Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 41 (view annotations)

Pedro had not yet returned from California. Hay fever and
dark glasses did not improve G.A. Vronsky's appearance.
Adorno, the star of Hate, brought his new wife, who turned
out to have been one of the old (and most beloved wives) of
291.05 another guest, a considerably more important comedian, who
after supper bribed Bouteillan to simulate the arrival of a mes-
sage necessitating his immediate departure. Grigoriy Akimovich
went with him (having come with him in the same rented
limousine), leaving Marina, Ada, Adorno and his ironically
291.10 sniffing Marianne at a card table. They played biryuch, a variety
of whist, till a Ladore taxi could be obtained, which was well
after 1:00 A.M.
In the meantime Van changed back to shorts, cloaked himself
in the tartan plaid and retired to his bosquet, where the berga-
291.15 mask lamps had not been lit at all that night which had not
proved as festive as Marina had expected. He climbed into his
hammock and drowsily started reviewing such French-speaking
domestics as could have slipped him that ominous but according
to Ada meaningless note. The first, obvious choice was hyster-
291.20 ical and fantastic Blanche—had there not been her timidity,

[ 291 ]

her fear of being "fired" (he recalled a dreadful scene when
she groveled, pleading for mercy, at the feet of Larivière, who
accused her of "stealing" a bauble that eventually turned up in
one of Larivière's own shoes). The ruddy face of Bouteillan
292.05 and his son's grin next appeared in the focus of Van's fancy;
but presently he fell asleep, and saw himself on a mountain
smothered in snow, with people, trees, and a cow carried down
by an avalanche.
Something roused him from that state of evil torpor. At first
292.10 he thought it was the chill of the dying night, then recognized
the slight creak (that had been a scream in his confused night-
mare), and raising his head saw a dim light in between the shrubs
where the door of the tool room was being pushed ajar from the
inside. Ada had never once come there without their prudently
292.15 planning every step of their infrequent nocturnal trysts. He
scrambled out of his hammock and padded toward the lighted
doorway. Before him stood the pale wavering figure of Blanche.
She presented an odd sight: bare armed, in her petticoat, one
stocking gartered, the other down to her ankle; no slippers;
292.20 armpits glistening with sweat; she was loosening her hair in a
wretched simulacrum of seduction.
"C'est ma dernière nuit au château," she said softly, and re-
phrased it in her quaint English, elegiac and stilted, as spoken
only in obsolete novels. "'Tis my last night with thee."
292.25 "Your last night? With me? What do you mean?" He con-
sidered her with the eerie uneasiness one feels when listening
to the utterances of delirium or intoxication.
But despite her demented look, Blanche was perfectly lucid.
She had made up her mind a couple of days ago to leave Ardis
292.30 Hall. She had just slipped her demission, with a footnote on
the young lady's conduct, under the door of Madame. She
would go in a few hours. She loved him, he was her "folly and
fever," she wished to spend a few secret moments with him.
He entered the toolroom and slowly closed the door. The

[ 292 ]

slowness had its uncomfortable cause. She had placed her lan-
tern on the rung of a ladder and was already gathering up and
lifting her skimpy skirt. Compassion, courtesy and some as-
sistance on her part might have helped him to work up the urge
293.05 which she took for granted and whose total absence he carefully
concealed under his tartan cloak; but quite aside from the fear
of infection (Bout had hinted at some of the poor girl's trou-
bles), a graver matter engrossed him. He diverted her bold hand
and sat down on the bench beside her.
293.10 Was it she who had placed that note in his jacket?
It was. She had been unable to face departure if he was to
remain fooled, deceived, betrayed. She added, in naive brackets,
that she had been sure he always desired her, they could talk
afterwards. Je suis à toi, c’est bientôt l’aube, your dream has
293.15 come true.
"Parlez pour vous, " answered Van. "I am in no mood for
love-making. And I will strangle you, I assure you, if you do
not tell me the whole story in every detail, at once."
She nodded, fear and adoration in her veiled eyes. When and
293.20 how had it started? Last August, she said. Votre demoiselle
picking flowers, he squiring her through the tall grass, a flute in
his hand. Who he? What flute? Mais le musicien allemand,
Monsieur Rack. The eager informer had her own swain lying
upon her on the other side of the hedge. How anybody could
293.25 do it with l'immonde Monsieur Rack, who once forgot his
waistcoat in a haystack, was beyond the informer's compre-
hension. Perhaps because he made songs for her, a very pretty
one was once played at a big public ball at the Ladore Casino, it
went... Never mind how it went, go on with the story. Mon-
293.30 sieur Rack, one starry night, in a boat on the river, was heard
by the informer and two gallants in the willow bushes, recount-
ing the melancholy tale of his childhood, of his years of hunger
and music and loneliness, and his sweetheart wept and threw
her head back and he fed on her bare throat, il la mangeait de

