Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 3, Chapter 5 (annotations forthcoming)

At five p.m., June 3, his ship had sailed from Le Havre-de-Grâce;
on the evening of the same day Van embarked at Old Hants-
port. He had spent most of the afternoon playing court tennis
with Delaurier, the famous Negro coach, and felt very dull and
474.05 drowsy as he watched the low sun’s ardency break into green-
golden eye-spots a few sea-serpent yards to starboard, on the
far-side slope of the bow wave. Presently he decided to turn
in, walked down to the A deck, devoured some of the still-life
fruit prepared for him in his sitting room, attempted to read
474.10 in bed the proofs of an essay he was contributing to a festschrift
on the occasion of Professor Counterstone’s eightieth birthday,
gave it up, and fell asleep. A tempest went into convulsions
around midnight, but despite the lunging and creaking (To-
bakoff was an embittered old vessel) Van managed to sleep
474.15 soundly, the only reaction on the part of his dormant mind
being the dream image of an aquatic peacock, slowly sinking
before somersaulting like a diving grebe, near the shore of the
lake bearing his name in the ancient kingdom of Arrowroot.
Upon reviewing that bright dream he traced its source to his
474.20 recent visit to Armenia where he had gone fowling with Arm-

[ 474 ]

borough and that gentleman’s extremely compliant and ac-
complished niece. He wanted to make a note of it—and was
amused to find that all three pencils had not only left his bed
table but had neatly aligned themselves head to tail along the
475.05 bottom of the outer door of the adjacent room, having covered
quite a stretch of blue carpeting in the course of their stopped
The steward brought him a Continental breakfast, the
ship’s newspaper, and the list of first-class passengers. Under
475.10 “Tourism in Italy,” the little newspaper informed him that a
Domodossola farmer had unearthed the bones and trappings of
one of Hannibal’s elephants, and that two American psychia-
trists (names not given) had died an odd death in the Bocaletto
range: the older fellow from heart failure and his boy friend
475.15 by suicide. After pondering the Admiral’s morbid interest in
Italian mountains, Van clipped the item and picked up the
passenger list (pleasingly surmounted by the same crest that
adorned Cordula’s notepaper) in order to see if there was any-
body to be avoided during the next days. The list yielded the
475.20 Robinson couple, Robert and Rachel, old bores of the family
(Bob had retired after directing for many years one of Uncle
Dan’s offices). His gaze, traveling on, tripped over Dr. Ivan
Veen and pulled up at the next name. What constricted his
heart? Why did he pass his tongue over his thick lips? Empty
475.25 formulas befitting the solemn novelists of former days who
thought they could explain everything.
The level of the water slanted and swayed in his bath imi-
tating the slow seesaw of the bright-blue, white-flecked sea in
the porthole of his bedroom. He rang up Miss Lucinda Veen,
475.30 whose suite was on the Main Deck amidships exactly above his,
but she was absent. Wearing a white polo-neck sweater and
tinted glasses, he went to look for her. She was not on the
Games Deck from where he looked down at some other red-
head, in a canvas chair on the Sun Deck: the girl sat writing

[ 475 ]

a letter at passionate speed and he thought that if ever he
switched from ponderous factitude to light fiction he would
have a jealous husband use binoculars to decipher from where
he stood that outpour of illicit affection.
476.05 She was not on the Promenade Deck where blanket-swathed
old people were reading the number-one best seller Salzman
and awaiting with borborygmic forebubbles the eleven o’clock
bouillon. He betook himself to the Grill, where he reserved a
table for two. He walked over to the bar and warmly greeted
476.10 bald fat Toby who had served on the Queen Guinevere in
1889, and 1890, and 1891, when she was still unmarried and he
a resentful fool. They could have eloped to Lopadusa as Mr.
and Mrs. Dairs or Sardi!
He espied their half-sister on the forecastle deck, looking
476.15 perilously pretty in a low-cut, brightly flowered, wind-worried
frock, talking to the bronzed but greatly aged Robinsons. She
turned toward him, brushing back the flying hair from her
face with a mixture of triumph and embarrassment in her ex-
pression, and presently they took leave of Rachel and Robert
476.20 who beamed after them, waving similarly raised hands to her,
to him, to life, to death, to the happy old days when Demon
paid all the gambling debts of their son, just before he was
killed in a head-on car collision.
She dispatched the pozharskiya kotletï with gratitude: he was
476.25 not scolding her for popping up as some sort of transcendental
(rather than transatlantic) stowaway; and in her eagerness to
see him she had botched her breakfast after having gone dinner-
less on the eve. She who enjoyed the hollows and hills of the
sea, when taking part in nautical sports, or the ups and oops,
476.30 when flying, had been ignominiously sick aboard this, her first
liner; but the Robinsons had given her a marvelous medicine,
she had slept ten hours, in Van’s arms all the time, and now
hoped that both he and she were tolerably awake except for
the fuzzy edge left by the drug.

