Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 13 (view annotations)

For the big picnic on Ada’s twelfth birthday and Ida’s forty-
second jour de fête, the child was permitted to wear her lolita
(thus dubbed after the little Andalusian gipsy of that name in
Osberg’s novel and pronounced, incidentally, with a Spanish
77.05 "t," not a thick English one), a rather long, but very airy and
ample, black skirt, with red poppies or peonies, "deficient in
botanical reality," as she grandly expressed it, not yet knowing
that reality and natural science are synonymous in the terms of
this, and only this, dream.
77.10 (Nor did you, wise Van. Her note.)
She had stepped into it, naked, while her legs were still damp
and "piney" after a special rubbing with a washcloth (morning
baths being unknown under Mlle Larivière’s regime) and pulled
it on with a brisk jiggle of the hips which provoked her govern-
77.15 ess’s familiar rebuke: mais ne te trémousse pas comme ça quand
tu mets ta jupe! Une petite fille de bonne maison, etc. Per contra,
the omission of panties was ignored by Ida Larivière, a bosomy
woman of great and repulsive beauty (in nothing but corset and
gartered stockings at the moment) who was not above making

[ 77 ]

secret concessions to the heat of the dog-days herself; but in
tender Ada’s case the practice had deprecable effects. The child
tried to assuage the rash in the soft arch, with all its accompani-
ment of sticky, itchy, not altogether unpleasurable sensations, by
78.05 tightly straddling the cool limb of a Shattal apple tree, much
to Van’s disgust as we shall see more than once. Besides the
lolita, she wore a short-sleeved white black-striped jersey, a
floppy hat (hanging behind her back from an elastic around her
throat), a velvet hairband and a pair of old sandals. Neither
78.10 hygiene, nor sophistication of taste, were, as Van kept observing,
typical of the Ardis household.
She tumbled out of her tree like a hoopoe when they all
were ready to start. Hurry, hurry, my bird, my angel. The
English coachman, Ben Wright, was still stone-sober (having
78.15 had for breakfast only one pint of ale). Blanche, who had been
to a big picnic at least once (when rushed to Pineglen to unlace
Mademoiselle, who had fainted), now perfomed the less
glamorous duty of carrying away snarling and writhing Dack
to her little room in the turret.
78.20 A charabanc had already conveyed two footmen, three arm-
chairs and a number of hampers to the site of the picnic. The
novelist, wearing a white satin dress (made by Vass of Man-
hattan for Marina who had lately lost ten pounds), with Ada
sitting beside her, and Lucette, très en beauté in a white sailor
78.25 blouse, perched next to sullen Wright, drove there in the
calèche. Van rode behind on one of his uncle’s or grand-uncle’s
bicycles. The forest road remained reasonably smooth if you
kept to its middle run (still sticky and dark after a rainy dawn)
between the sky-blue ruts, speckled with the reflections of the
78.30 same birch leaves whose shadows sped over the taut nacrine
silk of Mlle Larivière’s open sunshade and the wide brim of
Ada’s rather rakishly donned white hat. Now and then Lucette
from beside blue-coated Ben looked back at Van and made
slacken-speed little signals with the flat of one hand as she had

[ 78 ]

