At five o’clock I was in the Hotel Crillon waiting for Brett. She was not there, so I sat down and wrote some letters. They were not very good letters but I hoped their being on Crillon stationery would help them. Brett did not turn up, so about quarter to six I went down to the bar and had a Jack Rose with George the barman. Brett had not been in the bar either, and so I looked for her up-stairs on my way out, and took a taxi to the Café Select. Crossing the Seine I saw a string of barges being towed empty down the current, riding high, the bargemen at the sweeps as they came toward the bridge. The river looked nice. It was always pleasant crossing bridges in Paris.
The taxi rounded the statue of the inventor of the semaphore engaged in doing same, and turned up the Boulevard Raspail, and I sat back to let that part of the ride pass. The Boulevard Raspail always made dull riding. It was like a certain stretch on the P. L. M. between Fontainebleau and Montereau that always made me feel bored and dead and dull until it was over. I suppose it is some association of ideas that makes those dead places in a journey. There are other streets in Paris as ugly as the Boulevard Raspail. It is a street I do not mind walking down at all. But I cannot stand to ride along it. Perhaps I had read something about it once. That was the way Robert Cohn was about all of Paris. I wondered where Cohn got that incapacity to enjoy Paris. Possibly from Mencken. Mencken hates Paris, I believe. So many young men get their likes and dislikes from Mencken.
The taxi stopped in front of the Rotonde. No matter what café in Montparnasse you ask a taxi-driver to bring you to from the right bank of the river, they always take you to the Rotonde. Ten years from now it will probably be the Dome. It was near enough, anyway. I walked past the sad tables of the Rotonde to the Select. There were a few people inside at the bar, and outside, alone, sat Harvey Stone. He had a pile of saucers in front of him, and he needed a shave.
“Sit down,” said Harvey, “I’ve been looking for you.”
“What’s the matter?”
“Nothing. Just looking for you.”
“Been out to the races?”
“No. Not since Sunday.”
“What do you hear from the States?”
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
“What’s the matter?”
“I don’t know. I’m through with them. I’m absolutely through with them.”
He leaned forward and looked me in the eye.
“Do you want to know something, Jake?”
“I haven’t had anything to eat for five days.”
I figured rapidly back in my mind. It was three days ago that Harvey had won two hundred francs from me shaking poker dice in the New York Bar.
“What’s the matter?”
“No money. Money hasn’t come,” he paused. “I tell you it’s strange, Jake. When I’m like this I just want to be alone. I want to stay in my own room. I’m like a cat.”
I felt in my pocket.
“Would a hundred help you any, Harvey?”
“Come on. Let’s go and eat.”
“There’s no hurry. Have a drink.”
“No. When I get like this I don’t care whether I eat or not.”
We had a drink. Harvey added my saucer to his own pile.
“Do you know Mencken, Harvey?”
“What’s he like?”
“He’s all right. He says some pretty funny things. Last time I had dinner with him we talked about Hoffenheimer. ‘The trouble is,’ he said, ‘he’s a garter snapper.’ That’s not bad.”
“That’s not bad.”
“He’s through now,” Harvey went on. “He’s written about all the things he knows, and now he’s on all the things he doesn’t know.”
“I guess he’s all right,” I said. “I just can’t read him.”
“Oh, nobody reads him now,” Harvey said, “except the people that used to read the Alexander Hamilton Institute.”
“Well,” I said. “That was a good thing, too.”
“Sure,” said Harvey. So we sat and thought deeply for a while.
“Have another port?”
“All right,” said Harvey.
“There comes Cohn,” I said. Robert Cohn was crossing the street.
“That moron,” said Harvey. Cohn came up to our table.
“Hello, you bums,” he said.
“Hello, Robert,” Harvey said. “I was just telling Jake here that you’re a moron.”
“What do you mean?”
“Tell us right off. Don’t think. What would you rather do if you could do anything you wanted?”
Cohn started to consider.
“Don’t think. Bring it right out.”
“I don’t know,” Cohn said. “What’s it all about, anyway?”
“I mean what would you rather do. What comes into your head first. No matter how silly it is.”
