At the picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday Marina (in VN’s novel Ada, 1969, Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) calls her husband Daniel Veen bednyachok (poor, poor little man) and remarks that Ada’s cruelty is sometimes satanic:
As if to confirm many people’s discontent with national and international policies (old Gamaliel was by now pretty gaga), the little red car came chugging back from Ardis Hall and the butler jumped out with a message. Monsieur had just arrived with a birthday present for Mademoiselle Ada, but nobody could figure out how the complicated object worked, and Madame must help. The butler had brought a letter which he now placed on a pocket tray and presented to Marina.
We cannot reconstitute the exact wording of the message, but we know it said that this thoughtful and very expensive gift was a huge beautiful doll — unfortunately, and strangely, more or less naked; still more strangely, with a braced right leg and a bandaged left arm, and a boxful of plaster jackets and rubber accessories, instead of the usual frocks and frills. Directions in Russian or Bulgarian made no sense because they were not in the modem Roman, but in the old Cyrillitsa, a nightmare alphabet which Dan had never been able to master. Could Marina come over at once to have suitable doll clothes cut out of some nice silk discards her maid had collected in a drawer he had discovered and wrap the box again in fresh tissue paper?
Ada, who had been reading the note over her mother’s shoulder, shuddered and said:
‘You tell him to take a pair of tongs and carry the whole business to the surgical dump.’
‘Bednyachok! Poor, poor little man,’ exclaimed Marina, her eyes brimming with pity. ‘Of course I’ll come. Your cruelty, Ada, is sometimes, sometimes, I don’t know — satanic!’ (1.14)
In society Marina's husband is known as Durak Walter or simply Red Veen (1.1). Describing his visit to Brownhill (Ada’s school for girls), Van calls Cordula de Prey (Ada's schoolmate whom Van suspects of being Ada's lover) dura Cordula (dura is fem. of durak, "fool"):
As Ada reached for the cream, he caught and inspected her dead-shamming hand. We remember the Camberwell Beauty that lay tightly closed for an instant upon our palm, and suddenly our hand was empty. He saw, with satisfaction, that her fingernails were now long and sharp.
‘Not too sharp, are they, my dear,’ he asked for the benefit of dura Cordula, who should have gone to the ‘powder room’ — a forlorn hope.
‘Why, no,’ said Ada.
‘You don’t,’ he went on, unable to stop, ‘you don’t scratch little people when you stroke little people? Look at your little girl friend’s hand’ (taking it), ‘look at those dainty short nails (cold innocent, docile little paw!). She could not catch them in the fanciest satin, oh, no, could you, Ardula — I mean, Cordula?’
Both girls giggled, and Cordula kissed Ada’s cheek. Van hardly knew what reaction he had expected, but found that simple kiss disarming and disappointing. The sound of the rain was lost in a growing rumble of wheels. He glanced at his watch; glanced up at the clock on the wall. He said he was sorry — that was his train.
‘Not at all,’ wrote Ada (paraphrased here) in reply to his abject apologies, ‘we just thought you were drunk; but I’ll never invite you to Brownhill again, my love.’ (1.27)
In the Geneva airport, just before her last and longest separation with Van, Ada calls her husband Andrey Vinelander (who was diagnosed with tuberculosis) “the poor, poor little man.” Describing that scene, Van mentions “a jagged fingernail caught in satin, the lining of Hell:”
She asked for a handkerchief, and he pulled out a blue one from his windjacket pocket, but her tears had started to roll and she shaded her eyes, while he stood before her with outstretched hand.
‘Part of the act?’ he inquired coldly.
She shook her head, took the handkerchief with a childish ‘merci,’ blew her nose and gasped, and swallowed, and spoke, and next moment all, all was lost.
She could not tell her husband while he was ill. Van would have to wait until Andrey was sufficiently well to bear the news and that might take some time. Of course, she would have to do everything to have him completely cured, there was a wondermaker in Arizona —
‘Sort of patching up a bloke before hanging him,’ said Van.
‘And to think,’ cried Ada with a kind of square shake of stiff hands as if dropping a lid or a tray, ‘to think that he dutifully concealed everything! Oh, of course, I can’t leave him now!’
