Chapter 21: War at Sea

“Mr. Hemingway, after you returned from China and reported, you went on to Cuba instead of remaining in the States. Why?”

“Because if I didn’t spend six months of the year outside the US, taxes were going to eat me alive. I had been gone three months on the China trip, but now I had to stay in Cuba at least until September.” He sighed. “That was a hard year. I would have gotten the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, but Nicholas Murray Butler overruled the unanimous decision of the board, so they didn’t give it out at all. I made nearly $140,000 that year, the first year I’d ever made any real money, and they took $90,000 of it in taxes! Sinclair Lewis gave an impromptu speech about me and Scribner’s didn’t send a stenographer to take it down, even though I had asked them to and told them I’d pay for it, so now I’d never know what he said. And Mr. Josie died in a Havana hospital after a minor operation, and he had been like my big brother. Hard year, 1941. Brutal. About the only good thing that happened that fall was Marty’s book of short stories, The Heart of Another. Otherwise, not much to cheer about. And then Pearl Harbor.”

“Although you were in Cuba, you thought up a way to help the war effort.”

“You mean the Crook Factory? No, that was more Spruill Braden’s idea.”

“Mr. Braden, the American Ambassador to Cuba, was a friend of yours.”

“He was. He was an ambassador, but he wasn’t just some political stuffed shirt. He was a literate man, an author. He had done things in the real world. He knew that Havana was full of Franco Spaniards and Nazi sympathizers. We didn’t have any counter-intelligence on the ground, and Braden knew I knew all kinds of people: celebrities, sportsmen, diplomats, government functionaries, reporters, headwaiters, whores, the rich I partied with and the raggedy-ass kids in the neighborhood and the people I used to give fish meat to when I came in from a good day fishing. He asked me to put it together as an intelligence network, and I did, at the same time I was putting together Men At War, a 1,000-page anthology of war writing. I called it the Crook Factory. The operation only lasted a few months, just long enough to fill the gap before the Gestapo came in. The FBI, I mean.”

The prosecutor smiled. “Then you persuaded the ambassador to let you refit the Pilar to go looking for submarines to attack.”

“That isn’t quite what happened. In 1942, U-Boats are sinking ships all up and down our Atlantic and Gulf coastlines, and the Navy doesn’t have enough ships to patrol with, due to the usual government stupidity. We’ve been attacking U-boats in the North Atlantic all during 1941, but nobody made plans to deal with the absolutely predictable retaliation. So now they need boats, and the only way they can get them is for civilians to volunteer their boats as auxiliaries. I don’t know how many boats the Navy enlisted, but I imagine it was a lot.”

“It was, Mr. Hemingway. Along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, more than 2,000 boats.”

“Well, I knew it had to be a lot. But we’re in Cuba, so we have to do things quietly. Batista’s government knew about our operation, but it had to pretend not to know. Cuban nationalistic sensibilities, you understand.” He let his face show just the shadow of his perpetual disgust with hypocrisy.

“They wanted us to use the Pilar as a Q-Boat along Cuba’s northern coast, to search various uninhabited keys for hidden submarine supply dumps, and to patrol certain waters while prepared to report U-Boat sightings. That was a valid mission, but I thought, `Okay, let’s carry the idea a little farther.’ We knew that sometimes subs would sometimes stop small boats to get fresh food. We’d look like an easy target to a sub. What if we were ready to run up to it and throw a bomb into the conning tower, maybe do enough damage to prevent it from submerging?”

“And the Navy went along with the scheme.”

“A few civilians putting themselves at risk wouldn’t cost them anything. They supplied us with ammo, and radio gear, and a Navy man to work the radio, and we took her out for a shakedown cruise in November 1942, supposedly engaging in scientific research into fish populations.” He snorted, remembering. “As if anybody was going to believe that, in wartime! “

“So you went cruising, looking for trouble.”

“We did. We were out from January through March 1943, and again from May to July, which turned out to be our longest, hardest cruise. After we came in, our redeployment kept getting delayed – not our fault – and we didn’t get out again until November, and that one didn’t amount to much. We went out one last time in January, 1944, and by then it was clear that we weren’t needed on the north coast anymore.”

“If you ever were.”

Ignoring her: “I volunteered us to patrol in the Caribbean, working out of Guantanamo, but we weren’t needed there either, because the U-Boats were finished.”

“Now, Miss Gellhorn, you have said that the defendant’s Q-boat operations were just an excuse to go fishing using government gasoline. Is that still your opinion?”