seen her mother do to Ada when fearing she would crash with
her pony or bicycle into the back of the carriage.
Marina came in a red motorcar of an early "runabout" type,
operated by the butler very warily as if it were some fancy
79.05 variety of corkscrew. She looked unwontedly smart in a man’s
gray flannels and sat holding the palm of her gloved hand on the
knob of a clouded cane as the car, wobbling a little, arrived at
the very edge of the picnic site, a picturesque glade in an old
pinewood cut by ravishingly lovely ravines. A strange pale
79.10 butterfly passed from the opposite side of the woods, along the
Lugano dirt road, and was followed presently by a landau from
which emerged one by one, nimbly or slowly, depending on
age and condition, the Erminin twins, their young pregnant
aunt (narrationally a great burden), and a governess, white-
79.15 haired Mme Forestier, the school friend of Mathilde in a forth-
coming story.
Three adult gentlemen, moreover, were expected but never
turned up: Uncle Dan, who missed the morning train from
town; Colonel Erminin, a widower, whose liver, he said in a
79.20 note, was behaving like a pecheneg; and his doctor (and chess
partner), the famous Dr. Krolik, who called himself Ada’s
court jeweler, and indeed brought her his birthday present
early on the following day—three exquisitely carved chrysalids
("Inestimable gems," cried throatily Ada, tensing her brows),
79.25 all of which were to yield before long, specimens of a disap-
pointing ichneumon instead of the Kibo Fritillary, a recently
discovered rarity.
Stacks of tender crustless sandwiches (perfect rectangles five
inches by two), the tawny corpse of a turkey, black Russian
79.30 bread, pots of Gray Bead caviar, candied violets, little raspberry
tarts, half a gallon of Goodson white port, another of ruby,
watered claret in thermos flasks for the girls, and the cold sweet
tea of happy childhoods—all this is more readily imagined than
described. One found it instructive [thus in the MS. Ed.].

[ 79 ]

One found it instructive to place side by side Ada Veen and
Grace Erminin: the skimmed-milk pallor of Ada and her co-
eval’s healthy hot flush; the straight black witchwench-hair of
the one and the brown bob of the other; my love’s lackluster
80.05 grave eyes and the blue twinkle behind Grace’s horn-rimmed
glasses; the former’s naked thigh and the latter’s long red stock-
ings; the gipsy skirt and the sailor suit. Still more instructive,
perhaps, was to note how Greg’s plain features had been trans-
posed practically intact into his sister’s aura where they acquired
80.10 a semblance of girlish "good looks" without impairing the close
resemblance between sailor boy and maiden.
The ruins of the turkey, the port wine which only the
governesses had touched, and a broken Sèvres plate were quickly
removed by the servants. A cat appeared from under a bush,
80.15 stared in a shock of intense surprise, and, despite a chorus of
"kitty-kitty," vanished.
Presently Mlle Larivière asked Ada to accompany her to a
secluded spot. There, the fully clad lady, with her voluminous
dress retaining its stately folds but grown as it were an inch
80.20 longer so that it now hid her prunella shoes, stood stock-still
over a concealed downpour and a moment later reverted to
her normal height. On their way back, the well-meaning
pedagogue explained to Ada that a girl’s twelfth birthday was
a suitable occasion to discuss and foresee a thing which, she
80.25 said, was going to make a grande fille of Ada any day now.
Ada, who had been sufficiently instructed about it by a school-
teacher six months earlier, and who in fact had had it already
twice, now astounded her poor governess (who could never
cope with Ada’s sharp and strange mind) by declaring that it
80.30 was all bluff and nuns’ nonsense; that those things hardly ever
happened to normal girls today and would certainly not occur
in her case. Mlle Larivière, who was a remarkably stupid person
(in spite or perhaps because of her propensity for novelizing),
mentally passed in review her own experience and wondered for

[ 80 ]

a few dreadful minutes if perhaps, while she indulged in the
arts, the progress of science had not changed that of nature.
The early afternoon sun found new places to brighten and
old places to toast. Aunt Ruth dozed with her head on an
81.05 ordinary bed pillow provided by Mme Forestier, who was
knitting a tiny jersey for her charges’ future half-sibling. Lady
Erminin, through the bothersome afterhaze of suicide, was,
reflected Marina, looking down, with old wistfulness and an in-
fant’s curiosity, at the picnickers, under the glorious pine
81.10 verdure, from the Persian blue of her abode of bliss. The chil-
dren displayed their talents: Ada and Grace danced a Russian
fling to the accompaniment of an ancient music box (which
kept halting in mid-bar, as if recalling other shores, other, radial,
waves); Lucette, one fist on her hip, sang a St Malô fisher-song;
81.15 Greg put on his sister’s blue skirt, hat and glasses, all of which
transformed him into a very sick, mentally retarded Grace;
and Van walked on his hands.
Two years earlier, when about to begin his first prison term
at the fashionable and brutal boarding school, to which other
81.20 Veens had gone before him (as far back as the days "when
Washingtonias were Wellingtonias"), Van had resolved to
study some striking stunt that would give him an immediate
and brilliant ascendancy. Accordingly, after a conference with
Demon, King Wing, the latter’s wrestling master, taught the
81.25 strong lad to walk on his hands by means of a special play of
the shoulder muscles, a trick that necessitated for its acquirement
and improvement nothing short of a dislocation of the caryatics.
What pleasure (thus in the MS.). The pleasure of suddenly
discovering the right knack of topsy-turvy locomotion was
81.30 rather like learning to man, after many a painful and ignominious
fall, those delightful gliders called Magicarpets (or "jikkers")
that were given a boy on his twelfth birthday in the adventurous
days before the Great Reaction—and then what a breathtaking
long neural caress when one became airborne for the first time

