HE lived at 6 rue Ferou, which was within a quarter of a mile of St. Sulpice—this fact comes into the story later. He had a living room off a narrow room with a long oaken table, and, I suppose, a kitchen and some bedrooms. On the wall was a Joan Miro painting of a fish. The great Mir6 was his friend, he said. With some pride he showed us a small Goya he had been able to smuggle out of Spain.
When he went back to speak to his wife, we looked around the living room. The furniture might have been all of a period.
By the window was an antique table, but what took our eye was a Spanish chair with the largest grandest curving back I had ever seen. Returning, and still by himself, Ernest led us into a little nursery. I remember his half-proud, half-shy and boyishly awkward shrug as he said, “Well, if you’re interested in babies, there he is…” The dark-haired child was indeed plump and beautiful. While Ernest and I watched, my wife played with the child, and such an occasion is a time for silence on the part of watching men.
Then Pauline came into the living room, followed by a maid bringing tea and sandwiches on a tray which she put on the table by the window, and, of course, as soon as I turned to her, I remembered how Ernest had praised his first wife, Hadley the musician. This was the one who had taken Hadley’s place. Pauline, a small woman with dark brown hair and a good complexion, wasn’t a beauty, but she was pleasant-faced and steady-eyed. She had firmness or quiet determination in her expression. As soon as she shook hands I knew she had no intention of going overboard for us. Polite, courteous, yes. But after all, she seemed to say in her manner, just what did we expect? What could I mean to Ernest, or want of him, unless, well…
But Loretto and Pauline could smile warmly at each other as they delighted in the baby. That day Loretto was wearing a kind of high white straw Cleopatra hat and a silk suit, a short coral skirt, a coat with a black and white zigzag pattern, and lined with coral; a suit she had made herself. The suit took Pauline’s eye. Having been a fashion writer for Vogue, she went straight to the point. Loretto had got the suit in Paris, of course? No? She had made it herself? Oh? Well, at least she had got the hat here. It was indeed a Paris hat, Loretto admitted, but she had got it back home. A little surprised, Pauline said it was lovely. The great trick in Paris, she said, was to pick up their hats very cheaply from little unknown milliners who had great style. As a matter of fact, she knew of a comparatively unknown milliner who was wonderful. Did Loretto want her address? It may have been that Loretto sounded merely gratefully appreciative rather than warmly, eager, for Pauline, after taking the trouble to get a pencil and a piece of paper, and have Loretto stand at the window so she could give her directions, said abruptly, “Are you sure you really want to use this milliner? I won’t bother giving you the name unless you really intend to go there.” It was a blunt and startling challenge. The look coming into Loretto’s brown eyes was familiar to me. But she affirmed quickly and solemnly she had every intention of hurrying directly to the milliner. Pauline wrote down the name.
Whether Ernest had been listening as closely as I had to the little dialogue between the two wives, I don’t know. But he turned to me as he sat down, and apparently at random, just to make conversation, asked if I had ever done any boxing. Yes, I had done quite a bit of boxing, I said truthfully. “Just a minute,” he said quietly and he left the room. While he was gone I drank a cup of tea. Then Ernest reappeared with a set of boxing gloves. “Come on, let’s see,” he said, holding out a pair of gloves to me.
“Oh, come on,” I said, refusing the gloves. Then suddenly I remembered the comment he had made to the mutual friend about my fight story in Scribner’s; nobody was any better than Morley when he stuck to the things he knew something about. I seemed to know then intuitively that quite aside from his interest in my career, or any changes that might have taken place in my personality since he had seen me, he had this one little curiosity about me. It is these little questions about each other that are at the root of most men’s relationships. Suppose I had been faking an. interest in fighters? Would it mean the loss of his respect for me? But this little thing, this little question, must have been in the back of his mind when he came to our hotel room. The crack about the Georges Carpentier dressing gown! And wasn’t it why he had started talking about that Negro fighter, Larry Gains, getting my opinion of him as we walked up the street? And maybe, even when we were talking about his own conversion, he had been looking at me, his curiosity gnawing away at him. Not my work, or my life, just this one detail! What a strange man, I thought, looking at him. Calm, untroubled, just a little amused, he waited, holding out the gloves. Was he making a point about writing? Was it why we hadn’t talked so far about his writing or mine? “Come on, put them on,” he insisted.
“Here in this room?”
“Just put them on. I want to see,” he said.
Trying to laugh in my embarrassment, I looked around the room. The tea tray was on the table by the window. But the Spanish chair with the great curving back was close to me. Loretto, alarmed, mystified, also tried to laugh. “You can’t box here,” she said. Pauline, though, had made no protest, in fact she seemed to be interested. Then I felt annoyed; he had asked me if I had ever boxed; why wouldn’t he take my word for it? Feeling like a fool I got up, wondering what would happen if we lurched against the Spanish chair and shattered it. I pulled on the gloves. Raising my hands as he raised his, we squared off.
Unless I had to, I didn’t want to move around and fall in Loretto’s lap. How could I know what would happen? He lunged at me with a left and I ducked, and then he swung a right at me which I blocked. Rooted in our positions, both showing the same respect for the Spanish chair, we made some more passes at each other. And it was ridiculous. But suddenly he appeared to be satisfied. A real glow of pleasure came on his face, and he began to pull off his gloves. “I only wanted to see if you had done any boxing,” he said apologetically. “I can see you have.” He ignored the fact that he hadn’t taken my word for it Yet his pleasure was so genuine I was immediately mollified. The doubt he had had about me seemed to have vanished.
When we were seated and laughing, he suggested eagerly that we go boxing. Nobody around the Quarter could really box, he said. He had been missing his boxing. Not far away was the American Club. It had no ring, but there was lots of space. Would I call for him tomorrow late in the afternoon? Everything then was fine. In a little while we left.
But outside Loretto took a slightly different tone. “Isn’t that Pauline a blunt one?” she said loftily. “Just imagine. Her time is so valuable she can’t write down the address of a milliner unless I take an affidavit I’ll use it. What’s the matter with her?”
“Well, she liked your own hat anyway.”
“Oh, just because she could see it was a Paris hat,” Loretto said airily. “You know, a lot of these fashion writers haven’t much style themselves. Well, I had a feeling about Pauline. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I felt something. I felt Pauline is prepared to resist us. Not put herself out in any way. She’s read all that silly Scribner stuff about you and Hemingway. Oh sure, Ernest may have told her all about you, but she’s not fooled. Nobody’s edging in on Ernest while she’s around. It’s a very big thing for her to be Ernest’s wife, you know.”
“Come on now. For her Ernest became a Catholic.”
“You said he should be a Catholic anyway.”
“I said he could see himself as a Catholic. I wonder what Pauline would have said if we had lurched around and broken her furniture?”