Belokonsk & L disaster in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Mon, 07/26/2021 - 04:44

On Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which VN’s novel Ada, 1969, is set) Whitehorse (a city in NW Canada) is known as Belokonsk:


Even before the old Eskimo had shuffled off with the message, Demon Veen had left his pink velvet chair and proceeded to win the wager, the success of his enterprise being assured by the fact that Marina, a kissing virgin, had been in love with him since their last dance on New Year’s Eve. Moreover, the tropical moonlight she had just bathed in, the penetrative sense of her own beauty, the ardent pulses of the imagined maiden, and the gallant applause of an almost full house made her especially vulnerable to the tickle of Demon’s moustache. She had ample time, too, to change for the next scene, which started with a longish intermezzo staged by a ballet company whose services Scotty had engaged, bringing the Russians all the way in two sleeping cars from Belokonsk, Western Estoty. In a splendid orchard several merry young gardeners wearing for some reason the garb of Georgian tribesmen were popping raspberries into their mouths, while several equally implausible servant girls in sharovars (somebody had goofed — the word ‘samovars’ may have got garbled in the agent’s aerocable) were busy plucking marshmallows and peanuts from the branches of fruit trees. At an invisible sign of Dionysian origin, they all plunged into the violent dance called kurva or ‘ribbon boule’ in the hilarious program whose howlers almost caused Veen (tingling, and light-loined, and with Prince N.’s rose-red banknote in his pocket) to fall from his seat. (1.2)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Belokonsk: the Russian twin of ‘Whitehorse’ (city in N.W. Canada).

Raspberries; ribbon: allusions to ludicrous blunders in Lowell’s versions of Mandelshtam’s poems (in the N.Y. Review, 23 December 1965).


In her erratic student years Aqua had left fashionable Brown Hill College, founded by one of her less reputable ancestors, to participate (as was also fashionable) in some Social Improvement project or another in the Severnïya Territorii. She organized with Milton Abraham’s invaluable help a Phree Pharmacy in Belokonsk, and fell grievously in love there with a married man, who after one summer of parvenu passion dispensed to her in his Camping Ford garçonnière preferred to give her up rather than run the risk of endangering his social situation in a philistine town where businessmen played ‘golf’ on Sundays and belonged to ‘lodges.’ The dreadful sickness, roughly diagnosed in her case, and in that of other unfortunate people, as an ‘extreme form of mystical mania combined with existalienation’ (otherwise plain madness), crept over her by degrees, with intervals of ecstatic peace, with skipped areas of precarious sanity, with sudden dreams of eternity-certainty, which grew ever rarer and briefer. (1.3) 


The twin sister of Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother Marina, poor Aqua (Demon Veen’s wife) went mad and committed suicide. Belokonsk seems to hint at belym konyom (Instr. of belyi kon’, “white chess knight”), the last two words in VN’s poem Shakhmatnyi kon' ("The Chess Knight," 1927):


И потом, в молчании чистой палаты,
   куда чёрный король его увёл,
на шестьдесят четыре квадрата
   необъяснимо делился пол.
И эдак, и так — до последнего часа —
в бредовых комбинациях, ночью и днём,
прыгал маэстро, старик седовласый,
   белым конём.


In VN’s poem the old white-haired chess maestro goes mad and begins to jump like a chess knight. In his poem Ya vyshel v noch’ (“I came out into the night,” 1902) Alexander Blok (the owner of Shakhmatovo, a country estate in the Province of Moscow whose name comes from shakhmaty, “chess”) mentions belyi kon’ (the white horse):


Я вышел в ночь - узнать, понять
Далёкий шорох, близкий ропот,
Несуществующих принять,
Поверить в мнимый конский топот.

Дорога, под луной бела,
Казалось, полнилась шагами.
Там только чья-то тень брела
И опустилась за холмами.

И слушал я - и услыхал:
Среди дрожащих лунных пятен
Далёко, звонко конь скакал,
И легкий посвист был понятен.

Но здесь, и дальше - ровный звук,
И сердце медленно боролось,
О, как понять, откуда стук,
Откуда будет слышен голос?

И вот, слышнее звон копыт,
И белый конь ко мне несётся...
И стало ясно, кто молчит
И на пустом седле смеётся.

Я вышел в ночь - узнать, понять
Далёкий шорох, близкий ропот,
Несуществующих принять,
Поверить в мнимый конский топот.


