Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 2, Chapter 11 (annotations forthcoming)

The dragon drug had worn off: its aftereffects are not pleasant,
combining as they do physical fatigue with a certain starkness
of thought as if all color were drained from the mind. Now
clad in a gray dressing gown, Demon lay on a gray couch in
439.05 his third-floor study. His son stood at the window with his
back to the silence. In a damask-padded room on the second
floor, immediately below the study, waited Ada, who had ar-
rived with Van a couple of minutes ago. In the skyscraper
across the lane a window was open exactly opposite the study
439.10 and an aproned man stood there setting up an easel and cock-
ing his head in search of the right angle.
The first thing Demon said was:
“I insist that you face me when I’m speaking to you.”
Van realized that the fateful conversation must have already
439.15 started in his father’s brain, for the admonishment had the ring
of a self-interruption, and with a slight bow he took a seat.
“However, before I advise you of those two facts, I would
like to know how long this—how long this has been...”
(“going on,” one presumes, or something equally banal, but then
439.20 all ends are banal—hangings, the Nuremberg Old Maid’s iron

[ 439 ]

sting, shooting oneself, last words in the brand-new Ladore
hospital, mistaking a drop of thirty thousand feet for the air-
plane’s washroom, being poisoned by one’s wife, expecting a
bit of Crimean hospitality, congratulating Mr. and Mrs. Vine-
440.05 lander—)
“It will be nine years soon,” replied Van. “I seduced her in
the summer of eighteen eighty-four. Except for a single occa-
sion, we did not make love again until the summer of eighteen
eighty-eight. After a long separation we spent one winter to-
440.10 gether. All in all, I suppose I have had her about a thousand
times. She is my whole life.”
A longish pause not unlike a fellow actor’s dry-up, came in
response to his well-rehearsed speech.
Finally, Demon: “The second fact may horrify you even
440.15 more than the first. I know it caused me much deeper worry—
moral of course, not monetary—than Ada’s case—of which
eventually her mother informed Cousin Dan, so that, in a
Pause, with an underground trickle.
440.20 “Some other time I’ll tell you about the Black Miller; not
now; too trivial.”
Dr. Lapiner’s wife, born Countess Alp, not only left him,
in 1871, to live with Norbert von Miller, amateur poet, Rus-
sian translator at the Italian Consulate in Geneva, and profes-
440.25 sional smuggler of neonegrine—found only in the Valais—but
had imparted to her lover the melodramatic details of the
subterfuge which the kindhearted physician had considered
would prove a boon to one lady and a blessing to the other.
Versatile Norbert spoke English with an extravagant accent,
440.30 hugely admired wealthy people and, when name-dropping,
always qualified such a person as “enawmously rich” with awed
amorous gusto, throwing himself back in his chair and spreading
tensely curved arms to enfold an invisible fortune. He had a
round head as bare as a knee, a corpse’s button nose, and very

[ 440 ]

white, very limp, very damp hands adorned with rutilant gems.
His mistress soon left him. Dr. Lapiner died in 1872. About the
same time, the Baron married an innkeeper’s innocent daughter
and began to blackmail Demon Veen; this went on for almost
441.05 twenty years, when aging Miller was shot dead by an Italian
policeman on a little-known border trail, which had seemed to
get steeper and muddier every year. Out of sheer kindness, or
habit, Demon bade his lawyer continue to send Miller’s widow
—who mistook it naively for insurance money—the trimestrial
441.10 sum which had been swelling with each pregnancy of the
robust Swissess. Demon used to say that he would publish one
day “Black Miller’s” quatrains which adorned his letters with
the jingle of verselets on calendarial leaves:

My spouse is thicker, I am leaner.
441.15 Again it comes, a new bambino.
You must be good like I am good.
Her stove is big and wants more wood.

