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
123.05 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.
123.10 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
123.15 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
123.20 genuine liberation: emotions that are not diagnostic of glory or

[ 123 ]

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
124.05 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,
124.10 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)
124.15 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
124.20 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
124.25 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
124.30 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

[ 124 ]

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,
125.05 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
125.10 "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
125.15 buttering and marmalading another toast. "She greatly enjoyed
the excursion."
"Oh, she went with you, did she?"
"Yes—in the black charabanc, with all the butlers. Jolly good
fun, rally" (pseudo-British pronunciation).
125.20 "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
125.25 spectacles, but no morning paper had come—and he took them
off again.
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
125.30 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.

[ 125 ]

She wore—though not in collusion with himblack 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
126.05 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
126.10 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
126.15 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
126.20 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
126.25 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-
126.30 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

[ 126 ]

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.
127.05 "You were not," interrupted Van harshly, "you were with
me looking at the blaze from the library window. Uncle Dan is
all wet."
"Ménagez vos américanismes," said the latter—and then
opened his arms wide in paternal welcome as guileless Lucette
127.10 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
127.15 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
127.20 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.
127.25 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.
127.30 "Leur chute est lente," said Van, "on peut les suivre du regard
en reconnaissantthat 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

[ 127 ]

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
128.05 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
128.10 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
128.15 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
128.20 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-
128.25 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
128.30 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

[ 128 ]

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
129.05 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
129.10 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.
129.15 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
129.20 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
129.25 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
129.30 as smoothly as later, in 1888, etc., darling. Marginal note in red

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