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Набоков Владимир. Книга: [Proofed to line 1994]. Страница 19
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Gradus sat staring at his new shoes - mahogany red with sieve-pitted caps. An ambulance screamed its impatient way through dark streets three stories below. Bretwit vented his irritation on the ancestral letters lying on the table. He snatched up the neat pile with its detached wrapping and flung it all in the wastepaper basket. The string dropped outside, at the feet of Gradus who picked it up and added it to the scripta.

"Please, go," said poor Bretwit. "I have a pain in my groin that is driving me mad. I have not slept for three nights. You journalists are an obstinate bunch but I am obstinate too. You will never learn from me anything about my kind. Good-bye."

He waited on the landing for his visitor's steps to go down and reach the front door. It was opened and closed, and presently the automatic light on the stairs went out with the sound of a kick.







Line 287: humming as you pack



The card (his twenty-fourth) with this passage (lines 287-299) is marked July 7th, and under that date in my little agenda I find this scribble: DR. AHLERT, 3:00 P.M. Feeling a bit nervous, as most people do at the prospect of seeing a doctor, I thought I would buy on my way to him something soothing - to prevent an accelerated pulse from misleading credulous science. I found the drops I wanted, took the aromatic draught in the pharmacy, and was coming out when I noticed the Shades leaving a shop next door. She was carrying a new traveling grip. The dreadful thought that they might be going away on a summer vacation neutralized the medicine I had just swallowed. One gets so accustomed to another life's running alongside one's own that a sudden turn-off on the part of the parallel satellite causes in one a feeling of stupefaction, emptiness, and injustice. And what is more he had not yet finished "my" poem!

"Planning to travel?" I asked, smiling and pointing at the bag.

Sybil raised it by the ears like a rabbit and considered it with my eyes.

"Yes, at the end of the month," she said. "After John is through with his work."

(The poem!)

"And where, pray?" (turning to John): Mr. Shade glanced at Mrs. Shade, and she replied for him in her usual brisk offhand fashion that they did not know for sure yet - it might be Wyoming or Utah or Montana and perhaps they would rent somewhere a cabin at 6,000 or 7,000 feet.

"Among the lupines and the aspens," said the poet gravely. (Conjuring up the scene.)

I started to calculate aloud in meters the altitude that I thought much too high for John's heart but Sybil pulled him by the sleeve reminding him they had more shopping to do, and I was left with about 2,000 meters and a valerian-flavored burp.

But occasionally black-winged fate can display exquisite thoughtfulness! Ten minutes later Dr. A. - who treated Shade, too - was telling me in stolid detail that the Shades had rented a little ranch some friends of theirs, who were going elsewhere, had at Cedarn in Utana on the Idoming border. From the doctor's I flitted over to a travel agency, obtained maps and booklets, studied them, learned that on the mountainside above Cedarn there were two or three clusters of cabins, rushed my order to the Cedarn Post Office, and a few days later had rented for the month of August what looked in the snapshots they sent me like a cross between a mujik's izba and Refuge Z, but it had a tiled bathroom and cost dearer than my Appalachian castle. Neither the Shades nor I breathed a word about our summer address but I knew, and they did not, that it was the same. The more I fumed at Sybil's evident intention to keep it concealed from me, the sweeter was the forevision of my sudden emergence in Tirolese garb from behind a boulder and of John's sheepish but pleased grin. During the fortnight that I had my demons fill my goetic mirror to overflow with those pink and mauve cliffs and black junipers and winding roads and sage brush changing to grass and lush blue flowers, and death-pale aspens, and an endless sequence of green-shorted Kinbotes meeting an anthology of poets and a brocken of their wives, I must have made some awful mistake in my incantations, for the mountain slope is dry and drear, and the Hurleys' tumble-down ranch, lifeless.







Line 293: She



Hazel Shade, the poet's daughter, born in 1934, died 1957 (see notes to lines 230 and 347).







