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Chapter 3

There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city, between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants including an extra gardener toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before.

Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York--every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour, if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler's thumb.

At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby's enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d'oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold.

In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another.

By seven o'clock the orchestra has arrived--no thin five-piece affair but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos and low and high drums. The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing upstairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colors and hair shorn in strange new ways and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile. The bar is in full swing and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside until the air is alive with chatter and laughter and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other's names.

The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier, minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word. The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath--already there are wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the center of a group and then excited with triumph glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and color under the constantly changing light.

Suddenly one of these gypsies in trembling opal, seizes a cocktail out of the air, dumps it down for courage and moving her hands like Frisco dances out alone on the canvas platform. A momentary hush; the orchestra leader varies his rhythm obligingly for her and there is a burst of chatter as the erroneous news goes around that she is Gilda Gray's understudy from the "Follies." The party has begun.

I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby's house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited--they went there. They got into automobiles which bore them out to Long Island and somehow they ended up at Gatsby's door. Once there they were introduced by somebody who knew Gatsby and after that they conducted themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with amusement parks. Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all, came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission.

I had been actually invited. A chauffeur in a uniform of robin's egg blue crossed my lawn early that Saturday morning with a surprisingly formal note from his employer--the honor would be entirely Gatsby's, it said, if I would attend his "little party" that night. He had seen me several times and had intended to call on me long before but a peculiar combination of circumstances had prevented it--signed Jay Gatsby in a majestic hand.

Dressed up in white flannels I went over to his lawn a little after seven and wandered around rather ill-at-ease among swirls and eddies of people I didn't know--though here and there was a face I had noticed on the commuting train. I was immediately struck by the number of young Englishmen dotted about; all well dressed, all looking a little hungry and all talking in low earnest voices to solid and prosperous Americans. I was sure that they were selling something: bonds or insurance or automobiles. They were, at least, agonizingly aware of the easy money in the vicinity and convinced that it was theirs for a few words in the right key.

As soon as I arrived I made an attempt to find my host but the two or three people of whom I asked his whereabouts stared at me in such an amazed way and denied so vehemently any knowledge of his movements that I slunk off in the direction of the cocktail table--the only place in the garden where a single man could linger without looking purposeless and alone.

I was on my way to get roaring drunk from sheer embarrassment when Jordan Baker came out of the house and stood at the head of the marble steps, leaning a little backward and looking with contemptuous interest down into the garden.

Welcome or not, I found it necessary to attach myself to someone before I should begin to address cordial remarks to the passers-by.

"Hello!" I roared, advancing toward her. My voice seemed unnaturally loud across the garden.

"I thought you might be here," she responded absently as I came up.

"I remembered you lived next door to----"

She held my hand impersonally, as a promise that she'd take care of me in a minute, and gave ear to two girls in twin yellow dresses who stopped at the foot of the steps.

"Hello!" they cried together. "Sorry you didn't win."

That was for the golf tournament. She had lost in the finals the week before.

"You don't know who we are," said one of the girls in yellow, "but we met you here about a month ago."

"You've dyed your hair since then," remarked Jordan, and I started but the girls had moved casually on and her remark was addressed to the premature moon, produced like the supper, no doubt, out of a caterer's basket. With Jordan's slender golden arm resting in mine we descended the steps and sauntered about the garden. A tray of cocktails floated at us through the twilight and we sat down at a table with the two girls in yellow and three men, each one introduced to us as Mr. Mumble.

"Do you come to these parties often?" inquired Jordan of the girl beside her.

"The last one was the one I met you at," answered the girl, in an alert, confident voice. She turned to her companion: "Wasn't it for you, Lucille?"

It was for Lucille, too.

"I like to come," Lucille said. "I never care what I do, so I always have a good time. When I was here last I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address--inside of a week I got a package from Croirier's with a new evening gown in it."

"Did you keep it?" asked Jordan.

"Sure I did. I was going to wear it tonight, but it was too big in the bust and had to be altered. It was gas blue with lavender beads. Two hundred and sixty-five dollars."

"There's something funny about a fellow that'll do a thing like that," said the other girl eagerly. "He doesn't want any trouble with ANYbody."

"Who doesn't?" I inquired.

"Gatsby. Somebody told me----"

The two girls and Jordan leaned together confidentially.

"Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once."

A thrill passed over all of us. The three Mr. Mumbles bent forward and listened eagerly.

"I don't think it's so much THAT," argued Lucille skeptically; "it's more that he was a German spy during the war."

One of the men nodded in confirmation.

"I heard that from a man who knew all about him, grew up with him in Germany," he assured us positively.

"Oh, no," said the first girl, "it couldn't be that, because he was in the American army during the war." As our credulity switched back to her she leaned forward with enthusiasm. "You look at him sometimes when he thinks nobody's looking at him. I'll bet he killed a man."

She narrowed her eyes and shivered. Lucille shivered. We all turned and looked around for Gatsby. It was testimony to the romantic speculation he inspired that there were whispers about him from those who found little that it was necessary to whisper about in this world.

The first supper--there would be another one after midnight--was now being served, and Jordan invited me to join her own party who were spread around a table on the other side of the garden. There were three married couples and Jordan's escort, a persistent undergraduate given to violent innuendo and obviously under the impression that sooner or later Jordan was going to yield him up her person to a greater or lesser degree. Instead of rambling this party had preserved a dignified homogeneity, and assumed to itself the function of representing the staid nobility of the countryside--East Egg condescending to West Egg, and carefully on guard against its spectroscopic gayety.

"Let's get out," whispered Jordan, after a somehow wasteful and inappropriate half hour. "This is much too polite for me."

We got up, and she explained that we were going to find the host--I had never met him, she said, and it was making me uneasy. The undergraduate nodded in a cynical, melancholy way.

The bar, where we glanced first, was crowded but Gatsby was not there.

She couldn't find him from the top of the steps, and he wasn't on the veranda. On a chance we tried an important-looking door, and walked into a high Gothic library, panelled with carved English oak, and probably transported complete from some ruin overseas.

A stout, middle-aged man with enormous owl-eyed spectacles was sitting somewhat drunk on the edge of a great table, staring with unsteady concentration at the shelves of books. As we entered he wheeled excitedly around and examined Jordan from head to foot.

