Flappers and Philosophers

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Show Summary


At seven-thirty, her cheeks glowing and her high-piled hair gleaming with a suspicion of brilliantine, Evylyn descended the stairs. Mrs. Ahearn, a little woman concealing a slight nervousness under red hair and an extreme Empire gown, greeted her volubly. Evelyn disliked her on the spot, but the husband she rather approved of. He had keen blue eyes and a natural gift of pleasing people that might have made him, socially, had he not so obviously committed the blunder of marrying too early in his career.

"I’m glad to know Piper’s wife," he said simply. "It looks as though your husband and I are going to see a lot of each other in the future."

She bowed, smiled graciously, and turned to greet the others: Milton Piper, Harold’s quiet, unassertive younger brother; the two Lowries, Jessie and Tom; Irene, her own unmarried sister; and finally Joe Ambler, a confirmed bachelor and Irene’s perennial beau.

Harold led the way into dinner.

"We’re having a punch evening," he announced jovially—Evylyn saw that he had already sampled his concoction—"so there won’t be any cocktails except the punch. It’s m’ wife’s greatest achievement, Mrs. Ahearn; she’ll give you the recipe if you want it; but owing to a slight"—he caught his wife’s eye and paused —"to a slight indisposition; I’m responsible for this batch. Here’s how!"

All through dinner there was punch, and Evylyn, noticing that Ahearn and Milton Piper and all the women were shaking their heads negatively at the maid, knew she bad been right about the bowl; it was still half full. She resolved to caution Harold directly afterward, but when the women lift the table Mrs. Ahearn cornered her, and she found herself talking cities and dressmakers with a polite show of interest.

"We’ve moved around a lot," chattered Mrs. Ahearn, her red head nodding violently. "Oh, yes, we’ve never stayed so long in a town before—but I do hope we’re here for good. I like it here; don’t you?"

"Well, you see, I’ve always lived here, so, naturally---"

"Oh, that’s true," said Mrs. Ahearn and laughed. Clarence always used to tell me he had to have a wife he could come home to and say: "Well, we’re going to Chicago to-morrow to live, so pack up."

I got so I never expected to live ANYwhere." She laughed her little laugh again; Evylyn suspected that it was her society laugh.

"Your husband is a very able man, I imagine."

"Oh, yes," Mrs. Ahearn assured her eagerly. "He’s brainy, Clarence is. Ideas and enthusiasm, you know. Finds out what he wants and then goes and gets it."

Evylyn nodded. She was wondering if the men were still drinking punch back in the dining-room. Mrs. Ahearn’s history kept unfolding jerkily, but Evylyn had ceased to listen. The first odor of massed cigars began to drift in. It wasn’t really a large house, she reflected; on an evening like this the library sometimes grew blue with smoke, and next day one had to leave the windows open for hours to air the heavy staleness out of the curtains. Perhaps this partnership might . . . she began to speculate on a new house . . .

Mrs. Ahearn’s voice drifted in on her:

"I really would like the recipe if you have it written down somewhere---"

Then there was a sound of chairs in the dining-room and the men strolled in. Evylyn saw at once that her worst fears were realized. Harold’s face was flushed and his words ran together at the ends of sentences, while Tom Lowrie lurched when he walked and narrowly missed Irene’s lap when he tried to sink onto the couch beside her. He sat there blinking dazedly at the company. Evylyn found herself blinking back at am but she saw no humor in it. Joe Ambler was smiling contentedly and purring on his cigar. Only Ahearn and Milton Piper seemed unaffected.

"It’s a pretty fine town, Ahearn," said Ambler, "you’ll find that."

"I’ve found it so," said Ahead pleasantly.

"You find it more, Ahearn," said Harold, nodding emphatically "’f I’ve an’thin’ do ’th it."

He soared into a eulogy of the city, and Evylyn wondered uncomfortably if it bored every one as it bored her. Apparently not. They were all listening attentively. Evylyn broke in at the first gap.

