Moveable Feast (Chapter 10)
His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.
The first time I ever met Scott Fitzgerald a very strange thing happened. Many strange things happened with Scott but this one I was never able to forget. He had come into the Dingo bar in the rue Delambre where I was sitting with some completely worthless characters, had introduced himself and introduced a tall, pleasant man who was with him as Dunc Chaplin, the famous pitcher. I had not followed Princeton baseball and had never heard of Dunc Chaplin but he was extraordinarily nice, unworried, relaxed and friendly and I much preferred him to Scott.
Scott was a man then who looked like a boy with a face between handsome and pretty. He had very fair wavy hair, a high forehead, excited and friendly eyes and a delicate long-lipped Irish mouth that, on a girl, would have been the mouth of a beauty. His chin was well built and he had good ears and a handsome, almost beautiful, unmarked nose. This should not have added up to a pretty face, but that came from the coloring, the very fair hair and the mouth. The mouth worried you until you knew him and then it worried you more.
I was very curious to see him and I had been working very hard all day and it seemed quite wonderful that here should be Scott Fitzgerald and the great Dunc Chaplin whom I had never heard of but who was now my friend. Scott did not stop talking and since I was embarrassed by what he said—it was all about my writing and how great it was—I kept on looking at him closely and noticed instead of listening. We still went under the system, then, that praise to the face was open disgrace. Scott had ordered champagne and he and Dunc Chaplin and I drank it together with, I think, some of the worthless characters. I do not think that Dunc or I followed the speech very closely, for it was a speech and I kept on observing Scott. He was lightly built and did not look in awfully good shape, his face being faintly puffy. His Brooks Brothers clothes fitted him well and he wore a white shirt with a buttoned-down collar and a Guard’s tie. I thought I ought to tell him about the tie, maybe, because they did have British in Paris and one might come into the Dingo—there were two there at the time—but then I thought the hell with it and I looked at him some more. It turned out later he had bought the tie in Rome.
I wasn’t learning very much from looking at him now except that he had well shaped, capable-looking hands, not too small, and when he sat down on one of the bar stools I saw that he had very short legs. With normal legs he would have been perhaps two inches taller. We had finished the first bottle of champagne and started on the second and the speech was beginning to run down.
Both Dunc and I were beginning to feel even better than we had felt before the champagne and it was nice to have the speech ending. Until then I had felt that what a great writer I was had been carefully kept secret between myself and my wife and only those people we knew well enough to speak to. I was glad Scott had come to the same happy conclusion as to this possible greatness, but I was also glad he was beginning to run out of the speech. But after the speech came the question period. You could study him and neglect to follow the speech, but the questions were inescapable. Scott, I was to find, believed that the novelist could find out what he needed to know by direct questioning of his friends and acquaintances. The interrogation was direct.
“Ernest,” he said. “You don’t mind if I call you Ernest, do you?”
“Ask Dunc,” I said.
“Don’t be silly. This is serious. Tell me, did you and your wife sleep together before you were married?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“I don’t remember.”
“But how can you not remember something of such importance?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It is odd, isn’t it?”
“It’s worse than odd,” Scott said. “You must be able to remember.”
“I’m sorry. It’s a pity, isn’t it?”
“Don’t talk like some limey,” he said. “Try to be serious and remember.”
“Nope,” I said. “It’s hopeless.”
“You could make an honest effort to remember.”
The speech comes pretty high, I thought. I wondered if he gave everyone the speech, but I didn’t think so because I had watched him sweat while he was making it. The sweat had come out on his long, perfect Irish upper lip in tiny drops, and that was when I had looked down away from his face and checked on the length of his legs, drawn up as he sat on the bar stool. Now I looked back at his face again and it was then that the strange thing happened.
As he sat there at the bar holding the glass of champagne the skin seemed to tighten over his face until all the puffiness was gone and then it drew tighter until the face was like a death’s head. The eyes sank and began to look dead and the lips were drawn tight and the color left the face so that it was the color of used candle wax. This was not my imagination. His face became a true death’s head, or death mask, in front of my eyes.
“Scott,” I said. “Are you all right?”
He did not answer and his face looked more drawn than ever.
“We’d better get him to a first aid station,” I said to Dunc Chaplin.
“No. He’s all right.”
“He looks like he is dying.”
“No. That’s the way it takes him.”
We got him into a taxi and I was very worried but Dunc said he was all right and not to worry about him. “He’ll probably be all right by the time he gets home,” he said.
