Художественная литература

Владимир Набоков

Vladimir Nabokov. La Veneziana

© Copyright 1924 by Vladimir Nabokov © Copyright by Dmitry Nabokov, english translation


In front of the red-hued castle, amid luxuriant elms, there was a vividly green grass court. Early that morning the gardener had smoothed it with a stone roller, extirpated a couple of daisies, redrawn the lines on the lawn with liquid chalk, and tightly strung a resilient new net between the posts. From a nearby village the butler had brought a carton within which reposed a dozen balls, white as snow, fuzzy to the touch, still light, still virgin, each wrapped like a precious fruit in its own sheet of transparent paper. It was about five in the afternoon. The ripe sunshine dozed here and there on the grass and the tree trunks, filtered through the leaves, and placidly bathed the court, which had now come alive. There were four players: the Colonel himself (the castle's proprietor), Mrs. McGore, the host's son Frank, and Simpson, a college friend of his. A person's motions while playing, like his handwriting in quieter moments, tell a good deal about him. Judging by the Colonel's blunt, stiff strokes, by the tense expression on his fleshy face that looked as if it had just spat out the massive gray mustache towering above his lip; by the fact that, in spite of the heat, he did not unbutton his shirt collar; and by the way he served, legs firmly planted apart like two white poles, one might conclude, firstly, that he had never been a good player, and, secondly, that he was a staid, old-fashioned, stubborn man, subject to occasional outbursts of seething anger. In fact, having hit the ball into the rhododendrons, he would exhale a terse oath through his teeth, or goggle his fishlike eyes at his racquet as if he could not forgive it for such a humiliating miss. Simpson, his partner by chance, a skinny blond youth with meek but mad eyes that fluttered and glinted behind his pince-nez like limp light-blue butterflies, was trying to play as best he could, although the Colonel, of course, never expressed his vexation when the loss of a point was the other's fault. But no matter how hard Simpson tried, no matter how he leaped about, none of his shots were successful. He felt as if he were coming apart at the seams, as if it were his timidity that kept him from hitting accurately, and that, instead of an instrument of play, meticulously and ingeniously assembled out of resonant, amber catgut strung on a superbly calculated frame, he was holding a clumsy dry log from which the ball would rebound with a painful crack, ending up in the net or in the bushes, and even 'managing to knock the straw hat off the circular pate of Mr. McGore, who was standing beside the court and watching with no great interest as his young wife Maureen and the lightfooted, nimble Frank defeated their perspiring opponents. If McGore, an old connoisseur of art, and restorer, reframer, and recanvaser of even older paintings, who regarded the world as a rather poor study daubed with unstable paints on a flimsy canvas, had been the kind of curious and impartial spectator it is sometimes so expedient to attract, he might have concluded that tall, dark-haired, cheerful Maureen lived with the same carefree manner with which she played, and that Frank carried over into life as well his ability to return the most difficult shot with graceful ease. But, just as handwriting can often fool a fortune-teller by its superficial simplicity, the game of this white-clad couple in truth revealed nothing more than that Maureen played weak, soft, listless, female tennis, while Frank tried not to whack the ball too hard, recalling that he was not in a university tournament but in his father's park. He moved effortlessly toward the ball, and the long stroke gave a sense of physical fulfillment: every motion tends to describe a full circle, and even though, at its midpoint, it is transformed into the ball's linear flight, its invisible continuation is nevertheless instantaneously perceived by the hand and runs up the muscles all the way to the shoulder, and it is precisely this prolonged internal scintilla that makes the stroke fulfilling. With a phlegmatic smile on his clean-shaven, suntanned face, his bared flawless teeth flashing, Frank would rise on his toes and, without visible effort, swing his naked forearm. That ample arc contained an electric kind of force and the ball would rebound with a particularly taut and accurate ring from his racquet's strings. He had arrived that morning with his friend to vacation at his father's, and had found Mr. and Mrs. McGore whom he already knew and who had been visiting at the castle for more than a month; the Colonel, inflamed by a noble passion for paintings, willingly forgave McGore his foreign origin, his unsociable nature, and his lack of humor in exchange for the assistance this famous art expert gave him and for the magnificent, priceless canvases he procured. Especially magnificent was the Colonel's most recent acquisition, the portrait of a woman by Luciani, sold to him by McGore for a most n. "I'm dying for some tea." Everyone moved into the shadow of a giant elm, where the butler sumptuous sum. Today, McGore, at the insistence of his wife who was familiar with the Colonel's punctiliousness, had put on a pale summer suit instead of the frock coat he usually wore, but he still did not pass his host's muster: his shirt was starched and had pearl buttons, which was, of course, inappropriate. Also not very appropriate were his reddish-yellow half-boots and the absence of the trouser cuffs the late king had instantaneously made fashionable when he once had to traverse some puddles to cross the road; nor did the old straw hat with a gnawed-looking rim from behind which poked McGore's gray curls appear especially elegant. He had a somewhat simian face, with a protuberant mouth, a long gap between nose and lip, and a whole complex system of wrinkles, so that one could probably read his face as if it were a palm. As he watched the ball flying back and forth across the net, his little greenish eyes darted right, left, right, and paused to blink lazily when the ball's flight was interrupted. The vivid white of three pairs of flannels and one short, cheerful skirt contrasted beautifully in the brilliant sunlight with the apple-hued verdure, but, as we have already remarked, Mr. McGore considered life's Creator only a second-rate imitator of the masters whom he had been studying for forty years. Meanwhile Frank and Maureen, having won five straight games, were about to win the sixth. Frank, who was serving, tossed the ball high with his left hand, leaned far back as if he were about to fall over, then immediately lunged forward with a broad arching motion, his glossy racquet giving a glancing blow to the ball, which shot across the net and bounced like white lightning past Simpson, who gave it a helpless sidewise look. "That's it," said the Colonel. Simpson felt greatly relieved. He was too ashamed of his inept strokes to be capable of enthusiasm for the game, and this shame was intensified by the extraordinary attraction he felt for Maureen. All