HE looked beautifully tailored and clear-eyed. His eyes were not quite blue, but hazel or green-flecked. He came in with that smiling grace which was so natural to him and which I found so attractive. He had been thinking about us, he said, and he wondered if we wouldn’t like to go over to the Ritz and have some drinks. Then his eye caught the handkerchiefs smoothed out on the windowpanes and drying quickly in the sunlight. Childlike in his curiosity, he approached the window, touched one of the handkerchiefs and turned to Loretto. “What is it? What are you doing with these handkerchiefs, Loretto?”
“Just this,” she said. Tearing one of the stiffly dried handkerchiefs from the pane she calmly folded it, and it looked starched and neat. Since she had no facilities for ironing, she said, this was the method employed. And Scott, musing, was simply delighted. He had her take another handkerchief off a pane so he could fold it himself. Did women often do this? he asked. How simple and wonderful it was. Oh, he would certainly use it in a story. Day be day he sought out fresh little details like this one for use in his stories, he said. It was so difficult to come on something he hadn’t used before. How pleased and charmed and grateful to Loretto he was.
In the little pause as we all smiled at each other, I waited uneasily for him to ask if I had spoken to Ernest about us all getting together. What could I say to him if he mentioned it? Tell him the truth? I couldn’t bear to. Could I say, “The subject didn’t come up, Scott?” What a look he would give me. The difficult moment passed easily. He was too sensitive a man to raise the subject bluntly. Raise it he would, of course, but in his own way when he had to. He had seen a copy of The Great Gatsby on the table and he picked it up, looking pleased. The sale of the book had been very disappointing to him, he said. Not that it hadn’t done reasonably well, but no one would have called it a big seller. But there had been an explanation. “It was too short a book,” he said. It was the. one thing that was the matter with the book. “Remember this, Morley. Never write a book under sixty thousand words.”
I had been getting ready to go out with him. When I had combed my hair and put on my coat, I said, “Well, let’s go.”
But he was appraising me, consternation in his face. “Would you go over to the Ritz,” he asked in a shocked tone, “wearing those sandals?”
They were the sandals I wore around the Quarter, as others too, wore them. Smiling, I was about to tease him and ask what was the matter with sandals in the Ritz? But Loretto, who had seen the pain in Scott’s eyes, said, “Imagine, Scott, Morley didn’t notice he still had his sandals on.” And I said, “I’m excited. Wait, I’ll put on my shoes.” We fell in with his attitude so willingly that the sudden stiffness in him vanished. In his turn he had to explain himself.
Did I know Louis Bromfield? Well, Bromfield and his wife, who lived in some style in a chateau outside Paris, had invited him and Zelda to dinner. When they arrived at the Bromfield house they found Louis receiving them in his slippers. It was a mark of such disrespect it couldn’t possibly be overlooked; it showed what the Bromfields thought of the Fitzgeralds. The Fitzgeralds had never visited the Bromfields again.
Remembering Scott telling this story, I marvel at the little things that shape the relationships of men; only the little things seem to do it. Not great matters of principle, or articles of faith, but fancied slights, a little detail acutely observed that is supposed to reveal how things really stand between friends. This matter of the slippers! Years later when I met Louis Bromfield I told him this story about his slippers. Wide-eyed, not smiling at all, full of wonder, he explained that he always wore those slippers in his own house when his guest was someone he felt close to. He had often wondered why Scott had turned against him.
In my case I had got out of my sandals and into my shoes in time. Scott seemed to be satisfied I had intended no disrespect to him or to the Ritz.
In the hotel, where he had the air of being at home, he exuded some of that satisfaction he had shown when we had been with him in the Joyce shrine, the Trianon. In deference to Loretto we did not sit at the bar; we were at a table in the corner, but I think he would have been more satisfied with the Tightness of things if we had been at the celebrated long Ritz Bar. Again I waited for him to ask about Hemingway.
“Do you know, Morley,” he said in that sweet quiet unspoiled tone, “you have written some of the finest stories in the English language.” Taken aback, I tried to laugh. Those strangely coloured eyes of his were on me, and if I clowned I knew I would be insulting him. His head on one side, he reflected, a wistful expression on his face. His extraordinary charm seemed to be in this unspoiled frankness; he could make you believe he was merely telling you something he had known for a long time. Obviously he had come out that afternoon with some hunger in him for talk, a gnawing necessity to express his interest in writing. How unlike Hemingway he was, I thought. You had to draw Hemingway out. And if Hemingway was working on a story, he was almost superstitious in his refusal to talk about it. He believed that if you talked about it before doing it, something was lost in the talking that should have gone into the writing. Now with Scott I was delighted to be my opinionated self.
