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Authors: Amanda Vaill

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That summer Sara—in a show of optimism and commitment that she hoped would ensure Patrick’s recovery—bought a camp on Lake St. Regis near the hamlet of Paul Smith’s, the site of Dr. Trudeau’s own original cure, and moved Patrick out there. Camp Adeline (she renamed it after her mother) had a boathouse with a wheelchair-accessible dock, which permitted Patrick to fish, and residents were housed in eight different cottages—including a guest house, servant’s cottage, girls’ bunkhouse (for Honoria and her visiting school friends), and main living quarters—all filled with bright painted and slipcovered furniture, white rugs, Mexican metalware, and potted plants and flowers. As proof that she and Patrick intended to have many summers there, Sara ordered writing paper with “Camp Adeline” engraved on it; at the top, tiny logos of an envelope, a telephone, a telegraph key, and a locomotive indicated the mailing address, phone number, telegraph address, and railroad station outsiders needed to use to reach it.

Gerald had been having some trouble with his tonsils, and after having them out in July he was persuaded to take a real vacation, for the first time in a long time. A camera caught the two of them, Gerald and Sara, sitting on a bench by the boathouse, Sara’s brown Pekingese, Puppy, at their feet. Gerald is wearing one of his trademark abbreviated bathing suits and a knitted French sailor’s cap; although his hairline has receded, his body is still taut and athletic, and he appears to be reading a postcard, or looking at a photograph, with a slightly quizzical expression on his face. Next to him, Sara has wrapped a thick terry cloth robe over her bathing suit against the Adirondack chill; a broad-brimmed hat nearly covers her eyes. Her long, pretty legs are stretched out in front of her, her feet in the high heels that Ellen Barry said she wore even on shipboard. She looks tired but defiant. She is smoking. She and Gerald sit close together, shoulders touching; they do not look at each other. Probably they don’t need to.

It was a summer full of superficial gaiety: the Murphys’ home movies show Fanny Myers and Honoria aquaplaning; Dick Myers doing the shimmy on the dock, dressed in a voluminous bathrobe that makes him look like an animated Buddha; Honoria chasing Puppy up and down the little beach. Gerald was more “like his old self—swimming twice a day—singing and even playing the piano,” reported Dick Myers to Alice Lee. One after-supper musicale got so out of hand that Sara jumped on the table to dance the fandango. Gerald bought a car, “a black and chromium mechanical panther,” which was intended for “a good bit of junketing,” and he and Sara drove it to Conway for the MacLeishes’ twentieth wedding anniversary—a party like one of the old parties, with square dancing and a caller, and everybody dressed up in improvised peasant costumes, and lots of wonderful food and drink. They spent a few days with the Dos Passoses on Cape Cod and saw Phil Barry’s new play, Bright Star, which was having a tryout in Dennis; later in the summer they went to Maine. Back at Camp Adeline they heard that Dottie Parker and Alan Campbell had quit Hollywood for a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and that Don and Bea Stewart had built a house in Ausable Forks, just miles away in the Adirondacks, which meant that some of their old friends, at least, were no longer so very far away.

That summer Gerald did something he hadn’t done in seven years: he opened the little composition book he had used for an artist’s camet and made notes for a series of projects. The first, dated “July 14, ’36,” was for a painting he provisionally entitled State Fair, in which the chief elements were “a prize hog (animal husbandry chart)”; a squash, “(1st prize) bot. [botanical] study stem, leaf, tendril”; an ear of corn with its silk magnified, “(inset of it in black & white”); and a “burlap fertilizer bag.” Surreally inset into the hog’s side would be a window—“edges flous” (French for “blurry”)—with curtains, a potted geranium, a “brilliant blue sponged sky.” A strange picture indeed—considering that any prize hog is destined for the slaughterhouse.

The second project he outlined was dated “August, ’36”: a “construction in frame” using a rattan rug-beater, a sickle, and parts of various household tools. He had always loved gadgets—he was famous for being unable to pass a hardware store without going in—and he had thought of doing such an assemblage before, in the twenties; but there was something macabre about the mutilated objects—“a hammer (handle sawed 1/2 off?)”—that engaged his imagination now.