"What do you think?" he demanded impetuously.

"About what?"

He waved his hand toward the book-shelves.

"About that. As a matter of fact you needn't bother to ascertain. I ascertained. They're real."

"The books?"

He nodded.

"Absolutely real--have pages and everything. I thought they'd be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they're absolutely real. Pages and--Here! Lemme show you."

Taking our skepticism for granted, he rushed to the bookcases and returned with Volume One of the "Stoddard Lectures."

"See!" he cried triumphantly. "It's a bona fide piece of printed matter.

It fooled me. This fella's a regular Belasco. It's a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop too--didn't cut the pages.

But what do you want? What do you expect?"

He snatched the book from me and replaced it hastily on its shelf muttering that if one brick was removed the whole library was liable to collapse.

"Who brought you?" he demanded. "Or did you just come? I was brought.

Most people were brought."

Jordan looked at him alertly, cheerfully without answering.

"I was brought by a woman named Roosevelt," he continued. "Mrs. Claud Roosevelt. Do you know her? I met her somewhere last night. I've been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library."

"Has it?"

"A little bit, I think. I can't tell yet. I've only been here an hour. Did I tell you about the books? They're real. They're----"

"You told us."

We shook hands with him gravely and went back outdoors.

There was dancing now on the canvas in the garden, old men pushing young girls backward in eternal graceless circles, superior couples holding each other tortuously, fashionably and keeping in the corners--and a great number of single girls dancing individualistically or relieving the orchestra for a moment of the burden of the banjo or the traps. By midnight the hilarity had increased. A celebrated tenor had sung in Italian and a notorious contralto had sung in jazz and between the numbers people were doing "stunts" all over the garden, while happy vacuous bursts of laughter rose toward the summer sky. A pair of stage "twins"--who turned out to be the girls in yellow--did a baby act in costume and champagne was served in glasses bigger than finger bowls.

The moon had risen higher, and floating in the Sound was a triangle of silver scales, trembling a little to the stiff, tinny drip of the banjoes on the lawn.

I was still with Jordan Baker. We were sitting at a table with a man of about my age and a rowdy little girl who gave way upon the slightest provocation to uncontrollable laughter. I was enjoying myself now. I had taken two finger bowls of champagne and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental and profound.

At a lull in the entertainment the man looked at me and smiled.

"Your face is familiar," he said, politely. "Weren't you in the Third Division during the war?"

"Why, yes. I was in the Ninth Machine-Gun Battalion."

"I was in the Seventh Infantry until June nineteen-eighteen. I knew I'd seen you somewhere before."

We talked for a moment about some wet, grey little villages in France.

Evidently he lived in this vicinity for he told me that he had just bought a hydroplane and was going to try it out in the morning.

"Want to go with me, old sport? Just near the shore along the Sound."

"What time?"

"Any time that suits you best."

It was on the tip of my tongue to ask his name when Jordan looked around and smiled.

"Having a gay time now?" she inquired.

"Much better." I turned again to my new acquaintance. "This is an unusual party for me. I haven't even seen the host. I live over there----" I waved my hand at the invisible hedge in the distance, "and this man Gatsby sent over his chauffeur with an invitation."

For a moment he looked at me as if he failed to understand.

"I'm Gatsby," he said suddenly.

"What!" I exclaimed. "Oh, I beg your pardon."

"I thought you knew, old sport. I'm afraid I'm not a very good host."

He smiled understandingly--much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced--or seemed to face--the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on YOU with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. Precisely at that point it vanished--and I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I'd got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care.

Almost at the moment when Mr. Gatsby identified himself a butler hurried toward him with the information that Chicago was calling him on the wire. He excused himself with a small bow that included each of us in turn.

"If you want anything just ask for it, old sport," he urged me.

"Excuse me. I will rejoin you later."

When he was gone I turned immediately to Jordan--constrained to assure her of my surprise. I had expected that Mr. Gatsby would be a florid and corpulent person in his middle years.

"Who is he?" I demanded. "Do you know?"

"He's just a man named Gatsby."

"Where is he from, I mean? And what does he do?"

"Now YOU're started on the subject," she answered with a wan smile.

"Well,--he told me once he was an Oxford man."

A dim background started to take shape behind him but at her next remark it faded away.

"However, I don't believe it."

"Why not?"

"I don't know," she insisted, "I just don't think he went there."

Something in her tone reminded me of the other girl's "I think he killed a man," and had the effect of stimulating my curiosity. I would have accepted without question the information that Gatsby sprang from the swamps of Louisiana or from the lower East Side of New York.

That was comprehensible. But young men didn't--at least in my provincial inexperience I believed they didn't--drift coolly out of nowhere and buy a palace on Long Island Sound.

"Anyhow he gives large parties," said Jordan, changing the subject with an urbane distaste for the concrete. "And I like large parties.

They're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy."

There was the boom of a bass drum, and the voice of the orchestra leader rang out suddenly above the echolalia of the garden.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he cried. "At the request of Mr. Gatsby we are going to play for you Mr. Vladimir Tostoff's latest work which attracted so much attention at Carnegie Hall last May. If you read the papers you know there was a big sensation." He smiled with jovial condescension and added "Some sensation!" whereupon everybody laughed.

"The piece is known," he concluded lustily, "as 'Vladimir Tostoff's Jazz History of the World.' "

The nature of Mr. Tostoff's composition eluded me, because just as it began my eyes fell on Gatsby, standing alone on the marble steps and looking from one group to another with approving eyes.

His tanned skin was drawn attractively tight on his face and his short hair looked as though it were trimmed every day. I could see nothing sinister about him. I wondered if the fact that he was not drinking helped to set him off from his guests, for it seemed to me that he grew more correct as the fraternal hilarity increased.

When the "Jazz History of the World" was over girls were putting their heads on men's shoulders in a puppyish, convivial way, girls were swooning backward playfully into men's arms, even into groups knowing that some one would arrest their falls--but no one swooned backward on Gatsby and no French bob touched Gatsby's shoulder and no singing quartets were formed with Gatsby's head for one link.

"I beg your pardon."

Gatsby's butler was suddenly standing beside us.

"Miss Baker?" he inquired. "I beg your pardon but Mr. Gatsby would like to speak to you alone."

