|Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 20 (view annotations)
|Next morning, his nose still in the dreambag of a deep pillow
|contributed to his otherwise austere bed by sweet Blanche
|(with whom, by the parlor-game rules of sleep, he had been
|holding hands in a heartbreaking nightmare—or perhaps it was
|just her cheap perfume), the boy was at once aware of the
|happiness knocking to be let in. He deliberately endeavored to
|prolong the glow of its incognito by dwelling on the last
|vestiges of jasmine and tears in a silly dream; but the tiger of
|happiness fairly leaped into being.
|That exhilaration of a newly acquired franchise! A shade of
|it he seemed to have kept in his sleep, in that last part of his
|recent dream in which he had told Blanche that he had learned
|to levitate and that his ability to tread air with magic ease
|would allow him to break all records for the long jump by
|strolling, as it were, a few inches above the ground for a
|stretch of say thirty or forty feet (too great a length might be
|suspicious) while the stands went wild, and Zambovsky of
|Zambia stared, arms akimbo, in consternation and disbelief.
|Tenderness rounds out true triumph, gentleness lubricates
|genuine liberation: emotions that are not diagnostic of glory or
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|passion in dreams. One half of the fantastic joy Van was to
|taste from now on (forever, he hoped) owed its force to the
|certainty that he could lavish on Ada, openly and at leisure, all
|the puerile petting that social shame, male selfishness, and moral
|apprehension had prevented him from envisaging before.
|On weekends, all three meals of the day were heralded by
|three gongs, small, medium and big. The first now announced
|breakfast in the dining room. Its vibration suscitated the thought
|that in twenty-six steps Van would join his young accomplice,
|whose delicate musk he still preserved in the hollow of his hand
|—and affected Van with a kind of radiant amazement: Had it
|really happened? Are we really free? Certain caged birds, say
|Chinese amateurs shaking with fatman mirth, knock themselves
|out against the bars (and lie unconscious for a few minutes)
|every blessed morning, right upon awakening, in an automatic,
|dream-continuing, dreamlined dash—although they are, those
|iridescent prisoners, quite perky and docile and talkative the
|rest of the time.
|Van thrust his bare toe into a sneaker, retrieving the while
|its mate from under the bed; he hurried down, past a pleased-
|looking Prince Zemski and a grim Vincent Veen, Bishop of
|Balticomore and Como.
|But she was not down yet. In the bright dining room, full of
|yellow flowers in drooping clusters of sunshine, Uncle Dan was
|feeding. He wore suitable clothes for a suitably hot day in the
|country—namely, a candy-striped suit over a mauve flannel
|shirt and piqué waistcoat, with a blue-and-red club tie and a
|safety-goldpinned very high soft collar (all his trim stripes and
|colors were a little displaced, though, in the process of comic
|strip printing, because it was Sunday). He had just finished his
|first buttered toast, with a dab of ye-old Orange Marmalade and
|was making turkey sounds as he rinsed his dentures orally with
|a mouthful of coffee prior to swallowing it and the flavorous
|flotsam. Being, as I had reason to believe, plucky, I could make
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|myself suffer a direct view of the man's pink face with its (ro-
|tating) red "tashy," but I was not obliged (mused Van, in 1922,
|when he saw those baguenaudier flowers again) to stand his
|chinless profile with its curly red sideburn. So Van considered,
|not without appetite, the blue jugs of hot chocolate and baton-
|segments of bread prepared for the hungry children. Marina
|had her breakfast in bed, the butler and Price ate in a recess of
|the pantry (a pleasing thought, somehow) and Mlle Larivière
|did not touch any food till noon, being a doom-fearing
|"midinette" (the sect, not the shop) and had actually made her
|father confessor join her group.
|"You could have taken us to see the fire, Uncle dear," re-
|marked Van, pouring himself a cup of chocolate.
|"Ada will tell you all about it," replied Uncle Dan, lovingly
|buttering and marmalading another toast. "She greatly enjoyed
|"Oh, she went with you, did she?"
