Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 2, Chapter 7 (annotations forthcoming)
7

During her dreary stay at Ardis, a considerably changed and
enlarged Kim Beauharnais called upon her. He carried under his
arm an album bound in orange-brown cloth, a dirty hue she
had hated all her life. In the last two or three years she had not
396.05 seen him, the light-footed, lean lad with the sallow complexion
had become a dusky colossus, vaguely resembling a janizary in
some exotic opera, stomping in to announce an invasion or an
execution. Uncle Dan, who just then was being wheeled out by
his handsome and haughty nurse into the garden where coppery
396.10 and blood-red leaves were falling, clamored to be given the big
book, but Kim said "Perhaps later," and joined Ada in the
reception corner of the hall.
He had brought her a present, a collection of photographs
he had taken in the good old days. He had been hoping the
396.15 good old days would resume their course, but since he under-
stood that mossio votre cossin (he spoke a thick Creole thinking
that its use in solemn circumstances would be more proper than
his everyday Ladore English) was not expected to revisit the
castle soon—and thus help bring the album up to date—the

[ 396 ]

best procedure pour tous les cernés ("the shadowed ones," the
"encircled" rather than "concerned") might be for her to keep
(or destroy and forget, so as not to hurt anybody) the illustrated
document now in her pretty hands. Wincing angrily at the
397.05 jolies, Ada opened the album at one of its maroon markers mean-
ingly inserted here and there, glanced once, reclicked the clasp,
handed the grinning blackmailer a thousand-dollar note that
she happened to have in her bag, summoned Bouteillan and told
him to throw Kim out. The mud-colored scrapbook remained
397.10 on a chair, under her Spanish shawl. With a shuffling kick the
old retainer expelled a swamp-tulip leaf swept in by the draft
and closed the front door again.
"Mademoiselle n'aurait jamais dû recevoir ce gredin," he
grumbled on his way back through the hall.
397.15 "That's just what I was on the point of observing," said Van
when Ada had finished relating the nasty incident. "Were the
photos pretty filthy?"
"Ach!" exhaled Ada.
"That money might have furthered a worthier cause – Home
397.20 for Blind Colts or Aging Ashettes."
"Odd, your saying that."
"Why?"
"Never mind. Anyway, the beastly thing is now safe. I had
to pay for it, lest he show poor Marina pictures of Van seducing
397.25 his little cousin Ada—which would have been bad enough;
actually, as a hawk of genius, he may have suspected the whole
truth."
"So you really think that because you bought his album for
a paltry thousand all evidence has been disposed of and every-
397.30 thing is in order?"
"Why, yes. Do you think the sum was too mean? I might
send him more. I know where to reach him. He lectures, if you
please, on the Art of Shooting Life at the School of Photography
in Kalugano."

[ 397 ]

"Good place for shooting," said Van. "So you are quite sure
you own the 'beastly thing'?"
"Of course, I do. It's with me, at the bottom of that trunk;
I'll show it to you in a moment."
398.05 "Tell me, my love, what was your so-called I.Q. when we
first met?"
"Two hundred and something. A sensational figure."
"Well, by now it has shrunk rather badly. Peeking Kim has
kept all the negatives plus lots of pictures he will paste or post
398.10 later."
"Would you say it has dropped to Cordula's level?"
"Lower. Now let's look at those snapshots—before settling
his monthly salary."
The first item in the evil series had projected one of Van's
398.15 initial impressions of Ardis Manor at an angle that differed from
that of his own recollection. Its area lay between the shadow of
a calèche darkening the gravel and the white step of a pillared
porch shining in the sun. Marina, one arm still in the sleeve of
the dust coat which a footman (Price) was helping her to
398.20 remove, stood brandishing her free arm in a theatrical gesture
of welcome (entirely at variance with the grimace of helpless
beatitude twisting her face), while Ada in a black hockey blazer
—belonging really to Vanda—spilled her hair over her bare
knees as she flexed them and flipped Dack with her flowers to
398.25 check his nervous barks.
Then came several preparatory views of the immediate
grounds: the colutea circle, an avenue, the grotto's black O, and
the hill, and the big chain around the trunk of the rare oak,
Quercus ruslan Chat., and a number of other spots meant to be
398.30 picturesque by the compiler of the illustrated pamphlet but
looking a little shabby owing to inexperienced photography.
It improved gradually.
Another girl (Blanche!) stooping and squatting exactly like
Ada (and indeed not unlike her in features) over Van's valise

