Gatsby girls, p.16

Gatsby Girls, page 16

 

Gatsby Girls
 


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  With a furious despairing energy she rose again and started blindly down the darkness. She must get out. She might be lost in here for days, freeze to death and lie embedded in the ice like corpses she had read of, kept perfectly preserved until the melting of a glacier. Harry probably thought she had left with the others—he had gone by now; no one would know until late next day. She reached pitifully for the wall. Forty inches thick they had said—forty inches thick!

  “Oh!”

  On both sides of her along the walls she felt things creeping, damp souls that haunted this palace, this town, this North.

  “Oh, send somebody—send somebody!” she cried aloud.

  Clark Darrow—he would understand; or Joe Ewing; she couldn’t be left here to wander forever—to be frozen, heart, body and soul. This her—this Sally Carrol! Why, she was a happy thing. She was a happy little girl. She liked warmth and summer and Dixie. These things were foreign—foreign.

  “You’re not crying,” something said aloud. “You’ll never cry any more. Your tears would just freeze; all tears freeze up here!”

  She sprawled full length on the ice.

  “O God!” she faltered.

  A long single file of minutes went by, and with a great weariness she felt her eyes closing. Then someone seemed to sit down near her and take her face in warm soft hands. She looked up gratefully.

  “Why, it’s Margery Lee,” she crooned softly to herself. “I knew you’d come.” It really was Margery Lee, and she was just as Sally Carrol had known she would be, with a young white brow and wide welcoming eyes and a hoop skirt of some soft material that was quite comforting to rest on.

  “Margery Lee.”

  It was getting darker now and darker—all those tombstones ought to he repainted, sure enough, only that would spoil ‘em of course. Still, you ought to be able to see ‘em.

  Then after a succession of moments that went fast and then slow, but seemed to be ultimately resolving themselves into a multitude of blurred rays converging toward a pale yellow sun, she heard a great cracking noise break her new-found stillness.

  It was the sun, it was a light; a torch, and a torch beyond that, and another one, and voices; a face took flesh below the torch, heavy arms raised her and she felt something on her cheek, it felt wet. Someone had seized her and was rubbing her face with snow. How ridiculous—with snow!

  “Sally Carrol! Sally Carrol!”

  It was Dangerous Dan McGrew; and two other faces she didn’t know.

  “Child, child! We’ve been looking for you two hours. Harry’s half crazy!”

  Things came rushing back into place—the singing, the torches, the great shout of the marching clubs. She squirmed in Patton’s arms and gave a long low cry.

  “Oh, I want to get out of here! I’m going back home. Take me home “—her voice rose to a scream that sent a chill to Harry’s heart as he came racing down the next passage—” Tomorrow!” she cried with delirious, unrestrained passion—” Tomorrow! Tomorrow! To-morrow!”

  VI

  The wealth of golden sunlight poured a quite enervating yet oddly comforting heat over the house where day long it faced the dusty stretch of road. Two birds were making a great to-do in a cool spot found among the branches of a tree next door, and down the street a colored woman was announcing herself melodiously as a purveyor of strawberries. It was an April afternoon.

  Sally Carrol Happer, resting her chin on her arm and her arm on an old window seat, gazed sleepily down over the spangled dust whence the heat waves were rising for the first time this spring. She was watching a very ancient flivver turn a perilous corner and rattle and groan to a jolting stop at the end of the walk. She made no sound, and in a minute a strident familiar whistle rent the air. Sally Carrol smiled and blinked.

  “Good mawnin’.”

  A head appeared tortuously from under the car top below.

  “’Taint mawnin’, Sally Carrol.”

  “Sure enough,” she said in affected surprise. “I guess maybe not.”

  “What you doin’?”

  “Eatin’ green peach. ‘Spect to die any minute.”

  Clark twisted himself a last impossible notch to get a view of her face.

  “Water’s warm as a kettla steam, Sally Carrol. Wanta go swimmin’?”

  “Hate to move,” sighed Sally Carrol lazily, “but I reckon so.”