|"Yes—in the black charabanc, with all the butlers. Jolly good
|fun, rally" (pseudo-British pronunciation).
|"But that must have been one of the scullery maids, not Ada,"
|remarked Van. "I didn't realize," he added, "we had several
|here—I mean, butlers."
|"Oh, I imagine so," said Uncle Dan vaguely. He repeated
|the internal rinsing process, and with a slight cough put on his
|spectacles, but no morning paper had come—and he took them
|Suddenly Van heard her lovely dark voice on the staircase
|saying in an upward direction, "Je l'ai vu dans une des corbeilles
|de la bibliothèque"—presumably in reference to some geranium
|or violet or slipper orchid. There was a "bannister pause," as
|photographers say, and after the maid's distant glad cry had
|come from the library Ada's voice added: "Je me demande, I
|wonder qui l'a mis là, who put it there." Aussitôt après she en-
|tered the dining room.
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|She wore—though not in collusion with him—black shorts,
|a white jersey and sneakers. Her hair was drawn back from her
|big round brow and thickly pigtailed. The rose of a rash under
|her lower lip glistened with glycerine through the patchily
|dabbed-on powder. She was too pale to be really pretty. She
|carried a book of verse. My eldest is rather plain but has nice
|hair, and my youngest is pretty, but foxy red, Marina used to
|say. Ungrateful age, ungrateful light, ungrateful artist, but not
|ungrateful lover. A veritable wave of adoration buoyed him up
|from the pit of the stomach to heaven. The thrill of seeing her,
|and knowing she knew, and knowing nobody else knew what
|they had so freely, and dirtily, and delightfully indulged in,
|less than six hours ago, turned out to be too much for our green
|lover despite his trying to trivialize it with the moral corrective
|of an opprobrious adverb. Fluffing badly a halfhearted "hello,"
|not a habitual morning greeting (which, besides, she ignored),
|he bent over his breakfast while watching with a secret poly-
|phemic organ her every movement. She slapped lightly Mr.
|Veen's bald head with her book in passing behind him and
|noisily moved the chair next to him on the other side from Van.
|Blinking, doll-lashing daintily, she poured herself a big cup of
|chocolate. Though it had been thoroughly sweetened, the child
|placed a lump of sugar on her spoon and eased it into the cup,
|relishing the way the hot brown liquid suffused and dissolved
|one crystal-grained crumbling corner and then the entire piece.
|Meanwhile, Uncle Dan, in delayed action, chased an imagin-
|ary insect off his pate, looked up, looked around, and at last
|acknowledged the newcomer.
|"Oh yes, Ada," he said, "Van here is anxious to know some-
|thing. What were you doing, my dear, while he and I were
|taking care of the fire?"
|Its reflection invaded Ada. Van had never seen a girl (as
|translucently white-skinned as she), or indeed anybody else,
|porcelain or peach, blush so substantially and habitually, and
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|the habit distressed him as being much more improper than any
|act that might cause it. She stole a foolish glance at the somber
|boy and began saying something about having been fast ablaze
|in her bedroom.
|"You were not," interrupted Van harshly, "you were with
|me looking at the blaze from the library window. Uncle Dan is
|"Ménagez vos américanismes," said the latter—and then
|opened his arms wide in paternal welcome as guileless Lucette
|trotted into the room with a child's pink, stiff-bagged butterfly
|net in her little fist, like an oriflamme.
|Van shook his head disapprovingly at Ada. She showed him
|the sharp petal of her tongue, and with a shock of self-indigna-
|tion her lover felt himself flushing in his turn. So much for the
|franchise. He ringed his napkin and retired to the mestechko
|("little place") off the front hall.
|After she too had finished breakfasting, he waylaid her,
|gorged with sweet butter, on the landing. They had one mo-
|ment to plan things, it was all, historically speaking, at the
|dawn of the novel which was still in the hands of parsonage
|ladies and French academicians, so such moments were precious.
|She stood scratching one raised knee. They agreed to go for a
|walk before lunch and find a secluded place. She had to finish
|a translation for Mlle Larivière. She showed him her draft.
|François Coppée? Yes.