[ 398 ]

opened on the floor, and "eating with her eyes" the silhouette
of Ivory Revery in a perfume advertisement. Then the cross
and the shade of boughs above the grave of Marina's dear house-
keeper, Anna Pimenovna Nepraslinov (1797-1883).
399.05 Let's skip nature shots—of skunklike squirrels, of a striped
fish in a bubble tank, of a canary in its pretty prison.
A photograph of an oval painting, considerably diminished,
portrayed Princess Sophia Zemski as she was at twenty, in 1775,
with her two children (Marina's grandfather born in 1772,
399.10 and Demon's grandmother, born in 1773).
"I don't seem to remember it," said Van, "where did it hang?"
"In Marina's boudoir. And do you know who this bum in
the frock coat is?"
"Looks to me like a poor print cut out of a magazine. Who's
399.15 he?"
"Sumerechnikov! He took sumerographs of Uncle Vanya
years ago."
"The Twilight before the Lumières. Hey, and here's Alonso,
the swimming-pool expert. I met his sweet sad daughter at a
399.20 Cyprian party—she felt and smelt and melted like you. The
strong charm of coincidence."
"I'm not interested. Now comes a little boy."
"Zdraste, Ivan Dementievich," said Van, greeting his four-
teen-year-old self, shirtless, in shorts, aiming a conical missile
399.25 at the marble fore-image of a Crimean girl doomed to offer an
everlasting draught of marble water to a dying marine from her
bullet-chipped jar."
Skip Lucette skipping rope.
Ah, the famous first finch.
399.30 "No, that's a kitayskaya punochka (Chinese Wall Bunting).
It has settled on the threshold of a basement door. The door
is ajar. There are garden tools and croquet mallets inside. You
remember how many exotic, alpine and polar, animals mixed
with ordinary ones in our region."

[ 399 ]

Lunchtime. Ada bending low over the dripping peach im-
properly peeled that she is devouring (shot from the garden
through the french window).
Drama and comedy. Blanche struggling with two amorous
400.05 tsigans in the Baguenaudier Bower. Uncle Dan calmly reading
a newspaper in his little red motorcar, hopelessly stuck in black
mud on the Ladore road.
Two huge common Peacock moths, still connected. Grooms
and gardeners brought Ada that species every blessed year;
400.10 which, in a way reminds us of you, sweet Marco d'Andrea, or
you, red-haired Domenico Benci, or you, dark and broody
Giovanni del Brina (who thought they were bats) or the one
I dare not mention (because it is Lucette's scholarly contribution
—so easily botched after the scholar's death) who likewise
400.15 might have picked up, at the foot of an orchard wall, not over-
hung with not-yet-imported wisteria (her half-sister's addition),
on a May morning in 1542, near Florence, a pair of the Pear
Peacock in copula, the male with the feathery antennae, the
female with the plain threads, to depict them faithfully (among
400.20 wretched, unvisualized insects) on one side of a fenestral niche
in the so-called "Elements Room" of the Palazzo Vecchio.
Sunrise at Ardis. Congs: naked Van still cocooned in his
hammock under the "lidderons" as they called in Ladore the
liriodendrons, not exactly a lit d'édredon, though worth an
400.25 auroral pun and certainly conducive to the physical expression
of a young dreamer's fancy undisguised by the network.
"Congratulations," repeated Van in male language. "The first
indecent postcard. Bewhorny, no doubt, has a blown-up copy
in his private stock."
400.30 Ada examined the pattern of the hammock through a magni-
fying glass (used by Van for deciphering certain details of his
lunatics' drawings).
"I'm afraid there's more to come," she remarked with a catch
in her voice; and taking advantage of their looking at the album

