About the Book

About the Author

Also by Anne Enright


Title Page



Part 1

A Melon


Part 2



Part 3



Part 4


Clean Linen

A Little Dog



About the Book

Beautiful Irishwoman Eliza Lynch became briefly, in the 1860s, the richest woman in the world. The book opens in Paris with Eliza in bed with Francisco Solano López – heir to the untold wealth of Paraguay. The fruit of their congress will be extraordinary, and will send her across the Atlantic on the regal voyage to claim her glorious future in Asunción.

With the lavish imaginative richness of Márquez and the crazed panoramic sweep of Herzog, The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch is a bold and brilliantly achieved novel about sex, beauty and corruption and the end of the old world.

About the Author

Anne Enright was born in Dublin, where she now lives and works. She has published two collection of stories, collected as Yesterday’s Weather, one book of non-fiction, Making Babies, and five novels, including The Gathering, which was the Irish Novel of the Year, and won the Irish Fiction Award and the 2007 Man Booker Prize, and The Forgotten Waltz, which was awarded the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. She is the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction.

Also by Anne Enright


The Portable Virgin

The Wig My Father Wore

What Are You Like?

Taking Pictures

The Gathering

The Forgotten Waltz


Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood


The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story (editor)

for Martin


This is the story of how she buried him with her own hands, on the slopes of the Cerro Corá.

A Fish

Paris, March 1854

FRANCISCO SOLANO LÓPEZ put his penis inside Eliza Lynch on a lovely spring day in Paris, in 1854. They were in a house on the rue St-Sulpice; a famous street, down which people have always strolled in a state of pleasant imagining. In the spring of 1854, no imagination was needed as Francisco Solano López pushed his penis into Eliza Lynch and pulled it back again, twenty times in all. This was quite a lot of times for Francisco Solano López, but something about Eliza Lynch distracted him from the usual rush of his pleasure. Something about Eliza Lynch gave him pause.

Outside, the birds sang, trees rustled and fancy carriages rattled by. Inside, the four-poster bed was hung with turquoise, its enormous baldaquin billowing above them and gathered into a pucker of silk that mirrored, as she lay under it, the lovely navel of Eliza Lynch.

Apart from the magnificent bed, she had nothing. There was a burled walnut box pushed into a corner, an ormolu clock ticked on a mantel of ordinary stone, a simple table of inlaid tulipwood was burdened by a statue of the flagellated Christ. The room was practically bare, if you did not count the bed. But the bed was overwhelming, it was a room within the room; it was a palace, across whose yielding floor López crawled, laughing, in order to engage more thoroughly with the laughing Eliza Lynch.

Which, without further delay, he did.

Many people would come to regret this moment. You might say that everyone came to regret it – except for the two participants, Francisco López and Eliza Lynch, Il Mariscal and La Lincha, Paco and Liz. Already unreal. They were the kind of people who attracted stories – not to mention bias, rumours, lies, rage: the whole tangle pulled into a knot by time, made Gordian by history. The details cannot be unpicked. But this much we may not doubt: there was a joining of parts, and it happened in spring, on the rue St-Sulpice.

Paco and Liz, laughing on the bed. Mme Lynch silently looking at the silently looking Señor López. The tart from County Cork turning towards the turquoise, as the little mestizo handles it into her. It was a moment that garnered the blame of nations, as if everything started here. Something did start here – there are such things as beginnings – but what? But what?

They became lovers. In jig time, in marching time, in twenty beats, they moved from strangers to the rest of their lives. And they knew it. Such luck!

Outside, the birds chirped themselves to sleep, while his hired horse blew into his oats and the coachman snored. The clock on the mantel said midnight, or five o’clock. The clock on the mantel was stopped. And all you could hear was the suck and pull of his breath.

Who was he? He was heir apparent to Paraguay, a country that no one had ever heard of. Who was Eliza? She was very much herself. He had come to her house in order to improve his French, or so he said. The words he learned that evening were ‘King of Diamonds’, ‘Queen of Spades’, ‘trick’. He learned the French for sons of bitches, then truffles, pig’s nose and tongue. Also a phrase: ‘If I win, you will not like me.’ After which pleasant nonsense, they went to bed.