He must have been because, when I met him at the Closerie des Lilas a few days later, I said that I was sorry the stuff had hit him that way and that maybe we had drunk it too fast while we were talking.
“What do you mean you are sorry? What stuff hit me what way? What are you talking about, Ernest?”
“I meant the other night at the Dingo.”
“There was nothing wrong with me at the Dingo. I simply got tired of those absolutely bloody British you were with and went home.”
“There weren’t any British there when you were there. Only the bartender.”
“Don’t try to make a mystery of it. You know the ones I mean.”
“Oh,” I said. He had gone back to the Dingo later. Or he’d gone there another time. No, I remembered, there had been two British there. It was true. I remembered who they were. They had been there all right.
“Yes,” I said. “Of course.”
“That girl with the phony title who was so rude and that silly drunk with her. They said they were friends of yours.”
“They are. And she is very rude sometimes.”
“You see. There’s no use to make mysteries simply because one has drunk a few glasses of wine. Why did you want to make the mysteries? It isn’t the sort of thing I thought you would do.”
“I don’t know.” I wanted to drop it. Then I thought of something. “Were they rude about your tie?” I asked.
“Why should they have been rude about my tie? I was wearing a plain black knitted tie with a white polo shirt.”
I gave up then and he asked me why I liked this café and I told him about it in the old days and he began to try to like it too and we sat there, me liking it and he trying to like it, and he asked questions and told me about writers and publishers and agents and critics and George Horace Lorimer, and the gossip and economics of being a successful writer, and he was cynical and funny and very jolly and charming and endearing, even if you were careful about anyone becoming endearing. He spoke slightingly but without bitterness of everything he had written, and I knew his new book must be very good for him to speak, without bitterness, of the faults of past books. He wanted me to read the new book, The Great Gatsby, as soon as he could get his last and only copy back from someone he had loaned it to. To hear him talk of it, you would never know how very good it was, except that he had the shyness about it that all non-conceited writers have when they have done something very fine, and I hoped he would get the book quickly so that I might read it.
Scott told me that he had heard from Maxwell Perkins that the book was not selling well but that it had very fine reviews. I do not remember whether it was that day, or much later, that he showed me a review by Gilbert Seldes that could not have been better. It could only have been better if Gilbert Seldes had been better. Scott was puzzled and hurt that the book was not selling well but, as I said, he was not at all bitter then and he was both shy and happy about the book’s quality.
On this day as we sat outside on the terrace of the Lilas and watched it get dusk and the people passing on the sidewalk and the grey light of the evening changing, there was no chemical change in him from the two whisky and sodas that we drank. I watched carefully for it, but it did not come and he asked no shameless questions, did nothing embarrassing, made no speeches, and acted as a normal, intelligent and charming person.
He told me that he and Zelda, his wife, had been compelled to abandon their small Renault motor car in Lyon because of bad weather and he asked me if I would go down to Lyon with him on the train to pick up the car and drive up with him to Paris. The Fitzgeralds had rented a furnished flat at 14 rue de Tilsitt not far from the Etoile. It was late spring now and I thought the country would be at its best and we could have an excellent trip. Scott seemed so nice and so reasonable, and I had watched him drink two good solid whiskies and nothing happened, and his charm and his seeming good sense made the other night at the Dingo seem like an unpleasant dream. So I said I would like to go down to Lyon with him and when did he want to leave.
We agreed to meet the next day and we then arranged to leave for Lyon on the express train that left in the morning. This train left at a convenient hour and was very fast. It made only one stop, as I recall, at Dijon. We planned to get into Lyon, have the car checked and in good shape, have an excellent dinner and get an early-morning start back towards Paris.
I was enthusiastic about the trip. I would have the company of an older and successful writer, and in the time we would have to talk in the car I would certainly learn much that it would be useful to know. It is strange now to remember thinking of Scott as an older writer, but at the time, since I had not yet read The Great Gatsby, I thought of him as a much older writer. I thought he wrote Saturday Evening Post stories that had been readable three years before but I never thought of him as a serious writer. He had told me at the Closerie des Lilas how he wrote what he thought were good stories, and which really were good stories for the Post, and then changed them for submission, knowing exactly how he must make the twists that made them into salable magazine stories. I had been shocked at this and I said I thought it was whoring. He said it was whoring but that he had to do it as he made his money from the magazines to have money ahead to write decent books. I said that I did not believe anyone could write any way except the very best he could write without destroying his talent. Since he wrote the real story first, he said, the destruction and changing of it that he did at the end did him no harm. I could not believe this and I wanted to argue him out of it but I needed a novel to back up my faith and to show him and convince him, and I had not yet written any such novel. Since I had started to break down all my writing and get rid of all facility and try to make instead of describe, writing had been wonderful to do. But it was very difficult, and I did not know how I would ever write anything as long as a novel. It often took me a full morning of work to write a paragraph.
