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

Ada’s letters breathed, writhed, lived; Van’s Letters from Terra,
"a philosophical novel," showed no sign of life whatsoever.
(I disagree, it’s a nice, nice little book! Ada’s note.)
He had written it involuntarily, so to speak, not caring a dry
338.05 fig for literary fame. Neither did pseudonymity tickle him in
reverse—as it did when he danced on his hands. Though "Van
Veen’s vanity" often cropped up in the drawing-room prattle
among fan-wafting ladies, this time his long blue pride feathers
remained folded. What, then, moved him to contrive a romance
338.10 around a subject that had been worried to extinction in all kinds
of "Star Rats," and "Space Aces"? We—whoever "we" are—
might define the compulsion as a pleasurable urge to express
through verbal imagery a compendium of certain inexplicably
correlated vagaries observed by him in mental patients, on and
338.15 off, since his first year at Chose. Van had a passion for the
insane as some have for arachnids or orchids.
There were good reasons to disregard the technological de-
tails involved in delineating intercommunication between Terra
the Fair and our terrible Antiterra. His knowledge of physics,
338.20 mechanicalism and that sort of stuff had remained limited to

[ 338 ]

the scratch of a prep-school blackboard. He consoled himself
with the thought that no censor in America or Great Britain
would pass the slightest reference to "magnetic" gewgaws.
Quietly, he borrowed what his greatest forerunners (Counter-
339.05 stone, for example) had imagined in the way of a manned
capsule’s propulsion, including the clever idea of an initial speed
of a few thousand miles per hour increasing, under the influence
of a Counterstonian type of intermediate environment between
sibling galaxies, to several trillions of light-years per second,
339.10 before dwindling harmlessly to a parachute’s indolent descent.
Elaborating anew, in irrational fabrications, all that Cyraniana
and "physics fiction" would have been not only a bore but an
absurdity, for nobody knew how far Terra, or other innumer-
able planets with cottages and cows, might be situated in outer
339.15 or inner space: "inner," because why not assume their micro-
cosmic presence in the golden globules ascending quick-quick
in this flute of Moët or in the corpuscles of my, Van Veen’s—
(or my, Ada Veen’s)
—bloodstream, or in the pus of a Mr. Nekto’s ripe boil newly
339.20 lanced in Nektor or Neckton. Moreover, although reference
works existed on library shelves in available, and redundant,
profusion, no direct access could be obtained to the banned, or
burned, books of the three cosmologists, Xertigny, Yates and
Zotov (pen names), who had recklessly started the whole busi-
339.25 ness half a century earlier, causing, and endorsing, panic, de-
mency and execrable romanchiks. All three scientists had van-
ished now: X had committed suicide; Y had been kidnapped by
a laundryman and transported to Tartary; and Z, a ruddy,
white-whiskered old sport, was driving his Yakima jailers crazy
339.30 by means of incomprehensible crepitations, ceaseless invention
of invisible inks, chameleonizations, nerve signals, spirals of out-
going light and feats of ventriloquism that imitated pistol shots
and sirens.
Poor Van! In his struggle to keep the writer of the letters

[ 339 ]

from Terra strictly separate from the image of Ada, he gilt and
carmined Theresa until she became a paragon of banality. This
Theresa maddened with her messages a scientist on our easily
maddened planet; his anagram-looking name, Sig Leymanksi,
340.05 had been partly derived by Van from that of Aqua’s last doc-
tor. When Leymanski’s obsession turned into love, and one’s
sympathy got focused on his enchanting, melancholy, betrayed
wife (née Antilia Glems), our author found himself confronted
with the distressful task of now stamping out in Antilia, a born
340.10 brunette, all traces of Ada, thus reducing yet another character
to a dummy with bleached hair.
After beaming to Sig a dozen communications from her
planet, Theresa flies over to him, and he, in his laboratory, has
to place her on a slide under a powerful microscope in order
340.15 to make out the tiny, though otherwise perfect, shape of his
minikin sweetheart, a graceful microorganism extending trans-
parent appendages toward his huge humid eye. Alas, the testi-
bulus (test tube—never to be confused with testiculus, orchid),
with Theresa swimming inside like a micromermaid, is "acci-
340.20 dentally" thrown away by Professor Leyman’s (he had trimmed
his name by that time) assistant, Flora, initially an ivory-pale,
dark-haired funest beauty, whom the author transformed just
in time into a third bromidic dummy with a dun bun.
(Antilia later regained her husband, and Flora was weeded
340.25 out. Ada’s addendum.)
On Terra, Theresa had been a Roving Reporter for an Amer-
ican magazine, thus giving Van the opportunity to describe the
sibling planet’s political aspect. This aspect gave him the least
trouble, presenting as it did a mosaic of painstakingly collated
340.30 notes from his own reports on the "transcendental delirium" of
his patients. Its acoustics were poor, proper names often came
out garbled, a chaotic calendar messed up the order of events
but, on the whole, the colored dots did form a geomantic pic-
ture of sorts. As earlier experimentators had conjectured, our