"With me?" she exclaimed in surprise.

"Yes, madame."

She got up slowly, raising her eyebrows at me in astonishment, and followed the butler toward the house. I noticed that she wore her evening dress, all her dresses, like sports clothes--there was a jauntiness about her movements as if she had first learned to walk upon golf courses on clean, crisp mornings.

I was alone and it was almost two. For some time confused and intriguing sounds had issued from a long many-windowed room which overhung the terrace. Eluding Jordan's undergraduate who was now engaged in an obstetrical conversation with two chorus girls, and who implored me to join him, I went inside.

The large room was full of people. One of the girls in yellow was playing the piano and beside her stood a tall, red haired young lady from a famous chorus, engaged in song. She had drunk a quantity of champagne and during the course of her song she had decided ineptly that everything was very very sad--she was not only singing, she was weeping too. Whenever there was a pause in the song she filled it with gasping broken sobs and then took up the lyric again in a quavering soprano. The tears coursed down her cheeks--not freely, however, for when they came into contact with her heavily beaded eyelashes they assumed an inky color, and pursued the rest of their way in slow black rivulets. A humorous suggestion was made that she sing the notes on her face whereupon she threw up her hands, sank into a chair and went off into a deep vinous sleep.

"She had a fight with a man who says he's her husband," explained a girl at my elbow.

I looked around. Most of the remaining women were now having fights with men said to be their husbands. Even Jordan's party, the quartet from East Egg, were rent asunder by dissension. One of the men was talking with curious intensity to a young actress, and his wife after attempting to laugh at the situation in a dignified and indifferent way broke down entirely and resorted to flank attacks--at intervals she appeared suddenly at his side like an angry diamond, and hissed "You promised!" into his ear.

The reluctance to go home was not confined to wayward men. The hall was at present occupied by two deplorably sober men and their highly indignant wives. The wives were sympathizing with each other in slightly raised voices.

"Whenever he sees I'm having a good time he wants to go home."

"Never heard anything so selfish in my life."

"We're always the first ones to leave."

"So are we."

"Well, we're almost the last tonight," said one of the men sheepishly.

"The orchestra left half an hour ago."

In spite of the wives' agreement that such malevolence was beyond credibility, the dispute ended in a short struggle, and both wives were lifted kicking into the night.

As I waited for my hat in the hall the door of the library opened and Jordan Baker and Gatsby came out together. He was saying some last word to her but the eagerness in his manner tightened abruptly into formality as several people approached him to say goodbye.

Jordan's party were calling impatiently to her from the porch but she lingered for a moment to shake hands.

"I've just heard the most amazing thing," she whispered. "How long were we in there?"

"Why,--about an hour."

"It was--simply amazing," she repeated abstractedly. "But I swore I wouldn't tell it and here I am tantalizing you." She yawned gracefully in my face. "Please come and see me.... Phone book.

... Under the name of Mrs. Sigourney Howard.... My aunt...."

She was hurrying off as she talked--her brown hand waved a jaunty salute as she melted into her party at the door.

Rather ashamed that on my first appearance I had stayed so late, I joined the last of Gatsby's guests who were clustered around him. I wanted to explain that I'd hunted for him early in the evening and to apologize for not having known him in the garden.

"Don't mention it," he enjoined me eagerly. "Don't give it another thought, old sport." The familiar expression held no more familiarity than the hand which reassuringly brushed my shoulder. "And don't forget we're going up in the hydroplane tomorrow morning at nine o'clock."

Then the butler, behind his shoulder:

"Philadelphia wants you on the phone, sir."

"All right, in a minute. Tell them I'll be right there.... good night."

"Good night."

"Good night." He smiled--and suddenly there seemed to be a pleasant significance in having been among the last to go, as if he had desired it all the time. "Good night, old sport.... Good night."

But as I walked down the steps I saw that the evening was not quite over.

Fifty feet from the door a dozen headlights illuminated a bizarre and tumultuous scene. In the ditch beside the road, right side up but violently shorn of one wheel, rested a new coupé which had left Gatsby's drive not two minutes before. The sharp jut of a wall accounted for the detachment of the wheel which was now getting considerable attention from half a dozen curious chauffeurs. However, as they had left their cars blocking the road a harsh discordant din from those in the rear had been audible for some time and added to the already violent confusion of the scene.

A man in a long duster had dismounted from the wreck and now stood in the middle of the road, looking from the car to the tire and from the tire to the observers in a pleasant, puzzled way.

"See!" he explained. "It went in the ditch."

The fact was infinitely astonishing to him--and I recognized first the unusual quality of wonder and then the man--it was the late patron of Gatsby's library.

"How'd it happen?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"I know nothing whatever about mechanics," he said decisively.

"But how did it happen? Did you run into the wall?"

"Don't ask me," said Owl Eyes, washing his hands of the whole matter.

"I know very little about driving--next to nothing. It happened, and that's all I know."

"Well, if you're a poor driver you oughtn't to try driving at night."

"But I wasn't even trying," he explained indignantly, "I wasn't even trying."

An awed hush fell upon the bystanders.

"Do you want to commit suicide?"

"You're lucky it was just a wheel! A bad driver and not even TRYing!"

"You don't understand," explained the criminal. "I wasn't driving. There's another man in the car."

The shock that followed this declaration found voice in a sustained "Ah-h-h!" as the door of the coupé swung slowly open. The crowd--it was now a crowd--stepped back involuntarily and when the door had opened wide there was a ghostly pause. Then, very gradually, part by part, a pale dangling individual stepped out of the wreck, pawing tentatively at the ground with a large uncertain dancing shoe.

Blinded by the glare of the headlights and confused by the incessant groaning of the horns the apparition stood swaying for a moment before he perceived the man in the duster.

"Wha's matter?" he inquired calmly. "Did we run outa gas?"

"Look!"

Half a dozen fingers pointed at the amputated wheel--he stared at it for a moment and then looked upward as though he suspected that it had dropped from the sky.

"It came off," some one explained.

He nodded.

"At first I din' notice we'd stopped."

A pause. Then, taking a long breath and straightening his shoulders he remarked in a determined voice:

"Wonder'ff tell me where there's a gas'line station?"

At least a dozen men, some of them little better off than he was, explained to him that wheel and car were no longer joined by any physical bond.