[ 400 ]

in bed (which we now think lacked taste) odd Ada used the
reading loupe on live Van, something she had done many times
as a scientifically curious and artistically depraved child in that
year of grace, here depicted.
401.05 "I'll find a mouche (patch) to conceal it," she said, returning
to the leering caruncula in the unreticent reticulation. "By the
way, you have quite a collection of black masks in your dresser."
"For masked balls (bals-masqués)," murmured Van.
A comparison piece: Ada's very-much-exposed white thighs
401.10 (her birthday skirt had got entangled with twigs and leaves)
straddling a black limb of the tree of Eden. Thereafter: several
shots of the 1884 picnic, such as Ada and Grace dancing a
Lyaskan fling and reversed Van nibbling at pine starworts (con-
jectural identification).
401.15 "That's finished," said Van, "a precious sinistral sinew has
stopped functioning. I can still fence and deliver a fine punch
but hand-walking is out. You shall not sniffle, Ada. Ada is not
going to sniffle and wail. King Wing says that the great
Vekchelo turned back into an ordinary chelovek at the age I'm
401.20 now, so everything is perfectly normal. Ah, drunken Ben
Wright trying to rape Blanche in the mews—she has quite a
big part in this farrago."
"He's doing nothing of the sort. You see quite well they are
dancing. It's like the Beast and the Belle at the ball where
401.25 Cinderella loses her garter and the Prince his beautiful codpiece
of glass. You can also make out Mr Ward and Mrs French in a
bruegelish kimbo (peasant prance) at the farther end of the hall.
All those rural rapes in our parts have been grossly exaggerated.
D'ailleurs, it was Mr Ben Wright's last petard at Ardis."
401.30 Ada on the balcony (photographed by our acrobatic voyeur
from the roof edge) drawing one of her favorite flowers, a
Ladore satyrion, silky-haired, fleshy, erect. Van thought he re-
called that particular sunny evening, the excitement, the soft-
ness, and some casual words she had muttered (in connection

[ 401 ]

with an inane botanical comment of his): "my flower opens
only at dusk." The one she was moistly mauving.
A formal photograph, on a separate page: Adochka, pretty
and impure in her flimsy, and Vanichka in gray-flannel suit,
402.05 with slant-striped school tie, facing the kimera (chimera, cam-
era) side by side, at attention, he with the shadow of a forced
grin, she, expressionless. Both recalled the time (between the
first tiny cross and a whole graveyard of kisses) and the occa-
sion: it was ordered by Marina, who had it framed and set up in
402.10 her bedroom next to a picture of her brother at twelve or four-
teen clad in a bayronka (open shirt) and cupping a guinea pig
in his gowpen (hollowed hands); the three looked like siblings,
with the dead boy providing a vivisectional alibi.
Another photograph was taken in the same circumstances
402.15 but for some reason had been rejected by capricious Marina:
at a tripod table, Ada sat reading, her half-clenched hand
covering the lower part of the page. A very rare, radiant, seem-
ingly uncalled-for smile shone on her practically Moorish lips.
Her hair flowed partly across her collarbone and partly down
402.20 her back. Van stood inclining his head above her and looked,
unseeing, at the opened book. In full, deliberate consciousness,
at the moment of the hooded click, he bunched the recent past
with the imminent future and thought to himself that this would
remain an objective perception of the real present and that he
402.25 must remember the flavor, the flash, the flesh of the present (as
he, indeed, remembered it half a dozen years later—and now,
in the second half of the next century).
But what about the rare radiance on those adored lips?
Bright derision can easily grade, through a cline of glee, into a
402.30 look of rapture:
"Do you know, Van, what book lay there—next to Marina's
hand mirror and a pair of tweezers? I'll tell you. One of the
most tawdry and réjouissants novels that ever 'made' the front
page of the Manhattan Times' Book Review. I'm sure your

[ 402 ]