Oh Eliza. In fact, she did speak many languages: she romped in French, married in English, and she ate in the Irish of her childhood kitchen. She had school Latin and spa German, but her fate, now, was in Spanish, and she would die in Guaraní, which is to say, obscurely. The lover in her head spoke Russian, in whispers. The devil in her head spoke Portuguese.

And so, Francisco put his penis, son pénis, su penis, into the nameless part of Eliza Lynch. He put that thing, which is the same in English, French or Spanish, into a part of Eliza Lynch that is, in any language, obscene.


He was rich.


He was immensely rich.

He had ordered, that day, seventy pairs of silver-tipped boots – with presumably elevated insoles; because he was small, there was no gainsaying the fact that he was really quite small, but he was stunningly rich, so she, spilled out beneath him, must be magnificent.


She was silent.

It would not do to shout. Whatever surprise she felt at this, most surprising, intrusion must register as a mere stretch of her eyebrows, a fullness of her jostled mouth; her forehead suffused with a kind of puzzled tranquillity, as though the question – whatever question it might be – answered itself.


There was no telling how long he would take.

His hair smelt of lilacs and horses. His breath smelt of decay. His shirt was pulled impatiently open at the neck and a filthy leather pouch dabbed at her chest. Money? No – his money was folded and stuffed down the side of his boots. Vast sums. There was a flurry of paper when he dumped them, all unheeding, on the floor. Then his short military jacket; crusted with gold braid and held to lopsided attention by the remarkable epaulettes. After which his pants. His legs very thick and gnarled. His shirt dangling down.

She was wearing her sapphires. Also a peignoir of shrugged-off silk. It flowed down her arms and moved under her, like water.


Her lips jolted apart.

She must be his first woman in weeks. In Paris the whores would laugh at him, of course – that is why they were paid so much. Cora Pearl with her whip. Or Dolores at the Café Anglais with her diamonds and a bloody cough. Because they were all dying. Death in the bedroom and death again at the card table, where they would take his money, trick after trick. Here is the fool in from the colonies, let me introduce you to … M. le Duc de something he would not catch. Some ghoul of a German banker. A tart with diamonds in her hair, sitting in to watch. And if he tried to touch her, she would laugh in his face. The game continuing in silence. The stakes going up and up. The tart not laughing, any more. Up, and up and up.


He reared away from her.

She might bite him. She might tear at his bottom lip, if it were not for the terrible breath. When he walked into her drawing room, you could smell it from the doorway. No idea of where to sit or how to stand, until she took his hat in her own hands and said, quite natural-like, that he must leave it beside him here on the floor. This was what they did in Paris, she said to him, these strange Frenchmen, they left their hats on the floor so everyone could see their names in gilt letters written on the band – she spent her first weeks in town convinced that everyone was called Ruget, which was the name of the hatter. She laughed. Tra la la. Then she paused, rising in a rustle of silk, as though arrested, briefly, by the sight of his lap.


She pulled the shirt, with rough fingers, up the length of his back.


She arched her own back and said, ‘Oh’.

Everyone must take a lover, so they would know how to sigh and when to turn. It was an investment. Everyone should love once; there was no other way to learn. Eliza had wanted to love sweetly, hopelessly, but she loved like bad weather. And she only loved once. There was no use closing your eyes and thinking it was him. There was no use closing your eyes and thinking. But she did close her eyes, and saw López’s head briefly above her, his eyes red coals, his brain molten, his hair black flames. She opened them again, quickly, and was relieved to see flesh. Only flesh. Francine, outside, forgetting to bank the fire for the morning, as she always did.


Who was counting?

She was counting. The first man in Paris, the second man in Paris, two men in Algeria, a man in Folkestone, Kent. Outside, Francine was clearing away the card table as, above her, López held his breath. Silence. The clock on the mantel had stopped. She counted them out to herself. The man who gave her the sapphires, the man who gave her the bed. Two men in Algeria, a man in Folkestone, Kent. Their memories rising now, as a scent might rise when you crush a flower. Each time he drew back, a name provoked – Raspail, Quatrefages, Misha, Bennett – and then hammered home.


