Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 4 (view annotations)

When, in the middle of the twentieth century, Van started to
reconstruct his deepest past, he soon noticed that such details
of his infancy as really mattered (for the special purpose the
reconstruction pursued) could be best treated, could not seldom
31.05 be only treated, when reappearing at various later stages of his
boyhood and youth, as sudden juxtapositions that revived the
part while vivifying the whole. This is why his first love
has precedence here over his first bad hurt or bad dream.
He had just turned thirteen. He had never before left the
31.10 comforts of the paternal roof. He had never before realized
that such "comforts" might not be taken for granted, only
occurring in some introductory ready-made metaphor in a
book about a boy and a school. A few blocks from the school-
grounds, a widow, Mrs. Tapirov, who was French but spoke
31.15 English with a Russian accent, had a shop of objets d'art and
more or less antique furniture. He visited it on a bright winter
day. Crystal vases with crimson roses and golden-brown asters
were set here and there in the fore part of the shop — on a gilt-
wood console, on a lacquered chest, on the shelf of a cabinet,
31.20 or simply along the carpeted steps leading to the next floor
where great wardrobes and flashy dressers semi-encircled a

[ 31 ]

singular company of harps. He satisfied himself that those
flowers were artificial and thought it puzzling that such imita-
tions always pander so exclusively to the eye instead of also
copying the damp fat feel of live petal and leaf. When he
32.05 called next day for the object (unremembered now, eighty years
later) that he wanted repaired or duplicated, it was not ready or
had not been obtained. In passing, he touched a half-opened rose
and was cheated of the sterile texture his fingertips had expected
when cool life kissed them with pouting lips. "My daughter,"
32.10 said Mrs. Tapirov, who saw his surprise, "always puts a bunch
of real ones among the fake pour attraper le client. You drew
the joker." As he was leaving she came in, a schoolgirl in a
gray coat with brown shoulder-length ringlets and a pretty face.
On another occasion (for a certain part of the thing — a frame,
32.15 perhaps — took an infinite time to heal or else the entire article
proved to be unobtainable after all) he saw her curled up with
her schoolbooks in an armchair — a domestic item among those
for sale. He never spoke to her. He loved her madly. It must
have lasted at least one term.
32.20 That was love, normal and mysterious. Less mysterious and
considerably more grotesque were the passions which several
generations of schoolmasters had failed to eradicate, and which
as late as 1883 still enjoyed an unparalleled vogue at Riverlane.
Every dormitory had its catamite. One hysterical lad from
32.25 Upsala, cross-eyed, loose-lipped, with almost abnormally awk-
ward limbs, but with a wonderfully tender skin texture and
the round creamy charms of Bronzino’s Cupid (the big one,
whom a delighted satyr discovers in a lady’s bower), was
much prized and tortured by a group of foreign boys, mostly
32.30 Greek and English, led by Cheshire, the rugby ace; and partly
out of bravado, partly out of curiosity, Van surmounted his
disgust and coldly watched their rough orgies. Soon, however,
he abandoned this surrogate for a more natural though equally
heartless divertissement.

[ 32 ]

The aging woman who sold barley sugar and Lucky Louse
magazines in the corner shop, which by tradition was not
strictly out of bounds, happened to hire a young helper, and
Cheshire, the son of a thrifty lord, quickly ascertained that
33.05 this fat little wench could be had for a Russian green dollar.
Van was one of the first to avail himself of her favors. These
were granted in semi-darkness, among crates and sacks at the
back of the shop after hours. The fact of his having told her
he was sixteen and a libertine instead of fourteen and a virgin
33.10 proved a source of embarrassment to our hell-raker when
he tried to bluster his inexperience into quick action but only
succeeded in spilling on the welcome mat what she would have
gladly helped him to take indoors. Things went better six
minutes later, after Cheshire and Zographos were through; but
33.15 only at the next mating party did Van really begin to enjoy her
gentleness, her soft sweet grip and hearty joggle. He knew she
was nothing but a fubsy pig-pink whorelet and would elbow
her face away when she attempted to kiss him after he had
finished and was checking with one quick hand, as he had seen
33.20 Cheshire do, if his wallet was still in his hip pocket; but some-
how or other, when the last of some forty convulsions had come
and gone in the ordinary course of collapsing time, and his
train was bowling past black and green fields to Ardis, he found
himself endowing with unsuspected poetry her poor image,
33.25 the kitchen odor of her arms, the humid eyelashes in the sudden
gleam of Cheshire’s lighter and even the creaky steps of old
deaf Mrs. Gimber in her bedroom upstairs.
In an elegant first-class compartment, with one’s gloved hand
in the velvet side-loop, one feels very much a man of the
33.30 world as one surveys the capable landscape capably skimming
by. And every now and then the passenger’s roving eyes paused
for a moment as he listened inwardly to a nether itch, which he
supposed to be (correctly, thank Log) only a minor irritation
of the epithelium.

[ 33 ]

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