Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 2 (view annotations)

Marina's affair with Demon Veen started on his, her, and Daniel
Veen's birthday, January 5, 1868, when she was twenty-four
and both Veens thirty.
As an actress, she had none of the breath-taking quality that
10.05 makes the skill of mimicry seem, at least while the show lasts,
worth even more than the price of such footlights as insomnia,
fancy, arrogant art; yet on that particular night, with soft snow
falling beyond the plush and the paint, la Durmanska (who paid
the great Scott, her impresario, seven thousand gold dollars a
10.10 week for publicity alone, plus a bonny bonus for every engage-
ment) had been from the start of the trashy ephemeron (an
American play based by some pretentious hack on a famous
Russian romance) so dreamy, so lovely, so stirring, that Demon
(not quite a gentleman in amorous matters) made a bet with his
10.15 orchestra-seat neighbor, Prince N., bribed a series of green-room
attendants, and then, in a cabinet reculé (as a French writer of
an earlier century might have mysteriously called that little
room in which the broken trumpet and poodle hoops of a for-
gotten clown, besides many dusty pots of colored grease, hap-
10.20 pened to be stored) proceeded to possess her between two

[ 10 ]

scenes, Chapter Three and Four of the martyred novel). In
the first of these she had undressed in graceful silhouette behind
a semitransparent screen, reappeared in a flimsy and fetching
nightgown, and spent the rest of the wretched scene discussing
11.05 a local squire, Baron d'O., with an old nurse in Eskimo boots.
Upon the infinitely wise countrywoman's suggestion, she goose-
penned, from the edge of her bed, on a side table with cabriole
legs, a love letter and took five minutes to reread it in a languor-
ous but loud voice for nobody's benefit in particular since the
11.10 nurse sat dozing on a kind of sea chest, and the spectators were
mainly concerned with the artificial moonlight's blaze upon the
lovelorn young lady's bare arms and heaving breasts.
Even before the old Eskimo had shuffled off with the mes-
sage, Demon Veen had left his pink velvet chair and proceeded
11.15 to win the wager, the success of his enterprise being assured by
the fact that Marina, a kissing virgin, had been in love with him
since their last dance on New Year's Eve. Moreover, the tropical
moonlight she had just bathed in, the penetrative sense of her
own beauty, the ardent pulses of the imagined maiden, and the
11.20 gallant applause of an almost full house made her especially
vulnerable to the tickle of Demon's moustache. She had ample
time, too, to change for the next scene, which started with a
longish intermezzo staged by a ballet company whose services
Scotty had engaged, bringing the Russians all the way in two
11.25 sleeping cars from Belokonsk, Western Estoty. In a splendid
orchard several merry young gardeners wearing for some reason
the garb of Georgian tribesmen were popping raspberries into
their mouths, while several equally implausible servant girls in
sharovars (somebody had goofed—the word "samovars" may
11.30 have got garbled in the agent's aerocable) were busy plucking
marshmallows and peanuts from the branches of fruit trees. At
an invisible sign of Dionysian origin, they all plunged into the
violent dance called kurva or "ribbon boule" in the hilarious
program whose howlers almost caused Veen (tingling, and

[ 11 ]