‘If I win,’ she said. ‘You will not like me.’

He spread his cards down on the table and looked at her. A good hand. A very good hand. He took the ace of hearts and started to cut out the centre of it with his little knife.

‘I have kissed the hand of the Empress Eugénie,’ he said. He described the ring she wore – a sapphire set with diamonds in a fleur-de-lis, over more diamonds and a pearl.

The Emperor Napoleon had pinned a ribbon on his breast. He put his arm about his shoulders and walked him personally to the door. Along the enfilade, thirty footmen pretended not to notice the fraternal kiss, man to man, soldier to soldier, nation to nation, as he took his leave.

Then he threw the empty-hearted card at her, across the baize.

This was a man who needed nothing.

This was a man who needed it all – but he did not need any one thing, except, and absolutely, to be inside her. As he now was.


The dressmaker on Rue de Rougemont. Short and quick like a jockey, with burning, slithery eyes. She might like him. In another life, she might quite take to him. He looked her over and the deal, he seemed to be saying, was either her or 20 per cent. So she settled on the spot – lay herself down amid the silks and stuffs; a spool of Bruges lace still grasped in her hand. The lace cost, in labour, a metre a week. She thought about this – about how long it would take some Flemish hag to finish a fancy cuff, an entire dress, and the thought of the hag made her want to cry. She looked at the side of his head and her hand tightened on the wooden spool. She saw his blood on the hammered silk; she saw black blood seeping into the bombazine. When they were done, she asked him about the dresses, and he – as open in his love of warp and weft as he was closed in love (a grunter, a face-puller) – took her round the room, and romanced her with cloth. Nankin, taffeta, piqué, foulard. And so she got, on tick, five of everything, morning, afternoon and evening. Her under-linen, she must supply herself. She owned nothing, not even the peignoir she lay down in. She was not yet nineteen and she lived like a countess – on credit.

The money! The money! It was running through her hands like water. She tried to catch it, hold it: clutched instead at his neck, or his throat, or his mouth.


His hair smelt of Lilac vegetal by Pinaud. His shirt smelt clean. She would be rich. She would have a calèche like Cora Pearl, the English tart who dyed her dog blue to match her dress. A man said that her pearls were fake – she broke the string and let them scatter. The pearls sloughed from the string with a pull of her hand, spitting out all over the floor. Who picked them up? The pearls bouncing into corners, rolling under tables and little love seats. What fine young man paused at the door and silently stayed behind, then dropped on to his knees and grubbed around on the Turkey carpet, picking them up? Eliza caught her breath. The blue dog, the calèche upholstered in sky-blue kid. She would have to change the curtains now, on her fabulous bed, because blue was Cora Pearl. A starving man she saw once, his legs set wide, and his thing hanging down in the gap, lush and fat. Eliza cried out. She had tried to be good, had wanted to be good, but the curtains had cost her a month of fucking and they were far too blue, and the pearls were scattering and rolling all over the floor.


Oh. Her voice in the room. A shudder in the hanging meat of his face, his eyes behind their closed lids like he was trying to squeeze something delicate and large through a very small gap – but only if he could find it. It was in there somewhere, in the centre of his head, and she wanted to kiss him; help him gather it up. A man he saw once, dragged by a horse; the bones sticking out of his ruined back. The man looking at him as though bored by it all, he said. Then slightly distracted. Then dead.

She was writhing away from him now, her eyes fixed.