[ 476 ]

Quite kindly he asked where she thought she was going.
To Ardis, with him—came the prompt reply—for ever and
ever. Robinson’s grandfather had died in Araby at the age of
one hundred and thirty-one, so Van had still a whole century
477.05 before him, she would build for him, in the park, several
pavilions to house his successive harems, they would gradually
turn, one after the other, into homes for aged ladies, and then
into mausoleums. There hung, she said, a steeplechase picture
of “Pale Fire with Tom Cox Up” above dear Cordula’s and
477.10 Tobak’s bed, in the suite “wangled in one minute flat” from
them, and she wondered how it affected the Tobaks’ love life
during sea voyages. Van interrupted Lucette’s nervous patter
by asking her if her bath taps bore the same inscriptions as his:
Hot Domestic, Cold Salt. Yes, she cried, Old Salt, Old Salzman,
477.15 Ardent Chambermaid, Comatose Captain!
They met again in the afternoon.
To most of the Tobakoff’s first-class passengers the after-
noon of June 4, 1901, in the Atlantic, on the meridian of Ice-
land and the latitude of Ardis, seemed little conducive to open-
477.20 air frolics: the fervor of its cobalt sky kept being cut by glacial
gusts, and the wash of an old-fashioned swimming pool rhyth-
mically flushed the green tiles, but Lucette was a hardy girl
used to bracing winds no less than to the detestable sun. Spring
in Fialta and a torrid May on Minataor, the famous artificial
477.25 island, had given a nectarine hue to her limbs, which looked
lacquered with it when wet, but re-evolved their natural bloom
as the breeze dried her skin. With glowing cheekbones and
that glint of copper showing from under her tight rubber cap
on nape and forehead, she evoked the Helmeted Angel of the
477.30 Yukonsk Ikon whose magic effect was said to change anemic
blond maidens into konskie deti, freckled red-haired lads, chil-
dren of the Sun Horse.
She returned after a brief swim to the sun terrace where
Van lay and said:

[ 477 ]

“You can’t imagine”—(“I can imagine anything,” he in-
sisted)—“you can imagine, okay, what oceans of lotions and
streams of creams I am compelled to use—in the privacy of my
balconies or in desolate sea caves—before I can exhibit myself
478.05 to the elements. I always teeter on the tender border between
sunburn and suntan—or between lobster and Obst as writes
Herb, my beloved painter—I’m reading his diary published by
his last duchess, it’s in three mixed languages and lovely, I’ll
lend it to you. You see, darling, I’d consider myself a pied
478.10 cheat if the small parts I conceal in public were not of the
same color as those on show.”
“You looked to me kind of sandy allover when you were
inspected in 1892,” said Van.
“I’m a brand-new girl now,” she whispered. “A happy new
478.15 girl. Alone with you on an abandoned ship, with ten days at
least till my next flow. I sent you a silly note to Kingston, just
in case you didn’t turn up.”
They were now reclining on a poolside mat face to face, in
symmetrical attitudes, he leaning his head on his right hand,
478.20 she propped on her left elbow. The strap of her green breast-
cups had slipped down her slender arm, disclosing drops and
streaks of water at the base of one nipple. An abyss of a few
inches separated the jersey he wore from her bare midriff, the
black wool of his trunks from her soaked green pubic mask.
478.25 The sun glazed her hipbone; a shadowed dip led to the five-
year-old trace of an appendectomy. Her half-veiled gaze dwelt
upon him with heavy, opaque greed, and she was right, they
were really quite alone, he had possessed Marion Armborough
behind her uncle’s back in much more complex circumstances,
478.30 what with the motorboat jumping like a flying fish and his
host keeping a shotgun near the steering wheel. Joylessly, he
felt the stout snake of desire weightily unwind; grimly, he re-
gretted not having exhausted the fiend in Villa Venus. He ac-
cepted the touch of her blind hand working its way up his