light-loined, and with Prince N.'s rose-red banknote in his
pocket) to fall from his seat.
His heart missed a beat and never regretted the lovely loss,
as she ran, flushed and flustered, in a pink dress into the orchard,
12.05 earning a claque third of the sitting ovation that greeted the
instant dispersal of the imbecile but colorful transfigurants from
Lyaska—or Iveria. Her meeting with Baron O., who strolled
out of a side alley, all spurs and green tails, somehow eluded
Demon's consciousness, so struck was he by the wonder of that
12.10 brief abyss of absolute reality between two bogus fulgurations
of fabricated life. Without waiting for the end of the scene, he
hurried out of the theater into the crisp crystal night, the snow-
flakes star-spangling his top hat as he returned to his house in
the next block to arrange a magnificent supper. By the time he
12.15 went to fetch his new mistress in his jingling sleigh, the last-act
ballet of Caucasian generals and metamorphosed Cinderellas had
come to a sudden close, and Baron d'O., now in black tails and
white gloves, was kneeling in the middle of an empty stage,
holding the glass slipper that his fickle lady had left him when
12.20 eluding his belated advances. The claqueurs were getting tired
and looking at their watches when Marina in a black cloak
slipped into Demon's arms and swan-sleigh.
They reveled, and traveled, and they quarreled, and flew back
to each other again. By the following winter he began to suspect
12.25 she was being unfaithful to him, but could not determine his
rival. In mid-March, at a business meal with an art expert, an
easy-going, lanky, likeable fellow in an old-fashioned dress-coat,
Demon screwed in his monocle, unclicked out of its special flat
case a small pen-and-wash and said he thought (did not doubt,
12.30 in fact, but wished his certitude to be admired) that it was an
unknown product of Parmigianino's tender art. It showed a
naked girl with a peach-like apple cupped in her half-raised hand
sitting sideways on a convolvulus-garlanded support, and had

[ 12 ]

for its discoverer the additional appeal of recalling Marina
when, rung out of a hotel bathroom by the phone, and perched
on the arm of a chair, she muffled the receiver while asking her
lover something that he could not make out because the bath's
13.05 voice drowned her whisper. Baron d'Onsky had only to cast
one glance at that raised shoulder and at certain vermiculated
effects of delicate vegetation to confirm Demon's guess. D'On-
sky had the reputation of not showing one sign of esthetic emo-
tion in the presence of the loveliest masterpiece; this time, none-
13.10 theless, he laid his magnifier aside as he would a mask, and
allowed his undisguised gaze to caress the velvety apple and
the nude's dimpled and mossed parts with a smile of bemused
pleasure. Would Mr. Veen consider selling it to him there and
then, Mr. Veen, please? Mr. Veen would not. Skonky (a one-
13.15 way nickname) must content himself with the proud thought
that, as of today, he and the lucky owner were the sole people
to have ever admired it en connaissance de cause. Back it went
into its special integument; but after finishing his fourth cup of
cognac, d'O. pleaded for one last peep. Both men were a little
13.20 drunk, and Demon secretly wondered if the rather banal re-
semblance of that Edenic girl to a young actress, whom his
visitor had no doubt seen on the stage in "Eugene and Lara" or
"Lenore Raven" (both painfully panned by a "disgustingly in-
corruptible" young critic), should be, or would be, commented
13.25 upon. It was not: such nymphs were really very much alike
because of their elemental limpidity since the similarities of
young bodies of water are but murmurs of natural innocence
and double-talk mirrors, that's my hat, his is older, but we have
the same London hatter.
13.30 Next day Demon was having tea at his favorite hotel with
A Bohemian lady whom he had never seen before and was never
to see again (she desired his recommendation for a job in the
Glass Fish-and-Flower department in a Boston museum) when

[ 13 ]

she interrupted her voluble self to indicate Marina and Aqua,
blankly slinking across the hall in modish sullenness and bluish
furs with Dan Veen and a dackel behind, and said:
"Curious how that appalling actress resembles 'Eve on the
14.05 Clepsydrophone' in Parmigianino's famous picture."
"It is anything but famous," said Demon quietly, "and you
can't have seen it. I don't envy you," he added; "the naïve
stranger who realizes that he or she has stepped into the mud of
an alien life must experience a pretty sickening feeling. Did you
14.10 get that small-talk information directly from a fellow named
d'Onsky or through a friend of a friend of his?"
"Friend of his," replied the hapless Bohemian lady.
Upon being questioned in Demon's dungeon, Marina, laugh-
ing trillingly, wove a picturesque tissue of lies; then broke down,
14.15 and confessed. She swore that all was over; that the Baron, a
physical wreck and a spiritual Samurai, had gone to Japan for-
ever. From a more reliable source Demon learned that the
Samurai's real destination was smart little Vatican, a Roman
spa, whence he was to return to Aardvark, Massa, in a week or
14.20 so. Since prudent Veen preferred killing his man in Europe
(decrepit but indestructible Gamaliel was said to be doing his
best to forbid duels in the Western Hemisphere—a canard or
an idealistic President's instant-coffee caprice, for nothing was
to come of it after all), Demon rented the fastest petroloplane
14.25 available, overtook the Baron (looking very fit) in Nice, saw
him enter Gunter's Bookshop, went in after him, and in the
presence of the imperturbable and rather bored English shop-
keeper, back-slapped the astonished Baron across the face with
a lavender glove. The challenge was accepted; two native
14.30 seconds were chosen; the Baron plumped for swords; and after
a certain amount of good blood (Polish and Irish—a kind of
American "Gory Mary" in barroom parlance) had bespattered
two hairy torsoes, the white-washed terrace, the flight of steps
leading backward to the walled garden in an amusing Douglas