They were still there. They had left their traces inside her. The man who failed, and failed again, and slapped her to keep himself going, and wore her out with trying. The man who wiped his mouth afterwards – picked up a corner of her dress and wiped his mouth – and chucked her on each breast before he put the sapphires down. The dressmaker, with his clever eyes shut, straining against her, his head full of something that kept slipping out of his grasp. And Misha who left – the bills not paid, the sheets still rumpled on the bed. Misha in his Hussar jacket, who loved her better than his horse, he said, who loved her enough to die – who said, open your eyes, open your eyes and kill me, and she opened them to see him staring down at her, with a look so ordinary and hard his eyes might have been made of wood. Before Misha, Quatrefages, his wet stomach sucking against her back, who said on their wedding night that if she kept her chemise on, she might do; Quatrefages just a cover for Raspail, who twisted her every which way, and all she could remember of Raspail were his hands. Raspail a friend of Bennett who was the first. Bennett the doctor administering a cure; Bennett who said, ‘Do not be frightened, my dear, and if you are frightened, shout.’ Mr Bennett smiling thinly, until he rolled his eyes back to show the whites. She thought she had killed him. He smiled at her, as though her insides were quite useful and nice, then suddenly he cracked open in front of her and horrors, horrors, came spilling out. She was sure she had killed him, Mr Bennett, her father’s friend. She was killing him now. She was killing them all. The bed man, the dress man, the man who wiped his mouth, Misha her lover, Raspail her master, Xavier her husband, Mr Bennett, her father’s friend. She was killing them in Paris, Algiers, Kent, and Bennett everywhere. She was killing Bennett in Mallow, where he never had been, and Bennett in that room in Bordeaux, and Bennett who had followed her here because he was inside her still, between her legs, and behind her ribs, knocking, knocking to get out. Every time he crashed into her. In the pause, she caught and held him. And killed them one by one.


She would have a carriage that was entirely black: Chinese lacquer, trimmed with ebony, upholstered in seal, the windows thin sheets of obsidian, the cushions black silk, punctured with buttons of jet. High and closed; Eliza’s carriage was the most expensive shadow ever thrown. She was making her escape in it. She was riding it over the bodies of her former loves. She bounced it across their chests and legs, bumpitty bumpitty bump. And she was gathering speed.

There was more, of course. There was the feel of cloth running across the skin, of blood running across the skin, and other people’s hands. There was the taste; not only of the quails they had eaten that night, but of every meal they had ever forgotten. All this now gathered up, as though in a massive cloth, with Eliza and Francisco lying in the centre of it, their lives tumbling down towards them; the sound of a piano, a song they had each heard, the various smells of home. The past they brought with them to this bed was not – how could it be? – populated by French emperors and English tarts, that was just the skin of it. More like, they carried with them the ghostly circle of rice powder scattered on Eliza’s dressing table or the unexpected beauty of his valet’s hands. They brought the smell of vegetable peelings, his favourite saddle, a pool she swam in as a child. They brought, finally, themselves: the landscape of his shoulders as he dropped his head above her, the tracery of veins on her white breast. All these things glimpsed, or nearly glimpsed. All these things swelling in their minds, a bubble impossibly big. And when the bubble bursts they are showered, not with pianos, valets, saddles, lovers, meadowsweet, silks; when it burst their minds are (pop!) a blank. Hope. The feel, quite simply, of him-inside-her-around-him, the feel of flesh turning to silk, of silk turning to muscle, and wanting everything! everything! because they are nothing now, and afraid that they will be destroyed by it – by the too-muchness of him and the too-muchness of her. And so:


Pop! Nothing.


A blank.


Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.






And a little bit … more.

Usually at this point, the man would roll off and look for his boots, but they stayed and stroked each other. He fingered her necklace – perhaps it was this had made him pause. She ran her hands along the flesh of his back – so neatly packed. She started to laugh. They had surprised themselves. He reached down by the bedside, and hauled up a bottle of slightly flat champagne.

‘My father,’ he began. He talked about Paraguay, the country that no one had ever heard of, a railway line he would build, tick tack snicketty snack across her stomach and between her breasts, until bumph it hit her nose.

In London, he told her, he had mounted his first train. Thirty-nine advisors, one hundred and three trunks, and return tickets to Brighton. What a young fool he was. Outside the window, the city did not stop. Valera, his equerry, would not take the hat off his lap, his knees prissily together, the words stalled in his mouth. England, that wretched country – they did these things so well. He went back to his London rooms, and every day there was another scroll of paper uncurled and weighted on his desk, another engineer indicating this elevation or that point of strain. A ship – the Tacuarí – rising in the dry dock at Limehouse, even as he spoke. Plans for an arsenal, a railway line. Above all, there would be railways. Eliza could not imagine it, but Francisco’s father never left Paraguay. Before him, the first Dictator, Francia, never left his own bedroom. And now, here he was in Europe, meeting men by the hour, hiring them with a look, these buzzard British, immensely polite and ignorant, Jesuits all. He said to them, Can you see? Can you see? The silted land of the Paraná basin, the groves of orange trees, the willing men, a country with heart. Can you see? A country that will eat you, and love you and make you her own. We will embroider steel across her breast.

