After Van's and Ada's beastly, but beautiful, tryst at Forest Fork Ada mutters about gipsies stealing their jeeps:
In mid-July, 1886, while Van was winning the table-tennis tournament on board a ‘luxury’ liner (that now took a whole week to reach in white dignity Manhattan from Dover!), Marina, both her daughters, their governess, and two maids were shivering more or less simultaneous stages of Russian influentsa at various stops on their way by train from Los Angeles to Ladore. A hydrogram from Chicago awaiting Van at his father’s house on July 21 (her dear birthday!) said: ‘dadaist impatient patient arriving between twenty-fourth and seventh call doris can meet regards vicinity.’
‘Which reminds me painfully of the golubyanki (petits bleus) Aqua used to send me,’ remarked Demon with a sigh (having mechanically opened the message). ‘Is tender Vicinity some girl I know? Because you may glare as much as you like, but this is not a wire from doctor to doctor.’
Van raised his eyes to the Boucher plafond of the breakfast room, and shaking his head in derisive admiration, commented on Demon’s acumen. Yes, that was right. He had to travel incontinently to Garders (anagram of ‘regards,’ see?) to a hamlet the opposite way from Letham (see?) to see a mad girl artist called Doris or Odris who drew only gee-gees and sugar daddies.
Van rented a room under a false name (Boucher) at the only inn of Malahar, a miserable village on Ladore River, some twenty miles from Ardis. He spent the night fighting the celebrated mosquito, or its cousin, that liked him more than the Ardis beast had. The toilet on the landing was a black hole, with the traces of a fecal explosion, between a squatter’s two giant soles. At 7 a.m. on July 25 he called Ardis Hall from. the Malahar post office and got connected with Bout who was connected with Blanche and mistook Van’s voice for the butler’s.
‘Dammit, Pa,’ he said into his bedside dorophone, ‘I’m busy!’
‘I want Blanche, you idiot,’ growled Van.
‘Oh, pardon,’ cried Bout, ‘un moment, Monsieur.’
A bottle was audibly uncorked (drinking hock at seven in the morning!) and Blanche took over, but scarcely had Van begun to deliver a carefully worded message to be transmitted to Ada, when Ada herself who had been on the qui vive all night answered from the nursery, where the clearest instrument in the house quivered and bubbled under a dead barometer.
‘Forest Fork in Forty-Five minutes. Sorry to spit.’
‘Tower!’ replied her sweet ringing voice, as an airman in heaven blue might say ‘Roger.’
He rented a motorcycle, a venerable machine, with a saddle upholstered in billiard cloth and pretentious false mother-of-pearl handlebars, and drove, bouncing on tree roots along a narrow ‘forest ride.’ The first thing he saw was the star gleam of her dismissed bike: she stood by it, arms akimbo, the black-haired white angel, looking away in a daze of shyness, wearing a terrycloth robe and bedroom slippers. As he carried her into the nearest thicket he felt the fever of her body, but only realized how ill she was when after two passionate spasms she got up full of tiny brown ants and tottered, and almost collapsed, muttering about gipsies stealing their jeeps.
It was a beastly, but beautiful, tryst. He could not remember —
(That’s right, I can’t either. Ada.)
— one word they said, one question, one answer, he rushed her back as close to the house as he dared (having kicked her bike into the bracken) — and that evening when he rang up Blanche, she dramatically whispered that Mademoiselle had une belle pneumonie, mon pauvre Monsieur.
Ada was much better three days later, but he had to return to Man to catch the same boat back to England — and join a circus tour which involved people he could not let down.
His father saw him off. Demon had dyed his hair a blacker black. He wore a diamond ring blazing like a Caucasian ridge. His long, black, blue-ocellated wings trailed and quivered in the ocean breeze. Lyudi oglyadïvalis’ (people turned to look). A temporary Tamara, all kohl, kasbek rouge, and flamingo-boa, could not decide what would please her daemon lover more — just moaning and ignoring his handsome son or acknowledging bluebeard’s virility as reflected in morose Van, who could not stand her Caucasian perfume, Granial Maza, seven dollars a bottle.