“I don’t know,” Cohn said. “I think I’d rather play football again with what I know about handling myself, now.”
“I misjudged you,” Harvey said. “You’re not a moron. You’re only a case of arrested development.”
“You’re awfully funny, Harvey,” Cohn said. “Some day somebody will push your face in.”
Harvey Stone laughed. “You think so. They won’t, though. Because it wouldn’t make any difference to me. I’m not a fighter.”
“It would make a difference to you if anybody did it.”
“No, it wouldn’t. That’s where you make your big mistake. Because you’re not intelligent.”
“Cut it out about me.”
“Sure,” said Harvey. “It doesn’t make any difference to me. You don’t mean anything to me.”
“Come on, Harvey,” I said. “Have another porto.”
“No,” he said. “I’m going up the street and eat. See you later, Jake.”
He walked out and up the street. I watched him crossing the street through the taxis, small, heavy, slowly sure of himself in the traffic.
“He always gets me sore,” Cohn said. “I can’t stand him.”
“I like him,” I said. “I’m fond of him. You don’t want to get sore at him.”
“I know it,” Cohn said. “He just gets on my nerves.”
“Write this afternoon?”
“No. I couldn’t get it going. It’s harder to do than my first book. I’m having a hard time handling it.”
The sort of healthy conceit that he had when he returned from America early in the spring was gone. Then he had been sure of his work, only with these personal longings for adventure. Now the sureness was gone. Somehow I feel I have not shown Robert Cohn clearly. The reason is that until he fell in love with Brett, I never heard him make one remark that would, in any way, detach him from other people. He was nice to watch on the tennis-court, he had a good body, and he kept it in shape; he handled his cards well at bridge, and he had a funny sort of undergraduate quality about him. If he were in a crowd nothing he said stood out. He wore what used to be called polo shirts at school, and may be called that still, but he was not professionally youthful. I do not believe he thought about his clothes much. Externally he had been formed at Princeton. Internally he had been moulded by the two women who had trained him. He had a nice, boyish sort of cheerfulness that had never been trained out of him, and I probably have not brought it out. He loved to win at tennis. He probably loved to win as much as Lenglen, for instance. On the other hand, he was not angry at being beaten. When he fell in love with Brett his tennis game went all to pieces. People beat him who had never had a chance with him. He was very nice about it.
Anyhow, we were sitting on the terrace of the Café Select, and Harvey Stone had just crossed the street.
“Come on up to the Lilas,” I said.
“I have a date.”
“Frances is coming here at seven-fifteen.”
“There she is.”
Frances Clyne was coming toward us from across the street. She was a very tall girl who walked with a great deal of movement. She waved and smiled. We watched her cross the street.
“Hello,” she said, “I’m so glad you’re here, Jake. I’ve been wanting to talk to you.”
“Hello, Frances,” said Cohn. He smiled.
“Why, hello, Robert. Are you here?” She went on, talking rapidly. “I’ve had the darndest time. This one”—shaking her head at Cohn—“didn’t come home for lunch.”
“I wasn’t supposed to.”
“Oh, I know. But you didn’t say anything about it to the cook. Then I had a date myself, and Paula wasn’t at her office. I went to the Ritz and waited for her, and she never came, and of course I didn’t have enough money to lunch at the Ritz——”
“What did you do?”
“Oh, went out, of course.” She spoke in a sort of imitation joyful manner. “I always keep my appointments. No one keeps theirs, nowadays. I ought to know better. How are you, Jake, anyway?”
“That was a fine girl you had at the dance, and then went off with that Brett one.”
“Don’t you like her?” Cohn asked.
“I think she’s perfectly charming. Don’t you?”
Cohn said nothing.
“Look, Jake. I want to talk with you. Would you come over with me to the Dome? You’ll stay here, won’t you, Robert? Come on, Jake.”
We crossed the Boulevard Montparnasse and sat down at a table. A boy came up with the Paris Times, and I bought one and opened it.
“What’s the matter, Frances?”
“Oh, nothing,” she said, “except that he wants to leave me.”