[ 478 ]

thigh and cursed nature for having planted a gnarled tree
bursting with vile sap within a man’s crotch. Suddenly Lucette
drew away, exhaling a genteel “merde.” Eden was full of
479.05 Two half-naked children in shrill glee came running toward
the pool. A Negro nurse brandished their diminutive bras in
angry pursuit. Out of the water a bald head emerged by spon-
taneous generation and snorted. The swimming coach appeared
from the dressing room. Simultaneously, a tall splendid crea-
479.10 ture with trim ankles and repulsively fleshy thighs, stalked
past the Veens, all but treading on Lucette’s emerald-studded
cigarette case. Except for a golden ribbon and a bleached
mane, her long, ripply, beige back was bare all the way down
to the tops of her slowly and lusciously rolling buttocks, which
479.15 divulged, in alternate motion, their nether bulges from under the
lamé loincloth. Just before disappearing behind a rounded white
corner, the Titianesque Titaness half-turned her brown face
and greeted Van with a loud “hullo!”
Lucette wanted to know: kto siya pava? (who’s that stately
479.20 dame?)
“I thought she addressed you,” answered Van, “I did not
distinguish her face and do not remember that bottom.”
“She gave you a big jungle smile,” said Lucette, readjusting
her green helmet, with touchingly graceful movements of her
479.25 raised wings, and touchingly flashing the russet feathering of
her armpits.
“Come with me, hm?” she suggested, rising from the mat.
He shook his head, looking up at her: “You rise,” he said,
“like Aurora,”
479.30 “His first compliment,” observed Lucette with a little cock
of her head as if speaking to an invisible confidant.
He put on his tinted glasses and watched her stand on the
diving board, her ribs framing the hollow of her intake as she
prepared to ardis into the amber. He wondered, in a mental

[ 479 ]

footnote that might come handy some day, if sunglasses or any
other varieties of vision, which certainly twist our concept of
“space,” do not also influence our style of speech. The two
well-formed lassies, the nurse, the prurient merman, the nata-
480.05 torium master, all looked on with Van.
“Second compliment ready,” he said as she returned to his
side. “You’re a divine diver. I go in with a messy plop.”
“But you swim faster,” she complained, slipping off her shoul-
der straps and turning into a prone position; “Mezhdu prochim
480.10 (by the way), is it true that a sailor in Tobakoff’s day was not
taught to swim so he wouldn’t die a nervous wreck if the ship
went down?”
“A common sailor, perhaps,” said Van. “When michman
Tobakoff himself got shipwrecked off Gavaille, he swam around
480.15 comfortably for hours, frightening away sharks with snatches
of old songs and that sort of thing, until a fishing boat rescued
him—one of those miracles that require a minimum of coopera-
tion from all concerned, I imagine,”
Demon, she said, had told her, last year at the funeral, that
480.20 he was buying an island in the Gavailles (“incorrigible dreamer,”
drawled Van). He had “wept like a fountain” in Nice, but had
cried with even more abandon in Valentina, at an earlier cere-
mony, which poor Marina did not attend either. The wedding
—in the Greek-faith style, if you please—looked like a badly
480.25 faked episode in an old movie, the priest was gaga and the
dyakon drunk, and—perhaps, fortunately—Ada’s thick white
veil was as impervious to light as a widow’s weeds. Van said
he would not listen to that.
“Oh, you must,” she rejoined, “hotya bï potomu (if only be-
480.30 cause) one of her shafer’s (bachelors who take turns holding
the wedding crown over the bride’s head) looked momentarily,
in impassive profile and impertinent attitude (he kept raising
the heavy metallic venets too high, too athletically high as if
trying on purpose to keep it as far as possible from her head),