“All I can tell you is what I observed. There was Ernest surrounded by his fishing buddies, fortified by the usual wall of hard liquor, and the time I went out with them he brought his young sons, and they were taking potshots at junk in the water, claiming it was target practice. Does that sound like real war to you, or does it sound like pretense?”

“Often wrong, never in doubt.”

She turned on him, a familiar movement. “Oh sure, the usual. I saw but didn’t understand.”

“Marty, it’s all on the record. You think it was a year of partying because you don’t have the slightest idea of what it involved. You think the Navy gave us ammunition and installed communications gear and made arrangements for our refueling and re-provisioning, because they wanted to help me go fishing? You think the boats doing the same job in American coastal waters were just using government gasoline to go fishing?”

“I don’t know what the others were doing. I only know what I saw with my own eyes.”

“You know what you think you saw. You didn’t see the context. You don’t have any idea what it’s like, that many men on a small boat, six weeks at a time.” He could feel himself having to make the attempt to be reasonable, just like the old days. “Listen, instead of criticizing an operation you didn’t understand, why not go to the people who knew, and ask them?”

“No thanks. I can find other things to report on.”

He turned to the prosecutor. “The trouble with Marty is that she could never tell the difference between the way things looked and the way they really were. To use Pilar as a Q-Boat, we had to have cover. We made it look like a scientific expedition, but if people thought we were just conning the government so we could go fishing, that was all the better. The boys and I had our fun as we went along, but it was still a lot of men on a small boat for a long time. And we were ready to make an attempt on a submarine, if circumstances had allowed. It didn’t happen, but it could have happened. One time, a sub surfaced just where we should have been patrolling, but they had called us in to Havana for consultations. And the only time we did see a sub surface, it went off in the opposite direction, and it was doing 12 knots and we couldn’t catch it.”

“Which perhaps saved all your lives.”

“Perhaps. But suppose it had worked! It would have been something to remember all your life, if you happened to survive it. You could ask Wolfie.”

“Wolfie?”

“Winston Guest. Ask him.”

“That sounds like a good idea. Without objection from the defense, I think we should call Mr. Guest.”

“No objection, your honor. The defense looks forward his testimony.”

.2.

Wolfie looked like he had during all those days on Pilar. “It’s very good to see you looking young and healthy, Papa,” he said. “I don’t know that I would have expected it.”

“Wolfie, Marty still tells people we were just out there having a good time on government gasoline. You want to say something about that?”

“Papa, I liked you and the rest of the boys, but eight men in a small boat for six weeks at a time is not my idea of a pleasure cruise. Neither is getting eaten alive by mosquitoes while we were searching up and down Romano Key looking for fuel dumps. And the hours we spent scanning for periscopes! I thought I’d go blind sometimes.”

“Mr. Guest, this court knows your background, including the fact that you were born rich, you were a graduate of Columbia Law School, and at 36, were considered too old for military service. We wish to ask you about the submarine patrols. Did you think the defendant’s plan could succeed?”

“We knew the specs, so we knew the odds. And the only time we did see a submarine, when that thing surfaced, I thought, `They call that a boat? It’s an aircraft carrier! ‘Chances were, we were going to get killed before we could get into range. Probably a good thing we never caught one.”

“Oh, I don’t know, I’m dead anyway, and what a thing if we’d been able to do it! If they’d had to scuttle the thing, or if we could keep them topside, and the Navy could get there soon enough, a 38-foot converted civilian yacht would have put a U-Boat out of commission. Or, maybe we could capture the whole crew. Maybe we would have gotten code books, a lot of things.”

Wolfie was watching him brighten with remembered enthusiasm, and he laughed, partly just from the joy that had always come with being around him. “And you knew as well as anybody did how bad the odds were.”

“Well, yeah, but it was worth taking that chance, if we could.”

“I said it was all right with me, didn’t I?”

“You sure did, and I never forgot it, you standing there with me on the flying bridge, the muscles jumping in your cheeks, saying, `Papa it’s all right with me. Don’t worry for a moment Papa it’s all right with me.’ But the point is, we weren’t just fooling around out there.”

“No. We burned a lot of government gas, but they got their money’s worth.”

“I was going to write about you, Wolfie. Did write about you, and the others, but I couldn’t get it into publishable shape. I wish I could have, you all deserved that.”

“Cross examination?”

“Can’t think of anything we could add, Mr. Prosecutor.”

.3.

“Mr. Hemingway, it sounds like you and your friends expected to die in that boat.”

“You go attack a submarine in a 38-foot boat and tell me if you expect to survive. But the war gods smiled on us, and we couldn’t catch the only son of a bitch we sighted, so we lived.”

“All very dramatic, Ernest, and there you are as usual, casting yourself in another heroic pose.”

