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THE BABY PARTY


by


F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)


Hearst's International (February 1925)


When John Andros felt old he found solace in the thought of life
continuing through his child.  The dark trumpets of oblivion were
less loud at the patter of his child's feet or at the sound of his
child's voice babbling mad non sequiturs to him over the telephone.
The latter incident occurred every afternoon at three when his wife
called the office from the country, and he came to look forward to
it as one of the vivid minutes of his day.

He was not physically old, but his life had been a series of
struggles up a series of rugged hills, and here at thirty-eight
having won his battles against ill-health and poverty he cherished
less than the usual number of illusions.  Even his feeling about
his little girl was qualified.  She had interrupted his rather
intense love-affair with his wife, and she was the reason for their
living in a suburban town, where they paid for country air with
endless servant troubles and the weary merry-go-round of the
commuting train.

It was little Ede as a definite piece of youth that chiefly
interested him.  He liked to take her on his lap and examine
minutely her fragrant, downy scalp and her eyes with their irises
of morning blue.  Having paid this homage John was content that the
nurse should take her away.  After ten minutes the very vitality of
the child irritated him; he was inclined to lose his temper when
things were broken, and one Sunday afternoon when she had disrupted
a bridge game by permanently hiding up the ace of spades, he had
made a scene that had reduced his wife to tears.

This was absurd and John was ashamed of himself.  It was inevitable
that such things would happen, and it was impossible that little
Ede should spend all her indoor hours in the nursery upstairs when
she was becoming, as her mother said, more nearly a 'real person'
every day.

She was two and a half, and this afternoon, for instance, she was
going to a baby party.  Grown-up Edith, her mother, had telephoned
the information to the office, and little Ede had confirmed the
business by shouting 'I yam going to a PANTRY!' into John's
unsuspecting left ear.

'Drop in at the Markeys' when you get home, won't you, dear?'
resumed her mother.  'It'll be funny.  Ede's going to be all
dressed up in her new pink dress--'

The conversation terminated abruptly with a squawk which indicated
that the telephone had been pulled violently to the floor.  John
laughed and decided to get an early train out; the prospect of a
baby party in someone else's house amused him.

'What a peach of a mess!' he thought humorously.  'A dozen mothers,
and each one looking at nothing but her own child.  All the babies
breaking things and grabbing at the cake, and each mama going home
thinking about the subtle superiority of her own child to every
other child there.'

He was in a good humour today--all the things in his life were
going better than they had ever gone before.  When he got off the
train at his station he shook his head at an importunate taxi man,
and began to walk up the long hill towards his house through the
crisp December twilight.  It was only six o'clock but the moon was
out, shining with proud brilliance on the thin sugary snow that lay
over the lawns.

As he walked along drawing his lungs full of cold air his happiness
increased, and the idea of a baby party appealed to him more and
more.  He began to wonder how Ede compared to other children of her
own age, and if the pink dress she was to wear was something
radical and mature.  Increasing his gait he came in sight of his
own house, where the lights of a defunct Christmas-tree still
blossomed in the window, but he continued on past the walk.  The
party was at the Markeys' next door.

As he mounted the brick step and rang the bell he became aware of
voices inside, and he was glad he was not too late.  Then he raised
his head and listened--the voices were not children's voices, but
they were loud and pitched high with anger; there were at least
three of them and one, which rose as he listened to a hysterical
sob, he recognized immediately as his wife's.

'There's been some trouble,' he thought quickly.

Trying the door, he found it unlocked and pushed it open.



The baby party started at half past four, but Edith Andros,
calculating shrewdly that the new dress would stand out more
sensationally against vestments already rumpled, planned the
arrival of herself and little Ede for five.  When they appeared it
was already a flourishing affair.  Four baby girls and nine baby
boys, each one curled and washed and dressed with all the care of a
proud and jealous heart, were dancing to the music of a phonograph.
Never more than two or three were dancing at once, but as all were
continually in motion running to and from their mothers for
encouragement, the general effect was the same.

As Edith and her daughter entered, the music was temporarily
drowned out by a sustained chorus, consisting largely of the word
cute and directed towards little Ede, who stood looking timidly
about and fingering the edges of her pink dress.  She was not
kissed--this is the sanitary age--but she was passed along a row of
mamas each one of whom said 'cu-u-ute' to her and held her pink
little hand before passing her on to the next.  After some
encouragement and a few mild pushes she was absorbed into the
dance, and became an active member of the party.