"Back out," he suggested after a moment. "Put her in reverse."

"But the WHEEL'S off!"

He hesitated.

"No harm in trying," he said.

The caterwauling horns had reached a crescendo and I turned away and cut across the lawn toward home. I glanced back once. A wafer of a moon was shining over Gatsby's house, making the night fine as before and surviving the laughter and the sound of his still glowing garden. A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host who stood on the porch, his hand up in a formal gesture of farewell.

Reading over what I have written so far I see I have given the impression that the events of three nights several weeks apart were all that absorbed me. On the contrary they were merely casual events in a crowded summer and, until much later, they absorbed me infinitely less than my personal affairs.

Most of the time I worked. In the early morning the sun threw my shadow westward as I hurried down the white chasms of lower New York to the Probity Trust. I knew the other clerks and young bond-salesmen by their first names and lunched with them in dark crowded restaurants on little pig sausages and mashed potatoes and coffee. I even had a short affair with a girl who lived in Jersey City and worked in the accounting department, but her brother began throwing mean looks in my direction so when she went on her vacation in July I let it blow quietly away.

I took dinner usually at the Yale Club--for some reason it was the gloomiest event of my day--and then I went upstairs to the library and studied investments and securities for a conscientious hour.

There were generally a few rioters around but they never came into the library so it was a good place to work. After that, if the night was mellow I strolled down Madison Avenue past the old Murray Hill Hotel and over Thirty-third Street to the Pennsylvania Station.

I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness. At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others--poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner--young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.

Again at eight o'clock, when the dark lanes of the Forties were five deep with throbbing taxi cabs, bound for the theatre district, I felt a sinking in my heart. Forms leaned together in the taxis as they waited, and voices sang, and there was laughter from unheard jokes, and lighted cigarettes outlined unintelligible gestures inside. Imagining that I, too, was hurrying toward gayety and sharing their intimate excitement, I wished them well.

For a while I lost sight of Jordan Baker, and then in midsummer I found her again. At first I was flattered to go places with her because she was a golf champion and every one knew her name. Then it was something more. I wasn't actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity. The bored haughty face that she turned to the world concealed something--most affectations conceal something eventually, even though they don't in the beginning--and one day I found what it was. When we were on a house-party together up in Warwick, she left a borrowed car out in the rain with the top down, and then lied about it--and suddenly I remembered the story about her that had eluded me that night at Daisy's. At her first big golf tournament there was a row that nearly reached the newspapers--a suggestion that she had moved her ball from a bad lie in the semi-final round. The thing approached the proportions of a scandal--then died away. A caddy retracted his statement and the only other witness admitted that he might have been mistaken. The incident and the name had remained together in my mind.

Jordan Baker instinctively avoided clever shrewd men and now I saw that this was because she felt safer on a plane where any divergence from a code would be thought impossible. She was incurably dishonest.

She wasn't able to endure being at a disadvantage, and given this unwillingness I suppose she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep that cool, insolent smile turned to the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard jaunty body.

It made no difference to me. Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply--I was casually sorry, and then I forgot. It was on that same house party that we had a curious conversation about driving a car. It started because she passed so close to some workmen that our fender flicked a button on one man's coat.

"You're a rotten driver," I protested. "Either you ought to be more careful or you oughtn't to drive at all."

"I am careful."

"No, you're not."

"Well, other people are," she said lightly.

"What's that got to do with it?"

"They'll keep out of my way," she insisted. "It takes two to make an accident."

"Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself."

"I hope I never will," she answered. "I hate careless people. That's why I like you."

Her grey, sun-strained eyes stared straight ahead, but she had deliberately shifted our relations, and for a moment I thought I loved her. But I am slow-thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires, and I knew that first I had to get myself definitely out of that tangle back home. I'd been writing letters once a week and signing them: "Love, Nick," and all I could think of was how, when that certain girl played tennis, a faint mustache of perspiration appeared on her upper lip. Nevertheless there was a vague understanding that had to be tactfully broken off before I was free.

Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.

整个夏天的夜晚都有音乐声从我邻居家传过来。在他蔚蓝的花园里,男男女女像飞蛾一般在笑语、香摈和繁垦中间来来往往。下午涨潮的时候,我看着他的客人从他的木筏的跳台上跳水,或是躺在他私人海滩的热沙上晒太阳,同时他的两艘小汽艇破浪前进,拖着滑水板驶过翻腾的浪花。每逢周末,他的罗尔斯一罗伊斯轿车就成了公共汽车,从早晨九点到深更半夜往来城里接送客人,同时他的旅行车也像一只轻捷的黄硬壳虫那样去火车站接所有的班车。每星期一,八个仆人,包括一个临时园丁,整整苦于一天,用许多拖把、板刷、榔头、修技剪来收拾前一晚的残局。

每星期五,五箱橙子和柠檬从纽约一家水果行送到。每星期一,这些橙子和柠檬变成一座半拉半拉的果皮堆成的小金字塔从他的后门运出去。他厨房里有一架榨果汁机,半小时之内可以榨两百只橙子,只要男管家用大拇指把一个按钮按两百次就行了。

至少每两周一次,大批包办筵席的人从城里下来,带来好几百英尺帆布帐篷和无数的彩色电灯,足以把盖茨比巨大的花园布置得像一棵圣诞树。自助餐桌上各色冷盘琳琅满目,一只只五香火腿周围摆满了五花八门的色拉、烤得金黄的乳猪和火鸡。大厅里面,设起了一个装着一根真的铜杆的酒吧,备有各种杜松子酒和烈性酒,还有各种早已罕见的甘露酒,大多数女客年纪太轻,根本分不清哪个是哪个。

七点以前乐队到达,决不是什么五人小乐队,而是配备齐全的整班人马,双簧管、长号、萨克斯管、大小提琴、短号、短笛、高低音铜鼓,应有尽有。最后一批游泳的客人已经从海滩上进来,现在正在楼上换衣服。纽约来的轿车五辆一排停在车道上,同时所有的厅堂、客室、阳台已经都是五彩缤纷,女客们的发型争奇斗妍,披的纱巾是卡斯蒂尔人做梦也想不到的。酒吧那边生意兴隆,同时一盘盘鸡尾酒传送到外面花园电的每个角落,到后来整个空气里充满了欢声笑语,充满了脱口而出、转眼就忘的打趣和介绍,充满了彼此始终不知姓名的太太们之间亲热无比的会见。

