Gatsby girls, p.7

Gatsby Girls, page 7


Gatsby Girls

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  He did not hear her until she was quite close to him, and then as a dry twig snapped under her heel he looked up wearily. She saw that the night had played havoc with him—his face was deathly pale and his eyes were pink and puffed and tired. He jumped up with a look that was very like dread.

  “Good morning,” said Myra quietly.

  “Sit down,” he began nervously. “Sit down; I want to talk to you! I’ve got to talk to you.”

  Myra nodded and taking a seat beside him on the bench clasped her knees with her hands and half closed her eyes.

  “Myra, for heaven’s sake have pity on me!”

  She turned wondering eyes on him. “What do you mean?”

  He groaned.

  “Myra, I’ve done a ghastly thing—to you, to me, to us. I haven’t a word to say in favor of myself—I’ve been just rotten. I think it was a sort of madness that came over me.”

  “You’ll have to give me a clew to what you’re talking about.”

  “Myra—Myra “—like all large bodies his confession seemed difficult to imbue with momentum—“Myra—Mr. Whitney is not my father.”

  “You mean you were adopted?”

  “No; I mean—Ludlow Whitney is my father, but this man you’ve met isn’t Ludlow Whitney.”

  “I know, ‘ said Myra coolly. “He’s Warren Appleton, the actor.”

  Knowleton leaped to his feet.

  “How on earth—“

  “Oh,” lied Myra easily, “I recognized him the first night. I saw him five years ago in ‘The Swiss Grapefruit’.”

  At this Knowleton seemed to collapse utterly. He sank down limply on to the bench.

  “You knew?”

  “Of course! How could I help it? It simply made me wonder what it was all about.”

  With a great effort he tried to pull himself together.

  “I’m going to tell you the whole story, Myra.”

  “I’m all ears.”

  “Well, it starts with my mother—my real one, not the woman with those idiotic dogs; she’s an invalid and I’m her only child. Her one idea in life has always been for me to make a fitting match, and her idea of a fitting match centers round social position in England. Her greatest disappointment was that I wasn’t a girl so I could marry a title; instead she wanted to drag me to England—marry me off to the sister of an earl or the daughter of a duke. Why, before she’d let me stay up here alone this fall she made me promise I wouldn’t go to see any girl more than twice. And then I met you.”

  He paused for a second and continued earnestly: “You were the first girl in my life whom I ever thought of marrying. You intoxicated me, Myra. It was just as though you were making me love you by some invisible force.”

  “I was,” murmured Myra.

  “Well, that first intoxication lasted a week, and then one day a letter came from mother saying she was bringing home some wonderful English girl, Lady Helena Something-or-Other. And the same day a man told me that he’d heard I’d been caught by the most famous husband hunter in New York. Well, between these two things I went half crazy. I came into town to see you and call it off—got as far as the Biltmore entrance and didn’t dare. I started wandering down Fifth Avenue like a wild man, and then I met Kelly. I told him the whole story—and within an hour we’d hatched up this ghastly plan. It was his plan—all the details. His histrionic instinct got the better of him and he had me thinking it was the kindest way out.”

  “Finish,” commanded Myra crisply.

  “Well, it went splendidly, we thought. Everything—the station meeting, the dinner scene, the scream in the night, the vaudeville—though I thought that was a little too much—until—until —Oh, Myra, when you fainted under that picture and I held you there in my arms, helpless as a baby, I knew I loved you. I was sorry then, Myra.”

  There was a long pause while she sat motionless, her hands still clasping her knees—then he burst out with a wild plea of passionate sincerity.

  “Myra!” he cried. “If by any possible chance you can bring yourself to forgive and forget I’ll marry you when you say, let my family go to the devil, and love you all my life.”

  For a long while she considered, and Knowleton rose and began pacing nervously up and down the aisle of bare bushes, his hands in his pockets, his tired eyes pathetic now, and full of dull appeal. And then she came to a decision.

  “You’re perfectly sure?” she asked calmly.


  “Very well, I’ll marry you to-day.”

