Gatsby girls, p.19

Gatsby Girls, page 19


Gatsby Girls

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  “That sounds so nice and vulgar—and fun, doesn’t it?” murmured Ardita.

  “Doesn’t it? Can’t you see us traveling round and spending money right and left and being worshiped by bell boys and waiters? Oh, blessed are the simple rich, for they inherit the earth!”

  “I honestly wish we were that way.”

  “I love you, Ardita,” he said gently.

  Her face lost its childish look for a moment and became oddly grave.

  “I love to be with you,” she said, “more than with any man I’ve ever met. And I like your looks and your dark old hair and the way you go over the side of the rail when we come ashore. In fact, Curtis Carlyle, I like all the things you do when you’re perfectly natural. I think you’ve got nerve, and you know how I feel about that. Sometimes when you’re round I’ve been tempted to kiss you suddenly and tell you that you were just an idealistic boy with a lot of caste nonsense in his head. Perhaps if I were just a little bit older and a little more bored I’d go with you. As it is, I think I’ll go back and marry—that other man.”

  Over across the silver lake the figures of the Negroes writhed and squirmed in the moonlight, like acrobats who, having been too long inactive, must go through their tricks from sheer surplus energy. In single file they marched, weaving in concentric circles, now with their heads thrown back, now bent over their instruments like piping fauns. And from trombone and saxophone ceaselessly whined a blended melody, sometimes riotous and jubilant, sometimes haunting and plaintive as a death dance from the Congo’s heart.

  “Let’s dance!” cried Ardita. “I can’t sit still with that perfect jazz going on.”

  Taking her hand, he led her out into a broad stretch of hard sandy soil that the moon flooded with great splendor. They floated out like drifting moths under the rich hazy light, and as the fantastic symphony wept and exulted and wavered and despaired Ardita’s last sense of reality dropped away and she abandoned her imagination to the dreamy summer scents of tropical flowers and the infinite starry spaces overhead, feeling that if she opened her eyes it would be to find herself dancing with a ghost in a land created by her own fancy.

  “This is what I should call an exclusive private dance,” he whispered.

  “I feel quite mad —but delightfully mad!”

  “We’re enchanted. The shades of unnumbered generations of cannibals are watching us from high up on the side of the cliff there.”

  “And I’ll bet the cannibal women are saying that we dance too close and that it was immodest of me to come without my nose ring.”

  They both laughed softly—and then their laughter died as over across the lake they heard the trombones stop in the middle of a bar and the saxophones give a startled moan and fade out.

  “What’s the matter?” called Carlyle.

  After a moment’s silence they made out the dark figure of a man rounding the silver lake at a run. As he came closer they saw it was Babe in a state of unusual excitement. He drew up before them and gasped out his news in a breath.

  “Ship stan’in’ off sho’ ‘bout half a mile, suh. Mose, he uz on watch, he say look’s if she’s done ancho’d.”

  “A ship—what kind of a ship?” demanded Carlyle anxiously.

  Dismay was in his voice and Ardita’s heart gave a sudden wrench as she saw his whole face suddenly droop.

  “He say he don’t know, suh.”

  “Are they landing a boat?”

  “No, suh.”

  “We’ll go up,” said Carlyle.

  They ascended the hill in silence, Ardita’s hand still resting in Carlyle’s as it had when they finished dancing. She felt it clench nervously from time to time as though he were unaware of the contact, but though he hurt her she made no attempt to remove it. It seemed an hour’s climb before they reached the top and crept cautiously across the silhouetted plateau to the edge of the cliff. After one short look Carlyle involuntarily gave a little cry. It was a revenue boat with six-inch guns mounted fore and aft.

  “They know!” he said with a short intake of breath. “They know! They picked up the trail somewhere.”

  “Are you sure they know about the channel? They may be only standing by to take a look at the island in the morning. From where they are they couldn’t see the opening in the cliff.”