Line 316: The Toothwort White haunted our woods in May



Frankly, I am not certain what this means. My dictionary defines "toothwort" as "a kind of cress" and the noun "white" as "any pure white breed of farm animal or a certain genus of lepidoptera." Little help is provided by the variant written in the margin:



In woods Virginia Whites occurred in May



Folklore characters, perhaps? Fairies? Or cabbage butterflies?







Line 319: wood duck



A pretty conceit. The wood duck, a richly colored bird, emerald, amethyst, carnelian, with black and white markings, is incomparably more beautiful than the much-overrated swan, a serpentine goose with a dirty neck of yellowish plush and a frogman's black rubber flaps.

Incidentally, the popular nomenclature of American animals reflects the simple utilitarian minds of ignorant pioneers and has not yet acquired the patina of European faunal names.







Line 334: Would never come for her



"Would he ever come for me?" I used to wonder waiting and waiting, in certain amber-and-rose crepuscules, for a ping-pong friend, or for old John Shade.







Line 347: old barn



This barn, or rather shed, where "certain phenomena" occurred in October 1956 (a few months prior to Hazel Shade's death) had belonged to one Paul Hentzner, an eccentric farmer of German extraction, with old-fashioned hobbies such as taxidermy and herborizing. Through an odd trick of atavism, he was (according to Shade who liked to talk about him - the only time, incidentally, when my sweet old friend became a tiny bit of a bore!) a throwback to the "curious Germans" who three centuries ago had been the fathers of the first great naturalists. Although by academic standards an uneducated man, with no real knowledge of far things in space or time, he had about him a colorful and earthy something that pleased John Shade much better than the suburban refinements of the English Department. He who displayed such fastidious care in his choice of fellow ramblers liked to trudge with the gaunt solemn German, every other evening, up the wood path to Dulwich, and all around his acquaintance's fields. Delighting as he did in the right word, he esteemed Hentzner for knowing "the names of things" - though some of those names were no doubt local monstrosities, or Germanisms, or pure inventions on the old rascal's part.

Now he was walking with another companion. Limpidly do I remember one perfect evening when my friend sparkled with quips, and marrowskies, and anecdotes, which I gallantly countered with tales of Zembla and hairbreadth escapes! As we were skirting Dulwich Forest, he interrupted me to indicate a natural grotto in the mossy rocks by the side of the path under the flowering dogwoods. This was the spot where the good farmer invariably stopped, and once, when they happened to be accompanied by his little boy, the latter, as he trotted beside them, pointed and remarked informatively: "Here Papa pisses." Another, less pointless, story awaited me at the top of the hill, where a square plot invaded with willow herb, milkweed and ironweed, and teeming with butterflies, contrasted sharply with the goldenrod all around it. After Hentzner's wife had left him (around 1950) taking with her their child, he sold his farmhouse (now replaced by a drive-in cinema) and went to live in town; but on summer nights he used to take a sleeping bag to the barn that stood at the far end of the land he still owned, and there one night he passed away.

That barn had stood on the weedy spot Shade was poking at with Aunt Maud's favorite cane. One Saturday evening a young student employee from the campus hotel and a local hoyden went into it for some purpose or other and were chatting or dozing there when they were frightened out of their wits by rattling sounds and flying lights causing them to flee in disorder. Nobody really cared what had routed them - whether it was an outraged ghost or a rejected swain. But the Wordsmith Gazette ("The oldest student newspaper in the USA") picked up the incident and started to worry the stuffing out of it like a mischievous pup. Several self-styled psychic researchers visited the place and the whole business was so blatantly turning into a rag, with the participation of the most notorious college pranksters, that Shade complained to the authorities with the result that the useless barn was demolished as constituting a fire hazard.