  With her words the atmosphere cleared and his troubles seemed to fall from him like a ragged cloak. An Indian summer sun drifted out from behind the gray clouds and the dry bushes rustled gently in the breeze.

  “It was a bad mistake,” she continued, “but if you’re sure you love me now, that’s the main thing. We’ll go to town this morning, get a license, and I’ll call up my cousin, who’s a minister in the First Presbyterian Church. We can go west to-night. “

  “Myra!” he cried jubilantly. “You’re a marvel and I’m not fit to tie your shoe strings. I’m going to make up to you for this, darling girl.”

  And taking her supple body in his arms he covered her face with kisses.

  The next two hours passed in a whirl. Myra went to the telephone and called her cousin, and then rushed upstairs to pack. When she came down a shining roadster was waiting miraculously in the drive and by ten o’clock they were bowling happily toward the city.

  They stopped for a few minutes at the City Hall and again at the jeweler’s, and then they were in the house of the Reverend Walter Gregory on Sixty-Ninth Street, where a sanctimonious gentleman with twinkling eyes and a slight stutter received them cordially and urged them to a breakfast of bacon and eggs before the ceremony.

  On the way to the station they stopped only long enough to wire Knowleton’s father, and then they were sitting in their compartment on the Broadway Limited.

  “Darn!” exclaimed Myra. “I forgot my bag. Left it at Cousin Walter’s in the excitement.”

  “Never mind. We can get a whole new outfit in Chicago.”

  She glanced at her wrist watch.

  “I’ve got time to telephone him to send it on.”

  She rose.

  “Don’t be long, dear.”

  She leaned down and kissed his forehead. “You know I couldn’t. Two minutes, honey.”

  Outside Myra ran swiftly along the platform and up the steel stairs to the great waiting room, where a man met her —a twinkly-eyed man with a slight stutter.

  “How d-did it go, M-myra?”

  “Fine! Oh, Walter, you were splendid! I almost wish you’d join the ministry so you could officiate when I do get married.”

  “Well—I r-rehearsed for half an hour after I g-got your telephone call.”

  “Wish we’d had more time. I’d have had him lease an apartment and buy furniture.”

  “H’m,” chuckled Walter. “Wonder how far he’ll go on his honeymoon.”

  “Oh, he’ll think I’m on the train till he gets to Elizabeth.” She shook her little fist at the great contour of the marble dome. “Oh, he’s getting off too easy—far too easy!”

  “I haven’t f-figured out what the f-fellow did to you, M-myra.”

  “You never will, I hope.”

  They had reached the side drive and he hailed her a taxicab.

  “You’re an angel!” beamed Myra. “And I can’t thank you enough.”

  “Well, any time I can be of use t-to you —By the way, what are you going to do with all the rings?”

  Myra looked laughingly at her hand.

  “That’s the question,” she said. “I may send them to Lady Helena Something-or-Other—and—well, I’ve always had a strong penchant for souvenirs. Tell the driver Biltmore, Walter.”

  The Post published this story on April 24, 1920, the first to appear after the publication date of This Side of Paradise. Fitzgerald’s fee had by now increased to $500.

  A filmed version of The Camel
’s Back aired on television in the UK on December 13, 1963, as part of an eight-episode BBC anthology series entitled Teletale. Unfortunately, all episodes have been lost.

  The Camel’s Back

  The restless, wearied eye of the tired magazine reader resting for a critical second on the above title will judge it to be merely metaphorical. Stories about the cup and the lip and the bad penny and the new broom rarely have anything to do with cups and lips and pennies and brooms. This story is the great exception. It has to do with an actual, material, visible and large-as-life camel’s back.

  Starting from the neck we shall work tailward. Meet Mr. Perry Parkhurst, twenty-eight, lawyer, native of Toledo. Perry has nice teeth, a Harvard education, and parts his hair in the middle. You have met him before—in Cleveland, Portland, St. Paul, Indianapolis, Kansas City and elsewhere. Baker Brothers, New York, pause on their semiannual trip through the West to clothe him; Montmorency & Co. dispatch a young man posthaste every three months to see that he has the correct number of little punctures on his shoes. He has a domestic roadster now, will have a French roadster if he lives long enough, and doubtless a Chinese one if it comes into fashion. He looks like the advertisement of the young man rubbing his sunset-colored chest with liniment, goes East every year to the Harvard reunion —does everything—smokes a little too much —Oh, you’ve seen him.

