Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 33 (view annotations)

The following day began with a drizzle; but cleared up after
lunch. Lucette had her last piano lesson with gloomy Herr
Rack. The repetitive tinkle-thump-tinkle reached Van and
Ada during a reconnaissance in a second-floor passage. Mlle
207.05 Larivière was in the garden, Marina had fluttered away to Ladore,
and Van suggested they take advantage of Lucette's being
"audibly absent" by taking refuge in an upstairs dressing room.
Lucette's first tricycle stood there in a corner; a shelf above
a cretonne-covered divan held some of the child's old "un-
207.10 touchable" treasures among which was the battered anthology
he had given her four years ago. The door could not be
locked, but Van was impatient, and the music would surely
endure, as firm as a wall, for at least another twenty minutes.
He had buried his mouth in Ada's nuque, when she stiffened and
207.15 raised a warning finger. Heavy slow steps were coming up the
grand staircase. "Send him away," she muttered. "Chort
hell)," swore Van, adjusting his clothes, and went out on the
landing. Philip Rack was trudging up, Adam's apple bobbing,
ill-shaven, livid, gums exposed, one hand on his chest, the

[ 207 ]

other clutching a roll of pink paper while the music continued
to play on its own as if by some mechanical device.
"There's one downstairs in the hall," said Van, assuming, or
feigning to assume, that the unfortunate fellow had stomach
208.05 cramps or nausea. But Mr. Rack only wanted "to make his fare-
wells"—to Ivan Demonovich (accented miserably on the second
"o"), to Fräulein Ada, to Mademoiselle Ida, and of course to
Madame. Alas, Van's cousin and aunt were in town, but Phil
might certainly find his friend Ida writing in the rose garden.
208.10 Was Van sure? Van was damned well sure. Mr. Rack shook
Van's hand with a deep sigh, looked up, looked down, tapped
the banisters with his mysterious pink-paper tube, and went
back to the music room, where Mozart had begun to falter. Van
waited for a moment, listening and grimacing involuntarily, and
208.15 presently rejoined Ada. She sat with a book in her lap.
"I must wash my right hand before I touch you or any-
thing," he said.
She was not really reading, but nervously, angrily, absently
flipping through the pages of what happened to be that old
208.20 anthologyshe who at any time, if she picked up a book,
would at once get engrossed in whatever text she happened to
slip into "from the book's brink" with the natural movement of
a water creature put back into its brook.
"I have never clasped a wetter, limper, nastier forelimb in all
208.25 my life," said Van, and cursing (the music downstairs had
stopped), went to the nursery W.C. where there was a tap.
From its window he saw Rack put his lumpy black briefcase
into the front basket of his bicycle and weave away, taking his
hat off to an unresponsive gardener. The clumsy cyclist's bal-
208.30 ance did not survive his futile gesture: he brushed harshly against
the hedge on the other side of the path, and crashed. For a
moment or two Rack remained in tangled communion with the
privet, and Van wondered if he should not go down to his aid.
The gardener had turned his back on the sick or drunken

[ 208 ]

musician, who, thank goodness, was now getting out of the
bushes and replacing his briefcase in its basket. He rode away
slowly, and a surge of obscure disgust made Van spit into the
toilet bowl.
209.05 Ada had left the dressing room by the time he returned. He
discovered her on a balcony, where she was peeling an apple
for Lucette. The kind pianist would always bring her an apple,
or sometimes an inedible pear, or two small plums. Anyway,
that was his last gift.
209.10 "Mademoiselle is calling you," said Van to Lucette.
"Well, she'll have to wait," said Ada, leisurely continuing
her "ideal peel," a yellow-red spiral which Lucette watched
with ritual fascination.
"Have some work to do," Van blurted out. "Bored beyond
209.15 words. Shall be in the library."
"Okay," limpidly responded Lucette without turning—and
emitted a cry of pleasure as she caught the finished festoons.
He spent half an hour seeking a book he had put back in
the wrong place. When he found it at last, he saw he had
209.20 finished annotating it and so did not need it any more. For a
while he lay on the black divan, but that seemed only to increase
the pressure of passionate obsession. He decided to return to the
upper floor by the cochlea. There he recalled with anguish,
as something fantastically ravishing and hopelessly irretriev-
209.25 able, her hurrying up with her candlestick on the night of
the Burning Barn, capitalized in his memory forever—he
with his dancing light behind her hurdies and calves and
mobile shoulders and streaming hair, and the shadows in huge
surges of black geometry overtaking them, in their winding up-
209.30 ward course, along the yellow wall. He now found the third-
floor door latched on the other side, and had to return down to
the library (memories now blotted out by trivial exasperation)
and take the grand staircase.
As he advanced toward the bright sun of the balcony door

[ 209 ]

he heard Ada explaining something to Lucette. It was some-
thing amusing, it had to do with—I do not remember and can-
not invent. Ada had a way of hastening to finish a sentence be-
fore mirth overtook her, but sometimes, as now, a brief burst of
210.05 it would cause her words to explode, and then she would catch
up with them and conclude the phrase with still greater haste,
keeping her mirth at bay, and the last word would be followed
by a triple ripple of sonorous, throaty, erotic and rather cosy
210.10 "And now, my sweet," she added, kissing Lucette on her
dimpled cheek, "do me a favor: run down and tell bad Belle
it's high time you had your milk and petit-beurre. Zhivo
(quick)! Meanwhile, Van and I will retire to the bathroom—
or somewhere where there's a good glass—and I'll give him a
210.15 haircut; he needs one badly. Don't you, Van? Oh, I know
where we'll go . . . Run along, run along, Lucette."

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