Cordula still had it in her cosy corner where you sat temple
to temple after you jilted me."
"Cat," said Van.
"Oh, much worse. Old Beckstein's Tabby was a masterpiece
403.05 in comparison to this—this Love under the Lindens by one
Eelmann transported into English by Thomas Gladstone, who
seems to belong to a firm of Packers & Porters, because on the
page which Adochka, adova dochka (Hell's daughter) happens
to be relishing here, 'automobile' is rendered as 'wagon.' And
403.10 to think, to think, that little Lucette had to study Eelmann, and
three terrible Toms in her Literature course at Los!"
"You remember that trash but I remember our nonstop three-
hour kiss Under the Larches immediately afterwards."
"See next illustration," said Ada grimly.
403.15 "The scoundrel!" cried Van; "He must have been creeping
after us on his belly with his entire apparatus. I will have to
destroy him."
"No more destruction, Van. Only love."
"But look, girl, here I'm glutting your tongue, and there I'm
403.20 glued to your epiglottis, and—"
"Intermission," begged Ada, "quick-quick."
"I'm ready to oblige till I'm ninety," said Van (the vulgarity
of the peep show was catchy), "ninety times a month, roughly."
"Make it even more roughly, oh much more, say a hundred
403.25 and fifty, that would mean, that would mean—"
But, in the sudden storm, calculations went to the canicular
devils.
"Well," said Van, when the mind took over again, "let's go
back to our defaced childhood. I'm anxious"—(picking up the
403.30 album from the bedside rug)—"to get rid of this burden. Ah,
a new character, the inscription says: Dr Krolik."
"Wait a sec. It may be the best Vanishing Van but it's terribly
messy all the same. Okay. Yes, that's my poor nature teacher."
Knickerbockered, panama-hatted, lusting for his babochka

[ 403 ]

(Russian for "lepidopteron"). A passion, a sickness. What could
Diana know about that chase?
"How curious—in the state Kim mounted him here, he
looks much less furry and fat than I imagined. In fact, darling,
404.05 he's a big, strong, handsome old March Hare! Explain!"
"There's nothing to explain. I asked Kim one day to help me
carry some boxes there and back, and here's the visual proof.
Besides, that's not my Krolik but his brother, Karol, or Karapars,
Krolik. A doctor of philosophy, born in Turkey."
404.10 "I love the way your eyes narrow when you tell a lie. The
remote mirage in Effrontery Minor."
"I'm not lying!"—(with lovely dignity): "He is a doctor of
philosophy."
"Van ist auch one," murmured Van, sounding the last word
404.15 as wann."
"Our fondest dream," she continued, "Krolik's and my
fondest dream, was to describe and depict the early stages,
from ova to pupa, of all the known Fritillaries, Greater and
Lesser, beginning with those of the New World. I would have
404.20 been responsible for building an argynninarium (a pestproof
breeding house, with temperature patterns, and other refinements
—such as background night smells and night-animal calls to
create a natural atmosphere in certain difficult cases)—a cater-
pillar needs exquisite care! There are hundreds of species and
404.25 good subspecies in both hemispheres but, I repeat, we'd begin
with America. Live egg-laying females and live food plants,
such as violets of numerous kinds, airmailed from everywhere,
starting, for the heck of it, with arctic habitats—Lyaska, Le Bras
d'Or, Victor Island. The magnanery would be also a violarium,
404.30 full of fascinating flourishing plants, from the endiconensis race
of the Northern Marsh Violet to the minute but magnificent
Viola kroliki recently described by Professor Hall from Good-
son Bay. I would contribute colored figures of all the instars,