‘Yes, the old story — the flute player whose impotence has to be treated, the reckless ensign who may never return from a distant war!’
‘Ne ricane pas!’ exclaimed Ada. ‘The poor, poor little man! How dare you sneer?’
As had been peculiar to his nature even in the days of his youth, Van was apt to relieve a passion of anger and disappointment by means of bombastic and arcane utterances which hurt like a jagged fingernail caught in satin, the lining of Hell.
‘Castle True, Castle Bright!’ he now cried, ‘Helen of Troy, Ada of Ardis! You have betrayed the Tree and the Moth!’
‘Perestagne (stop, cesse)!’
‘Ardis the First, Ardis the Second, Tanned Man in a Hat, and now Mount Russet —’
‘Perestagne!’ repeated Ada (like a fool dealing with an epileptic).
‘Oh! Qui me rendra mon Hélène —’
‘— et le phalène.’
‘Je t’emplie ("prie" and "supplie"), stop, Van. Tu sais que j’en vais mourir.’
‘But, but, but’ — (slapping every time his forehead) — ‘to be on the very brink of, of, of — and then have that idiot turn Keats!’
‘Bozhe moy, I must be going. Say something to me, my darling, my only one, something that might help!’
There was a narrow chasm of silence broken only by the rain drumming on the eaves.
‘Stay with me, girl,’ said Van, forgetting everything — pride, rage, the convention of everyday pity.
For an instant she seemed to waver — or at least to consider wavering; but a resonant voice reached them from the drive and there stood Dorothy, gray-caped and mannish-hatted, energetically beckoning with her unfurled umbrella.
‘I can’t, I can’t, I’ll write you,’ murmured my poor love in tears. (3.8)
In her Vospominaniya o Pushkine (“Reminiscences of Pushkin,” 1859) Anna Kern describes a scene that took place in Delvig’s St. Petersburg flat:
Живо воспринимая добро, Пушкин, однако, как мне кажется, не увлекался им в женщинах; его гораздо более очаровывало в них остроумие, блеск и внешняя красота. Кокетливое желание ему понравиться не раз привлекало внимание поэта гораздо более, чем истинное и глубокое чувство, им внушенное. Сам он почти никогда не выражал чувств; он как бы стыдился их и в этом был сыном своего века. Острое, красное словцо, la repartie vive, – вот что несказанно тешило его. Впрочем, Пушкин увлекался, не одними остротами: ему, напр., очень понравилось однажды, когда я на его резкую выходку отвечала выговором: «Pourquoi vous attaquer à moi, qui suis si inoffensive?» И он повторял: «Comme c’est réelle-ment celà; si inoffensive!» Продолжая далее, он заметил: «Да, с вами невесело и ссориться: voila votre cousine, avec elle on trouve à qui s’en prendre». Причина того, что Пушкин скорее очаровывался блеском, нежели достоинством и простотой в характере женщин, заключалась, конечно, в его невысоком о них мнении, бывшем совершенно в духе того времени. При этом мне пришла на память ещё одна забавная сцена, разыгранная Пушкиным в квартире Дельвига, занимаемой мною с семейством по случаю отсутствия хозяев. Сестра его и я сидели у окна, читая книгу. Пушкин подсел ко мне и между прочими нежностями сказал: «Дайте ручку, c’est si satin!» Я отвечала: «Satan!» Тогда сестра поэта заметила, что не понимает, как можно отказывать просьбам Пушкина, и это так понравилось поэту, что он бросился перед нею на колени; в эту минуту входит Алексей Ник. Вульф и хлопает в ладоши… Сюда же можно отнести и отзыв поэта о постоянстве в любви, которою он, казалось, всегда шутил, как и поцелуем руки; но это, по всей вероятности, было притворною данью веку… Однажды, говоря о женщине, которая его страстно любила, он сказал: «Et puis, vous savez qu’il n’y a rien de si insipide que la patience et la résignation».
