Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 27 (view annotations)

"Marina gives me a glowing account of you and says uzhe
chuvstvuetsya osen'. Which is very Russian. Your grandmother
would repeat regularly that 'already-is-to-be-felt-autumn' re-
mark every year, at the same time, even on the hottest day of
163.05 the season at Villa Armina: Marina never realized it was an
anagram of the sea, not of her. You look splendid, sïnok moy,
but I can well imagine how fed up you must be with her two
little girls, Therefore, I have a suggestion—"
"Oh, I liked them enormously," purred Van. "Especially
163.10 dear little Lucette."
"My suggestion is, come with me to a cocktail party today.
It is given by the excellent widow of an obscure Major de Prey
—obscurely related to our late neighbor, a fine shot but the
light was bad on the Common, and a meddlesome garbage col-
163.15 lector hollered at the wrong moment. Well, that excellent and
influential lady who wishes to help a friend of mine" (clearing
his throat) "has, I'm told, a daughter of fifteen summers, called
Cordula, who is sure to recompense you for playing Blindman's
Buff all summer with the babes of Ardis Wood."
163.20 "We played mostly Scrabble and Snap," said Van. "Is the
needy friend also in my age group?"

[ 163 ]

"She's a budding Duse," replied Demon austerely, "and the
party is strictly a 'prof push.' You'll stick to Cordula de Prey,
I, to Cordelia O'Leary."
"D'accord," said Van.
164.05 Cordula's mother, an overripe, overdressed, overpraised com-
edy actress, introduced Van to a Turkish acrobat with tawny
hairs on his beautiful orang-utan hands and the fiery eyes of a
charlatan—which he was not, being a great artist in his circular
field. Van was so taken up by his talk, by the training tips he
164.10 lavished on the eager boy, and by envy, ambition, respect and
other youthful emotions, that he had little time for Cordula,
round-faced, small, dumpy, in a turtle-neck sweater of dark-red
wool, or even for the stunning young lady on whose bare back
the paternal hand kept resting lightly as Demon steered her
164.15 toward this or that useful guest. But that very same evening
Van ran into Cordula in a bookshop and she said, "By the way,
Van—I can call you that, can't I? Your cousin Ada is my school-
mate. Oh, yes. Now, explain, please, what did you do to our
difficult Ada? In her very first letter from Ardis, she positively
164.20 gushed—our Ada gushed!—about how sweet, clever, unusual,
"Silly girl. When was that?"
"In June, I imagine. She wrote again later, but her reply—
because I was quite jealous of you—really I was!—and had fired
164.25 back lots of questions—well, her reply was evasive, and prac-
tically void of Van."
He looked her over more closely than he had done before.
He had read somewhere (we might recall the precise title if
we tried, not Tiltil, that's in Blue Beard . . .) that a man can
164.30 recognize a Lesbian, young and alone (because a tailored old
pair can fool no one), by a combination of three characteristics:
slightly trembling hands, a cold-in-the-head voice, and that
skidding-in-panic of the eyes if you happen to scan with obvi-
ous appraisal such charms as the occasion might force her to

[ 164 ]

show (lovely shoulders, for instance). Nothing whatever of
all that (yes—Mytilène, petite isle, by Louis Pierre) seemed to
apply to Cordula, who wore a "garbotosh" (belted mackintosh)
over her terribly unsmart turtle and held both hands deep in
165.05 her pockets as she challenged his stare. Her bobbed hair was of
a neutral shade between dry straw and damp. Her light blue
iris could be matched by millions of similar eyes in pigment-
poor families of French Estoty. Her mouth was doll-pretty
when consciously closed in a mannered pout so as to bring out
165.10 what portraitists call the two "sickle folds" which, at their best,
are oblong dimples and, at their worst, the creases down the
well-chilled cheeks of felt-booted apple-cart girls. When her
lips parted, as they did now, they revealed braced teeth, which,
however, she quickly remembered to shutter.
165.15 "My cousin Ada," said Van, "is a little girl of eleven or
twelve, and much too young to fall in love with anybody,
except people in books. Yes, I too found her sweet. A trifle on
the blue-stocking side, perhaps, and, at the same time, impudent
and capricious—but, yes, sweet."
165.20 "I wonder," murmured Cordula, with such a nice nuance of
pensive tone that Van could not tell whether she meant to
close the subject, or leave it ajar, or open a new one.
"How could I get in touch with you?" he asked. "Would
you come to Riverlane? Are you a virgin?"
165.25 "I don't date hoodlums," she replied calmly, "but you can
always 'contact' me through Ada. We are not in the same class,
in more ways than one" (laughing); "she's a little genius, I'm a
plain American ambivert, but we are enrolled in the same Ad-
vanced French group, and the Advanced French group is as-
165.30 signed the same dormitory so that a dozen blondes, three
brunettes and one redhead, la Rousse, can whisper French in
their sleep" (laughing alone).
"What fun. Okay, thanks. The even number means bunks,
I guess. Well, I'll be seeing you, as the hoods say."