“And there you are as usual, disparaging what you don’t understand. If we had bagged a sub, you would have said, `Oh, did the submarine interrupt the fishing?’”

“Mr. Hemingway, if you expected to die engaging the sub – why engage it? What good would it do to be killed when you couldn’t do it any harm?”

“We had our plans and here was the chance. What should we have done? Play possum? Run? Would you want to live with that memory for the rest of your life? And – maybe it would’ve worked!”

“I see. Yet your Q-Boat experience did not lead you to want to participate in the war in Europe.”

“I would have been happy to participate in Europe, but being a correspondent wasn’t participating, it was being in the audience. I could have been of great use to the OSS, but they turned me down.”

“Miss Gellhorn, in retrospect, would you still urge the defendant to report the war in Europe rather than remain in Cuba?”

“In retrospect I should have left him to play on his boat, but in 1942 and 1943 I still thought, if he got close enough to the war, later on he could do for it what he had done for the Spanish war. You see, until I saw him in Europe, I still believed he was the man I knew in Spain.”

“Even while we were still in Cuba, she had washed her hands of me, but she didn’t quite know it. And I was about finished with her, too, and I was a lot closer to knowing it than she was.”

“I’m afraid we need to talk about that last year together in Cuba.”

“Yes, Ernest, we can talk about our own little war.”

“Miss Gellhorn…”

“Hell, she’s right, that’s about what it amounted to.”

“Mr. Hemingway, when you and your wife were away from each other, you each expressed great love and tenderness, and then your coming together again drew sparks. How would you explain that?”

“I don’t know, it just kept happening.”

“Miss Gellhorn?”

“Maybe distance brought out the best in us.”

“Now what kind of sense would that make?”

“Well, Ernest, I don’t know. But whenever I left you, the things I loved about you got bigger, and as soon as we were together again, all I could see were the things I couldn’t stand. And then at the end, your behavior toward me was intolerable. No one should have to put up with people screaming at them, and insulting them in public.”

“How about the fact that it made you feel guilty, being safe and comfortable while a war was going on?”

“How about your going so long between baths and clean clothes?”

“How about your hating having to keep up any household routine?”

“How about your making it impossible to have a household routine? Living with you was living with chaos!”

“And living with you was like living with a record player, always playing the same tune.”

“What tune? That there’s a war on? That you ought to be pulling your weight and doing the one thing you could do better than anybody else in the world instead of playing war?”

“Why did you always think you knew what was best for me?”

“Because I could see what was happening to you, and you couldn’t! Because I respected the craftsman and I admired the writer and I remembered the man who had cared about the Spanish people, and instead of the man I knew, you were becoming `papa.’ Plus, you were drinking like a fish, and that always meant you were under pressure.”

“Yes I was! Living with you!”

“Not living with me, living with yourself! You knew you were wasting your life and you were working hard not to know it, so you drank.”

“Maybe that wasn’t the source of the pressure, did you ever think of that? I was doing what I could for the war effort, no matter what you thought, but I was hearing the clock ticking, and wondering if I would ever get back to my real work after the war was over. And I was sick of living with someone who was so cocksure about her own opinions about anything and everything.”

“That was another thing, wasn’t it? You were losing your ability to hear anybody say anything you disagreed with. Why do you think you couldn’t keep your friends? Dos Passos, MacLeish, you know the list – men of ability and integrity, and you and they had been comrades in arms, so to speak. But they all had one great fault, they wouldn’t become your disciples.”

“We’re not talking about other people, we’re talking about living with you and your illusions. You couldn’t just see things as they were; you had to see them as they ought to be. Roosevelt had to be God, and the New Deal the new dispensation, and World War II a glorious crusade to free mankind and bring in the millennium.”

“And you had to see everything in light of how it would affect Ernest Hemingway. Every month, you seemed to become more superficial.” To the prosecutor: “We’d go into Havana and he’d drink, and as soon as he was surrounded with admirers, he’d start on these self-aggrandizing stories, and the thing I could never figure out was why. He was Ernest Hemingway, for God’s sake! Why couldn’t that be enough? Why did he have to make himself into a war hero and a professional prize fighter and God knows what else?”

“You never could tell the difference between lying and story-telling.”

“You’d tell these stupid lies to the point that your friends – our friends – were embarrassed. And what did it mean to me, to be married to a liar?”

“It meant you had an excuse to try to tear me down, with your sarcasms and your lectures and your warnings that you were losing respect for me.”

“And that meant you had an excuse for raging at me like a crazy man whenever you got drunk enough, like the night you slapped me in the car when I was driving us home.”

