Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 37 (view annotations)

It was raining. The lawns looked greener, and the reservoir
grayer, in the dull prospect before the library bay window.
Clad in a black training suit, with two yellow cushions propped
under his head, Van lay reading Rattner on Terra, a difficult
230.05 and depressing work. Every now and then he glanced at the
autumnally tocking tall clock above the bald pate of tan
Tartary as represented on a large old globe in the fading light
of an afternoon that would have suited early October better
than July. Ada, wearing an unfashionable belted macin-
230.10 tosh that he disliked, with her handbag on a strap over one
shoulder, had gone to Kaluga for the whole day—officially to
try on some clothes, unofficially to consult Dr Krolik’s cousin,
the gynecologist Seitz (or "Zayats," as she transliterated him
mentally since it also belonged, as Dr "Rabbit" did, to the
230.15 leporine group in Russian pronunciation). Van was positive
that not once during a month of love-making had he failed to
take all necessary precautions, sometimes rather bizarre, but
incontestably trustworthy, and had lately acquired the sheath-
like contraceptive device that in Ladore county only barber-
shops, for some odd but ancient reason, were allowed to sell.

[ 230 ]

Still he felt anxious—and was cross with his anxiety—and Ratt-
ner, who halfheartedly denied any objective existence to the
sibling planet in his text, but grudgingly accepted it in obscure
notes (inconveniently placed between chapters), seemed as dull
231.05 as the rain that could be discerned slanting in parallel pencil
lines against the darker background of a larch plantation, bor-
rowed, Ada contended, from Mansfield Park.
At ten minutes to five, Bout quietly came in with a lighted
kerosene lamp and an invitation from Marina for a chat in her
231.10 room. As Bout passed by the globe he touched it and looked
with disapproval at his smudged finger. "The world is dusty,"
he said. "Blanche should be sent back to her native village. Elle
est folle et mauvaise, cette fille."
"Okay, okay," muttered Van, going back to his book. Bout
231.15 left the room, still shaking his silly cropped head, and Van,
yawning, allowed Rattner to slide down from the black divan
on to the black carpet.
When he looked up again at the clock, it was gathering its
strength to strike. He hastily got up from his couch recalling
231.20 that Blanche had just come in to ask him to complain to
Marina that Mlle Ada had again refused to give her a lift to
"Beer Tower," as local jokers called her poor village. For a few
moments the brief dim dream was so closely fused with the real
event that even when he recalled Bout’s putting his finger on
231.25 the rhomboid peninsula where the Allies had just landed (as
proclaimed by the Ladore newspaper spread-eagled on the li-
brary table), he still clearly saw Blanche wiping Crimea clean
with one of Ada’s lost handkerchiefs. He swarmed up the
cochlea to the nursery water-closet; heard from afar the gover-
231.30 ness and her wretched pupil recite speeches from the horrible
"Berenice" (a contralto croak alternating with a completely
expressionless little voice); and decided that Blanche or rather
Marina probably wished to know if he had been serious when
he said the other day he would enlist at nineteen, the earliest

[ 231 ]

volunteer age. He also gave a minute’s thought to the sad fact
that (as he well knew from his studies) the confusion of two
realities, one in single, the other in double, quotes, was a
symptom of impending insanity.
232.05 Naked-faced, dull-haired, wrapped up in her oldest kimono
(her Pedro had suddenly left for Rio), Marina reclined on her
mahogany bed under a golden-yellow quilt, drinking tea with
mare’s milk, one of her fads.
"Sit down, have a spot of chayku," she said. "The cow is in
232.10 the smaller jug, I think. Yes, it is." And when Van, having
kissed her freckled hand, lowered himself on the ivanilich (a
kind of sighing old hassock upholstered in leather): "Van, dear,
I wish to say something to you, because I know I shall never
have to repeat it again. Belle, with her usual flair for the right
232.15 phrase, has cited to me the cousinage-dangereux-voisinage adage
I mean 'adage,' I always fluff that word—and complained
qu’on s’embrassait dans tous les coins.Is that true?"
Van’s mind flashed in advance of his speech. It was, Marina,
a fantastic exaggeration. The crazy governess had observed it
232.20 once when he carried Ada across a brook and kissed her because
she had hurt her toe. I’m the well-known beggar in the saddest
of all stories.
"Erunda (nonsense)," said Van. "She once saw me carrying
Ada across the brook and misconstrued our stumbling huddle
232.25 (spotïkayushcheesya sliyanie)."
"I do not mean Ada, silly," said Marina with a slight snort,
as she fussed over the teapot. "Azov, a Russian humorist, derives
erunda from the German hier und da, which is neither here nor
there. Ada is a big girl, and big girls, alas, have their own
232.30 worries. Mlle Larivière meant Lucette, of course. Van, those
soft games must stop. Lucette is twelve, and naive, and I know
it’s all clean fun, yet (odnako) one can never behave too deli-
katnoin regard to a budding little woman. A propos de coins:
in Griboedov’s Gore ot uma, 'How stupid to be so clever,' a