Edith stood near the door talking to Mrs Markey, and keeping an eye
on the tiny figure in the pink dress.  She did not care for Mrs
Markey; she considered her both snippy and common, but John and Joe
Markey were congenial and went in together on the commuting train
every morning, so the two women kept up an elaborate pretence of
warm amity.  They were always reproaching each other for 'not
coming to see me', and they were always planning the kind of
parties that began with 'You'll have to come to dinner with us
soon, and we'll go to the theatre,' but never matured further.

'Little Ede looks perfectly darling,' said Mrs Markey, smiling and
moistening her lips in a way that Edith found particularly
repulsive.'  So GROWN-UP--I can't BELIEVE it!'

Edith wondered if 'little Ede' referred to the fact that Billy
Markey, though several months younger, weighed almost five pounds
more.  Accepting a cup of tea she took a seat with two other ladies
on a divan and launched into the real business of the afternoon,
which of course lay in relating the recent accomplishments and
insouciances of her child.

An hour passed.  Dancing palled and the babies took to sterner
sport.  They ran into the dining-room, rounded the big table, and
essayed the kitchen door, from which they were rescued by an
expeditionary force of mothers.  Having been rounded up they
immediately broke loose, and rushing back to the dining-room tried
the familiar swinging door again.  The word 'overheated' began to
be used, and small white brows were dried with small white
handkerchiefs.  A general attempt to make the babies sit down
began, but the babies squirmed off laps with peremptory cries of
'Down!  Down!' and the rush into the fascinating dining-room began
anew.

This phase of the party came to an end with the arrival of
refreshments, a large cake with two candles, and saucers of vanilla
ice-cream.  Billy Markey, a stout laughing baby with red hair and
legs somewhat bowed, blew out the candles, and placed an
experimental thumb on the white frosting.  The refreshments were
distributed, and the children ate, greedily but without confusion--
they had behaved remarkably well all afternoon.  They were modern
babies who ate and slept at regular hours, so their dispositions
were good, and their faces healthy and pink--such a peaceful party
would not have been possible thirty years ago.

After the refreshments a gradual exodus began.  Edith glanced
anxiously at her watch--it was almost six, and John had not
arrived.  She wanted him to see Ede with the other children--to see
how dignified and polite and intelligent she was, and how the only
ice-cream spot on her dress was some that had dropped from her chin
when she was joggled from behind.

'You're a darling,' she whispered to her child, drawing her
suddenly against her knee.  'Do you know you're a darling?  Do you
know you're a darling?'

Ede laughed.  'Bow-wow,' she said suddenly.

'Bow-wow?'  Edith looked around.  'There isn't any bow-wow.'

'Bow-wow,' repeated Ede.  'I want a bow-wow.'

Edith followed the small pointing finger.

'That isn't a bow-wow, dearest, that's a teddy-bear.'

'Bear?'

'Yes, that's a teddy-bear, and it belongs to Billy Markey.  You
don't want Billy Markey's teddy-bear, do you?'

Ede did want it.

She broke away from her mother and approached Billy Markey, who
held the toy closely in his arms.  Ede stood regarding him with
inscrutable eyes, and Billy laughed.

Grown-up Edith looked at her watch again, this time impatiently.

The party had dwindled until, besides Ede and Billy, there were
only two babies remaining--and one of the two remained only by
virtue of having hidden himself under the dining-room table.  It
was selfish of John not to come.  It showed so little pride in the
child.  Other fathers had come, half a dozen of them, to call for
their wives, and they had stayed for a while and looked on.

There was a sudden wail.  Ede had obtained Billy's teddy-bear by
pulling it forcibly from his arms, and on Billy's attempt to
recover it, she had pushed him casually to the floor.

'Why, Ede!' cried her mother, repressing an inclination to laugh.

Joe Markey, a handsome, broad-shouldered man of thirty-five, picked
up his son and set him on his feet.  'You're a fine fellow,' he
said jovially.  'Let a girl knock you over!  You're a fine fellow.'

'Did he bump his head?' Mrs Markey returned anxiously from bowing
the next to last remaining mother out of the door.

'No-o-o-o,' exclaimed Markey.  'He bumped something else, didn't
you, Billy?  He bumped something else.'

