May Day by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Peter Himmel, escort to the lovely Edith, was unaccustomed to being snubbed; having been snubbed, he was hurt and embarrassed, and ashamed of himself. For a matter of two months he had been on special delivery terms with Edith Bradin, and knowing that the one excuse and explanation of the special delivery letter is its value in sentimental correspondence, he had believed himself quite sure of his ground. He searched in vain for any reason why she should have taken this attitude in the matter of a simple kiss.
Therefore when he was cut in on by the man with the mustache he went out into the hall and, making up a sentence, said it over to himself several times. Considerably deleted, this was it:
"Well, if any girl ever led a man on and then jolted him, she did--and she has no kick coming if I go out and get beautifully boiled."
So he walked through the supper room into a small room adjoining it, which he had located earlier in the evening. It was a room in which there were several large bowls of punch flanked by many bottles. He took a seat beside the table which held the bottles.
At the second highball, boredom, disgust, the monotony of time, the turbidity of events, sank into a vague background before which glittering cobwebs formed. Things became reconciled to themselves, things lay quietly on their shelves; the troubles of the day arranged themselves in trim formation and at his curt wish of dismissal, marched off and disappeared. And with the departure of worry came brilliant, permeating symbolism. Edith became a flighty, negligible girl, not to be worried over; rather to be laughed at. She fitted like a figure of his own dream into the surface world forming about him. He himself became in a measure symbolic, a type of the continent bacchanal, the brilliant dreamer at play.
Then the symbolic mood faded and as he sipped his third highball his imagination yielded to the warm glow and he lapsed into a state similar to floating on his back in pleasant water. It was at this point that he noticed that a green baize door near him was open about two inches, and that through the aperture a pair of eyes were watching him intently.
"Hm," murmured Peter calmly.
The green door closed--and then opened again--a bare half inch this time.
"Peek-a-boo," murmured Peter.
The door remained stationary and then he became aware of a series of tense intermittent whispers.
"What's he doin'?"
"He's sittin' lookin'."
"He better beat it off. We gotta get another li'l' bottle."
Peter listened while the words filtered into his consciousness.
"Now this," he thought, "is most remarkable."
He was excited. He was jubilant. He felt that he had stumbled upon a mystery. Affecting an elaborate carelessness he arose and waited around the table--then, turning quickly, pulled open the green door, precipitating Private Rose into the room.
"How do you do?" he said.
Private Rose set one foot slightly in front of the other, poised for fight, flight, or compromise.
"How do you do?" repeated Peter politely.
"Can I offer you a drink?"
Private Rose looked at him searchingly, suspecting possible sarcasm.
"O'right," he said finally.
Peter indicated a chair.
"I got a friend," said Rose, "I got a friend in there." He pointed to the green door.
"By all means let's have him in."
Peter crossed over, opened the door and welcomed in Private Key, very suspicious and uncertain and guilty. Chairs were found and the three took their seats around the punch bowl. Peter gave them each a highball and offered them a cigarette from his case. They accepted both with some diffidence.
"Now," continued Peter easily, "may I ask why you gentlemen prefer to lounge away your leisure hours in a room which is chiefly furnished, as far as I can see, with scrubbing brushes. And when the human race has progressed to the stage where seventeen thousand chairs are manufactured on every day except Sunday--" he paused. Rose and Key regarded him vacantly. "Will you tell me," went on Peter, "why you choose to rest yourselves on articles, intended for the transportation of water from one place to another?"
At this point Rose contributed a grunt to the conversation.
"And lastly," finished Peter, "will you tell me why, when you are in a building beautifully hung with enormous candelabra, you prefer to spend these evening hours under one anemic electric light?"
Rose looked at Key; Key looked at Rose. They laughed; they laughed uproariously; they found it was impossible to look at each other without laughing. But they were not laughing with this man--they were laughing at him. To them a man who talked after this fashion was either raving drunk or raving crazy.
"You are Yale men, I presume," said Peter, finishing his highball and preparing another.
They laughed again.
"So? I thought perhaps you might be members of that lowly section of the university known as the Sheffield Scientific School."
"Hm. Well, that's too bad. No doubt you are Harvard men, anxious to preserve your incognito in this--this paradise of violet blue, as the newspapers say."
"Na-ah," said Key scornfully, "we was just waitin' for somebody."
"Ah," exclaimed Peter, rising and filling their glasses, "very interestin'. Had a date with a scrublady, eh?"
They both denied this indignantly.
"It's all right," Peter reassured them, "don't apologize. A scrublady's as good as any lady in the world."
"Kipling says 'Any lady and Judy O'Grady under the skin.'"
"Sure," said Key, winking broadly at Rose.
"My case, for instance," continued Peter, finishing his glass. "I got a girl up here that's spoiled. Spoildest darn girl I ever saw. Refused to kiss me; no reason whatsoever. Led me on deliberately to think sure I want to kiss you and then plunk! Threw me over! What's the younger generation comin' to?"
"Say tha's hard luck," said Key--"that's awful hard luck."
"Oh, boy!" said Rose.
"Have another?" said Peter.
"We got in a sort of fight for a while," said Key after a pause, "but it was too far away."
"A fight?--tha's stuff!" said Peter, seating himself unsteadily. "Fight 'em all! I was in the army."
"This was with a Bolshevik fella."
"Tha's stuff!" exclaimed Peter, enthusiastic. "That's what I say! Kill the Bolshevik! Exterminate 'em!"
"We're Americuns," said Rose, implying a sturdy, defiant patriotism.
"Sure," said Peter. "Greatest race in the world! We're all Americans! Have another."
They had another.