[ 404 ]

and line drawings of the perfect insect's genitalia and other
structures. It would be a wonderful work."
"A work of love," said Van, and turned the page.
"Unfortunately, my dear collaborator died intestate, and all
405.05 his collections, including my own little part, were surrendered
by a regular warren of collateral Kroliks to agents in Germany
and dealers in Tartary. Disgraceful, unjust, and so sad!"
"We'll find you another director of science. Now what do
we have here."
405.10 Three footmen, Price, Norris, and Ward dressed up as
grotesque firemen. Young Bout devoutedly kissing the veined
instep of a pretty bare foot raised and placed on a balustrade.
Nocturnal outdoor shot of two small white ghosts pressing their
noses from the inside to the library window.
405.15 Artistically éventail-ed all on one page were seven fotochki
(diminutive stills) taken within as many minutes—from a fairly
distant lurk—in a setting of tall grass, wild flowers, and overhang-
ing foliage. Its shade, and the folly of peduncles, delicately camou-
flaged the basic details, suggesting little more than a tussle be-
405.20 tween two incompletely clad children.
In the central miniature, Ada's only limb in sight was her
thin arm holding aloft, in a static snatch, like a banner, her
discarded dress above the daisy-starred grass. The magnifier
(now retrieved from under the bed sheet) clearly showed,
405.25 topping the daisies in an upper picture, the type of tight-capped
toadstool called in Scots law (ever since witching was banned)
"the Lord of Erection." Another interesting plant, Marvel's
Melon, imitating the backside of an occupied lad, could be made
out in the floral horizon of a third photo. In the next three stills
405.30 la force des choses ("the fever of intercourse") had sufficiently
disturbed the lush herbage to allow one to distinguish the de-
tails of a tangled composition consisting of clumsy Romany
clips and illegal nelsons. Finally, in the last picture, the lower

[ 405 ]

one in the fanlike sequence, Ada was represented by her two
hands rearranging her hair while her Adam stood over her, a
frond or inflorescence veiling his thigh with the deliberate
casualness of an Old Master's device to keep Eden chaste.
406.05 In an equally casual tone of voice Van said: "Darling, you
smoke too much, my belly is covered with your ashes. I suppose
Bouteillan knows Professor Beauharnais's exact address in the
Athens of Graphic Arts."
"You shall not slaughter him," said Ada. "He is subnormal,
406.10 he is, perhaps, blackmailerish, but in his sordidity, there is an
istoshnïy ston ("visceral moan") of crippled art. Furthermore,
this page is the only really naughty one. And let's not forget
that a copperhead of eight was also ambushed in the brush."
"Art my foute. This is the hearse of ars, a toilet roll of the
406.15 Carte du Tendre! I'm sorry you showed it to me. That ape has
vulgarized our own mind-pictures. I will either horsewhip his
eyes out or redeem our childhood by making a book of it:
Ardis, a family chronicle."
"Oh do!" said Ada (skipping another abominable glimpse—
406.20 apparently, through a hole in the boards of the attic). "Look,
here's our little Caliph Island!"
"I don't want to look any more. I suspect you find that filth
titillating. Some nuts get a kick from motor-bikini comics."
"Please, Van, do glance! These are our willows, remember?"
406.25 "'The castle bathed by the Adour:
The guidebooks recommend that tour.'"
"It happens to be the only one in color. The willows look sort
of greenish because the twigs are greenish, but actually they
are leafless here, it's early spring, and you can see our red boat
406.30 Souvenance through the rushes. And here's the last one: Kim's
apotheosis of Ardis."
The entire staff stood in several rows on the steps of the
pillared porch behind the Bank President Baroness Veen and

[ 406 ]