  “They could with field glasses,” he said hopelessly. He looked at his wrist watch. “It’s nearly two now. They won’t do anything until dawn, that’s certain. Of course there’s always the faint possibility that they’re waiting for some other ship to join; or for a coaler.”

  “I suppose we may as well stay right here.”

  The hours passed and they lay there side by side, very silently, their chins in their hands like dreaming children. In back of them squatted the Negroes, patient, resigned, acquiescent, announcing now and then with sonorous snores that not even the presence of danger could subdue their unconquerable African craving for sleep.

  Just before five o’clock Babe approached Carlyle.

  There were half a dozen rifles aboard the Narcissus, he said. Had it been decided to offer no resistance? A pretty good fight might be made, he thought, if they worked out some plan.

  Carlyle laughed and shook his head.

  “That isn’t a Spic army out there, Babe. That’s a revenue boat. It’d be like a bow and arrow trying to fight a machine gun. If you want to bury those bags somewhere and take a chance on recovering them later, go on do it. But it won’t work—they’d dig this island over from one end to another. It’s a lost battle all round, Babe.”

  Babe inclined his head silently and turned away, and Carlyle’s voice was husky as he turned to Ardita.

  “There’s the best friend I ever had. He’d die for me, and be proud to, if I’d let him.”

  “You’ve given up?”

  “I’ve no choice. Of course there’s always one way out—the sure way—but that can wait. I wouldn’t miss my trial for anything—it’ll be an interesting experiment in notoriety. `Miss Farnam testifies that the pirate’s attitude to her was at all times that of a gentleman.”

  “Don’t!” she said. “I’m awfully sorry.”

  When the color faded from the sky and lusterless blue changed to leaden gray a commotion was visible on the ship’s deck and they made out a group of officers clad in white duck, gathered near the rail. They had field glasses in their hands and were attentively examining the islet.

  “It’s all up,” said Carlyle grimly.

  “Damn!” whispered Ardita. She felt tears gathering in her eyes.

  “We’ll go back to the yacht,” he said. “I prefer that to being hunted out up here like a ‘possum.”

  Leaving the plateau they descended the hill, and reaching the lake were rowed out to the yacht by the silent Negroes. Then, pale and weary, they sank into the settees and waited.

  Half an hour later in the dim gray light the nose of the revenue boat appeared in the channel and stopped, evidently fearing that the bay might be too shallow. From the peaceful look of the yacht, the man and the girl in the settees and the Negroes lounging curiously against the rail, they evidently judged that there would be no resistance.

  Two boats were lowered casually over the side, one containing an officer and six bluejackets, and the other, four rowers and in the stern two gray-haired men in yachting flannels. Ardita and Carlyle stood up and half unconsciously started toward each other. Then he paused and putting his hand suddenly into his pocket he pulled out a round glittering object and held it out to her.

  “What is it?” she asked wonderingly.

  “I’m not positive, but I think from the Russian inscription inside that it’s your promised bracelet.”

  “Where—where on earth —”

  “It came out of one of those bags. You see, Curtis Carlyle and his Six Black Buddies, in the middle of their performance in the tea room of the hotel at Palm Beach, suddenly changed their instruments for automatics and held up the crowd. I took this bracelet from a pretty overrouged wo
man with red hair.”

  Ardita frowned and then smiled.

  “So that’s what you did! You have got nerve!”

  He bowed.

  “A well-known bourgeois quality,” he said.

  And then dawn slanted dynamically across the deck and flung the shadows reeling into gray corners. The dew rose and turned to golden mist, thin as a dream, enveloping them until they seemed gossamer relics of the late night, infinitely transient and already fading. For a moment sea and sky were breathless and dawn held a pink hand over the young mouth of life—then from out in the lake came the complaint of a rowboat and the swish of oars.

  Suddenly against the golden furnace low in the east their two graceful figures melted into one and he was kissing her spoiled young mouth.

  “It’s a sort of glory,” he murmured after a second.

  She smiled up at him.

  “Happy, are you?”

