Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 35 (view annotations)

We are now on a willow islet amidst the quietest branch of the
blue Ladore, with wet fields on one side and on the other a
view of Bryant's Castle, remote and romantically black on its
oak-timbered hill. In that oval seclusion, Van subjected his new
215.05 Ada to a comparative study; juxtapositions were easy, since
the child he had known in minute detail four years before stood
vividly illumined in his mind against the same backdrop of
flowing blue.
Her forehead area seemed to have diminished, not only be-
215.10 cause she had become taller, but because she did her hair
differently, with a dramatic swirl in front; its whiteness, now
clear of all blemishes, had acquired a particularly mat tinge,
and soft skinfolds crossed it, as if she had been frowning too
much all those years, poor Ada.
215.15 The eyebrows were as regal and thick as ever.
The eyes. The eyes had kept their voluptuous palpebral
creases; the lashes, their semblance of jet-dust incrustation;
the raised iris, its Hindu-hypnotic position; the lids, their in-
ability to stay alert and wide open during the briefest embrace;
215.20 but those eyes' expressionwhen she ate an apple, or examined

[ 215 ]

a found thing, or simply listened to an animal or a person—had
changed, as if new layers of reticence and sadness had accumu-
lated, half-veiling the pupil, while the glossy eyeballs shifted
in their lovely long sockets with a more restless motion than of
216.05 yore: Mlle Hypnokush, "whose eyes never dwell on you and
yet pierce you."
Her nose had not followed Van's in the latter's thickening
of Hibernian outline; but the bone was definitely bolder, and
the tip seemed to turn up more strongly, and had a little vertical
216.10 groove that he did not recall having seen in the twelve-year-old
In a strong light, a suggestion of darkish silk down (related
to that on her forearms) could be now made out between nose
and mouth but was doomed, she said, to extinction at the first
216.15 cosmetical session of the fall season. A touch of lipstick now
gave her mouth an air of deadpan sullenness, which, by contrast,
increased the shock of beauty when in gayety or greed she
revealed the moist shine of her large teeth and the red riches
of tongue and palate.
216.20 Her neck had been, and remained, his most delicate, most
poignant delight, especially when she let her hair flow freely,
and the warm, white, adorable skin showed through in chance
separations of glossy black strands. Boils and mosquito bites
had stopped pestering her, but he discovered the pale trace of
216.25 an inch-long cut which ran parallel to her vertebrae just below
the waist and which resulted from a deep scratch caused last
August by an erratic hatpin—or rather by a thorny twig in
the inviting hay.
(You are merciless, Van.)
216.30 On that secret islet (forbidden to Sunday couples—it be-
longed to the Veens, and a notice-board calmly proclaimed that
"trespassers might get shot by sportsmen from Ardis Hall,"
Dan's wording) the vegetation consisted of three Babylonian
willows, a fringe of alder, many grasses, cattails, sweet-flags,

[ 216 ]

and a few purple-lipped twayblades, over which Ada crooned
as she did over puppies or kittens.
Under the shelter of those neurotic willows Van pursued his
217.05 Her shoulders were intolerably graceful: I would never per-
mit my wife to wear strapless gowns with such shoulders, but
how could she be my wife? Renny says to Nell in the English
version of Monparnasse's rather comic tale: "The infamous
shadow of our unnatural affair will follow us into the low
217.10 depths of the Inferno which our Father who is in the sky shows
to us with his superb digit." For some odd reason the worse
translations are not from the Chinese, but from plain French.
Her nipples, now pert and red, were encircled by fine black
hairs which would soon go, too, being, she said, unschicklich.
217.15 Where had she picked up, he wondered, that hideous word?
Her breasts were pretty, pale and plump, but somehow he had
preferred the little soft swellings of the earlier girl with their
formless dull buds.
He recognized the familiar, individual, beautiful intake of
217.20 her flat young abdomen, its wonderful "play," the frank and
eager expression of the oblique muscles and the "smile" of her
navel—to borrow from the vocabulary of the belly dancer's
One day he brought his shaving kit along and helped her to
217.25 get rid of all three patches of body hair:
"Now I'm Scheher," he said, "and you are his Ada, and
that's your green prayer carpet."
Their visits to that islet remained engraved in the memory
of that summer with entwinements that no longer could be
217.30 untangled. They saw themselves standing there, embraced,
clothed only in mobile leafy shadows, and watching the red
rowboat with its mobile inlay of reflected ripples carry them
off, waving, waving their handkerchiefs; and that mystery of
mixed sequences was enhanced by such things as the boat's