the players bowed to each other as was the custom, and Maureen gave a sidelong smile as she adjusted the strap on her bared shoulder. Her husband was applauding with an air of indifference. "We must have a game of singles," remarked the Colonel, slapping his son on the back with gusto as the latter, baring his teeth, pulled on his white, crimson-striped club blazer with a violet emblem on one side. "Tea!" said Maureen. "I'm dying for some tea." Everyone moved into the shadow of a giant elm, where the butler and the black-and-white maid had set up a portable table. There was tea dark as Munich beer, sandwiches consisting of cucumber slices on rectangles of crustless bread, a swarthy cake pocked with black raisins, and large strawberries with cream. There were also several earthenware bottles of ginger ale. "In my days,'" began the Colonel, lowering himself with ponderous relish into a folding canvas chair, "we preferred real, full-blooded English sports: rugby, cricket, hunting. There is something foreign about today's games, something skinny-legged. I am a staunch advocate of manly holds, juicy meat, an evening bottle of port--which does not prevent me," concluded the Colonel, as he smoothed his large mustache with a little brush, "from enjoying robust old paintings that have the luster of that same hearty wine." "By the way, Colonel, the Veneziana has been hung,'" said McGore in his dreary voice, laying his hat on the lawn by his chair and rubbing the crown of his head, naked as a knee, around which still curled thick, dirty gray locks. "I picked the best-lighted spot in the gallery. They have rigged a lamp over it. I'd like you to have a look." The Colonel fixed his glistening eyes in turn on his son, on the embarrassed Simpson, and on Maureen, who was laughing and grimacing from the hot tea. "My dear Simpson," .he exclaimed emphatically, pouncing on his chosen prey, "you haven't seen it yet! Pardon me for tearing you away from your sandwich, my friend, but I feel obligated to show you my new painting. The connoisseurs are going crazy over it. Come on. Of course I don't dare ask Frank." Frank made a jovial bow. "You're right. Father. Paintings perturb me." "We'll be right back, Mrs. McGore," said the Colonel as he got up. "Careful, you're going to step on the bottle," he addressed Simpson, who had also risen. "Prepare to be showered with beauty." The three of them headed for the house across the softly sunlit lawn. Narrowing his eyes, Frank looked after them, looked down at McGore's hat abandoned on the grass by the chair (it exhibited to God, to the blue heavens, to the sun, its whitish underside with a dark greasy spot in the center, on the imprint of a Viennese hat shop), and then, turning toward Maureen, said a few words that will doubtless surprise the unperceptive reader. Maureen was sitting in a low armchair, covered with trembling ringlets of sunlight, pressing the gilt meshwork of the racquet to her forehead, and her face immediately became older and more severe when Frank said, "Now then, Maureen. It's time for us to make a decision. . . ."


McGore and the Colonel, like two guards, led Simpson into a cool, spacious hall, where paintings glistened on the walls and there was no furniture other than an oval table of glossy black wood standing in the center, all four of its legs reflected in the mirrorlike walnut-yellow of the parquet. Having conducted their prisoner to a large canvas in an opaque gilded frame, the Colonel and McGore stopped, the former with his hands in his pockets, the latter pensively picking some dry gray pollenlike matter out of his nostril and scattering it with a light rolling rub of his fingers. The painting was very fine indeed. Luciani had portrayed the Venetian beauty in half-profile, standing against a warm, black background. Rose-tinted cloth revealed her prominent, dark-hued neck, with extraordinarily tender folds beneath the ear, and the gray lynx fur with which her cherry-red mantlet was trimmed was slipping off her left shoulder. With the elongated fingers of her right hand spread in pairs, she seemed to have been on the point of adjusting the falling fur but to have frozen motionless, her hazel, uniformly dark eyes gazing fixedly, languidly from the canvas. Her left hand, with white ripples of cambric encircling the wrist, was holding a basket of yellow fruit; the narrow crown of her headdress glowed atop her dark-chestnut hair. On the left the black was interrupted by a large right-angled opening straight into the twilight air and the bluish-green chasm of the cloudy evening. Yet it was not those details of stupendous umbral interplay, nor the dark-hued warmth of the entire painting, that struck Simpson. It was something else. Tilting his head slightly to one side and blushing instantly, he said, "God, how she resembles--" "My wife," finished McGore in a bored voice, scattering his dry pollen. "It's incredibly good,'" whispered Simpson, tilting his head the other way, "incredibly . . ." "Sebastiano Luciani," said the Colonel, complacently narrowing his eyes, "was born at the end of the fifteenth century in Venice and died in the mid-sixteenth in Rome. His teachers were Bellini and Giorgione and his rivals Michelangelo and Raffaello. As you can see, he synthesized in his work the power of the former and the tenderness of the latter. It's true he was not overly fond of Santi, and here it was not just a matter of professional vanity--legend has it that our artist was taken with a Roman lady called Margherita, known subsequently as la Fornarina." Fifteen years before his death he took monastic vows upon receiving from Clement VII a simple and profitable appointment. Ever since then he has been known as Fra Sebastiano del Piombo. Piombo means lead,' for his duties consisted of applying enormous lead seals to the fiery papal bulls. A dissolute monk, he was fond of carousing and composed indifferent sonnets. But what a master. . . ." The Colonel gave Simpson a quick glance, noting with satisfaction the impression the painting had made on his speechless guest. It should again be emphasized, however, that Simpson, unaccustomed as he was to the contemplation of artwork, of course could not fully appreciate the mastery of Sebastiano del Piombo, and the one thing that fascinated him--apart, of course, from the purely physiological effect of the splendid colors on his optic nerves--was the resemblance he had immediately noticed, even though he was seeing Maureen for the first time. And the remarkable thing was that the Veneziana's face--the sleek forehead, bathed, as it were, in the recondite gloss of some olivaster moon, the totally dark eyes, the placidly expectant expression of her gently joined lips--clarified for him the real beauty of that other Maureen who kept laughing, narrowing her eyes, shifting her pupils in a constant struggle with the sunlight whose bright maculae glided across her white frock as she separated the rustling leaves with her racquet in search of a ball that had rolled into hiding. Taking advantage of the liberty that an English host allows his guests, Simpson did not return to the tea table, but set off across the garden, rounding