This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Part XCIII
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.
The first fact that flashed radiantly on his comprehension was the great impersonality of sacrifice--he perceived that what we call love and hate, reward and punishment, had no more to do with it than the date of the month. He quickly recapitulated the story of a sacrifice he had heard of in college: a man had cheated in an examination; his roommate in a gust of sentiment had taken the entire blame--due to the shame of it the innocent one's entire future seemed shrouded in regret and failure, capped by the ingratitude of the real culprit. He had finally taken his own life--years afterward the facts had come out. At the time the story had both puzzled and worried Amory. Now he realized the truth; that sacrifice was no purchase of freedom. It was like a great elective office, it was like an inheritance of power--to certain people at certain times an essential luxury, carrying with it not a guarantee but a responsibility, not a security but an infinite risk. Its very momentum might drag him down to ruin--the passing of the emotional wave that made it possible might leave the one who made it high and dry forever on an island of despair.
... Amory knew that afterward Alec would secretly hate him for having done so much for him....
... All this was flung before Amory like an opened scroll, while ulterior to him and speculating upon him were those two breathless, listening forces: the gossamer aura that hung over and about the girl and that familiar thing by the window.
Sacrifice by its very nature was arrogant and impersonal; sacrifice should be eternally supercilious.
Weep not for me but for thy children.
That--thought Amory--would be somehow the way God would talk to me.
Amory felt a sudden surge of joy and then like a face in a motion-picture the aura over the bed faded out; the dynamic shadow by the window, that was as near as he could name it, remained for the fraction of a moment and then the breeze seemed to lift it swiftly out of the room. He clinched his hands in quick ecstatic excitement... the ten seconds were up....
"Do what I say, Alec--do what I say. Do you understand?"
Alec looked at him dumbly--his face a tableau of anguish.
"You have a family," continued Amory slowly. "You have a family and it's important that you should get out of this. Do you hear me?" He repeated clearly what he had said. "Do you hear me?"
"I hear you." The voice was curiously strained, the eyes never for a second left Amory's.
"Alec, you're going to lie down here. If any one comes in you act drunk. You do what I say--if you don't I'll probably kill you."
There was another moment while they stared at each other. Then Amory went briskly to the bureau and, taking his pocket-book, beckoned peremptorily to the girl. He heard one word from Alec that sounded like "penitentiary," then he and Jill were in the bathroom with the door bolted behind them.
"You're here with me," he said sternly. "You've been with me all evening."
She nodded, gave a little half cry.
In a second he had the door of the other room open and three men entered. There was an immediate flood of electric light and he stood there blinking.
"You've been playing a little too dangerous a game, young man!"
The leader of the trio nodded authoritatively at a burly man in a check suit.
"All right, Olson."
"I got you, Mr. O'May," said Olson, nodding. The other two took a curious glance at their quarry and then withdrew, closing the door angrily behind them.
The burly man regarded Amory contemptuously.
"Didn't you ever hear of the Mann Act? Coming down here with her," he indicated the girl with his thumb, "with a New York license on your car--to a hotel like this." He shook his head implying that he had struggled over Amory but now gave him up.
"Well," said Amory rather impatiently, "what do you want us to do?"
"Get dressed, quick--and tell your friend not to make such a racket." Jill was sobbing noisily on the bed, but at these words she subsided sulkily and, gathering up her clothes, retired to the bathroom. As Amory slipped into Alec's B. V. D.'s he found that his attitude toward the situation was agreeably humorous. The aggrieved virtue of the burly man made him want to laugh.
Image courtesy of Peter Alfred Hess.