My wife, Hadley, was happy for me to make the trip, though she did not take seriously the writing of Scott’s that she had read. Her idea of a good writer was Henry James. But she thought it was a good idea for me to take a rest from work and make the trip, although we both wished that we had enough money to have a car and were making the trip ourselves. But that was something I never had any idea would happen. I had received an advance of two hundred dollars from Boni and Liveright for a first book of short stories to be published in America that fall, and I was selling stories to the Frankfurter Zeitung and to Der Querschnitt in Berlin and to This Quarter and The Transatlantic Review in Paris and we were living with great economy and not spending any money except for necessities in order to save money to go down to the feria at Pamplona in July and to Madrid and to the feria in Valencia afterwards.
On the morning we were to leave from the Gare de Lyon I arrived in plenty of time and waited outside the train gates for Scott. He was bringing the tickets. When it got close to the time for the train to leave and he had not arrived, I bought an entry ticket to the track and walked along the side of the train looking for him. I did not see him and as the long train was about to pull out I got aboard and walked through the train hoping only that he would be aboard. It was a long train and he was not on it. I explained the situation to the conductor, paid for a ticket, second class—there was no third—and asked the conductor for the name of the best hotel in Lyon. There was nothing to do but wire Scott from Dijon giving him the address of the hotel where I would wait for him in Lyon. He would not get it before he left, but his wife would be presumed to wire it on to him. I had never heard, then, of a grown man missing a train; but on this trip I was to learn many new things.
In those days I had a very bad, quick temper, but by the time we were through Montereau it had quieted down and I was not too angry to watch and enjoy the countryside and at noon I had a good lunch in the dining car and drank a bottle of St.-Émilion and thought that even if I had been a damned fool to accept an invitation for a trip that was to be paid for by someone else, and was spending money on it that we needed to go to Spain, it was a good lesson for me. I had never before accepted an invitation to go on any trip that was paid for, instead of the cost split, and in this one I had insisted that we split the cost of the hotels and meals. But now I did not know whether Fitzgerald would even show up. While I had been angry I had demoted him from Scott to Fitzgerald. Later I was delighted that I had used up the anger at the start and gotten it over with. It was not a trip designed for a man easy to anger.
In Lyon I learned that Scott left Paris for Lyon but had left no word as to where he was staying. I confirmed my address there and the servant said she would let him know if he called. Madame was not well and was still sleeping. I called all the name hotels and left messages but could not locate Scott and then I went out to a café to have an apéritif and read the papers. At the café I met a man who ate fire for a living and also bent coins which he held in his toothless jaws with his thumb and forefinger. His gums were sore but firm to the eye as he exhibited them and he said it was not a bad métier. I asked him to have a drink and he was pleased. He had a fine dark face that glowed and shone when he ate the fire. He said there was no money in eating fire nor in feats of strength with fingers and jaws in Lyon. False fire-eaters had ruined the métier and would continue to ruin it wherever they were allowed to practice. He had been eating fire all evening, he said, and did not have enough money on him to eat anything else that night. I asked him to have another drink, to wash away the petrol taste of the fire-eating, and said we could have dinner together if he knew a good place that was cheap enough. He said he knew an excellent place.
We ate very cheaply in an Algerian restaurant and I liked the food and the Algerian wine. The fire-eater was a nice man and it was interesting to see him eat, as he could chew with his gums as well as most people can with their teeth. He asked me what I did to make a living and I told him that I was starting in as a writer. He asked what sort of writing and I told him stories. He said he knew many stories, some of them more horrible and incredible than anything that had ever been written. He could tell them to me and I would write them and then if they made any money I would give him whatever I thought fair. Better still we could go to North Africa together and he would take me to the country of the Blue Sultan where I could get stories such as no man had ever heard.
I asked him what sort of stories and he said battles, executions, tortures, violations, fearful customs, unbelievable practices, debaucheries; anything I needed. It was getting time for me to get back to the hotel and check on Scott again, so I paid for the meal and said we would certainly be running into each other again. He said he was working down toward Marseilles and I said sooner or later we would meet somewhere and it was a pleasure to have dined together. I left him straightening out bent coins and stacking them on the table and walked back to the hotel.