大地蹒跚着离开太阳,电灯显得更亮,此刻乐队正在奏黄色鸡尾酒会音乐,于是大合唱般的人声又提高了一个音凋。笑声每时每刻都变得越来越容易,毫无节制地倾泻出来,只要一句笑话就会引起哄然大笑。人群的变化越来越快,忽而随着新来的客人而增大,忽而分散后又立即重新组合。已经有一些人在东飘西荡——脸皮厚的年轻姑娘在比较稳定的人群中间钻进钻出,一会儿在片刻的欢腾中成为一群人注意的中心,一会儿又得意洋洋在不断变化的灯光下穿过变幻不定的面孔、声音和色彩扬长而去。

忽然间,这些吉卜赛人式的姑娘中有一个,满身珠光宝气,一伸手就抓来一杯鸡尾酒,一回于下去壮壮胆子,然后手舞足蹈,一个人跳到篷布舞池中间去表演。片刻的寂静,乐队指挥殷勤地为她改变了拍子,随后突然响起了一阵叽叽喳喳的说话声,因为有谣言传开,说她是速演剧团的吉尔德·格雷的替角。晚会正式开始了。

我相信那天晚上我第一次到盖茨比家去时,我是少数几个真正接到请帖的客人之一。人们并不是邀请来的——他们是自己来的。他们坐上汽车,车子把他们送到长岛,后来也不知怎么的他们总是出现在盖茨比的门口。一到之后总会有什么认识盖茨比的人给他们介绍一下,从此他们的言谈行事就像在娱乐场所一样了。有时候他们从来到走根本没见过盖茨比,他们怀着一片至诚前来赴会,这一点就可以算一张人场券了。

我确实是受到邀请的。那个星期六一清早,一个身穿蓝绿色制服的司机穿过我的草地,为他主人送来一封措词非常客气的请柬,上面写道:如蒙我光临当晚他的 “小小聚会”,盖茨比当感到不胜荣幸。他已经看到我几次,并且早就打算造访,但由于种种特殊原因未能如愿——杰伊·盖茨比签名,笔迹很神气。

晚上七点一过,我身穿一套白法兰绒便装走过去到他的草坪上,很不自在地在一群群我不认识的人中间晃来晃去——虽然偶尔也有一个我在区间火车上见过的面扎。我马上注意到客人中夹着不少年轻的英国人:个个衣着整齐,个个面有饥色,个个都在低声下气地跟殷实的美国人谈话。我敢说他们都在推销什么——或是债券。或是保险,或是汽车。他们最起码都揪心地意识到,近在眼前就有唾手可得的钱,并且相信,只要几句话说得投机,钱就到手了。

我一到之后就设法去找主人,可是问了两三个人他在哪里,他们都大为惊异地瞪着我,同时矢口否认知道他的行踪,我只好悄悄地向供应鸡尾酒的桌子溜过去— —整个花园里只有这个地方,一个单身汉可以留连一下而不显得无聊和孤独。

我百无聊赖,正准备喝个酷配大醉,这时乔丹·贝克从屋里走了出来,站在大理石台阶的最上一级,身体微向后仰,用轻貌的神气俯瞰着花园。

不管人家欢迎不欢迎,我觉得实在非依附一个人不可,不然的话,我恐怕要跟过往的客人寒暄起来了。

“哈罗!”我大喊一声,朝她走去。我的声音在花园里听上去似乎响得很不自然。

“我猜你也许会来的,”等我走到跟前,她心不在焉地答道,“我记得你住在隔壁……”

她不带感情地拉拉我的手,作为她答应马上再来理会我的表示,同时去听在台阶下面站住的两个穿着一样的黄色连衣裙的姑娘讲话。

“哈罗!”她们同声喊道,“可惜你没赢。”

这说的是高尔夫球比赛。她在上星期的决赛中输掉了。

“你不知道我们是谁,”两个穿黄衣的姑娘中的一个说,“可是大约一个月以前我们在这儿见过面。”

“你们后来染过头发了。”乔丹说,我听了一惊,但两个姑娘却已经漫不经心地走开了,因此她这句话说给早升的月亮听了,月亮和晚餐的酒菜一样,无疑也是从包办酒席的人的篮子里拿出来的。乔丹用她那纤细的、金黄色的手臂挽着我的手臂,我们走下了台阶,在花园里闲逛。一盘鸡尾酒在暮色苍茫中飘到我们面前,我们就在一张桌子旁坐下,同座的还有那两个穿黄衣的姑娘和三个男的,介绍给我们的时候名字全含含糊糊一带而过。

“你常来参加这些晚会吗?”乔丹问她旁边的那个姑娘。

“我上次来就是见到你的那一次,”姑娘回答,声音是机灵而自信的。她又转身问她的朋友,“你是不是也一样,露西尔?”

露西尔也是一样。

“我喜欢来,”露西尔说,“我从来不在乎干什么,只要我玩得痛快就行。上次我来这里,我把衣服在椅子上撕破了,他就问了我的姓名住址——不出一个星期我收到克罗里公司送来一个包裹,里面是一件新的晚礼服”

“你收下了吗?”乔丹问。

“我当然收下了。我本来今晚准备穿的,可是它胸口太大,非改不可。衣服是淡蓝色的,镶着淡紫色的珠子。二百六十五美元。”

“一个人肯干这样的事真有点古怪,”另外那个姑娘热切地说,“他不愿意得罪任何人。”

“谁不愿意?”我问。

“盖茨比。有人告诉我……”

两个姑娘和乔丹诡秘地把头靠到一起。

“有人告诉我,人家认为他杀过一个人。”

我们大家都感到十分惊异,位先生也把头伸到前而,竖起耳朵来听。

“我想并不是那回事,”露西尔不以为然地分辩道,“多半是因为在人战时他当过德国间谍。”

三个男的当中有一个点头表示赞同。

“我也听过一个人这样说,这人对他一清二楚,是从小和他一起在德国长大的。” 他肯定无疑地告诉我们。

“噢,不对,”第一个姑娘又说,“不可能是那样,因为大战期间他是在美国军队里。”由于我们又倾顷向于听信她的话,她又兴致勃勃地把头伸到侧面。“你只要趁他以为没有人看他的时候看他一眼。我敢打赌他杀过一个人。”

