This book is fiction but there is always a chance that such a work of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.
Hadley would understand why it could be necessary to write as fiction rather than as fact and she would see what I have used as the materials for fiction rightly or wrongly. Scott has his own fiction and I wrote about his complicated tragedies, his generosities and his devotions and left them out. Others have written of him and I have tried to help them out. Almost everyone is out along with most of the voyages, the people that we knew and loved and the things they and they alone knew. Only a part of the Paris that we knew is in this book and I will not catalogue what is missing. It is not easy to put in the missing all in fiction and it is all in if you leave it out…
His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time be understood it no more than the butterfly did and be 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 1 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 right 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 rime and waited outside the train gates for Scott. He was bringing the rickets. When it got close to the rime 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.-Emilion 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 deeping. 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 aperitif 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 metier. 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 metier 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-earing, 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 cafe.”
“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 Macon in Macon 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 rimes. 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 cafes alongside the road. We had a marvelous lunch from the hotel at Lyon, an excellent truffled roast chicken, delicious bread and white Macon wine and Scott was very happy when we drank the white Maconnais at each of our stops. At Macon 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 Macon, 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 cafe. I cannot remember all the details of that afternoon but when we were finally in a hotel at what must have been Chalon-sur-Saone, 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 presses 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 Macon 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 Macon 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 cafe. 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 Macon 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 pot the thermometer in my armpit and held it there while I watched the rime. 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. Bat the drink made him feel wonderful for a while and be 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 rime; 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 Cote 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 most know it was like a sickness and be of any help I could to him and try to be a good friend. He had marry 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.
Scott Fitzgerald invited as to have lunch with his wife Zelda and his little daughter at the furnished flat they had rented at 14 rue Tilsitt. I cannot remember much about the flat except that it was gloomy and airless and that there was nothing in it that seemed to belong to them except Scott’s first books bound in light blue leather with the titles in gold. Scott also showed us a large ledger with all of the stones he had published listed in it year after year with the prices he had received for them and also the amounts received for any motion picture sales, and the sales and royalties of his books. They were all noted as carefully as the log of a ship and Scott showed them to both of us with impersonal pride as though he were the curator of a museum. Scott was nervous and hospitable and he showed us his accounts of his earnings as though they had been the view. There was no view.
Zelda had a very bad hangover. They had been up on Montmartre the night before and had quarreled because Scott did not want to get drunk. He had decided, he told me, to work hard and not to drink and Zelda was creating him as though he were a kill-joy or a spoilsport. Those were the two words she used to him and there was recrimination and Zelda would say, “I did not I did no such thing. It’s not true, Scott.” Later she would seem to recall something and would laugh happily.
On this day Zelda did not look her best. Her beautiful dark blonde hair had been ruined temporarily by a bad permanent she had gotten in Lyon, when the rain had made them abandon their car, and her eyes were tired and her face was too taut and drawn.
She was formally pleasant to Hadley and me but a big part of her seemed not to be present but to still be on the party she had come home from that morning. She and Scott both seemed to feel that Scott and I had enjoyed a great and wonderful time on the trip up from Lyon and she was jealous about it.
“When you two can go off and have such simply wonderful times together, it only seems fair that I should have just a little fun with our good friends here in Paris,” she said to Scott.
Scott was being the perfect host and we ate a very bad lunch that the wine cheered a little but not much. The little girl was blonde, chubby-faced, well built, and very healthy looking and spoke English with a strong Cockney accent. Scott explained that she had an English nanny because he wanted her to speak like Lady Diana Manners when she grew up.
Zelda had hawk’s eyes and a thin mouth and deep-south manners and accent. Watching her face you could see her mind leave the table and go to the night’s party and return with her eyes blank as a cat’s and then pleased, and the pleasure would show along the thin line of her lips and then be gone. Scott was being the good cheerful host and Zelda looked at him and she smiled happily with her eyes and her mouth too as he drank the wine. I learned to know that smile very well. It meant she knew Scott would not be able to write.