[ 480 ]

exactly like you, like a pale, ill-shaven twin, delegated by you
from wherever you were,”
At a place nicely called Agony, in Terra del Fuego. He felt
an uncanny tingle as he recalled that when he received there
481.05 the invitation to the wedding (airmailed by the groom’s sinister
sister) he was haunted for several nights by dream after dream,
growing fainter each time (much as her movie he was to pursue
from flick-house to flick-house at a later stage of his life) of
his holding that crown over her.
481.10 “Your father,” added Lucette, “paid a man from Belladonna
to take pictures—but of course, real fame begins only when
one’s name appears in that cine-magazine’s crossword puzzle.
We all know it will never happen, never! Do you hate me
481.15 “I don’t,” he said, passing his hand over her sun-hot back and
rubbing her coccyx to make pussy purr. “Alas, I don’t! I love
you with a brother’s love and maybe still more tenderly. Would
you like me to order drinks?”
“I’d like you to go on and on,” she muttered, her nose buried
481.20 in the rubber pillow.
“There’s that waiter coming. What shall we have—Hono-
“You’ll have them with Miss Condor” (nasalizing the first
syllable) “when I go to dress. For the moment I want only
481.25 tea. Mustn’t mix drugs and drinks. Have to take the famous
Robinson pill sometime tonight. Sometime tonight.”
“Two teas, please.”
“And lots of sandwiches, George. Foie gras, ham, anything.”
“It’s very bad manners,” remarked Van, “to invent a name
481.30 for a poor chap who can’t answer: ‘Yes, Mademoiselle Condor.’
Best Franco-English pun I’ve ever heard, incidentally.”
“But his name is George. He was awfully kind to me yester-
day when I threw up in the middle of the tearoom.”
“For the sweet all is sweet,” murmured Van.

[ 481 ]

“And so were the old Robinsons,” she rambled on. “Not
much chance, is there, they might turn up here? They’ve been
sort of padding after me, rather pathetically, ever since we
happened to have lunch at the same table on the boat-train,
482.05 and I realized who they were but was sure they would not
recognize the little fat girl seen in eighteen eighty-five or -six,
but they are hypnotically talkative—at first we thought you
were French, this salmon is really delicious, what’s your home
town?—and I’m a weak fool, and one thing led to another.
482.10 Young people are less misled by the passage of time than the
established old who have not much changed lately and are not
used to the long-unseen young changing.”
“That’s very clever, darling,” said Van “—except that time
itself is motionless and changeless.”
482.15 “Yes, it’s always I in your lap and the receding road. Roads
“Roads move.”
After tea Lucette remembered an appointment with the hair-
dresser and left in a hurry. Van peeled off his jersey and stayed
482.20 on for a while, brooding, fingering the little green-gemmed case
with five Rosepetal cigarettes, trying to enjoy the heat of the
platinum sun in its aura of “film-color” but only managing to
fan, with every shiver and heave of the ship, the fire of evil
482.25 A moment later, as if having spied on his solitude the pava
(peahen) reappeared—this time with an apology.
Polite Van, scrambling up to his feet and browing his spec-
tacles, started to apologize in his turn (for misleading her in-
nocently) but his little speech petered out in stupefaction as he
482.30 looked at her face and saw in it a gross and grotesque caricature
of unforgettable features. That mulatto skin, that silver-blond
hair, those fat purple lips, reinacted in coarse negative her ivory,
her raven, her pale pout.
“I was told,” she explained, “that a great friend of mine,

[ 482 ]

Vivian Vale, the cootooriay—voozavay entendue?—had shaved
his beard, in which case he’d look rather like you, right?”
“Logically, no, ma’am,” replied Van.
She hesitated for the flirt of a second, licking her lips, not
483.05 knowing whether he was being rude or ready—and here Lucette
returned for her Rosepetals.
“See you aprey,” said Miss Condor.
Lucette’s gaze escorted to a good-riddance exit the indolent
motion of those gluteal lobes and folds.
483.10 “You deceived me, Van. It is, it is one of your gruesome
“I swear,“ said Van, “that’s she’s a perfect stranger. I wouldn’t
deceive you.”
“You deceived me many, many times when I was a little girl.
483.15 If you’re doing it now tu sais que j’en vais mourir.”
“You promised me a harem,” Van gently rebuked her.
“Not today, not today! Today is sacred.”
The cheek he intended to kiss was replaced by her quick
mad mouth.
483.20 “Come and see my cabin,” she pleaded as he pushed her away
with the very spring, as it were, of his animal reaction to the
fire of her lips and tongue. “I simply must show you their
pillows and piano. There’s Cordula’s smell in all the drawers.
I beseech you!”
483.25 “Run along now,” said Van. “You’ve no right to excite me
like that. I’ll hire Miss Condor to chaperone me if you do not
behave yourself. We dine at seven-fifteen.”
In his bedroom he found a somewhat belated invitation to
the Captain’s table for dinner. It was addressed to Dr. and Mrs.
483.30 Ivan Veen. He had been on the ship once before, in between
the Queens, and remembered Captain Cowley as a bore and
an ignoramus.
He called the steward and bade him carry the note back,
with the penciled scrawl: “no such couple.” He lay in his bath