[ 81 ]

and managed to skim over a haystack, a tree, a burn, a barn,
while Grandfather Dedalus Veen, running with upturned face,
flourished a flag and fell into the horsepond.
Van peeled off his polo shirt and took off his shoes and
82.05 socks. The slenderness of his torso, matching in tint if not in
texture, the tan of his tight shorts, contrasted with the handsome
boy’s abnormally developed deltoids and sinewy forearms. Four
years later Van could stun a man with one blow of either elbow.
His reversed body gracefully curved, his brown legs
82.10 hoisted like a Tarentine sail, his joined ankles tacking, Van gripped
with splayed hands the brow of gravity, and moved to and fro,
veering and sidestepping, opening his mouth the wrong way,
and blinking in the odd bilboquet fashion peculiar to eyelids in
his abnormal position. Even more extraordinary than the variety
82.15 and velocity of the movements he made in imitation of animal
hind legs was the effortlessness of his stance; King Wing warned
him that Vekchelo, a Yukon professional, lost it by the time he
was twenty-two; but that summer afternoon, on the silky
ground of the pineglade, in the magical heart of Ardis, under
82.20 Lady Erminin’s blue eye, fourteen-year-old Van treated us to
the greatest performance we have ever seen a brachiambulant
give. Not the faintest flush showed on his face or neck! Now
and then, when he detached his organs of locomotion from the
lenient ground, and seemed actually to clap his hands in midair,
82.25 in a miraculous parody of a ballet jump, one wondered if this
dreamy indolence of levitation was not a result of the earth’s
canceling its pull in a fit of absentminded benevolence. In-
cidentally, one curious consequence of certain muscular changes
and osteal "reclicks" caused by the special training with which
82.30 Wing had racked him was Van’s inability in later years to shrug
his shoulders.
Questions for study and discussion:
1. Did both palms leave the ground when Van, while re-
versed, seemed actually to "skip" on his hands?

[ 82 ]

2. Was Van’s adult incapacity to "shrug" things off only
physical or did it "correspond" to some archetypal character of
his "undersoul"?
3. Why did Ada burst into tears at the height of Van’s per-
83.05 formance?
Finally Mlle Larivière read her La Rivière de Diamants, a
story she had just typed out for The Quebec Quarterly. The
pretty and refined wife of a seedy clerk borrows a necklace
from a wealthy woman friend. On the way home from the
83.10 office party she loses it. For thirty or forty horrible years the
unfortunate husband and wife labor and economize to repay the
debts they accumulated in the purchase of a half-million-franc
necklace which they had secretly substituted for the lost one
when returning the jewelbox to Mme F. Oh, how Mathilde’s
83.15 heart fluttered—would Jeanne open the box? She did not.
When decrepit but victorious (he, half-paralyzed by a half-
century of copie in their mansarde, she, unrecognizably coars-
ened by the washing of floors à grand eau), they confess every-
thing to a white-haired but still young looking Mme F. the
83.20 latter tells them, in the last phrase of the tale: "But, my poor
Mathilde, the necklace was false: it cost only five hundred
Marina’s contribution was more modest, but it too had its
charm. She showed Van and Lucette (the others knew all about
83.25 it) the exact pine and the exact spot on its rugged red trunk
where in old, very old days a magnetic telephone nested, com-
municating with Ardis Hall. After the banning of "currents and
circuits," she said (rapidly but freely, with an actress’s désin-
volture pronouncing those not quite proper words—while
83.30 puzzled Lucette tugged at the sleeve of Van, of Vanichka, who
could explain everything), her husband’s grandmother, an
engineer of great genius, "tubed" the Redmount rill (running
just below the glade from a hill above Ardis). She made it carry
vibrational vibgyors (prismatic pulsations) through a system of