[ 217 ]

floating back to them while it still receded, the oars crippled by
refraction, the sunflecks now rippling the other way like the
strobe effect of spokes counterwheeling as the pageant rolls
by. Time tricked them, made one of them ask a remembered
218.05 question, caused the other to give a forgotten answer, and once
in a small alder thicket, duplicated in black by the blue stream,
they found a garter which was certainly hers, she could not
deny it, but which Van was positive she had never worn on
her stockingless summer trips to the magic islet.
218.10 Her lovely strong legs had, maybe, grown longer but they
still preserved the sleek pallor and suppleness of her nymphet
years. She could still suck her big toe. The right instep and the
back of her left hand bore the same small not overconspicuous
but indelible and sacred birthmark, with which nature had
218.15 signed his right hand and left foot. She attempted to coat her
fingernails with Scheherazade's Lacquer (a very grotesque fad
of the 'eighties) but she was untidy and forgetful in matters of
grooming, the varnish flaked off, leaving unseemly blotches,
and he requested her to revert to her "lack-luster" state. In
218.20 compensation, he bought her in the town of Ladore (that rather
smart little resort) an ankle chain of gold but she lost it in the
course of their strenuous trysts and unexpectedly broke into
tears when he said never mind, another lover some day would
retrieve it for her.
218.25 Her brilliance, her genius. Of course, she had changed in four
years, but he, too, had changed, by concurrent stages, so that
their brains and senses stayed attuned and were to stay thus
always, through all separations. Neither had remained the brash
Wunderkind of 1884, but in bookish knowledge both surpassed
218.30 their coevals to an even more absurd extent than in childhood;
and in formal terms Ada (born on July 21, 1872) had already
completed her private school course while Van, her senior
by two years and a half, hoped to get his master's degree at
the end of 1889. Her conversation might have lost some of its

[ 218 ]

sportive glitter, and the first faint shadows of what she would
later term "my acarpous destiny" (pustotsvetnost') could be
made out—at least, in back view; but the quality of her innate wit
had deepened, strange "metempirical" (as Van called them)
219.05 undercurrents seemed to double internally, and thus enrich, the
simplest expression of her simplest thoughts. She read as vora-
ciously and indiscriminately as he, but each had evolved a more
or less "pet" subject—he the terrological part of psychiatry, she
the drama (especially Russian), a "pet" he found "pat" in her
219.10 case but hoped would be a passing vagary. Her florimania en-
dured, alas; but after Dr. Krolik died (in 1886) of a heart
attack in his garden, she had placed all her live pupae in his
open coffin where he lay, she said, as plump and pink as in vivo.
Amorously, now, in her otherwise dolorous and irresolute
219.15 adolescence, Ada was even more aggressive and responsive than
in her abnormally passionate childhood. A diligent student of
case histories, Dr. Van Veen never quite managed to match
ardent twelve-year-old Ada with a non-delinquent, non-nymph-
omaniac, mentally highly developed, spiritually happy and
219.20 normal English child in his files, although many similar little
girls had bloomed—and run to seed—in the old châteaux of
France and Estotiland as portrayed in extravagant romances
and senile memoirs. His own passion for her Van found even
harder to study and analyze. When he recollected caress by
219.25 caress his Venus Villa sessions, or earlier visits to the riverhouses
of Ranta or Livida, he satisfied himself that his reactions to
Ada remained beyond all that, since the merest touch of her
finger or mouth following a swollen vein produced not only a
more potent but essentially different delicia than the slowest
219.30 "winslow" of the most sophisticated young harlot. What, then,
was it that raised the animal act to a level higher than even that
of the most exact arts or the wildest flights of pure science? It
would not be sufficient to say that in his love-making with Ada
he discovered the pang, the ogon', the agony of supreme "real-

[ 219 ]

ity." Reality, better say, lost the quotes it wore like claws—in
a world where independent and original minds must cling to
things or pull things apart in order to ward off madness or
death (which is the master madness). For one spasm or two,
220.05 he was safe. The new naked reality needed no tentacle or an-
chor; it lasted a moment, but could be repeated as often as he
and she were physically able to make love. The color and fire
of that instant reality depended solely on Ada's identity as per-
ceived by him. It had nothing to do with virtue or the vanity
220.10 of virtue in a large sense—in fact it seemed to Van later that
during the ardencies of that summer he knew all along that she
had been, and still was, atrociously untrue to him—just as she
knew long before he told her that he had used off and on,
during their separation, the live mechanisms tense males could
220.15 rent for a few minutes as described, with profuse woodcuts and
photographs, in a three-volume History of Prostitution which
she had read at the age of ten or eleven, between Hamlet and
Captain Grant's Microgalaxies.
For the sake of the scholars who will read this forbidden
220.20 memoir with a secret tingle (they are human) in the secret
chasms of libraries (where the chatter, the lays and the fannies
of rotting pornographers are piously kept)—its author must add
in the margin of galley proofs which a bedridden old man
heroically corrects (for those slippery long snakes add the last
220.25 touch to a writer's woes) a few more [the end of the sentence
cannot be deciphered but fortunately the next paragraph is
scrawled on a separate writing-pad page. Editor's Note].
. . . about the rapture of her identity. The asses who might
really think that in the starlight of eternity, my, Van Veen's,
220.30 and her, Ada Veen's, conjunction, somewhere in North Amer-
ica, in the nineteenth century represented but one trillionth of
a trillionth part of a pinpoint planet's significance can bray
ailleurs, ailleurs, ailleurs (the English word would not supply
the onomatopoeic element; old Veen is kind), because the rap-

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ture of her identity, placed under the microscope of reality
(which is the only reality), shows a complex system of those
subtle bridges which the senses traverse—laughing, embraced,
throwing flowers in the air—between membrane and brain, and
221.05 which always was and is a form of memory, even at the moment
of its perception. I am weak. I write badly. I may die tonight.
My magic carpet no longer skims over crown canopies and
gaping nestlings, and her rarest orchids. Insert.

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