Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 31 (view annotations)

Van revisited Ardis Hall in 1888. He arrived on a cloudy June
afternoon, unexpected, unbidden, unneeded; with a diamond
necklace coiled loose in his pocket. As he approached from a
side lawn, he saw a scene out of some new life being rehearsed
187.05 for an unknown picture, without him, not for him. A big party
seemed to be breaking up. Three young ladies in yellow-blue
Vass frocks with fashionable rainbow sashes surrounded a
stoutish, foppish, baldish young man who stood, a flute of
champagne in his hand, glancing down from the drawing-room
187.10 terrace at a girl in black with bare arms: an old runabout,
shivering at every jerk, was being cranked up by a hoary
chauffeur in front of the porch, and those bare arms, stretched
wide, were holding outspread the white cape of Baroness von
Skull, a grand-aunt of hers. Against the white cape Ada's new
187.15 long figure was profiled in blackthe black of her smart silk
dress with no sleeves, no ornaments, no memories. The slow
old Baroness stood groping for something under one armpit,
under the other—for what? a crutch? the dangling end of
tangled bangles?—and as she half-turned to accept the cloak
187.20 (now taken from her grandniece by a belated new footman)

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Ada also half-turned, and her yet ungemmed neck showed
white as she ran up the porch steps.
Van followed her inside, in between the hall columns, and
through a group of guests, toward a distant table with crystal
188.05 jugs of cherry ambrozia. She wore, unmodishly, no stockings;
her calves were strong and pale, and (I have a note here, for
the ghost of a novel) "the low cut of her black dress allowed
the establishment of a sharp contrast between the familiar mat
whiteness of her skin and the brutal black horsetail of her new
188.10 hair-do."
Excluding each other, private swoons split him in two: the
devastating certainty that as soon as he reached, in the laby-
rinth of a nightmare, a brightly remembered small room with a
bed and a child's washstand, she would join him there in her new
188.15 smooth long beauty; and, on the shade side, the pang and panic
of finding her changed, hating what he wanted, condemning it
as wrong, explaining to him dreadful new circumstances—that
they both were dead or existed only as extras in a house rented
for a motion picture.
188.20 But hands offering him wine or almonds or their open selves,
impeded his dream quest. He pressed on, notwithstanding the
swoops of recognition: Uncle Dan pointed him out with a cry
to a stranger who feigned amazement at the singularity of the
optical trick—and, next moment, a repainted, red-wigged, very
188.25 drunk and tearful Marina was gluing cherry-vodka lips to his
jaw and unprotected parts, with smothered mother-sounds, half-
moo, half-moan, of Russian affection.
He disentangled himself and pursued his quest. She had now
moved to the drawing room, but by the expression of her back,
188.30 by the tensed scapulae, Van knew she was aware of him. He
wiped his wet buzzing ear and acknowledged with a nod the
raised glass of the stout blond fellow (Percy de Prey? Or did
Percy have an older brother?). A fourth maiden in the Canadian
couturier's corn-and-bluet summer "creation" stopped Van to

[ 188 ]

inform him with a pretty pout that he did not remember her,
which was true. "I am exhausted," he said. "My horse caught
a hoof in a hole in the rotting planks of Ladore Bridge and had
to be shot. I have walked eight miles. I think I am dreaming. I
189.05 think you are Dreaming Too." "No, I'm Cordula!" she cried,
but he was off again.
Ada had vanished. He discarded the caviar sandwich that he
found himself carrying like a ticket and, turning into the pantry,
told Bout's brother, a new valet, to take him to his old room
189.10 and get him one of those rubber tubs he had used as a child
four years ago. Plus somebody's spare pajamas. His train had
broken down in the fields between Ladoga and Ladore, he had
walked twenty miles, God knows when they'd send up his
189.15 "They have just come," said the real Bout with a smile both
confidential and mournful (Blanche had jilted him).
Before tubbing, Van craned out of his narrow casement to
catch sight of the laurels and lilacs flanking the front porch
whence came the hubbub of gay departures. He made out Ada.
189.20 He noticed her running after Percy who had put on his gray
topper and was walking away across a lawn which his transit
at once caused to overlap in Van's mind with the fleeting
memory of the paddock where he and Van had once happened
to discuss a lame horse and Riverlane. Ada overtook the young
189.25 man in a patch of sudden sunlight; he stopped, and she stood
speaking to him and tossing her head in a way she had when
nervous or displeased. De Prey kissed her hand. That was
French, but all right. He held the hand he had kissed while she
spoke and then kissed it again, and that was not done, that was
189.30 dreadful, that could not be endured.
Leaving his post, naked Van went through the clothes he
had shed. He found the necklace. In icy fury, he tore it into
thirty, forty glittering hailstones, some of which fell at her feet
as she burst into the room.

