Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 2, Chapter 10 (annotations forthcoming)

They took a great many precautions—all absolutely useless, for
nothing can change the end (written and filed away) of the
present chapter. Only Lucette and the agency that forwarded
letters to him and to Ada knew Van’s address. Through an
432.05 amiable lady in waiting at Demon’s bank, Van made sure that
his father would not turn up in Manhattan before March 30.
They never came out or went in together, arranging a meeting
place at the Library or in an emporium whence to start the
day’s excursions—and it so happened that the only time they
432.10 broke that rule (she having got stuck in the lift for a few
panicky moments and he having blithely trotted downstairs from
their common summit), they issued right into the visual field
of old Mrs. Arfour who happened to be passing by their front
door with her tiny tan-and-gray long-silked Yorkshire terrier.
432.15 The simultaneous association was immediate and complete: she
had known both families for years and was now interested to
learn from chattering (rather than chatting) Ada that Van had
happened to be in town just when she, Ada, had happened to
return from the West; that Marina was fine; that Demon was
432.20 in Mexico or Oxmice; and that Lenore Colline had a similar

[ 432 ]

adorable pet with a similar adorable parting along the middle
of the back. That same day (February 3, 1893) Van rebribed
the already gorged janitor to have him answer all questions
which any visitor, and especially a dentist’s widow with a
433.05 caterpillar dog, might ask about any Veens, with a brief asser-
tion of utter ignorance. The only personage they had not reck-
oned with was the old scoundrel usually portrayed as a skeleton
or an angel.
Van’s father had just left one Santiago to view the results of
433.10 an earthquake in another, when Ladore Hospital cabled that
Dan was dying. He set off at once for Manhattan, eyes blazing,
wings whistling. He had not many interests in life.
At the airport of the moonlit white town we call Tent, and
Tobakov’s sailors, who built it, called Palatka, in northern
433.15 Florida, where owing to engine trouble he had to change planes,
Demon made a long-distance call and received a full account of
Dan’s death from the inordinately circumstantial Dr. Nikulin
(grandson of the great rodentiologist Kunikulinov—we can’t
get rid of the lettuce). Daniel Veen’s life had been a mixture
433.20 of the ready-made and the grotesque; but his death had shown
an artistic streak because of its reflecting (as his cousin, not his
doctor, instantly perceived) the man’s latterly conceived pas-
sion for the paintings, and faked paintings, associated with the
name of Hieronymus Bosch.
433.25 Next day, February 5, around nine p.m., Manhattan (winter)
time, on the way to Dan’s lawyer, Demon noted—just as he
was about to cross Alexis Avenue, an ancient but insignificant
acquaintance, Mrs. Arfour, advancing toward him, with her
toy terrier, along his side of the street. Unhesitatingly, Demon
433.30 stepped off the curb, and having no hat to raise (hats were not
worn with raincloaks and besides he had just taken a very
exotic and potent pill to face the day’s ordeal on top of a sleep-
less journey), contented himself—quite properly—with a wave
of his slim umbrella; recalled with a paint dab of delight one of

[ 433 ]

the gargle girls of her late husband; and smoothly passed in
front of a slow-clopping horse-drawn vegetable cart, well out
of the way of Mrs. R4. But precisely in regard to such a con-
tingency, Fate had prepared an alternate continuation. As De-
434.05 mon rushed (or, in terms of the pill, sauntered) by the Monaco,
where he had often lunched, it occurred to him that his son
(whom he had been unable to “contact”) might still be living
with dull little Cordula de Prey in the penthouse apartment of
that fine building. He had never been up there—or had he?
434.10 For a business consultation with Van? On a sun-hazed terrace?
And a clouded drink? (He had, that’s right, but Cordula was
not dull and had not been present.)
With the simple and, combinationally speaking, neat, thought
that, after all, there was but one sky (white, with minute
434.15 multicolored optical sparks), Demon hastened to enter the
lobby and catch the lift which a ginger-haired waiter had just
entered, with breakfast for two on a wiggle-wheel table and
the Manhattan Times among the shining, ever so slightly
scratched, silver cupolas. Was his son still living up there, auto-
434.20 matically asked Demon, placing a piece of nobler metal among
the domes. Si, conceded the grinning imbecile, he had lived
there with his lady all winter.
“Then we are fellow travelers,” said Demon inhaling not
without gourmand anticipation the smell of Monaco’s coffee,
434.25 exaggerated by the shadows of tropical weeds waving in the
breeze of his brain.
On that memorable morning, Van, after ordering breakfast,
had climbed out of his bath and donned a strawberry-red terry-
cloth robe when he thought he heard Valerio’s voice from the
434.30 adjacent parlor. Thither he padded, humming tunelessly, look-
ing forward to another day of increasing happiness (with yet
another uncomfortable little edge smoothed away, another raw
kink in the past so refashioned as to fit into the new pattern
of radiance).