In her review of Blok’s first collection, Stikhi o Prekrasnoy Dame (“Verses about the Beautiful Lady,” 1904), Zinaida Hippius quotes the first and last stanza of Blok’s poem:


Не будем же требовать от этой милой книжки более того, что она может дать; она и так даёт нам много, освежает и утешает нас, посылает лёгкий, мгновенный отдых. Мы устаём от трезвого серого дня и его несомненностей. И мы рады, что поэт говорит нам:


Я вышел в ночь -- узнать, понять

Далёкий шорох, близкий ропот,

Несуществующих принять,

Поверить в мнимый конский топот…


Let’s not ask of this nice little book more than it can give; in fact, it gives us a lot, refreshing and consoling us, sending to us a light, instantaneous rest. We get tired of the sober gray day and its undoubtedness. And we are happy that the poet tells us:


I came out into the night – to learn, understand

a distant rustle, a near murmur,

to accept the inexistent creatures,

to believe in imaginary clatter of a horse’s hoofs.


According to Hippius, the Knight of the pale Beautiful Lady managed to grow only the faintly glimmering wings of a butterfly:


Нежный, слабый, паутинный, влюбленный столько же в смерть, сколько в жизнь, рыцарь бледной Прекрасной Дамы — сумел вырастить себе лишь слабо мерцающие крылья бабочки. Он неверными и короткими взлетами поднимается над пропастью; но пропасть широка; крылья бабочки не осилят её. Крылья бабочки скоро устают, быстро слабеют. (I)


The name Hippius brings to mind “Tu es tres hippique ce matin,” Segur’s words in VN’s story Vesna v Fial'te (“Spring in Fialta,” 1936):


 -- Критика!-- воскликнул он.-- Хороша критика! Всякая тёмная личность мне читает мораль. Благодарю покорно. К моим книгам притрагиваются с опаской, как к неизвестному электрическому аппарату. Их разбирают со всех точек зрения, кроме существенной. Вроде того, как если бы натуралист, толкуя о лошади, начал говорить о сёдлах, чепраках или M-me de V. (он назвал даму литературного света, в самом деле очень похожую на оскаленную лошадь). Я тоже хочу этой голубиной крови,-- продолжал он тем же громким, рвущим голосом, обращаясь к лакею, который понял его желание, посмотрев по направлению перста, бесцеремонно указывавшего на стакан англичанина. Сегюр упомянул имя общего знакомого, художника, любившего писать стекло, и разговор принял менее оскорбительный характер. Между тем англичанин вдруг решительно поднялся, встал на стул, оттуда шагнул на подоконник и, выпрямившись во весь свой громадный рост, снял с верхнего угла оконницы и ловко перевел в коробок ночную бабочку с бобровой спинкой.

 -- ...это, как белая лошадь Вувермана,-- сказал Фердинанд, рассуждая о чём-то с Сегюром.

-- Tu es trés hippique ce matin,-- заметил тот.


"Criticism!" he exclaimed. "Fine criticism! Every slick jackanapes sees fit to read me a lecture. Ignorance of my work is their bliss. My books are touched gingerly, as one touches something that may go bang. Criticism! They are examined from every point of view except the essential one. It is as if a naturalist, in describing the equine genus, started to jaw about saddles or Mme. de V. (he named a well-known literary hostess, who indeed strongly resembled a grinning horse). I would like some of that pigeon's blood, too," he continued in the same loud, ripping voice, addressing the waiter, who understood his desire only after he had looked in the direction of the long-nailed finger which unceremoniously pointed at the Englishman's glass. For some reason or other, Segur mentioned Ruby Rose, the lady who painted flowers on her breast, and the conversation took on a less insulting character. Meanwhile the big Englishman suddenly made up his mind, got up on a chair, stepped from there onto the windowsill, and stretched up till he reached that coveted corner of the frame where rested a compact furry moth, which he deftly slipped into a pillbox.

“… rather like Wouwerman’s white horse,” said Ferdinand, in regard to something he was discussing with Segur.
  “Tu es très hippique ce matin,” remarked the latter.