Pushkin’s sister Olga Sergeevna and Anna Kern were sitting at the window reading a book. Pushkin sat down near Anna Kern, took her hand and said: “c’est si satin!” Anna Kern replied: “Satan!” The poet’s sister said that she did not understand how one could refuse the requests of Pushkin. The poet liked these words so much that he fell on his knees before his sister. On this moment Alexey Vulf (Anna Kern’s first cousin and lover) came in and clapped his hands…
Pushkin’s famous poem Ya pomnyu chudnoe mgnoven’ye… (“I recollect a wondrous moment…” 1825) was addressed to Anna Kern and set to music by Glinka (who was in love with Anna Kern’s daughter). According to Van, the composer visited Ardis:
Then Banoffsky launched into Glinka's great amphibrachs (Mihail Ivanovich had been a summer guest at Ardis when their uncle was still alive - a green bench existed where the composer was said to have sat under the pseudoacacias especially often, mopping his ample brow):
Subside, agitation of passion! (2.8)
Uymites', volneniya strasti! ("Subside, agitation of passion!") is the opening line of Kukolnik's poem Somnenie ("Uncertainty," 1838) set to music by Glinka. Tearful Van listens to this romance in 'Ursus' (the best Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major where he dines with Ada and Lucette) and recalls it when he wakes up next morning:
'Mne snitsa saPERnik SHCHASTLEEVOY!' (Mihail Ivanovich arcating the sand with his cane, humped on his bench under the creamy racemes).
'I dream of a fortunate rival!' (ibid.)
Van’s “fortunate rival” is Andrey Andreevich Vinelander (Ada’s future husband). He has the same name and patronymic as Nadya’s fiancé in Chekhov’s last story Nevesta (“The Betrothed,” 1903). In a letter of March 5, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov says that last night he went to listen to the Gypsies (describing the floor show in ‘Ursus,’ Van mentions a touch of heart-wringing tsiganshchina vibrating through Grigoriev and Glinka). Chekhov compares the singing of the Gypsy women to a train derailment during a strong blizzard:
Вчера ночью ездил за город и слушал цыганок. Хорошо поют эти дикие бестии. Их пение похоже на крушение поезда с высокой насыпи во время сильной метели: много вихря, визга и стука...
In the same letter Chekhov says that he bought in Suvorin’s Moscow bookshop the Collected Works of Dostoevski and is now reading them:
Купил я в Вашем магазине Достоевского и теперь читаю. Хорошо, но очень уж длинно и нескромно. Много претензий.
“Good, but much too long and indiscreet. Too many pretensions.”
Dostoevski's favorite word, podnogotnaya (the whole truth), comes from nogot' (nail).
Eti dikie bestii (“those wild beasts,” as Chekhov calls the Gypsies) bring to mind nurse Bellabestia (‘Bess’), uncle Dan’s last nurse whom he had taken to Ardis “because she managed to extract orally a few last drops of 'play-zero' (as the old whore called it) out of his poor body” (2.10). In Dostoevsky's novel Igrok (The Gambler, 1867) zero it the favorite roulette number of la baboulinka (Russo-Fr., 'grandma'). On the other hand, zero brings to mind Pushkin’s poem Graf Nulin (“Count Null,” 1825). The name Nulin rhymes with Nikulin (uncle Dan's last doctor).
The name of Dan’s last nurse hints at Besy (“The Demons,” 1830), a poem by Pushkin in which a blizzard is described, and at Dostoevski’s novel Besy (“The Possessed,” 1872). Its characters include Kirillov, a maniac who shoots himself dead. His name brings to mind the Cyrillic, a nightmare alphabet which Dan had never been able to master. According to Van, it was Bess who helped Dan to choose the birthday present for Ada:
And, conversely, Marina refrained from telling Demon about the young hospital nurse Dan had been monkeying with ever since his last illness (it was, by the way, she, busybody Bess, whom Dan had asked on a memorable occasion to help him get 'something nice for a half-Russian child interested in biology'). (1.38)
‘Play-zero’ is a play on plaisir (pleasure). In Chekhov’s story Moi zhyony (“My Wives,” 1885) Raul the Bluebeard says that he poisoned his wives not on the second day of the honeymoon and not pour plaisir:
Я отравлял своих жён не на вторые сутки медового месяца, не pour plaisir, как хотелось бы автору, и не экспромтом. Видит Бог, сколько нравственных мук, тяжких сомнений, мучительных дней и недель мне приходилось переживать, прежде чем я решался угостить одно из этих маленьких, тщедушных созданий морфием или фосфорными спичками!
