Chapters 38-39 Summary
Beardsley is a small town full of friendly people. Humbert finds such people dangerous, so he holds himself aloof, making as few friends as possible. Most of his neighbors are content to stick to monosyllabic greetings or occasional insubstantial conversation. But one neighbor, an old “sharp-nosed character,” is more troublesome. Humbert often watches from a window as this woman stops Lolita to ask prying questions about her absent mother and her unapproachable stepfather. Once this woman sends Humbert a note inviting Lolita to come over and read books “instead of having the radio on at full blast till all hours of the night.”
Humbert has a maid and cook, Mrs. Holigan, who visits the house daily while Lolita is in school. Mrs. Holigan has worked at the house for years, so he reluctantly lets her continue. However, he worries constantly that she may notice something odd about his life. He always makes the beds, a practice that he perfected during his year of hotel travel. Even so, he is plagued by the idea that he may leave behind "some fatal stain" which will tip her off to his activities with Lolita.
Humbert’s friend Gaston Godin, a Frenchman who teaches the French language at Beardsley College, is a fat, jolly figure who is well-liked around town. He helps Humbert by vouching for him to the neighbors. Although grateful, Humbert is highly amused when he realizes how thoroughly the townspeople trust Gaston. To Humbert, it is blatantly obvious that Gaston has a sexual predilection for little boys. Gaston charms the boys of Beardsley, hiring them to do odd jobs and keeping them constantly near him. He is an intensely self-absorbed person, so he never notices that anything is amiss between Humbert and Lolita. He would probably find it funny if he did.
Humbert and Gaston often play chess in the afternoons while Lolita practices dance moves in the next room. Whenever Gaston sees Lolita, he says hello and shakes hands without even looking up. Once, when she is not at home, Gaston politely asks Humbert if his daughters are doing well. This pleases Humbert, who reflects that his friend has mentally “multiplied” his lone daughter into a crowd.
Years later, at his trial, Humbert wants Gaston as a witness, but Gaston is enmeshed in some legal mess of his own in Europe. However, for the duration of Humbert’s stay in Beardsley, the two of them go around “having a grand old time and fooling everybody."