Neizvestnyi elektricheskiy apparat (something that may go bang) mentioned by Ferdinand (Nina’s husband, a Franco-Hungarian writer) brings to mind Hippius’ poem Elektrichestvo (“Electricity,” 1901). After the L disaster in the beau milieu of the 19th century electricity was banned on Demonia:


The details of the L disaster (and I do not mean Elevated) in the beau milieu of last century, which had the singular effect of both causing and cursing the notion of ‘Terra,’ are too well-known historically, and too obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young laymen and lemans — and not to grave men or gravemen.

Of course, today, after great anti-L years of reactionary delusion have gone by (more or less!) and our sleek little machines, Faragod bless them, hum again after a fashion, as they did in the first half of the nineteenth century, the mere geographic aspect of the affair possesses its redeeming comic side, like those patterns of brass marquetry, and bric-à-Braques, and the ormolu horrors that meant ‘art’ to our humorless forefathers. For, indeed, none can deny the presence of something highly ludicrous in the very configurations that were solemnly purported to represent a varicolored map of Terra. Ved’ (‘it is, isn’t it’) sidesplitting to imagine that ‘Russia,’ instead of being a quaint synonym of Estoty, the American province extending from the Arctic no longer vicious Circle to the United States proper, was on Terra the name of a country, transferred as if by some sleight of land across the ha-ha of a doubled ocean to the opposite hemisphere where it sprawled over all of today’s Tartary, from Kurland to the Kuriles! But (even more absurdly), if, in Terrestrial spatial terms, the Amerussia of Abraham Milton was split into its components, with tangible water and ice separating the political, rather than poetical, notions of ‘America’ and ‘Russia,’ a more complicated and even more preposterous discrepancy arose in regard to time — not only because the history of each part of the amalgam did not quite match the history of each counterpart in its discrete condition, but because a gap of up to a hundred years one way or another existed between the two earths; a gap marked by a bizarre confusion of directional signs at the crossroads of passing time with not all the no-longers of one world corresponding to the not-yets of the other. It was owing, among other things, to this ‘scientifically ungraspable’ concourse of divergences that minds bien rangés (not apt to unhobble hobgoblins) rejected Terra as a fad or a fantom, and deranged minds (ready to plunge into any abyss) accepted it in support and token of their own irrationality.

As Van Veen himself was to find out, at the time of his passionate research in terrology (then a branch of psychiatry) even the deepest thinkers, the purest philosophers, Paar of Chose and Zapater of Aardvark, were emotionally divided in their attitude toward the possibility that there existed’ a distortive glass of our distorted glebe’ as a scholar who desires to remain unnamed has put it with such euphonic wit. (Hm! Kveree-kveree, as poor Mlle L. used to say to Gavronsky. In Ada’s hand.)

There were those who maintained that the discrepancies and ‘false overlappings’ between the two worlds were too numerous, and too deeply woven into the skein of successive events, not to taint with trite fancy the theory of essential sameness; and there were those who retorted that the dissimilarities only confirmed the live organic reality pertaining to the other world; that a perfect likeness would rather suggest a specular, and hence speculatory, phenomenon; and that two chess games with identical openings and identical end moves might ramify in an infinite number of variations, on one board and in two brains, at any middle stage of their irrevocably converging development. (1.3)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): beau milieu: right in the middle.

Faragod: apparently, the god of electricity.

braques: allusion to a bric-à-brac painter.


The English character L looks like the reversed Russian character Г (that corresponds to the English G). As we say in Russian, kon' khodit bukvoy Г (knights move in an “L-shape”). The fourth letter of the Russian alphabet, Г is followed by Д (D), Dostoevski's initial. The Antiterran L disaster seems to correspond to the mock execution of Dostoevski and the Petrashevskians on Jan. 3, 1850 (NS), in our world. The action in Dostoevski’s novel Brat’ya Karamazovy (“Brothers Karamazov,” 1880) takes place in Skotoprigonyevsk, a town whose name brings to mind Scotty (Marina’s impresario who brought the Russians all the way in two sleeping cars from Belokonsk). The characters in Dostoevski’s novel The Idiot (1869) include starukha Belokonskaya (old dame Belokonski). At the dinner in Bellevue Hotel in Mont Roux Dorothy Vinelander (Ada’s sister-in-law) mentions dear Aunt Beloskunski-Belokonski:


It went on and on like that for more than an hour and Van’s clenched jaws began to ache. Finally, Ada got up, and Dorothy followed suit but continued to speak standing:

‘Tomorrow dear Aunt Beloskunski-Belokonski is coming to dinner, a delightful old spinster, who lives in a villa above Valvey. Terriblement grande dame et tout ça. Elle aime taquiner Andryusha en disant qu’un simple cultivateur comme lui n’aurait pas dû épouser la fille d’une actrice et d’un marchand de tableaux. Would you care to join us — Jean?’