她眯起眼睛,哆嗦了起来。露西尔也在哆嗦。我们大家掉转身来,四面张望去找盖茨比。有些人早就认为这个世界上没有什么需要避讳的事情,现在谈起他来却这样窃窃私语,这一点也足以证明他引起了人们何等浪漫的遐想了。

第一顿晚饭——午夜后还有一顿——此刻开出来了,乔丹邀我去和花园那边围着一张桌子坐的她的一伙朋友坐在一起。一共有三对夫妇,外加一个陪同乔丹来的男大学生,此人死了白赖,说起话来老是旁敲侧击,并且显然认为乔丹早晚会或多或少委身于他的。这伙人不到处转悠,而是正襟危坐,自成。体,并且俨然自封为庄重的农村贵族的代表——东卵屈尊光临西卵,而又小心翼翼提防它那灯红酒绿的欢乐。

“咱们走开吧,”乔丹低声地讲,这时已经莫名其妙地浪费了半个钟头,“这里对我来说是太斯文了。”

我们站了起来,她解释说我们要去找主人。她说她还从来没见过他,这使她颇感局促不安。那位大学生点点头,神情既玩世不恭,又闷闷不乐。

我们先到酒吧间去张望了一下,那儿挤满了人,可盖茨比并不在那里。她从台阶上头向下看,找不到他,他也不在阳台上。我们怀着希望推开一扇很神气的门,走进了一间高高的哥特式图书室,四壁镶的是英国雕花橡木,大有可能是从海外某处古迹原封不动地拆过来的。

一个矮矮胖胖的中年男人,戴着老大的一副猫头鹰式眼镜,正醉醺醺地坐在一张大桌子的边上,迷迷糊糊目不转睛地看着书架上一排排的书。我们一走进去他就兴奋地转过身来,把乔丹从头到脚打量了一番。

“你觉得怎么样?”他冒冒失失地问道。

“关于什么?”

他把手向书架一扬。

“关于那个。其实你也不必仔细看了,我已经仔细看过。它们都是真的。”

“这些书吗?”

他点点头。

“绝对是真的——一页一页的,什么都有。我起先还以为大概是好看的空书壳子。事实上,它们绝对是真的。一页一页的什么——等等!我拿给你们瞧。”

他想当然地认为我们不相信,急忙跑到书橱前面,拿回来一本《斯托达德演说集》卷一。

“瞧!”他得意洋洋地嚷道,“这是一本地地道道的印刷品。它真把我蒙住了。这家伙简直是个贝拉斯科。真是巧夺天工。多么一丝不苟!多么逼真!而且知道见好就收——并没裁开纸页。你还要怎样?你还指望什么?”

他从我手里把那本书一把夺走,急急忙忙把它放回书架的原处,一面叽咕着说什么假使一块砖头被挪开,整个图书室就有可能塌掉。

“谁带你们来的?”他问道,“还是不请自到的?我是有人带我来的。人多数客人都是别人带来的。”

乔丹很机灵,很高兴地看着他,但并没有答话。

“我是一位姓罗斯福的太太带来的,”他接着说,“克劳德·罗斯福太太。你们认识她吗?我昨天晚上不知在什么地方碰上她的。我已经醉了个把星期了,我以为在图书室里坐一会儿可以醒醒酒的。”

“有没有醒?”

“醒了一点,我想。我还不敢说。我在这儿刚待了一个钟头。我跟你们讲过这些书吗?它们都是真的。它们是……”

“你告诉过我们了。”

我们庄重地和他握握手,随即回到外边去。

此刻花园里篷布上有人在跳舞。有老头子推着年轻姑娘向后倒退,无止无休地绕着难看的圈子;有高傲的男女抱在一起按时髦的舞步扭来扭去,守在一个角落里跳——还有许许多多单身姑娘在跳单人舞,或者帮乐队弹一会儿班卓琴或者敲一会儿打击乐器。到了午夜欢闹更甚。一位有名的男高音唱了意大利文歌曲,还有一位声名狼藉的女低音唱了爵士乐曲,还有人在两个节目之间在花园里到处表演“绝技”,同时一阵阵欢乐而空洞的笑声响彻夏夜的天空。一对双胞胎——原来就是那两个黄衣姑娘——演了一出化装的娃娃戏,同时香摈一杯杯地端出来,杯子比洗手指用的小碗还要大。月亮升得更高了,海湾里飘着一副三角形的银色天秤,随着草坪上班卓琴铿锵的琴声微微颤动。

我仍然和乔丹·贝克在一起。我们坐的一张桌上还有一位跟我年纪差不多的男子和一个吵吵闹闹的小姑娘,她动不动就忍不住要放声大笑。我现在玩得也挺开心了。我已经喝了两大碗香棋,因此这片景色在我眼前变成了一种意味深长的、根本性的、奥妙的东西。

在文娱节目中间休息的时候,那个男的看着我微笑。

“您很面熟,”他很客气地说,“战争期间您不是在第一师吗?”

“正是啊。我在步兵二十八连。”

“我在十六连,直到一九八年六月,我刚才就知道我以前在哪儿见过您的。”

我们谈了一会儿法国的一此阴雨、灰暗的小村庄,显而易见他就住在附近,因为他告诉我他刚买了一架水上飞机,并且准备明天早晨去试飞一下。

“愿意跟我一块去吗,老兄?就在海湾沿着岸边转转。”

“什么时候?”