  Her sigh was a benediction—an ecstatic surety that she was youth and beauty now as much as she would ever know. For another instant life was radiant and time a phantom and their strength eternal—then there was a bumping, scraping sound as the rowboat scraped alongside.

  Up the ladder scrambled the two gray-haired men, the officer and two of the sailors with their hands on their revolvers. Mr. Farnam folded his arms and stood looking at his niece.

  “So,” he said, nodding his head slowly.

  With a sigh her arms unwound from Carlyle’s neck, and her eyes, transfigured and far away, fell upon the boarding party. Her uncle saw her upper lip slowly swell into that arrogant pout he knew so well.

  “So,” he repeated savagely. “So this is your idea of—of romance. A runaway affair, with a—a high-seas pirate.”

  Ardita considered him carelessly.

  “What an old fool you are!” she said quietly.

  “Is that the best you can say for yourself?”

  “No,” she said as if considering. “No, there’s something else. There’s that well-known phrase with which I have ended most of our conversations for the past few years—’Shut up!”’

  And with that she turned, included the two old men, the officer and the two sailors in a curt glance of contempt, and walked proudly down the companionway.

  But had she waited an instant longer she would have heard a sound from her uncle quite unfamiliar in most of their interviews. Her uncle gave vent to a wholehearted amused chuckle, in which the second old man joined.

  The latter turned briskly to Carlyle, who had been regarding this scene with an air of cryptic amusement.

  “Well, Toby,” he said genially, “you incurable, harebrained, romantic chaser of rainbows, did you find that she was the person you wanted?”

  Carlyle smiled confidently.

  “Why—naturally,” he said. “I’ve been perfectly sure ever since I first heard tell of her wild career. That’s why I had Babe send up the rocket last night.”

  “I’m glad you did,” said Colonel Moreland gravely. “We’ve been keeping pretty close to you in case you should have trouble with those six strange niggers. And we hoped we’d find you two in some such compromising position,” he sighed. “Well, set a crank to catch a crank!”

  “Your father and I sat up all night hoping for the best—or perhaps it’s the worst. Lord knows you’re welcome to her, my boy. She’s run me crazy. Did you give her the Russian bracelet my detective got from that Mimi woman?”

  Carlyle nodded.

  “Sh!” he said. “She’s coming on deck.”

  Ardita appeared at the head of the companionway and gave a quick involuntary glance at Carlyle’s wrists. A puzzled look came over her face. Back aft the Negroes had begun to sing, and the cool lake, fresh with dawn, echoed serenely to their low voices.

  “Ardita,” said Carlyle unsteadily.

  She swayed a step toward him.

  “Ardita,” he repeated breathlessly, “I’ve got to tell you the—the truth. It was all a plant, Ardita. My name isn’t Carlyle. It’s Moreland, Toby Moreland. The story was invented, Ardita, invented out of thin Florida air.”

  She stared at him, bewildered amazement, disbelief and anger flowing in quick waves across her face. The three men held their breaths. Moreland, Senior, took a step toward her; Mr. Farnam’s mouth dropped a little open as he waited, panic-stricken, for the expected crash.

  But it did not come. Ardita’s face became suddenly radiant, and with a little laugh she went swiftly to young Moreland and looked up at him without a trace of wrath in her gray eyes.

  “Will you swear,” she said quietly, “that it was entirely a product of your own brain?”

  “I swear,” said young Moreland eagerly.

  She drew his head down and kissed him gently.

  “What an imagination!” she said softly and almost enviously. “I want you to lie to me just as sweetly as you know how for the rest of my life.”

  The Negroes’ voices floated drowsily back, mingled in an air that she had heard them sing before:

  Time is a thief;

  Gladness and grief

  Cling to the leaf

  As it yellows -

  “What was in the bags?” she asked softly.

  “Florida mud,” he answered. “That was one of the two true things I told you.”

  And Ardita being a girl of some perspicacity had no difficulty in guessing the other.

