Part One, Chapter 29
Forest Fork, “just beyond Ardis” (157), serves as a natural site for Van to snatch a tryst with Ada while she summers at Ardis, and a natural homage to their last embrace. (This meeting does not square with the summary in I.26, “The entire period of that separation was to span almost four years . . . from September, 1884 to June, 1888, with two brief interludes of intolerable bliss (in August, 1885, and June, 1886) and a couple of chance meetings.” The I.26 passage seems incompatible with the Brownhill meeting in I.27, neither chance nor blissful, and with this Forest Fork tryst, not in June but in July 1886. In view of these incompatibilities we will simply ignore the information in I.26; see I.26 Afternote for more.)
Forest Fork will prove to be Van and Ada’s sole interlude of ardor between their two summers together at Ardis. It replays Van’s farewell from Ada in 1884, in the site Van pointedly chooses, Forest Fork; in his deliberate echo on the dorophone, “Forest Fork in Forty-Five minutes. Sorry to spit” (179) of the earlier “‘You spit, love,’ said wan-smiling Ada, wiping off the P’s and the F’s” (158); in the switch in Blanche’s partners from Bouteillan to the butler’s son Bout, prophesied by Van on the way to Forest Fork the First (157); and in the inadvertent echo, in Ada’s delirious “muttering about gipsies stealing their jeeps” (180), of the metamorphic voyage in I.25, where Van is driven to Forest Fork by Bouteillan but rides away on his black horse, Morio, as here Ada’s delirium turns Van’s motorcycle and her own bicycle into jeeps.
But just as Forest Fork the First anticipates the full flaring of the jealousy Van first gives voice to there (see I.25 Afternote), so does this Forest Fork the Second. The hydrogram on Ada’s birthday, and the date of the tryst itself, July 25, foreshadow the end of Ardis the Second. The hydrogram opened on Ada’s birthday anticipates the 1888 picnic on Ada’s birthday, and the arrival there of the uninvited Percy de Prey. Van’s and Percy’s mutual animosity that day testifies to their undeclared rivalry over Ada. Blanche’s subsequent disclosures about Ada’s infidelities with both Philip Rack and Percy de Prey precipitate Van’s storming from Ardis at about 7:45am on July 25, 1888 in a fury of jealousy—exactly two years after Forest Fork the Second, to the day, and perhaps even to the same early morning hour.
The motorcycle Van rents to reach Forest Fork and bounces “along a narrow ‘forest ride’” (179) also links this scene with Ada’s 1888 birthday picnic. A day or two after Ada’s 1884 birthday picnic, which introduced to us Greg Erminin, Greg arrives on his “beautiful new” “black pony” (89), which he offers to lend any time to the Ada he clearly adores. Rudely rebuffing him, Ada instead confirms her growing attachment to Van. In 1888 Greg arrives at the picnic on Ada’s birthday on his “splendid new black Silentium motorcycle,” which he leaves “in the forest ride” (268). Van’s supremacy over Greg as rival at the 1884 picnic would be confirmed at the 1888 picnic, despite Greg’s stylish new motorcycle, were it not that the motorcycle Greg rides is insistently paired with the even classier car Percy de Prey drives up, just as Greg as insignificant rival is paired with Percy as genuine and even threatening rival. Just before the picnic, we hear that Van has ordered a Roseley car like his father’s but won’t have it delivered before Christmas and has tried to find a Silentium with a side car but cannot (257). Immediately after he arrives at the picnic on the new Silentium he has somehow managed to obtain, Greg notes “We have company”: the mysterious “dozen elderly townsmen” with “sad apostolic hands” who could be “Gipsy politicians, or Calabrian laborers” (268). Two pages later, “Ada emitted a Russian exclamation of utmost annoyance as a steel-gray convertible glided into the glade. No sooner had it stopped than it was surrounded by the same group of townsmen” (270): Percy has arrived—and immediately starts provoking Van.
Van sums up his encounter with the feverish Ada at Forest Fork the Second as “a beastly, but beautiful, tryst” (180). On the day he arrives unannounced at Ardis the Second, he sees Percy farewell Ada by kissing her hand, holding it, kissing it again. Furious, he tears the diamond necklace he has bought for her, just as she enters the room. He asks her is Percy “her new beau,” and she replies that she “had and have and shall always have only one beau, only one beast, only one sorrow, only one joy” (190). After Percy falls on Van at the 1888 picnic, and Van fiercely retaliates, Greg rushes to Ada, calling out “‘He’s all right, Miss Veen’—blind compassion preventing the young knight from realizing that she could not possibly have known yet what a clash had occurred between the beau and the beast” (276).