Zelda was jealous of Scott’s work and as we got to know them, this fell into a regular pattern. Scott would resolve not to go on all-night drinking parties and to get some exercise each day and work regularly. He would start to work and as soon as he was working well Zelda would begin complaining about how bored she was and get him off on another drunken party. They would quarrel and then make up and he would sweat out the alcohol on long walks with me, and make up his mind that this time he would really work, and would start off well. Then it would start all over again.
Scott was very much in love with Zelda and he was very jealous of her. He told me many times on our walks of how she had fallen in love with the French navy pilot. But she had never made him really jealous with another man since. This spring she was making him jealous with other women and on the Montmartre parties he was afraid to pass out and he was afraid to have her pass out. Becoming unconscious when they drank had always been their great defense. They went to sleep on drinking an amount of liquor or champagne that would have little effect on a person accustomed to drinking, and they would go to sleep like children. I have seen them become unconscious not as though they were drunk but as though they had been anesthetized and their friends, or sometimes a taxi-driver, would get them to bed, and when they woke they would be fresh and happy, not having taken enough alcohol to damage their bodies before it made them unconscious.
Now they had lost this natural defense. At this time Zelda could drink more than Scott could and Scott was afraid for her to pass out in the company they kept that spring and the places they went to. Scott did not like the places nor the people and he had to drink more than he could drink and be in any control of himself, to stand the people and the places, and then he began to have to drink to keep awake after he would usually have passed out. Finally he had few intervals of work at all.
He was always trying to work. Each day he would try and fail. He laid the failure to Paris, the town best organized for a writer to write in that there is, and he thought always that there would be someplace where he and Zelda could have a good life together again. He thought of the Riviera, as it was then before it had all been built up, with the lovely stretches of blue sea and the sand beaches and the stretches of pine woods and the mountains of the Esterel going out into the sea. He remembered it as it was when he and Zelda had first found it before people went there for the summer.
Scott told me about the Riviera and how my wife and I must come there the next summer and how we would go there and how he would find a place for us that was not expensive and we would both work hard every day and swim and lie on the beach and be brown and only have a single aperitif before lunch and one before dinner. Zelda would be happy there, he said. She loved to swim and was a beautiful diver and she was happy with that life and would want him to work and everything would be disciplined. He and Zelda and their daughter were going to go there that summer.
I was trying to get him to write his stories as well as he could and not trick them to conform to any formula, as he had explained that he did.
“You’ve written a fine novel now,” I told him. “And you mustn’t write slop.”
“The novel isn’t selling,” he said. “I must write stories and they have to be stories that will sell.”
“Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.”
“I’m going to,” he said.
But the way things were going, he was lucky to get any work done at all. Zelda did not encourage the people who were chasing her and she had nothing to do with them, she said. But it amused her and it made Scott jealous and he had to go with her to the places. It destroyed his work, and she was more jealous of his work than anything.
All that late spring and early summer Scott fought to work but he could only work in snatches. When I saw him he was always cheerful, sometimes desperately cheerful, and he made good jokes and was a good companion. When he had very bad rimes, I listened to him about them and tried to make him know that if he could hold onto himself he would write as he was made to write, and that only death was irrevocable. He would make fun of himself then, and as long as he could do that I thought that he was safe. Through all of this he wrote one good story, “The Rich Boy,” and I was sure that he could write better than that as he did later.
During the summer we were in Spain and I started the first draft of a novel and finished it back in Paris in September. Scott and Zelda had been at Cap d’Antibes, and that fall when I saw him in Paris he was very changed. He had not done any sobering up on the Riviera and he was drunk now in the day time as well as nights. It did not make any difference any more to him that anyone was working and he would come to 113 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs any time he was drunk either in the day time or at night. He had begun to be very rude to his inferiors or anyone he considered his inferior.