  Meet his girl. Her name is Betty Medill, and she would take well in the movies. Her father gives her two hundred a month to dress on and she has tawny eyes and hair, and feather fans of three colors. Meet her father, Cyrus Medill. Though he is to all appearances flesh and blood he is, strange to say, commonly known in Toledo as the Aluminum Man. But when he sits in his club window with two or three Iron Men and the White Pine Man and the Brass Man they look very much as you and I do, only more so, if you know what I mean.

  Meet the camel’s back—or no—don’t meet the camel’s back yet. Meet the story.

  During the Christmas holidays of 1919, the first real Christmas holidays since the war, there took place in Toledo, counting only the people with the italicized the, forty-one dinner parties, sixteen dances, six luncheons male and female, eleven luncheons female, twelve teas, four stag dinners, two weddings and thirteen bridge parties. It was the cumulative effect of all this that moved Perry Parkhurst on the twenty-ninth day of December to a desperate decision.

  Betty Medill would marry him and she wouldn’t marry him. She was having such a good time that she hated to take such a definite step. Meanwhile, their secret engagement had got so long that it seemed as if any day it might break off of its own weight. A little man named Warburton, who knew it all, persuaded Perry to superman her, to get a marriage license and go up to the Medill house and tell her she’d have to marry him at once or call it off forever. This is some stunt—but Perry tried it on December the twenty-ninth. He presented self, heart, license and ultimatum, and within five minutes they were in the midst of a violent quarrel, a burst of sporadic open fighting such as occurs near the end of all long wars and engagements. It brought about one of those ghastly lapses in which two people who are in love pull up sharp, look at each other coolly and think it’s all been a mistake. Afterward they usually kiss wholesomely and assure the other person it was all their fault. Say it all was my fault! Say it was! I want to hear you say it!

  But while reconciliation was trembling in the air, while each was, in a measure, stalling it off, so that they might the more voluptuously and sentimentally enjoy it when it came, they were permanently interrupted by a twenty minute phone call for Betty from a garrulous aunt who lived in the country. At the end of eighteen minutes Perry Parkhurst, torn by pride and suspicion and urged on by injured dignity, put on his long fur coat, picked up his light brown soft hat and stalked out the door.

  “It’s all over,” he muttered brokenly as he tried to jam his car into first. “It’s all over—if I have to choke you for an hour, darn you!” This last to the car, which had been standing some time and was quite cold.

  He drove downtown—that is, he got into a snow rut that led him downtown.

  He sat slouched down very low in his seat, much too dispirited to care where he went. He was living over the next twenty years without Betty.

  In front of the Clarendon Hotel he was hailed from the sidewalk by a bad man named Baily, who had big huge teeth and lived at the hotel and had never been in love.

  “Perry,” said the bad man softly when the roadster drew up beside him at the curb, “I’ve got six quarts of the dog-gonedest champagne you ever tasted. A third of it’s yours, Perry, if you’ll come upstairs and help Martin Macy and me drink it.”

  “Baily,” said Perry tensely, “I’ll drink your champagne. I’ll drink every drop of it. I don’t care if it kills me. I don’t care if it’s fifty-proof wood alcohol.”

  “Shut up, you nut!” said the bad man gently. “They don’t put wood alcohol in champagne. This is the stuff that proves the world is more than six thousand years old. It’s so ancient that the cork is petrified. You have to pull it with a stone drill.”

  “Take me upstairs,” said Perry moodily. “If that cork sees my heart it’ll fall out from pure mortification.” The room upstairs was full of those innocent hotel pictures of little girls eating apples and sitting in swings and talking to dogs. The other decorations were neckties and a pink man reading a pink paper devoted to ladies in pink tights.

  “When you have to go into the highways and byways —” said the pink man, looking reproachfully at Baily and Perry.