“随便什么时候,对你合适就行。”

我已经话到了嘴边想问他的名字,这时乔丹掉转头水朝我一笑。

“现在玩得快话吧?”她问

“好多了。”我又掉转脸对着我的新交,“这对我来说是个奇特的晚会。我连主人都还没见到哩。我就住在那边……”我朝着远处看不见的的篱笆把一挥。“这位姓盖茨比的派他的他司机过来送了一份请帖。”

他朝我望了一会儿,似乎没听懂我的话。

“我就是盖茨比”他突然说

“什么!”我叫了一声,“噢,真对不起。”

“我还以为你知道哩,老兄。我恐怕不是个很好的上人。”

他心领神会地一笑——还不止心领神会。这足极为罕见的笑容,其中含有永久的善意的表情,这你一辈子也不过能遇见四二次。它面对——或者似乎面对——整个永恒的世界一刹那,然后就凝注在你身上,对你表现出不可抗拒的偏爱。他了解你恰恰到你本人希望被了解的程度,相信你如同你乐于相信你自己那样,并且教你放心他对你的印象正是你最得意时希望给予别人的印象。恰好在这一刻他的笑容消失了——于是我看着的不过是一个风度翩翩的年轻汉子,三十一二岁年纪,说起话来文质彬彬,几乎有点可笑。在他作自我介绍之前不久,我有一个强烈的印象,觉得他说话字斟句酌。

差不多在盖茨比先生说明自己身份的那一刻,一个男管家急急忙忙跑到他跟前报告他芝加哥有长途电话找他。他微微欠身道歉,把我们大家——包括在内。

“你想要什么尽管开口,老兄,”他恳切地对我说,“对不起,过会儿再来奉陪。”

他走开之后,我马上转向乔丹——迫不及待地要告诉她我感到的惊异。我本来以为盖茨比先生是个红光满面、肥头大耳的中年人。

“他是谁?”我急切地问,“你可知道?”

“他就是一个姓盖茨比的人呗。”

“我是问他是哪儿来的?他又是干什么的?”

“现在你也琢磨起这个题目来了,”她厌倦地笑道,“唔,他告诉过我他上过牛津大学。”

关于他的模糊的背景开始显现出来,但是随着她的下一句话又立即消大了。

“可是,我并不相信。”

“为什么不信?”

“我不知道,”她固执地说,“我就是不相信他上过牛津。”

她的语气之中有点什么使我想起另外那个姑娘说的“我想他杀过一个人”,其结果是打动了我的好奇心。随便说盖茨比出身于路易斯安那州的沼泽地区也好,出身于纽约东城南区也好,我都可以毫无疑问地接受。那是可以理解的。但是年纪轻的人不可能——至少我这个孤陋寡闻的多余人认为他们不可能——不知从什么地方悄悄地出现,在长岛海湾买下一座宫殿式的别墅。

“不管怎样,他举行大型宴会,”乔丹像一般城里人一样不屑于谈具体细节,所以改换了话题,“而我也喜欢大型宴会。这样亲热得很。在小的聚会上,三三两两谈心倒不可能。”

大鼓轰隆隆一阵响,接着突然传来乐队指挥的声音,盖过了花园里嘈杂的人声。

“女士们,先生们,”他大声说,“应盖茨比先生的要求,我们现在为各位演奏弗拉迪米尔·托斯托夫先生的最新作品,这部作品五月里在卡内基音乐厅曾经引起许多人的注意。各位看报就知道那是轰动一时的事件。”他带着轻松而居高临下的神气微微一笑,又说:“可真叫轰动!”这句话引得大家都放声大笑。

“这支乐曲,”他最后用洪亮的声音说,“叫做《弗拉迪米尔·托斯托夫的爵土音乐世界史》。”

托斯托夫先生这个乐曲是怎么回事,我没有注意到,因为演奏一开始,我就一眼看到了盖茨比单独一个人站在大理石台阶上面,用满意的目光从这一群人看到那一群人。他那晒得黑黑的皮肤很漂亮地紧绷在脸上,他那短短的头发看上去好像是每天都修剪似的。我看不出他身上有什么诡秘的迹象。我纳闷是否他不喝酒这个事实有助于把他跟他的客人们截然分开,因为我觉得随着沆瀣一气的欢闹的高涨,他却变得越发端庄了。等到《爵士音乐世界史》演奏完毕,有的姑娘像小哈巴狗一样乐滋滋地靠在男人肩膀上,有的姑娘开玩笑地向后晕倒在男人怀抱里,甚至倒进人群里,明知反正有人会把她们托住——可是没有人晕倒在盖茨比身上,也没有法国式的短发碰到盖茨比的肩头,也没有人组织四人合唱团来拉盖茨比加入。

“对不起。”

盖茨比的男管家忽然站在我们身旁。

“贝克小姐?”他问道,“对不起,盖茨比先生想单独跟您谈谈。”

“跟我谈?”她惊奇地大声说。

“是的,小姐。”

她慢慢地站了起来,惊愕地对我扬了扬眉毛,然后跟着男管家向房子走去。我注意到她穿晚礼服,穿所有的衣服,都像穿运动服一样——她的动作有一种矫健的姿势,仿佛她当初就是在空气清新的早晨在高尔夫球场上学走路的。

我独自一人,时间已快两点了。有好一会儿,从阳台上面一间长长的、有许多窗户的房间里传来了一阵阵杂乱而引人人胜的声音。乔丹的那位大学生此刻正在和两个歌舞团的舞女大谈助产术,央求我去加人,可是我溜掉了,走到室内去。

大房间里挤满了人。穿黄衣的姑娘有一个在弹钢琴,她身旁站着一个高高的红发少妇,是从一个有名的歌舞团来的,正在那里唱歌。她已经喝了大量的香摈,在她唱歌的过程中她又不合时宜地认定一切都非常非常悲惨——她不仅在唱,而且还在哭。每逢曲中有停顿的地方,她就用抽抽噎噎的哭声来填补,然后又用震颤的女高音继续去唱歌词。眼泪沿着她的面颊往下流——可不是畅通无阻地流,因为眼泪一碰到画得浓浓的睫毛之后就变成了黑墨水,像两条黑色的小河似的慢慢地继续往下流。有人开玩笑,建议她唱脸上的那些音符,她听了这话把两手向上一甩,倒在一张椅子上,醉醺醺地呼呼大睡起来。

“她刚才跟一个自称是她丈夫的人打过一架。”我身旁一个姑娘解释说。

我向四周看看,剩下的女客现在多半都在跟她们所谓的丈夫吵架。连乔丹的那一伙,从东卵来的那四位,也由于意见不和而四分五裂了。男的当中有一个正在劲头十足地跟一个年轻的女演员交谈,他的妻子起先还保持尊严,装得满不在乎,想一笑置之,到后来完全垮了,就采取侧面攻击——不时突然出现在他身边,像一条袖脊蛇愤怒时口腔里发出嘶嘶声一般,对着他的耳朵从牙缝里挤出一句话:“你答应过的!”