[ 232 ]

play in verse, written, I think, in Pushkin’s time, the hero re-
minds Sophie of their childhood games, and says:
How oft we sat together in a corner
And what harm might there be in that?
233.05 but in Russian it is a little ambiguous, have another spot, Van?"
(he shook his head, simultaneously lifting his hand, like his
father), "because, you see,—no, there is none left anyway—the
second line, i kazhetsya chto v etom, can be also construed as
'And in that one, meseems,' pointing with his finger at a corner
233.10 of the room. Imagine—when I was rehearsing that scene with
Kachalov at the Seagull Theater, in Yukonsk, Stanislavski, Kon-
stantin Sergeevich, actually wanted him to make that cosy little
gesture ( uyutnen’kiy zhest)."
"How very amusing," said Van.
233.15 The dog came in, turned up a brimming brown eye Van-
ward, toddled up to the window, looked at the rain like a little
person, and returned to his filthy cushion in the next room.
"I could never stand that breed," remarked Van. "Dackelo-
233.20 "But girls—do you like girls, Van, do you have many girls?
You are not a pederast, like your poor uncle, are you? We have
had some dreadful perverts in our ancestry but—Why do you
"Nothing," said Van. "I just want to put on record that I
233.25 adore girls. I had my first one when I was fourteen. Mais qui me
rendra mon Hélène? She had raven black hair and a skin like
skimmed milk. I had lots of much creamier ones later. I ka-
zhetsya chto v etom?"
"How strange, how sad! Sad, because I know hardly any-
233.30 thing about your life, my darling (moy dushka). The Zemskis
were terrible rakes (razvratniki), one of them loved small girls,
and another raffolait d’une de ses juments and had her tied up in
a special way—don’t ask me how" (double hand gesture of hor-

[ 233 ]

rified ignorance "—when he dated her in her stall. Kstati (à
propos), I could never understand how heredity is transmitted
by bachelors, unless genes can jump like chess knights. I almost
beat you, last time we played, we must play again, not today,
234.05 though—I’m too sad today. I would have liked so much to know
everything, everything, about you, but now it’s too late. Recol-
lections are always a little 'stylized' (stilizovanï), as your father
used to say, an irresistible and hateful man, and now, even if
you showed me your old diaries, I could no longer whip up any
234.10 real emotional reaction to them, though all actresses can shed
tears, as I’m doing now. You see (rummaging for her handker-
chief under her pillow), when children are still quite tiny (takie
malyutki), we cannot imagine that we can go without them,
for even a couple of days, and later we do, and it’s a couple of
234.15 weeks, and later it’s months, gray years, black decades, and
then the opéra bouffe of the Christians’ eternity. I think even
the shortest separation is a kind of training for the Elysian
Games—who said that? I said that. And your costume, though
very becoming, is, in a sense, traurnïy (funerary). I’m spouting
234.20 drivel. Forgive me these idiotic tears . . . Tell me, is there any-
thing I could do for you? Do think up something! Would you
like a beautiful, practically new Peruvian scarf, which he left
behind, that crazy boy? No? It’s not your style? Now go. And
remember—not a word to poor Mlle Larivière, who means
234.25 well!"
Ada came back just before dinnertime. Worries? He met her
as she climbed rather wearily the grand staircase, trailing her
vanity bag by its strap up the steps behind her. Worries? She
smelled of tobacco, either because (as she said) she had spent
234.30 an hour in a compartment for smokers, or had smoked (she
added) a cigarette or two herself in the doctor’s waiting room,
or else because (and this she did not say) her unknown lover
was a heavy smoker, his open red mouth full of rolling blue fog.

[ 234 ]

"Well? Tout est bien?" asked Van after a sketchy kiss. "No
She glared, or feigned to glare, at him.
"Van, you should not have rung up Seitz! He does not even
235.05 know my name! You promised!"
"I did not," answered Van quietly.
"Tant mieux," said Ada in the same false voice, as he helped
her out of her coat in the corridor. "Oui, tout est bien. Will you
235.10 stop sniffing me over, dear Van? In fact the blessed thing started
on the way home. Let me pass, please."
Worries of her own? Of her mother’s automatic making? A
casual banality? "We all have our troubles"?
"Ada!" he cried.
235.15 She looked back, before unlocking her (always locked) door.
  "Tuzenbakh, not knowing what to say: 'I have not had coffee
today. Tell them to make me some.' Quickly walks away."
"Very funny!" said Ada, and locked herself up in her room.

[ 235 ]

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