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Her glance swept the floor.
"What a shame—" she began.
Van calmly quoted the punchline from Mlle Larivière's
famous story: "Mais, ma pauvre amie, elle était fausse"—which
190.05 was a bitter lie; but before picking up the spilled diamonds,
she locked the door and embraced him, weeping—the touch of
her skin and silk was all the magic of life, but why does every-
body greet me with tears? He also wanted to know was that
Percy de Prey? It was. Who had been kicked out of Riverlane?
190.10 She guessed he had. He had changed, he had grown swine-
stout. He had, hadn't he just? Was he her new beau?
"And now," said Ada, "Van is going to stop being vulgar—I
mean, stop forever! Because I had and have and shall always
have only one beau, only one beast, only one sorrow, only one
190.15 joy."
"We can collect your tears later," he said, "I can't wait."
Her open kiss was hot and tremulous, but when he tried to
draw up her dress she flinched with a murmur of reluctant
denial, because the door had come alive: two small fists could
190.20 be heard drumming upon it from the outside, in a rhythm both
knew well.
"Hi, Lucette!" cried Van: "I'm changing, go away."
"Hi, Van! They want Ada, not you. They want you down-
stairs, Ada!"
190.25 One of Ada's gestures—used when she had to express in a
muted flash all the facets of her predicament ("See, I was
right, that's how it is, nichego ne podelaesh' ")—consisted of
rounding by means of both hands an invisible bowl from rim to
base, accompanied by a sad bow. This is what she did now be-
190.30 fore leaving the room.
The situation was repeated in a much more pleasing strain a
few hours later. For supper Ada wore another dress, of crimson
cotton, and when they met at night (in the old toolroom by the
glow of a carbide lantern) he unzipped her with such impetuous

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force that he nearly tore it in two to expose her entire beauty.
They were still fiercely engaged (on the same bench covered
with the same tartan lap robe—thoughtfully brought) when
the outside door noiselessly opened, and Blanche glided in like
191.05 an imprudent ghost. She had her own key, was back from a
rendezvous with old Sore the Burgundian night watchman,
and stopped like a fool gaping at the young couple. "Knock
next time," said Van with a grin, not bothering to pause
rather enjoying, in fact, the bewitching apparition: she wore a
191.10 miniver cloak that Ada had lost in the woods. Oh, she had
become wonderfully pretty, and elle le mangeait des yeux
but Ada slammed the lantern shut, and with apologetic groans,
the slut groped her way to the inner passage. His true love
could not help giggling; and Van resumed his passionate task.
191.15 They stayed on and on, quite unable to part, knowing any
explanation would do if anybody wondered why their rooms
had remained empty till dawn. The first ray of the morning
dabbed a toolbox with fresh green paint, when, at last moved by
hunger, they got up and quietly repaired to the pantry.
191.20 "Chto, vïspalsya, Vahn (well, slept your fill, Van)?" said
Ada, beautifully mimicking her mother's voice, and she con-
tinued in her mother's English: "By your appetite, I judge. And,
I think, it is only the first brekfest."
"Okh," grumbled Van, "my kneecaps! That bench was cruel.
191.25 And I am hongry."
They sat, facing each other, at a breakfast table, munching
black bread with fresh butter, and Virginia ham, and slices of
genuine Emmenthaler cheese—and here's a pot of transparent
honey: two cheerful cousins, "raiding the icebox" as children
191.30 in old fairy tales, and the thrushes were sweetly whistling in
the bright-green garden as the dark-green shadows drew in their
"My teacher," she said, "at the Drama School thinks I'm
better in farces than in tragedy. If they only knew!"