Describing his meeting with Cordula at the party given by the excellent widow of an obscure Major de Prey (Percy de Prey’s mother), Van mentions Blue Beard:
He looked her over more closely than he had done before. He had read somewhere (we might recall the precise title if we tried, not Tiltil, that’s in Blue Beard…) that a man can recognize a Lesbian, young and alone (because a tailored old pair can fool no one), by a combination of three characteristics: slightly trembling hands, a cold-in-the-head voice, and that skidding-in-panic of the eyes if you happen to scan with obvious appraisal such charms as the occasion might force her to show (lovely shoulders, for instance). Nothing whatever of all that (yes — Mytilène, petite isle, by Louis Pierre) seemed to apply to Cordula, who wore a ‘garbotosh’ (belted mackintosh) over her terribly unsmart turtle and held both hands deep in her pockets as she challenged his stare. Her bobbed hair was of a neutral shade between dry straw and damp. Her light blue iris could be matched by millions of similar eyes in pigment-poor families of French Estoty. Her mouth was doll-pretty when consciously closed in a mannered pout so as to bring out what portraitists call the two ‘sickle folds’ which, at their best, are oblong dimples and, at their worst, the creases down the well-chilled cheeks of felt-booted apple-cart girls. When her lips parted, as they did now, they revealed braced teeth, which, however, she quickly remembered to shutter. (1.27)
Bluebeard’s virility of Van’s and Ada’s father is reflected in morose Van:
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. (1.29)
According to Van, the French plaisir works up a lot of supplementary spinal vibrato:
The modest narrator has to remind the rereader of all this, because in April (my favorite month), 1869 (by no means a mirabilic year), on St George’s Day (according to Mlle Larivière’s maudlin memoirs) Demon Veen married Aqua Veen — out of spite and pity, a not unusual blend.
Was there some additional spice? Marina, with perverse vainglory, used to affirm in bed that Demon’s senses must have been influenced by a queer sort of ‘incestuous’ (whatever that term means) pleasure (in the sense of the French plaisir, which works up a lot of supplementary spinal vibrato), when he fondled, and savored, and delicately parted and defiled, in unmentionable but fascinating ways, flesh (une chair) that was both that of his wife and that of his mistress, the blended and brightened charms of twin peris, an Aquamarina both single and double, a mirage in an emirate, a germinate gem, an orgy of epithelial alliterations. (1.3)
Aqua's last note was signed “my sister’s sister who teper’ iz ada (now is out of hell).” Chekhov's story Zhenshchina s tochki zreniya p’yanitsy (“Woman as Seen by a Drunkard,” 1885), in which girls under sixteen are compared to aqua distillatae, is signed Brat moego brata (My brother’s brother).
Describing her first meeting with Pushkin in 1819, at a party (replete with parlor games) given by the Olenins, Anna Kern mentions ad (hell) and ray (paradise):
За ужином Пушкин уселся с братом моим позади меня и старался обратить на себя мое внимание льстивыми возгласами, как, например: "Est-il permis d'etre ainsi jolie!" Потом завязался между ними шутливый разговор о том, кто грешник и кто нет, кто будет в аду и кто попадёт в рай. Пушкин сказал брату: "Во всяком случае, в аду будет много хорошеньких, там можно будет играть в шарады. Спроси у m-me Керн, хотела ли бы она попасть в ад?" Я отвечала очень серьёзно и несколько сухо, что в ад не желаю. "Ну, как же ты теперь, Пушкин?" -- спросил брат. "Je me ravise,-- ответил поэт,-- я в ад не хочу, хотя там и будут хорошенькие женщины..."
