AT this time—it comes into my memory as being in the middle of the week—Loretto reminded me that the priest we had met on the boat, who had been so sure we would forget all about him, ought to be coming through Paris now on his return from his Mediterranean tour. That night we walked over to the Right Bank hotel, where we had parted from him on our first day in Paris. Since that first day, which now seemed so long ago, how rapidly the Quarter life had swirled around us.
The desk clerk said that indeed the priest’s party did have a reservation at the hotel, a large touring party was booked into the hotel for the end of the week. We left a note for the priest—just our name and the address, and a few joking words— I thought we were supposed to forget you. Two days later, coming home after boxing, I heard voices in the apartment. Someone was laughing loudly. When I entered there was the priest with Loretto, and they were both laughing hilariously. On the floor were two champagne bottles. Other bottles were on a little table by the window. Jumping up, the priest embraced me. I was embarrassed by the warmth of his embrace and his emotion. No one could have called me his old and dear friend. My awkward laugh, my embarrassment, only made Loretto giggle. “He’s just glad we were here,” she said. “Just happy he knew someone in Paris.” And Father Tom beamed at me.
Still giggling, she told me that his touring party had been made up of middle-aged Methodist women; in Italy they had watched him closely and disapprovingly; they had gossiped; furthermore they had been full of blue-nosed malice. And why? Because he had liked to consume the wine of the country. Every time he had sat down with them at dinner he could tell by their sly, knowing glances they had been gossiping about him. Whenever he went off on his own, they took their little digs at him. On his return they would practically smell his breath, convinced he would be reeking of liquor. He had wanted to express his contempt for them, yet couldn’t. He was stuck with them till the tour’s bitter end.
“For the last week,” he cut in, a smile of beautiful contentment on his face, “I kept saying to myself, ’If only those Callaghans look me up I won’t be alone. I’ll have at least one night when I can break away’.”
Now there were actually tears in his eyes. The poor man, this prison chaplain who had walked to the gallows with sixteen men, and whose only boast was that not one of these criminals entrusted to him had died in terror, and who, suffering from some fever that might be killing him, had been told to go to the Mediterranean and try and be happy, had in fact landed in a more depressing prison than the one he had left. You would have thought, looking at him now, that he had just jumped over the wall. My wife cut in to say he had asked immediately where they could buy something to drink and they had gone out together. Here they were now. Everything was fine. Then I noticed he was no wearing the priestly Roman collar. In France, he said, a clerical collar was taken as the mark of a Protestant minister. Therefore, an American priest had a choice between the soutane of the French priest, or the conventional white collar of the American businessman.
“Morley’s been boxing.” Loretto said. “Show him your shoulders. Oh, go on. Show him your shoulders,” and then she explained to the priest, “If there are no marks on his face I know his shoulders will be all black and blue. Go on, Morley, don’e be silly,” and I had to take off my shirt As usual, there were heavy welts on my shoulders. Shaking his head sadly, the big, rawboned, sandy-haired priest stood up. “If you were boxing with me those welts wouldn’t be on your shoulders, they’d be on your jaw,” he said. “I’d break you in two.” “Would you now?” I said, thinking in his happiness he was going to lunge at me. “Ah, you’re just a little guy,” he said. But my wife had filled our glasses again.
It was twilight when we went out to eat. The priest, walking between us, his arms around us, chuckled to himself. At this hour his ladies would be wondering what he was doing, he said. But he had left a note for them; he had told them he knew a writer in Montparnasse, living among all the wild free artists, and the writer had a lovely wife, and he, himself, would be dining with them, spending the evening in the Latin Quarter. The note would put them in a terrible tizzy. They would be sure he was off somewhere giving himself to the devil in the most dissolute company.
“What do you want to do?” we asked.
“Now, what would you be doing yourselves tonight?”
“Nothing. Just hanging around the Quarter.”
“Could I just hang around with you, just be a part of your life tonight?”