Why, given all that had happened in the years since he closed his studio in Antibes, did he even think of taking up his painting again this summer? He had been working nonstop at Mark Cross since the beginning of Patrick’s most recent illness, and although the business had been an “effective drug,” it had fatally compromised his creative life. But during these summer months he had the leisure to see and think, and the company of friends who stimulated him artistically. Why not just try, and see if he could still do it? So he made those first tentative, secret steps—only to find a memento mori, a butchered hog, a mangled hammer, lurking in every composition like the skulls medieval painters put in their pictures as a reminder of their mortality. It was too much; he never executed either of these projects, and never took up painting again.

Behind all their activity that summer was the inescapable reality of Patrick’s illness. Sara had fixed things so he could fish from his reclining wheelchair; he had a room full of fishing paraphernalia, trophy heads from Ernest, and his own and Baoth’s guns; and to the extent that it was possible he was included in all the family’s plans and discussions. Honoria even asked him for romantic advice about a boy she admired who was a budding yachtsman. “Honoria, I think you will have to learn to sail,” said Patrick gravely. But he was a very sick boy. He was still running a fever—after nearly two years in bed—and he had no appetite; he was anemic and needed transfusions; he still weighed less than a hundred pounds. His doctor told Gerald in August that “it is still a very doubtful question as to when and if he gets well.”

Sara was in denial. Although “everyone remarks on her gaiety and becomingness,” Gerald wrote to Scott Fitzgerald, “[s]he refuses to release her tense grip and is burning white. . . . Even her loneliness I cannot reach. She is gay,—energetic,—but is not well.” She told the Hemingways that she was pining to go to Paris in September:

I want new clothes & new ideas (in order named) & Hellstern shoes & perfumery & trick hats, & linge [underwear], not to mention the eve. dress & to sit hours with Léger & his friends in cafés, & haunt rue la Boétie, & see every good new play & all music if any, & be back here in about three days & eleven hrs. twenty-seven mins. . . . I’d also like (how I do run on) to dance late at Boeuf or somewhere & go to the Hailes. Dark dawn in Sept. What’s in season? Des chouxfleurs, ma petite dame, des reines marguerites [cauliflower, little lady, and Chinese asters].

She didn’t get to Paris. Patrick had a setback in October, around the time of his sixteenth birthday, and the Murphys moved into winter quarters in town, a huge half-timbered “cottage” glowering down from a hill above Lake Flower. It had been built in 1928—many locals suspected it was meant to be a speakeasy—and Dr. Francis Trudeau, son of Edward Trudeau, was a neighbor, as was Patrick’s chest specialist, Dr. John Hayes. (The previous summer a Princeton professor, Albert Einstein, had stayed down the street—and had plunged his house into darkness by overloading the electrical circuits. He had had to get his neighbor’s son to change the fuse.)

Honoria, who was boarding at the Spence School in New York with Fanny Myers (the Murphys were paying Fanny’s tuition and board), telephoned anxiously every few days for bulletins; she came up every weekend she could, and Gerald rearranged his schedule to give him more time in Saranac. “I spend three intensive days (and evenings) a week at the office—the rest here,” he wrote to a friend that autumn; “every two weeks I force Sara from here overnight in an effort to break the back of her anguish; she has a few hours with Honoria who is at school in New York. Of the three golden children you saw on the sand at Antibes, but one has been spared us—so far. The miracle may yet happen, but the doctors are uneasy.”

Everybody but Sara knew what was going to happen. Gerald tried to persuade Alec Woollcott, to whom he had become quite close, to visit Patrick even though Woollcott was famously nervous around children: “Patrick is an adult,” said Gerald. “Eight years have made him so. . . . He will expect nothing of you, but will get a great deal.” Woollcott, who agreed that “Patrick is no more a youngster than the Panchin Lama,” came at once. So did the Dos Passoses, at Christmas, which, Dos wrote to Ernest, was “pretty horrible”: “Gerald and Sara [were] both behaving so well in their separate ways that it’s heartbreaking.”

For Christmas, Patrick was given a five-year diary, bound in red morocco and stamped in gold:

Jan 1 [wrote Patrick, carefully, in pencil] New Year’s day was one of the dreariest that I ever spent. Muggy, cloudy, no snow to be seen anywhere in Saranac Lake! I woke up in a wretched mood, took hours for my nourishment, and listened gloomily to the merrymaking of my family and their guests. During the afternoon they were allowed to come in for a few minutes. We pulled some little gifts out of a paper Santa Claus. I am greatly inconvenienced by having to breathe out of an oxygen tank, due to breathlessness.