Jean replied: ‘Alas, no, dear Daria Andrevna: Je dois "surveiller les kilos." Besides, I have a business dinner tomorrow.’

‘At least’ — (smiling) — ‘you could call me Dasha.’ (3.8) 


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): terriblement etc.: terribly grand and all that, she likes to tease him by saying that a simple farmer like him should not have married the daughter of an actress and an art dealer.

je dois etc.: I must watch my weight.


Dorothy Vinelander eventually marries a Mr Brod or Bred, tender and passionate, dark and handsome:


So she did write as she had promised? Oh, yes, yes! In seventeen years he received from her around a hundred brief notes, each containing around one hundred words, making around thirty printed pages of insignificant stuff — mainly about her husband’s health and the local fauna. After helping her to nurse Andrey at Agavia Ranch through a couple of acrimonious years (she begrudged Ada every poor little hour devoted to collecting, mounting, and rearing!), and then taking exception to Ada’s choosing the famous and excellent Grotonovich Clinic (for her husband’s endless periods of treatment) instead of Princess Alashin’s select sanatorium, Dorothy Vinelander retired to a subarctic monastery town (Ilemna, now Novostabia) where eventually she married a Mr Brod or Bred, tender and passionate, dark and handsome, who traveled in eucharistials and other sacramental objects throughout the Severnïya Territorii and who subsequently was to direct, and still may be directing half a century later, archeological reconstructions at Goreloe (the ‘Lyaskan Herculanum’); what treasures he dug up in matrimony is another question. (ibid.)


In his poem “The Chess Knight” VN mentions neuderzhimyi shakhmatnyi bred (the irrepressible chess madness) and, in the poem’s last stanza, uses the phrase v bredovykh kombinatsiyakh (in delirious combinations). The great Scott (“Sсotty,” Marina’s impresario) is a colleague of Valentinov, Luzhin’s tutor and impressario in VN’s novel Zashchita Luzhina (“The Luzhin Defense,” 1930). In her letter to Van (brought to Kingston by Van’s and Ada’s half-sister Lucette) Ada calls her future husband, Andrey Vinelander, “my patient Valentinian:”


O dear Van, this is the last attempt I am making. You may call it a document in madness or the herb of repentance, but I wish to come and live with you, wherever you are, for ever and ever. If you scorn the maid at your window I will aerogram my immediate acceptance of a proposal of marriage that has been made to your poor Ada a month ago in Valentine State. He is an Arizonian Russian, decent and gentle, not overbright and not fashionable. The only thing we have in common is a keen interest in many military-looking desert plants especially various species of agave, hosts of the larvae of the most noble animals in America, the Giant Skippers (Krolik, you see, is burrowing again). He owns horses, and Cubistic pictures, and "oil wells" (whatever they are-our father in hell who has some too, does not tell me, getting away with off-color allusions as is his wont). I have told my patient Valentinian that I shall give him a definite answer after consulting the only man I have ever loved or shall ever love. Try to ring me up tonight. Something is very wrong with the Ladore line, but I am assured that the trouble will be grappled with and eliminated before rivertide. Tvoya, tvoya, tvoya (thine). A.’ (2.5)


In Turgenev’s novel Dym (“Smoke,” 1867) Irina’s letter to Litvinov also ends in the words Tvoya, tvoya, tvoya:


На другое утро Литвинов только что возвратился домой от банкира, с которым еще раз побеседовал об игривом непостоянстве нашего курса и лучшем способе высылать за границу деньги, как швейцар вручил ему письмо. Он узнал почерк Ирины и, не срывая печати, — недоброе предчувствие, бог знает почему, проснулись в нем, — ушел к себе в комнату. Вот что прочел он (письмо было написано по-французски):