the star-shaped flower beds, and soon losing his way amid the checkerboard shadows of an avenue in the park, with its smell of fern and decaying leaves. The enormous trees were so old that their branches had had to be propped up by rusted braces, and they hunched over massively like dilapidated giants on iron crutches. "God, what a stunning painting," Simpson whispered again. He walked unhurriedly, waving his racquet, stooped, his rubber soles lightly slapping. One must picture him clearly: gaunt, reddish-haired, clad in rumpled white trousers and a baggy gray jacket with half-belt; and also take careful note of the lightweight, rimless pince-nez on his pockmarked buttonlike nose, his weak, slightly mad eyes, and the freckles on his convex forehead, his cheekbones, and his neck, red from the summer sun. He was in his second year at university, lived modestly, and diligently attended lectures on theology. He and Frank became friends not only because fate had assigned them the same apartment (consisting of two bedrooms and a common parlor), but, above all, like most weak-willed, bashful, secretly rapturous people, he involuntarily clung to someone in whom everything was vivid and firm--teeth, muscles, the physical strength of the soul, which is willpower. For his part, Frank, the pride of his college, who rowed in a racing scull and flew across the field with a leather watermelon under his arm, who knew how to land a punch on the very tip of the chin where there is the same kind of funny bone as in the elbow, a punch that would put an adversary to sleep--this extraordinary, universally liked Frank found something very flattering to his vanity in his friendship with the weak, awkward Simpson. Simpson, incidentally, was privy to something odd that Frank concealed from his other chums, who knew him only as a fine athlete and an exuberant chap, paying no attention whatever to occasional rumors that Frank was exceptionally good at drawing but showed his drawings to no one. He never spoke about art, was ever ready to sing and swig and carouse, yet suddenly a strange gloom would come over him and he would not leave his room or let anyone in, and only his roommate, lowly Simpson, would see what he was up to. What Frank created during these two or three days of ill-humored isolation he either hid or destroyed, and then, as if having paid an agonizing tribute to his vice, he would again become his merry, uncomplicated self. Only once did he bring this up with Simpson. "You see," he said, wrinkling his limpid forehead and forcefully knocking the ashes from his pipe, "I feel that there is something about art, and painting in particular, that is effeminate, morbid, unworthy of a strong man. I try to struggle with this demon because I know how it can ruin people. If I yield to it completely, then, instead of a peaceful, ordered existence with finite distress and finite delights, with those precise rules without which any game loses its appeal, I shall be doomed to constant chaos, tumult, God knows what. I'll be tormented to my dying day, I shall become like one of those wretches I've run into in Chelsea, those vain, long-haired fools in velvet jackets-- harried, weak, enamored only of their sticky palettes. . . ." But the demon must have been very potent. At the end of the winter semester, without a word to his father (thereby hurting him deeply), Frank went off in third class to Italy, to return a month later directly to the university, suntanned and joyous, as if he had rid himself once and for all of the murky fever of creation. Then, with the advent of summer vacation, he invited Simpson for a stay at his father's and Simpson accepted in a burst of gratitude, for he was thinking with horror of the usual return home to his peaceful northern town where some shocking crime occurred every month, and to his parson father, a gentle, harmless, but totally insane man who devoted more attention to his harp and his chamber metaphysics than to his flock. The contemplation of beauty, whether it be a uniquely tinted sunset, a radiant face, or a work of art, makes us glance back unwittingly at our personal past and juxtapose ourselves and our inner being with the utterly unattainable beauty revealed to us. That is why Simpson, in front of whom the long-dead Venetian girl had just risen in her cambric and velvet, now reminisced, as he ambled along the violet dirt of the lane, soundless at this evening hour; he reminisced about his friendship with Frank, about his father's harp, about his own cramped, cheerless youth. The resonant forest stillness was complemented now and then by the crackle of a branch touched one knew not by whom. A red squirrel scurried down a tree trunk, ran across to a neighboring trunk with its bushy tail erect, and darted up again. In the soft flow of sunlight between two tongues of foliage midges circled like golden dust, and a bumblebee, entangled in the heavy lacework of a fern, already buzzed with a more reserved, evening tone. Simpson sat down on a bench spattered with the white traces of dried bird droppings, and hunched over, propping his sharp elbows on his knees. He sensed the onset of an auditory hallucination that had afflicted him since childhood. When in a meadow, or, as now, in a quiet, already duskening wood, he would involuntarily begin to wonder if, through this silence, he might perhaps hear the entire, enormous world traversing space with a melodious whistle, the bustle of distant cities, the pounding of sea waves, the singing of telegraph wires above the deserts. Gradually his hearing, guided by his thoughts, began to detect those sounds in earnest. He could hear the chugging of a train, even though the tracks might have been dozens of miles away; then the clanging and screeching of wheels and--as his recondite hearing grew ever more acute--the passengers' voices, their coughs and laughter, the rustling of their newspapers, and, finally, plunging totally into his acoustic mirage, he clearly distinguished their heartbeat, and the rolling crescendo of that beat, that drone, that clangor, deafened Simpson. He opened his eyes with a shudder and realized that the pounding was that of his own heart. "Lugano, Como, Venice . . . ," he murmured as he sat on the bench under a soundless hazelnut tree, and right away he heard the subdued plashing of sunny towns, and then, closer, the tinkling of bells, the whistle of pigeon wings, a high-pitched laugh akin to the laugh of Maureen, and the ceaseless shuffling of unseen passersby. He wanted to halt his hearing there, but his hearing, like a torrent, rushed ever deeper. Another instant and, unable now to halt his extraordinary plunge, he was hearing not only their footfalls but their hearts. Millions of hearts were swelling and thundering, and Simpson, coming fully to his senses, realized that all those sounds, all those hearts were concentrated in the frenzied beat of his own. He raised his head. A light wind, like the motion of a silk cape, passed along the avenue. The sun's rays were a gentle yellow. He rose with a feeble smile and, forgetting his racquet on the bench, went toward the house. It was time to dress for dinner.