According to Anna Kern, Pushkin told her brother that in hell there will be a lot of pretty women with whom one can play charades. To Pushkin's question would she like to go to hell Anna Kern replied that she would not. "Well, Pushkin, what would you say now?" asked Anna's brother. "I've changed my mind," the poet said, "I don't want to go to hell, even though there will be pretty women there."
Daniel Veen's family estate (mentioned by Aqua in her last note), Ardis hints at paradise.
It seems that Marina’s twin sister Aqua went mad, because she was poisoned by Marina (who collected flowers near Aqua’s “nusshouse”), and that the airplane disaster in which Demon perishes (3.7) was caused by Ada (who managed to drive insane the pilot).
Stalin + Satan = satin/Satin/stain/saint + Saltan = atlas/salat + sin + ant/tan
Saltan - the title character of Puskin’s Skazka o tsare Saltane (“The Fairy Tale about Tsar Saltan,” 1831)
Satin - a character in Gorki’s play Na dne (“At the Bottom,” 1902)
atlas - Russ., satin
salat - salad
One of the two seconds in Demon's sword duel with Baron d'Onsky (Marina's lover) was Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel:
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)
In his farewell letter to Marina Demon says that he would have dispatched his rival, had he not been overeager to castrate him:
Early one February morning (around noon chez vous) I rang you up at your hotel from a roadside booth of pure crystal still tear-stained after a tremendous thunderstorm to ask you to fly over at once, because I, Demon, rattling my crumpled wings and cursing the automatic dorophone, could not live without you and because I wished you to see, with me holding you, the daze of desert flowers that the rain had brought out. Your voice was remote but sweet; you said you were in Eve’s state, hold the line, let me put on a penyuar. Instead, blocking my ear, you spoke, I suppose, to the man with whom you had spent the night (and whom I would have dispatched, had I not been overeager to castrate him). (ibid.)
"Dispatch" rhymes with skripach (fiddler). In Pushkin's poem K kastratu raz prishyol skrypach… ("The violinist once visited the eunuch..." 1835) the castrated singer is bogach (a rich man) and the violinist is bednyak (a poor man):
К кастрату раз пришёл скрыпач,
Он был бедняк, а тот богач.
«Смотри, сказал певец <безмудый>, —
Мои алмазы, изумруды —
Я их от скуки разбирал.
А! кстати, брат, — он продолжал, —
Когда тебе бывает скучно,
Ты что творишь, сказать прошу».
В ответ бедняга равнодушно:
— Я? я <муде> себе чешу.
Bednyachok (as Marina calls her husband) is a diminutive of bednyak. The characters of Ada include Mr Alexander Screepatch, the new president of the United Americas:
Van remembered that Mr Alexander Screepatch, the new president of the United Americas, a plethoric Russian, had flown over to see King Victor; and he correctly concluded that both were now sunk in mollitude. The comic side of the detectives’ display (befitting, perhaps, their dated notion of an American sidewalk, but hardly suiting a weirdly illuminated maze of English hedges) tempered his disappointment as he shuddered squeamishly at the thought of sharing the frolics of historical personages or contenting himself with the brave-faced girlies they had started to use and rejected. (3.4)
King Victor seems to be the Antiterran counterpart of Queen Victoria. On the other hand, his name brings to mind Victor Hugo, the author of Le Fin de Satan ("The End of Satan," 1886), a long religious epic. Ursus is a character in Hugo's novel L'Homme qui rit ("The Laughing Man," 1869).