From Jane P. I obtained however a good deal of quite different, and much more pathetic information - which explained to me why my friend had thought fit to regale me with commonplace student mischief, but also made me regret that I prevented him from getting to the point he was confusedly and self-consciously making (for as I have said in an earlier note, he never cared to refer to his dead child) by filling in a welcome pause with an extraordinary episode from the history of Onhava University. That episode took place in the year of grace 1876. But to return to Hazel Shade. She decided she wanted to investigate the "phenomena" herself for a paper ("on any subject") required in her psychology course by a cunning professor who was collecting data on "Autoneurynological Patterns among American university students." Her parents permitted her to make a nocturnal visit to the barn only under the condition that Jane P. - deemed a pillar of reliability - accompany her. Hardly had the girls settled down when an electric storm that was to last all night enveloped their refuge with such theatrical ululations and flashes as to make it impossible to attend to any indoor sounds or lights. Hazel did not give up, and a few days later asked Jane to come with her again, but Jane could not. She tells me she suggested that the White twins (nice fraternity boys accepted by the Shades) would come instead. But Hazel flatly refused this new arrangement, and after a row with her parents took her bull's-eye and notebook and set off alone. One can well imagine how the Shades dreaded a recrudescence of the poltergeist nuisance but the ever-sagacious Dr. Sutton affirmed - on what authority I cannot tell - that cases in which the same person was again involved in the same type of outbreaks after a lapse of six years were practically unknown.

Jane allowed me to copy out some of Hazel's notes from a typescript based on jottings made on the spot:



10:14 P.M. Investigation commenced.

10:23. Scrappy and scrabbly sounds.

10:25. A roundlet of pale light, the size of a small doily, flitted across the dark walls, the boarded windows, and the floor; changed its place; lingered here and there, dancing up and down; seemed to wait in teasing play for evadable pounce. Gone.

10:37. Back again.



The notes continue for several pages but for obvious reasons I must renounce to give them verbatim in this commentary. There were long pauses and "scratches and scrapings" again, and returns of the luminous circlet. She spoke to it. If asked something that it found deliciously silly ("Are you a will-o-the-wisp?") it would dash to and fro in ecstatic negation, and when it wanted to give a grave answer to a grave question ("Are you dead?") would slowly ascend with an air of gathering altitude for a weighty affirmative drop. For brief periods of time it responded to the alphabet she recited by staying put until the right letter was called whereupon it gave a small jump of approval. But these jumps would get more and more listless, and after a couple of words had been slowly spelled out, the roundlet went limp like a tired child and finally crawled into a chink, out of which it suddenly flew with extravagant brio and started to spin around the walls in its eagerness to resume the game. The jumble of broken words and meaningless syllables which she managed at last to collect came out in her dutiful notes as a short line of simple letter-groups. I transcribe:

pada ata lane pad not ogo old wart alan ther tale feur far rant lant tal told



In her Remarks, the recorder states she had to recite the alphabet, or at least begin to recite it (there is a merciful preponderance of a's) eighty times, but of these seventeen yielded no results. Divisions based on such variable intervals cannot be but rather arbitrary; some of the balderdash may be recombined into other lexical units making no better sense (e. g., "war,"

"talant,"

"her,"

"arrant," etc.). The barn ghost seems to have expressed himself with the empasted difficulty of apoplexy or of a half-awakening from a half-dream slashed by a sword of light on the ceiling, a military disaster with cosmic consequences that cannot be phrased distinctly by the thick unwilling tongue. And in this case we too might wish to cut short a reader's or bedfellow's questions by sinking back into oblivion's bliss - had not a diabolical force urged us to seek a secret design in the abracadabra,





812: Some kind of link-and-bobolink,

some kind 813 Of correlated pattern in the game.



I abhor such games; they make my temples throb with abominable pain - but I have braved it and pored endlessly, with a commentator's infinite patience and disgust, over the crippled syllables in Hazel's report to find the least allusion to the poor girl's fate. Not one hint did I find. Neither old Hentzner's specter, nor an ambushed scamp's toy flashlight, nor her own imaginative hysteria, expresses anything here that might be construed, however remotely, as containing a warning; or having some bearing on the circumstances of her soon-coming death.


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