[ 165 ]

In his next coded letter to Ada Van inquired if Cordula
might not be the lezbianochka mentioned by Ada with such
unnecessary guilt. I would as soon be jealous of your own little
hand. Ada replied, "What rot, leave what's-her-name out of it";
166.05 but even though Van did not yet know how fiercely untruthful
Ada could be when shielding an accomplice, Van remained
The rules of her school were old-fashioned and strict to the
point of lunacy, but they reminded Marina nostalgically of the
166.10 Russian Institute for Noble Maidens in Yukonsk (where she
had kept breaking them with much more ease and success than
Ada or Cordula or Grace could at Brownhill). Girls were al-
lowed to see boys at hideous teas with pink cakes in the head-
mistress's Reception Room three or four times per term, and
166.15 any girl of twelve or thirteen could meet a gentleman's son
in a certified milk-bar, just a few blocks away, every third
Sunday, in the company of an older girl of irreproachable
Van braced himself to see Ada thus, hoping to use his magic
166.20 wand for transforming whatever young spinster came along
into a spoon or a turnip. Those "dates" had to be approved by
the victim's mother at least a fortnight in advance. Soft-toned
Miss Cleft, the headmistress, rang up Marina who told her that
Ada could not possibly need a chaperone to go out with a
166.25 cousin who had been her sole companion on day-long rambles
throughout the summer. "That's exactly it," Cleft rejoined,
"two young ramblers are exceptionally prone to intertwine,
and a thorn is always close to a bud."
"But they are practically brother and sister," ejaculated Ma-
166.30 rina, thinking as many stupid people do that "practically" works
both ways—reducing the truth of a statement and making a
truism sound like the truth. "Which only increases the peril,"
said soft Cleft. "Anyway, I'll compromise, and tell dear Cordula
de Prey to make a third: she admires Ivan and adores Ada

[ 166 ]

consequently can only add zest to the zipper" (stale slang—
stale even then).
"Gracious, what figli-migli" (mimsey-fimsey), said Marina,
after having hung up.
167.05 In a dark mood, unwarned of what to expect (strategic fore-
knowledge might have helped to face the ordeal), Van waited
for Ada in the school lane, a dismal back alley with puddles
reflecting a sullen sky and the fence of the hockey ground.
A local high-school boy, "dressed to kill," stood near the gate,
167.10 a little way off, a fellow waiter.
Van was about to march back to the station when Ada ap-
peared—with Cordula. La bonne surprise! Van greeted them
with a show of horrible heartiness ("And how goes it with
you, sweet cousin? Ah, Cordula! Who's the chaperone, you, or
167.15 Miss Veen?"). The sweet cousin sported a shiny black rain-
coat and a down-brimmed oilcloth hat as if somebody was to
be salvaged from the perils of life or sea. A tiny round patch
did not quite hide a pimple on one side of her chin. Her breath
smelled of ether. Her mood was even blacker than his. He
167.20 cheerily guessed it would rain. It did—hard. Cordula remarked
that his trench coat was chic. She did not think it worth while
to go back for umbrellas—their delicious goal was just round
the corner. Van said corners were never round, a tolerable quip.
Cordula laughed. Ada did not: there were no survivors, ap-
167.25 parently.
The milk-bar proved to be so crowded that they decided to
walk under The Arcades toward the railway station café. He
knew (but could do nothing about it) that all night he would
regret having deliberately overlooked the fact—the main, ag-
167.30 onizing fact—that he had not seen his Ada for close to three
months and that in her last note such passion had burned that
the cryptogram's bubble had burst in her poor little message of
promise and hope, baring a defiant, divine line of uncoded love.
They were behaving now as if they had never met before, as