(You know, that’s my favorite chapter up to now, Van, I don’t know why, but I love it. And you can keep your Blanche in her young man’s embrace, even that does not matter. In Ada’s fondest hand.) (1.29)
Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): golubyanka: Russ., small blue butterfly.
petit bleu: Parisian slang for pneumatic post (an express message on blue paper).
mademoiselle etc.: the young lady has a pretty bad pneumonia, I regret to say, Sir.
Granial Maza: a perfume named after Mt Kazbek’s ‘gran’ almuza’ (diamond’s facet) of Lermontov’s The Demon.
In the epilogue of his book Dusha Tolstogo (“The Soul of Tolstoy,” 1927) Ivan Nazhivin mentions Leo Tolstoy’s fourteen-year-old great-grandson Vanya who stole a bike and was confined in a juvenile correctional home:
Трегубов умер от удара в ссылке. Милый С. Д. Николаев ушел от нас среди вихрей гражданской войны. Переписчик Толстого, еврей Беленький - он был черен, как таракан, - был сослан большевиками в глушь Сибири и умер там. Булгаков с уже белой головой тихонько бедствует в Праге. Кн. Николай Леонидович Оболенский, зять Льва Николаевича, женатый на его дочери Марье Львовне, один из милейших, обаятельнейших людей, своей волей передавший свои земли крестьянам еще при царе, в большой нужде недавно умер в Бельгии в приютившем его католическом монастыре под Брюгге, а его сыновья приняли монашество в том же ордене. Маленький, 14-летний правнук Льва Великого, - кажется, его звали Ваней, - был пойман в краже велосипеда, заключен в исправительный дом, и только поднятый мною по этому делу шум заставил родственников добиваться его спасения... А автор этих строк, тоже уже с белой головой, нашел свое маленькое Астапово - если бывают Астаповы маленькие... - в Бельгии, где среди развалин всей своей жизни, в нужде, доживает свои уже последние дни... (Chapter XLII)
Nazhivin is the author of Evangelie ot Fomy ("The Gospel of Thomas," 1933). The mysterious people (Gipsy politicians, or Calabrian laborers) in the nearby glade at the picnic on Ada's sixteenth birthday seem to be the apostles (one of their comrades whom they might have dispatched and buried is Judas):
Greg, who had left his splendid new black Silentium motorcycle in the forest ride, observed:
‘We have company.’
‘Indeed we do,’ assented Van. ‘Kto sii (who are they)? Do you have any idea?’
Nobody had. Raincoated, unpainted, morose, Marina came over and peered through the trees the way Van pointed.
After reverently inspecting the Silentium, a dozen elderly townsmen, in dark clothes, shabby and uncouth, walked into the forest across the road and sat down there to a modest colazione of cheese, buns, salami, sardines and Chianti. They were quite sufficiently far from our picnickers not to bother them in any way. They had no mechanical music boxes with them. Their voices were subdued, their movements could not have been more discreet. The predominant gesture seemed to be ritually limited to this or that fist crumpling brown paper or coarse gazette paper or baker’s paper (the very lightweight and inefficient sort), and discarding the crumpled bit in quiet, abstract fashion, while other sad apostolic hands unwrapped the victuals or for some reason or other wrapped them up again, in the noble shade of the pines, in the humble shade of the false acacias.
‘How odd,’ said Marina, scratching her sunlit bald patch.
She sent a footman to investigate the situation and tell those Gipsy politicians, or Calabrian laborers, that Squire Veen would be furious if he discovered trespassers camping in his woods.
The footman returned, shaking his head. They did not speak English. Van went over:
‘Please go away, this is private property,’ said Van in Vulgar Latin, French, Canadian French, Russian, Yukonian Russian, very low Latin again: proprieta privata.
