Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

IX

It was a limpid black night, hung as in a basket from a single dull star. The horn of the car ahead was muffled by the resistance of the thick air. Brady’s chauffeur drove slowly; the tail-light of the other car appeared from time to time at turnings — then not at all. But after ten minutes it came into sight again, drawn up at the side of the road. Brady’s chauffeur slowed up behind but immediately it began to roll forward slowly and they passed it. In the instant they passed it they heard a blur of voices from behind the reticence of the limousine and saw that the Divers’ chauffeur was grinning. Then they went on, going fast through the alternating banks of darkness and thin night, descending at last in a series of roller-coaster swoops, to the great bulk of Gausse’s hotel.

Rosemary dozed for three hours and then lay awake, suspended in the moonshine. Cloaked by the erotic darkness she exhausted the future quickly, with all the eventualities that might lead up to a kiss, but with the kiss itself as blurred as a kiss in pictures. She changed position in bed deliberately, the first sign of insomnia she had ever had, and tried to think with her mother’s mind about the question. In this process she was often acute beyond her experience, with remembered things from old conversations that had gone into her half-heard.

Rosemary had been brought up with the idea of work. Mrs. Speers had spent the slim leavings of the men who had widowed her on her daughter’s education, and when she blossomed out at sixteen with that extraordinary hair, rushed her to Aix-les-Bains and marched her unannounced into the suite of an American producer who was recuperating there. When the producer went to New York they went too. Thus Rosemary had passed her entrance examinations. With the ensuing success and the promise of comparative stability that followed, Mrs. Speers had felt free to tacitly imply tonight:

“You were brought up to work — not especially to marry. Now you’ve found your first nut to crack and it’s a good nut — go ahead and put whatever happens down to experience. Wound yourself or him — whatever happens it can’t spoil you because economically you’re a boy, not a girl.”

Rosemary had never done much thinking, save about the illimitability of her mother’s perfections, so this final severance of the umbilical cord disturbed her sleep. A false dawn sent the sky pressing through the tall French windows, and getting up she walked out on the terrace, warm to her bare feet. There were secret noises in the air, an insistent bird achieved an ill-natured triumph with regularity in the trees above the tennis court; footfalls followed a round drive in the rear of the hotel, taking their tone in turn from the dust road, the crushed-stone walk, the cement steps, and then reversing the process in going away. Beyond the inky sea and far up that high, black shadow of a hill lived the Divers. She thought of them both together, heard them still singing faintly a song like rising smoke, like a hymn, very remote in time and far away. Their children slept, their gate was shut for the night.

She went inside and dressing in a light gown and espadrilles went out her window again and along the continuous terrace toward the front door, going fast since she found that other private rooms, exuding sleep, gave upon it. She stopped at the sight of a figure seated on the wide white stairway of the formal entrance — then she saw that it was Luis Campion and that he was weeping.

He was weeping hard and quietly and shaking in the same parts as a weeping woman. A scene in a role she had played last year swept over her irresistibly and advancing she touched him on the shoulder. He gave a little yelp before he recognized her.

“What is it?” Her eyes were level and kind and not slanted into him with hard curiosity. “Can I help you?”

“Nobody can help me. I knew it. I have only myself to blame. It’s always the same.”

“What is it — do you want to tell me?”

He looked at her to see.

“No,” he decided. “When you’re older you’ll know what people who love suffer. The agony. It’s better to be cold and young than to love. It’s happened to me before but never like this — so accidental — just when everything was going well.”

His face was repulsive in the quickening light. Not by a flicker of her personality, a movement of the smallest muscle, did she betray her sudden disgust with whatever it was. But Campion’s sensitivity realized it and he changed the subject rather suddenly.

“Abe North is around here somewhere.”

“Why, he’s staying at the Divers’!”

“Yes, but he’s up — don’t you know what happened?”

A shutter opened suddenly in a room two stories above and an English voice spat distinctly:

“Will you kaindlay stup tucking!”

Rosemary and Luis Campion went humbly down the steps and to a bench beside the road to the beach.

“Then you have no idea what’s happened? My dear, the most extraordinary thing —” He was warming up now, hanging on to his revelation. “I’ve never seen a thing come so suddenly — I have always avoided violent people — they upset me so I sometimes have to go to bed for days.”

He looked at her triumphantly. She had no idea what he was talking about.

“My dear,” he burst forth, leaning toward her with his whole body as he touched her on the upper leg, to show it was no mere irresponsible venture of his hand — he was so sure of himself. “There’s going to be a duel.”

“Wh-at?”

“A duel with — we don’t know what yet.”

“Who’s going to duel?”

“I’ll tell you from the beginning.” He drew a long breath and then said, as if it were rather to her discredit but he wouldn’t hold it against her. “Of course, you were in the other automobile. Well, in a way you were lucky — I lost at least two years of my life, it came so suddenly.”

“What came?” she demanded.

“I don’t know what began it. First she began to talk —”

“Who?”

“Violet McKisco.” He lowered his voice as if there were people under the bench. “But don’t mention the Divers because he made threats against anybody who mentioned it.”

“Who did?”

“Tommy Barban, so don’t you say I so much as mentioned them. None of us ever found out anyhow what it was Violet had to say because he kept interrupting her, and then her husband got into it and now, my dear, we have the duel. This morning — at five o’clock — in an hour.” He sighed suddenly thinking of his own griefs. “I almost wish it were I. I might as well be killed now I have nothing to live for.” He broke off and rocked to and fro with sorrow.

Again the iron shutter parted above and the same British voice said:

“Rilly, this must stup immejetely.”

Simultaneously Abe North, looking somewhat distracted, came out of the hotel, perceived them against the sky, white over the sea. Rosemary shook her head warningly before he could speak and they moved another bench further down the road. Rosemary saw that Abe was a little tight.

“What are YOU doing up?” he demanded.

“I just got up.” She started to laugh, but remembering the voice above, she restrained herself.

“Plagued by the nightingale,” Abe suggested, and repeated, “probably plagued by the nightingale. Has this sewing-circle member told you what happened?”

Campion said with dignity:

“I only know what I heard with my own ears.”

He got up and walked swiftly away; Abe sat down beside Rosemary.

“Why did you treat him so badly?”

“Did I?” he asked surprised. “He’s been weeping around here all morning.”

“Well, maybe he’s sad about something.”

“Maybe he is.”

“What about a duel? Who’s going to duel? I thought there was something strange in that car. Is it true?”

“It certainly is coo-coo but it seems to be true.”

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