Ada MacLeish and Alice Lee Myers had come to stay; Ada went walking in the snow with Gerald, and Alice Lee ran interference between Patrick, who had no appetite, and Sara, who kept trying to cajole him into eating. Patrick had to have his throat cauterized and was receiving frequent painful injections, which left him groggy; as the days wore on he could not even keep up the entries in his diary—he wrote on tiny scraps of paper that were later pasted into its pages, and his usually neat handwriting dissolved into a sick, wobbly scrawl. Ernestine Leray, their faithful “Titine,” arrived from Antibes; she had brought a basket of oranges from the garden at Villa America for her little Patrick, but the customs agents impounded it.

On January 16, Ernest Hemingway, Jinny Pfeiffer, and Ernest’s friend Sidney Franklin—“noted and only american bullfighter,” as Patrick described him, shakily, in his diary—drove up from New York for a few days’ visit. “Ernest came in to see me for a few minutes before I went to bed. He is giving me a bear-skin for a Christmas present but it is not ready yet.” When Ernest emerged from Patrick’s room, Honoria remembered, he was weeping openly: “He looks so sick,” he said. “I can’t stand seeing that boy look so sick.” Although Gerald recognized what a tonic the visit was for Sara (“mother’s milk” was how he described it in a letter to Pauline), he found Ernest’s “animal magnetism” and his “steam-roller” put-downs wearying, especially as he was facing the loss of the son he had tried so hard, for so many years, to save.

On January 29 he wrote to Alexander Woollcott, using the imagery of the instrument de précision that he’d first explored at the time of Fred’s death: “I feel as if we were all caught in some vacuum of timelessness . . . the days are like the tick of a clock.” Honoria and Fanny Myers, released from school by their sympathetic headmistress, Dorothy Osborne, had come to Saranac by train the previous week; they, and all the household, had to wear surgical masks when they visited Patrick because the danger of infection was by now so acute.

On the morning of January 30 Patrick went into a coma from which the doctor said he would not awaken. Gerald and Sara sat by his bed, each holding one of his hands. “You’re just fine, Patrick,” they said to him. “We’re right here with you.” Gradually his breathing became fainter and fainter; finally it stopped. Their long fight was over.

The next day the front doorbell rang: it was John Dos Passos, who had come straight from an assignment in South America. Putting his arms around Sara, he told her, “I just wanted to be with you.” And with the afternoon mail there was a letter from Scott Fitzgerald: “Fate can’t have any more arrows in its quiver for you that will wound like these,” he said. “The golden bowl is broken indeed but it was golden; nothing can ever take those boys away from you now.”

Scott Fitzgerald during the spring of “1000 parties and no work”

Wasp and Pear, Gerald’s painting of “green fruit softening . . . but no ripeness yet.”

Before the diagnosis: Honoria, Gerald, Baoth, Patrick, and Sara on shipboard, returning to France in 1929

Dottie Parker on the “Goddamn Alp,” photographed by Honoria on the porch of the Palace Hotel, Montana-Vermala

Right: In Austria the Murphys made an effort to enter into the spirit of the place, but their glum expressions belie the festive air of their costumes.

Left: The Swiss Family Murphy: one of Sara’s collage New Year’s cards showing (left to right) Patrick with his etching tools, Honoria, Baoth

“My life has been a process of concealment of the personal realities”—Gerald in 1930

Léger and unidentified woman at Ramgut

Sara and Mistigris the monkey

“Ernest was an angel about arranging their lives”: the Murphys and Hemingways at the L Bar T Ranch. Clockwise from upper left: Pauline, Sara, Gerald, ranch hand, Ernest, and Baoth

Top: Vladimir and Patrick at the helm

Middle left: Weatherbird: “the boat (& the sea) were never so nice (or so blue).”

Middle right: Katy Dos Passos on the Weatherbird

Bottom left: Ernest on the Pilar

Bottom right: Archie MacLeish (in tartan waistcoat) flanked by two of “the Waddell Girls,” Sara (left) and Ada. Dick Myers is at the far right.

Left: Steele Camp. “God, it’s dreary on those Adirondack lakes!” wrote Dos Passos.

Right: Sara and Gerald on the dock at Camp Adeline. “One thing that has always surprised me . . . is one’s tendency to feel that just because two people have been married for 20 years . . . they should need the same thing of life or of people.”

Patrick Murphy by Fernand Léger

Fernand Léger by Patrick Murphy

“Alexis, Prince of the heavenly flocks”—Woollcott and Gerald, in Amish disguise, at Lake Bomoseen

Fanny Myers and Alan Jarvis

BOOK: Everybody Was So Young
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