Opposite the Dome was the restaurant that had trays of hors d’oeuvres, more hors d’oeuvres than any restaurant in the neighbourhood. Why shouldn’t he have a chance to gorge himself? So we ate in this restaurant Afterwards we moved down to the Coupole. On the street the girls loafed by. At nearby tables little groups argued; other patrons stared impassively at the other side of the street. But nobody was in a hurry. The whole bright corner under the Paris summer night sky must have suggested to the prison priest an oasis of warm, unhurried, careless conviviality. As he looked around he had an enchanted smile. Here at least no one would care what he did.
Since we rarely sat for long at the Coupole at that hour, we moved across the street to the Select where Titus joined us. A girl at loose ends, somebody’s girl, sat down beside us waiting for her friend. Bob McAlmon came along. Then I remember someone saying, “Eugene Jolas and his wife are sitting over there at the Coupole. Are you going over?” and I half rose. Jolas was editor of transition, and had been printing stories of mine. Then I sank back in my chair, feeling a stab of resentment. Not many months ago, he had printed a piece by one of the aesthetes who had said that I was “immersed in life” and “ready for quick publication.” It was not intended as a compliment, and looking at that Coupole deck of chairs, I said to myself peeringly, What the hell am I supposed to be immersed in? Dreams? Like those French cutups, Breton, Aragon and Soupault? The naughty boys. And I worked myself up into such a state of combat I knew I had better not go across the street and speak to Jolas.
Then someone called me by name. My mouth fell open. A young newspaperman from my hometown, Toronto, was approaching us, all warmth and smiles. He was spending a weekend in Paris, he said, and heard I was in the Quarter. Innocently enough, I introduced him to the priest. “Father Tom,” I said. “Yeah, a priest, eh?” said the Toronto newspaperman with an owlish leer. “Where’s the Roman collar? Never mind. I get it” The leer was alien to the life of the Quarter. A cardinal, or Polly Adler, could have sat at any one of the cafes and no one I knew, meeting them, would have leered. And unfortunately the leer now was on the face of a man from back home. Home thought from abroad! The worst aspects of home. All that I liked about the Quarter, and all that I must have wanted to reject in my hometown, seemed to clash savagely. All the hostility I felt must have shown in my eyes as I explained that an American priest was not expected to wear the Roman collar in France; after all, he might be mistaken for a Protestant minister. The newspaperman quickly withdrew.
“Let him think what he wants,” said the priest. “He’s probably a very good-hearted fellow.” And he was too. I had always liked him. But the leer—my hometown. Well, an odd thing happened a year later when I was back in Toronto. I had come to a party from a concert where I had had to wear a dinner jacket and black tie, and suddenly there was the newspaperman, whom I hadn’t seen since the night at the Select, offering me an affable greeting. But he said, “Is that a real tie or one of those snappers?” Reaching out from the other side of the sofa which was between us, he gave the tie a little jerk to see if it would snap back into place. I was blind with rage. Leaping across the back of the sofa, I bowled him over, had him on the floor by the throat and was choking him. Afterwards I felt ridiculous. How could I explain I had suddenly remembered his alien leer that night in Paris?
“What’s that pale yellow drink?” asked the priest. “I’ll try one.” We told him he should be careful of the Pernods. “Now don’t be foolish,” he said. “It’s just a sweet drink and it tastes like liquorice with water in it. No drink ever gave me any trouble.” Well, we had warned him.
While he drank one Pernod and then another, we invited him to observe our little streetwalker, who was busy as always at that hour on the strip of pavement extending from the Select halfway over to the Gare Montpamasse. Every night we watched her plying her trade. A short stout girl, she was hardly beautiful, and incredible as it may sound, she usually wore a red dress. She worked out of a little hotel behind the Select. She had all the noble virtues of the Frenchwoman in real life, the woman at the market or at the cash register. She didn’t loaf, there was no seductive silliness about her, nothing of the storybook dreamy siren with the Parisian flair. Just from watching her we could have given her a splendid character reference: honest, reliable, punctual, industrious. When she had picked up a customer, he would follow two paces behind her, both of them walking briskly, determinedly, as if she had found someone to help her clean up the kitchen, and they would vanish around the corner. A half hour later she would reappear, just as brisk, just as unsmiling, back on the beat. And regularly at 2 a.m. she would come from the hotel, always with a paper parcel under her arm, her head back, and hurry away home, as sensible and as domesticated a woman as you ever saw. I told the priest that after watching the girl night after night we had decided she had her place, a hard-won place, in the neighbourhood pattern.