He stood looking at them, hardly noticed by them, hardly shade-touched by the foliage. They were ill-shaven, blue-jowled men in old Sunday suits. One or two wore no collar but had kept the thyroid stud. One had a beard and a humid squint. Patent boots, with dust in the cracks, or orange-brown shoes either very square or very pointed had been taken off and pushed under the burdocks or placed on the old tree stumps of the rather drab clearing. How odd indeed! When Van repeated his request, the intruders started to mutter among themselves in a totally incomprehensible jargon, making small flapping motions in his direction as if half-heartedly chasing away a gnat.
He asked Marina — did she want him to use force, but sweet, dear Marina said, patting her hair, one hand on her hip, no, let us ignore them — especially as they were now drawing a little deeper into the trees — look, look — some dragging à reculons the various parts of their repast upon what resembled an old bedspread, which receded like a fishing boat pulled over pebbly sand, while others politely removed the crumpled wrappings to other more distant hiding places in keeping with the general relocation: a most melancholy and meaningful picture — but meaning what, what? (1.39)
He [Percy de Prey] called for wine — but the remaining bottles had been given to the mysterious pastors whose patronage the adjacent clearing had already lost: they might have dispatched and buried one of their comrades, if the stiff collar and reptilian tie left hanging from a locust branch were his. Gone also was the bouquet of roses which Ada had ordered to be put back into the boot of the Count’s car — better than waste them on her, let him give them, she said, to Blanche’s lovely sister.
And now Mlle Larivière clapped her hands to rouse from their siesta, Kim, the driver of her gig, and Trofim, the children’s fair-bearded coachman. Ada reclenched her boletes and all Percy could find for his Handkuss was a cold fist.
‘Jolly nice to have seen you, old boy,’ he said, tapping Van lightly on the shoulder, a forbidden gesture in their milieu. ‘Hope to play with you again soon. I wonder,’ he added in a lower voice, ‘if you shoot as straight as you wrestle.’
Van followed him to the convertible.
‘Van, Van come here, Greg wants to say good-bye,’ cried Ada, but he did not turn.
‘Is that a challenge, me faites-vous un duel?’ inquired Van.
Percy, at the wheel, smiled, slit his eyes, bent toward the dashboard, smiled again, but said nothing. Click-click went the motor, then broke into thunder and Percy drew on his gloves.
‘Quand tu voudras, mon gars,’ said Van, slapping the fender and using the terrible second person singular of duelists in old France.
The car leapt forward and disappeared. (ibid.)
Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): quand tu voudras etc.: any time, my lad.
The characters in Nazhivin's novel "The Gospel of Thomas" include Gamaliel (the chairman at Jesus' trial). Describing Demon's sword duel with Baron d'Onsky (nicknamed Skonky), Van mentions decrepit but indestructible Gamaliel:
Upon being questioned in Demon’s dungeon, Marina, laughing trillingly, wove a picturesque tissue of lies; then broke down, and confessed. She swore that all was over; that the Baron, a physical wreck and a spiritual Samurai, had gone to Japan forever. From a more reliable source Demon learned that the Samurai’s real destination was smart little Vatican, a Roman spa, whence he was to return to Aardvark, Massa, in a week or so. Since prudent Veen preferred killing his man in Europe (decrepit but indestructible Gamaliel was said to be doing his best to forbid duels in the Western Hemisphere — a canard or an idealistic President’s instant-coffee caprice, for nothing was to come of it after all), Demon rented the fastest petroloplane available, overtook the Baron (looking very fit) in Nice, saw him enter Gunter’s Bookshop, went in after him, and in the presence of the imperturbable and rather bored English shopkeeper, back-slapped the astonished Baron across the face with a lavender glove. The challenge was accepted; two native seconds were chosen; the Baron plumped for swords; and after a certain amount of good blood (Polish and Irish — a kind of American ‘Gory Mary’ in barroom parlance) had bespattered two hairy torsoes, the whitewashed terrace, the flight of steps leading backward to the walled garden in an amusing Douglas d’Artagnan arrangement, the apron of a quite accidental milkmaid, and the shirtsleeves of both seconds, charming Monsieur de Pastrouil and Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel, the latter gentlemen separated the panting combatants, and Skonky died, not ‘of his wounds’ (as it was viciously rumored) but of a gangrenous afterthought on the part of the least of them, possibly self-inflicted, a sting in the groin, which caused circulatory trouble, notwithstanding quite a few surgical interventions during two or three years of protracted stays at the Aardvark Hospital in Boston — a city where, incidentally, he married in 1869 our friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of Glass Biota at the local museum. (1.2)
Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Aardvark: apparently, a university town in New England.