Lyon was not a very cheerful town at night. It was a big, heavy, solid-money town, probably fine if you had money and liked that sort of town. For years I had heard about the wonderful chicken in the restaurants there, but we had eaten mutton instead. The mutton had been excellent.
There was no word from Scott at the hotel and I went to bed in the unaccustomed luxury of the hotel and read a copy of the first volume of A Sportsman’s Sketches by Turgenev that I had borrowed from Sylvia Beach’s library. I had not been in the luxury of a big hotel for three years and I opened the windows wide and rolled up the pillows under my shoulders and head and was happy being with Turgenev in Russia until I was asleep while still reading. I was shaving in the morning getting ready to go out for breakfast when they called from the desk saying a gentleman was downstairs to see me.
“Ask him to come up, please,” I said and went on shaving, listening to the town which had come heavily alive since early morning.
Scott did not come up and I met him down at the desk.
“I’m terribly sorry there was this mix-up,” he said. “If I had only known what hotel you were going to it would have been simple.”
“That’s all right,” I said. We were going to have a long ride and I was all for peace. “What train did you come down on?”
“One not long after the one you took. It was a very comfortable train and we might just as well have come down together.”
“Have you had breakfast?”
“Not yet. I’ve been hunting all over the town for you.”
“That’s a shame,” I said. “Didn’t they tell you at home that I was here?”
“No. Zelda wasn’t feeling well and I probably shouldn’t have come. The whole trip has been disastrous so far.”
“Let’s get some breakfast and find the car and roll,” I said.
“That’s fine. Should we have breakfast here?”
“It would be quicker in a café.”
“But we’re sure to get a good breakfast here.”
It was a big American breakfast with ham and eggs and it was very good. But by the time we had ordered it, waited for it, eaten it, and waited to pay for it, close to an hour had been lost. It was not until the waiter came with the bill that Scott decided that we have the hotel make us a picnic lunch. I tried to argue him out of this as I was sure we could get a bottle of Mâcon in Mâcon and we could buy something to make sandwiches in a charcuterie. Or, if things were closed when we went through, there would be any number of restaurants where we could stop on our way. But he said I had told him that the chicken was wonderful in Lyon and that we should certainly take one with us. So the hotel made us a lunch that could not have cost us very much more than four or five times what it would have cost us if we had bought it ourselves.
Scott had obviously been drinking before I met him and, as he looked as though he needed a drink, I asked him if he did not want one in the bar before we set out. He told me he was not a morning drinker and asked if I was. I told him it depended entirely on how I felt and what I had to do and he said that if I felt that I needed a drink, he would keep me company so I would not have to drink alone. So we had a whisky and Perrier in the bar while we waited for the lunch and both felt much better.
I paid for the hotel room and the bar, although Scott wanted to pay for everything. Since the start of the trip I had felt a little complicated about it emotionally and I found I felt much better the more things I could pay for. I was using up the money we had saved for Spain, but I knew I had good credit with Sylvia Beach and could borrow and repay whatever I was wasting now.
At the garage where Scott had left the car, I was astonished to find that the small Renault had no top. The top had been damaged in unloading the car in Marseilles, or it had been damaged in Marseilles in some manner and Zelda had ordered it cut away and refused to have it replaced. His wife hated car tops, Scott told me, and without the top they had driven as far as Lyon where they were halted by the rain. The car was in fair shape otherwise and Scott paid the bill after disputing several charges for washing, greasing, and for adding two liters of oil. The garage man explained to me that the car needed new piston rings and had evidently been run without sufficient oil and water. He showed me how it had heated up and burned the paint off the motor. He said if I could persuade Monsieur to have a ring job done in Paris, the car, which was a good little car, would be able to give the service it was built for.
“Monsieur would not let me replace the top.”
“One has an obligation to a vehicle.”
“You gentlemen have no waterproofs?”
“No,” I said. “I did not know about the top.”
“Try and make Monsieur be serious,” he said pleadingly. “At least about the vehicle.”
“Ah,” I said.
We were halted by rain about an hour north of Lyon.
In that day we were halted by rain possibly ten times. They were passing showers and some of them were longer than others. If we had waterproof coats it would have been pleasant enough to drive in that spring rain. As it was we sought the shelter of trees or halted at cafés alongside the road. We had a marvelous lunch from the hotel at Lyon, an excellent truffled roast chicken, delicious bread and white Mâcon wine and Scott was very happy when we drank the white Mâconnais at each of our stops. At Mâcon I had bought four more bottles of excellent wine which I uncorked as we needed them.