[ 483 ]

for twenty minutes. He attempted to focus on something else
besides a hysterical virgin’s body. He discovered an insidious
omission in his galleys where an entire line was wanting, with
the vitiated paragraph looking, however, quite plausible—to
484.05 an automatic reader—since the truncated end of one sentence,
and the lower-case beginning of the other, now adjacent, fitted
to form a syntactically correct passage, the insipidity of which
he might never have noticed in the present folly of his flesh,
had he not recollected (a recollection confirmed by his type-
484.10 script) that at this point should have come a rather apt, all
things considered, quotation: Insiste, anime meus, et adtende
fortiter (courage, my soul and press on strongly).
“Sure you’d not prefer the restaurant?” he inquired when
Lucette, looking even more naked in her short evening frock
484.15 than she had in her “bickny,” joined him at the door of the
grill. “It’s crowded and gay down there, with a masturbating
jazzband. No?”
Tenderly she shook her jeweled head.
They had huge succulent “grugru shrimps” (the yellow
484.20 larvae of a palm weevil) and roast bearlet à la Tobakoff. Only
half-a-dozen tables were occupied, and except for a nasty engine
vibration, which they had not noticed at lunch, everything was
subdued, soft, and cozy. He took advantage of her odd demure
silence to tell her in detail about the late pencil-palpating Mr.
484.25 Muldoon and also about a Kingston case of glossolalia involving
a Yukonsk woman who spoke several Slavic-like dialects which
existed, maybe, on Terra, but certainly not in Estotiland. Alas,
another case (with a quibble on cas) engaged his attention
484.30 She asked questions with pretty co-ed looks of doelike devo-
tion, but it did not require much scientific training on a pro-
fessor’s part to perceive that her charming embarrassment and
the low notes furring her voice were as much contrived as her
afternoon effervescence had been. Actually she thrashed in the

[ 484 ]

throes of an emotional disarray which only the heroic self-
control of an American aristocrat could master. Long ago she
had made up her mind that by forcing the man whom she ab-
surdly but irrevocably loved to have intercourse with her, even
485.05 once, she would, somehow, with the help of some prodigious
act of nature, transform a brief tactile event into an eternal
spiritual tie; but she also knew that if it did not happen on the
first night of their voyage, their relationship would slip back
into the exhausting, hopeless, hopelessly familiar pattern of
485.10 banter and counterbanter, with the erotic edge taken for
granted, but kept as raw as ever. He understood her condition
or at least believed, in despair, that he had understood it, retro-
spectively, by the time no remedy except Dr. Henry’s oil of
Atlantic prose could be found in the medicine chest of the past
485.15 with its banging door and toppling toothbrush.
As he gloomily looked at her thin bare shoulders, so mobile
and tensile that one wondered if she could not cross them in
front of her like stylized angel wings, he reflected abjectly that
he would have to endure, if conforming to his innermost code
485.20 of honor, five such days of ruttish ache—not only because she
was lovely and special but because he could never go without
girl pleasure for more than forty-eight hours. He feared pre-
cisely that which she wanted to happen: that once he had tasted
her wound and its grip, she would keep him insatiably captive
485.25 for weeks, maybe months, maybe more, but that a harsh
separation would inevitably come, with a new hope and the
old despair never able to strike a balance. But worst of all,
while aware, and ashamed, of lusting after a sick child, he felt,
in an obscure twist of ancient emotions, his lust sharpened by
485.30 the shame.
They had sweet, thick Turkish coffee and surreptitiously he
looked at his wrist watch to check—what? How long the tor-
ture of self-denial could still be endured? How soon were cer-
tain events coming such as a ballroom dance competition? Her