One time he came in through the sawmill gate with his small daughter—it was the English nurse’s day off and Scott was caring for the child—and at the foot of the stairs she told him she needed to go to the bathroom. Scott started to undress her and the proprietor, who lived on the floor below us, came in and said, “Monsieur, there is a cabinet de toilette just ahead of you to the left of the stairs.”
“Yes, and I’ll put your head in it too, if you’re not careful,” Scott told him.
He was very difficult all that fall but he had begun to work on a novel when he was sober. I saw him rarely when he was sober, but when he was sober he was always pleasant and he still made jokes and sometimes he would still make jokes about himself. But when he was drunk he would usually come to find me and, drunk, he took almost as much pleasure interfering with my work as Zelda did interfering with his. This continued for years but, for years too, I had no more loyal friend than Scott when he was sober.
That fall of 1925 he was upset because I would not show him the manuscript of the first draft of The Sun Also Rises. I explained to him that it would mean nothing until I had gone over it and rewritten it and that I did not want to discuss it or show it to anyone first. We were going down to Schruns in the Vorarlberg in Austria as soon as the first snowfall there.
I rewrote the first half of the manuscript there, finished it in January, I think. I took it to New York and showed it to Max Perkins of Scribners and then went back to Schruns and finished rewriting the book. Scott did not see it until after the completed rewritten and cut manuscript had been sent to Scribners at the end of April. I remembered joking with him about it and him being worried and anxious to help as always once a thing was done. But I did not want his help while I was rewriting.
While we were living in the Vorarlberg and I was finishing rewriting the novel, Scott and his wife and child had left Paris for a watering place in the lower Pyrénées. Zelda had been ill with that familiar intestinal complaint that too much champagne produces and which was then diagnosed as colitis. Scott was not drinking, and starting to work and he wanted us to come to Juan-les-Pins in June. They would find an inexpensive villa for us and this time he would not drink and it would be like the old good days and we would swim and be healthy and brown and have one aperitif before lunch and one before dinner. Zelda was well again and they were both fine and his novel was going wonderfully. He had money coming in from a dramatization of The Great Gatsby which was running well and it would sell to the movies and he had no worries. Zelda was really fine and everything was going to be disciplined.
I had been down in Madrid in May working by myself and I came by train from Bayonne to Juan-les-Pins third class and quite hungry because I had run out of money stupidly and had eaten last in Hendaye at the French-Spanish frontier. It was a nice villa and Scott had a very fine house not far away and I was very happy to see my wife who had the villa running beautifully, and our friends, and the single apéritif before lunch was very good and we had several more. That night there was a party to welcome us at the Casino, just a small party, the MacLeishes, the Murphys, the Fitzgeralds and we who were living at the villa. No one drank anything stronger than champagne and it was very gay and obviously a splendid place to write. There was going to be everything that a man needed to write except to be alone.
Zelda was very beautiful and was tanned a lovely gold color and her hair was a beautiful dark gold and she was very friendly. Her hawk’s eyes were clear and calm. I knew everything was all right and was going to turn out well in the end when she leaned forward and said to me, telling me her great secret, “Ernest, don’t you think Al Jolson is greater than Jesus?”
Nobody thought anything of it at the rime. It was only Zelda’s secret that she shared with me, as a hawk might share something with a man. But hawks do not share. Scott did not write anything any more that was good until after he knew that she was insane.
Much later, in the time after Zelda had what was then called her first nervous breakdown and we happened to be in Paris at the same time, Scott asked me to have lunch with him at Michaud’s restaurant on the corner of the rue Jacob and the rue des Saints-Peres. He said he had something very important to ask me that meant more than anything in the world to him and that I must answer absolutely truly. I said that I would do the best that I could. When he would ask me to tell him something absolutely truly, which is very difficult to do, and I would try it, what I said would make him angry, often not when I said it but afterwards, and sometimes long afterwards when he had brooded on it. My words would become something that would have to be destroyed and sometimes, if possible, me with them.