Billy had so far forgotten the bump that he was already making an
attempt to recover his property.  He seized a leg of the bear which
projected from Ede's enveloping arms and tugged at it but without
success.

'No,' said Ede emphatically.

Suddenly, encouraged by the success of her former half-accidental
manoeuvre, Ede dropped the teddy-bear, placed her hands on Billy's
shoulders and pushed him backward off his feet.

This time he landed less harmlessly; his head hit the bare floor
just off the rug with a dull hollow sound, whereupon he drew in his
breath and delivered an agonized yell.

Immediately the room was in confusion.  With an exclamation Markey
hurried to his son, but his wife was first to reach the injured
baby and catch him up into her arms.

'Oh, BILLY,' she cried, 'what a terrible bump!  She ought to be
spanked.'

Edith, who had rushed immediately to her daughter, heard this
remark, and her lips came sharply together.

'Why, Ede,' she whispered perfunctorily, 'you bad girl!'

Ede put back her little head suddenly and laughed.  It was a loud
laugh, a triumphant laugh with victory in it and challenge and
contempt.  Unfortunately it was also an infectious laugh.  Before
her mother realized the delicacy of the situation, she too had
laughed, an audible, distinct laugh not unlike the baby's, and
partaking of the same overtones.

Then, as suddenly, she stopped.

Mrs Markey's face had grown red with anger, and Markey, who had
been feeling the back of the baby's head with one finger, looked at
her, frowning.

'It's swollen already,' he said with a note of reproof in his
voice.  'I'll get some witch-hazel.'

But Mrs Markey had lost her temper.  'I don't see anything funny
about a child being hurt!' she said in a trembling voice.

Little Ede meanwhile had been looking at her mother curiously.  She
noted that her own laugh had produced her mother's and she wondered
if the same cause would always produce the same effect.  So she
chose this moment to throw back her head and laugh again.

To her mother the additional mirth added the final touch of
hysteria to the situation.  Pressing her handkerchief to her mouth
she giggled irrepressibly.  It was more than nervousness--she felt
that in a peculiar way she was laughing with her child--they were
laughing together.

It was in a way a defiance--those two against the world.

While Markey rushed upstairs to the bathroom for ointment, his wife
was walking up and down rocking the yelling boy in her arms.

'Please go home!' she broke out suddenly.  'The child's badly hurt,
and if you haven't the decency to be quiet, you'd better go home.'

'Very well,' said Edith, her own temper rising.  'I've never seen
anyone make such a mountain out of--'

'Get out!' cried Mrs Markey frantically.  'There's the door, get
out--I never want to see you in our house again.  You or your brat
either!'

Edith had taken her daughter's hand and was moving quickly towards
the door, but at this remark she stopped and turned around, her
face contracting with indignation.

'Don't you dare call her that!'

Mrs Markey did not answer but continued walking up and down,
muttering to herself and to Billy in an inaudible voice.

Edith began to cry.

'I will get out!' she sobbed.  'I've never heard anybody so rude
and c-common in my life.  I'm, glad your baby did get pushed down--
he's nothing but a f-fat little fool anyhow.'

Joe Markey reached the foot of the stairs just in time to hear this
remark.

'Why, Mrs Andros,' he said sharply, 'can't you see the child's
hurt.  You really ought to control yourself.'

'Control m-myself!' exclaimed Edith brokenly.  'You better ask her
to c-control herself.  I've never heard anybody so c-common in my
life.'

'She's insulting me!'  Mrs Markey was now livid with rage.  'Did
you hear what she said, Joe?  I wish you'd put her out.  If she
won't go, just take her by the shoulders and put her out!'

'Don't you dare touch me!' cried Edith.  'I'm going just as quick
as I can find my c-coat!'

Blind with tears she took a step towards the hall.  It was just at
this moment that the door opened and John Andros walked anxiously
in.

'John!' cried Edith, and fled to him wildly.

'What's the matter?  Why, what's the matter?'

'They're--they're putting me out!' she wailed, collapsing against
him.  'He'd just started to take me by the shoulders and put me
out.  I want my coat!'

'That's not true,' objected Markey hurriedly.  'Nobody's going to
put you out.'  He turned to John.  'Nobody's going to put her out,'
he repeated.  'She's--'

'What do you mean "put her out"?' demanded John abruptly.  'What's
all this talk, anyhow?'

'Oh, let's go!' cried Edith.  'I want to go.  They're so COMMON,
John!'