No, he said. She must come and teach them to put their hats on the floor, in the cool tiled drawing rooms of Asunción. But really, he was surrounded by fools; she must come with him as far as Rome.

Eliza lifted her hands and let her fingers trail along the turquoise curtain, showing, as she did so, the skin of her underarms and its astonishing, exotic, red hair.

‘Roma!’ she said.

And so it began. The state visit to Madrid, where she waited at the hotel while he was presented at the court of Isabella; then soothed him when he came back fuming, in a pair of sheets that had once belonged to Napoleon.

‘Where did you get them?’ he said, fingering the little embroidered imperial bee. ‘Oh, Buonaparte,’ he said, and buried his face.

The trip to Rome, where she read the Baedecker to him in bed, bought china, played hostess, chose menus, patted a Dutch broker on his knee, laughed at the puns of a Venetian millionaire, flirted with a bishop who happened to be involved with the Vatican bank (but not, as was claimed in the broadsheets of Buenos Aires, an orgy for the Pope).

The Crimean peninsula, a strategic tour, where Eliza held a picnic on a hill, sitting in their carriage, along with several other carriages, some of whose occupants were brave enough to dismount. She would always remember what she ate that day, the feel of it on her tongue, as through her lorgnette she watched one hundred Mishas in their Hussar jackets risk their body parts and lose them, or simply slide down the flanks of their horses to be lost underfoot. She would recall with perfect simplicity the dryness of the chicken, the honey glaze on its cold, dimpled skin; the crunch where fat met the bone; the fizz of champagne, as the guns crackled below.

Everywhere López went, he kicked the door shut and made love, on beds, floors, chaises-longues, patches of grass. Everywhere Eliza went, there were dresses, fittings, patterns, flounces, dismissive waves of the hand. Back in Paris, they went to Les Invalides and Napoleon’s tomb, where López cried and said he would build the same, the very same tomb, stone by stone in Asunción. He made it sound like an invitation.

They stayed in Paris, waiting for their ship to be finished (because there was no doubt now, it was her ship too). And when it was loaded with the British railway men and engineers and smelters, they sent their baggage on to meet it at Bordeaux.

With everything nearly bought and packed, the last farewells nearly done, Eliza went to the dressmaker on the Rue de Rougemont, attended by four equerries and her maid, Francine. She wore, for the occasion, a Polish pelisse of merino crêpe, with seven flounces, quite simple, in opaline. It was her parasol that was extraordinary, a cane of clear crystal, her monogram woven into each panel of lace. She looked the dressmaker in the eye; she looked at the contents of his pants. She drank his café au lait and took his advice as though quite seriously, made him unroll every bolt of cloth, and then she left. The next day, she sent the equerry, Valera, back, with his bad French, to settle her account.

And every night, silently now, she kissed him in the dark. All the bodies, all the mouths, melting away, as she and López tried to finish what was started that first night. La Irlandesa, Il Mariscal. What was started that first night was a war – they both knew it. What started that night was … love, perhaps. A sense of great peace, and strange dreams. A stirring. An intimation of all things askew, or all things dreadful. A sudden hunger. A shiver along her arms, an horripilation. A sense that someone had replaced the world with a different world that looked just the same. And with all this came disgust – for the smell of López, for the sight of him eating, and for the food on her own plate. A reluctance to travel, though she must travel. A change in her eyes. A distant look, as though she were listening to her own blood. You guessed it. What was started that night was a child.

Deep inside Eliza, a future had dug itself into her, and was now holding on. A tiny fish, a presence urgent and despotic. By the time she realised, they were in Rome. By the time she was accustomed to procure her bondon, she was knee-deep in Vatican bankers and Sèvres china. Besides, Francine had no Italian – she could hardly go into a pharmacist and mime.

And so it grew.