  Fitzgerald’s first six stories for the Post were published over a 13 week period in the late-Winter and Spring of 1920, coinciding with the release of his first novel. Following the May 29, 1920 publication of this story, it would be eighteen months before Fitzgerald’s next appearance in the Post.

  “The Offshore Pirate” deals with a theme that is seen repeatedly in Fitzgerald’s early stories – a young man “tricks” a young woman into falling in love with him or marrying him or, in the case of Myra Meets His Family, not marrying him. In Pirate, Fitzgerald allows his heroine, Ardita, a great deal of time to explain her philosophy of love and life. It’s an in-depth character analysis of what would become one of his prototypical characters – the self-determined young “femme fatale.”

  Eight months after this story appeared in the Post, Metro released a silent film version, January 31, 1921.

  The Offshore Pirate

  This unlikely story begins on a sea that was a blue dream, as colorful as blue silk stockings, and beneath a sky as blue as the irises of children’s eyes. From the western half of the sky the sun was shying little golden disks at the sea—if you gazed intently enough you could see them skip from wave tip to wave tip until they joined a broad collar of golden coin that was collecting half a mile out and would eventually be a dazzling sunset. About halfway between the Florida shore and the golden collar a white steam yacht, very young and graceful, was riding at anchor and under a blue-and-white awning aft a yellow-haired girl reclined in a wicker settee reading The Revolt of the Angels, by Anatole France.

  She was about nineteen, slender and supple, with a spoiled, alluring mouth and quick gray eyes full of a radiant curiosity. Her feet, stockingless, and adorned rather than clad in blue satin slippers which swung nonchalantly from her toes, were perched on the arm of a settee adjoining the one she occupied. And as she read she intermittently regaled herself by a faint application to her tongue of a half lemon that she held in her hand. The other half, sucked dry, lay on the deck at her feet and rocked very gently to and fro at the almost imperceptible motion of the tide.

  The second half lemon was well-nigh pulpless and the golden collar had grown astonishing in width when suddenly the drowsy silence which enveloped the yacht was broken by the sound of heavy footsteps and an elderly man topped with orderly gray hair and clad in a white flannel suit appeared at the head of the companionway. There he paused for a moment until his eyes became accustomed to the sun, and then seeing the girl under the awning he uttered a long, even grunt of disapproval.

  If he had intended thereby to obtain a rise of any sort he was doomed to disappointment. The girl calmly turned over two pages, turned back one, raised the lemon mechanically and then faintly but quite unmistakably yawned.

  “Ardita!” said the gray-haired man sternly.

  Ardita uttered a small sound indicating nothing.

  “Ardita!” he repeated. “Ardita!”

  Ardita raised the lemon languidly, allowing three words to slip out before it reached her tongue.

  “Oh, shut up.”

  “Ardita!”

  “What?”

  “Will you listen to me—or will I have to get a servant to hold you while I talk to you?”

  The lemon descended slowly and scornfully.

  “Put it in writing.”

  “Will you have the decency to close that abominable book and discard that damn lemon for two minutes?”

  “Oh, can’t you lemme alone for a second?”

  “Ardita, I have just received a telephone message from the shore—“

  “Telephone?” She showed for the first time a fa
int interest.

  “Yes, it was —”

  “Do you mean to say,” she interrupted wonderingly, “’at they let you run a wire out here?”

  “Yes, and just now —”

  “Won’t other boats bump into it?”

  “No. It’s too low. It’s run along the bottom. Five min —”

  “Well, I’ll be darned! Gosh! Science is golden or something—isn’t it?”

  “Will you let me say what I started to?”

  “Shoot !”

  “Well, it seems—well, I am up here —” He paused and swallowed several times distractedly. “Oh, yes. Young woman, Colonel Moreland has called up again to ask me to be sure to bring you in to dinner. His son Toby has come all the way from New York to meet you and he’s invited several other young people. For the last time, will you —”

  “No,” said Ardita shortly, “I won’t. I came along on this darn cruise with the one idea of going to Palm Beach, and you knew it, and I absolutely refuse to meet any darn old colonel or any darn young Toby or any darn old young people or to set foot in any other darn old town in this crazy state. So you either take me to Palm Beach or else shut up and go away.”