I am not sure Scott had ever drunk wine from a bottle before and it was exciting to him as though he were slumming or as a girl might be excited by going swimming for the first time without a bathing suit. But, by early afternoon, he had begun to worry about his health. He told me about two people who had died of congestion of the lungs recently. Both of them had died in Italy and he had been deeply impressed.
I told him that congestion of the lungs was an old-fashioned term for pneumonia, and he told me that I knew nothing about it and was absolutely wrong. Congestion of the lungs was a malady which was indigenous to Europe and I could not possibly know anything about it even if I had read my father’s medical books, since they dealt with diseases that were strictly American. I said that my father had studied in Europe too. But Scott explained that congestion of the lungs had only appeared in Europe recently and that my father could not possibly have known anything about it. He also explained that diseases were different in different parts of America, and if my father had practiced medicine in New York instead of in the Middle West, he would have known an entirely different gamut of diseases. He used the word gamut.
I said that he had a good point in the prevalence of certain diseases in one part of the United States and their absence in others and cited the amount of leprosy in New Orleans and its low incidence, then, in Chicago. But I said that doctors had a system of exchange of knowledge and information among themselves and now that I remembered it after he had brought it up, I had read the authoritative article on congestion of the lungs in Europe in the Journal of the American Medical Association which traced its history back to Hippocrates himself. This held him for a while and I urged him to take another drink of Mâcon, since a good white wine, moderately full-bodied but with a low alcoholic content, was almost a specific against the disease.
Scott cheered a little after this but he began to fail again shortly and asked me if we would make a big town before the onset of the fever and delirium by which, I had told him, the true congestion of the lungs, European, announced itself. I was now translating from an article which I had read in a French medical journal on the same malady while waiting at the American Hospital in Neuilly to have my throat cauterized, I told him. A word like cauterized had a comforting effect on Scott. But he wanted to know when we would make the town. I said if we pushed on we should make it in twenty-five minutes to an hour.
Scott then asked me if I were afraid to die and I said more at some times than at others.
It now began to rain really heavily and we took refuge in the next village at a café. I cannot remember all the details of that afternoon but when we were finally in a hotel at what must have been Châlon-sur-Saône, it was so late that the drug stores were closed. Scott had undressed and gone to bed as soon as we reached the hotel. He did not mind dying of congestion of the lungs, he said. It was only the question of who was to look after Zelda and young Scotty. I did not see very well how I could look after them since I was having a healthily rough time looking after my wife Hadley and young son Bumby, but I said I would do my best and Scott thanked me. I must see that Zelda did not drink and that Scotty should have an English governess.
We had sent our clothes to be dried and were in our pajamas. It was still raining outside but it was cheerful in the room with the electric light on. Scott was lying in bed to conserve his strength for his battle against the disease. I had taken his pulse, which was seventy-two, and had felt his forehead, which was cool. I had listened to his chest and had him breathe deeply, and his chest sounded all right.
“Look, Scott,” I said. “You’re perfectly O.K. If you want to do the best thing to keep from catching cold, just stay in bed and I’ll order us each a lemonade and a whisky and you take an aspirin with yours and you’ll feel fine and won’t even get a cold in your head.”
“Those old wives’ remedies,” Scott said.
“You haven’t any temperature. How the hell are you going to have congestion of the lungs without a temperature?”
“Don’t swear at me,” Scott said. “How do you know I haven’t a temperature?”
“Your pulse is normal and you haven’t any fever to the touch.”
“To the touch,” Scott said bitterly. “If you’re a real friend, get me a thermometer.”
“I’m in pajamas.”
“Send for one.”
I rang for the waiter. He didn’t come and I rang again and then went down the hallway to look for him. Scott was lying with his eyes closed, breathing slowly and carefully and, with his waxy color and his perfect features, he looked like a little dead crusader. I was getting tired of the literary life, if this was the literary life that I was leading, and already I missed not working and I felt the death loneliness that comes at the end of every day that is wasted in your life. I was very tired of Scott and of this silly comedy, but I found the waiter and gave him money to buy a thermometer and a tube of aspirin, and ordered two citron pressés and two double whiskies. I tried to order a bottle of whisky but they would only sell it by the drink.
Back in the room Scott was still lying as though on his tomb, sculpted as a monument to himself, his eyes closed and breathing with exemplary dignity.
Hearing me come in the room, he spoke. “Did you get the thermometer?”
I went over and put my hand on his forehead. It was not as cold as the tomb. But it was cool and not clammy.