舍不得回家的并不限于任性的男客。穿堂里此刻有两个毫无醉意的男客和他们怒气冲天的太太。两位太太略微提高了嗓子在互相表示同情。

“每次他一看见我玩得开心他就要回家。”

“我这辈子从来没见过有谁像他这么自私。”

“我们总是第一个走。”

“我们也是一样。”

“不过,今晚我们几乎是最后的了,”两个男的中的一个怯生生地说,“乐队半个钟头以前就走了。”

尽管两位太太一致认为这种恶毒心肠简直叫人难以置信,这场纠纷终于在一阵短短的揪斗中结束,两位太太都被抱了起来,两腿乱踢,消失在黑夜里。

我在穿堂里等我帽子的时候,图书室的门开了,乔丹·贝克和盖茨比一同走了出来。他还在跟她说最后一句话,可是这时有几个人走过来和他告别,他原先热切的态度陡然收敛,变成了拘谨。

乔丹那一伙人从阳台上不耐烦地喊她,可是她还逗留了片刻和我握手。

“我刚才听到一件最惊人的事情,”她出神地小声说,“我们在那里边待了多久?”

“哦,个把钟头。”

“这事……太惊人了,”她出神地重复说,“可是我发过誓不告诉别人,而我现在已经在逗你了。”她对着我的脸轻轻打了个阿欠,“有空请过来看我……电话簿……西古奈·霍华德太太名下……我的姑妈……”她一边说一边匆匆离去——她活泼地挥了一下那只晒得黑黑的手表示告别,然后就消失在门口她的那一伙人当中了。

我觉得怪难为情的,第一次来就待得这么晚,于是走到包围着盖茨比的最后几位客人那边去。我想要解释一下我一来就到处找过他,同时为刚才在花园里与他面对面却不知道他是何许人向他道歉。

“没有关系,”他恳切地嘱咐我。“别放在心上,老兄。”这个亲热的称呼还比不上非常友好地拍拍我肩膀的那只手所表示的亲热。“别忘了明天早上九点我们要乘水上飞机上人哩。”

接着男管家来了,站在他背后。

“先生,有一个找您的来自费城的长途电话。”

“好,就来。告诉他们我就来。晚安。”

“晚安。”

“晚安。”他微微一笑。突然之间,我待到最后才走,这其中好像含有愉快的深意,仿佛他是一直希望如此的。“晚安,老兄……晚安。”

可是,当我走下台阶时,我看到晚会还没有完全结束。离大门五十英尺,十几辆汽车的前灯照亮了一个不寻常的、闹哄哄的场面。在路旁的小沟里,右边向上,躺着一辆新的小轿车,可是一只轮子撞掉了。这辆车离开盖茨比的车道还不到两分钟,一堵墙的突出部分是造成车轮脱落的原因。现在有五六个好奇的司机在围观,可是,由于他们让自己的车于挡住了路,后面车子上的司机已经按了好久喇叭,一片刺耳的噪音更增添了整个场面本来就很严重的混乱。

一个穿着长风衣的男人已经从撞坏的车子里出来,此刻站在大路中间,从车子看到轮胎,又从轮胎看到旁观的人,脸上带着愉快而迷惑不解的表情。

“请看!”他解释道,“车子开到沟里去了。”

这个事实使他感到不胜惊奇。我先听出了那不平常的惊奇的口吻,然后认出了这个人——就是早先光顾盖茨比图书室的那一位。

“怎么搞的?”

他耸了耸肩膀。

“我对机械一窍不通。”他肯定地说。

“到底怎么搞的?你撞到墙上去了吗?”

“别问我,”“猫头鹰眼”说,把事情推脱得一干二净,“我不大懂开车—— 几乎一无所知。事情发生了,我就知道这一点。”

“既然你车子开得不好,那么你晚上就不应当试着开车嘛。”

“可是我连试也没试,”他气愤愤地解释,“我连试也没试啊。”

旁观的人听了都惊愕得说不出话来。

“你想自杀吗?”

“幸亏只是一只轮子!开车开得不好,还连试都不试!”

“你们不明白,”罪人解释说,“我没有开车。车子里还有一个人。”

这句声明所引起的震惊表现为一连声的“噢……啊……啊!”同时那辆小轿车的门也慢慢开了。人群——此刻已经是一大群了——不由得向后一退,等到车门敞开以后,又有片刻阴森可怕的停顿。然后,逐渐逐渐地,一部分一部分地,一个脸色煞白、摇来晃去的人从搞坏了的汽车里跨了出来,光伸出一只大舞鞋在地面上试探了几下。

这位幽灵被汽车前灯的亮光照得睁不开眼,又被一片汽车喇叭声吵得糊里糊涂,站在那里摇晃了一会儿才认出那个穿风衣的人。

“怎么啦?”他镇静地问道,“咱们没汽油了吗?”

“你瞧!”

五六个人用手指指向那脱落下来的车轮——他朝它瞪了一眼,然后抬头向上看,仿佛他怀疑轮子是从天上掉下来的。

“轮子掉下来了。”有一个人解释说。

他点点头。

“起先我还没发现咱们停下来了。”

过了一会儿,他深深吸了一口气,又挺起胸膛,用坚决的声音说:

“不知可不可以告诉我哪儿有加油站?”

至少有五六个人,其中有的比他稍微清醒一点,解释给他听,轮子和车子之间已经没有任何实质性的联系了。

“倒车,”过了一会儿他又出点子,“用倒车档。”

“叮是轮子掉啦!”

他迟疑了一会儿。

“试试也无妨嘛。”他说。

汽车喇叭的尖声怪叫达到了高潮,于是我掉转身,穿过草地回家。我回头望了一眼。一轮明月正照在盖茨比别墅的上面,使夜色跟光前一样美好。明月依旧,而欢声笑语已经从仍然光辉灿烂的花园里消失了。一股突然的空虚此刻好像从那些窗户和巨大的门里流出来,使主人的形象处于完全的孤立之中,他这时站在阳台上,举起一只手做出正式的告别姿势。

重读一遍以上所写的,我觉得我已经给人一种印象,好像相隔好几



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