  “Very well. This is the last straw. In your infatuation for this man—a man who is notorious for his excesses, a man your father would not have allowed so much as to mention your name—you have reflected the demi-monde rather than the circles in which you have presumably grown up. From now on —”

  “I know,” interrupted Ardita ironically, “from now on you go your way and I go mine. I’ve heard that story before. You know I’d like nothing better.”

  “From now on,” he announced grandiloquently, “you are no niece of mine. I —”

  “O-o-o-oh!” The cry was wrung from Ardita with the agony of a lost soul. “Will you stop boring me! Will you go way! Will you jump overboard and drown! Do you want me to throw this book at you!”

  “If you dare do any —”

  Smack !

  The Revolt of the Angels sailed through the air, missed its target by the length of a short nose and bumped cheerfully down the companionway.

  The gray-haired man made an instinctive step backward and then two cautious steps forward. Ardita jumped to her five feet four and stared at him defiantly, her gray eyes blazing.

  “Keep off!”

  “How dare you!” he cried.

  “Because I darn please!”

  “You’ve grown unbearable! Your disposition —”

  “You’ve made me that way! No child ever has a bad disposition unless it’s her family’s fault! Whatever I am, you did it.”

  Muttering something under his breath her uncle turned and, walking forward, called in a loud voice for the launch. Then he returned to the awning, where Ardita had again seated herself and resumed her attention to the lemon.

  “I am going ashore,” he said slowly. “I will be out again at nine o’clock to-night. When I return we will start back to New York, where I shall turn you over to your aunt for the rest of your natural, or rather unnatural, life.”

  He paused and looked at her, and then all at once something in the utter childishness of her beauty seemed to puncture his anger like an inflated tire and render him helpless, uncertain, utterly fatuous.

  “Ardita,” he said not unkindly, “I’m no fool. I’ve been round. I know men. And, child, confirmed libertines don’t reform until they’re tired—and then they’re not themselves—they’re husks of themselves.” He looked at her as if expecting agreement, but receiving no sight or sound of it he continued. “Perhaps the man loves you—that’s possible. He’s loved many women and he’ll love many more. Less than a month ago, one month, Ardita, he was involved in a notorious affair with that red-haired Mimi Merril; promised to give her the diamond bracelet that the Czar of Russia gave his mother. You know—you read the papers.”

  “Thrilling scandals by an anxious uncle,” yawned Ardita. “Have it filmed. Wicked clubman making eyes at virtuous flapper. Virtuous flapper conclusively vamped by his lurid past. Plans to meet him at Palm Beach. Foiled by anxious uncle.”

  “Will you tell me why the devil you want to marry him?”

  “I’m sure I couldn’t say,” said Ardita shortly. “Maybe because he’s the only man I know, good or bad, who has an imagination and the courage of his convictions. Maybe it’s to get away from the young fools that spend their vacuous hours pursuing me round the country. But as for the famous Russian bracelet, you can set your mind at rest on that score. He’s going to give it to me at Palm Beach—if you’ll have a little sense.”

  “How about the—red-haired woman?”

  “He hasn’t seen her for six months,” she said angrily. “I have enough pride to see to that. Don’t you know that I can do any darn thing with any darn man I want to?’’

  She put her chin in the air like the statue of France Aroused, and then spoiled the pose somewhat by raising the lemon for action.

  “Is it the Russian bracelet that fascinates you?”

  “No, I’m merely trying to give you the sort of argument that would appeal to your intelligence. And I wish you’d go way,” she said, her temper rising again. “You know I never change my mind. You’ve been boring me for three days until I’m about to go crazy. I won’t go ashore! Won’t! Do you hear? Won’t!”