Chekhov’s parody Tysyacha odna strast’, ili Strashnaya noch’ (“A Thousand and One Passions, or The Terrible Night,” 1880) is dedicated to Victor Hugo. Its title blends Tysyacha i odna noch’ (“A Thousand and One Nights”) with Gogol’s Strashnaya mest’ (“A Terrible Vengeance,” 1831). According to Van, Marina had her own set of a Thousand-and-One Best Plays in her boudoir:
Ada showed her shy guest the great library on the second floor, the pride of Ardis and her favorite ‘browse,’ which her mother never entered (having her own set of a Thousand-and-One Best Plays in her boudoir), and which Red Veen, a sentimentalist and a poltroon, shunned, not caring to run into the ghost of his father who had died there of a stroke, and also because he found nothing so depressing as the collected works of unrecollected authors, although he did not mind an occasional visitor’s admiring the place’s tall bookcases and short cabinets, its dark pictures and pale busts, its ten chairs of carved walnut, and two noble tables inlaid with ebony. In a slant of scholarly sunlight a botanical atlas upon a reading desk lay open on a colored plate of orchids. A kind of divan or daybed covered in black velvet, with two yellow cushions, was placed in a recess, below a plate-glass window which offered a generous view of the banal park and the man-made lake. A pair of candlesticks, mere phantoms of metal and tallow, stood, or seemed to stand, on the broad window ledge. (1.6)
Describing the Night of the Burning Barn (when he and Ada make love for the first time in the library of Ardis Hall), Van compares Marina to Mme Ranevski (a character in Chekhov's play "The Cherry Orchard," 1904) and himself, to Firs (the old valet):
That night because of the bothersome blink of remote sheet lightning through the black hearts of his sleeping-arbor, Van had abandoned his two tulip trees and gone to bed in his room. The tumult in the house and the maid’s shriek interrupted a rare, brilliant, dramatic dream, whose subject he was unable to recollect later, although he still held it in a saved jewel box. As usual, he slept naked, and wavered now between pulling on a pair of shorts, or draping himself in his tartan lap robe. He chose the second course, rattled a matchbox, lit his bedside candle, and swept out of his room, ready to save Ada and all her larvae. The corridor was dark, somewhere the dachshund was barking ecstatically. Van gleaned from subsiding cries that the so-called ‘baronial barn,’ a huge beloved structure three miles away, was on fire. Fifty cows would have been without hay and Larivière without her midday coffee cream had it happened later in the season. Van felt slighted. They’ve all gone and left me behind, as old Fierce mumbles at the end of the Cherry Orchard (Marina was an adequate Mme Ranevski). (1.19)
In a letter of May 15, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov mentions Glinka's romance "I recollect a wondrous moment:"
И анатомия, и изящная словесность имеют одинаково знатное происхождение, одни и те же цели, одного и того же врага — чёрта, и воевать им положительно не из-за чего. Борьбы за существование у них нет. Если человек знает учение о кровообращении, то он богат; если к тому же выучивает ещё историю религии и романс «Я помню чудное мгновение», то становится не беднее, а богаче, — стало быть, мы имеем дело только с плюсами. Потому-то гении никогда не воевали, и в Гёте рядом с поэтом прекрасно уживался естественник.
Anatomy and belles-lettres are of equally noble descent; they have the same purpose and the same enemy — the devil — and there is absolutely nothing for them to fight about. There is no struggle for existence between them. If a man knows about the circulation of the blood, he is rich; if he also learns the history of religion and the romance “I remember a wondrous moment,” he becomes richer, not poorer — that is to say, we are concerned with pluses alone. This is why geniuses have never fought, and in Goethe the poet lived amicably side by side with the scientist.