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baisers dégoûtants. He must have had her not more than a dozen
times, he was not as strong as another gentleman—oh, cut it out,
said Van and in winter the young lady learnt he was married,
and hated his cruel wife, and in April when he began to give
294.05 piano lessons to Lucette the affair was resumed, but then—
"That will do!" he cried and, beating his brow with his fist,
stumbled out into the sunlight.
It was a quarter to six on the wristwatch hanging from the
net of the hammock. His feet were stone cold. He groped for
294.10 his loafers and walked aimlessly for some time among the trees
of the coppice where thrushes were singing so richly, with
such sonorous force, such fluty fioriture that one could not
endure the agony of consciousness, the filth of life, the loss, the
loss, the loss. Gradually, however, he regained a semblance of
294.15 self-control by the magic method of not allowing the image of
Ada to come anywhere near his awareness of himself. This
created a vacuum into which rushed a multitude of trivial re-
flections. A pantomime of rational thought.
He took a tepid shower in the poolside shed, doing everything
294.20 with comic deliberation, very slowly and cautiously, lest he
break the new, unknown, brittle Van born a moment ago. He
watched his thoughts revolve, dance, strut, clown a little. He
found it delightful to imagine, for instance, that a cake of soap
must be solid ambrosia to the ants swarming over it, and what
294.25 a shock to be drowned in the midst of that orgy. The code, he
reflected, did not allow to challenge a person who was not born
a gentleman but exceptions might be made for artists, pianists,
flutists, and if a coward refused, you could make his gums bleed
with repeated slaps or, still better, thrash him with a strong cane
294.30 —must not forget to choose one in the vestibule closet before
leaving forever, forever. Great fun! He relished as something
quite special the kind of one-legged jig a naked fellow performs
when focusing on the shorts he tries to get into. He sauntered

[ 294 ]

through a side gallery. He ascended the grand staircase. The
house was empty, and cool, and smelled of carnations. Good
morning, and good-bye, little bedroom. Van shaved, Van pared
his toe-nails, Van dressed with exquisite care: gray socks, silk
295.05 shirt, gray tie, dark-gray suit newly pressed—shoes, ah yes,
shoes, mustn't forget shoes, and without bothering to sort out
the rest of his belongings, crammed a score of twenty-dollar
gold coins into a chamois purse, distributed handkerchief, check-
book, passport, what else? nothing else, over his rigid person
295.10 and pinned a note to the pillow asking to have his things packed
and forwarded to his father's address. Son killed by avalanche,
no hat found, contraceptives donated to Old Guides' Home.
After the passage of about eight decades all this sounds very
amusing and silly—but at the time he was a dead man going
295.15 through the motions of an imagined dreamer. He bent down
with a grunt, cursing his knee, to fix his skis, in the driving
snow, on the brink of the slope, but the skis had vanished, the
bindings were shoelaces, and the slope, a staircase.
He walked down to the mews and told a young groom, who
295.20 was almost as drowsy as he, that he wished to go to the railway
station in a few minutes. The groom looked perplexed, and Van
swore at him.
Wristwatch! He returned to the hammock where it was
strapped to the netting. On his way back to the stables, around
295.25 the house, he happened to look up and saw a black-haired girl
of sixteen or so, in yellow slacks and a black bolero, standing on
a third-floor balcony and signaling to him. She signaled tele-
graphically, with expansive linear gestures, indicating the cloud-
less sky (what a cloudless sky!), the jacaranda summit in bloom
295.30 (blue! bloom!) and her own bare foot raised high and placed
on the parapet (have only to put on my sandals!). Van, to his
horror and shame, saw Van wait for her to come down.
She walked swiftly toward him across the iridescently glisten-