Had I seen Gertrude Stein yet? he wanted to know. No, and I no longer had any curiosity about the grand lady. If Scott was interested in Miss Stein, he could have her. For my part, she had written one book, Three Lives. Having waded through The Making of Americans, and those stories of hers like “As a Wife as a Cow, A Love Story,” I had done a little brooding over her. Abstract prose was nonsense. The shrewd lady had found a trick, just as the naughtly Dadaists had once found a trick. The plain truth was, as I saw it, Gertrude Stein now had nothing whatever to say. But she was shrewd and intelligent enough to know it. As for her deluded coterie, well, I had no interest in finding one of them who would lead me shyly to her den.
My vehemence delighted Scott. Angular opinions also came from him. He had taken some kind of a scunner to Andre Gide. Perhaps it was because Gide was presiding over the literature of France as I claimed Gertrude Stein was presiding over her little coterie. We agreed Gide was a second-rate novelist. I put in a word for his intellectual curiosity. We talked of Proust. Scott was dismayed by my refusal to go on with Proust. I explained that Proust was the kind of a great writer who got into your blood, and I knew he was not right for mine.
Suddenly Scott began to talk about himself, making odd candid remarks as if he would suddenly see himself against the background of the people and events we were talking about. Now he said most disarmingly, “Do you know what my own story is? Well, I was always the poorest boy at a rich man’s school. Yes, it was that way at prep. schools, and at Princeton, too.”
What was there to say to him? We had been talking only about writing. Now he seemed to be trying to explain why he felt driven to have such commercial success with his own writing. “Do you know I’m a millionaire now?” he asked simply.
Our little smiles didn’t put him off. He argued sensibly that any man who had an income of fifty thousand a year was ranked as a millionaire. Wasn’t it so? Our confusion came from suspecting he didn’t have a million dollars in capital. We were right. But we were overlooking the fact that a writer’s capital was the writer’s talent. Since this thing he had himself, which was his capital, brought him in fifty thousand a year, very well, then wasn’t he to be ranked as a millionaire?
He was indeed, we agreed. But as he grew more confidential he was more troubled, and he looked unhappy. He had to write eight stories a year for the Saturday Evening Post at four thousand dollars a story. Oh, so I thought four thousand dollars a story was a lot of money, eh? Well, in view of the value of the storywriter to the big circulation magazine, he was actually being underpaid. Anyway, he, himself, had to be always looking around for material for, those eight stories; he had to be working on them all the time, never resting, day by day picking up stuff like that bit about the handkerchiefs. Yet he also had to find time to turn to the work that was the core and hope of his whole life—his novel. At the present moment the novel—it was Tender Is the Night—was going very, very slowly. He couldn’t get time. My God, there never was enough time. And when he found this time he couldn’t seem to tap his imagination at will—not to his satisfaction.
I remember drawing back and looking in wonder at this slender, charming and secretly tormented man. This was the man who was supposed to be leading a crazy disorderly life. Yes, he did get a little drunk, did crazy things, and people thought of him as the wild, irresponsible playboy of the era. Yet what fantastic energies he had stored in him, what power of concentration while at the same time he watched over the wife whom Hemingway had called crazy! Here he was telling me of a production which could only come from an exacting rigid discipline. What haunted him, I was sure, was that he gave only his spare time to the work that was closest to his heart Well, it was up to him. I became subdued. He made me feel lazy, as I was, and it seemed incredible that a man as knowing as Ernest could talk of him as if he were simply an alcoholic. He worked much harder than Ernest did. In fact he made me feel I didn’t work at all. Drinking champagne cocktails, we talked on until after six. Then he told us he was supposed to take Mary Blair, the actress who had been Edmund Wilson’s wife, to dinner. Could he meet us at one of the cafes afterward? We suggested the Lilas. We went out and got into a taxi.