Comparing his and Ada's early memories, Van mentions Goethe’s and d’Annunzio’s marble footprints pointed out by his Russian tutor:
In the spring of 1881, Van, aged eleven, spent a few months with his Russian tutor and English valet at his grandmother’s villa near Nice, while Demon was having a much better time in Cuba than Dan was at Mocuba. In June, Van was taken to Florence, and Rome, and Capri, where his father turned up for a brief spell. They parted again, Demon sailing back to America, and Van with his tutor going first to Gardone on Lake Garda, where Aksakov reverently pointed out Goethe’s and d’Annunzio’s marble footprints, and then staying for a while in autumn at a hotel on a mountain slope above Leman Lake (where Karamzin and Count Tolstoy had roamed). Did Marina suspect that Van was somewhere in the same general area as she throughout 1881? Probably no. Both girls had scarlet fever in Cannes, while Marina was in Spain with her Grandee. (1.24)
Ada's and Lucette's scarlet fever brings to mind Demon's scarlet-silk-lined black cape:
At the Goodson Airport, in one of the gilt-framed mirrors of its old-fashioned waiting room, Van glimpsed the silk hat of his father who sat awaiting him in an armchair of imitation marblewood, behind a newspaper that said in reversed characters: ‘Crimea Capitulates.’ At the same moment a raincoated man with a pleasant, somewhat porcine, pink face accosted Van. He represented a famous international agency, known as the VPL, which handled Very Private Letters. After a first flash of surprise, Van reflected that Ada Veen, a recent mistress of his, could not have chosen a smarter (in all senses of the word) way of conveying to him a message whose fantastically priced, and prized, process of transmission insured an absoluteness of secrecy which neither torture nor mesmerism had been able to break down in the evil days of 1859. It was rumored that even Gamaliel on his (no longer frequent, alas) trips to Paris, and King Victor during his still fairly regular visits to Cuba or Hecuba, and, of course, robust Lord Goal, Viceroy of France, when enjoying his randonnies all over Canady, preferred the phenomenally discreet, and in fact rather creepy, infallibility of the VPL organization to such official facilities as sexually starved potentates have at their disposal for deceiving their wives. The present messenger called himself James Jones, a formula whose complete lack of connotation made an ideal pseudonym despite its happening to be his real name. A flurry and flapping had started in the mirror but Van declined to act hastily. In order to gain time (for, on being shown Ada’s crest on a separate card, he felt he had to decide whether or not to accept her letter), he closely examined the badge resembling an ace of hearts which J.J. displayed with pardonable pride. He requested Van to open the letter, satisfy himself of its authenticity, and sign the card that then went back into some secret pit or pouch within the young detective’s attire or anatomy. Cries of welcome and impatience from Van’s father (wearing for the flight to France a scarlet-silk-lined black cape) finally caused Van to interrupt his colloquy with James and pocket the letter (which he read a few minutes later in the lavatory before boarding the airliner). (2.1)
In "scarlet" there is "scar." In 'Ursus' Lucette mentions Van's scar (left after Van's pistol duel with Captain Tapper):
He went back to whatever he was eating, and cruelly stroked Lucette’s apricot-bloomed forearm, and she said in Russian ‘I’m drunk, and all that, but I adore (obozhayu), I adore, I adore, I adore more than life you, you (tebya, tebya), I ache for you unbearably (ya toskuyu po tebe nevïnosimo), and, please, don’t let me swill (hlestat’) champagne any more, not only because I will jump into Goodson River if I can’t hope to have you, and not only because of the physical red thing — your heart was almost ripped out, my poor dushen’ka (‘darling,’ more than ‘darling’), it looked to me at least eight inches long —’
‘Seven and a half,’ murmured modest Van, whose hearing the music impaired.
‘— but because you are Van, all Van, and nothing but Van, skin and scar, the only truth of our only life, of my accursed life, Van, Van, Van.’ (2.8)
In the Goodson Airport Demon asks Van about his wound and Van replies that the Kalugano surgeon (Doc Fitzbischop) messed up his job:
Demon, flaunting his flair, desired to be told if Van or his poule had got into trouble with the police (nodding toward Jim or John who having some other delivery to make sat glancing through Crime Copulate Bessarmenia).
‘Poule,’ replied Van with the evasive taciturnity of the Roman rabbi shielding Barabbas.
‘Why gray?’ asked Demon, alluding to Van’s overcoat. ‘Why that military cut? It’s too late to enlist.’
‘I couldn’t — my draft board would turn me down anyway.’
‘How’s the wound?’
‘Komsi-komsa. It now appears that the Kalugano surgeon messed up his job. The rip seam has grown red and raw, without any reason, and there’s a lump in my armpit. I’m in for another spell of surgery — this time in London, where butchers carve so much better. Where’s the mestechko here? Oh, I see it. Cute (a gentian painted on one door, a lady fern on the other: have to go to the herbarium).’