the Vice President Ida Larivière. Those two were flanked by
the two prettiest typists, Blanche de la Tourberie (ethereal,
tearstained, entirely adorable) and a black girl who had been
hired, a few days before Van's departure, to help French, who
407.05 towered rather sullenly above her in the second row, the focal
point of which was Bouteillan, still wearing the costume sport
he had on when driving off with Van (that picture had been
muffed or omitted). On the butler's right side stood three foot-
men; on his left, Bout (who had valeted Van), the fat, flour-
407.10 pale cook (Blanche's father) and, next to French, a terribly
tweedy gentleman with sightseeing strappings athwart one
shoulder: actually (according to Ada), a tourist, who, having
come all the way from England to see Bryant's Castle, had
had bicycled up the wrong road and was, in the picture, under the im-
407.15 pression of accidentally being conjoined to a group of fellow
tourists who were visiting some other old manor quite worth
inspecting too. The back rows consisted of less distinguished
menservants and scullions, as well as of gardeners, stableboys,
coachmen, shadows of columns, maids of maids, aids, laundresses,
407.20 dresses, recesses—getting less and less distinct as in those bank
ads where limited little employees dimly dimidiated by more
fortunate shoulders, but still asserting themselves, still smile in
the process of humble dissolve.
"Isn't that wheezy Jones in the second row? I always liked
407.25 the old fellow."
"No," answered Ada, "that's Price. Jones came four years
later. He is now a prominent policeman in Lower Ladore. Well,
that's all."
Nonchalantly, Van went back to the willows and said:
407.30 "Every shot in the book has been snapped in 1884, except this
one. I never rowed you down Ladore River in early spring.
Nice to note you have not lost your wonderful ability to blush."
"It's his error. He must have thrown in a fotochka taken
later, maybe in 1888. We can rip it out if you like."

[ 407 ]

"Sweetheart," said Van, "the whole of 1888 has been ripped
out. One need not be a sleuth in a mystery story to see that at
least as many pages have been removed as retained. I don't mind
—I mean I have no desire to see the Knabenkräuter and other
408.05 pendants of your friends botanizing with you; but 1888 has
been withheld and he'll turn up with it when the first grand is
spent."
"I destroyed 1888 myself," admitted proud Ada; "but I
swear, I solemnly swear, that the man behind Blanche, in the
408.10 perron picture, was, and has always remained, a complete
stranger."
"Good for him," said Van. "Really it has no importance.
It's our entire past that has been spoofed and condemned. On
second thoughts, I will not write that Family Chronicle. By the
408.15 way, where is my poor little Blanche now?"
"Oh, she's all right. She's still around. You know, she came
back—after you abducted her. She married our Russian coach-
man, the one who replaced Bengal Ben, as the servants called
him."
408.20 "Oh she did? That's delicious. Madame Trofim Fartukov. I
would never have thought it."
"They have a blind child," said Ada.
"Love is blind," said Van.
"She tells me you made a pass at her on the first morning of
408.25 your first arrival."
"Not documented by Kim," said Van. "Will their child
remain blind? I mean, did you get them a really first-rate
physician?"
"Oh yes, hopelessly blind. But speaking of love and its myths,
408.30 do you realize—because I never did before talking to her a
couple of years ago—that the people around our affair had
very good eyes indeed? Forget Kim, he's only the necessary
clown—but do you realize that a veritable legend was growing
around you and me while we played and made love?"

[ 408 ]

She had never realized, she said again and again (as if intent
to reclaim the past from the matter-of-fact triviality of the
album), that their first summer in the orchards and orchidariums
of Ardis had become a sacred secret and creed, throughout
409.05 the countryside. Romantically inclined handmaids, whose read-
ing consisted of Gwen de Vere and Klara Mertvago, adored
Van, adored Ada, adored Ardis's ardors in arbors. Their swains,
plucking ballads on their seven-stringed Russian lyres under
the racemosa in bloom or in old rose gardens (while the windows
409.10 went out one by one in the castle), added freshly composed
lines—naive, lackey-daisical, but heartfelt—to cyclic folk songs.
Eccentric police officers grew enamored with the glamour of
incest. Gardeners paraphrased iridescent Persian poems about
irrigation and the Four Arrows of Love. Nightwatchmen fought
409.15 insomnia and the fire of the clap with the weapons of Vaniada's
Adventures. Herdsmen, spared by thunderbolts on remote hill-
sides, used their huge "moaning horns" as ear trumpets to catch
the lilts of Ladore. Virgin chatelaines in marble-floored manors
fondled their lone flames fanned by Van's romance. And
409.20 another century would pass, and the painted word would be
retouched by the still richer brush of time.
"All of which," said Van, "only means that our situation is
desperate."

[ 409 ]

 

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