[ 295 ]

ing lawn. "Van," she said, "I must tell you my dream before I
forget. You and I were high up in the Alps—Why on earth
are you wearing townclothes?"
"Well, I’ll tell you," drawled dreamy Van. "I’ll tell you why.
296.05 From a humble but reliable sauce, I mean source, excuse my
accent, I have just learned qu'on vous culbute behind every
hedge. Where can I find your tumbler?"
"Nowhere," she answered quite calmly, ignoring or not even
perceiving his rudeness, for she had always known that disaster
296.10 would come today or tomorrow, a question of time or rather
timing on the part of fate.
"But he exists, he exists," muttered Van, looking down at a
rainbow web on the turf.
"I suppose so," said the haughty child, "however, he left
296.15 yesterday for some Greek or Turkish port. Moreover, he was
going to do everything to get killed, if that information helps.
Now listen, listen! Those walks in the woods meant nothing.
Wait, Van! I was weak only twice when you had hurt him so
hideously, or perhaps three times in all. Please! I can't explain
296.20 in one gush, but eventually you will understand. Not everybody
is as happy as we are. He's a poor, lost, clumsy boy. We are
all doomed, but some are more doomed than others. He is
nothing to me. I shall never see him again. He is nothing, I
swear. He adores me to the point of insanity."
296.25 "I think," said Van, "we've got hold of the wrong lover. I
was asking about Herr Rack, who has such delectable gums
and also adores you to the point of insanity."
He turned, as they say, on his heel, and walked toward the
296.30 He could swear he did not look back, could not—by any
optical chance, or in any prism—have seen her physically as
he walked away; and yet, with dreadful distinction, he re-
tained forever a composite picture of her standing where he
left her. The picture—which penetrated him, through an eye

[ 296 ]

in the back of his head, through his vitreous spinal canal, and
could never be lived down, never—consisted of a selection and
blend of such random images and expressions of hers that had
affected him with a pang of intolerable remorse at various
297.05 moments in the past. Tiffs between them had been very rare,
very brief, but there had been enough of them to make up the
enduring mosaic. There was the time she stood with her back
against a tree trunk, facing a traitor's doom; the time he had
refused to show her some silly Chose snapshots of punt girls
297.10 and had torn them up in fury and she had looked away knitting
her brows and slitting her eyes at an invisible view in the
window. Or that time she had hesitated, blinking, shaping a
soundless word, suspecting him of a sudden revolt against her
odd prudishness of speech, when he challenged her brusquely
297.15 to find a rhyme to "patio" and she was not quite sure if he had
in mind a certain foul word and if so what was its correct pro-
nunciation. And perhaps, worst of all, that time when she
stood fiddling with a bunch of wild flowers, a gentle half-
smile hanging back quite neutrally in her eyes, her lips pursed,
297.20 her head making imprecise little movements as if punctuating
with self-directed nods secret decisions and silent clauses in some
sort of contract with herself, with him, with unknown parties
hereinafter called Comfortless, Inutile, Unjust—while he in-
dulged in a brutal outburst triggered by her suggesting—quite
297.25 sweetly and casually (as she might suggest walking a little way
on the edge of a bog to see if a certain orchid was out)—that
they visit the late Krolik's grave in a churchyard by which
they were passing—and he had suddenly started to shout ("You
know I abhor churchyards, I despise, I denounce death, dead
297.30 bodies are burlesque, I refuse to stare at a stone under which a
roly-poly old Pole is rotting, let him feed his maggots in peace,
the entomologies of death leave me cold, I detest, I despise—");
he went on ranting that way for a couple of minutes and then
literally fell at her feet, kissing her feet, imploring her pardon,