He did not answer her letter, and a fortnight later John James, now got up as a German tourist, all pseudo-tweed checks, handed Van a second message, in the Louvre right in front of Bosch’s Bâteau Ivre, the one with a jester drinking in the riggings (poor old Dan thought it had something to do with Brant’s satirical poem!). There would be no answer — though answers were included, with the return ticket, in the price, as the honest messenger pointed out. (2.1)
In his deathbed delirium Uncle Dan raves about Bosch:
‘My gloves! Cloak! Thank you. Can I use your W.C.? No? All right. I’ll find one elsewhere. Come over as soon as you can, and we’ll meet Marina at the airport around four and then whizz to the wake, and —’
And here Ada entered. Not naked — oh no; in a pink peignoir so as not to shock Valerio — comfortably combing her hair, sweet and sleepy. She made the mistake of crying out ‘Bozhe moy!’ and darting back into the dusk of the bedroom. All was lost in that one chink of a second.
‘Or better — come at once, both of you, because I’ll cancel my appointment and go home right now.’ He spoke, or thought he spoke, with the self-control and the clarity of enunciation which so frightened and mesmerized blunderers, blusterers, a voluble broker, a guilty schoolboy. Especially so now — when everything had gone to the hell curs, k chertyam sobach’im, of Jeroen Anthniszoon van Äken and the molti aspetti affascinati of his enigmatica arte, as Dan explained with a last sigh to Dr Nikulin and to nurse Bellabestia (‘Bess’) to whom he bequeathed a trunkful of museum catalogues and his second-best catheter. (2.10)
According to Van, for him and Ada their father was buried on the same day as their uncle Dan:
‘My upper-lip space feels indecently naked.’ (He had shaved his mustache off with howls of pain in her presence). ‘And I cannot keep sucking in my belly all the time.’
‘Oh, I like you better with that nice overweight — there’s more of you. It’s the maternal gene, I suppose, because Demon grew leaner and leaner. He looked positively Quixotic when I saw him at Mother’s funeral. It was all very strange. He wore blue mourning. D’Onsky’s son, a person with only one arm, threw his remaining one around Demon and both wept comme des fontaines. Then a robed person who looked like an extra in a technicolor incarnation of Vishnu made an incomprehensible sermon. Then she went up in smoke. He said to me, sobbing: "I will not cheat the poor grubs!" Practically a couple of hours after he broke that promise we had sudden visitors at the ranch — an incredibly graceful moppet of eight, black-veiled, and a kind of duenna, also in black, with two bodyguards. The hag demanded certain fantastic sums — which Demon, she said, had not had time to pay, for "popping the hymen" — whereupon I had one of our strongest boys throw out vsyu (the entire) kompaniyu.’
‘Extraordinary,’ said Van, ‘they had been growing younger and younger — I mean the girls, not the strong silent boys. His old Rosalind had a ten-year-old niece, a primed chickabiddy. Soon he would have been poaching them from the hatching chamber.’
‘You never loved your father,’ said Ada sadly.
‘Oh, I did and do — tenderly, reverently, understandingly, because, after all, that minor poetry of the flesh is something not unfamiliar to me. But as far as we are concerned, I mean you and I, he was buried on the same day as our uncle Dan.’
‘I know, I know. It’s pitiful! And what use was it? Perhaps I oughtn’t to tell you, but his visits to Agavia kept getting rarer and shorter every year. Yes, it was pitiful to hear him and Andrey talking. I mean, Andrey n’a pas le verbe facile, though he greatly appreciated — without quite understanding it — Demon’s wild flow of fancy and fantastic fact, and would often exclaim, with his Russian "tssk-tssk" and a shake of the head — complimentary and all that — "what a balagur (wag) you are!" — And then, one day, Demon warned me that he would not come any more if he heard again poor Andrey’s poor joke (Nu i balagur-zhe vï, Dementiy Labirintovich) or what Dorothy, l’impayable ("priceless for impudence and absurdity") Dorothy, thought of my camping out in the mountains with only Mayo, a cowhand, to protect me from lions.’ (3.8)
It seems that Demon Veen (who perishes in an airplane disaster above the Pacific) is a victim of Ada's vengeance. In his story "Terrible Vengeance" Gogol says that a rare bird will fly to the middle of the Dnepr.