This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Part LXXXVI
Every day on Daily Readers' Book Club we offer an article length section of a book until that book is done. We are currently reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise. This book will have 106 parts.
"I thought so, Juan, I feared so--you're sentimental. You're not like me. I'm a romantic little materialist."
"I'm not sentimental--I'm as romantic as you are. The idea, you know, is that the sentimental person thinks things will last--the romantic person has a desperate confidence that they won't." (This was an ancient distinction of Amory's.)
"Epigrams. I'm going home," she said sadly. "Let's get off the haystack and walk to the cross-roads."
They slowly descended from their perch. She would not let him help her down and motioning him away arrived in a graceful lump in the soft mud where she sat for an instant, laughing at herself. Then she jumped to her feet and slipped her hand into his, and they tiptoed across the fields, jumping and swinging from dry spot to dry spot. A transcendent delight seemed to sparkle in every pool of water, for the moon had risen and the storm had scurried away into western Maryland. When Eleanor's arm touched his he felt his hands grow cold with deadly fear lest he should lose the shadow brush with which his imagination was painting wonders of her. He watched her from the corners of his eyes as ever he did when he walked with her--she was a feast and a folly and he wished it had been his destiny to sit forever on a haystack and see life through her green eyes. His paganism soared that night and when she faded out like a gray ghost down the road, a deep singing came out of the fields and filled his way homeward. All night the summer moths flitted in and out of Amory's window; all night large looming sounds swayed in mystic revery through the silver grain--and he lay awake in the clear darkness.
Amory selected a blade of grass and nibbled at it scientifically.
"I never fall in love in August or September," he proffered.
"Christmas or Easter. I'm a liturgist."
"Easter!" She turned up her nose. "Huh! Spring in corsets!"
"Easter would bore spring, wouldn't she? Easter has her hair braided, wears a tailored suit."
"Bind on thy sandals, oh, thou most fleet.
Over the splendor and speed of thy feet--"
quoted Eleanor softly, and then added: "I suppose Hallowe'en is a better day for autumn than Thanksgiving."
"Much better--and Christmas eve does very well for winter, but summer..."
"Summer has no day," she said. "We can't possibly have a summer love. So many people have tried that the name's become proverbial. Summer is only the unfulfilled promise of spring, a charlatan in place of the warm balmy nights I dream of in April. It's a sad season of life without growth.... It has no day."
"Fourth of July," Amory suggested facetiously.
"Don't be funny!" she said, raking him with her eyes.
"Well, what could fulfil the promise of spring?"
She thought a moment.
"Oh, I suppose heaven would, if there was one," she said finally, "a sort of pagan heaven--you ought to be a materialist," she continued irrelevantly.
"Because you look a good deal like the pictures of Rupert Brooke."
To some extent Amory tried to play Rupert Brooke as long as he knew Eleanor. What he said, his attitude toward life, toward her, toward himself, were all reflexes of the dead Englishman's literary moods. Often she sat in the grass, a lazy wind playing with her short hair, her voice husky as she ran up and down the scale from Grantchester to Waikiki. There was something most passionate in Eleanor's reading aloud. They seemed nearer, not only mentally, but physically, when they read, than when she was in his arms, and this was often, for they fell half into love almost from the first. Yet was Amory capable of love now? He could, as always, run through the emotions in a half hour, but even while they revelled in their imaginations, he knew that neither of them could care as he had cared once before--I suppose that was why they turned to Brooke, and Swinburne, and Shelley. Their chance was to make everything fine and finished and rich and imaginative; they must bend tiny golden tentacles from his imagination to hers, that would take the place of the great, deep love that was never so near, yet never so much of a dream.
One poem they read over and over; Swinburne's "Triumph of Time," and four lines of it rang in his memory afterward on warm nights when he saw the fireflies among dusky tree trunks and heard the low drone of many frogs. Then Eleanor seemed to come out of the night and stand by him, and he heard her throaty voice, with its tone of a fleecy-headed drum, repeating:
"Is it worth a tear, is it worth an hour,
To think of things that are well outworn;
Of fruitless husk and fugitive flower,
The dream foregone and the deed foreborne?"
Image courtesy of Peter Alfred Hess.