ONE September afternoon in 1960 I was having a drink with an old newspaper friend, Ken Jonstone, when unexpectedly he told me he had a message to pass on from Ronnie Jacques, the well-known New York photographer. Jacques had been in Sun Valley taking some pictures of Hemingway, and they had got to talking about me. After a while, Hemingway, really opening up, had become warm and jovial. In the old days in Paris he used to box with me, he said. It had all been rather wonderful and amusing, Hemingway assured Ronnie, and there had been one ridiculous occasion when Scott Fitzgerald had acted as time-keeper, and everybody had been full of wine. Anyway, Hemingway sent his wannest regards. But what had really happened? Ken Jonstone wanted to know.
Shrugging, I made some lighthearted comment and didn’t answer. Since I hadn’t heard from Hemingway for years, I was surprised. I suppose it made me meditative. Of course it wasn’t true that we had all been full of wine that afternoon in Paris in 1929; yet come to think of it, maybe Ernest, even years ago, had determinedly chosen to regard it in that light. He could have made himself believe it, too.
As I sat at the bar with my friend hearing how Ernest had recalled our Paris afternoons, I wondered why I wasn’t more deeply touched. No man had meant more to me than Ernest. But in the years since those days he had gone far along another path. He had gone right out of my life. The Ernest I had known so well had been the author of A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, and the early stories. Though I had gone on reading his books he had become a public figure, a man of legends, and I could hardly recognize in those legends the man I had once known who had all my affection. As for Fitzgerald, that charming and talented man—memories of him had always aroused in me a half-guilty regret, a twinge of shame.
So the secondhand greeting from Ernest only made me wonder and smile. It didn’t put me in a sentimental mood. Anyway, I was now feeling confident and sure of myself. In the last ten years I had written The Loved and the Lost , The Many Coloured Coat and was finishing A Passion in Rome. What Hemingway might have thought of any of these books, or whether he had even read one of them, had ceased to matter to me.
It was the following summer when a man from one of the wire services telephoned and told me that Hemingway was dead. I couldn’t believe it. After a pause I said, “Don’t worry, he’ll turn up again.” The newspaperman insisted that Hemingway had blown his head off with a shotgun. Walking out to my wife I said, “Hemingway is dead.” “Oh, no,” she said. “He can’t be.” Even though we hadn’t really talked about him for years we assumed that he would always be secure in some place in some other country strutting around, or making a fool of himself, or writing something beautiful. Now it was like hearing that the Empire State Building had fallen down—a nine-day wonder; but at the time I was shocked rather than sorrowful and I went around saying, “If that was the way he wanted it…” or, “If he knew he was sick and deteriorating it would have been unbearable to him.” No man could have sounded more objective than I. A month passed, I would be out walking with my wife and suddenly I would remember something Hemingway had said in the Paris days. Or something Fitzgerald had said about Hemingway. One night she said to me, “Do you know you’re talking about Fitzgerald and Hemingway all the time now? Why is it?”
“Well, isn’t it strange that only last year he should have been talking to Ronnie Jacques in Sun Valley about those times with Fitzgerald and me in Paris in the summer of ’29?” That night I couldn’t sleep. Little scenes from our lives in the Quarter in Paris kept dancing in my mind. That Raspail and Montparnasse comer would light up brightly with the cafes crowded and the headwaiters shaking hands with the regular patrons. Or down at the Deux Magots I could see Fitzgerald coming to. meet me with his elegant and distinguished air. And in the oak-panelled Falstaff, Jimmy behind the bar, and Hemingway coming in, looking lonely, then his face lighting up with his quick sweet smile when he saw us, friends he could feel free to sit down with. It was all too vivid in my mind.
Going to a desk drawer I hadn’t opened for years I rummaged around through some old letters. And there was the one from Scott, written from Paris, dated January 1, 1930. It began: “Dear Morley, I apologize unreservedly for having sent you that stupid and hasty telegram…” and then the line, “I have never mentioned the matter to Perkins or Edmund Wilson…” Perkins at that time was his editor at Scribner’s and mine and Ernest’s too. But Wilson seemed to be the one who was Scott’s good conscience about writers and writing. How odd it was to come across this line in the old letter! A few years ago I had told Wilson some of the facts in this story… And then Scott’s concluding line: “I will gladly make amends to anyone concerned, or to you in person on my return in February.”
Poor Scott, with all his talent and all his fine sensibility, forever managing to be the one who got himself into a bad light no matter how honourable his intentions. When he wrote that letter to me something had ended forever between him and Ernest.
Still rummaging through disordered papers I found the letters from Ernest. When I had read them I was full of profound regret. Looking back on it over so many years, Ernest, laughing jovially, had been able to see the thing in a happy perspective—happy for him. But how do I know? Being Ernest, he could have known from the beginning he hadn’t needed Scott’s close friendship and admiration. Even before the trouble I had seen him, resisting Scott. As for me,—why did I never get in touch with Ernest again? Nor he with me—not personally, anyway. He could say, “Well, I never heard from you, not even when I won the Nobel prize.” It was true. So I sat there for some hours brooding over those old letters, remembering how desperately important it had once been to me to get to Paris and enjoy the friendship of Scott and Ernest.
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