He drank wine at the lunch but it did not affect him and he had not prepared for the lunch by drinking before it. We talked about our work and about people and he asked me about people that we had not seen lately. I knew that he was writing something good and that he was having great trouble with it for many reasons but that was not what he wanted to talk about. I kept waiting for it to come, the thing that I had to tell the absolute truth about; but he would not bring it up until the end of the meal, as though we were having a business lunch.
Finally when we were eating the cherry tart and had a last carafe of wine he said, “Yon know I never slept with anyone except Zelda.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“I thought I had told you.”
“No. You told me a lot of things but not that.”
“That is what I have to ask you about.”
“Good. Go on.”
“Zelda said that the way I was built I could never make any woman happy and that was what upset her originally. She said it was a matter of measurements. I have never felt the same since she said that and I have to know truly.”
“Come out to the office,” I said.
“Where is the office?”
“Le water,” I said.
We came back into the room and sat down at the table.
“You’re perfectly fine,” I said. “You are O. K. There’s nothing wrong with you. You look at yourself from above and you look foreshortened. Go over to the Louvre and look at the people in the statues and then go home and look at yourself in the mirror in profile.”
“Those statues may not be accurate.”
“They are pretty good. Most people would settle for them.” “But why would she say it?”
“To put you out of business. That’s the oldest way in the world of putting people out of business. Scott, you asked me to tell you the truth and I can tell you a lot more but this is the absolute truth and all you need. You could have gone to see a doctor.”
“I didn’t want to. I wanted you to tell me truly.”
“Now do you believe me?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Come on over to the Louvre,” I said. “It’s just down the street and across the river.”
We went over to the Louvre and he looked at the statues but still he was doubtful about himself.
“It is not basically a question of the size in repose,” I said. “It is the size that it becomes. It is also a question of angle.” I explained to him about using a pillow and a few other things that might be useful for him to know.
“There is one girl” he said, “who has been very nice to me. But after what Zelda said—”
“Forget what Zelda said,” I told him. “Zelda is crazy. There’s nothing wrong with you. Just have confidence and do what the girl wants. Zelda just wants to destroy you.”
“You don’t know anything about Zelda.”
“All right,” I said. “Let it go at that. But you came to lunch to ask me a question and I’ve tried to give you an honest answer.”
But he was still doubtful.
“Should we go and see some pictures?” I asked. “Have you ever seen anything in here except the Mona Lisa?”
“I’m not in the mood for looking at pictures,” he said. “I promised to meet some people at the Ritz bar.”
Many years later at the Ritz bar, long after the end of the World War II, Georges, who is the bar chief now and who was the chasseur when Scott lived in Paris, asked me, “Papa, who was this Monsieur Fitzgerald that everyone asks me about?”
“Didn’t you know him?”
“No. I remember all of the people of that time. But now they ask me only about him.”
“What do you tell them?”
“Anything interesting that they wish to hear. What will please them. But tell me, who was he?”
“He was an American writer of the early Twenties and later who lived some time in Paris and abroad.”
“But why would I not remember him? Was he a good writer?”
“He wrote two very good books and one which was not completed which those who know his writing best say would have been very good. He also wrote some good short stories.”
“Did he frequent the bar much?”
“I believe so.”
“But you did not come to the bar in the early Twenties. I know that you were poor then and lived in a different quarter.”
“When I had money I went to the Grillon.”
“I know that too. I remember very well when we first met.”
“So do I.”
“It is strange that I have no memory of him,” Georges said.
“All those people are dead.”
“Still one does not forget people because they are dead and people keep asking me about him. You must tell me something about him for my memoirs.”
“I remember you and the Baron von Blixen arriving one night—in what year?” He smiled.
“He is dead too.”
“Yes. But one does not forget him. You see what I mean?”
“His first wife wrote very beautifully,” I said. “She wrote perhaps the best book about Africa that I ever read. Except Sir Samuel Baker’s book on the Nile tributaries of Abyssinia. Put that in your memoirs. Since you are interested in writers now.”
“Good,” said Georges. “The Baron was not a man that you forget. And the name of the book?”