  “Very well,” he said, “and you won’t go to Palm Beach either. Of all the selfish, spoiled, uncontrolled, disagreeable, impossible girls I have —”

  Splush! The half lemon caught him in the neck. Simultaneously came a hail from over the side.

  “The launch is ready, Mr. Farnam.”

  Too full of words and rage to speak, Mr. Farnam cast one utterly condemning glance at his niece and, turning, ran swiftly down the ladder.

  II

  Five o’clock rolled down from the sun and plumped soundlessly into the sea. The golden collar widened into a glittering island; and a faint breeze that had been playing with the edges of the awning and swaying one of the dangling blue slippers became suddenly freighted with song. It was a chorus of men in close harmony and in perfect rhythm to an accompanying sound of oars cleaving the blue waters. Ardita lifted her head and listened:

  Carrots and peas,

  Beans on their knees,

  Pigs in the seas,

  Lucky fellows!

  Blow us a breeze,

  Blow us a breeze,

  Blow us a breeze,

  With your bellows.

  Ardita’s brow wrinkled in astonishment. Sitting very still she listened eagerly as the chorus took up a second verse:

  Onions and beans,

  Marshalls and Deans,

  Goldbergs and Greens

  And Costellos.

  Blow us a breeze,

  Blow us a breeze,

  Blow us a breeze,

  With your bellows

  With an exclamation she tossed her book to the deck, where it sprawled at a straddle, and hurried to the rail. Fifty feet away a large rowboat was approaching containing seven men, six of them rowing and one standing up in the stern keeping time to their song with an orchestra leader’s baton:

  Oysters and rocks,

  Sawdust and socks,

  Who could make clocks

  Out of cellos?

  The leader’s eyes suddenly rested on Ardita, who was leaning over the rail spellbound with curiosity. He made a quick movement with his baton and the singing instantly ceased. She saw that he was the only white man in the boat—the six rowers were Negroes.

  “Narcissus ahoy!” he called politely.

  “What’s the idea of all the discord?” demanded Ardita cheerfully. “Is this the varsity crew from the county nut farm?”

  By this time the boat was scraping the side of the yacht and a great hulking Negro in the bow turned round and grasped the ladder. Thereupon the leader left his position in the stern and before Ardita had realized his intention he ran up the ladder and stood breathless before her on the deck.

  “T
he women and children will be spared!” he said briskly. “All crying babies will be immediately drowned and all males put in double irons!”

  Digging her hands excitedly down into the pockets of her dress Ardita stared at him, speechless with astonishment.

  He was a young man with a scornful mouth and the bright blue eyes of a healthy baby set in a dark, sensitive face. His hair was pitch black, damp and curly—the hair of a Grecian statue gone brunet. He was trimly built, trimly dressed and graceful as an agile quarterback.

  “Well, I’ll be a son of a gun!” she said dazedly.

  They eyed each other coolly.

  “Do you surrender the ship?”

  “Is this an outburst of wit?” demanded Ardita. “Are you an idiot—or just being initiated to some fraternity?”

  “I asked you if you surrendered the ship.”

  “I thought the country was dry,” said Ardita disdainfully. “Have you been drinking finger-nail enamel? You better get off this yacht!”

  “What?” The young man’s voice expressed incredulity.

  “Get off the yacht! You heard me!”

  He looked at her for a moment as if considering what she had said.

  “No,” said his scornful mouth slowly; “no, I won’t get off the yacht. You can get off if you wish.”

  Going to the rail he gave a curt command and immediately the crew of the rowboat scrambled up the ladder and ranged themselves in line before him, a coal black and burly darky at one end and a miniature mulatto of four feet nine at the other. They seemed to be uniformly dressed in some sort of blue costume ornamented with dust, mud and tatters; over the shoulder of each was slung a small, heavy-looking white sack, and under their arms they carried large black cases apparently containing musical instruments.

  “’Ten-shun!” commanded the young man, snapping his own heels together crisply. “Right driss! Front! Step out here, Babe!”

 
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