'Look here!'  Markey's face darkened.  'You've said that about
enough.  You're acting sort of crazy.'

'They called Ede a brat!'

For the second time that afternoon little Ede expressed emotion at
an inopportune moment.  Confused and frightened at the shouting
voices, she began to cry, and her tears had the effect of conveying
that she felt the insult in her heart.

'What's the idea of this?' broke out John.  'Do you insult your
guests in your own house?'

'It seems to me it's your wife that's done the insulting!' answered
Markey crisply.  'In fact, your baby there started all the
trouble.'

John gave a contemptuous snort.  'Are you calling names at a little
baby?' he inquired.  'That's a fine manly business!'

'Don't talk to him, John,' insisted Edith.  'Find my coat!'

'You must be in a bad way,' went on John angrily, 'if you have to
take out your temper on a helpless little baby.'

'I never heard anything so damn twisted in my life,' shouted
Markey.  'If that wife of yours would shut her mouth for a minute--'

'Wait a minute!  You're not talking to a woman and child now--'

There was an incidental interruption.  Edith had been fumbling on a
chair for her coat, and Mrs Markey had been watching her with hot,
angry eyes.  Suddenly she laid Billy down on the sofa, where he
immediately stopped crying and pulled himself upright, and coming
into the hall she quickly found Edith's coat and handed it to her
without a word.  Then she went back to the sofa, picked up Billy,
and rocking him in her arms looked again at Edith with hot, angry
eyes.  The interruption had taken less than half a minute.

'Your wife comes in here and begins shouting around about how
common we are!' burst out Markey violently.  'Well, if we're so
damn common, you'd better stay away!  And what's more, you'd better
get out now!'

Again John gave a short, contemptuous laugh.

'You're not only common,' he returned, 'you're evidently an awful
bully--when there's any helpless women and children around.'  He
felt for the knob and swung the door open.  'Come on, Edith.'

Taking up her daughter in her arms, his wife stepped outside and
John, still looking contemptuously at Markey, started to follow.

'Wait a minute!'  Markey took a step forward; he was trembling
slightly, and two large veins on his temples were suddenly full of
blood.  'You don't think you can get away with that, do you?  With
me?'

Without a word John walked out the door, leaving it open.

Edith, still weeping, had started for home.  After following her
with his eyes until she reached her own walk, John turned back
towards the lighted doorway where Markey was slowly coming down the
slippery steps.  He took off his overcoat and hat, tossed them off
the path onto the snow.  Then, sliding a little on the iced walk,
he took a step forward.

At the first blow, they both slipped and fell heavily to the
sidewalk, half rising then, and again pulled each other to the
ground.  They found a better foothold in the thin snow to the side
of the walk and rushed at each other, both swinging wildly and
pressing out the snow into a pasty mud underfoot.

The street was deserted, and except for their short tired gasps and
the padded sound as one or the other slipped down into the slushy
mud, they fought in silence, clearly defined to each other by the
full moonlight as well as by the amber glow that shone out of the
open door.  Several times they both slipped down together, and then
for a while the conflict threshed about wildly on the lawn.

For ten, fifteen, twenty minutes they fought there senselessly in
the moonlight.  They had both taken off coats and vests at some
silently agreed upon interval and now their shirts dripped from
their backs in wet pulpy shreds.  Both were torn and bleeding and
so exhausted that they could stand only when by their position they
mutually supported each other--the impact, the mere effort of a
blow, would send them both to their hands and knees.

But it was not weariness that ended the business, and the very
meaninglessness of the fight was a reason for not stopping.  They
stopped because once when they were straining at each other on the
ground, they heard a man's footsteps coming along the sidewalk.
They had rolled somehow into the shadow, and when they heard these
footsteps they stopped fighting, stopped moving, stopped breathing,
lay huddled together like two boys playing Indian until the
footsteps had passed.  Then, staggering to their feet, they looked
at each other like two drunken men.

'I'll be damned if I'm going on with this thing any more,' cried
Markey thickly.

'I'm not going on any more, either,' said John Andros.  'I've had
enough of this thing.'

Again they looked at each other, sulkily this time, as if each
suspected the other of urging him to a renewal of the fight.
Markey spat out a mouthful of blood from a cut lip; then he cursed
softly, and picking up his coat and vest, shook off the snow from
them in a surprised way, as if their comparative dampness was his
only worry in the world.