"It's hot with this fur on, though! No, Colonel, it's only cat. It's true my Venetian rival wore something more expensive. But the color is the same, isn't it? A perfect likeness, in short.'" "If I dared I'd coat you with varnish, and send Luciani's canvas up to the attic," courteously countered the Colonel, who, in spite of his strict principles, was not averse to challenging a lady as attractive as Maureen to a flirtations verbal duel. "I would split with laughter," she parried. "I fear, Mrs. McGore, that we make a terribly poor background for you," said Frank, with a broad, boyish grin. "We are crude, complacent anachronisms. Now if your husband were to don a coat of armor--" "Fiddlesticks," said McGore. "The impression of antiquity can be evoked as easily as the impression of color by pressing one's upper eyelid. On occasion I allow myself the luxury of imagining today's world, our machines, our fashions, as they will appear to our descendants four or five hundred years hence. I assure you that I feel as ancient as a Renaissance monk." "Have some more wine, my dear Simpson," offered the Colonel. Bashful, quiet Simpson, who was seated between McGore and his wife, had put his large fork to work prematurely, during the second course when he should have used the small one, so that he had only the small fork and a large knife for the meat course, and now, as he manipulated them, one of his hands had a kind of limp. When the main course was brought around the second time, he helped himself out of nervousness, then noticed he was the only one eating and everyone was waiting impatiently for him to finish. He got so flustered that he pushed away his still-full plate, nearly knocked over his glass, and began slowly reddening. He had already come ablaze several times during dinner, not because he actually had something to be ashamed about, but because he thought how he might blush for no reason, and then the pink blood colored his cheeks, his forehead, even his neck, and it was no more possible to halt that blind, agonizing, hot flush than to confine the emerging sun behind its cloud. At the first such onset he deliberately dropped his napkin, but, when he raised his head, he was a fearful sight: at any moment his starched collar would catch fire too. Another time he tried to suppress the onslaught of the hot, silent wave by addressing a question to Maureen--whether or not she liked playing lawn tennis--but Maureen, alas, did not hear him, asked him what he had said, whereupon, as he repeated his foolish phrase, Simpson instantly blushed to the point of tears and Maureen, out of charity, turned away and started on some other topic. The fact that he was sitting next to her, sensing the warmth of her cheek and of her shoulder, from which, as in the painting, the gray fur was slipping, and that she seemed about to pull it up, but stopped at Simpson's question, extending and twining her slender, elongated fingers, filled him with such languor that there was a moist sparkle in his eyes from the crystal blaze of the wineglasses, and he kept imagining that the circular table was an illuminated island, slowly revolving, floating somewhere, gently carrying off those seated around it. Through the open French windows one could see, in the distance, the skittle shapes of the terrace balustrade, and the breath of the blue night air was stifling. Maureen's nostrils inhaled this air; her soft, totally dark eyes remained unsmiling as they glided from face to face, even when a smile would faintly raise a corner of her tender, unpainted lips. Her face remained within a somewhat swarthy shadow, and only her forehead was bathed by the levigate light. She said fatuous, funny things. Everyone laughed, and the wine gave the Colonel a nice flush. McGore, who was peeling an apple, encircled it with his palm like a monkey, his small-face with its halo of gray hair wrinkled from the effort, and the silver knife tightly clutched in his dark, hairy fist detached endless spirals of red and yellow peel. Frank's face was not visible to Simpson, since between them stood a bouquet of flaming, fleshy dahlias in a sparkling vase. After supper, which ended with port and coffee, the Colonel, Maureen, and Frank sat down to play bridge, with a dummy since the other two did not play. The old restorer went out, bandy-legged, onto the darkened balcony and Simpson followed, feeling Maureen's warmth recede behind him. McGore eased himself with a grunt into a wicker chair near the balustrade and offered Simpson a cigar. Simpson perched sideways on the railing and lit up awkwardly, narrowing his eyes and inflating his cheeks. "I guess you liked that old rake del Piombo's Venetian lass," said McGore, releasing a rosy puff of smoke into the dark. "Very much," replied Simpson, and added, "Of course, I don't know anything about pictures--" "All the same, you liked it," nodded McGore. "Splendid. That's the first step toward understanding. I, for one, have dedicated my whole life to this." "She looks absolutely real," Simpson said pensively. "It's enough to make one believe mysterious tales about portraits coming to life. I read somewhere that some king descended from a canvas, and, as soon as--" McGore dissolved in a subdued, brittle laugh. "That's nonsense, of course. But another phenomenon does occur--the inverse, so to speak." Simpson glanced at him. In the dark of the night his starched shirt-front bulged like a whitish hump, and the flame of his cigar, like a ruby pinecone, illumined his small, wrinkled face from below. He had had a lot of wine and was, apparently, in the mood to talk. "Here is what happens," McGore continued unhurriedly. "Instead of inviting a painted figure to step out of its frame, imagine someone managing to step into the picture himself. Makes you laugh, doesn't it? And yet I've done it many a time. I have had the good fortune of visiting all the art museums of Europe, from The Hague to Petersburg and from London to Madrid. When I found a painting I particularly liked, I would stand directly in front of it and concentrate all my willpower on one thought: to enter it. It was an eerie sensation, of course. I felt like the apostle about to step off his bark onto the water's surface. But what bliss ensued! Let us say I was facing a Flemish canvas, with the Holy Family in the foreground, against a smooth, limpid, landscape. You know, with a road zigzagging like a white snake, and green hills. Then, finally, I would take the plunge. I broke free from real life and entered the painting. A miraculous sensation! The coolness, the placid air permeated with wax and incense. I became a living part of the painting and everything around me came alive. The pilgrims' silhouettes on the road began to move. The Virgin Mary was saying something in a rapid Flemish patter. The wind rippled through the conventional flowers. The clouds were gliding. . . . But the delight did not last long. I would get the feeling that I was softly congealing, cohering with the canvas, merging into a film of oil color. Then I would shut my eyes tight, yank with all my strength, and leap out. There was a gentle plop, as when you pull your foot out of the mud. I would open my eyes, and find myself lying on the floor beneath a splendid but lifeless painting." Simpson listened with attention and embarrassment. When McGore paused, he gave a barely perceptible start and looked around. Everything was as before. Below, the garden breathed the darkness, one could see the dimly lit dining room through the glass door, and, in the distance, through another open doorway, a bright corner of the parlor with three figures playing cards. What strange things McGore was saying! .. . "You understand, don't you,'" he continued, shaking off some scaly ash, "that in another instant the painting would have sucked me in forever. I would have vanished into its depths and lived on in its landscape, or else, grown weak with terror, and lacking the strength either to return to the real world or to penetrate the new dimension, I would have jelled into a figure painted on the canvas, like the anachronism Frank was talking about. Yet, despite the danger, I have yielded to temptation time after time. . . . Oh, my friend, I've fallen in love with Madonnas! I remember my first infatuation--a Madonna with an azure corona, by the delicate Raffaello. . . . Beyond her, at a distance, two men stood by a column, calmly chatting. I eavesdropped on their conversation--they were discussing the worth of some dagger. . . . But the most enchanting Madonna of all comes from the brush of