[ 434 ]

Demon, clothed entirely in black, black-spatted, black-
scarved, his monocle on a broader black ribbon than usual, was
sitting at the breakfast table, a cup of coffee in one hand, and
a conveniently folded financial section of the Times in the
435.05 other.
He gave a slight start and put down his cup rather jerkily on
noting the coincidence of color with a persistent detail in an
illumined lower left-hand corner of a certain picture repro-
duced in the copiously illustrated catalogue of his immediate
435.10 mind.
All Van could think of saying was “I am not alone” (je ne
suis pas seul), but Demon was brimming too richly with the
bad news he had brought to heed the hint of the fool who
should have simply walked on into the next room and come
435.15 back one moment later (locking the door behind him—locking
out years and years of lost life), instead of which he remained
standing near his father’s chair.
According to Bess (which is “fiend” in Russian), Dan’s buxom
but otherwise disgusting nurse, whom he preferred to all others
435.20 and had taken to Ardis because she managed to extract orally a
few last drops of “play-zero” (as the old whore called it) out
of his poor body, he had been complaining for some time, even
before Ada’s sudden departure, that a devil combining the char-
acteristics of a frog and a rodent desired to straddle him and
435.25 ride him to the torture house of eternity. To Dr. Nikulin Dan
described his rider as black, pale-bellied, with a black dorsal
buckler shining like a dung beetle’s back and with a knife in
his raised forelimb. On a very cold morning in late January
Dan had somehow escaped, through a basement maze and a
435.30 toolroom, into the brown shrubbery of Ardis; he was naked
except for a red bath towel which trailed from his rump like
a kind of caparison, and, despite the rough going, had crawled
on all fours, like a crippled steed under an invisible rider, deep
into the wooded landscape. On the other hand, had he at-

[ 435 ]

tempted to warn her she might have made her big Ada yawn
and uttered something irrevocably cozy at the moment he
opened the thick protective door.
“I beg you, sir,” said Van, “go down, and I’ll join you in
436.05 the bar as soon as I’m dressed. I’m in a delicate situation.”
“Come, come,” retorted Demon, dropping and replacing his
monocle. “Cordula won’t mind.”
“It’s another, much more impressionable girl”—(yet another
awful fumble!). “Damn Cordula! Cordula is now Mrs. Tobak.”
436.10 “Oh, of course!” cried Demon. “How stupid of me! I re-
member Ada’s fiancé telling me—he and young Tobak worked
for a while in the same Phoenix bank. Of course. Splendid
broad-shouldered, blue-eyed, blond chap. Backbay Tobako-
436.15 “I don’t care,” said clenched Van, “if he looks like a crippled,
crucified, albino toad. Please, Dad, I really must—”
“Funny your saying that. I’ve dropped in only to tell you
poor cousin Dan has died an odd Boschean death. He thought
a fantastic rodent sort of rode him out of the house. They found
436.20 him too late, he expired in Nikulin’s clinic, raving about that
detail of the picture. I’m having the deuce of a time rounding
up the family. The picture is now preserved in the Vienna
Academy of Art.”
“Father, I’m sorry—but I’m trying to tell you—”
436.25 “If I could write,” mused Demon, “I would describe, in too
many words no doubt, how passionately, how incandescently,
how incestuously—c’est le mot—art and science meet in an
insect, in a thrush, in a thistle of that ducal bosquet. Ada is
marrying an outdoor man, but her mind is a closed museum,
436.30 and she, and dear Lucette, once drew my attention, by a creepy
coincidence, to certain details of that other triptych, that
tremendous garden of tongue-in-cheek delights, circa 1500, and,
namely, to the butterflies in it—a Meadow Brown, female, in
the center of the right panel, and a Tortoiseshell in the middle