But this was, itself, in the future. As yet, Eliza and Francisco still lie on the bed, wonderfully spent. And for the next few weeks she finds, as recently pregnant women do, that she loves everyone, to the point of tears, and that life is good.

The River

Part 1

A Melon

December 1854, Río Paraná

TODAY, I ASKED the name of the bird again, but Miltón shrugged. The Alma Perdita I was told by Captain Thompson, one of the over-gallant English who has spent some time in the wilderness here or here about. Alma Perdita means a lost soul. There are sudden flurries in the branches, but when I look, nothing is there. In the forest, if you hear something, it is already gone. Still, we are followed everywhere by its liquid, ever-falling cry.

We are two days out of Buenos Aires, and no one knows how many days from Asunción. Such a mongrel ship, half-gunboat, half-packet, and massive – the Tacuarí, it tossed us on its shallow draught across the ocean from Bordeaux, and is now too deep to find the river channel. Miltón stands in the bow as though it were a canoe. He slings his line into the water and draws it up again, turning now and then to whistle at the pilot. He knows the river, but who along these banks has ever seen a ship like ours? He must think he is guiding some kind of cathedral home.

Though, when I look into those mineral eyes, I do not know what these people might believe; whether they even have souls like ours – lost or otherwise. Everywhere, there is such growth. I think that if these people believe anything it would be that the Devil is a vegetable, and God a wonderful big tree.

The air is so thick and warm, I do not know if I am breathing or drowning. I lie and drink it in, in wonderful lassitude. The river is as broad as an open-ended lake. When we approach the bank, the trees crane towards us, madly still; all festooned and crawling: the immense, busy, shifting silence of the forest. I take in the smell of it and think I may well sprout, or rot: some plant will root in my brain. It will flower better than a hat.

My own smell too, has indelicately changed. It is light, and difficult to match; the smell of grass in the sun; of something green and growing, as my belly grows. And under my arms – because of the heat I think – a hint of mould.

My belly is huge. They have strung me up in the bow, like a giant tick. I am all caught up in the skeins of muslin they drape around me. The breeze is cooling when we move, which is not often. Miltón stands on one foot, leaning on a pole, his free hand lifted to shield his eyes from the glare. He ignores me well. The light plays with his bones, eats at his silhouette, until he is just some narrow lines, loosely jointed and standing against a sea of glitter.

One of the sailors is like to go blind from the light. The water, so cheap and nothing up close, is, from afar, a tangle of brilliants. A dangerous cloth. I can see it, even with my eyes closed. Miltón sits with the dazed sailor and tears some slits in the length of a broad reed, then he wraps the reed around the man’s eyes and ties it at the back of his head. The sailor peers through the slits. He cannot speak with the pain. Something about it pleases me. His homely, lewd face, his waxed tail of hair, and this blindfold of green. It seems he has become something else; a thing of random parts. Human, animal, vegetable.

Miltón smokes. And in the small rafts that float by they hand up chickens and take tobacco. They stay to smoke; all of them, drifting in the shade of the Tacuarí and rolling the leaves palm to palm. The women hand their impromptu cigarros to the children’s mouths, while the men stretch back, and leave them to it. All of them healthy and quiet, sometimes laughing in the shade.

This evening I have all the candles straightened in the candelabra. They have softened in the heat and bow slowly towards the floor, until the whole effect is of some kind of splayed flower. When they are lit, I try a little conversation. River manners; easy and unaffected. We sit as travellers anywhere – forgetful of our places in the world. Señor López has cognac. Mr Whytehead, the Scottish engineer, has taken to yerba maté, a foul brew they suck out from a gourd here, but which he says is quite as good as tea. Doctor Stewart, my physician-accoucheur, goes native with some rough alcohol. And because Mr Whytehead, from some religious scruple, will not play cards, the maid Francine makes up the numbers for some harmless rummy. She takes her chance and downs some of my champagne, river-cooled – which is to say, warm.