When we were dropping him off he said suddenly, “Wait a minute.” Pulling out his wallet, he counted his pills, and looked vague. “I may not have enough money,” he said. “Have you got any money, Morley?” The two hundred francs, worth eight dollars at that time, which I had in my wallet I gave to my millionaire. To me eight dollars was eight dollars. I knew I wouldn’t see it again, but I also knew that Scott, under similar circumstances, would have thrust eight dollars into my hand.
We were at the Lilas, at our table under the chestnut tree, when Scott arrived with Mary Blair. She was a nice, shy woman who did not seem to know Scott intimately. Although he must have gone on drinking at dinner, it had only put him in a more lighthearted mood. Somewhere along the way—it may have been that he had gone home before meeting Mary Blair—he had acquired the most elegant felt hat I had seen in Paris; in colour it was lighter than pearl-grey, almost white.
I remember that evening at the Lilas because the talk was idle, playful; anything said came out at random and mainly for laughs. For no reason, Scott said suddenly, “Do you know I pre-date Sinclair Lewis?”
“Well, you certainly don’t look it,” my wife said, thinking he was kidding. “You look young enough to be Lewis’ nephew.”
“I’m not kidding,” he said. “I pre-date him as a writer. I had a success with This Side of Paradise before he had any success. I was an established writer before Lewis was. What do you think of that?”
“You poor old guy,” I said.
Some musicians had appeared under our chestnut tree. They played their violins and I could look-up and see the stars; and then we began to laugh, for the musicians were playing the American popular song “Ramona,” and it made us feel nostalgic there under the trees. Scott, one elbow on the table, had been looking gravely at Loretto. “You know, Loretto,” he said impulsively, “every time I look at you I see old castles behind you.” This charming remark came from him as if it had been in the back of his mind for a long time; the charm of it was that you couldn’t doubt that he meant it. The remark and the warm little scene made me feel again that he had some fixed place in my life, for I was suddenly reminded that in my college days at the dances, the last dance, the one I would have with Loretto, would be the song “It’s Three O’clock in the Morning,” which was the song he had often mentioned in his work.
Perhaps the musicians were making us think of home, or maybe it was the presence of Mary Blair, for Scott started talking about Edmund Wilson. He had reverence for Wilson, but now he was talking about an amusing evening and a little ditty of Wilson’s. He had me say it with him, but all I remember now is, “Come oh, pup, lift your paw up…”
When Mary Blair and Scott were leaving I said, “That’s the grandest hat I’ve seen in Paris, Scott.”
It was an Italian hat, he said. Taking it off, he gave it to me. “Take it, I want you to have it,” and he put it on my head. I gave it back to him. A little more grimly, he put it back on my head. We kept exchanging the hat. The stubbornness I feared most in him began to show in his face. But my wife said firmly, “I simply won’t have Morley take that lovely hat from you, Scott. Give it back to him, Morley,” When he saw that he would have to struggle with her, too, he shrugged; he was defeated but content, and we parted for the night.
Next day two volumes of Proust were delivered to our place from Brentano’s, with a note from Scott I was to go on with Proust whether I wanted to or not.
When I saw Hemingway, I told him that Scott had talked for hours about writing and it had been a splendid, stimulating conversation. I had liked Scott’s shrewd opinions, a quick fine intelligence, extraordinary perception and tireless interest, and I remember that Ernest merely shrugged, unimpressed. I didn’t seem to be telling him anything new about our mutual friend. Unyielding, he said Scott found it necessary to talk to a lot of writers like me who were doing what they wanted to do in their own way. Scott himself, doing those Post stories, felt driven to be with more experimental writers, he said. Since Scott couldn’t get going with his own novel, it consoled him to show interest in the work of any writer he admired.
Ernest was simply unbridgeable. It was depressing. Was no one else to have an insight about Scott? Was Scott’s story written and no line ever to be changed? A drunk who knew he was failing himself and his talent? Later, I found out that Ernest had even told Perkins he wanted to keep away from Scott. But I remember that as I talked to him that day, I felt his explanation that Scott as a drunk was a nuisance didn’t tell the whole story. He seemed to have some other feeling about him, some other hidden resentment. I remembered, too, that in the beginning, five years ago, before he had met Scott, he hadn’t expressed any admiration of his work. But his strange resentment, if it was there, and that day, calm and deliberate as he was, I nevertheless felt it in him, was to be kept secret—if possible—as far as Ernest was concerned.
Перевод: глава 22 (А. Бураковская).