One rainy autumn afternoon, Nick hikes up in the north Michigan woods to a cabin to meet his friend Bill. Talking and drinking, they finally discuss Nick's breaking off his romantic relationship with Marjorie. Bill dogmatically insists that Nick did the right thing. A woman, he insists, will ruin a man; a married man is "done for." Nick listens but realizes that he is still free to flirt with the idea of finding the right woman to marry eventually. He is far from being converted to Bill's almost misogynistic view of women.
This story is the sequel, or follow up, to "The End of Something." Bill, who emerged only briefly in the earlier story, plays a major role here. The setting is a cabin in the north Michigan woods that belongs to Bill's father and sits high above the lake with a good view of the woods. The time is fall, just before the first big autumn storm blows in.
As Nick hikes upward, approaching the cabin, Hemingway precisely places him in the narrative, and his sharp attention to details is characteristic of Hemingway's early prose as well as his later, long narratives. Nick picks up a "Wagner apple." He puts it in the pocket of his "Mackinaw coat."
Almost immediately, Bill offers Nick a drink — and from this point onward, we watch and listen as the two young men get increasingly drunk. Bill is clearly in charge. Because of the cold, rainy autumn weather, he chides Nick for not wearing any socks and goes upstairs to get him some. He also cautions Nick about denting the fireplace screen with his feet (biographers have often noted Hemingway's big feet. Knowing his fondness for inserting autobiographical material, this small, telling detail very likely happened).
Besides the reference to big feet, Bill calls Nick "Wemedge," a nickname Hemingway chose for himself. The two guys settle into a not-quite-comfortable camaraderie, joshing about baseball. Bill is careful to keep their talk light, for the moment.
The tension between the two young men, however, is unrelieved by liquor or by the talk of baseball; the two begin discussing books. Biographers have noted that when Hemingway wrote this short story, he and his friend Bill Smith were reading the same books that Hemingway mentions here in the story. Again, Bill must take charge, controlling the flow of conversation. Frustrated by the small talk, Bill suggests getting drunk.
When Nick insists that he's already a little drunk, Bill is direct: "You aren't drunk." Clearly, he wants to get them both drunk enough to talk about what's really on both of their minds.
Finally, Bill shifts to the real subject: Nick's breaking off with Marjorie. We see now that it was Bill who talked Nick into breaking up with her. Bill begins railing against the whole notion of marriage. Women, he contends, ruin a man; a married man is "done for." Sitting quietly, Nick realizes how much he lost when he broke off with Marjorie. His guilt is keen. Bill feels no guilt for his part in the breaking-up. "So long as it's over that's all that matters," he pronounces. Further, Bill cautions Nick to watch himself and not succumb to temptation again.
Nick, however, realizes that all is not over. The notion of there being danger in falling for Marjorie, or any other woman, is still possible. He hasn't cut himself off from the possibility of romance. The danger intrigues him; he's thrilled with the concept that danger isn't a bad thing.
Marjorie threatened Bill's friendship with Nick, which Bill admits: Had Nick not broken off with Marjorie, he'd already be living in Charlevoix to be near her. Hunting, fishing, and drinking, according to Bill, are more important than getting married. Nick, however, felt anchored somehow with Marjorie, as if life had a purpose and a pattern. At the end of the story, he's doubly exhilarated: He's happy to be hunting with Bill, and he's excited that a relationship with a woman, even if it might seem to trap him, is always waiting for him. The emotional high he feels because of this new insight is bracing.
Mackinaw coat a short, double-breasted coat of heavy, plaid woolen material.
peat decayed, partly decomposed grass and weeds matter found in bogs; it is used for fertilizer.
the Giants the New York Giants, a Major League baseball team from 1902-32.
McGraw John J. McCraw, manager of the New York Giants.
Heinie Zim Heinie Zimmerman, a Chicago Cubs baseball player; he was traded to the New York Giants.
Richard Feverel an 1859 novel by the British author George Meredith.
Forest Lovers a novel written by Maurice Hewlitt and published in 1898. In the story, Bill has recommended that Nick read this novel, whose plot includes a young man breaking off his relationship with a girl of lesser social status.
The Dark Forest a novel by the British author Horace Walpole.
Chesterton G. K. Chesterton, a British novelist and poet.
Voix The reference is to the town of Charlevoix, located in northern Michigan.
louts awkward and stupid people.