I ask Señor López about the natives, and what they believe. He says that he himself is a native, and, yes, it is true, he believes in nothing. At which, I feel obliged to laugh. He does not swallow his brandy tonight, but spits it into a bowl, which I have placed for him on a side table. For his teeth, he says. The small room is full of the fumes. ‘Nothing?’ I say. ‘Not even love?’ Gallantly, he takes my hand and kisses it. And suddenly Paris is a long, long way away.

Mr Whytehead tells a forest tale of a Frenchwoman who was miraculously found, after she and her companions got lost among the trees. A Mme Godin des Odonez, whose husband was engaged in a great measuring project somewhere to the north or the west of us. His wife set out to join him, along one of the tributaries of the mighty Amazon, in a company of eight, two of them also female. On the third day out, the natives deserted their canoe and left them to make their own way. They chanced upon another guide lying sick in a hovel on the bank, but he fell into the river and drowned while trying to retrieve a hat; after which the canoe quickly capsized, with the loss of all their provisions. Three of the men struck out for some place they thought to be nearby, and never returned. The rest: Mme Godin, her two brothers, and two female companions lashed together a raft, which broke up on the rocks and, when the tangled growth prevented them from walking along the bank, they struck off into the forest. Here they lost their way and became demented and one by one they died. Mme Godin, by some miracle waking out of a swoon, took the shoes off her dead brother’s feet and stumbled on, she knew not where. Her clothes in tatters, her body half-naked and lacerated (at this he can not help but glance at me) by creepers and thorns, she chanced upon a river – perhaps the same river – and two Divinely Providential Indians, with a canoe.

The candles droop as he speaks and lean slowly sideways. The flames keep their easy, hopeful stance – and then, the crisis – I watch them shrink to a point and then recover to lick back up the tallow, now upside down. The engineer sucks the dregs of his maté and we listen to the night.

Of course, it all happened years ago – he gives the date, being by temperament exact. I say that it is hard to imagine these great trees having weeks and fortnights, as we do: all they know is another day, and another day, and another day after that. Indeed, he says. For eight of these primeval days and nights, she wandered alone in the howling wilderness; surviving on berries and bird’s eggs; shouting and singing to keep the jaguar at bay. She went in a young woman and, when she came out again, her hair was turned quite, quite grey.

He pauses in some satisfaction, and surveys the room. I say that she probably ate the brother. She didn’t just take his shoes; she took a bit of leg as well. She lopped off a nice big ham and slung it over her shoulder, to help her along the way. Señor López gives a great shout of laughter, and hits the engineer between the shoulder blades, and we have another round of cards.

I like the way he glanced at me when he said the word ‘naked’. He is full of slips and blunders. He leaks. He cannot help it. He seems such an unbending, abstemious little man, but I sense the longing in him to give in and live as other people might. The doctor too, rolls his watery eye, and heaves, and sighs. He is very big, when we are so confined in the cabin. Still, in the middle of so much awkwardness – his mouth; small and nice.

Francine says, apropos of nothing, that a mother has only to look into the eyes of her newborn to believe – believe what she could not say. Only that we are ancient, that we come of an ancient race. Señor López looks down at the table and his eyes film over with tears. She lifts her face to the light and says that we spend our first weeks forgetting who we are, and then the rest of our lives trying to remember it again.

This is very pretty of her. Francine started this journey as a maid and will end it as a lady’s companion. And so we go. ‘And what would you know of newborn babies?’ I say, with a sporting glance at the assembled men. At which, quite wisely, she declares rummy, and we continue with the game.

So, she has had a child. It is surprising what a journey will throw up. Poor Francine.

But now, in the river dark, my mind turns to the luckless Indian dying in his hovel – only to be plucked out by these travellers (these angels of death) with their exotic clothes. And so he does die, but marvellously, for a hat.

Of course the hat was important – a white man would die without one. A white man did die without one.


This morning I do not move, and the boat does not move. I wake to a clanging sound, then the abrupt hiss of coals hitting the river as they clear the boilers out. Pht. Phht. Pht. I lie in the oven of the stateroom all morning. Through the open door, I see Señor López busy, frantic, intent. He does not notice me. He unrolls plans on the table and calls for his engineer, Mr Whytehead, so I must have the door closed and dress in the airless dark. Outside, the light hits like a brick. My dress instantly wilts. The starch gives way in the wet air and my skirts limp altogether along the floor. So I trail around the deck and look at no one, as no one looks at me; then I lie in my gauzy tent and swing.