[ 83 ]

platinum segments. These produced, of course, only one-way
messages, and the installation and upkeep of the "drums"
(cylinders) cost, she said, a Jew’s eye, so that the idea was
dropped, however tempting the possibility of informing a pic-
84.05 nicking Veen that his house was on fire.
As if to confirm many people’s discontent with national and
international policies (old Gamaliel was by now pretty gaga),
the little red car came chugging back from Ardis Hall and the
butler jumped out with a message. Monsieur had just arrived
84.10 with a birthday present for Mademoiselle Ada, but nobody
could figure out how the complicated object worked, and
Madame must help. The butler had brought a letter which he
now placed on a pocket tray and presented to Marina.
We cannot reconstitute the exact wording of the message,
84.15 but we know it said that this thoughtful and very expensive gift
was a huge beautiful doll—unfortunately, and strangely, more
or less naked; still more strangely, with a braced right leg and a
bandaged left arm, and a boxful of plaster jackets and rubber
accessories, instead of the usual frocks and frills. Directions in
84.20 Russian or Bulgarian made no sense because they were not in
the modern Roman, but in the old Cyrillitsa, a nightmare alpha-
bet which Dan had never been able to master. Could Marina
come over at once to have suitable doll clothes cut out of some
nice silk discards her maid had collected in a drawer he had dis-
84.25 covered and wrap the box again in fresh tissue paper?
Ada, who had been reading the note over her mother’s
shoulder, shuddered and said:
"You tell him to take a pair of tongs and carry the whole
business to the surgical dump."
84.30 "Bednyachok! Poor, poor little man," exclaimed Marina, her
eyes brimming with pity. "Of course I’ll come. Your cruelty,
Ada, is sometimes, sometimes, I don’t know—satanic!"
Briskly walking her long cane, her face twitching with

[ 84 ]

nervous resolution, Marina marched toward the vehicle, which
presently moved, turning and knocking over an empty half-
gallon bottle as its fender leafed through an angry burnberry
bush in order to avoid the parked calèche.
85.05 But whatever wrath there hung in the air, it soon subsided.
Ada asked her governess for pencils and paper. Lying on his
stomach, leaning his cheek on his hand, Van looked at his love’s
inclined neck as she played anagrams with Grace, who had
innocently suggested "insect."
85.10 "Scient," said Ada, writing it down.
"Oh no!" objected Grace.
"Oh yes! I’m sure it exists. He is a great scient. Dr. Entsic
was scient in insects."
Grace meditated, tapping her puckered brow with the eraser
85.15 end of the pencil, and came up with:
"Incest," said Ada instantly.
"I give up," said Grace. "We need a dictionary to check your
little inventions."
85.20 But the glow of the afternoon had entered its most oppressive
phase, and the first bad mosquito of the season was resonantly
slain on Ada’s shin by alert Lucette. The charabanc had already
left with the armchairs, the hampers and the munching footmen,
Essex, Middlesex and Somerset; and now Mlle Larivière and
85.25 Mme Forestier were exchanging melodious adieux. Hands
waved, and the twins with their ancient governess and sleepy
young aunt were carried away in the landau. A pale diaphanous
butterfly with a very black body followed them and Ada cried
"Look!" and explained it was closely related to a Japanese
85.30 Parnassian. Mlle Larivière said suddenly she would use a
pseudonym when publishing the story. She led her two pretty
charges toward the calèche and poked sans façons in his fat red
neck with the point of her parasol Ben Wright, grossly asleep

