“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.