Bernardo Luini. All his creations contain the quiet and the delicacy of the lake on whose shore he was born, Lago Maggiore. The most delicate of masters. His name even yielded a new adjective, luinesco. His best Madonna has long, caressingly lowered eyes, and her apparel has light-blue, rose-red, misty-orange tints. A gaseous, rippling haze encircles her brow, and that of her reddish-haired infant. He raises a pale apple toward her, she looks at it lowering her gentle, elongated eyes . . . Luinesque eyes . . . God, how I kissed them. . . ." McGore fell silent and a dreamy smile tinged his thin lips, lighted by the cigar's flame. Simpson held his breath and, as before, felt he was slowly gliding off into the night. "Complications did occur," McGore went on after clearing his throat. "I got an ache in my kidneys after a goblet of strong cider that a plump Rubens bacchante once served me, and I caught such a chill on the foggy, yellow skating rink of one of the Dutchmen that I went on coughing and bringing up phlegm for a whole month. That's the kind of thing that can happen, Mr. Simpson." McGore's chair creaked as he rose and straightened his waistcoat. "Got carried away," he remarked dryly. "Time for bed. God knows how long they'll go on slapping their cards about. I'm off--good night." He crossed the dining room and the parlor, nodding to the players as he went, and disappeared in the shadows beyond. Simpson was left alone on his balustrade. His ears rang with McGore's high-pitched voice. The magnificent starry night reached to the very balcony, and the enormous velvety shapes of the black trees were motionless. Through the French window, beyond a band of darkness, he could see the pink-hued parlor lamp, the table, the players' faces rouged by the light. He saw the Colonel rise. Frank followed suit. From afar, as if over the telephone, came the Colonel's voice. "I'm an old man, I turn in early. Good night, Mrs. McGore." And Maureen's laughing voice: "I'll go in a minute too. Or else my husband will be cross with me. . . ." Simpson heard the door close in the distance behind the Colonel. Then an extraordinary thing happened. From his vantage point in the darkness he saw Maureen and Frank, now alone far off in that lacuna of mellow light, slip into each other's arms, he saw Maureen fling back her head and bend it back farther and farther beneath Frank's violent and prolonged kiss. Then, catching up her fallen fur and giving Frank's hair a ruffle, she disappeared into the distance with a muffled slam of the door. Frank smoothed his hair with a smile, thrust his hands in his pockets, and, whistling softly, crossed the dining room on his way to the balcony. Simpson was so flabbergasted that he froze still, his fingers clutching the railing, and gazed with horror as the starched shirtfront and the dark shoulder approached through the glistening glass. When he came out onto the balcony and saw his friend's silhouette in the dark, Frank gave a slight shudder and bit his lip. Simpson awkwardly crawled off the railing. His legs were trembling. He made a heroic effort: "Marvelous night. McGore and I have bejen chatting out here." Frank said calmly, "He lies a lot, that McGore. On the other hand, when he gets going he's worth a listen." "Yes, it's very curious. . . ." lamely concurred Simpson. "The Big Dipper," said Frank and yawned with his mouth closed. Then, in an even voice, he added, "Of course I know that you are a perfect gentleman, Simpson."


Next morning a warm drizzle came pattering, shimmering, stretching in thin threads across the dark background of the forest's depths. Only three people came down for breakfast--first the Colonel and listless, wan Simpson; then Frank, fresh, bathed, shaved to a high gloss, with an innocent smile on his overly thin lips. The Colonel was markedly out of spirits. The night before, during the bridge game, he had noticed something. Bending down hastily to retrieve a dropped card, he had seen Frank's knee pressed against Maureen's. This must be stopped immediately. For some time already the Colonel had had an inkling that something was not right. No wonder Frank had rushed off to Rome, where the McGores always went in the spring. His son was free to do as he liked, but to stand for something like this here, at home, in the ancestral castle--no, the most stringent measures must be taken immediately. The Colonel's displeasure had a disastrous effect on Simpson., He had the impression that his presence was a burden to his host, and was at a loss for a subject of conversation. Only Frank was placidly jovial as always, and, his teeth asparkle, munched with gusto on hot toast spread with orange marmalade. When they had finished their coffee, the Colonel lit his pipe and rose. "Didn't you want to take a look at the new car, Frank? Let's walk over to the garage. Nothing to do in this rain anyway." Then, sensing that poor Simpson had remained mentally suspended in midair, the Colonel added, "I've got a few good books here, my dear Simpson. Help yourself if you wish." Simpson came to with a start and pulled some bulky red volume down from the shelf. It turned out to be the Veterinary Herald for 1895. "I need to have a little talk with you," began the Colonel when he and Frank had tugged on their crackling raincoats and walked out into a mist of rain. Frank gave his father a rapid glance. "How shall I put it," he pondered, puffing on his pipe. "Listen, Frank," he said, taking the plunge--and the wet gravel crunched more succulently under his soles--"it has come to my attention, it doesn't matter how, or, to put it more simply, I have noticed . . . Dammit, Frank, what I mean is, what kind of relations do you have with McGore's wife?" Frank replied quietly and coolly, "I'd rather not discuss that with you, Father," meanwhile thinking angrily to himself: what a scoundrel--he did rat on me! "Obviously I cannot demand--" began the Colonel, and stopped short. At tennis, after the first bad shot, he still managed to control himself. "Might be a good idea to fix this footbridge," remarked Frank, hitting a rotten timber with his heel. "To hell with the bridge!" said the Colonel. This was his second miss, and the veins swelled on his forehead in an irate vee. The chauffeur, who had been banging around with some buckets by the garage gates, yanked off his checkered cap upon seeing his master. He was a short, stocky man with a cropped yellow mustache. "Morning, sir," he said amiably and pushed open one of the gates with his shoulder. In the petrol-and-leather-scented penumbra glimmered an enormous, black, brand-new Rolls-Royce. "And now let us take a walk in the park," said the Colonel in a toneless voice when Frank had had his fill of examining cylinders and levers. The first thing that happened in the park was that a large, cold drop of water fell from a branch, inside the Colonel's collar. And actually it was this drop that made the cup overflow. After a masticating movement of his lips, as though rehearsing the words, he abruptly thundered: "I warn you, Frank, in my house I shall not stand for any adventures of the French-novel genre. Furthermore, McGore is my friend--can you understand that or not?" Frank picked up the racquet Simpson had forgotten on the bench the previous day. The damp had turned it into a figure eight. Rotten racquet, Frank thought with revulsion. His father's words were pounding ponderously past: "I shall not stand for it," he was saying. "If you cannot behave properly, then leave. I am displeased with you, Frank, I am terribly displeased with you. There is something about you that I don't understand. At university you do poorly at your studies. In Italy God knows what you were up to. They tell me you paint. I suppose I'm not worthy of being shown your daubings. Yes, daubings. I can imagine. . . . A genius indeed! For you doubtless consider yourself a genius, or, even better, a futurist. And now we have these love affairs to boot. . . . In short, unless--" Here the Colonel noticed that Frank was whistling softly and non-chalantly through his teeth. The Colonel stopped and goggled his eyes. Frank flung the twisted racquet into the bushes like a boomerang, smiled, and said, "This is all poppycock, Father. I read in a book on the Afghanistan war about what you did there and what you were decorated for. It was absolutely foolish, featherbrained, suicidal, but it was an exploit. That is what counts. While your disquisitions are poppycock. Good day." And the Colonel remained standing alone in the middle of the lane, frozen in wonderment and wrath.