«Милый мой! я всю ночь думала о твоем предложении… Я не стану с тобой лукавить. Ты был откровенен со мною, и я буду откровенна: я не могу бежать с тобою, я не в силах это сделать. Я чувствую, как я перед тобою виновата; вторая моя вина еще больше первой, — я презираю себя, свое малодушие, я осыпаю себя упреками, но я не могу себя переменить. Напрасно я доказываю самой себе, что я разрушила твое счастие, что ты теперь, точно, вправе видеть во мне одну легкомысленную кокетку, что я сама вызвалась, сама дала тебе торжественные обещания… Я ужасаюсь, я чувствую ненависть к себе, но я не могу поступать иначе, не могу, не могу. Я не хочу оправдыватъся, не стану говорить тебе, что я сама была увлечена… все это ничего не значит; но я хочу сказать тебе и повторить, и повторить еще раз: я твоя, твоя навсегда, располагай мною, как хочешь, когда хочешь, безответно и безотчетно, я твоя… Но бежать, все бросить… нет! нет! нет! Я умоляла тебя спасти меня, я сама надеялась все изгладить, сжечь все как в огне… Но, видно, мне нет спасения; видно, яд слишком глубоко проник в меня; видно, нельзя безнаказанно в течение многих лет дышать этим воздухом! Я долго колебалась, писать ли тебе это письмо, мне страшно подумать, какое ты примешь решение, я надеюсь только на любовь твою ко мне. Но я сочла, что было бы бесчестным с моей стороны не сказать тебе правды — тем более что ты, быть может, уже начал принимать первые меры к исполнению нашего замысла. Ах! он был прекрасен, но несбыточен. О мой друг, считай меня пустою, слабою женщиной, презирай меня, но не покидай меня, не покидай твоей Ирины!.. Оставить этот свет я не в силах, но и жить в нем без тебя не могу. Мы скоро вернемся в Петербург, приезжай туда, живи там, мы найдем тебе занятия, твои прошедшие труды не пропадут, ты найдешь для них полезное применение… Только живи в моей близости, только люби меня, какова я есть, со всеми моими слабостями и пороками, и знай, что ничье сердце никогда не будет так нежно тебе предано, как сердце твоей Ирины. Приходи скорее ко мне, я не буду иметь минуты спокойствия, пока я тебя не увижу. Твоя, твоя, твоя И.»


The next morning Litvinov had only just come home from seeing the banker, with whom he had had another conversation on the playful instability of our exchange, and the best means of sending money abroad, when the hotel porter handed him a letter. He recognised Irina's handwriting, and without breaking the seal—a presentiment of evil, Heaven knows why, was astir in him—he went into his room. This was what he read (the letter was in French):

'My dear one, I have been thinking all night of your plan. . . . I am not going to shuffle with you. You have been open with me, and I will be open with you; I cannot run away with you, I have not the strength to do it. I feel how I am wronging you; my second sin is greater than the first, I despise myself, my cowardice, I cover myself with reproaches, but I cannot change myself In vain I tell myself that I have destroyed your happiness, that you have the right now to regard me as a frivolous flirt, that I myself drew you on, that I have given you solemn promises. . . . I am full of horror, of hatred for myself, but I can't do otherwise, I can't, I can't. I don't want to justify myself, I won't tell you I was carried away myself . . . all that 's of no importance; but I want to tell you, and to say it again and yet again, I am yours, yours for ever, do with me as you will when you will, free from all obligation, from all responsibility! I am yours. . . . But run away, throw up everything . . . no! no! no! I besought you to save me, I hoped to wipe out everything, to burn up the past as in a fire . . . but I see there is no salvation for me; I see the poison has gone too deeply into me; I see one cannot breathe this atmosphere for years with impunity. I have long hesitated whether to write you this letter, I dread to think what decision you may come to, I trust only to your love for me. But I felt it would be dishonest on my part to hide the truth from you—especially as perhaps you have already begun to take the first steps for carrying out our project. Ah! it was lovely but impracticable. О my dear one, think me a weak, worthless woman, despise, but don't abandon me, don't abandon your Irina ! . . . To leave this life I have not the courage, but live it without you I cannot either. We soon go back to Petersburg, come there, live there, we will find occupation for you, your labours in the past shall not be thrown away, you shall find good use for them . . . only live near me, only love me; such as I am, with all my weaknesses and my vices, and believe me, no heart will ever be so tenderly devoted to you as the heart of your Irina. Come soon to me, I shall not have an instant's peace until I see you. — Yours, yours, yours, I.' (Chapter XXV)


