Moveable Feast (Chapter 8)
A Strange Enough Ending
The way it ended with Gertrude Stein was strange enough. We had become very good friends and I had done a number of practical things for her such as getting her long book started as a serial with Ford and helping type the manuscript and reading her proof and we were getting to be better friends than I could ever wish to be. There is not much future in men being friends with great women although it can be pleasant enough before it gets better or worse, and there is usually even less future with truly ambitious women writers. One time when I gave the excuse for not having stopped in at 27 rue de Fleurus for some time that I did not know whether Miss Stein would be at home, she said, “But Hemingway, you have the run of the place. Don’t you know that? I mean it truly. Come in any time and the maidservant”—she used her name but I have forgotten it—“will look after you and you must make yourself at home until I come.”
I did not abuse this but sometimes I would stop in and the maidservant would give me a drink and I would look at the pictures and if Miss Stein did not turn up I would thank the maidservant and leave a message and go away. Miss Stein and a companion were getting ready to go south in Miss Stein’s car and on this day Miss Stein had asked me to come by in the forenoon to say good-by. She had asked us to come and visit, Hadley and I staying at an hotel, but Hadley and I had other plans and other places where we wanted to go. Naturally you say nothing about this, but you can still hope to go and then it is impossible. I knew a little about the system of not visiting people. I had to learn it. Much later Picasso told me that he always promised the rich to come when they asked him because it made them so happy and then something would happen and he would be unable to appear. But that had nothing to do with Miss Stein and he said it about other people.
It was a lovely spring day and I walked down from the Place de l’Observatoire through the little Luxembourg. The horse-chestnut trees were in blossom and there were many children playing on the graveled walks with their nurses sitting on the benches, and I saw wood pigeons in the trees and heard others that I could not see.
The maidservant opened the door before I rang and told me to come in and to wait. Miss Stein would be down at any moment. It was before noon but the maidservant poured me a glass of eau-de-vie, put it in my hand and winked happily. The colorless alcohol felt good on my tongue and it was still in my mouth when I heard someone speaking to Miss Stein as I had never heard one person speak to another; never, anywhere, ever.
Then Miss Stein’s voice came pleading and begging, saying, “Don’t, pussy. Don’t. Don’t, please don’t. I’ll do anything, pussy, but please don’t do it. Please don’t. Please don’t, pussy.”
I swallowed the drink and put the glass down on the table and started for the door. The maidservant shook her finger at me and whispered, “Don’t go. She’ll be right down.”
“I have to go,” I said and tried not to hear any more as I left but it was still going on and the only way I could not hear it was to be gone. It was bad to hear and the answers were worse.
In the courtyard I said to the maidservant, “Please say I came to the courtyard and met you. That I could not wait because a friend is sick. Say bon voyage for me. I will write.”
“C’est entendu, Monsieur. What a shame you cannot wait.”
“Yes,” I said. “What a shame.”
That was the way it finished for me, stupidly enough, although I still did the small jobs, made the necessary appearances, brought people that were asked for and waited dismissal with most of the other men friends when that epoch came and the new friends moved in. It was sad to see new worthless pictures hung in with the great pictures but it made no difference any more. Not to me it didn’t. She quarreled with nearly all of us that were fond of her except Juan Gris and she couldn’t quarrel with him because he was dead. I am not sure that he would have cared because he was past caring and it showed in his paintings.
Finally she even quarreled with the new friends but none of us followed it any more. She got to look like a Roman emperor and that was fine if you liked your women to look like Roman emperors. But Picasso had painted her, and I could remember her when she looked like a woman from Friuli.
In the end everyone, or not quite everyone, made friends again in order not to be stuffy or righteous. I did too. But I could never make friends again truly, neither in my heart nor in my head. When you cannot make friends any more in your head is the worst. But it was more complicated than that.