"Where’ve you been living, Mr. Ahearn?" she asked interestedly. Then she remembered that Mrs. Ahearn had told her, but it didn’t matter. Harold mustn’t talk so much. He was such an ASS when he’d been drinking. But he plopped directly back in.

"Tell you, Ahearn. Firs’ you wanna get a house up here on the hill. Get Stearne house or Ridgeway house. Wanna have it so people say: ’There’s Ahearn house.’ Solid, you know, tha’s effec’ it gives."

Evylyn flushed. This didn’t sound right at all. Still Ahearn didn’t seem to notice anything amiss, only nodded gravely.

"Have you been looking---" But her words trailed off unheard as Harold’s voice boomed on.

"Get house—tha’s start. Then you get know people. Snobbish town first toward outsider, but not long—after know you. People like you"—he indicated Ahearn and his wife with a sweeping gesture—"all right. Cordial as an’thin’ once get by first barrer-bar- barrer—" He swallowed, and then said "barrier," repeated it masterfully.

Evylyn looked appealingly at her brother-in-law, but before he could intercede a thick mumble had come crowding out of Tom Lowrie, hindered by the dead cigar which he gripped firmly with his teeth.

"Huma uma ho huma ahdy um---"

"What?" demanded Harold earnestly.

Resignedly and with difficulty Tom removed the cigar—that is, he removed part of it, and then blew the remainder with a WHUT sound across the room, where it landed liquidly and limply in Mrs. Ahearn’s lap.

"Beg pardon," he mumbled, and rose with the vague intention of going after it. Milton’s hand on his coat collapsed him in time, and Mrs. Ahearn not ungracefully flounced the tobacco from her skirt to the floor, never once looking at it.

"I was sayin’," continued Tom thickly, "’fore ’at happened,"—he waved his hand apologetically toward Mrs. Ahearn—"I was sayin’ I heard all truth that Country Club matter."

Milton leaned and whispered something to him.

"Lemme ’lone," he said petulantly; "know what I’m doin’. ’Ats what they came for."

Evylyn sat there in a panic, trying to make her mouth form words. She saw her sister’s sardonic expression and Mrs. Ahearn’s face turning a vivid red. Ahearn was looking down at his watch-chain, fingering it.

"I heard who’s been keepin’ y’ out, an’ he’s not a bit better’n you. I can fix whole damn thing up. Would’ve before, but I didn’t know you. Harol’ tol’ me you felt bad about the thing---"

Milton Piper rose suddenly and awkwardly to his feet. In a second every one was standing tensely and Milton was saying something very hurriedly about having to go early, and the Ahearns were listening with eager intentness. Then Mrs. Ahearn swallowed and turned with a forced smile toward Jessie. Evylyn saw Tom lurch forward and put his hand on Ahearns shoulder—and suddenly she was listening to a new, anxious voice at her elbow, and, turning, found Hilda, the second maid.

"Please, Mis’ Piper, I tank Yulie got her hand poisoned. It’s all swole up and her cheeks is hot and she’s moanin’ an’ groanin’---"

"Julie is?" Evylyn asked sharply. The party suddenly receded. She turned quickly, sought with her eyes for Mrs. Ahearn, slipped toward her.

"If you’ll excuse me, Mrs.—" She had momentarily forgotten the name, but she went right on: "My little girl’s been taken sick. I’ll be down when I can." She turned and ran quickly up the stairs, retaining a confused picture of rays of cigar smoke and a loud discussion in the centre of the room that seemed to be developing into an argument.

Switching on the light in the nursery, she found Julie tossing feverishly and giving out odd little cries. She put her hand against the cheeks. They were burning. With an exclamation she followed the arm down under the cover until she found the hand. Hilda was right. The whole thumb was swollen to the wrist and in the centre was a little inflamed sore. Blood-poisoning! her mind cried in terror. The bandage had come off the cut and she’d gotten something in it. She’d cut it at three o’clock—it was now nearly eleven. Eight hours. Blood-poisoning couldn’t possibly develop so soon.