We may add, to complete this useful parenthesis, that in early
February, 1893, not long after the poet’s death, two other less
441.20 successful blackmailers were waiting in the wings: Kim who
would have bothered Ada again had he not been carried out of
his cottage with one eye hanging on a red thread and the other
drowned in its blood; and the son of one of the former em-
ployees of the famous clandestine-message agency after it had
441.25 been closed by the U.S. Government in 1928, when the past
had ceased to matter, and nothing but the straw of a prison-
cell could reward the optimism of second-generation rogues.)
The most protracted of the several pauses having run its dark
course, Demon’s voice emerged to say, with a vigor that it had
441.30 lacked before:
“Van, you receive the news I impart with incomprehensible
calmness. I do not recall any instance, in factual or fictional life,
of a father’s having to tell his son that particular kind of thing

[ 441 ]

in these particular circumstances. But you play with a pencil
and seem as unruffled as if we were discussing your gaming
debts or the demands of a wench knocked up in a ditch.”
Tell him about the herbarium in the attic? About the in-
442.05 discretions of (anonymous) servants? About a forged wedding
date? About everything that two bright children had so gaily
gleaned? I will. He did.
“She was twelve,” Van added, “and I was a male primatal
of fourteen and a half, and we just did not care. And it’s too
442.10 late to care now.”
“Too late?” shouted his father, sitting up on his couch.
“Please, Dad, do not lose your temper,” said Van. “Nature,
as I informed you once, has been kind to me. We can afford to
be careless in every sense of the word.”
442.15 “I’m not concerned with semantics—or semination. One
thing, and only one, matters. It is not too late to stop that
ignoble affair—”
“No shouting and no philistine epithets,” interrupted Van.
“All right,” said Demon. “I take back the adjective, and I
442.20 ask you instead: Is it too late to prevent your affair with your
sister from wrecking her life?”
Van knew this was coming. He knew, he said, this was com-
ing. “Ignoble” had been taken care of; would his accuser define
442.25 The conversation now took a neutral turn that was far more
terrible than its introductory admission of faults for which our
young lovers had long pardoned their parents. How did Van
imagine his sister’s pursuing a scenic career? Would he admit it
would be wrecked if they persisted in their relationship? Did
442.30 he envisage a life of concealment in luxurious exile? Was he
ready to deprive her of normal interests and a normal marriage?
Children? Normal amusements?
“Don’t forget ‘normal adultery,’” remarked Van.
“How much better that would be!” said grim Demon, sitting

[ 442 ]

on the edge of the couch with both elbows propped on his
knees, and nursing his head in his hands: “The awfulness of the
situation is an abyss that grows deeper the more I think of it.
You force me to bring up the tritest terms such as ‘family,’
443.05 ‘honor,’ ‘set,’ ‘law.’...All right, I have bribed many officials
in my wild life but neither you nor I can bribe a whole culture,
a whole country. And the emotional impact of learning that for
almost ten years you and that charming child have been de-
ceiving their parents—”
443.10 Here Van expected his father to take the “it-would-kill-your-
mother” line, but Demon was wise enough to keep clear of it.
Nothing could “kill” Marina. If any rumors of incest did come
her way, concern with her “inner peace” would help her to
ignore them—or at least romanticize them out of reality’s reach.
443.15 Both men knew all that. Her image appeared for a moment
and accomplished a facile fade-out.
Demon spoke on: “I cannot disinherit you: Aqua left you
enough ‘ridge’ and real estate to annul the conventional punish-
ment. And I cannot denounce you to the authorities without
443.20 involving my daughter, whom I mean to protect at all cost.
But I can do the next proper thing, I can curse you, I can make
this our last, our last—”
Van, whose finger had been gliding endlessly to and fro along
the mute but soothingly smooth edge of the mahogany desk,
443.25 now heard with horror the sob that shook Demon’s entire
frame, and then saw a deluge of tears flowing down those
hollow tanned cheeks. In an amateur parody, at Van’s birthday
party fifteen years ago, his father had made himself up as
Boris Godunov and shed strange, frightening, jet-black tears be-
443.30 fore rolling down the steps of a burlesque throne in death’s total
surrender to gravity. Did those dark streaks, in the present show,
come from his blackening his orbits, eyelashes, eyelids, eye-
brows? The funest gamester... the pale fatal girl, in another
well-known melodrama.... In this one. Van gave him a clean