'Want to come in and wash up?' he asked suddenly.

'No, thanks,' said John.  'I ought to be going home--my wife'll be
worried.'

He too picked up his coat and vest and then his overcoat and hat.
Soaking wet and dripping with perspiration, it seemed absurd that
less than half an hour ago he had been wearing all these clothes.

'Well--good night,' he said hesitantly.

Suddenly they walked towards each other and shook hands.  It was no
perfunctory hand-shake: John Andros's arm went around Markey's
shoulder, and he patted him softly on the back for a little while.

'No harm done,' he said brokenly.

'No--you?'

'No, no harm done.'

'Well,' said John Andros after a minute, 'I guess I'll say good
night.'

Limping slightly and with his clothes over his arm, John Andros
turned away.  The moonlight was still bright as he left the dark
patch of trampled ground and walked over the intervening lawn.
Down at the station, half a mile away, he could hear the rumble of
the seven o'clock train.



'But you must have been crazy,' cried Edith brokenly.  'I thought
you were going to fix it all up there and shake hands.  That's why
I went away.'

'Did you want us to fix it up?'

'Of course not, I never want to see them again.  But I thought of
course that was what you were going to do.'  She was touching the
bruises on his neck and back with iodine as he sat placidly in a
hot bath.  'I'm going to get the doctor,' she said insistently.
'You may be hurt internally.'

He shook his head.  'Not a chance,' he answered.  'I don't want
this to get all over the town.'

'I don't understand yet how it all happened.'

'Neither do I.'  He smiled grimly.  'I guess these baby parties are
pretty rough affairs.'

'Well, one thing--' suggested Edith hopefully, 'I'm certainly glad
we have beef steak in the house for tomorrow's dinner.'

'Why?'

'For your eye, of course.  Do you know I came within an ace of
ordering veal?  Wasn't that the luckiest thing?'

Half an hour later, dressed except that his neck would accommodate
no collar, John moved his limbs experimentally before the glass.
'I believe I'll get myself in better shape,' he said thoughtfully.
'I must be getting old.'

'You mean so that next time you can beat him?'

'I did beat him,' he announced.  'At least, I beat him as much as
he beat me.  And there isn't going to be any next time.  Don't you
go calling people common any more.  If you get in any trouble, you
just take your coat and go home.  Understand?'

'Yes, dear,' she said meekly.  'I was very foolish and now I
understand.'

Out in the hall, he paused abruptly by the baby's door.

'Is she asleep?'

'Sound asleep.  But you can go in and peek at her--just to say good
night.'

They tiptoed in and bent together over the bed.  Little Ede, her
cheeks flushed with health, her pink hands clasped tight together,
was sleeping soundly in the cool, dark room.  John reached over the
railing of the bed and passed his hand lightly over the silken
hair.

'She's asleep,' he murmured in a puzzled way.

'Naturally, after such an afternoon.'

'Miz Andros,' the coloured maid's stage whisper floated in from the
hall.  'Mr and Miz Markey downstairs an' want to see you.  Mr
Markey he's all cut up in pieces, mam'n.  His face look like a
roast beef.  An' Miz Markey she 'pear mighty mad.'

'Why, what incomparable nerve!' exclaimed Edith.  'Just tell them
we're not home.  I wouldn't go down for anything in the world.'

'You most certainly will.'  John's voice was hard and set.

'What?'

'You'll go down right now, and, what's more, whatever that other
woman does, you'll apologize for what you said this afternoon.
After that you don't ever have to see her again.'

'Why--John, I can't.'

'You've got to.  And just remember that she probably hated to come
over here twice as much as you hate to go downstairs.'

'Aren't you coming?  Do I have to go alone?'

'I'll be down--in just a minute.'

John Andros waited until she had closed the door behind her; then
he reached over into the bed, and picking up his daughter, blankets
and all, sat down in the rocking-chair holding her tightly in his
arms.  She moved a little, and he held his breath, but she was
sleeping soundly, and in a moment she was resting quietly in the
hollow of his elbow.  Slowly he bent his head until his cheek was
against her bright hair.  'Dear little girl,' he whispered.  'Dear
little girl, dear little girl.'

John Andros knew at length what it was he had fought for so
savagely that evening.  He had it now, he possessed it forever, and
for some time he sat there rocking very slowly to and fro in the
darkness.




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