THE address we had was care of the Guaranty Trust Co. We didn’t bother with it. In the afternoon we went to Shakespeare and Co., Sylvia Beach’s famous bookshop on the rue de l’Odeon. Shakespeare and Co., which had published Joyce’s Ulysses, was simply a good-sized, pleasant, uncommercial-looking bookstore. There was one rather large book-lined room, with another smaller one adjoining. At the desk sat a woman whom I knew, from pictures I had seen, to be Miss Beach. She was a fair handsome woman in a severe suit, in her forties, I would have said; an Englishwoman; and in her manner there was something a bit severe and mannish. Yet she was an American. Having published Ulysses, she had become a famous woman. Writers in Paris, at least those who wrote in English, came often to her door. Her shop was a shrine for the Joyce lovers. Approaching the desk, I introduced myself and wondered if she could1 give me Hemingway’s address. Without batting an eyelash, she told me she wasn’t sure whether Hemingway was in town, nor if he were, whether she would be able to locate him before she heard from him. But if I would leave my own address she would make an effort to see that it was passed on.
Immediately I was unbelieving. The brush-off came a little too smoothly. Thanking her for the major effort I pretended to believe she would put forth, I rejoined Loretto and we busied ourselves seeing what books she had on her shelves. Suddenly Miss Beach left her desk and approached us. Had I seen the piece about my work in the Harvard Hound and Horn? she asked, handing it to me, then leaving us. “See,” I whispered to my wife, “she knows who I am and she knows Hemingway’s address and won’t give it to me.”
A section of the wall was taken over by a whole series of portraits of Joyce: as he was now with the heavy glasses, then as a student, a small boy, and even as a little baby. “I can understand her having a motherly feeling for Joyce,” Loretto whispered, hiding her laughter, “since she’s got him here with her in diapers. You should feel lucky. Supposing you had asked for Joyce?”
“To the devil with Miss Beach,” I said. “Come on.” Returning the Hound and Horn to Miss Beach’s desk, we departed. No doubt she was right in protecting Hemingway from callers, just as she protected Joyce, but I was too young and arrogant to have respect for her consideration for her friends. In fact I was glad to hear from McAlmon a few weeks later that Miss Beach in her role of den mother sometimes made ridiculous mistakes. On one occasion, McAlmon told me, the great Irish writer, old George Moore, had come into her shop looking for Joyce. At the time Joyce had been browsing around in the back room. But Miss Beach, unyielding in her prim determination that Joyce should have a chance to screen the names of all prospective callers, had told Moore she would leave his name with Joyce. It didn’t matter that Moore was leaving Paris next day. According to McAlmon, Joyce had been dismayed; it had seemed ridiculous to him that he had been left hidden a few yards away from a great Irishman he had always wanted to meet. My own name is not likely to be found in a memoir written by any of Miss Beach’s coterie. On only one other occasion did I ever go back to her shop—to get a copy of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
Disgruntled, we wandered away from the rue de l’Odeon. It would be necessary to write Ernest a note explaining that Mr. and Mrs. Callaghan were in residence at the Paris—New York Hotel on the rue Vaugirard, and hoped to hear from him. Well, why not? But we let two days pass without sending this note, half hoping Sylvia Beach might really have got in touch with him. The night of the second day we had been out till nearly dawn. Those two “bright little devils” Buffy and Graeme, McAlmon’s friends, had come our way. Two slender boys in their early twenties, they were inseparable companions, very understanding of each other, soft spoken with a mocking opinion about everybody. They were writers. One of them had some money of his own, but not much. Within a few hours of meeting them we seemed to know ten or twelve other people at the cafe. And after being out all night we had slept till past noon, had eaten some croissants and coffee in our hotel room, and were sitting around when a knock came on the door. It was Hemingway. With him was his six-year-old boy, Bumbi. Ernest was wearing a dignified dark grey suit. He still had that old sweet charming smile. On his forehead was a new scar.
“Why, how are you?” I said, and we shook hands. I introduced my wife to him and his boy, and then as he entered the room slowly there was a moment of shyness when I felt like a stranger. I had on a dark brown velvet dressing gown which Loretto had given me as a present; it was expensive and looked like a crocodile skin. Stepping back, looking at me and shaking his head, Ernest said to Loretto, “I haven’t seen such a dressing gown on a man since the last time I saw Georges Carpentier climb into the ring.” That dressing gown saved us a lot of slow words. I asked him where he had picked up the scar on his forehead. Reluctantly, he told about an object falling through the skylight and hitting him on the head. And the strange part of it is—I remember this well—that having written so many stories myself, and having heard from him about them, and having read his stories, and heard too, the McAlmon view on him, which I simply didn’t believe, as well as the stories of mutual friends in New York, I nevertheless seemed to know him better sitting there in this Paris hotel room than I ever had back home. We talked for a few minutes about Bumbi, a handsome boy. Ernest said he was on his way to Hadley’s place with Bumbi; Hadley was the wife he had had in Toronto; we could go with him, he said, then we could go to a cafe and have a drink.
On that slow walk up the rue Vaugirard with the sun coming out suddenly after the greyness of noontime, the little boy kept a step ahead so the three of us could walk abreast. Now, years later, Loretto asks, “Who was the fighter he started talking about? What was the fighter’s name? Remember, he laughed about him and dismissed him, don’t you remember?” But how did it come about that he started right in talking about fighters, going slowly up the street? Maybe he had asked me if I had seen any good fights lately. Or that he knew for sure I would have seen Larry Gains, this big Negro heavyweight in my own town. It was Gains we talked about. Ernest laughed derisively at Gains. He should know all about the Negro, he said. The fact was he, himself, had tried to manage Gains in Europe. No one though could do much with Gains. It made me feel abashed. This Negro fighter had seemed to me to be a very talented boy. I had seen him fight with Mike McTeague, the middleweight champion. A beautiful boxer who unfortunately couldn’t take a punch. Already Ernest was making me feel I had never seen a really good fighter.