[ 167 ]

if this was but a blind date arranged by their chaperone. Strange,
malevolent thoughts revolved in his mind. What exactly—not
that it mattered but one's pride and curiosity were at stake—
what exactly had they been up to, those two ill-groomed girls,
168.05 last term, this term, last night, every night, in their pajama-tops,
amid the murmurs and moans of their abnormal dormitory?
Should he ask? Could he find the right words: not to hurt Ada,
while making her bed-filly know he despised her for kindling
a child, so dark-haired and pale, coal and coral, leggy and limp,
168.10 whimpering at the melting peak? A moment ago when he had
seen them advancing together, plain Ada, seasick but doing her
duty, and Cordula, apple-cankered but brave, like two shackled
prisoners being led into the conqueror's presence, Van had
promised himself to revenge deceit by relating in polite but
168.15 minute detail the latest homosexual or rather pseudo-homosexual
row at his school (an upper-form boy, Cordula's cousin, had
been caught with a lass disguised as a lad in the rooms of an
eclectic prefect). He would watch the girls flinch, he would
demand some story from them to match his. That urge had
168.20 waned. He still hoped to get rid for a moment of dull Cordula
and find something cruel to make dull Ada dissolve in bright
tears. But that was prompted by his amour-propre, not by their
sale amour. He would die with an old pun on his lips. And why
"dirty"? Did he feel any Proustian pangs? None. On the con-
168.25 trary: a private picture of their fondling each other kept prick-
ing him with perverse gratification. Before his inner bloodshot
eye Ada was duplicated and enriched, twinned by entwinement,
giving what he gave, taking what he took: Corada, Adula. It
struck him that the dumpy little Countess resembled his first
168.30 whorelet, and that sharpened the itch.
They talked about their studies and teachers, and Van said:
"I would like your opinion, Ada, and yours, Cordula, on the
following literary problem. Our professor of French literature
maintains that there is a grave philosophical, and hence artistic,

[ 168 ]

flaw in the entire treatment of the Marcel and Albertine affair.
It makes sense if the reader knows that the narrator is a pansy,
and that the good fat cheeks of Albertine are the good fat but-
tocks of Albert. It makes none if the reader cannot be supposed,
169.05 and should not be required, to know anything about this or any
other author's sexual habits in order to enjoy to the last drop a
work of art. My teacher contends that if the reader knows
nothing about Proust's perversion, the detailed description of a
heterosexual male jealously watchful of a homosexual female is
169.10 preposterous because a normal man would be only amused,
tickled pink in fact, by his girl's frolics with a female partner.
The professor concludes that a novel which can be appreciated
only by quelque petite blanchisseuse who has examined the
author's dirty linen is, artistically, a failure."
169.15 "Ada, what on earth is he talking about? Some Italian film
he has seen?"
"Van," said Ada in a tired voice, "you do not realize that the
Advanced French Group at my school has advanced no farther
than to Racan and Racine."
169.20 "Forget it," said Van.
"But you've had too much Marcel," muttered Ada.
The railway station had a semi-private tearoom supervised
by the stationmaster's wife under the school's idiotic auspices.
It was empty, save for a slender lady in black velvet, wearing a
169.25 beautiful black velvet picture hat, who sat with her back to
them at a "tonic bar" and never once turned her head, but the
thought brushed him that she was a cocotte from Toulouse.
Our damp trio found a nice corner table and with sighs of
banal relief undid their raincoats. He hoped Ada would discard
169.30 her heavy-seas hat but she did not, because she had cut her
hair because of dreadful migraines, because she did not want
him to see her in the rôle of a moribund Romeo.
(On fait son grand Joyce after doing one's petit Proust. In
Ada's lovely hand.)

[ 169 ]

(But read on; it is pure V.V. Note that lady! In Van's bed-
buvard scrawl.)
As Ada reached for the cream, he caught and inspected her
dead-shamming hand. We remember the Camberwell Beauty
170.05 that lay tightly closed for an instant upon our palm, and sud-
denly our hand was empty. He saw, with satisfaction, that
her fingernails were now long and sharp.
"Not too sharp, are they, my dear," he asked for the benefit
of dura Cordula, who should have gone to the "powder room"
170.10 —a forlorn hope.
"Why, no," said Ada.
"You don't," he went on, unable to stop, "you don't scratch
little people when you stroke little people? Look at your little
girl friend's hand" (taking it), "look at those dainty short nails
170.15 (cold innocent, docile little paw!). She could not catch them
in the fanciest satin, oh, no, could you, Ardula—I mean, Cor-
Both girls giggled, and Cordula kissed Ada's cheek. Van
hardly knew what reaction he had expected, but found that
170.20 simple kiss disarming and disappointing. The sound of the rain
was lost in a growing rumble of wheels. He glanced at his
watch; glanced up at the clock on the wall. He said he was
sorry—that was his train.
"Not at all," wrote Ada (paraphrased here) in reply to his
170.25 abject apologies, "we just thought you were drunk; but I'll
never invite you to Brownhill again, my love."

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