Hemingway meets the poet Ernest Walsh at Ezra Pound’s studio. Walsh is accompanied by two blond-haired girls “in long mink coats.” Walsh is “dark,” “intense,” and “clearly marked for death.” One of the girls asks Hemingway if he has read Walsh’s poems, before showing him some of them in a copy of Poetry magazine. The girl tells Hemingway that Walsh receives $1200 for each poem; Hemingway notes that he receives $12 a page for the same magazine. Hemingway asks the girls if they are staying long in Paris, and they reply that they aren’t. They ask Hemingway if he’s going to come back to America, but he replies that he is doing well in Paris, working in cafés and going to the races. One girl looks at Hemingway’s clothes—his “café outfit”—and says that she would like to experience “café life.” Before saying goodbye, Hemingway writes their names down and promises to call them.
Hemingway’s conversation with the two girls evokes a clash of two very different worlds. The girls are glamorous tourists, seemingly rich, and their association with Walsh emphasizes the notion that Walsh has achieved an unparalleled level of professional success and fame. Hemingway appears somewhat inconsequential and shabby in comparison, although the girls seem to like him. Their desire to experience “café life” through Hemingway suggests that Hemingway has now become a symbol of the authentic bohemian expat life, and he is more than happy to entertain the voyeuristic curiosity of the two American girls.
Later, Hemingway hears that Walsh has been given the funds to start a new magazine called This Quarter, and there is a rumor that the magazine will give a large cash prize to the best contribution within the first four issues. Soon after Hemingway hears this rumor, Walsh invites him to lunch at “the best and most expensive” restaurant in the Boulevard St.-Michel quarter. They eat oysters and drink a bottle of white wine. Hemingway feels that Walsh is “conning” him, but he tucks in to a second round of oysters anyway. The two men note that Ezra is a wonderful poet, and that Joyce is “great,” although it is a shame his eyes are not better. Hemingway remarks that everyone has something wrong with them, but Walsh replies that Hemingway himself doesn’t; he is not “marked for death,” but “marked for Life.” Hemingway says: “Give me a good time,” and they order steak, tournedos with Béarnaise sauce, and a bottle of red wine.
The strange dynamic between Hemingway and Walsh during their meal almost resembles a first date. Walsh treats Hemingway to a showy, lavish meal, yet Hemingway gets the feeling that he is being tricked or exploited somehow. They exchange small talk about the writers they know; then, when they discuss whether Hemingway is “marked for death” or “marked for Life,” their conversation takes on a rather flirtatious tone. The climax of this flirtatiousness comes when Hemingway asks Walsh to give him “a good time,” a phrase with decidedly sexual overtones. This exchange is peculiar in a book that otherwise distances itself from eroticism and especially homosexuality.
Walsh announces that he’s going to stop beating around the bush and he tells Hemingway that he will be awarded the prize. Walsh begins to praise Hemingway’s writing, which makes Hemingway feel “embarrassed” and “sick.” Hemingway feels more than ever that he is being “conned,” and he tells Walsh that he doesn’t think he deserves the prize. The men then discuss the fact that they have the same name, and agree that they both “live up to it.” After that point, Hemingway is always nice to Walsh and to the female co-editor of This Quarter, whose name Hemingway does not mention. Years later, Hemingway meets Joyce on the Boulevard St.-German and the two men have a drink. Joyce asks if Walsh promised Hemingway the award, and Joyce admits that Walsh promised it to Joyce also. They wonder if Walsh also promised it to Ezra, and they decide not to ask. Hemingway cannot remember when Walsh died but he remembers telling Joyce the story about the two blond-haired girls, which made Joyce “very happy.”
Hemingway’s embarrassment at hearing Walsh’s praise may seem irrational. However, it turns out that he is correct to be suspicious of Walsh’s extravagant dinner and praise. As the conversation with Joyce reveals, Walsh was indeed “conning” Hemingway—although his reasons for doing so never become clear. It seems that Walsh simply wishes to win favor with the people around him: writers like Hemingway and Joyce, and others like the blond women. This highlights a theme that occurs throughout the novel—the importance of social networking and ingratiation as a component of the artistic life. The social world Hemingway inhabits thus often has a rather superficial, selfish character.