  “Hello, Martin Macy,” said Perry shortly, “where’s this stone-age champagne?”

  “What’s the rush? This isn’t an operation, understand. This is a party.”

  Perry sat down dully and looked disapprovingly at all the neckties.

  Baily leisurely opened the door of a wardrobe and brought out six wicked-looking bottles and three glasses.

  “Take off that darn fur coat!” said Martin Macy to Perry. “Or maybe you’d like to have us open all the windows.”

  “Give me champagne,” said Perry.

  “Going to the Townsends’ circus ball tonight?”

  “Am not!”



  “Why not go?”

  “Oh, I’m sick of parties,” exclaimed Perry. “I’m sick of ‘em.” I’ve been to so many that I’m sick of ‘em.”

  “Maybe you’re going to the Howard Tates’ party?”

  “No, I tell you; I’m sick of ‘em.”

  “Well,” said Macy consolingly, “the Tates’ is just for college kids anyways.”

  “I tell you—”

  “I thought you’d be going to one of ‘em anyways. I see by the papers you haven’t missed a one this Christmas.”

  “Hm,” grunted Perry

  He would never go to any more parties. Classical phrases played in his mind—that side of his life was closed, closed. Now when a man says “closed, closed” like that, you can be pretty sure that some woman has double-closed him, so to speak. Perry was also thinking that other classical thought, about how cowardly suicide is. A noble thought that one—warm and uplifting. Think of all the fine men we should lose if suicide were not so cowardly!

  An hour later was six o’clock, and Perry had lost all resemblance to the young man in the liniment advertisement. He looked like a rough draft for a riotous cartoon. They were singing—an impromptu song of Baily’s improvisation:

  One Lump Perry, the parlor snake,

  Famous through the city for the way he drinks his tea;

  Plays with it, toys with it,

  Makes no noise with it,

  Balanced on a napkin on his well-trained knee.

  “Trouble is,” said Perry, who had just banged his hair with Baily’s comb and was tying an orange tie round it to get the effect of Julius Caesar, “that you fellas can’t sing worth a damn. Soon’s I leave th’ air an’ start singin’ tenor you start singin’ tenor too.”

’m a natural tenor,” said Macy gravely. “Voice lacks cultivation, that’s all. Gotta natural voice, m’aunt used say. Naturally good singer.”

  “Singers, singers, all good singers,” remarked Baily, who was at the telephone. “No, not the cabaret; I want night clerk. I mean refreshment clerk or some dog-gone clerk ‘at’s got food—food! I want —”

  “Julius Caesar,” announced Perry, turning round from the mirror. “Man of iron will and stern ‘termination.”

  “Shut up!” yelled Baily. “Say, iss Mr. Baily. Sen’ up enormous supper. Use y’own judgment. Right away.”

  He connected the receiver and the hook with some difficulty, and then with his lips closed and an air of solemn intensity in his eyes went to the lower drawer of his dresser and pulled it open.

  “Lookit!” he commanded. In his hands he held a truncated garment of pink gingham.

  “Pants,” he explained gravely. “Lookit!” This was a pink blouse, a red tie and a Buster Brown collar. “Lookit!” he repeated. “Costume for the Townsends’ circus ball. I’m li’l’ boy carries water for the elephants.” Perry was impressed in spite of himself.

  “I’m going to be Julius Caesar,” he announced after a moment of concentration.

  “Thought you weren’t going!” said Macy.

  “Me? Sure, I’m goin’. Never miss a party. Good for the nerves—like celery.”

  “Caesar!” scoffed Baily. “Can’t be Caesar! He’s not about a circus. Caesar’s Shakspere. Go as a clown.”

  Perry shook his head.

  “Nope; Cesar.”


  “Sure. Chariot.”

  Light dawned on Baily.

  “That’s right. Good idea.”

  Perry looked round the room searchingly. “You lend me a bathrobe and this tie,” he said finally.

  Baily considered. “No good.”

  “Sure, tha’s all I need. Caesar was a savage. They can’t kick if I come as Caesar if he was a savage.”

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