[ 436 ]

panel, placed there as if settled on a flower—mark the ‘as if,’
for here we have an example of exact knowledge on the part
of those two admirable little girls, because they say that actually
the wrong side of the bug is shown, it should have been the
437.05 underside, if seen, as it is, in profile, but Bosch evidently found
a wing or two in the corner cobweb of his casement and showed
the prettier upper surface in depicting his incorrectly folded
insect. I mean I don’t give a hoot for the esoteric meaning,
for the myth behind the moth, for the masterpiece-baiter who
437.10 makes Bosch express some bosh of his time, I’m allergic to
allegory and am quite sure he was just enjoying himself by
crossbreeding casual fancies just for the fun of the contour and
color, and what we have to study, as I was telling your cousins,
is the joy of the eye, the feel and taste of the woman-sized
437.15 strawberry that you embrace with him, or the exquisite surprise
of an unusual orifice—but you are not following me, you want
me to go, so that you may interrupt her beauty sleep, lucky
beast! A propos, I have not been able to alert Lucette, who is
somewhere in Italy, but I’ve managed to trace Marina to Tsi-
437.20 tsikar—flirting there with the Bishop of Belokonsk—she will ar-
rive in the late afternoon, wearing, no doubt, pleureuses, very
becoming, and we shall then travel à trois to Ladore, because I
don’t think—”
Was he perhaps under the influence of some bright Chilean
437.25 drug? That torrent was simply unstoppable, a crazy spectrum,
a talking palette—
“—no really, I don’t think we should bother Ada in her
Agavia. He is—I mean, Vinelander is—the scion, s,c,i,o,n, of
one of those great Varangians who had conquered the Copper
437.30 Tartars or Red Mongols—or whoever they were—who had
conquered some earlier Bronze Riders—before we introduced
our Russian roulette and Irish loo at a lucky moment in the
history of Western casinos.”
“I am extremely, I am hideously sorry,” said Van, “what with

[ 437 ]

Uncle Dan’s death and your state of excitement, sir, but my
girl friend’s coffee is getting cold, and I can’t very well stumble
into our bedroom with all that infernal paraphernalia.”
“I’m leaving, I’m leaving. After all we haven’t seen each other
438.05 —since when, August? At any rate, I hope she’s prettier than
the Cordula you had here before, volatile boy!”
Volatina, perhaps? Or dragonara? He definitely smelled of
ether. Please, please, please go.
“My gloves! Cloak! Thank you. Can I use your W.C.? No?
438.10 All right. I’ll find one elsewhere. Come over as soon as you can,
and we’ll meet Marina at the airport around four and then
whizz to the wake, and—”
And here Ada entered. Not naked—oh no; in a pink peignoir
so as not to shock Valerio—comfortably combing her hair,
438.15 sweet and sleepy. She made the mistake of crying out “Bozhe
moy!” and darting back into the dusk of the bedroom. All was
lost in that one chink of a second.
“Or better—come at once, both of you, because I’ll cancel
my appointment and go home right now.” He spoke, or
438.20 thought he spoke, with the self-control and the clarity of enun-
ciation which so frightened and mesmerized blunderers, bluster-
ers, a voluble broker, a guilty schoolboy. Especially so now—
when everything had gone to the hell curs, k chertyam so-
bach’im, of Jeroen Anthniszoon van Äken and the molti aspetti
438.25 affascinati of his enigmatica arte, as Dan explained with a last
sigh to Dr. Nikulin and to nurse Bellabestia (“Bess”) to whom
he bequeathed a trunkful of museum catalogues and his second-
best catheter.

[ 438 ]

(back to Part Two, Chapter 9)
(forward to Part Two, Chapter 11)

(This page is part of ADAonline, which depends on frames for navigation. If you have been referred to this page without the surrounding frameset, follow this link.)