“How do you mean?”
“Oh, he told every one that we were going to be married, and I told my mother and every one, and now he doesn’t want to do it.”
“What’s the matter?”
“He’s decided he hasn’t lived enough. I knew it would happen when he went to New York.”
She looked up, very bright-eyed and trying to talk inconsequentially.
“I wouldn’t marry him if he doesn’t want to. Of course I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t marry him now for anything. But it does seem to me to be a little late now, after we’ve waited three years, and I’ve just gotten my divorce.”
I said nothing.
“We were going to celebrate so, and instead we’ve just had scenes. It’s so childish. We have dreadful scenes, and he cries and begs me to be reasonable, but he says he just can’t do it.”
“It’s rotten luck.”
“I should say it is rotten luck. I’ve wasted two years and a half on him now. And I don’t know now if any man will ever want to marry me. Two years ago I could have married anybody I wanted, down at Cannes. All the old ones that wanted to marry somebody chic and settle down were crazy about me. Now I don’t think I could get anybody.”
“Sure, you could marry anybody.”
“No, I don’t believe it. And I’m fond of him, too. And I’d like to have children. I always thought we’d have children.”
She looked at me very brightly. “I never liked children much, but I don’t want to think I’ll never have them. I always thought I’d have them and then like them.”
“He’s got children.”
“Oh, yes. He’s got children, and he’s got money, and he’s got a rich mother, and he’s written a book, and nobody will publish my stuff; nobody at all. It isn’t bad, either. And I haven’t got any money at all. I could have had alimony, but I got the divorce the quickest way.”
She looked at me again very brightly.
“It isn’t right. It’s my own fault and it’s not, too. I ought to have known better. And when I tell him he just cries and says he can’t marry. Why can’t he marry? I’d be a good wife. I’m easy to get along with. I leave him alone. It doesn’t do any good.”
“It’s a rotten shame.”
“Yes, it is a rotten shame. But there’s no use talking about it, is there? Come on, let’s go back to the café.”
“And of course there isn’t anything I can do.”
“No. Just don’t let him know I talked to you. I know what he wants.” Now for the first time she dropped her bright, terribly cheerful manner. “He wants to go back to New York alone, and be there when his book comes out so when a lot of little chickens like it. That’s what he wants.”
“Maybe they won’t like it. I don’t think he’s that way. Really.”
“You don’t know him like I do, Jake. That’s what he wants to do. I know it. I know it. That’s why he doesn’t want to marry. He wants to have a big triumph this fall all by himself.”
“Want to go back to the café?”
“Yes. Come on.”
We got up from the table—they had never brought us a drink—and started across the street toward the Select, where Cohn sat smiling at us from behind the marble-topped table.
“Well, what are you smiling at?” Frances asked him. “Feel pretty happy?”
“I was smiling at you and Jake with your secrets.”
“Oh, what I’ve told Jake isn’t any secret. Everybody will know it soon enough. I only wanted to give Jake a decent version.”
“What was it? About your going to England?”
“Yes, about my going to England. Oh, Jake! I forgot to tell you. I’m going to England.”
“Isn’t that fine!”
“Yes, that’s the way it’s done in the very best families. Robert’s sending me. He’s going to give me two hundred pounds and then I’m going to visit friends. Won’t it be lovely? The friends don’t know about it, yet.”
She turned to Cohn and smiled at him. He was not smiling now.
“You were only going to give me a hundred pounds, weren’t you, Robert? But I made him give me two hundred. He’s really very generous. Aren’t you, Robert?”
I do not know how people could say such terrible things to Robert Cohn. There are people to whom you could not say insulting things. They give you a feeling that the world would be destroyed, would actually be destroyed before your eyes, if you said certain things. But here was Cohn taking it all. Here it was, all going on right before me, and I did not even feel an impulse to try and stop it. And this was friendly joking to what went on later.
“How can you say such things, Frances?” Cohn interrupted.