The distinctive feature of everything extant is its monotony. We partake of food at predetermined hours because the planets, like trains that are never late, depart and arrive at predetermined times. The average person cannot imagine life without such a strictly established timetable. But a playful and sacrilegious mind will find much to amuse it imagining how people would exist if the day lasted ten hours today, eighty-five tomorrow, and after tomorrow a few minutes. One can say a priori that, in England, such uncertainty with regard to the exact duration of the coming day would lead first of all to an extraordinary proliferation of betting and sundry other gambling arrangements. One could lose his entire fortune because a day lasted a few more hours than he had supposed on the eve. The planets would become like racehorses, and what excitement would be aroused by some sorrel Mars as it tackled the final celestial hurdle! Astronomers would assume book-makers' functions, the god Apollo would be depicted in a flaming jockey cap, and the world would merrily go mad. Unfortunately, however, that is not the way things are. Exactitude is always grim, and our calendars, where the world's existence is calculated in advance, are like the schedule of some inexorable examination. Of course there is something soothing and insouciant about this regimen devised by a cosmic Frederick Taylor. Yet how splendidly, how radiantly the world's monotony is interrupted now and then by the book of a genius, a comet, a crime, or even simply by a single sleepless night. Our laws, though--our pulse, our digestion are firmly linked to the harmonious motion of the stars, and any attempt to disturb this regularity is punished, at worst by beheading, at best by a headache. Then again, the world was unquestionably created with good intentions and it is no one's fault if it sometimes grows boring, if the music of the spheres reminds some of us of the endless repetitions of a hurdy-gurdy. Simpson was particularly conscious of this monotony. He found it somehow terrifying that today, too, breakfast would be followed by lunch, tea by supper, with inviolable regularity. He wanted to scream at the thought that things would continue like that all his life, he wanted to struggle like someone who has awakened in his coffin. The drizzle was still shimmering outside the window, and having to stay indoors made his ears ring as they do when you have a fever. McGore spent the whole day in the workshop that had been set up for him in one of the castle's towers. He was busy restoring the varnish of a small, dark picture painted on wood. The workshop smelted of glue, turpentine, and garlic, which is used for removing greasy spots from paintings. On a small carpenter's bench near the press sparkled retorts containing hydrochloric acid and alcohol; scattered about lay scraps of flannel, nostriled sponges, assorted scrapers. McGore was wearing an old dressing gown, glasses, a shirt with no starched collar, and a stud nearly the size of a doorbell button protruding right under his Adam's apple; his neck was thin, gray, and covered with senile excrescences, and a black skullcap covered his bald spot. With a delicate rotary rubbing of his fingers already familiar to the reader, he was sprinkling a pinch of ground tar, carefully rubbing it into the painting so that the old, yellowed varnish, abraded by the powdery particles, itself turned into dry dust. The castle's other denizens sat in the parlor. The Colonel had angrily unfolded a giant newspaper and, as he gradually cooled down, was reading aloud an emphatically conservative article. Then Maureen and Frank got involved in a game of Ping-Pong. The little celluloid ball, with its crackly, melancholy ring, flew back and forth across the green net intersecting the long table, and of course Frank played masterfully, moving only his wrist as he nimbly flicked the thin wooden paddle left and right. Simpson traversed all the rooms, biting his lips and adjusting his pince-nez. Eventually he reached the gallery. Pale as death, carefully closing behind him the heavy, silent door, he tiptoed up to Fra Bastiano del Piombo's Veneziana. She greeted him with her familiar opaque gaze, and her long fingers paused on their way to her fur wrap, to the slipping crimson folds. Caressed by a whiff of honeyed darkness, he glanced into the depths of the window that interrupted the black background. Sand-tinted clouds stretched across the greenish blue; toward them rose dark, fractured cliffs amid which wound a pale-hued trail, while lower down there were indistinct wooden huts, and, in one of them, Simpson thought he saw a point of light flicker for an instant. As he peered through this ethereal window, he sensed that the Venetian lady was smiling, but his swift glance failed to catch that smile; only the shaded right corner of her gently joined lips was slightly raised. At that moment something within him deliciously gave way, and he yielded totally to the picture's warm enchantment. One must bear in mind that he was a man of morbidly rapturous temperament, that he had no idea of life's realities, and that, for him, impressionability took the place of intellect. A cold tremor, like a quick dry hand, brushed his back, and he realized immediately what he must do. However, when he looked around and saw the sheen of parquet, the table, and the blind white gloss of the paintings where the drizzly light pouring through the window fell on them, he had a feeling of shame and fear. And, in spite of another momentary surge of the previous enchantment, he already knew that he could hardly carry out what, a minute ago, he could have done unthinkingly. Fixing his eyes on the Veneziana's face, he backed away from her and suddenly flung his arms apart. His coccyx banged painfully on something. He looked around and saw the black table behind him. Trying to think about nothing, he climbed onto it, stood up fully erect facing the Venetian lady, and once again, with an upward sweep of his arms, prepared to fly to her. "Astonishing way to admire a painting. Invented it yourself, did you?" It was Frank. He was standing, legs apart, in the doorway and gazing at Simpson with icy derision. With a wild glint of pince-nez lenses in his direction, Simpson staggered awkwardly, like an alarmed lunatic. Then he hunched over, flushed hotly, and clambered clumsily to the floor. Frank's face wrinkled with acute revulsion as he silently left the room. Simpson lunged after him. "Please, I beg you, don't tell anyone. . . ." Without turning or stopping, Frank gave a squeamish shrug.


Toward evening the rain unexpectedly ceased. Someone, remembering, had turned off the taps. A humid orange sunset came aquiver amid the boughs, broadened, was reflected in all the puddles simultaneously. Dour little McGore was dislodged from his tower by force. He smelled of turpentine, and had burned his hand with a hot iron. He reluctantly pulled on his black coat, turned up the collar, and went out with the others for a stroll. Only Simpson stayed home, on the pretext that he absolutely mu st answer a letter brought by the evening post. Actually no answer was required, since it was from the university milkman and demanded immediate payment of a bill for two shillings and ninepence. For a long time Simpson sat in the advancing twilight, leaning back aimlessly in the leather armchair. Then, with a shudder, he realized he was falling asleep, and started thinking how he could get away from the castle as quickly as possible. The simplest way would be to say his father was ill: like many bashful people, Simpson was capable of lying without batting an eyelash. Yet it was difficult for him to leave. Something dark and delicious held him back. How attractive the dark rocks looked in the fenestral chasm. . . . What a joy it would be to embrace her shoulder, take from her left hand the basket with its yellow fruit, to walk off peacefully with her along that pale path into the penumbra of the Venetian evening. . . . Once again he caught himself falling asleep. He got up and washed his hands. From downstairs sounded the spherical, dignified dinner gong. Thus from constellation to constellation, from meal to meal, proceeds the world, and so does this tale. But its monotony will now be broken by an incredible miracle, an unheard-of adventure. Of course neither McGore, who had again painstakingly freed of glossy red ribbons the faceted nudity of an apple, nor the Colonel, once more agreeably flushed after four glasses of port (not to mention two of white Burgundy) had any way of knowing what woes the morrow would bring. Dinner was followed by the invariable game of bridge, during which the Colonel noticed with pleasure that Frank and Maureen did not even glance at each other. McGore went off to work; Simpson seated himself in a corner and opened a portfolio of prints, glancing only a couple of times from his corner at the players, having marveled in passing that Frank was so cold toward him, while Maureen seemed to have faded somehow, to have yielded her place to another. . . . How insignificant these thoughts were compared to the sublime anticipation, the enormous excitement that he now tried to outwit by examining indistinct lithographs. When they were parting company, and Maureen nodded to him with a good-night smile, he absently, unabashedly, smiled back.


