He sat down miserably, as if I had pushed him, and simultaneously there was the sound of a motor turning into my lane. We both jumped up, and, a little harrowed myself, I went out into the yard.
Under the dripping bare lilac-trees a large open car was coming up the drive. It stopped. Daisy’s face, tipped sideways, beneath a three-cornered lavender hat, looked at me with a bright ecstatic smile.
‘Is this absolutely where you live, my dearest one?’
The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain. I had to follow the sound of it for a moment, up and down, with my ear alone, before any words came through. A damp streak of hair lay like a dash of blue paint across her cheek, and her hand was wet with glistening drops as I took it to help her from the car.
‘Are you in love with me,’ she said low in my ear, ‘or why did I have to come alone?’
‘That’s the secret of Castle Rackrent. Tell your chauffeur to go far away and spend an hour.’
‘Come back in an hour, Ferdie.’ Then in a grave murmur: ‘His name is Ferdie.’
‘Does the gasoline affect his nose?’
‘I don’t think so,’ she said innocently. ‘Why?’
We went in. To my overwhelming surprise the living-room was deserted.
‘Well, that’s funny,’ I exclaimed.
She turned her head as there was a light dignified knocking at the front door. I went out and opened it. Gatsby, pale as death, with his hands plunged like weights in his coat pockets, was standing in a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes.
With his hands still in his coat pockets he stalked by me into the hall, turned sharply as if he were on a wire, and disappeared into the living-room. It wasn’t a bit funny. Aware of the loud beating of my own heart I pulled the door to against the increasing rain.
For half a minute there wasn’t a sound. Then from the living-room I heard a sort of choking murmur and part of a laugh, followed by Daisy’s voice on a clear artificial note:
‘I certainly am awfully glad to see you again.’
A pause; it endured horribly. I had nothing to do in the hall, so I went into the room.
Gatsby, his hands still in his pockets, was reclining against the mantelpiece in a strained counterfeit of perfect ease, even of boredom. His head leaned back so far that it rested against the face of a defunct mantelpiece clock, and from this position his distraught eyes stared down at Daisy, who was sitting, frightened but graceful, on the edge of a stiff chair.
‘We’ve met before,’ muttered Gatsby. His eyes glanced momentarily at me, and his lips parted with an abortive attempt at a laugh. Luckily the clock took this moment to tilt dangerously at the pressure of his head, whereupon he turned and caught it with trembling fingers and set it back in place. Then he sat down, rigidly, his elbow on the arm of the sofa and his chin in his hand.
‘I’m sorry about the clock,’ he said.
My own face had now assumed a deep tropical burn. I couldn’t muster up a single commonplace out of the thousand in my head.
‘It’s an old clock,’ I told them idiotically.
I think we had all believed for a moment that it had smashed in pieces on the floor.
‘We haven’t met for many years,’ said Daisy, her voice as matter-of-fact as it could ever be.
‘Five years next November.’
The automatic quality of Gatsby’s answer set us all back at least another minute. I had them both on their feet with the desperate suggestion that they help me make tea in the kitchen when the demoniac Finn brought it in on a tray.
Amid the welcome confusion of cups and cakes a certain physical decency established itself. Gatsby got himself into a shadow and, while Daisy and I talked, looked conscientiously from one to the other of us with tense, unhappy eyes. However, as calmness wasn’t an end in itself, I made an excuse at the first possible moment, and got to my feet.
‘Where are you going?’ demanded Gatsby in immediate alarm.
‘I’ll be back.’
‘I’ve got to speak to you about something before you go.’
He followed me wildly into the kitchen, closed the door, and whispered: ‘Oh, God!’ in a miserable way.
‘What’s the matter?’
‘This is a terrible mistake,’ he said, shaking his head from side to side, ‘a terrible, terrible mistake.’
‘You’re just embarrassed, that’s all,’ and luckily I added: ‘Daisy’s embarrassed too.’
‘She’s embarrassed?’ he repeated incredulously.
‘Just as much as you are.’
‘Don’t talk so loud.’
‘You’re acting like a little boy, ‘ I broke out impatiently. ‘Not only that, but you’re rude. Daisy’s sitting in there all alone.’
He raised his hand to stop my words, looked at me with unforgettable reproach, and, opening the door cautiously, went back into the other room.