The sole remark that Van can recall Ada making at Forest Fork the Second is her “muttering about gipsies stealing their jeeps” (180), when in fact they have arrived by motorcycle and bicycle. This creates a third link to the 1888 picnic, to the “Gipsy politicians” (268) who manifest themselves after Greg arrives on his motorcycle and who crowd around Percy’s much-more-than-jeep, his “steel-grey convertible” (270).
Van’s tryst with Ada at Forest Fork the Second seems like a glorious recapitulation of their farewell at Forest Fork at the close of Ardis the First, and a foretaste of the way Ardis the Second promises to recapitulate Ardis the First—not least in the picnic and the ride home with, this time, Lucette forced to sit on Van’s lap, rather than Ada as in 1884, but allowing Van to replay the bliss of that earlier ride in his mind. But in fact Forest Fork the Second even more strongly anticipates what has ominously changed in Ardis the Second: the presence of real “rivals” like Rack and de Prey. Most unnerving of all are the threatening notes in the second picnic: the gate-crashing of de Prey and his drunken, needling challenges to Van, whom Percy knows to be Ada’s energetic lover. When Van finds out from Blanche four days later that Ada has betrayed him with Rack and de Prey, he storms from Ardis forever: there will be no final tryst with Ada at Forest Fork or anywhere else as he rushes away on June 25, 1888.
In I. 29 Demon’s presence when the hydrogram arrives, and his mechanically opening it, and his farewelling Van as he returns across the Atlantic, serve to explain Van’s brief one-week sojourn in America between two transatlantic crossings—to see his father, officially—and to prepare quietly for Demon’s later separating Van and Ada. Demon’s quick suspicion about the contents of the hydrogram confirms Van and Ada’s need for circumspection in their affair and anticipates their father’s rapid inference about the relationship between them at Manhattan in 1893 and his edict that they must part. The painted Boucher plafond Van raises his eyes to at his father’s Manhattan home in 1886, after Demon voices his suspicions, anticipates the view Van and Ada have from different floors of Demon’s home, as they come to hear his decree, and notice a painter in a skyscraper across the lane painting what he sees and wearing “what looked like a butcher’s apron, badly smeared” (445: italics added: boucher is French for “butcher”). The stress on Demon’s role as the hero of Lermontov’s poem, when he farewells Van, and his “temporary Tamara,” help reinforce the irony of the libertine example Demon sets his son in 1886 and on so many other occasions and yet the role of rigid paterfamilias he will play in 1893.
The hydrogram Ada sends Van forms part of the theme of letters and messages, especially secret ones, that saturates the novel. Most immediately, this purposely obscure message, which Ada wisely foresees could fall into Demon’s hands and therefore phrases so cryptically, links with the coded correspondence that connects Van and Ada during their separation between 1884 and 1888. But it also foreshadows Ada’s attempts to reestablish communication with Van in 1888, after his furious flight from her and Ardis, itself richly anticipated in this chapter. Here Demon in Manhattan unthinkingly opens the hydrogram from Ada, sent on her journey from Los Angeles back to Ardis. In 1893 at Manhattan’s Goodson Airport Van is with Demon again when he receives the first of Ada’s letters, sent from Los Angeles, via the highly secretive agency “VPL, which handled Very Private Letters” (329).
As Demon sighs when he opens the hydrogram, it reminds him “painfully of the golubyanki (petits bleus) Aqua used to send me” (178), with their tortured obliqueness. It specifically recalls her last message, her suicide note to Demon and Van, which begins: “Aujourd’hui (heute-toity!) I, this eye-rolling toy, have enjoyed the psykitsch right to enjoy a landparty with Herr Doktor Sig, Nurse Joan the Terrible, and several ‘patients,’ in the neighboring bor (piney wood) where I noticed exactly the same skunk-like squirrels, Van, that your Darkblue ancestor imported to Ardis Park” (29). Aqua’s ironic “patients” echoes Ada’s “impatient patient”; Aqua’s picnic in a pinewood and her linking it to Ardis anticipate the picnics in Ardis’s pinewood on Ada’s birthday, the day Van receives the hydrogram. In “ golubyanki (petits bleus)” Demon stresses in Russian and French (and implicitly in Aqua’s Anglo-Latin blue name) the blueness of what we would call aerograms, a double stress repeated at the end of I.29 when Demon is described in his “long, black, blue-ocellated wings” and is referred to as “bluebeard”—a hint at his responsibility for the death of Aqua because of his infidelities with Marina and a succession of temporary Tamaras.