“You were a model of self control yourself, as I remember. You deliberately drove my Lincoln into a tree.”

“What was I supposed to do, give you the idea it was okay to hit me? If I hadn’t given as good as I got, you would have walked all over me.”

“You know what I think? I think you secretly liked us fighting. I think if we had been poor, you would have liked me better.”

“If we’d been poor, at least you would have had to be more you, instead of having to be `papa.’”

“All right, both of you. I will take that as an adequate explanation of why you fought when you were together. But whenever you were apart, other feelings surfaced. Miss Gellhorn’s reasons for her reactions are her own business, but Mr. Hemingway, when she was away, what was going on with you? It is your reactions we are trying to understand.”

“I got lonely”

“For Martha specifically, for just to have a woman in your bed?”

“I answered your question. That’s all I feel like saying.”

“Your honor, may I ask a few questions of Miss Gellhorn?”

“Proceed, counselor.”

“Miss Gellhorn, you spent some weeks in the Caribbean in the summer of 1943, investigating conditions, gathering material for an article for Collier’s magazine.”

“That’s right, and Ernest objected strenuously, even though I needed to earn the money to pay my share of our expenses.”

“And, just in case you think we were rolling in dough, I was in the 80% tax bracket, and my 1941 tax bill was $103,000. I made a lot, but I didn’t get to keep much of it.”

“And after a few weeks at home, Miss Gellhorn, you went on to Europe, did you not?”

I did. I went up to New York in September, and it took nearly a month to get my papers, but I did get over to England, and then I got to see the war in Italy.”

“While you were in Europe, your novel Liana was published. Did it do well?”

“Max Perkins thought it would be chosen as a Book of the Month Club selection, and he was quite embarrassed when it wasn’t. Still, over time it did become a best seller.”

“The defendant had helped you with that book, had he not, while he was out on patrol in his boat?”

“I would read successive installments at night while we were on patrol, and pencil in my suggestions, and get it back to her next time we made port.”

“I never said he wasn’t a good editor. Maybe the thing we had most in common, by that point, was writing.”

“Thank you, Miss Gellhorn. No further questions.”

.5.

“Well, let’s follow up on that line of inquiry, Miss Gellhorn. You returned from Europe in March, 1944. What sort of reaction did you meet?”

“It was Ernest at his murderous worst, storming at me day and night. I was desperately tired but he was not letting me sleep, with his accusations and his tirades. He was more like a crazy man than the man I had used to know.”

“Did you think about leaving him?”

“There wasn’t any time for that. The invasion was coming, everybody knew that, and I had to be there. Only, fool that I was, I still wanted him there too. I couldn’t help thinking, if he just gets where he obviously belongs, he’ll find himself again.”

“Meanwhile, Mr. Hemingway, you had made up your mind to go.”

“Yeah, I didn’t like it, but I guess Marty finally wore me down. Up until May, I still had hopes of doing something active. Marty and I were already in New York, getting our papers to get across, when I learned that the OSS had turned me down. I gather they concluded I wouldn’t work well in harness.”

“No kidding. How in the world would they get an idea like that?”

“For somebody who lived with me for all those years, you’re amazingly consistent in failing to understand me. All the time Pilar was operating as a Q-Boat, we were under orders, or didn’t that ever occur to you? We didn’t just go where we wanted to go, when we wanted to go. They told us what to do and we did it.”

“But in any case, the OSS option was closed to you.”

“It was, and it’s the kind of work I should have been doing. Anybody could be a reporter; they had hundreds of ’em. How many people knew what I knew, and who I knew, in France? In fact, it’s just the kind of work I did do that summer on the way from Normandy to Paris.”

“We’ll get to that. First, let’s talk about how you got to England.”

“I flew. The Brits flew me over, in return for my promise to write about the RAF.”

“Which came about because I talked to Roald Dahl, a British assistant air attaché. Ernest forgets to mention that.”

“All right, it’s true, you talked to Dahl, and he got me a seat.”

“Also he forgets to mention that in New York, he signed up to report on the invasion for Collier’s, even though I had been writing for Collier’s for years, which automatically meant that I couldn’t, because magazines were limited to one correspondent each.”

“Mr. Prosecutor, she has it in her head that I stopped her from being their front-line correspondent. But the War Department had ruled that female correspondents couldn’t go any further than women’s services went, which meant they couldn’t go to the front. She knows that.”

He forgets to mention that he refused to try to get a seat for me on the airplane he got to ride in because of me, and I wound up as the only passenger on a ship that was carrying dynamite.”

Silence.

“Mr. Hemingway?”

“Maybe I wasn’t anxious to cross the Atlantic hearing about my duty all the way.”

