfaction of feeling that, whatever Dick’s previous record was, they now possessed a moral superiority over him for as long as he proved of any use.

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