It is a long walk up to Montparnasse, and perhaps Ernest noticed that his boy was tiring.. We got into a taxi, drove to Hadley’s place, and while Ernest went in with the boy, we waited in the taxi. On his return he told the driver to take us to a cafe on the Boul’ Mich’. This cafe was right down at the corner by the quai. From the terrace you could see the river and the Isle de la Cite. As we sat down in the sunlight and he ordered the beers I looked at him cautiously. Loretto, knowing I was trying to feel sure of him, smiled at me. Naturally I was watching Ernest to see if I could notice any change in him, or discover any shift in his view of me. Would he say, “Well, years ago I knew you were going to be heard from”? And could I say to him, “That quality you had which I noticed five years ago, the quality that makes people want to make up stories about you, does it bother you now?” I was thinking now of his literary personality, the public view of him.
And there was another thing; it was the cause of the slight feeling of caution in both Ernest and me. What about all that Scribner promotion that linked my name with his? I knew how fiercely jealous he was of his own identity. Hadn’t he tried to belittle Anderson to free himself from him, to make it plain he stood alone? Why shouldn’t he now push me away from him? But Ernest was very smart about such things, and aside from the fact that we both knew he had read and praised my stories before he scored his own great success, I think he knew that I was the one who was being disastrously damaged by the Scribner promotion. So I didn’t mention this promotion to him. I felt it was beneath me, and sitting there, he didn’t mention it either. And from then on I was sure he would never raise the subject. And he never did.
Suddenly he told us he had become a Catholic. The girl he had married, Pauline, was a Catholic. So there we were, three of the faithful. Perhaps I should have clasped his hand warmly. I only looked reflective. Then Loretto asked him how he had been able to get a divorce and marry within the Church. Wasn’t it always difficult? It hadn’t been difficult, he said, since his first wife, Hadley, had never been baptized. Oh yes, a bit of luck, we agreed. He felt very good about being a convert. But converts had always bored me. At that time in France there were many conversions among the intellectuals. Christian artists were finding new dignity and spiritual adventure in the neo-Thomism of Jacques Maritain. Most converts I had known had changed their faith but not their personalities or their temperaments, and since they usually gained enormous self-assurance from the new faith, I would find myself disliking them more than ever. Too often a dualism remained in them. A beautiful writer like Mauriac would have one of his women characters, while holding a lover in her arms, be aware of the blackheads on his nose, a reminder that even in an ecstatic moment the flesh ought to be seen in its worst light. He made me feel exuberantly pagan. My own problem was to relate a Christian enlightenment to some timeless process of becoming. A disgust with the flesh born of an alleged awareness of an approaching doomsday bored me, as did the flash of light that gave a man the arrogant assurance that he was the elect of God.
I remember how I looked at Ernest, ready to question him, then I shrugged and smiled. There he sat, so full-blooded and healthy. And he had been so unassertive in telling about his conversion, no one could have imagined he would ever think of himself as the elect of God. Perhaps he saw I was neither impressed nor enthusiastic, for his manner changed. I mean he. suddenly was with me in my feeling about converts; he seemed to be saying that he called himself a Catholic now because he recognized that he really had been Catholic for some time—by temperament. In New York later, I heard someone at a party say mockingly, “Hemingway became a Catholic because all the Spanish bullfighters were Catholic.” No. There was much more to it than that. At the cafe that day, reflecting, watching his face as he talked, it struck me that by some twist of temperament, in spite of his puritan family, he was in fact intended to be a Mediterranean Catholic. And as it turned out, the older he got, the more often death kept hovering over his stories; he kept death in his work as a medieval scholar might have kept a skull on his desk, to remind him of his last end.
You only needed to look at his face, his eyes and his mouth, to know that he delighted in all that was sensuous. He had to savour all the sensations, know all the delights of the senses—with death apparently in his imagination like a presiding officer always asking him how he would take it when he came to the end of his knowing. What was more natural now that having established himself as an old hand in the faith, he should quickly begin to share my indulgent air toward all well-known converts. As old pros, whom did we pick on for our condescension? T. S. Eliot! We looked down our noses at his conversion. We shared our amusement over his choice of Anglo-Catholicism. Well, with the temperament he had it was probably the best Eliot could do. It was all very discreet and if it left him way out in left field, no harm was done.
Then Ernest told us about the new baby and asked if we wouldn’t like to come to his house and see the boy. We told him we would. We were at ease. Within a few minutes I had felt all my old liking for him.
As we drank our beer I noticed that Ernest would empty his glass in a few gulps, then turn to me. “Have another beer?” I had kept up with him for three quick ones. I had always liked to drink beer slowly, and after the three I felt distended. Why the hell am I doing this? I asked myself. Though I kept my half-filled glass in my hand, and Ernest could see it was still half-filled, each time he ordered he would say, “Are you sure you won’t have one?” The waiter leaves the saucer that comes with each drink on the table, so he can count them up for you when you are leaving and show you what you owe him. Soon Ernest had a pile of seven saucers to my three.
When he had left us, I turned to Loretto. “Well, how do you like him?”
“Very much. You can’t help liking him. Tell me, has he changed at all?”
“No, he hasn’t changed at all—except for one thing.”
“Didn’t you notice about the beer and how he made it plain I couldn’t keep up with him? Now he just has to be the champ.”