[ 485 ]

age? (Lucinda Veen was only five hours old if one reversed
the human “time current.”)
She was such a pathetic darling that, as they proceeded to
leave the grill, he could not help, for sensuality is the best
486.05 breeding broth of fatal error, caressing her glossy young shoul-
der so as to fit for an instant, the happiest in her life, its ideal
convexity bilboquet-wise within the hollow of his palm. Then
she walked before him as conscious of his gaze as if she were
winning a prize for “poise.” He could describe her dress only
486.10 as struthious (if there existed copper-curled ostriches), ac-
centuating as it did the swing of her stance, the length of her
legs in ninon stockings. Objectively speaking, her chic was
keener than that of her “vaginal” sister. As they crossed land-
ings where velvet ropes were hastily stretched by Russian
486.15 sailors (who glanced with sympathy at the handsome pair
speaking their incomparable tongue) or walked this or that
deck, Lucette made him think of some acrobatic creature im-
mune to the rough seas. He saw with gentlemanly displeasure
that her tilted chin and black wings, and free stride, attracted
486.20 not only blue innocent eyes but the bold stare of lewd fellow
passengers. He loudly exclaimed that he would slap the next
jackanapes, and involuntarily walked backward with ridiculous
truculent gestures into a folded deck chair (he also running the
reel of time backward, in a minor way), which caused her to
486.25 emit a yelp of laughter. Feeling now much happier, enjoying
his gallant champagne-temper, she steered Van away from the
mirage of her admirers, back to the lift.
They examined without much interest the objects of pleasure
in a display window. Lucette sneered at a gold-threaded swim-
486.30 suit. The presence of a riding crop and a pickax puzzled Van.
Half a dozen glossy-jacketed copies of Salzman were impres-
sively heaped between a picture of the handsome, thoughtful,
now totally forgotten, author and a Mingo-Bingo vase of im-

[ 486 ]

He clutched at a red rope and they entered the lounge;
“Whom did she look like?” asked Lucette. “En laid et en
“I don’t know,” he lied. “Whom?”
487.05 “Skip it,” she said. “You’re mine tonight. Mine, mine, mine!”
She was quoting Kipling—the same phrase that Ada used to
address to Dack. He cast around for a straw of Procrustean
“Please,” said Lucette, “I’m tired of walking around, I’m
487.10 frail, I’m feverish, I hate storms, let’s all go to bed!”
“Hey, look!” he cried, pointing to a poster. “They’re show-
ing something called Don Juan’s Last Fling. It’s prerelease and
for adults only. Topical Tobakoff!
“It’s going to be an unmethylated bore,” said Lucy (Houssaie
487.15 School, 1890) but he had already pushed aside the entrance
They came in at the beginning of an introductory picture,
featuring a cruise to Greenland, with heavy seas in gaudy
technicolor. It was a rather irrelevant trip since their Tobakoff
487.20 did not contemplate calling at Godhavn; moreover, the cinema
theater was swaying in counterrhythm to the cobalt-and-emerald
swell on the screen. No wonder the place was emptovato, as
Lucette observed, and she went on to say that the Robinsons
had saved her life by giving her on the eve a tubeful of Quietus
487.25 Pills.
“Want one? One a day keeps ‘no shah’ away. Pun. You can
chew it, it’s sweet.”
“Jolly good name. No, thank you, my sweet. Besides you
have only five left.”
487.30 “Don’t worry, I have it all planned out. There may be less
than five days.”
“More in fact, but no matter. Our measurements of time are
meaningless; the most accurate clock is a joke; you’ll read all
about it someday, you just wait.”

[ 487 ]

“Perhaps, not. I mean, perhaps I shan’t have the patience. I
mean, his charwoman could never finish reading Leonardo’s
palm. I may fall asleep before I get through your next book.”
“An art-class legend,” said Van.
488.05 “That’s the final iceberg, I know by the music. Let’s go, Van!
Or you want to see Hoole as Hooan?”
She brushed his cheek with her lips in the dark, she took his
hand, she kissed his knuckles, and he suddenly thought: after all,
why not? Tonight? Tonight.
488.10 He enjoyed her impatience, the fool permitted himself to be
stirred by it, the cretin whispered, prolonging the free, new,
apricot fire of anticipation:
“If you’re a good girl we’ll have drinks in my sitting room
at midnight.”
488.15 The main picture had now started. The three leading parts—
cadaverous Don Juan, paunchy Leporello on his donkey, and
not too irresistible, obviously forty-year-old Donna Anna—
were played by solid stars, whose images passed by in “semi-
stills,” or as some say “translucencies,” in a brief introduction.
488.20 Contrary to expectations, the picture turned out to be quite
On the way to the remote castle where the difficult lady,
widowed by his sword, has finally promised him a long night
of love in her chaste and chilly chamber, the aging libertine
488.25 nurses his potency by spurning the advances of a succession of
robust belles. A gitana predicts to the gloomy cavalier that be-
fore reaching the castle he will have succumbed to the wiles
of her sister, Dolores, a dancing girl (lifted from Osberg’s
novella, as was to be proved in the ensuing lawsuit). She also
488.30 predicted something to Van, for even before Dolores came out
of the circus tent to water Juan’s horse, Van knew who she
would be.
In the magic rays of the camera, in the controlled delirium
of ballerina grace, ten years of her life had glanced off and