Gamaliel: a much more fortunate statesman than our W.G. Harding.
The name of Demon's adversary brings to mind molodoy donskoy kazak Kartushin (the young Don Cossack Kartushin who became a male nurse during the First World War and who shot himself dead when he saw closely what a thing war was) mentioned by Nazhivin in the epilogue of his book on Tolstoy:
Молодой донской казак Картушин, призванный в ряды армии, не нашел в себе мужества сразу отказаться от участия в бойне и, пойдя на сделку с совестью, устроился где-то санитаром. Но, когда он увидел близко, что такое война, выстрелом из револьвера в висок он покончил с собой. Один из самых близких Толстому людей, доктор Душан Маковицкий, святой Душан, как звал его старик, просидел долгие месяцы в царской тюрьме за протест против войны, а потом, во время революции уже, вернулся к себе домой в Словакию и, почувствовав себя там среди бурь политических страстей одиноким, больным, он повесился на чердаке того самого дома, в котором он родился. Один из "темных", самых темных, бездарный биограф Толстого, Бирюков, примкнул к победителям, большевикам... Чертков долго возился с бумагами Толстого, а теперь, разбитый параличом, лишившийся языка, погибает в Москве. Его завещание на достояние Толстого было исполнено в точности. Вскоре после смерти Льва Николаевича по России стали было раздаваться робкие голоса, что "Ясную" надо выкупить у наследников и сделать национальным достоянием, но Совет министров в 1911 г. под влиянием истинно русского Саблера и истинно молдаванина Кассо отклонил это пожелание: правительство не может прославлять своих врагов. Тогда авторские права Толстого были проданы богатому издателю за 400 000, за эти гроши "Ясная", кроме усадьбы, была выкуплена у наследников и передана яснополянским крестьянам, среди которых началась бешеная вражда из-за этой земли, а лесопромышленники, вырубив те леса, которые были посажены Толстыми, обезобразили всю местность... А потом пришла страшная революция, и все эти чертковские завещания, купчие, договоры обратила в дым... В первые дни революции, когда в "Ясной" жила еще старенькая графиня, крестьяне не раз пытались разграбить старую усадьбу, и большевики, защищая "Ясную" от русского народа, вынуждены были поставить там караул вооруженных латышей... (Chapter XLII)
Before she jumps to her death into the Atlantic, Lucette (Van's and Ada's half-sister) drinks a 'Cossack pony' of Klass vodka:
She drank a ‘Cossack pony’ of Klass vodka — hateful, vulgar, but potent stuff; had another; and was hardly able to down a third because her head had started to swim like hell. Swim like hell from sharks, Tobakovich!
She had no purse with her. She almost fell from her convex ridiculous seat as she fumbled in her shirt pocket for a stray bank note.
‘Beddydee,’ said Toby the barman with a fatherly smile, which she mistook for a leer. ‘Bedtime, miss,’ he repeated and patted her ungloved hand.
Lucette recoiled and forced herself to retort distinctly and haughtily:
‘Mr Veen, my cousin, will pay you tomorrow and bash your false teeth in.’
Six, seven — no, more than that, about ten steps up. Dix marches. Legs and arms. Dimanche. Déjeuner sur l’herbe. Tout le monde pue. Ma belle-mère avale son râtelier. Sa petite chienne, after too much exercise, gulps twice and quietly vomits, a pink pudding onto the picnic nappe. Après quoi she waddles off. These steps are something.