That night, sometime after one o'clock, the old watchman, who had once worked as groom for the Colonel's father, was, as usual, taking a short walk along the park lanes. He knew perfectly well that his duty was purely perfunctory, since the location was exceptionally peaceful. He invariably turned in at eight, the alarm would go off with a clatter at one, and the watchman (a giant of an old fellow with venerable gray side-whiskers, which, incidentally, the gardener's children liked to tug) would awaken, light up his pipe, and clamber out into the night. Having once made the rounds of the dark, tranquil park, he would return to his small room, immediately undress, and, clad only in an imperishable undershirt that went very well with his whiskers, go back to bed and sleep through till morning. That night, however, the old watchman noticed something that was not to his liking. He noticed from the park that one window of the castle was feebly illuminated. He knew with absolute precision that it was a window of the hall where the precious paintings were hung. Since he was an exceptionally cowardly old chap, he decided to pretend to himself that he had not noticed that strange light. But his conscientiousness got the upper hand, and he calmly determined that, while it was his duty to ascertain that there were no thieves in the park, he had no obligation to chase thieves within the house. And having thus determined, the old man went back to his quarters with a clear conscience--he lived in a little brick house by the garage--and straightaway fell into a dead man's sleep, which would have been impervious even to the roar of the new black car, had someone started it up in jest, deliberately opening the muffler cutout. Thus the pleasant, innocuous old fellow, like some guardian angel, momentarily traverses this narrative and rapidly vanishes into the misty domains whence he was evoked by a whim of the pen.


But something really did happen in the castle. Simpson awoke exactly at midnight. He had just fallen asleep and, as sometimes happens, the very act of falling asleep was what woke him. Propping himself on one arm, he looked into the darkness. His heart was thumping rapidly because he sensed that Maureen had entered his room. Just now, in his momentary dream, he had been talking to her, helping her climb the waxen path between black cliffs with their occasional glossy, oil-paint fissures. Now and then a dulcet breeze made the narrow white headdress quiver gently, like a sheet of thin paper, on her dark hair. With a stifled exclamation Simpson felt for the switch. The light came in a spurt. There was no one in the room. He felt an acute sting of disappointment and lapsed into thought, shaking his head like a drunk. Then, moving drowsily, he rose from the bed and started to dress, listlessly smacking his lips. He was guided by a vague sensation that he must dress severely and smartly. So it was with a kind of somnolent meticulousness that he buttoned his low waistcoat on his belly, tied the black bow of his tie, and for a long time pinched with two fingers at a nonexistent little worm on the satin lapel of his jacket. Vaguely recollecting that the simplest way into the gallery was from outdoors, he slipped out like a silent breeze through the French window into the dark, humid garden. Looking as if they had been doused with mercury, black bushes glistened in the starlight. Somewhere an owl was hooting. With a light, quick step Simpson walked across the lawn, amid gray bushes, rounding the massive house. For a moment he was sobered by the night's freshness and the intensely shining stars. He stopped, bent over, and then collapsed like an empty suit of clothes onto the grass in the narrow interstice between flower bed and castle wall. A wave of drowsiness came over him, and he tried to shake it off with a jerk of his shoulder. He had to hurry. She was waiting. He thought he heard her insistent whisper. . . . He was unaware of how he had got up, gone indoors, and switched on the lights, bathing Luciani's canvas in a warm sheen. The Venetian girl stood half-facing him, alive and three-dimensional. Her dark eyes gazed into his without the sparkle, the rosy fabric of her blouse set off with an unhabitual warmth the dark-hued beauty of her neck and the delicate creases under her ear. A gently mocking smile was frozen at the right corner of her expectantly joined lips. Her long fingers, spread in twos, stretched toward her shoulder, from which the fur and velvet were about to fall. And Simpson, with a profound sigh, moved toward her and effort-lessly entered the painting. A marvelous freshness immediately made his head spin. There was a scent of myrtle and of wax, with a very faint whiff of lemon. He was standing in a bare black room of some kind, by a window that opened on evening, and at his very side stood a real, Venetian, Maureen--tall, gorgeous, all aglow from within. He realized that the miracle had happened, and slowly moved toward her. With a sidewise smile la Veneziana gently adjusted her fur and, lowering her hand into her basket, handed him a small lemon. Without taking his eyes off her now playfully mobile eyes, he accepted the yellow fruit from her hand, and, as soon as he felt its firm, roughish coolness and the dry warmth of her long fingers, an incredible bliss came to a boil within him and began deliciously burbling. Then, with a start, he looked behind him toward the window. There, along a pale path amid some rocks, walked blue silhouettes with hoods and small lanterns. Simpson looked about the room in which he was standing, but without any awareness of a floor beneath his feet. In the distance, instead of a fourth wall, a far, familiar hall glimmered like water, with the black island of a table at its center. It was then that a sudden terror made him compress the cold little lemon. The enchantment had dissolved. He tried looking to his left at the girl but was unable to turn his neck. He was mired like a fly in honey--he gave a jerk and got stuck, feeling his blood and flesh and clothing turning into paint, growing into the varnish, drying on the canvas. He had become part of the painting, depicted in a ridiculous pose next to the Veneziana, and, directly in front of him, even more distinct than before, stretched the hall, filled with live, terrestrial air that, henceforth, he would not breathe.