“Out of Africa,” I said. “Blickie was always very proud of his first wife’s writing. But we knew each other long before she had written that book.”
“But Monsieur Fitzgerald that they keep asking me about?”
“He was in Frank’s time.”
“Yes. But I was the chasseur. You know what a chasseur is.”
“I am going to write something about him in a book that I will write about the early days in Paris. I promised myself that I would write it.”
“Good,” said Georges.
“I will put him in exactly as I remember him the first time that I met him.”
“Good,” said Georges. “Then, if he came here, I will remember him. After all one does not forget people.”
“Naturally. But you say he came here very much?”
“It meant very much to him.”
“You write about him as you remember him and then if he came here I will remember him.”
“We will see,” I said.
My first son, Bumby, and I spent much time together in the cafes where I worked when he was very young and we lived over the saw mill. He always went with us to Schruns in the Vorarlberg in the winters but when Hadley and I were in Spain in the summers he would pass those months with the femme de menage who he called Marie Cocotte and her husband, who he called Touton, either at 10 bis Avenue de Gobelins where they had a flat or at Mur de Bretagne where they went for monsieur Rohrbach’s summer vacations. Monsieur Rohrbach had been a marechal de logis chef or sergeant major in the professional French military establishment and on his retirement had a minor functional post on which they had lived with his and Marie’s wages and looked forward to his retirement to Mur de Bretagne. Touton had a great part in the formative years of Bumby’s life and when there would be too many people at the Closerie de Lilas for us to work well or I thought he needed a change of scene I would wheel him in his carriage or later we would walk to the cafe on the Place St.-Michel where he would study the people and the busy life of that part of Paris where I did my writing over a cafe creme. Everyone had their private cafes there where they never invited anyone and would go to work, or to read or to receive their mail. They had other cafes where they would meet their mistresses and almost everyone had another cafe, a neutral cafe, where they might invite you to meet their mistress and there were regular, convenient, cheap dining places where everyone might eat on neutral ground. It was nothing like the organization of the Montparnasse quarter centered about the Dome, Rotonde, Select and later the Coupole or the Dingo bar which you read about in the books of early Paris.
As Bumby grew to be a bigger boy he spoke excellent French and, while he was trained to keep absolutely quiet and only study and observe while I worked, when he saw that I was finished he would confide in me something that he had learned from Touton.
“Tu sais, Papa, que les femmes pleurent comme les enfants pissent?”
“Did Touton tell you that?”
“He says a man should never forget it.”
At another time he would say, “Papa four poules passed while you were working that were not bad.”
“What do you know about poules?”
“Nothing. I observe them. One observes them.”
“What does Touton say about them?”
“One does not take them seriously.”
“What does one take seriously?”
“Vive la France et les pommes de terre frites.”
“Touton is a great man,” I said.
“And a great soldier” Bumby said. “He taught me much.”
“I admire him very much,” I said.
“He admires you too. He says you have a very difficult metier. Tell me Papa is it difficult to write?”
“Touton says it is very difficult and I must always respect it.”
“You respect it.”
“Papa have you lived much among the Peau-Rouges?”
“A little,” I said.
“Should we go home by Silver Beach’s book store?”
“Sure. Do you like her?”
“She is always very nice to me.”
“She has a beautiful name. Silver Beach.”
“We will go by and then I must get you home in time for lunch. I have promised to have lunch with some people.”
“People,” I answered.
It was too early for them to be sailing boats in the Luxembourg gardens and so we did not stop to watch that and - when we arrived home Hadley and I had quarreled about something in which she had been right and I had been wrong quite seriously.
“Mother has been bad. Papa has scolded her,” Bumby announced in French very grandly still under the influence of Touton.
After Scott had taken to turning up drunk quite frequently Bumby asked me very seriously one morning when he and I had finished work together at the Place St.-Michel cafe, “Monsieur Fitzgerald is sick Papa?”
“He is sick because he drinks too much and he cannot work.”
“Does he not respect his metier?”