[ 191 ]

"There is nothing to know," retorted Van. "Nothing, noth-
ing has changed! But that's the general impression, it was too
dim down there for details, we'll examine them tomorrow on
our little island: 'My sister, do you still recall . . .' "
192.05 "Oh shut up!" said Ada. "I've given up all that stuff—petits
vers, vers de soie . . ."
"Come, come," cried Van, "some of the rhymes were mag-
nificent acrobatics on the part of the child's mind: 'Oh! qui
me rendra, ma Lucile, et le grand chêne and zee big hill.' Little
192.10 Lucile," he added in an effort to dissipate her frowns with a
joke, "little Lucile has become so peachy that I think I'll switch
over to her if you keep losing your temper like that. I re-
member the first time you got cross with me was when I
chucked a stone at a statue and frightened a finch. That's
192.15 memory!"
She was on bad terms with memory. She thought the ser-
vants would be up soon now, and then one could have some-
thing hot. That fridge was all fudge, really.
"Why, suddenly sad?"
192.20 Yes, she was sad, she replied, she was in dreadful trouble,
her quandary might drive her insane if she did not know that
her heart was pure. She could explain it best by a parable. She
was like the girl in a film he would see soon, who is in the triple
throes of a tragedy which she must conceal lest she lose her
192.25 only true love, the head of the arrow, the point of the pain. In
secret, she is simultaneously struggling with three torments—
trying to get rid of a dreary dragging affair with a married man,
whom she pities; trying to nip in the bud—in the sticky red bud
a crazy adventure with an attractive young fool, whom she
192.30 pities even more; and trying to keep intact the love of the only
man who is all her life and who is above pity, above the poverty
of her feminine pity, because as the script says, his ego is
richer and prouder than anything those two poor worms could

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What had she actually done with the poor worms, after
Krolik's untimely end?
"Oh, set them free" (big vague gesture), "turned them out,
put them back onto suitable plants, buried them in the pupal
193.05 state, told them to run along, while the birds were not looking
—or alas, feigning not to be looking.
"Well, to mop up that parable, because you have the knack
of interrupting and diverting my thoughts, I'm in a sense also
torn between three private tortures, the main torture being
193.10 ambition, of course. I know I shall never be a biologist, my
passion for creeping creatures is great, but not all-consuming.
I know I shall always adore orchids and mushrooms and violets,
and you will still see me going out alone, to wander alone in
the woods and return alone with a little lone lily; but flowers,
193.15 no matter how irresistible, must be given up, too, as soon as I
have the strength. Remains the great ambition and the great-
est terror: the dream of the bluest, remotest, hardest dramatic
climbs—probably ending as one of a hundred old spider spin-
sters teaching drama students, knowing, that, as you insist, sin-
193.20 ister insister, we can't marry, and having always before me the
awful example of pathetic, second-rate, brave Marina."
"Well, that bit about spinsters is rot," said Van, "we'll pull
it off somehow, we'll become more and more distant relations
in artistically forged papers and finally dwindle to mere name-
193.25 sakes, or at the worst we shall live quietly, you as my house-
keeper, I as your epileptic, and then, as in your Chekhov, 'we
shall see the whole sky swarm with diamonds.' "
"Did you find them all, Uncle Van?" she inquired, sighing,
laying her dolent head on his shoulder. She had told him every-
193.30 thing.
"More or less," he replied, not realizing she had. "Anyway, I
made the best study of the dustiest floor ever accomplished by a
romantic character. One bright little bugger rolled under the bed
where there grows a virgin forest of fluff and fungi. I'll have