He made no comment A strange smile on his face, he looked around the whole brightly lit neighbourhood. Was he thinking of the hard monotony of the prison, comparing the prison life with this disordered idle sinful life flowing around him here? Could it be giving him some strange sense of peace? He could have been relating this abandoned cafe life to the prison life and his own fevers, making out of it all some satisfying total spiritual pattern. Or was it just the many Pernods he had insisted on drinking? But he did look happy and at peace. Around about two, we wandered happily along the boulevard. Music from the jazz band in the Jockey and crazy laughter floated out to the street. He wanted to go in. In that little smoke-filled room, where tipsy couples danced on a dime to wailing saxophones, he just watched. But as he watched he spoke about his convicts back home. Unfortunately, he also had another one of the sweet Pernods.
When we left the Jockey he didn’t want to go back to the hotel. Holding our arms, he asked if he couldn’t walk home with us. “I don’t like to leave you,” he said simply. So he walked us home and came in and he talked for an hour about his mother in Ireland, whom he would be seeing in a day or two, and for the last time, and how he would go back to the prison, content.
At four, when he stood up, he lurched. He was surprised, hurt, unbelieving and terribly humiliated. We had warned him about the Pernods, and now he was bewildered. “Never in my life has this happened to me before,” he kept muttering.
When we had driven him to his hotel, I remember that as we guided him into the lobby he turned. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be up in the morning at eight.”
“You can’t get up at eight,” I said.
“I have to,” he muttered. “And I will. I told those women I had seen them for the last time. I told them they were malicious, uncharitable, backbiting and small-souled, and I was glad I would never see them again. And I won’t. Don’t worry. I’ll catch that plane. I have to.” Laughing a little, very moved, he put his arms around my wife and kissed her. He put his arms around me, too. “God bless you both,” he whispered, steadying himself, and he walked slowly into the hotel.
It had been such an innocent evening, just sitting around. All he had done was drink too many Pernods, a drink he was unaccustomed to. Yet he left us feeling like Samaritans who had rescued a good man who had fallen among thieves. We have given him a good memory to take back to his penitentiary.
It was our weekend to have callers. We had another one. We had got up very late—it was actually early in the afternoon. Too lazy even to go out for something to eat, we nibbled at some croissants, and had some of the champagne. It was a clear warm sunlit day. Our Russian landlady, rouged and buxom, her hair freshly tinted, came and asked if we would like a drive around Paris. Well, the car was outside. It was a taxi. The swarthy and rather sinister-looking taxi driver was introduced to us as a colonel. A czarist colonel indeed he was, middle-aged now, who had fled from the Bolsheviks and was reduced to driving a taxi in Paris. He was obviously our Russian lady’s lover. Since he had no English and even less French than I had, our madame kept him company in the front seat while we sat in the back. Rolling grandly around Paris through the Bois, and out to the country, he sat in utter silence. Out of politeness, Loretto and I didn’t want to talk in English; they did not want to shut us out, talking in Russian. Yet we didn’t get home till nearly seven.
Then on Sunday, in the middle of the afternoon, we had another caller. Loretto had washed out some handkerchiefs. While they were still wet she had smoothed them out flat on the windowpanes so the strong sunlight would dry and stiffen them. An hour later a knock came on the door. It was Scott Fitzgerald.
Published as That Summer In Paris: Memories of Tangled Friendships with Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald by Morley Callaghan (New York: Coward-Mccann, 1963).