“Madame his wife does not respect it or she is envious of it.”
“He should scold her.”
“It is not so simple.”
“Are we meeting him today?”
“Yes, I believe so.”
“Will he be drinking so much?”
“No. He said we would not be drinking.”
“I will make an example.”
That afternoon when Scott and I met with Bumby at a neutral cafe Scott was not drinking and we each ordered a bottle of mineral water.
“For me a demi-blonde,” Bumby said.
“Do you allow tht child to drink beer?” Scott asked.
“Touton says that a little beer does no harm to a boy of my age,” Bumby said. “But make it a ballon.”
A balloon was only a half glass of beer.
“Who is this Touton?” Scott asked me.
I told him about Touton and how he might have come out of the the memoirs or Marbot or or Ney, if he had written his, and that he embodied the traditions of the orders of the old French military establishment which had been destroyed many times but still existed. Scott and I talked of the Napoleonic campaigns and the war of 1870 which he had not studied and I told him some stories of the mutinies in the French army after the Nivelle offensive at the Chemin des Dames that I had heard from friends who had participated in them and how such men as Touton were an anachronism but an absolutely valid thing. Scott was passionately interested in the war of 1914-18 and since I had many friends who had served in it and some who had seen many things in detail recently these stones of the war as it actually was were shocking to him. The talk was far over Bumby's head but he listened attentively and afterwards when we had talked of other things and Scott had left, full of mineral water and the resolve to write well and truly, I asked Bumby why he had ordered a beer.
“Touton says that a man should first learn to control himself,” he said. “I thought I could make an example.”
“It is not so simple as that,” I told him.
“War is not simple either is it Papa?”
“No. Very complicated. You believe what Touton tells you now. Then later you will find out many things for yourself.”
“Monsieur Fitzgerald was demolished mentally by the war? Touton told me many people were.”
“No. He was not.”
“I am glad,” Bumby said. “It must be some passing thing.”
“It would be no disgrace if he had been demolished mentally by the war,” I said. “Many of our good friends were. Later some recovered to do fine things. Our friend Andre Masson the painter.”
“Touton explained to me about it being no disgrace to be demolished mentally. There was too much artillery in this last war. And the generals were all cows.”
“It is very complicated,” I said. “You will find it all out some day for yourself.”
“Meantime it is nice that we have no problems of our own. No grave problems. You worked well today?”
“I am happy,” Bumby said. “If I can be helpful in anything?”
“You help me very much.”
“Poor Monsieur Fitzgerald,” Bumby said. “He was very nice today to remain sober and not molest you. Will everything be all right with him Papa?”
“I hope so,” I said. “But he has very grave problems. It seems to me that he has almost insurmountable problems as a writer.”
“I am sure that he will surmount them.” Bumby said. “He was so very nice today and so reasonable.”
In those days it was no disgrace to be crazy, but, on the other hand, you got no credit for it. We, who had been at the war, admired the war crazies since we knew they had been made so by something that was un-bearable. It was unbearable to them because they were made of a finer or more fragile metal or because they were simple and understood too clearly.
After the Princeton game in the fall of 1928 Scott and Zelda, Henry (Mike) Strater, my wife Pauline and I rode in the crowded after football train to Philadelphia where we were to pick up the Fitzgerald’s French chauffeur with their Buick car to drive to where they lived on the river outside Wilmington in a house called Ellerslie Mansion. Scott and Mike Strater had been at Princeton together and Mike and I had been good friends since we had first met in 1922 in Paris.
Scott took football very seriously and he had stayed sober through most of the game. But on the train he had started speaking to people he did not know and asking them questions. Several girls were annoyed by him but Mike or I would speak to their escorts and quiet any rising feeling and maneuver Scott away from trouble. We had him seated several times but he wanted to wander through the cars and he had been so reasonable and decent all day that I thought we could help keep him out of anything serious. We had no choice but to try to take care of him and as he realized that he was being taken out of trouble as soon as he started it he began to expand his operations alternating indiscrete questions with excessive courtliness while one of us gently moved him along and the other apologized.