“Nope,” I said.
“I thought you’d brought it.”
“I sent out for it.”
“It’s not the same thing.”
“No. It isn’t, is it?”
You could not be angry with Scott any more than you could be angry with someone who was crazy, but I was getting angry with myself for having become involved in the whole silliness. He did have a point though, and I knew it very well. Most drunkards in those days died of pneumonia, a disease which has now been almost eliminated. But it was hard to accept him as a drunkard, since he was affected by such small quantities of alcohol.
In Europe then we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also as a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary, and I would not have thought of eating a meal without drinking either wine or cider or beer. I loved all wines except sweet or sweetish wines and wines that were too heavy, and it had never occurred to me that sharing a few bottles of fairly light, dry, white Mâcon could cause chemical changes in Scott that would turn him into a fool. There had been the whisky and Perrier in the morning but, in my ignorance of alcoholics then, I could not imagine one whisky harming anyone who was driving in an open car in the rain. The alcohol should have been oxidized in a very short time.
While waiting for the waiter to bring the various things I sat and read a paper and finished one of the bottles of Mâcon that had been uncorked at the last stop. There are always some splendid crimes in the newspapers that you follow from day to day, when you live in France. These crimes read like continued stories and it is necessary to have read the opening chapters, since there are no summaries provided as there are in American serial stories and, anyway, no serial is as good in an American periodical unless you have read the all-important first chapter. When you are traveling through France the papers are disappointing because you miss the continuity of the different crimes, affaires, or scandales, and you miss much of the pleasure to be derived from reading about them in a café. Tonight I would have much preferred to be in a café where I might read the morning editions of the Paris papers and watch the people and drink something a little more authoritative than the Mâcon in preparation for dinner. But I was riding herd on Scott so I enjoyed myself where I was.
When the waiter arrived with the two glasses with the pressed lemon juice and ice, the whiskies, and the bottle of Perrier water, he told me that the pharmacy was closed and he could not get a thermometer. He had borrowed some aspirin. I asked him to see if he could borrow a thermometer. Scott opened his eyes and gave a baleful Irish look at the waiter.
“Have you told him how serious it is?” he asked.
“I think he understands.”
“Please try to make it clear.”
I tried to make it clear and the waiter said, “I’ll bring what I can.”
“Did you tip him enough to do any good? They only work for tips.”
“I didn’t know that,” I said. “I thought the hotel paid them something on the side.”
“I mean they will only do something for you for a substantial tip. Most of them are rotten clean through.”
I thought of Evan Shipman and I thought of the waiter at the Closerie des Lilas who had been forced to cut his mustache when they made the American bar at the Closerie, and how Evan had been working out at his garden in Montrouge long before I had met Scott, and what good friends we all were and had been for a long time at the Lilas and of all of the moves that had been made and what they meant to all of us. I thought of telling Scott about this whole problem of the Lilas, although I had probably mentioned it to him before, but I knew he did not care about waiters nor their problems nor their great kindnesses and affections. At that time Scott hated the French, and since almost the only French he met with regularly were waiters whom he did not understand, taxi-drivers, garage employees and landlords, he had many opportunities to insult and abuse them.
He hated the Italians even more than the French and could not talk about them calmly even when he was sober. The English he often hated but he sometimes tolerated them and occasionally looked up to them. I do not know how he felt about the Germans and the Austrians. I do not know whether he had ever met any then or any Swiss.
On this evening in the hotel I was delighted that he was being so calm. I had mixed the lemonade and whisky and given it to him with two aspirins and he had swallowed the aspirins without protest and with admirable calm and was sipping his drink. His eyes were open now and were looking far away. I was reading the crime in the inside of the paper and was quite happy, too happy it seemed.
“You’re a cold one, aren’t you?” Scott asked and looking at him I saw that I had been wrong in my prescription, if not in my diagnosis, and that the whisky was working against us.
“How do you mean, Scott?”
“You can sit there and read that dirty French rag of a paper and it doesn’t mean a thing to you that I am dying.”
“Do you want me to call a doctor?”
“No. I don’t want a dirty French provincial doctor.”
“What do you want?”
“I want my temperature taken. Then I want my clothes dried and for us to get on an express train for Paris and to go to the American hospital at Neuilly.”
“Our clothes won’t be dry until morning and there aren’t any express trains,” I said. “Why don’t you rest and have some dinner in bed?”
“I want my temperature taken.”
After this went on for a long time the waiter brought a thermometer.