  For the first time, the Post published one of Fitzgerald’s stories in two parts, on February 11 and 18, 1922. It was his highest paid work for the magazine to that point, earning $1,500 for the two pieces.

  Once again, the femme fatale will be tamed by a wise young man.

  The Popular Girl, Part One

  Along about half past ten every Saturday night Yanci Bowman eluded her partner by some graceful subterfuge and from the dancing floor went to point of vantage overlooking the country-club bar. When she saw her father she would either beckon to him, if he chanced to be looking in her direction, or else she would dispatch a waiter to call attention to her impendent presence. If it were no later than half past ten—that is, if he had had no more than an hour of synthetic gin rickeys—he would get up from his chair and suffer himself to be persuaded into the ballroom.

  “Ballroom,” for want of a better word. It was that room, filled by day with wicker furniture, which was always connotated in the phrase “Let’s go in and dance.” It was referred to as “inside” or “downstairs.” It was that nameless chamber wherein occur the principal transactions of all the country clubs in America.

  Yanci knew that if she could keep her father there for an hour, talking, watching her dance, or even on rare occasions dancing himself, she could safely release him at the end of that time. In the period that would elapse before midnight ended the dance he could scarcely become sufficiently stimulated to annoy anyone.

  All this entailed considerable exertion on Yanci’s part, and it was less for her father’s sake than for her own that she went through with it. Several rather unpleasant experiences were scattered through this past summer. One night when she had been detained by the impassioned and impossible-to-interrupt speech of a young man from Chicago her father had appeared swaying gently in the ballroom doorway; in his ruddy handsome face two faded blue eyes were squinted half shut as he tried to focus on them on the dancers, and he was obviously preparing to offer himself to the first dowager who caught his eye. He was ludicrously injured when Yanci insisted upon an immediate withdrawal.

  After that night Yanci went through her Fabian maneuver to the minute. Yanci and her father were the handsomest two people in the Middle Western city where they lived. Tom Bowman’s complexion was hearty from twenty years spent in the service of good whisky and bad golf. He kept an office downtown, where he was thought to transact some vague real-estate business; but in point of fact his chief concern in life was the exhibition of a handsome profile and an easy well-bred manner at the country club, where he had spent the greater part of the ten years that had elapsed since his wife
s death.

  Yanci was twenty, with a vague die-away manner which was partly the setting for her languid disposition and partly the effect of a visit she had paid to some Eastern relatives at an impressionable age. She was intelligent, in a flitting way, romantic under the moon and unable to decide whether to marry for sentiment or for comfort, the latter of these two abstractions being well enough personified by one of the most ardent among her admirers. Meanwhile she kept house, not without efficiency, for her father, and tried in a placid unruffled tempo to regulate his constant tippling to the sober side of inebriety.

  She admired her father. She admired him for his fine appearance and for his charming manner. He had never quite lost the air of having been a popular Bones man at Yale. This charm of his was a standard by which her susceptible temperament unconsciously judged the men she knew. Nevertheless, father and daughter were far from that sentimental family relationship which is a stock plant in fiction, but in life usually exists in the mind of only the older party to it. Yanci Bowman had decided to leave her home by marriage within the year. She was heartily bored.

  Scott Kimberly, who saw her for the first time this November evening at the country club, agreed with the lady whose houseguest he was that Yanci was an exquisite little beauty. With a sort of conscious sensuality surprising in such a young man—Scott was only twenty-five—he avoided an introduction that he might watch her undisturbed for a fanciful hour, and sip the pleasure or the disillusion of her conversation at the drowsy end of the evening.

  “She never got over the disappointment of not meeting the Prince of Wales when he was in this country,” remarked Mrs. Orrin Rogers, following his gaze. “She said so, anyhow; whether she was serious or not I don’t know. I hear that she has her walls simply plastered with pictures of him.”

  “Who?” asked Scott suddenly.

  “Why, the Prince of Wales.”

  “Who has plaster pictures of him?”

  “Why, Yanci Bowman, the girl you said you thought was so pretty.”

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