While dragging herself up she had to hang onto the rail. Her twisted progress was that of a cripple. Once on the open deck she felt the solid impact of the black night, and the mobility of the accidental home she was about to leave.
Although Lucette had never died before — no, dived before, Violet — from such a height, in such a disorder of shadows and snaking reflections, she went with hardly a splash through the wave that humped to welcome her. That perfect end was spoiled by her instinctively surfacing in an immediate sweep — instead of surrendering under water to her drugged lassitude as she had planned to do on her last night ashore if it ever did come to this. The silly girl had not rehearsed the technique of suicide as, say, free-fall parachutists do every day in the element of another chapter. Owing to the tumultuous swell and her not being sure which way to peer through the spray and the darkness and her own tentaclinging hair — t,a,c,l — she could not make out the lights of the liner, an easily imagined many-eyed bulk mightily receding in heartless triumph. Now I’ve lost my next note.
The sky was also heartless and dark, and her body, her head, and particularly those damned thirsty trousers, felt clogged with Oceanus Nox, n,o,x. At every slap and splash of cold wild salt, she heaved with anise-flavored nausea and there was an increasing number, okay, or numbness, in her neck and arms. As she began losing track of herself, she thought it proper to inform a series of receding Lucettes — telling them to pass it on and on in a trick-crystal regression — that what death amounted to was only a more complete assortment of the infinite fractions of solitude.
She did not see her whole life flash before her as we all were afraid she might have done; the red rubber of a favorite doll remained safely decomposed among the myosotes of an unanalyzable brook; but she did see a few odds and ends as she swam like a dilettante Tobakoff in a circle of brief panic and merciful torpor. She saw a pair of new vair-furred bedroom slippers, which Brigitte had forgotten to pack; she saw Van wiping his mouth before answering, and then, still withholding the answer, throwing his napkin on the table as they both got up; and she saw a girl with long black hair quickly bend in passing to clap her hands over a dackel in a half-tom wreath.
A brilliantly illumined motorboat was launched from the — not-too-distant ship with Van and the swimming coach and the oilskin-hooded Toby among the would-be saviors; but by that time a lot of sea had rolled by and Lucette was too tired to wait. Then the night was filled with the rattle of an old but still strong helicopter. Its diligent beam could spot only the dark head of Van, who, having been propelled out of the boat when it shied from its own sudden shadow, kept bobbing and bawling the drowned girl’s name in the black, foam-veined, complicated waters. (3.5)
Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Dimanche etc.: Sunday. Lunch on the grass. Everybody stinks. My mother-in-law swallows her dentures. Her little bitch, etc. After which, etc. (see p.375, a painter’s diary Lucette has been reading).
Nox: Lat., at night.
On Admiral Tobakoff the Robinsons (an elderly couple) give Lucette a tubeful of Quietus pills and, just before her suicide, invite her to a cold drink in their cabin. In his book on Tolstoy (whose philosophy was influenced by Quietism) Nazhivin mentions Ostrov Robinzona (Robinson's Island) that a tired man needs and says that, when reality dispels this mirage, all that remains to a man is to drown:
И пусть не думают, что я, сын народа, хочу тут заушить народ - нет, я хочу только указать, что дело обстоит там очень плохо, что пред нами огромные задачи, не решив которых ни народу, ни России, ни нам - не жить. Старая власть, старая Церковь - преступники пред Россией: в их руках были судьбы народа, и они за тысячу лет не сделали для него ничего. Идеализация же народа есть страшная ошибка - за нее заплатили мы неимоверными ужасами революции. Платон Каратаев и Аким не народ, а исключение, как князь Нехлюдов не русская аристократия, а исключение. Остров Робинзона усталому человеку нужен, но когда действительность рассеет этот мираж, то всё, что остается человеку, это - тонуть... (Chapter XVI)