[ 488 ]

she was again that slip of a girl qui n’en porte pas (as he had
jested once to annoy her governess by a fictitious Frenchman’s
mistranslation): a remembered triviality that intruded upon the
chill of his present emotion with the jarring stupidity of an
489.05 innocent stranger’s asking an absorbed voyeur for directions
in a labyrinth of mean lanes.
Lucette recognized Ada three or four seconds later, but then
clutched his wrist:
“Oh, how awful! It was bound to happen. That’s she! Let’s
489.10 go, please, let’s go. You must not see her debasing herself. She’s
terribly made up, every gesture is childish and wrong—”
“Just another minute,” said Van.
Terrible? Wrong? She was absolutely perfect, and strange,
and poignantly familiar. By some stroke of art, by some en-
489.15 chantment of chance, the few brief scenes she was given formed
a perfect compendium of her 1884 and 1888 and 1892 looks.
The gitanilla bends her head over the live table of Leporello’s
servile back to trace on a scrap of parchment a rough map of
the way to the castle. Her neck shows white through her long
489.20 black hair separated by the motion of her shoulder. It is no
longer another man’s Dolores, but a little girl twisting an aqua-
relle brush in the paint of Van’s blood, and Donna Anna’s castle
is now a bog flower.
The Don rides past three windmills, whirling black against
489.25 an ominous sunset, and saves her from the miller who accuses
her of stealing a fistful of flour and tears her thin dress. Wheezy
but still game, Juan carries her across a brook (her bare toe
acrobatically tickling his face) and sets her down, top up, on
the turf of an olive grove. Now they stand facing each other.
489.30 She fingers voluptuously the jeweled pommel of his sword,
she rubs her firm girl belly against his embroidered tights, and
all at once the grimace of a premature spasm writhes across the
poor Don’s expressive face. He angrily disentangles himself
and staggers back to his steed.

[ 489 ]

Van, however, did not understand until much later (when
he saw—had to see; and then see again and again—the entire
film, with its melancholy and grotesque ending in Donna Anna’s
castle) that what seemed an incidental embrace constituted the
490.05 Stone Cuckold’s revenge. In fact, being upset beyond measure,
he decided to go even before the olive-grove sequence dissolved.
Just then three old ladies with stony faces showed their disap-
proval of the picture by rising from beyond Lucette (who was
slim enough to remain seated) and brushing past Van (who
490.10 stood up) in three jerky shuffles. Simultaneously he noticed two
people, the long-lost Robinsons, who apparently had been sep-
arated from Lucette by those three women, and were now
moving over to her. Beaming and melting in smiles of benev-
olence and self-effacement, they sidled up and plumped down
490.15 next to Lucette, who turned to them with her last, last, last free
gift of staunch courtesy that was stronger than failure and
death. They were craning already across her, with radiant
wrinkles and twittery fingers toward Van when he pounced
upon their intrusion to murmur a humorous bad-sailor excuse
490.20 and leave the cinema hall to its dark lurching.
In a series of sixty-year-old actions which now I can grind
into extinction only by working on a succession of words until
the rhythm is right, I, Van, retired to my bathroom, shut the
door (it swung open at once, but then closed of its own accord)
490.25 and using a temporary expedient less far-fetched than that hit
upon by Father Sergius (who chops off the wrong member in
Count Tolstoy’s famous anecdote), vigorously got rid of the
prurient pressure as he had done the last time seventeen years
ago. And how sad, how significant that the picture projected
490.30 upon the screen of his paroxysm, while the unlockable door
swung open again with the movement of a deaf man cupping
his ear, was not the recent and pertinent image of Lucette, but
the indelible vision of a bent bare neck and a divided flow of
black hair and a purple-tipped paint brush.