“Is this the only one you could get?” I asked. Scott had shut his eyes when the waiter came in and he did look at least as far gone as Camille. I have never seen a man who lost the blood from his face so fast and I wondered where it went.
“It is the only one in the hotel,” the waiter said and handed me the thermometer. It was a bath thermometer with a wooden back and enough metal to sink it in the bath. I took a quick gulp of the whisky sour and opened the window a moment to look out at the rain. When I turned Scott was watching me.
I shook the thermometer down professionally and said, “You’re lucky it’s not a rectal thermometer.”
“Where does this kind go?”
“Under the arm,” I told him and tucked it under my arm.
“Don’t upset the temperature,” Scott said. I shook the thermometer again with a single sharp downward twitch and unbuttoned his pajama jacket and put the instrument under his armpit while I felt his cool forehead and then took his pulse again. He stared straight ahead. The pulse was seventy-two. I kept the thermometer in for four minutes.
“I thought they only kept them in for one minute,” Scott said.
“This is a big thermometer,” I explained. “You multiply by the square of the size of the thermometer. It’s a centigrade thermometer.”
Finally I took the thermometer out and carried it over by the reading light.
“What is it?”
“Thirty-seven and six-tenths.”
“Are you sure?”
“Try it on yourself. I have to be sure.”
I shook the thermometer down and opened my pajamas and put the thermometer in my armpit and held it there while I watched the time. Then I looked at it.
“What is it?” I studied it.
“Exactly the same.”
“How do you feel?”
“Splendid,” I said. I was trying to remember whether thirty-seven six was really normal or not. It did not matter, for the thermometer, unaffected, was steady at thirty.
Scott was a little suspicious so I asked if he wanted me to make another test.
“No,” he said. “We can be happy it cleared up so quickly. I’ve always had great recuperative power.”
“You’re fine,” I said. “But I think it would be just as well if you stayed in bed and had a light supper, and then we can start early in the morning.” I had planned to buy us raincoats but I would have to borrow money from him for that and I did not want to start arguing about that now.
Scott did not want to stay in bed. He wanted to get up and get dressed and go downstairs and call Zelda so she would know he was all right.
“Why would she think you weren’t all right?”
“This is the first night I have ever slept away from her since we were married and I have to talk to her. You can see what it means to us both, can’t you?”
I could, but I could not see how he and Zelda could have slept together on the night just past; but it was nothing to argue about. Scott drank the whisky sour down very fast now and asked me to order another. I found the waiter and returned the thermometer and asked him how our clothes were coming along. He thought they might be dry in an hour or so. “Have the valet press them and that will dry them. It doesn’t matter that they should be bone-dry.”
The waiter brought the two drinks against catching cold and I sipped mine and urged Scott to sip his slowly. I was worried now he might catch cold and I could see by now that if he ever had anything as definitely bad as a cold he would probably have to be hospitalized. But the drink made him feel wonderful for a while and he was happy with the tragic implications of this being Zelda’s and his first night of separation since their marriage. Finally he could not wait longer to call her and put on his dressing gown and went down to put the call through.
It would take some time for the call and shortly after he came up, the waiter appeared with two more double whisky sours. This was the most I had ever seen Scott drink until then, but they had no effect on him except to make him more animated and talkative, and he started to tell me the outline of his life with Zelda. He told me how he had first met her during the war and then lost her and won her back, and about their marriage and then about something tragic that had happened to them at St.-Raphael about a year ago. This first version that he told me of Zelda and a French naval aviator falling in love was truly a sad story and I believe it was a true story. Later he told me other versions of it as though trying them for use in a novel, but none was as sad as this first one and I always believed the first one, although any of them might have been true. They were better told each time; but they never hurt you the same way the first one did.
Scott was very articulate and told a story well. He did not have to spell the words nor attempt to punctuate and you did not have the feeling of reading an illiterate that his letters gave you before they had been corrected. I knew him for two years before he could spell my name; but then it was a long name to spell and perhaps it became harder to spell all of the time, and I give him great credit for spelling it correctly finally. He learned to spell more important things and he tried to think straight about many more.
On this night though he wanted me to know and understand and appreciate what it was that had happened at St.-Raphael and I saw it so clearly that I could see the single seater seaplane buzzing the diving raft and the color of the sea and the shape of the pontoons and the shadow that they cast and Zelda’s tan and Scott’s tan and the dark blonde and the light blond of their hair and the darkly tanned face of the boy that was in love with Zelda. I could not ask the question that was in my mind, how, if this story was true and it had all happened, could Scott have slept each night in the same bed with Zelda? But maybe that was what had made it sadder than any story anyone had ever told me then, and, too, maybe he did not remember, as he did not remember last night.