Finally he found a Princeton supporter who was now absorbed in reading a medical book. Scott took the book away from him in a courtly way saying, “Do you mind Sir?” glanced at it and returned it with a bow in a voice pitched for all that part of the car, “Ernest I have found a clap doctor!”
The man paid no attention to Scott and went on reading in his book.
“You are a clap doctor aren’t you?” Scott asked him.
“Come on Scott cut it out,” I said. Mike was shaking his head.
“Speak up Sir,” Scott said. “There is nothing to be ashamed about being a clap doctor. ”
I was trying to work Scott away and Mike was speaking to the man apologizing for Scott. The man was keeping out of it and trying to study.
“A clap doctor;” Scott said. “Physician heal thyself.”
We got him away from persecuting the medical student finally and the train eventually came into the station at Philadelphia with no one having hit Scott. Zelda had been in one of her periods of perfect ladyhood on the train sitting quietly with Pauline and paying no attention to Scott's behavior.
The driver of the car was a Parisian taxi driver who neither spoke nor understood English. He had brought Scott home one night in Paris Scott told me and had kept him from being robbed. Scott had brought him to America as his chauffeur. As we drove toward Wilmington from Philadelphia in the dark with the drinking now started the chauffeur was worried because the car heated up.
“You should have filled the radiator,” I said.
“No, Monsieur It isn’t that. Monsieur will not allow me to put any oil in the motor.”
“He gets very angry and says American cars don’t need to have oil added. That only worthless French cars need additional oil.”
“Why don’t you ask Madame?”
“She gets even more angry.”
“Do you want to stop and put in some oil now?”
“It could make a dreadful scene.”
“Let’s stop and put some in.”
“No Monsieur .You don’t know the scenes there have been.”
“The motor’s boiling now,” I said.
“But if I stop to put gas and fill with water I must stop the engine. They will not put gas in without the engine being stopped, then the cold water will crack the cylinder block. There is plenty of water Monsieur. It is a very big cooling system.”
“For Christ sake let’s stop and put in water with the engine running.”
“No Monsieur I tell you Monsieur would never permit it.
I know this motor It will reach the chateau. This is not the first time. Tomorrow if you would come with me to a garage. We can go when I take the little girl to church.”
“Sure,” I said.
“We’ll change the oil,” he said. “We’ll buy some tins. I’ll keep them hidden and add them when it needs them.”
“Are you jabbering about oil?” Scott said. “Philippe has some sort of fixation that you have to put oil in this car all the time like that ridiculous Renault we drove up from Lyon that time. Philippe, ecoute, voiture americain pas d’huile.”
“Oui Monsieur,” the chauffeur said.
“He makes Zelda nervous with that silly oil chattel,” Scott said. “He’s a good fellow and absolutely loyal but he knows nothing about American motors.”
It was a nightmare ride and when the driver wanted to turn off at the side road that led to the house Zelda would not let him. Both she and Scott insisted that it was not the road. Zelda claimed the turn off was much further on and Scott said we had passed it. They argued and quarreled until Zelda went to sleep momentarily while the chauffeur drove slowly on. Then Scott told the driver to turn around and while he was napping too the chauffeur made the turn off.
There was much more to write about poor Scott and his complicated tragedies, his generosities and his devotions and I wrote those and left them out. Other people have written about him and the ones who wrote about him, and did not know him, I tried to help out on the parts about him that I knew, telling them of his great generosities and his kindnesses. But this is about the first part of Paris and certain true aspects of it and Scott did not know the early Paris that we knew and loved and worked in and that always seemed different to me from anything that I have ever read about it. All of that Paris you could never put into a single book and I have tried to write by the old rule that how good a book is should be judged, by the man who writes it, by the excellence of the material that he eliminates. So much that was interesting and instructive is gone and this book is an attempt to distill rather than to amplify…
Published in A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (New York: Scribners, 1964; Restored Edition - 2009).