She rushed to the ’phone.

Doctor Martin across the street was out. Doctor Foulke, their family physician, didn’t answer. She racked her brains and in desperation called her throat specialist, and bit her lip furiously while he looked up the numbers of two physicians. During that interminable moment she thought she heard loud voices down-stairs—but she seemed to be in another world now. After fifteen minutes she located a physician who sounded angry and sulky at being called out of bed. She ran back to the nursery and, looking at the hand, found it was somewhat more swollen.

"Oh, God!" she cried, and kneeling beside the bed began smoothing back Julie’s hair over and over. With a vague idea of getting some hot water, she rose and stared toward the door, but the lace of her dress caught in the bed-rail and she fell forward on her hands and knees. She struggled up and jerked frantically at the lace. The bed moved and Julie groaned. Then more quietly but with suddenly fumbling fingers she found the pleat in front, tore the whole pannier completely off, and rushed from the room.

Out in the hall she heard a single loud, insistent voice, but as she reached the head of the stairs it ceased and an outer door banged.

The music-room came into view. Only Harold and Milton were there, the former leaning against a chair, his face very pale, his collar open, and his mouth moving loosely.

"What’s the matter?"

Milton looked at her anxiously.

"There was a little trouble---"

Then Harold saw her and, straightening up with an effort, began to speak.

"Sult m’own cousin m’own house. God damn common nouveau rish. ’Sult m’own cousin---"

"Tom had trouble with Ahearn and Harold interfered," said Milton. "My Lord Milton," cried Evylyn, "couldn’t you have done something?"

"I tried; I---"

"Julie’s sick," she interrupted; "she’s poisoned herself. Get him to bed if you can."

Harold looked up.

"Julie sick?"

Paying no attention, Evylyn brushed by through the dining-room, catching sight, with a burst of horror, of the big punch-bowl still on the table, the liquid from melted ice in its bottom. She heard steps on the front stairs—it was Milton helping Harold up—and then a mumble: "Why, Julie’s a’righ’."

"Don’t let him go into the nursery!" she shouted.

The hours blurred into a nightmare. The doctor arrived just before midnight and within a half-hour had lanced the wound. He left at two after giving her the addresses of two nurses to call up and promising to return at half past six. It was blood-poisoning.

At four, leaving Hilda by the bedside, she went to her room, and slipping with a shudder out of her evening dress kicked it into a corner. She put on a house dress and returned to the nursery while Hilda went to make coffee.

Not until noon could she bring herself to look into Harold’s room, but when she did it was to find him awake and staring very miserably at the ceiling. He turned blood-shot hollow eyes upon her. For a minute she hated him, couldn’t speak. A husky voice came from the bed.

"What time is it?"


"I made a damn fool---"

"It doesn’t matter," she said sharply. "Julie’s got blood-poisoning. They may"—she choked over the words—"they think she’ll have to lose her hand."


"She cut herself on that—that bowl."

"Last night?"

"Oh, what does it matter?" see cried; "she’s got blood-poisoning. Can’t you hear?" He looked at her bewildered—sat half-way up in bed.

"I’ll get dressed," he said.

Her anger subsided and a great wave of weariness and pity for him rolled over her. After all, it was his trouble, too."

"Yes," she answered listlessly, "I suppose you’d better."


Related Resources

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Download Options

Title: Flappers and Philosophers

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Flappers and Philosophers

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: F. Scott Fitzgerald, "III," Flappers and Philosophers in Flappers and Philosophers (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920), Original Sources, accessed March 20, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KPBSNM21XT3X4L9.

MLA: Fitzgerald, F. Scott. "III." Flappers and Philosophers, in Flappers and Philosophers, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920, Original Sources. 20 Mar. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KPBSNM21XT3X4L9.

Harvard: Fitzgerald, FS, 'III' in Flappers and Philosophers. cited in 1920, Flappers and Philosophers, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 20 March 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KPBSNM21XT3X4L9.