Our clothes came before the call did and we dressed and went downstairs to have dinner. Scott was a little unsteady now and he looked at people out of the side of his eyes with a certain belligerency. We had very good snails, with a carafe of Fleury to start with and while we were about halfway through them Scott’s call came. He was gone about an hour and I ate his snails finally, dipping up the butter, garlic and parsley sauce with broken bits of bread, and drank the carafe of Fleury. When he came back I said I would get him some more snails but he said he did not want any. He wanted something simple. He did not want a steak, nor liver and bacon, nor an omelette. He would take chicken. We had eaten very good cold chicken at noon but this was still famous chicken country, so we had poularde de Bresse and a bottle of Montagny, a light, pleasant white wine of the neighborhood. Scott ate very little and sipped at one glass of the wine. He passed out at the table with his head on his hands. It was natural and there was no theater about it and it even looked as though he were careful not to spill nor break things. The waiter and I got him up to his room and laid him on the bed and I undressed him to his underwear, hung his clothes up, and then stripped the covers off the bed and spread them over him. I opened the window and saw it was clear outside and left the window open.
Downstairs I finished my dinner and thought about Scott. It was obvious he should not drink anything and I had not been taking good care of him. Anything that he drank seemed to stimulate him too much and then to poison him and I planned on the next day to cut all drinking to the minimum. I would tell him that we were getting back to Paris now and that I had to train in order to write. This was not true. My training was never to drink after dinner nor before I wrote nor while I was writing. I went upstairs and opened all the windows wide and undressed and was asleep almost as soon as I was in bed.
The next day we drove to Paris on a beautiful day up through the Côte d’Or with the air freshly washed and the hills and the fields and the vineyards all new, and Scott was very cheerful and happy and healthy and told me the plots of each and every one of Michael Arlen’s books. Michael Arlen, he said, was the man you had to watch and he and I could both learn much from him. I said I could not read the books. He said I did not have to. He would tell me the plots and describe the characters. He gave me a sort of oral Ph.D. thesis on Michael Arlen.
I asked him if he had a good connection on the phone when he talked to Zelda and he said that it was not bad and that they had many things to talk about. At meals I ordered one bottle of the lightest wine I could locate and told Scott he would do me a great favor if he would not let me order any more as I had to train before I wrote and should not under any circumstances drink more than half a bottle. He co-operated wonderfully and when he saw me looking nervous toward the end of a single bottle, gave me some of his share.
When I had left him at his home and taken a taxi back to the sawmill, it was wonderful to see my wife and we went up to the Closerie des Lilas to have a drink. We were happy the way children are who have been separated and are together again and I told her about the trip.
“But didn’t you have any fun or learn anything, Tatie?” she asked.
“I learned about Michael Arlen, if I would have listened, and I learned things I haven’t sorted out.”
“Isn’t Scott happy at all?”
“I learned one thing.”
“Never to go on trips with anyone you do not love.”
“Isn’t that fine?”
“Yes. And we’re going to Spain.”
“Yes. Now it’s less than six weeks before we go. And this year we won’t let anyone spoil it, will we?”
“No. And after Pamplona we’ll go to Madrid and to Valencia.”
“M-m-m-m,” she said softly, like a cat.
“Poor Scott,” I said.
“Poor everybody,” Hadley said. “Rich feathercats with no money.”
“We’re awfully lucky.”
“We’ll have to be good and hold it.”
We both touched wood on the café table and the waiter came to see what it was we wanted. But what we wanted not he, nor anyone else, nor knocking on wood or on marble, as this café table-top was, could ever bring us. But we did not know it that night and we were very happy.
A day or two after the trip Scott brought his book over. It had a garish dust jacket and I remember being embarrassed by the violence, bad taste and slippery look of it. It looked the book jacket for a book of bad science fiction. Scott told me not to be put off by it, that it had to do with a billboard along a highway in Long Island that was important in the story. He said he had liked the jacket and now he didn’t like it. I took it off to read the book.
When I had finished the book I knew that no matter what Scott did, nor how he behaved, I must know it was like a sickness and be of any help I could to him and try to be a good friend. He had many good, good friends, more than anyone I knew. But I enlisted as one more, whether I could be of any use to him or not. If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one. I did not know Zelda yet, and so I did not know the terrible odds that were against him. But we were to find them out soon enough.