[ 340 ]

annals lagged by about half a century behind Terra’s along the
bridges of time, but overtook some of its underwater currents.
At the moment of our sorry story, the king of Terra’s England,
yet another George (there had been, apparently, at least half-a-
341.05 dozen bearing that name before him) ruled, or had just ceased
to rule, over an empire that was somewhat patchier (with alien
blanks and blots between the British Islands and South Africa)
than the solidly conglomerated one on our Antiterra. Western
Europe presented a particularly glaring gap: ever since the
341.10 eighteenth century, when a virtually bloodless revolution had
dethroned the Capetians and repelled all invaders, Terra’s France
flourished under a couple of emperors and a series of bourgeois
presidents, of whom the present one, Doumercy, seemed con-
siderably more lovable than Milord Goal, Governor of Lute!
341.15 Eastward, instead of Khan Sosso and his ruthless Sovietnamur
Khanate, a super Russia, dominating the Volga region and
similar watersheds, was governed by a Sovereign Society of
Solicitous Republics (or so it came through) which had super-
seded the Tsars, conquerors of Tartary and Trst. Last but not
341.20 least, Athaulf the Future, a fair-haired giant in a natty uniform,
the secret flame of many a British nobleman, honorary captain
of the French police, and benevolent ally of Rus and Rome,
was said to be in the act of transforming a gingerbread Germany
into a great country of speedways, immaculate soldiers, brass
341.25 bands and modernized barracks for misfits and their young.
No doubt much of that information, gleaned by our terrapists
(as Van’s colleagues were dubbed), came in a botched form;
but the strain of sweet happiness could be always distinguished
as an all-pervading note. Now the purpose of the novel was to
341.30 suggest that Terra cheated, that all was not paradise there, that
perhaps in some ways human minds and human flesh underwent
on that sibling planet worse torments than on our much maligned
Demonia. In her first letters, before leaving Terra, Theresa had
nothing but praise for its rulers—especially Russian and German

[ 341 ]

rulers. In her later messages from space she confessed that she
had exaggerated the bliss; had been, in fact, the instrument of
"cosmic propaganda"—a brave thing to admit, as agents on
Terra might have yanked her back or destroyed her in flight
342.05 had they managed to intercept her undissembling ondulas, now
mostly going one way, our way, don’t ask Van by what method
or principle. Unfortunately, not only mechanicalism, but also
moralism, could hardly be said to constitute something in which
he excelled, and what we have rendered here in a few leisurely
342.10 phrases took him two hundred pages to develop and adorn.
We must remember that he was only twenty; that his young
proud soul was in a state of grievous disarray; that he had read
too much and invented too little; and that the brilliant mirages
which had risen before him when he felt the first pangs of book-
342.15 birth on Cordula’s terrace were now fading under the action of
prudence, as did those wonders which medieval explorers back
from Cathay were afraid to reveal to the Venetian priest or the
Flemish philistine.
He devoted a couple of months at Chose to copying in a
342.20 clean hand his scarecrow scribblings and then heavily recorrect-
ing the result, so that his final copy looked like a first draft
when he took it to an obscure agency in Bedford to have it
secretly typed in triplicate. This he disfigured again during his
voyage back to America on board the Queen Guinevere. And
342.25 in Manhattan the galleys had to be reset twice, owing not only
to the number of new alterations but also to the eccentricity of
Van’s proofreading marks.
Letters from Terra, by Voltemand, came out in 1891 on
Van’s twenty-first birthday, under the imprint of two bogus
342.30 houses, "Abencerage" in Manhattan, and "Zegris" in London.
(Had I happened to see a copy I would have recognized
Chateaubriand’s lapochka and hence your little paw, at once.)
His new lawyer, Mr. Gromwell, whose really beautiful floral
name suited somehow his innocent eyes and fair beard, was a

[ 342 ]

nephew of the great Grombchevski, who for the last thirty
years or so had managed some of Demon’s affairs with good
care and acumen. Gromwell nursed Van’s personal fortune no
less tenderly; but he had little experience in the intricacies of
343.05 book-publishing matters, and Van was an absolute ignoramus
there, not knowing, for example, that "review copies" were
supposed to go to the editors of various periodicals or that
advertisements should be purchased and not be expected to
appear by spontaneous generation in full-page adulthood be-
343.10 tween similar blurbs boosting The Possessed by Miss Love and
The Puffer by Mr. Dukes.
For a fat little fee, Gwen, one of Mr. Gromwell’s employees,
was delegated not only to entertain Van, but also to supply
Manhattan bookstores with one-half of the printed copies,
343.15 whilst an old lover of hers in England was engaged to place the
rest in the bookshops of London. The notion that anybody
kind enough to sell his book should not keep the ten dollars or
so that every copy had cost to manufacture seemed unfair and
illogical to Van. Therefore he felt sorry for all the trouble that
343.20 underpaid, tired, bare-armed, brunette-pale shopgirls had no
doubt taken in trying to tempt dour homosexuals with his stuff
("Here’s a rather fancy novel about a girl called Terra"), when
he learned from a careful study of a statement of sales, which
his stooges sent him in February, 1892, that in twelve months
343.25 only six copies had been sold—two in England and four in
America. Statistically speaking, no reviews could have been
expected, given the unorthodox circumstances in which poor
Terra’s correspondence had been handled. Curiously enough,
as many as two did appear. One, by the First Clown in Elsinore,
343.30 a distinguished London weekly, popped up in a survey en-
titled, with a British journalist’s fondness for this kind of phoney
wordplay, "Terre à terre, 1891," and dealt with the year’s
"Space Romances," which by that time had begun to fine off.
He sniffed Voltemand’s contribution as the choicest of the lot,

