He [Van] could solve an Euler-type problem or learn by heart Pushkin's 'Headless Horseman' poem in less than twenty minutes...
He passed through various little passions - parlor magic, chess, fluff-weight boxing matches at fairs, stunt-riding - and of course those unforgettable, much too early initiations when his lovely young English governess expertly petted him between milkshake and bed, she, petticoated, petititted, half-dressed for some party with her sister and Demon and Demon's casino-touring companion, bodyguard and guardian angel, monitor and adviser, Mr Plunkett, a reformed card-sharper. (1.28)
In Kuprin's story Uchenik ("The Disciple," 1908) pomoshchnik kapitana (the first mate) compares Balunski (the former king of card-sharpers) to an old horse: 
– Был конь, да изъездился, – сказал помощник капитана.
The Headless Horseman is a novel by Captain Mayn Reid. The title of Pushkin's poem is Mednyi Vsadnik ("The Bronze Horseman," 1833). Mednyi comes from med' (copper). Cuprum (Lat., copper) brings to mind the name Kuprin. Kuprin's Uchenik begins:
Большой, белый, двухэтажный американский пароход весело бежал вниз по Волге.
The big white double-decked American steamer merrily ran down the Volga.
Leonhard Euler (1707-83), the Swiss mathematician who lived and died in St. Petersburg (VN's home city), is mentioned in Kuprin's sci-fi tale Zhidkoe solntse ("The Liquid Sun," 1912):
- Знaчит, Гук, и Эйлер, и Юнг?..
- Дa, - прервaл меня лорд Чaльсбери, - и они, и Френель, и Коши, и Мaлюс, и Гюйгенс, и дaже великий Арaго - все они ошибaлись, рaссмaтривaя явление светa кaк одно из состояний мирового эфирa.
The hero's attempts "to catch the sun" bring to mind Ada's sun-and-shade games:
Looking down and gesturing with a sharp green stake borrowed from the peonies, Ada explained the first game.
The shadows of leaves on the sand were variously interrupted by roundlets of live light. The player chose his roundlet - the best, the brightest he could find - and firmly outlined it with the point of his stick; whereupon the yellow round light would appear to grow convex like the brimming surface of some golden dye. Then the player delicately scooped out the earth with his stick or fingers within the roundlet. The level of that gleaming infusion de tilleul would magically sink in its goblet of earth and finally dwindle to one precious drop. That player won who made the most goblets in, say, twenty minutes. (1.8)
Kuprin is the author of several wonderful stories about circus. In his student years Van performs in variety shows as Mascodagama (1.30). Demon's wrestling master, King Wing, taught twelve-year-old Van to walk on his hands (1.13). Van is good at climbing trees and can even brachiate. As they walk in Ardis Park for the first time, Van draws Ada's attention to the branches of a linden and an old oak: 
By then they had reached the rond-point - a small arena encircled by flowerbeds and jasmine bushes in heavy bloom. Overhead the arms of a linden stretched toward those of an oak, like a green-spangled beauty flying to meet her strong father hanging by his feet from the trapeze. Even then did we both understand that kind of heavenly stuff, even then.
'Something rather acrobatic about those branches up there, no?' he said, pointing.
'Yes,' she answered. 'I discovered it long ago. The teil is the flying Italian lady, and the old oak aches, the old lover aches, but still catches her every time' (impossible to reproduce the right intonation while rendering the entire sense - after eight decades! - but she did say something extravagant, something quite out of keeping with her tender age as they looked up and then down). (ibid.)
According to a Russian saying (that must have been on VN's mind), staryi kon' borozdy ne isportit (an old horse won't spoil the furrow, "the older the fiddle, the finer the tune"), no gluboko i ne vspashet (it won't plough up deep, though). After the picnic on Ada's twelfth birthday (when Van walks on his hands for the first time in Ardis), eight-year-old Lucette asked Van to teach her to hand-walk, and they "plough" every day:
'When I was a little girl,' said Marina crossly, 'Mesopotamian history was taught practically in the nursery.'
'Not all little girls can learn what they are taught,' observed Ada.
'Are we Mesopotamians?' asked Lucette.
'We are Hippopotamians,' said Van. 'Come,' he added, 'we have not yet ploughed today.'
A day or two before, Lucette had demanded that she be taught to hand-walk. Van gripped her by her ankles while she slowly progressed on her little red palms, sometimes falling with a grunt on her face or pausing to nibble a daisy. Dack barked in strident protest. (1.14)
Mesopotamia is mentioned in Kuprin's story Sulamith (1908) based closely on The Song of Songs. Sulamith is the beloved of King Solomon. King Solomon is mentioned in Victor Hugo's poem Elle était pâle - et pourtant rose (quoted by Marina Tsvetaev at the beginning of her Povest' o Sonechke):
Elle lui disait: Sois bien sage!
Sans jamais nommer le démon;
Leurs mains erraient de page en page
Sur Moïse et sur Salomon...
Moïse is the French name of Moses. Van's, Ada's and Lucette's mother Marina "had been a dancing girl long before Moses or anybody was born in the lotus swamp" (1.14). In the same conversation about different religions Mlle Larivière uses the phrase et pourtant ("and yet"):
'Et pourtant,' said the sound-sensitive governess, wincing, 'I read to her twice Ségur's adaptation in fable form of Shakespeare's play about the wicked usurer.'
'She also knows my revised monologue of his mad king,' said Ada:
Ce beau jardin fleurit en mai,
Mais en hiver
Jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais
N'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert, n'est vert. (ibid.)
The phrase "long before Moses" is repeated by Demon:
'At the races, the other day, I was talking to a woman I preyed upon years ago, oh long before Moses de Vere cuckolded her husband in my absence and shot him dead in my presence - an epigram you've heard before, no doubt from these very lips -' (1.38)
Kuprin is the author of Poedinok ("The Single Combat," 1907). The name of the story's hero, Romashov, comes from romashka ("camomile").
Alexey Sklyarenko
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