[ 85 ]

in the back under the low-hanging festoons of foliage. Ada
tossed her hat into Ida’s lap and ran back to where Van stood.
Being unfamiliar with the itinerary of sun and shade in the
clearing, he had left his bicycle to endure the blazing beams for
86.05 at least three hours. Ada mounted it, uttered a yelp of pain, al-
most fell off, googled, recovered—and the rear tire burst with
a comic bang.
The discomfitured machine was abandoned under a shrub to
be fetched later by Bouteillan Junior, yet another household
86.10 character. Lucette refused to give up her perch (accepting with
a bland little nod the advice of her drunken boxfellow who was
seen to touch her bare knees with a good-natured paw); and
there being no strapontin, Ada had to content herself with
Van’s hard lap.
86.15 It was the children’s first bodily contact and both were em-
barrassed. She settled down with her back to Van, resettled as
the carriage jerked, and wriggled some more, arranging her
ample pine-smelling skirt, which seemed to envelop him airily,
for all the world like a barber’s sheet. In a trance of awkward
86.20 delight he held her by the hips. Hot gouts of sun moved fast
across her zebra stripes and the backs of her bare arms and
seemed to continue their journey through the tunnel of his own
"Why did you cry?" he asked, inhaling her hair and the
86.25 heat of her ear. She turned her head and for a moment looked
at him closely, in cryptic silence.
(Did I? I don’t know—it upset me somehow. I can’t explain
it, but I felt there was something dreadful, brutal, dark, and,
yes, dreadful, about the whole thing. A later note.)
86.30 "I’m sorry," he said as she looked away, "I’ll never do it
again in your presence."
(By the way, that "for all the world," I detest the phrase.
Another note in Ada’s late hand.)

[ 86 ]

With his entire being, the boiling and brimming lad relished
her weight as he felt it responding to every bump of the road by
softly parting in two and crushing beneath it the core of the
longing which he knew he had to control lest a possible seep
87.05 perplex her innocence, He would have yielded and melted in
animal laxity had not the girl’s governess saved the situation by
addressing him. Poor Van shifted Ada’s bottom to his right
knee, blunting what used to be termed in the jargon of the tor-
ture house "the angle of agony." In the mournful dullness of
87.10 unconsummated desire he watched a row of izbas straggle by
as the calèche drove through Gamlet, a hamlet.
"I can never get used (m’y faire)" said Mlle Laparure, "to
the contrast between the opulence of nature and the squalor of
human life. See that old moujik décharné with that rent in his
87.15 shirt, see his miserable cabane. And see that agile swallow! How
happy, nature, how unhappy, man! Neither of you told me how
you liked my new story? Van?"
"It’s a good fairy tale," said Van.
"It’s a fairy tale," said careful Ada.
87.20 "Allons donc!" cried Mlle Larivière, "On the contrary—
every detail is realistic. We have here the drama of the petty
bourgeois, with all his class cares and class dreams and class
(True; that might have been the intent—apart from the
87.25 pointe assassine; but the story lacked "realism" within its own
terms, since a punctilious, penny-counting employee would
have found out, first of all, no matter how, quitte à tout dire à la
veuve, what exactly the lost necklace had cost. That was the
fatal flaw in the Larivière pathos-piece, but at the time young
87.30 Van and younger Ada could not quite grope for that point
although they felt instinctively the falsity of the whole affair.)
A slight commotion took place on the box. Lucette turned
around and spoke to Ada.

[ 87 ]

"I want to sit with you. Mne tut neudobno, i ot nego
nehorosho pakhnet (I’m uncomfortable here, and he does not
smell good)."
"We’ll be there in a moment," retorted Ada, "poterpi (have a
88.05 little patience)."
"What’s the matter?" asked Mlle Larivière.
"Nothing, Il pue."
"Oh dear! I doubt strongly he ever was in that Rajah’s

[ 88 ]

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