[ 297 ]

and for a little while longer she kept gazing at him pensively.
Those were the fragments of the tesselation, and there were
others, even more trivial; but in coming together the harmless
parts made a lethal entity, and the girl in yellow slacks and black
298.05 jacket, standing with her hands behind her back, slightly rocking
her shoulders, leaning her back now closer now less closely
against the tree trunk, and tossing her hair—a definite picture
that he knew he had never seen in reality—remained within
him more real than any actual memory.
298.10 Marina, in kimono and curlers, stood surrounded by ser-
vants before the porch and was asking questions that nobody
seemed to answer.
Van said:
"I'm not eloping with your maid, Marina. It's an optical
298.15 illusion. Her reasons for leaving you do not concern me. There's
a bit of business I had been putting off like a fool but now must
attend to before going to Paris."
"Ada is causing me a lot of worry," said Marina with a down-
cast frown and a Russian wobble of the cheeks. "Please come
298.20 back as soon as you can. You have such a good influence upon
her. Au revoir. I'm very cross with everybody."
Holding up her robe she ascended the porch steps. The tame
silver dragon on her back had an ant-eater's tongue according
to her eldest daughter, a scientist. What did poor mother know
298.25 about P's and R's? Next to nothing.
Van shook hands with the distressed old butler, thanked
Bout for a silver-knobbed cane and a pair of gloves, nodded to
the other servants and walked toward the carriage and pair.
Blanche, standing by in a long gray skirt and straw hat, with
298.30 her cheap valise painted mahogany red and secured with a criss-
crossing cord, looked exactly like a young lady setting out to
teach school in a Wild West movie. She offered to sit on the
box next to the Russian coachman but he ushered her into the

[ 298 ]

They passed undulating fields of wheat speckled with the
confetti of poppies and bluets. She talked all the way about the
young chatelaine and her two recent lovers in melodious low
tones as if in a trance, as if en rapport with a dead minstrel's
299.05 spirit. Only the other day from behind that row of thick firs,
look there, to your right (but he did not look—sitting silent,
both hands on the knob of his cane), she and her sister Madelon,
with a bottle of wine between them, watched Monsieur le
Comte courting the young lady on the moss, crushing her like a
299.10 grunting bear as he also had crushed—many times!Madelon
who said she, Blanche, should warn him, Van, because she was
a wee bit jealous but she also said—for she had a good heart
better put it off until "Malbrook" s'en va t'en guerre, otherwise
they would fight; he had been shooting a pistol at a scarecrow
299.15 all morning and that's why she waited so long, and it was in
Madelon's hand, not in hers. She rambled on and on until they
reached Tourbière; two rows of cottages and a small black
church with stained-glass windows. Van let her out. The young-
est of the three sisters, a beautiful chestnut-curled little maiden
299.20 with lewd eyes and bobbing breasts (where had he seen her
before?—recently, but where?) carried Blanche's valise and
birdcage into a poor shack smothered in climbing roses, but for
the rest, dismal beyond words. He kissed Cendrillon's shy
hand and resumed his seat in the carriage, clearing his throat and
299.25 plucking at his trousers before crossing his legs. Vain Van Veen.
"The express does not stop at Torfyanka, does it, Trofim?"
"I'll take you five versts across the bog," said Trofim, "the
nearest is Volosyanka."
His vulgar Russian word for Maidenhair; a whistle stop; train
299.30 probably crowded.
Maidenhair. Idiot! Percy boy might have been buried by
now! Maidenhair. Thus named because of the huge spreading
Chinese tree at the end of the platform. Once, vaguely, con-
fused with the Venus'-hair fern. She walked to the end of the

[ 299 ]

platform in Tolstoy's novel. First exponent of the inner mono-
logue, later exploited by the French and the Irish. N'est vert,
n'est vert, n'est vert. L'arbre aux quarante écus d'or, at least in
the fall. Never, never shall I hear again her "botanical" voice
300.05 fall at biloba, "sorry, my Latin is showing." Ginkgo, gingko,
ink, inkog. Known also as Salisbury's adiantofolia, Ada's infolio,
poor Salisburia: sunk; poor Stream of Consciousness, marée noire
by now. Who wants Ardis Hall!
"Barin, a barin," said Trofim, turning his blond-bearded face
300.10 to his passenger.
"Dazhe skvoz' kozhanïy fartuk ne stal-bï ya trogat' etu
frantsuzskuyu devku."
Bárin: master. Dázhe skvoz' kózhanïy fártuk: even through
300.15 a leathern apron. Ne stal-bï ya trógat': I would not think of
touching. Étu: this (that). Frantsúzskuyu: French (adj.,
accus.). Dévku: wench. Úzhas, otcháyanie: horror, despair.
Zhálost': pity. Kóncheno, zagázheno, rastérzano: finished, fouled,
torn to shreds.

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