At noon they raise sail to catch a whisper, and so we veer from one side of the vast river to the other, at which point, the whisper dies.

Everyone sits about. The English – all sorts of railwaymen, fitters, miners – fill the boat with dull delirium. Their voices drift on the hot air, and then stop.

I ask Miltón for the name of a tree on the bank – a handsome tree with red and peeling bark. He laughs and gleefully rubs his forearm, saying, I think, ‘White Man’s Skin.’

In the afternoon, I have Francine put all my white veils away. They increase the power of the sun’s light and the danger of sunburn and freckles. They are also, I think, very injurious to the eyes. Green is the only colour that should be worn as a summer veil.

Freckle wash – take one dram of muriatic acid, half a pint of rainwater, half a teaspoonful of spirits of lavender: mix, and apply it two or three times a day to the freckles with a camel’s-hair pencil.

When Doctor Stewart joins us after dinner, I take him aside to ask for muriatic acid. He says that my complexion is probably subject to my condition, but that lemons may do just as well. He has little French and no Spanish, and so I am forced to speak English to him. Mr Whytehead has everything, of course, up to and including Swedish.

And so we assemble – my little band. It is too hot for cards. It seems that, apart from my freckles, there is nothing to talk about. I try Sebastopol. I recall Buenos Aires. I wonder at the possibility of a garden in Asunción, and what might grow there. But Señor López turns always to the state of the unmoving boat, her inner workings, her boilers, vertical or horizontal, her trunnions, whatever they may be. I have no words for these things, and leave it all to Mr Whytehead.

I long for my piano, but it is deep in the hold. Sometimes, lurching across the Atlantic, I would hear a tinny discord; a distant twang that felt like one of my own heartstrings snapping.

But we must have music, the boat is so still now, and the night gathers about us as though there might never be another day. I have the captain order in a musical seaman, in order to push back the darkness. The man holds his cap in his hands and gives a humble, swelling account of ‘Barbara Allen’.

O mother, mother, make my bed

To lay me down in sorrow.

My Love has died for me to-day,

I’ll die for him to-morrow.

Señor López trumps him with something astonishing in Spanish and Mr Whytehead, prevailed upon by myself, finally opens his mouth – out of which floats, to our amazement, an easy, soaring tenor. The room is all tenderness. He sings a carol, ‘Quelle est cette odeur agréable, bergères, qui ravit tous nos sens?’ and all uninvited, pro patria, you might say, Francine supplies the descant.

After which, everything is easy. Señor López wants Whytehead to bet with him on our arrival date in Asunción, and he demurs. Everything he does makes us laugh, now. No one can pronounce his name, and this fusses him. Francine enquires, by way of general mirth, what his Christian name might be and, with some hesitation, he brings out the pearl, ‘Keld’.

Doctor Stewart clears his throat – to smother a laugh, I think; but then he fills our little cabin with his sudden baritone. Tuneless enough – but large, quite large.

The night has gathered in again.

This afternoon, Francine said that her mother has a friend – whose generous attention she still enjoys, at the age, she must be, of almost forty-five. A pleasant enough man, Francine says. He makes a visit every afternoon at five-thirty by the clock. Her mother calls him always ‘my dear friend’ – the use of his Christian name being less than respectable, and his patronymic an intimate, formal pleasure that must be reserved only for his wife.

‘But Señor López is not married,’ I say, quite pointedly, and Francine keeps her head down. Still, I find the conceit quite pretty. I tried it on Señor López, this evening, I said,

‘My dear friend.’ And he said,


What was that thing I wanted to say about butterflies? There was a group of them, anchored to the sand, their wings flicking this way and that in the heat and the breeze. One was the most astonishing blue. I have not seen such a blue since leaving Paris. And with it, as though in colloquy, fifty more of every variety. They all sat and stirred like ladies in a garden, their skirts parting to show underskirts of more beautiful hue, a flash of violet, a swish of peony edged with black. They spread them to sit, and played with their fans, and flicked open their parasols in the sun.