“Mr. Hemingway?”

“All right, it was spite, I admit it.”

“Mr. Hemingway, another opportunity. Find the complex of reasons and look at them.”

Apparently this was going to go on forever. He sighed and dredged, and came out sighing some more.

“It was a lot of things. I really didn’t want to be doing this. Either I wanted a position of responsibility, or I wanted to be left alone, and I wasn’t getting either. The OSS turned me down, and Collier’s didn’t really need me, they just wanted my name. And I was tired. A year at sea was like a year of warfare anywhere. It wears you down. The physical hardships, the uncertainty, the responsibility, it all takes its toll. And I went there already feeling the losses – the loss of time, the loss of energy, the loss of whatever I might have written. None of that was going to be recoverable. Also, I guess I blamed Marty for spending so much of the past year chasing moonbeams: I think I was feeling, she was spending time and energy that really should have been spent with me.”

“You mean on you.”

“Well, all right, on me. Why was I less important than everything else? By the time we got up to New York, part of me hated you, and that part was growing.”

“So you took it out on me.”

Grudgingly: “Maybe I did. But Marty, it was China all over again. Who wanted to go to the war in Europe?”

“At least I didn’t have to hear that every few days.”

“No, because by the time you got to England, we were finished.”

“Not on my part, not quite. When I arrived, I was leaning that way, but I was still undecided. It was only after seeing you in that hospital room that I knew.”

“Mr. Hemingway, Let’s talk about that.”

“I had been in London about a week. It was clear to everybody, we were days away from invading France. Everything was eat, drink and be merry. A party at Capa’s broke up at about 3 a.m., and Pete Gorer offered to drive me back to the Dorchester. Blackout conditions, of course, and he’d been drinking like everybody else. We hit a steel water tank that was in the road, and I got smacked into the windshield. I had a scalp wound pouring blood, and both knees were swelling up from hitting the dashboard, but the really serious thing was that I had another concussion. They got me to St. George’s Hospital – 57 stitches – and sent me to recuperate at the London Clinic. This was early morning, May 25th.”

“And I got to England two days later, and as soon as I get off the boat, people are asking me about Ernest’s accident. He’s in the London Clinic, and he’s supposed to be in terrible shape after a car wreck. So I go up to see him, and he’s turned the room into a goddamned cocktail party. He’s wearing a bandage like a turban and he’s drinking, and he has surrounded himself with cronies and celebrity-gazers, and I knew right away we were through.”

“She was livid. She disapproved of the fact that I had been out partying in wartime, that I was drinking in the clinic, that I was having a good time there with my friends. She figured that I didn’t really have a concussion, and the bandages were just window dressing – but if I was hurt, it was my own fault. Terrific amount of sympathy I got from my wife.”

Drily: “Under the circumstances, did you expect her to have any sympathy for you?”

Sheepishly: “You mean because of the ammunition ship? Maybe not. But it didn’t matter, we were through. Looking back, I think she and I had a long shipboard romance. Marty was a writer, she was passionately anti-fascist, and she was young and beautiful. She admired my work, which made us both think she admired me. In Spain we shared danger and work and fun and bed and friends and it looked like we belonged together. But she always had to work hard, and it looked to her like I didn’t. She started to think I was superficial, especially when I started picking apart her politics. She was always for the people against the fascists, and so far so good. But she wound up in a cheering-box, and you can’t do that and stay honest. The only time I did it, I wound up excusing Stalin’s murder of Andres Nin and Pepe Robles and others, and it cost me my friendship with dos Passos. Fundamentally she and I were on different courses. It just took a while to work itself out.”

“No further questions for Miss Gellhorn, your honor.”

“Mr. Hemingway, before Miss Gellhorn even arrived in England, you had met Mary Welsh and had already decided you were going to marry her.”

“It wasn’t so much decided, as recognized. Somehow as soon as we were introduced, I knew that this person and I belonged together the way you know that dawn is going to follow nighttime.”

“And after all that happened in the following seventeen years, do you still think you and she belonged together?”

“All I know is what I told you. How can I know what our lives would have been if we had done something else?”

“Very well. When you were discharged on May 29th, you were told not only to refrain from alcohol, but to rest quietly. Why didn’t you follow doctor’s orders?”

“Were they going to call off the invasion until I felt better? Besides, that isn’t how I handled injury. I paid for it, sure. I lived with continuous headaches all the next year, not to mention getting another concussion in the field. But it would have been silly to put myself to bed when we were any of us liable to be killed at any odd time for any reason, or for no particular reason.”

“Then perhaps we should look at your war experience in Europe.”

 

 

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