Van’s crossing on a liner from England to America and his finding a “hydrogram” from Ada on his arrival also foreshadow another suicide note, the letter from Lucette that he finds waiting after his arrival in North America from England on another liner in 1901—the letter that she has sent “just in case” (478) she fails to seduce Van and has taken her life before he reaches port. Ada’s “hydrogram” to Van (a form of communication not mentioned elsewhere in Ada) and Van’s bubbling “dorophone” message to Ada also evoke Aqua’s mad conviction that she hears messages from water (22-24) and foreshadow the suggestion that Lucette from her watery grave at the bottom of the Atlantic may send a “mermaid’s message” (562) to Ada or Van at crucial junctures in their lives, especially the one that leads to their most glorious morning reunion, in 1922. For the letters theme, see Boyd 1985/2001: 204-05, 217-19, 248-53, 274-75, and Index, and Afternote I.26. For the morning theme, see Boyd 1985/2001: 192-200, 205-06 and Index; one curious key will be the link between the gross details of Van’s toilet just before ringing Ada to arrange the Forest Fork the Second meeting (“The toilet on the landing was a black hole, with the traces of a fecal explosion, between a squatter’s two giant soles,” 179) and his toilet at Mont Roux the Second, just before seeing Ada on the balcony below and resuming his life with her (“Van welcomed the renewal of polished structures after a week of black fudge fouling the bowl slope so high that no amount of flushing could dislodge it. Something to do with olive oil and the Italian type water closets,” 561).
Forest Fork the Second serves as a pivot between the triumphs of Ardis the First and the dangers—Ada’s infidelity, Lucette’s entanglement—of Ardis the Second. It harks back to Van’s first morning at Ardis the First, where he almost interrupts Blanche’s tryst with Bouteillan, and his last morning with Ardis the First, at Forest Fork the First, whither Bouteillan drives him. Van’s black steed at the end of Forest Fork the First was a sort of romantic sublimation and rebuff to Greg Erminin’s new black pony and his feeble rivalry for Ada at the time of her birthday picnic. It now yields to Van’s more powerful motorcycle—which itself anticipates the new black motorcycle that Greg, still a hopelessly outclassed rival, rides to Ada’s 1888 birthday picnic.
But at the same time, Forest Fork the Second anticipates Ardis the Second. Van in arranging his tryst with Ada at Forest Fork interrupts Blanche, making love now with her new lover, Bout, as on Van’s first night at Ardis the Second Blanche, in return, interrupts him and Ada making love as she returns from a tryst with her new lover Sore (191). And as we have seen the motorcycle and the “gipsies stealing their jeeps” (180) especially anticipate the realization of Van’s jealous fears at Forest Fork the First, in the presence not only of Greg but Percy de Prey and his showy convertible, a magnet to the mysterious “Gipsy politicians,” at the 1888 picnic for Ada’s birthday.
Forest the Fork’s role as a pivot between the almost unruffled ardors of Ardis the First and the troubled passions of Ardis the Second comes in I.29 between two glimpses of Van with Demon in Manhattan. And the pivotal role that the brief Forest Fork the Second tryst plays between Ardis the First and Ardis the Second anticipates, as we will see, the pivotal role that Van’s much longer 1892-93 Manhattan sojourn with Ada—ending with Demon’s expulsion of Van and Ada from their Manhattan paradise—plays between Ardis the First and Ardis the second on the one hand and on the other Mont Roux the First (1905) and Mont Roux the Second (1922). Ardis the First seems pure happiness and Ardis the Second, as Van tries to see it, happiness restored, only to be undermined by Ada’s infidelity and the threat of exposure by Lucette. Similarly the Manhattan sojourn of 1892-1893 offers a kind of return to the paradise of Ardis, after Van’s determined flight from it, and with the threat of exposure seemingly removed, only for it to return suddenly in irrevocable form when Demon arrives and sunders his children. Mont Roux the First in 1905 offers the illusion of happiness again restored, but tainted by the sour taste of Van and Ada’s adulterous escapades and Ada’s allegiances even more mixed than in 1888. In Mont Roux the Second, in 1922, the promise of pure happiness restored first flashes brightly, then darkens into what seems like terminal loss, only to return as something lasting and real. For more on the role of Manhattan as pivot between the two Ardis and the two Mont Roux phases of Van and Ada’s love, see eventually the Afternote to II.11.
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