The Man Who Was Marked for Death
The afternoon I met Ernest Walsh, the poet, in Ezra’s studio, he was with two girls in long mink coats and there was a long, shiny, hired car from Claridge’s outside in the street with a uniformed chauffeur. The girls were blondes and they had crossed on the same ship with Walsh. The ship had arrived the day before and he had brought them with him to visit Ezra.
Ernest Walsh was dark, intense, faultlessly Irish, poetic and clearly marked for death as a character is marked for death in a motion picture. He was talking to Ezra and I talked with the girls who asked me if I had read Mr. Walsh’s poems. I had not and one of them brought out a green-covered copy of Harriet Monroe’s Poetry, A Magazine of Verse and showed me poems by Walsh in it.
“He gets twelve hundred dollars apiece,” she said.
“For each poem,” the other girl said.
My recollection was that I received twelve dollars a page, if that, from the same magazine. “He must be a very great poet,” I said.
“It’s more than Eddie Guest gets,” the first girl told me.
“It’s more than who’s that other poet gets. You know.”
“Kipling,” her friend said.
“It’s more than anybody gets ever,” the first girl said.
“Are you staying in Paris very long?” I asked them.
“Well no. Not really. We’re with a group of friends.”
“We came over on this boat, you know. But there wasn’t anyone on it really. Mr. Walsh was on it of course.”
“Doesn’t he play cards?” I asked.
She looked at me in a disappointed but understanding way.
“No. He doesn’t have to. Not writing poetry the way he can write it.”
“What ship are you going back on?”
“Well that depends. It depends on the boats and on a lot of things. Are you going back?”
“No. I’m getting by all right.”
“This is sort of the poor quarter over here, isn’t it?”
“Yes. But it’s pretty good. I work the cafés and I’m out at the track.”
“Can you go out to the track in those clothes?”
“No. This is my café outfit.”
“It’s kind of cute,” one of the girls said. “I’d like to see some of that café life. Wouldn’t you, dear?”
“I would,” the other girl said. I wrote their names down in my address book and promised to call them at Claridge’s. They were nice girls and I said good-by to them and to Walsh and to Ezra. Walsh was still talking to Ezra with great intensity.
“Don’t forget,” the taller one of the girls said.
“How could I?” I told her and shook hands with them both again.
The next I heard from Ezra about Walsh was that he had been bailed out of Claridge’s by some lady admirers of poetry and of young poets who were marked for death, and the next thing, some time after that, was that he had financial backing from another source and was going to start a new magazine in the quarter as a co-editor.
At the time the Dial, an American literary magazine edited by Scofield Thayer, gave an annual award of, I believe, a thousand dollars for excellence in the practice of letters by a contributor. This was a huge sum for any straight writer to receive in those days, in addition to the prestige, and the award had gone to various people, all deserving, naturally. Two people, then, could live comfortably and well in Europe on five dollars a day and could travel.
This quarterly, of which Walsh was one of the editors, was alleged to be going to award a very substantial sum to the contributor whose work should be judged the best at the end of the first four issues.
If the news was passed around by gossip or rumor, or if it was a matter of personal confidence, cannot be said. Let us hope and believe always that it was completely honorable in every way. Certainly nothing could ever be said or imputed against Walsh’s co-editor.
It was not long after I heard rumors of this alleged award that Walsh asked me to lunch one day at a restaurant that was the best and the most expensive in the Boulevard St.-Michel quarter and after the oysters, expensive flat faintly coppery marennes, not the familiar, deep, inexpensive portugaises, and a bottle of Pouilly Fuisé, began to lead up to it delicately. He appeared to be conning me as he had conned the shills from the boat—if they were shills and if he had conned them, of course—and when he asked me if I would like another dozen of the flat oysters as he called them, I said I would like them very much. He did not bother to look marked for death with me and this was a relief. He knew I knew he had the con, not the kind you con with but the kind you died of then and how bad it was, and he did not bother to have to cough, and I was grateful for this at the table. I was wondering if he ate the flat oysters in the same way the whores in Kansas City, who were marked for death and practically everything else, always wished to swallow semen as a sovereign remedy against the con; but I did not ask him. I began my second dozen of the flat oysters, picking them from their bed of crushed ice on the silver plate, watching their unbelievably delicate brown edges react and cringe as I squeezed lemon juice on them and separated the holding muscle from the shell and lifted them to chew them carefully.