[ 443 ]

handkerchief to replace the soiled rag. His own marble calm
did not surprise Van. The ridicule of a good cry with Father
adequately clogged the usual ducts of emotion.
Demon regained his composure (if not his young looks) and
444.05 said:
“I believe in you and your common sense. You must not
allow an old debaucher to disown an only son. If you love her,
you wish her to be happy, and she will not be as happy as she
could be once you gave her up. You may go. Tell her to come
444.10 here on your way down.”
Down. My first is a vehicle that twists dead daisies around its
spokes; my second is Oldmanhattan slang for “money”; and
my whole makes a hole.
As he traversed the second-floor landing, he saw, through the
444.15 archway of two rooms, Ada in her black dress standing, with
her back to him, at the oval window in the boudoir. He told a
footman to convey her father’s message to her and passed al-
most at a run through the familiar echoes of the stone-flagged
444.20 My second is also the meeting place of two steep slopes.
Right-hand lower drawer of my practically unused new desk—
which is quite as big as Dad’s, with Sig’s compliments.
He judged it would take him as much time to find a taxi at
this hour of the day as to walk, with his ordinary swift swing,
444.25 the ten blocks to Alex Avenue. He was coatless, tieless, hatless;
a strong sharp wind dimmed his sight with salty frost and
played Medusaean havoc with his black locks. Upon letting
himself in for the last time into his idiotically cheerful apart-
ment, he forthwith sat down at that really magnificent desk
444.30 and wrote the following note:
Do what he tells you. His logic sounds preposterous,
prepsupposing [sic] a vague kind of “Victorian” era, as
they have on Terra according to “my mad” [?], but in a

[ 444 ]

paroxysm of [illegible] I suddenly realized he was right.
Yes, right, here and there, not neither here, nor there,
as most things are. You see, girl, how it is and must be. In
the last window we shared we both saw a man painting
445.05 [us?] but your second-floor level of vision probably
prevented your seeing that he wore what looked like a
butcher’s apron, badly smeared. Good-bye, girl.
Van sealed the letter, found his Thunderbolt pistol in the
place he had visualized, introduced one cartridge into the maga-
445.10 zine and translated it into its chamber. Then, standing before
a closet mirror, he put the automatic to his head, at the point
of the pterion, and pressed the comfortably concaved trigger.
Nothing happened—or perhaps everything happened, and his
destiny simply forked at that instant, as it probably does some-
445.15 times at night, especially in a strange bed, at stages of great
happiness or great desolation, when we happen to die in our
sleep, but continue our normal existence, with no perceptible
break in the faked serialization, on the following, neatly pre-
pared morning, with a spurious past discreetly but firmly at-
445.20 tached behind. Anyway, what he held in his right hand was no
longer a pistol but a pocket comb which he passed through his
hair at the temples. It was to gray by the time that Ada, then in
her thirties, said, when they spoke of their voluntary separation:
“I would have killed myself too, had I found Rose wailing
445.25 over your corpse. ‘Secondes pensées sont les bonnes,’ as your
other, white, bonne used to say in her pretty patois. As to the
apron, you are quite right. And what you did not make out was
that the artist had about finished a large picture of your meek
little palazzo standing between its two giant guards. Perhaps for
445.30 the cover of a magazine, which rejected that picture. But, you
know, there’s one thing I regret,” she added: “Your use of an
alpenstock to release a brute’s fury—not yours, not my Van’s.
I should never have told you about the Ladore policeman. You

[ 445 ]

should never have taken him into your confidence, never con-
nived with him to burn those files—and most of Kalugano’s
pine forest. Eto unizitel’no (it is humiliating).”
“Amends have been made,” replied fat Van with a fat man’s
446.05 chuckle. “I’m keeping Kim safe and snug in a nice Home for
Disabled Professional People, where he gets from me loads of
nicely brailled books on new processes in chromophotography.”
There are other possible forkings and continuations that occur
to the dream-mind, but these will do.

[ 446 ]

(back to Part Two, Chapter 10)
(forward to Part Three, Chapter 1)

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