[ 193 ]

them reassembled in Ladore when I motor there one of these
days. I have lots of things to buy—a gorgeous bathrobe in honor
of your new swimming pool, a cream called Chrysanthemum, a
brace of dueling pistols, a folding beach mattress, preferably
194.05 blackto bring you out not on the beach but on that bench, and
on our isle de Ladore."
"Except," she said, "that I do not approve of your making a
laughingstock of yourself by looking for pistols in souvenir
shops, especially when Ardis Hall is full of old shotguns and
194.10 rifles, and revolvers, and bows and arrowsyou remember, we
had lots of practice with them when you and I were children."
Oh, he did, he did. Children, yes. In point of fact, how
puzzling to keep seeing that recent past in nursery terms. Be-
cause nothing had changed—you are with me, aren't you?—
194.15 nothing, not counting little improvements in the grounds and
the governess.
Yes! Wasn't that a scream? Larivière blossoming forth,
bosoming forth as a great writer! A sensational Canadian best-
selling author! Her story "The Necklace" (La rivière de
194.20 diamants) had become a classic in girls' schools and her gor-
geous pseudonym "Guillaume de Monparnasse" (the leaving
out of the "t" made it more intime) was well-known from
Quebec to Kaluga. As she put it in her exotic English: "Fame
struck and the roubles rolled, and the dollars poured" (both
194.25 currencies being used at the time in East Estotiland); but good
Ida, far from abandoning Marina, with whom she had been
platonically and irrevocably in love ever since she had seen her
in "Bilitis," accused herself of neglecting Lucette by overindulg-
ing in Literature; consequently she now gave the child, in
194.30 spurts of vacational zeal, considerably more attention than poor
little Ada (said Ada) had received at twelve, after her first
(miserable) term at school. Van had been such an idiot: suspect-
ing Cordula! Chaste, gentle, dumb, little Cordula de Prey, when

[ 194 ]

Ada had explained to him, twice, thrice, in different codes, that
she had invented a nasty tender schoolmate, at a time when
she had been literally torn from him, and only assumed—in
advance, so to speak—such a girl's existence. A kind of blank
195.05 check that she wanted from him; "Well, you got it," said Van,
"but now it's destroyed and will not be renewed; but why did
you run after fat Percy, what was so important?"
"Oh, very important," said Ada, catching a drop of honey
on her nether lip, "his mother was on the dorophone, and he
195.10 said please tell her he was on his way home, and I forgot all
about it, and rushed up to kiss you!"
"At Riverlane," said Van, "we used to call that a Doughnut
Truth: only the truth, and the whole truth, with a hole in the
195.15 "I hate you," cried Ada, and made what she called a warning
frog face, because Bouteillan had appeared in the doorway, his
mustache shaved, coatless, tieless, in crimson braces that were
holding up to his chest his well-filled black trousers. He dis-
appeared, promising to bring them their coffee.
195.20 "But let me ask you, dear Van, let me ask you something.
How many times has Van been unfaithful to me since Septem-
ber, 1884?"
"Six hundred and thirteen times," answered Van. "With at
least two hundred whores, who only caressed me. I've re-
195.25 mained absolutely true to you because those were only 'ob-
manipulations' (sham, insignificant strokings by unremembered
cold hands)."
The butler, now fully dressed, arrived with the coffee and
toast. And the Ladore Gazette. It contained a picture of Marina
195.30 being fawned upon by a young Latin actor.
"Pah!" exclaimed Ada. "I had quite forgotten. He's coming
today, with a movie man, and our afternoon will be ruined. But
I feel refreshed and fit," she added (after a third cup of coffee).

[ 195 ]

"It is only ten minutes to seven now. We shall go for a nice
stroll in the park; there are one or two places that you might
"My love," said Van, "my phantom orchid, my lovely
196.05 bladder-senna! I have not slept for two nights—one of which I
spent imagining the other, and this other turned out to be more
than I had imagined. I've had enough of you for the time being."
"Not a very fine compliment," said Ada, and rang resonantly
for more toast.
196.10 "I've paid you eight compliments, as a certain Venetian—"
"I'm not interested in vulgar Venetians. You have become so
coarse, dear Van, so strange . . ."
"Sorry," he said, getting up. "I don't know what I'm saying,
I'm dead tired, I'll see you at lunch."
196.15 "There will be no lunch today," said Ada. "It will be some
messy snack at the poolside, and sticky drinks all day."
He wanted to kiss her on her silky head but Bouteillan at
that moment came in and while Ada was crossly rebuking him
for the meager supply of toast, Van escaped.

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