|Their fall is gentle. The woodchopper
|Can tell, before they reach the mud,
|The oak tree by its leaf of copper,
|The maple by its leaf of blood.
|"Leur chute est lente," said Van, "on peut les suivre du regard
|en reconnaissant—that paraphrastic touch of 'chopper' and
|'mud' is, of course, pure Lowden (minor poet and translator,
|1815-1895). Betraying the first half of the stanza to save the
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|second is rather like that Russian nobleman who chucked his
|coachman to the wolves, and then fell out of his sleigh."
|"I think you are very cruel and stupid," said Ada. "This is
|not meant to be a work of art or a brilliant parody. It is the
|ransom exacted by a demented governess from a poor over-
|worked schoolgirl. Wait for me in the Baguenaudier Bower,"
|she added. "I'll be down in exactly sixty-three minutes."
|Her hands were cold, her neck was hot; the postman's boy
|had rung the doorbell; Bout, a young footman, the butler's
|bastard, crossed the resonant flags of the hall.
|On Sunday mornings the mail came late, because of the
|voluminous Sunday supplements of the papers from Balticomore,
|and Kaluga, and Luga, which Robin Sherwood, the old post-
|man, in his bright green uniform, distributed on horseback
|throughout the somnolent countryside. As Van, humming his
|school song—the only tune he could ever carry—skipped down
|the terrace steps, he saw Robin on his old bay holding the live-
|lier black stallion of his Sunday helper, a handsome English lad
|whom, it was rumored behind the rose hedges, the old man
|loved more vigorously than his office required.
|Van reached the third lawn, and the bower, and carefully
|inspected the stage prepared for the scene, "like a provincial
|come an hour too early to the opera after jogging all day along
|harvest roads with poppies and bluets catching and twinkle-
|twining in the wheels of his buggy" (Floeberg's Ursula).
|Blue butterflies nearly the size of Small Whites, and likewise
|of European origin, were flitting swiftly around the shrubs and
|settling on the drooping clusters of yellow flowers. In less com-
|plex circumstances, forty years hence, our lovers were to see
|again, with wonder and joy, the same insect and the same
|bladder-senna along a forest trail near Susten in the Valais. At
|the present moment he was looking forward to collecting what
|he would recollect later, and watched the big bold Blues as he
|sprawled on the turf, burning with the evoked vision of Ada's
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|pale limbs in the variegated light of the bower, and then coldly
|telling himself that fact could never quite match fancy. When
|he returned from a swim in the broad and deep brook beyond
|the bosquet, with wet hair and tingling skin, Van got the rare
|treat of finding his foreglimpse of live ivory accurately repro-
|duced, except that she had loosened her hair and changed into
|the curtal frock of sunbright cotton that he was so fond of and
|had so ardently yearned to soil in the so recent past.
|He had resolved to deal first of all with her legs which he
|felt he had not feted enough the previous night; to sheathe them
|in kisses from the A of arched instep to the V of velvet; and
|this Van accomplished as soon as Ada and he got sufficiently
|deep in the larchwood which closed the park on the steep side
|of the rocky rise between Ardis and Ladore.
|Neither could establish in retrospect, nor, indeed, persisted
|in trying to do so, how, when and where he actually "de-
|flowered" her—a vulgarism Ada in Wonderland had happened
|to find glossed in Phrody's Encyclopedia as: "to break a virgin's
|vaginal membrane by manly or mechanical means," with the
|example: "The sweetness of his soul was deflowered (Jeremy
|Taylor)." Was it that night on the lap robe? Or that day in the
|larchwood? Or later in the shooting gallery, or in the attic, or
|on the roof, or on a secluded balcony, or in the bathroom, or
|(not very comfortably) on the Magic Carpet? We do not know
|and do not care.
|(You kissed and nibbled, and poked, and prodded, and
|worried me there so much and so often that my virginity was
|lost in the shuffle; but I do recall definitely that by midsummer
|the machine which our forefathers called "sex" was working
|as smoothly as later, in 1888, etc., darling. Marginal note in red
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