[ 14 ]

d'Artagnan arrangement, the apron of a quite accidental milk-
maid, and the shirtsleeves of both seconds, charming Monsieur
de Pastrouil and Colonel St. Alin, a scoundrel, the latter gentle-
men separated the panting combatants, and Skonky died, not
15.05 "of his wounds" (as it was viciously rumored) but of a gangren-
ous afterthought on the part of the least of them, possibly self-
inflicted, a sting in the groin, which caused circulatory trouble,
notwithstanding quite a few surgical interventions during two
or three years of protracted stays at the Aardvark Hospital in
15.10 Boston—a city where, incidentally, he married in 1869 our
friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of Glass Biota at the
local museum.
Marina arrived in Nice a few days after the duel, and tracked
Demon down in his villa Armina, and in the ecstasy of recon-
15.15 ciliation neither remembered to dupe procreation, whereupon
started the extremely interesnoe polozhenie ("interesting condi-
tion") without which, in fact, these anguished notes could not
have been strung.
(Van, I trust your taste and your talent but are we quite sure
15.20 we should keep reverting so zestfully to that wicked world
which after all may have existed only oneirologically, Van?
marginal jotting in Ada's 1965 hand; crossed out lightly in her
latest wavering one.)
That reckless stage was not the last but the shortest—a matter
15.25 of four or five days. He pardoned her. He adored her. He
wished to marry her very much—on the condition she dropped
her theatrical "career" at once. He denounced the mediocrity
of her gift and the vulgarilty of her entourage, and she yelled
he was a brute and a fiend. By April 10 it was Aqua who was
15.30 nursing him, while Marina had flown back to her rehearsals of
"Lucile," yet another execrable drama heading for yet another
flop at the Ladore playhouse.
"Adieu. Perhaps it is better thus," wrote Demon to Marina
in mid-April, 1869 (the letter may be either a copy in his

[ 15 ]

calligraphic hand or the unposted original), "for whatever bliss
might have attended our married life, and however long that
blissful life might have lasted, one image I shall not forget and
will not forgive. Let it sink in, my dear. Let me repeat it in
16.05 such terms as a stage performer can appreciate. You had gone
to Boston to see an old Aunt—a cliché, but the truth for the
nonce—and I had gone to my aunt's ranch near Lolita, Texas.
Early one February morning (around noon chez vous) I rang
you up at your hotel from a roadside booth of pure crystal still
16.10 tear-stained after a tremendous thunderstorm to ask you to fly
over at once because I, Demon, rattling my crumpled wings
and cursing the automatic dorophone, could not live without
you and because I wished you to see, with me holding you,
the daze of desert flowers that the rain had brought out. Your
16.15 voice was remote but sweet; you said you were in Eve's state,
hold the line, let me put on a penyuar. Instead, blocking my ear,
you spoke, I suppose, to the man with whom you had spent the
night (and whom I would have dispatched, had I not been
overeager to castrate him). Now that is the sketch made by a
16.20 young artist in Parma, in the sixteenth century, for the fresco of
our destiny, in a prophetic trance, and coinciding, except for
the apple of terrible knowledge, with an image repeated in two
men's minds. Your runaway maid, by the way, has been found
by the police in a brothel here and will be shipped back to you as
16.25 soon as she is sufficiently stuffed with mercury."

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