“Listen to him. I’m going to England. I’m going to visit friends. Ever visit friends that didn’t want you? Oh, they’ll have to take me, all right. ‘How do you do, my dear? Such a long time since we’ve seen you. And how is your dear mother?’ Yes, how is my dear mother? She put all her money into French war bonds. Yes, she did. Probably the only person in the world that did. ‘And what about Robert?’ or else very careful talking around Robert. ‘You must be most careful not to mention him, my dear. Poor Frances has had a most unfortunate experience.’ Won’t it be fun, Robert? Don’t you think it will be fun, Jake?”
She turned to me with that terribly bright smile. It was very satisfactory to her to have an audience for this.
“And where are you going to be, Robert? It’s my own fault, all right. Perfectly my own fault. When I made you get rid of your little secretary on the magazine I ought to have known you’d get rid of me the same way. Jake doesn’t know about that. Should I tell him?”
“Shut up, Frances, for God’s sake.”
“Yes, I’ll tell him. Robert had a little secretary on the magazine. Just the sweetest little thing in the world, and he thought she was wonderful, and then I came along and he thought I was pretty wonderful, too. So I made him get rid of her, and he had brought her to Provincetown from Carmel when he moved the magazine, and he didn’t even pay her fare back to the coast. All to please me. He thought I was pretty fine, then. Didn’t you, Robert?
“You mustn’t misunderstand, Jake, it was absolutely platonic with the secretary. Not even platonic. Nothing at all, really. It was just that she was so nice. And he did that just to please me. Well, I suppose that we that live by the sword shall perish by the sword. Isn’t that literary, though? You want to remember that for your next book, Robert.
“You know Robert is going to get material for a new book. Aren’t you, Robert? That’s why he’s leaving me. He’s decided I don’t film well. You see, he was so busy all the time that we were living together, writing on this book, that he doesn’t remember anything about us. So now he’s going out and get some new material. Well, I hope he gets something frightfully interesting.
“Listen, Robert, dear. Let me tell you something. You won’t mind, will you? Don’t have scenes with your young ladies. Try not to. Because you can’t have scenes without crying, and then you pity yourself so much you can’t remember what the other person’s said. You’ll never be able to remember any conversations that way. Just try and be calm. I know it’s awfully hard. But remember, it’s for literature. We all ought to make sacrifices for literature. Look at me. I’m going to England without a protest. All for literature. We must all help young writers. Don’t you think so, Jake? But you’re not a young writer. Are you, Robert? You’re thirty-four. Still, I suppose that is young for a great writer. Look at Hardy. Look at Anatole France. He just died a little while ago. Robert doesn’t think he’s any good, though. Some of his French friends told him. He doesn’t read French very well himself. He wasn’t a good writer like you are, was he, Robert? Do you think he ever had to go and look for material? What do you suppose he said to his mistresses when he wouldn’t marry them? I wonder if he cried, too? Oh, I’ve just thought of something.” She put her gloved hand up to her lips. “I know the real reason why Robert won’t marry me, Jake. It’s just come to me. They’ve sent it to me in a vision in the Café Select. Isn’t it mystic? Some day they’ll put a tablet up. Like at Lourdes. Do you want to hear, Robert? I’ll tell you. It’s so simple. I wonder why I never thought about it. Why, you see, Robert’s always wanted to have a mistress, and if he doesn’t marry me, why, then he’s had one. She was his mistress for over two years. See how it is? And if he marries me, like he’s always promised he would, that would be the end of all the romance. Don’t you think that’s bright of me to figure that out? It’s true, too. Look at him and see if it’s not. Where are you going, Jake?”
“I’ve got to go in and see Harvey Stone a minute.”
Cohn looked up as I went in. His face was white. Why did he sit there? Why did he keep on taking it like that?
As I stood against the bar looking out I could see them through the window. Frances was talking on to him, smiling brightly, looking into his face each time she asked: “Isn’t it so, Robert?” Or maybe she did not ask that now. Perhaps she said something else. I told the barman I did not want anything to drink and went out through the side door. As I went out the door I looked back through the two thicknesses of glass and saw them sitting there. She was still talking to him. I went down a side street to the Boulevard Raspail. A taxi came along and I got in and gave the driver the address of my flat.
Post a Comment