[ 490 ]

Then, for the sake of safety, he repeated the disgusting but
necessary act.
He saw the situation dispassionately now and felt he was
doing right by going to bed and switching off the “ectric” light
491.05 (a surrogate creeping back into international use). The blue
ghost of the room gradually established itself as his eyes got
used to the darkness. He prided himself on his willpower. He
welcomed the dull pain in his drained root. He welcomed the
thought which suddenly seemed so absolutely true, and new,
491.10 and as lividly real as the slowly widening gap of the sitting
room’s doorway, namely, that on the morrow (which was at
least, and at best, seventy years away) he would explain to
Lucette, as a philosopher and another girl’s brother, that he
knew how agonizing and how absurd it was to put all one’s
491.15 spiritual fortune on one physical fancy and that his plight closely
resembled hers, but that he managed, after all, to live, to work,
and not pine away because he refused to wreck her life with a
brief affair and because Ada was still a child. At that point the
surface of logic began to be affected by a ripple of sleep, but
491.20 he sprang back into full consciousness at the sound of the
telephone. The thing seemed to squat for each renewed burst
of ringing and at first he decided to let it ring itself out. Then
his nerves surrendered to the insisting signal, and he snatched
up the receiver.
491.25 No doubt he was morally right in using the first pretext at
hand to keep her away from his bed; but he also knew, as a
gentleman and an artist, that the lump of words he brought up
was trite and cruel, and it was only because she could not
accept him as being either, that she believed him:
491.30 Mozhno pridti teper’ (can I come now)?” asked Lucette.
Ya ne odin (I’m not alone),” answered Van.
A small pause followed; then she hung up.
After he had stolen away, she had remained trapped between
the cozy Robinsons (Rachel, dangling a big handbag, had

[ 491 ]

squeezed by immediately to the place Van had vacated, and Bob
had moved one seat up). Because of a sort of pudeur she did not
inform them that the actress (obscurely and fleetingly billed as
“Theresa Zegris” in the “going-up” lift-list at the end of the
492.05 picture) who had managed to obtain the small but not unim-
portant part of the fatal gipsy was none other than the pallid
schoolgirl they might have seen in Ladore. They invited Lucette
to a Coke with them—proselytical teetotalists—in their cabin,
which was small and stuffy and badly insulated, one could hear
492.10 every word and whine of two children being put to bed by a
silent seasick nurse, so late, so late—no, not children, but prob-
ably very young, very much disappointed honeymooners.
“We understand,” said Robert Robinson going for another
supply to his portable fridge, “we understand perfectly that
492.15 Dr. Veen is deeply immersed in his Inter Resting Work—per-
sonally, I sometimes regret having retired—but do you think,
Lucy, prosit!, that he might accept to have dinner tomorrow
with you and us and maybe Another Couple, whom he’ll cer-
tainly enjoy meeting? Shall Mrs. Robinson send him a formal
492.20 invitation? Would you sign it, too?”
“I don’t know, I’m very tired,” she said, “and the rock and
roll are getting worse. I guess I’ll go up to my hutch and take
your Quietus. Yes, by all means, let’s have dinner, all of us.
I really needed that lovely cold drink.”
492.25 Having cradled the nacred receiver she changed into black
slacks and a lemon shirt (planned for tomorrow morning);
looked in vain for a bit of plain notepaper without caravelle or
crest; ripped out the flyleaf of Herb’s Journal, and tried to
think up something amusing, harmless, and scintillating to say
492.30 in a suicide note. But she had planned everything except that
note, so she tore her blank life in two and disposed of the pieces
in the W.C.; she poured herself a glass of dead water from a
moored decanter, gulped down one by one four green pills,
and, sucking the fifth, walked to the lift which took her one

[ 492 ]

click up from her three-room suite straight to the red-carpeted
promenade-deck bar. There, two sluglike young men were in
the act of sliding off their red toadstools, and the older one
said to the other as they turned to leave: “You may fool his
493.05 lordship, my dear, but not me, oh, no.”
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!
493.10 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
493.15 patted her ungloved hand.
Lucette recoiled and forced herself to retort distinctly and
“Mr. Veen, my cousin, will pay you tomorrow and bash
your false teeth in.”
493.20 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.
493.25 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.
493.30 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—

[ 493 ]

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
494.05 of another chapter. Owing to the tumultuous swell and her not
being sure which way to peer through the spray and the dark-
ness 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
494.10 next note.
Got it.
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
494.15 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
494.20 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 un-
494.25 analyzable 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
494.30 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

[ 494 ]

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
495.05 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

[ 495 ]

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