“Ezra’s a great, great poet,” Walsh said, looking at me with his own dark poet’s eyes.
“Yes,” I said. “And a fine man.”
“Noble,” Walsh said. “Truly noble.” We ate and drank in silence as a tribute to Ezra’s nobility. I missed Ezra and wished he were there. He could not afford marennes either.
“Joyce is great,” Walsh said. “Great. Great.”
“Great,” I said. “And a good friend.” We had become friends in his wonderful period after the finishing of Ulysses and before starting what was called for a long time Work in Progress. I thought of Joyce and remembered many things.
“I wish his eyes were better,” Walsh said.
“So does he,” I said.
“It is the tragedy of our time,” Walsh told me.
“Everybody has something wrong with them,” I said, trying to cheer up the lunch.
“You haven’t.” He gave me all his charm and more, and then he marked himself for death.
“You mean I am not marked for death?” I asked. I could not help it.
“No. You’re marked for Life.” He capitalized the word.
“Give me time,” I said.
He wanted a good steak, rare, and I ordered two tournedos with sauce Béarnaise. I figured the butter would be good for him.
“What about a red wine?” he asked. The sommelier came and I ordered a Châteauneuf du Pape. I would walk it off afterwards along the quais. He could sleep it off, or do what he wanted to. I might take mine someplace, I thought.
It came as we finished the steak and french-fried potatoes and were two-thirds through the Châteauneuf du Pape which is not a luncheon wine.
“There’s no use beating around the bush,” he said. “You know you’re to get the award, don’t you?”
“Am I?” I said. “Why?”
“You’re to get it,” he said. He started to talk about my writing and I stopped listening. It made me feel sick for people to talk about my writing to my face, and I looked at him and his marked-for-death look and I thought, you con man conning me with your con. I’ve seen a battalion in the dust on the road, a third of them for death or worse and no special marks on them, the dust for all, and you and your marked for death look, you con man, making a living out of your death. Now you will con me. Con not, that thou be not conned. Death was not conning with him. It was coming all right.
“I don’t think I deserve it, Ernest,” I said, enjoying using my own name, that I hated, to him. “Besides, Ernest, it would not be ethical, Ernest.”
“It’s strange we have the same name, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Ernest,” I said. “It’s a name we must both live up to. You see what I mean, don’t you, Ernest?”
“Yes, Ernest,” he said. He gave me complete, sad Irish understanding and the charm.
So I was always very nice to him and to his magazine and when he had his hemorrhages and left Paris asking me to see his magazine through the printers, who did not read English, I did that. I had seen one of the hemorrhages, it was very legitimate, and I knew that he would die all right, and it pleased me at that time, which was a difficult time in my life, to be extremely nice to him, as it pleased me to call him Ernest. Also, I liked and admired his co-editor. She had not promised me any award. She only wished to build a good magazine and pay her contributors well.
One day, much later, I met Joyce who was walking along the Boulevard St.-Germain after having been to a matinée alone. He liked to listen to the actors, although he could not see them. He asked me to have a drink with him and we went to the Deux-Magots and ordered dry sherry although you will always read that he drank only Swiss white wine.
“How about Walsh?” Joyce said.
“A such and such alive is a such and such dead,” I said.
“Did he promise you that award?” Joyce asked.
“I thought so,” Joyce said.
“Did he promise it to you?”
“Yes,” Joyce said. After a time he asked, “Do you think he promised it to Pound?”
“I don’t know.”
“Best not to ask him,” Joyce said. We left it at that. I told Joyce of my first meeting with him in Ezra’s studio with the girls in the long fur coats and it made him happy to hear the story.