Next morning McGore woke up earlier than usual. With his bare, hairy feet, with toenails like black pearls, he groped for his slippers, and softly padded along the corridor to the door of his wife's room. They had had no conjugal relations for more than a year, but he nevertheless visited her every morning and watched with powerless excitement while she did her hair, jerking her head energetically as the comb chirruped through the chestnut wing of the taut tresses. Today, entering her room at this early hour, he found the bed made and a sheet of paper pinned to the headboard. McGore produced from the pocket of his dressing gown an enormous eyeglass case and, without putting on the glasses but simply holding them up to his eyes, leaned over the pillow and read the minute, familiar writing on the pinned note. When he had finished he meticulously replaced his glasses in their case, unpinned and folded the sheet, stood lost in thought for an instant, and then shuffled resolutely out of the room. In the corridor he collided with the manservant, who glanced at him with alarm. "What, is the Colonel up already?" asked McGore. The manservant answered hurriedly, "Yes, sir. The Colonel is in the picture gallery. I'm afraid, sir, that he's very cross. I was sent to wake up the young gentleman." Without waiting to hear him out, wrapping his mouse-colored robe around him as he went, McGore set off quickly for the gallery. Also in his dressing gown, from beneath which protruded the folds of his striped pajama bottoms, the Colonel was pacing to and fro along the wall. His mustache bristled and his crimson-flushed countenance was terrifying to behold. Seeing McGore, he stopped, and, after some preliminary lip-chewing, roared, "Here, have a good look!" McGore, to whom the Colonel's ire mattered little, nevertheless in-advertently looked where his hand was pointing and saw something truly incredible. On the Luciani canvas, next to the Venetian girl, an additional figure had appeared. It was an excellent, if hastily executed, portrait of Simpson. Gaunt, his black jacket strongly highlighted by the lighter background, his feet turned oddly outward, he extended his hands as if in supplication, and his pallid face was distorted by a pitiful, frantic expression. "Like it?" the Colonel inquired furiously. "No worse than Bastiano himself, is it? The vile brat! That's his revenge for my kindhearted advice. Just wait . . ." The waiter came in, distraught. "Mr. Frank is not in his room, sir. And his things are gone. Mr. Simpson has disappeared too, sir. He must have gone out for a stroll, sir, seeing as how it's such a fine morning." "To hell with the morning!" thundered the Colonel. "This very instant, I want--" "May I be so bold as to inform you," meekly added the waiter, "that the chauffeur was just here and said the new motor car had disappeared from the garage." "Colonel," McGore said softly, "I think I can explain what's happened." He glanced at the waiter, who tiptoed out. "Now then," went on McGore in a bored tone, "your supposition that it was indeed your son who painted in that figure is doubtless right. But, in addition, I gather from a note that was left for me that he departed at daybreak with my wife." The Colonel was a gentleman and an Englishman. He immediately felt that to vent one's anger in front of a man whose wife had just run off was improper. Therefore, he went over to a window, swallowed half his anger and blew the other half outdoors, smoothed his mustache, and, regaining his calm, addressed McGore. "Allow me, my dear friend," he said courteously, "to assure you of my sincerest, deepest sympathy, rather than dwell on the wrath I feel toward the perpetrator of your calamity. Nevertheless, while I understand the state you are in, I must--1 am obliged, my friend--to ask an immediate favor of you. Your art will rescue my honor. Today I am expecting young Lord Northwick from London, the owner, as you know, of another painting by the same del Piombo." McGore nodded. "I'll bring the necessary implements. Colonel." He was back in a couple of minutes, still in his dressing gown, carrying a wooden case. He opened it immediately, produced a bottle of ammonia, a roll of cotton wool, rags, scrapers, and went to work. As he scraped and rubbed Simpson's dark figure and white face from the varnish he did not give a thought to what he was doing, and what he was thinking about should not arouse the curiosity of a reader respect-fill of another's grief. In half an hour Simpson's portrait was completely gone, and the slightly damp paints of which he had consisted remained on McGore's rags. "Remarkable," said the Colonel. "Remarkable. Poor Simpson has disappeared without a trace." On occasion some chance remark sets off very important thoughts. This is what happened now to McGore who, as he was gathering his instruments, suddenly stopped short with a shocked tremor. How strange, he thought, how very strange. Is it possible that-- He looked at the rags with the paint sticking to them, and abruptly, with an odd frown, wadded them together and tossed them out the window by which he had been working. Then he ran his palm across his forehead with a frightened glance at the Colonel--who, interpreting his agitation differently, was trying not to look at him--and, with uncharacteristic haste, went out of the hall straight into the garden. There, beneath the window, between the wall and the rhododendrons, the gardener stood scratching the top of his head over a man in black lying facedown on the lawn. McGore quickly approached, Moving his arm, the man turned over. Then, with a flustered smirk, he got up. "Simpson, for heaven's sake, what's happened?" asked McGore, peering into his pale countenance. Simpson gave another laugh. "I'm awfully sorry. . . , It's so silly. . . . I went out for a stroll last night and fell right asleep, here on the grass. Ow, I'm all aches and pains. . . . I had a monstrous dream. . . . What time is it?" Left alone, the gardener gave a disapproving shake of his head as he looked at the matted lawn. Then he bent down and picked up a small dark lemon bearing the imprint of five fingers. He stuck the lemon in his pocket and went to fetch the stone roller he had left on the tennis court.


Thus the dry, wrinkled fruit the gardener happened to find remains the only riddle of this whole tale. The chauffeur, dispatched to the station, returned with the black car and a note Frank had inserted into the leather pouch above the seat. The Colonel read it aloud to McGore: "Dear Father," wrote Frank, "I have fulfilled two of your wishes. You did not want any romances going on in your house, so I am leaving, and taking with me the woman without whom I cannot live. You also wanted to see a sample of my art. That is why I made you a portrait of my former friend, whom you can tell for me, by the way, that informers only make me laugh. I painted him at night, from memory, so if the resemblance is imperfect it is from lack of time, poor light, and my understandable haste. Your new car runs fine. I am leaving it for you at the station garage. " "Splendid," hissed the Colonel. "Except I'd be very curious to know what money you're going to live on." McGore, paling like a fetus in alcohol, cleared his throat and said, "There is no reason to conceal the truth from you, Colonel. Luciani never painted your Veneziana. It is nothing more than a magnificent imitation." The Colonel slowly rose. "It was done by your son," went on McGore, and suddenly the corners of his mouth began to tremble and drop. "In Rome. I procured the canvas and paints for him. He seduced me with his talent. Half the sum you paid went to him. Oh, dear God . . ." The Colonel's jaw muscles contracted as he looked at the dirty handkerchief with which McGore was wiping his eyes and realized the poor fellow was not joking. Then he turned and looked at la Veneziana. Her forehead glowed against the dark background, her long fingers glowed more gently, the lynx fur was slipping bewitchingly from her shoulder, and there was a secretly mocking smile at the corner of her lips. "I'm proud of my son," calmly said the Colonel.

Владимир Набоков