[ 343 ]

calling it (alas, with unerring flair) "a sumptuously fripped up,
trite, tedious and obscure fable, with a few absolutely marvelous
metaphors marring the otherwise total ineptitude of the tale."
The only other compliment was paid to poor Voltemand in
344.05 a little Manhattan magazine (The Village Eyebrow) by the
poet Max Mispel (another botanical name—"medlar" in En-
glish), member of the German Department at Goluba Uni-
versity. Herr Mispel, who liked to air his authors, discerned in
Letters from Terra the influence of Osberg (Spanish writer of
344.10 pretentious fairy tales and mystico-allegoric anecdotes, highly
esteemed by short-shift thesialists) as well as that of an obscene
ancient Arab, expounder of anagrammatic dreams, Ben Sirine,
thus transliterated by Captain de Roux, according to Burton
in his adaptation of Nefzawi’s treatise on the best method of
344.15 mating with obese or hunchbacked females (The Perfumed
Garden, Panther edition, p. 187, a copy given to ninety-three-
year-old Baron Van Veen by his ribald physician Professor
Lagosse). His critique ended as follows: "If Mr. Voltemand (or
Voltimand or Mandalatov) is a psychiatrist, as I think he might
344.20 be, then I pity his patients, while admiring his talent."
Upon being cornered, Gwen, a fat little fille de joie (by in-
clination if not by profession), squealed on one of her new
admirers, confessing she had begged him to write that article
because she could not bear to see Van’s "crooked little smile"
344.25 at finding his beautifully bound and boxed book so badly ne-
glected. She also swore that Max not only did not know who
Voltemand really was, but had not read Van’s novel. Van toyed
with the idea of challenging Mr. Medlar (who, he hoped, would
choose swords) to a duel at dawn in a secluded corner of the
344.30 Park whose central green he could see from the penthouse
terrace where he fenced with a French coach twice a week, the
only exercise, save riding, that he still indulged in; but to his
surprise—and relief (for he was a little ashamed to defend his
"novelette" and only wished to forget it, just as another, unre-

[ 344 ]

lated, Veen might have denounced—if allowed a longer life—
his pubescent dream of ideal bordels) Max Mushmula (Russian
for "medlar") answered Van’s tentative cartel with the warm-
hearted promise of sending him his next article, "The Weed
345.05 Exiles the Flower" (Melville & Marvell).
A sense of otiose emptiness was all Van derived from those
contacts with Literature. Even while writing his book, he had
become painfully aware how little he knew his own planet while
attempting to piece together another one from jagged bits
345.10 filched from deranged brains. He decided that after completing
his medical studies at Kingston (which he found more congenial
than good old Chose) he would undertake long travels in South
America, Africa, India. As a boy of fifteen (Eric Veen’s age
of florescence) he had studied with a poet’s passion the time-
345.15 tables of three great American transcontinental trains that one
day he would take—not alone (now alone). From Manhattan,
via Mephisto, El Paso, Meksikansk and the Panama Chunnel,
the dark-red New World Express reached Brazilia and Witch
(or Viedma, founded by a Russian admiral). There it split into
345.20 two parts, the eastern one continuing to Grant’s Horn, and
the western returning north through Valparaiso and Bogota.
On alternate days the fabulous journey began in Yukonsk, a
two-way section going to the Atlantic seaboard, while another,
via California and Central America, roared into Uruguay. The
345.25 dark-blue African Express began in London and reached the
Cape by three different routes, through Nigero, Rodosia or
Ephiopia. Finally, the brown Orient Express joined London
to Ceylon and Sydney, via Turkey and several Chunnels. It is
not clear, when you are falling asleep, why all continents except
345.30 you begin with an A.
Those three admirable trains included at least two carriages
in which a fastidious traveler could rent a bedroom with bath and
water closet, and a drawing room with a piano or a harp. The
length of the journey varied according to Van’s predormient

[ 345 ]

mood, when at Eric’s age he imagined the landscapes unfolding
all along his comfortable, too comfortable, fauteuil. Through
rain forests and mountain canyons and other fascinating places
(oh, name them! Can’t—falling asleep), the room moved as
346.05 slowly as fifteen miles per hour but across desertorum or
agricultural drearies it attained seventy, ninety-seven, night-
nine, one hund, red dog—

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