According to Marina, at Van’s age she would have poisoned her governess with anti-roach borax if forbidden to read Turgenev’s Smoke:


Her intimacy with her cher, trop cher René, as she sometimes called Van in gentle jest, changed the reading situation entirely — whatever decrees still remained pinned up in mid-air. Soon upon his arrival at Ardis, Van warned his former governess (who had reasons to believe in his threats) that if he were not permitted to remove from the library at any time, for any length of time, and without any trace of ‘en lecture,’ any volume, collected works, boxed pamphlets or incunabulum that he might fancy, he would have Miss Vertograd, his father’s librarian, a completely servile and infinitely accommodative spinster of Verger’s format and presumable date of publication, post to Ardis Hall trunkfuls of eighteenth century libertines, German sexologists, and a whole circus of Shastras and Nefsawis in literal translation with apocryphal addenda. Puzzled Mlle Larivière would have consulted the Master of Ardis, but she never discussed with him anything serious since the day (in January, 1876) when he had made an unexpected (and rather halfhearted, really — let us be fair) pass at her. As to dear, frivolous Marina, she only remarked, when consulted, that at Van’s age she would have poisoned her governess with anti-roach borax if forbidden to read, for example, Turgenev’s Smoke. Thereafter, anything Ada wanted or might have wanted to want was placed by Van at her disposal in various safe nooks, and the only visible consequence of Verger’s perplexities and despair was an increase in the scatter of a curious snow-white dust that he always left here and there, on the dark carpet, in this or that spot of plodding occupation — such a cruel curse on such a neat little man! (1.21)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): cher, trop cher René: dear, too dear (his sister’s words in Chateaubriand’s René).

en lecture: ‘out’.


It seems that poor Aqua went mad, because she was poisoned by her sister. Aqua's last note was signed "My sister's sister who teper' iz ada (now is out of hell)" (1.3). In his story Zhenshchina s tochki zreniya p’yanitsy (“Woman as Seen by a Drunkard,” 1885) signed Brat moego brata (“My brother’s brother”) Chekhov compares girls under sixteen to aqua distillata (distilled water). In his story Vory (“The Horse-Stealers,” 1890) Chekhov mentions belyi kon' (a white horse):


Фельдшер отцепил ключик и отдал ей. Она вдруг вытянула шею, прислушалась и сделала серьезное лицо, и взгляд ее показался фельдшеру холодным и лукавым; он вспомнил про коня и уже легко отстранил ее и выбежал на двор. Под навесом мерно и лениво хрюкала засыпавшая свинья и стучала рогом корова... Фельдшер зажег спичку и увидел и свинью, и корову, и собак, которые со всех сторон бросились к нему на огонь, но лошади и след простыл. Крича и махая руками на собак, спотыкаясь о сугробы и увязая в снегу, он выбежал за ворота и стал вглядываться в потемки. Он напрягал зрение и видел только, как летал снег и как снежинки явственно складывались в разные фигуры: то выглянет из потемок белая смеющаяся рожа мертвеца, то проскачет белый конь, а на нем амазонка в кисейном платье, то пролетит над головою вереница белых лебедей... Дрожа от гнева и холода, не зная, что делать, фельдшер выстрелил из револьвера в собак и не попал ни в одну, потом бросился назад в дом.


Yergunov unfastened the key and gave it to her. She suddenly craned her neck and listened with a grave face, and her expression struck Yergunov as cold and cunning; he thought of his horse, and now easily pushed her aside and ran out into the yard. In the shed a sleepy pig was grunting with lazy regularity and a cow was knocking her horn. Yergunov lighted a match and saw the pig, and the cow, and the dogs, which rushed at him on all sides at seeing the light, but there was no trace of the horse. Shouting and waving his arms at the dogs, stumbling over the drifts and sticking in the snow, he ran out at the gate and fell to gazing into the darkness. He strained his eyes to the utmost, and saw only the snow flying and the snowflakes distinctly forming into all sorts of shapes; at one moment the white, laughing face of a corpse would peep out of the darkness, at the next a white horse would gallop by with an Amazon in a muslin dress upon it, at the next a string of white swans would fly overhead. . . . Shaking with anger and cold, and not knowing what to do, Yergunov fired his revolver at the dogs, and did not hit one of them; then he rushed back to the house.