Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 2, Chapter 3 (view annotations)

In the spring of 1869, David van Veen, a wealthy architect of
Flemish extraction (in no way related to the Veens of our
rambling romance), escaped uninjured when the motorcar he
was driving from Cannes to Calais blew a front tire on a frost-
347.05 glazed road and tore into a parked furniture van; his daughter
sitting beside him was instantly killed by a suitcase sailing into
her from behind and breaking her neck. In his London studio
her husband, an unbalanced, unsuccessful painter (ten years
older than his father-in-law whom he envied and despised)
347.10 shot himself upon receiving the news by cablegram from a
village in Normandy called, dreadfully, Deuil.
The momentum of disaster lost none of its speed, for neither
did Eric, a boy of fifteen, despite all the care and adoration
which his grandfather surrounded him with, escape a freakish
347.15 fate: a fate strangely similar to his mother's.
After being removed from Note to a small private school in
Vaud Canton and then spending a consumptive summer in the
Maritime Alps, he was sent to Ex-en-Valais, whose crystal air
was supposed at the time to strengthen young lungs; instead of
347.20 which its worst hurricane hurled a roof tile at him, fatally

[ 347 ]

fracturing his skull. Among the boy's belongings David van
Veen found a number of poems and the draft of an essay en-
titled "Villa Venus: an Organized Dream."
To put it bluntly, the boy had sought to solace his first
348.05 sexual torments by imagining and detailing a project (derived
from reading too many erotic works found in a furnished house
his grandfather had bought near Vence from Count Tolstoy, a
Russian or Pole): namely, a chain of palatial brothels that his
inheritance would allow him to establish all over "both hemi-
348.10 spheres of our callipygian globe." The little chap saw it as a
kind of fashionable club, with branches, or, in his poetical
phrase, "Floramors," in the vicinity of cities and spas. Mem-
bership was to be restricted to noblemen, "handsome and
healthy," with an age limit of fifty (which must be praised as
348.15 very broadminded on the poor kid's part), paying a yearly fee
of 3650 guineas not counting the cost of bouquets, jewels and
other gallant donations. Resident female physicians, good-look-
ing and young ("of the American secretarial or dentist-assistant
type"), would be there to check the intimate physical condi-
348.20 tion of "the caresser and the caressed" (another felicitous for-
mula) as well as their own if "the need arose," One clause in the
Rules of the Club seemed to indicate that Eric, though fren-
ziedly heterosexual, had enjoyed some tender ersatz fumblings
with schoolmates at Note (a notorious preparatory school in
348.25 that respect): at least two of the maximum number of fifty in-
mates in the major floramors might be pretty boys, wearing
frontlets and short smocks, not older than fourteen if fair, and
not more than twelve if dark. However, in order to exclude a
regular flow of "inveterate pederasts," boy love could be dabbled
348.30 in by the jaded guest only between two sequences of three
girls each, all possessed in the course of the same week—a some-
what comical, but not unshrewd, stipulation.
The candidates for every floramor were to be selected by a
Committee of Club Members who would take into consideration

[ 348 ]

the annual accumulation of impressions and desiderata, jotted
down by the guests in a special Shell Pink Book. "Beauty and
tenderness, grace and docility" composed the main qualities
required of the girls, aged from fifteen to twenty-five in the
349.05 case of "slender Nordic dolls," and from ten to twenty in that
of "opulent Southern charmers." They would gambol and loll
in "boudoirs and conservatories," invariably naked and ready
for love; not so their attendants, attractively dressed handmaids
of more or less exotic extraction, "unavailable to the fancy of
349.10 members except by special permission from the Board." My
favorite clause (for I own a photostat of that poor boy's calli-
graph) is that any girl in her floramor could be Lady-in-Chief
by acclamation during her menstrual period. (This of course did
not work, and the committee compromised by having a good-
349.15 looking female homosexual head the staff and adding a bouncer
whom Eric had overlooked.)
Eccentricity is the greatest grief's greatest remedy. The boy's
grandfather set at once to render in brick and stone, concrete
and marble, flesh and fun, Eric's fantasy. He resolved to be the
349.20 first sampler of the first houri he would hire for his last house,
and to live until then in laborious abstinence.
It must have been a moving and magnificent sight—that of
the old but still vigorous Dutchman with his rugged reptilian
face and white hair, designing with the assistance of Leftist
349.25 decorators the thousand and one memorial floramors he resolved
to erect all over the world—perhaps even in brutal Tartary,
which he thought was ruled by "Americanized Jews," but then
"Art redeemed Politics"—profoundly original concepts that we
must condone in a lovable old crank. He began with rural
349.30 England and coastal America, and was engaged in a Robert
Adam-like composition (cruelly referred to by local wags as
the Madam-I'm-Adam House), not far from Newport, Rodos
Island, in a somewhat senile style, with marble columns dredged
from classical seas and still encrusted with Etruscan oyster shells

[ 349 ]

—when he died from a stroke while helping to prop up a
propylon. It was only his hundredth house!
His nephew and heir, an honest but astoundingly stuffy
clothier in Ruinen (somewhere near Zwolle, I'm told), with a
350.05 a large family and a small trade, was not cheated out of the
millions of guldens, about the apparent squandering of which
he had been consulting mental specialists during the last ten
years or so. All the hundred floramors opened simultaneously on
September 20, 1875 (and by a delicious coincidence the old
350.10 Russian word for September, "ryuen'," which might have
spelled "ruin," also echoed the name of the ecstatic Never-
lander's hometown). By the beginning of the new century the
Venus revenues were pouring in (their final gush, it is true).
A tattling tabloid reported, around 1890, that out of gratitude
350.15 and curiosity "Velvet" Veen traveled once—and only once—to
the nearest floramor with his entire family—and it is also said
that Guillaume de Monparnasse indignantly rejected an offer
from Hollywood to base a screenplay on that dignified and
hilarious excursion. Mere rumours, no doubt.
350.20 Eric's grandfather's range was widefrom dodo to dada, from
Low Gothic to Hoch Modern. In his parodies of paradise he even
permitted himself, just a few times, to express the rectilinear
chaos of Cubism (with "abstract" cast in "concrete") by
imitating—in the sense described so well in Vulner's paper-
350.25 back History of English Architecture given me by good Dr.
Lagossesuch ultra-utilitarian boxes of brick as the maisons
closes of El Freud in Lubetkin, Austria, or the great-necessity
houses of Dudok in Friesland.
But on the whole it was the idyllic and the romantic that he
350.30 favored. English gentlemen of parts found many pleasures in
Letchworth Lodge, an honest country house plastered up to its
bulleyes, or Itchenor Chat with its battered chimney breasts and
hipped gables. None could help admiring David van Veen's
knack of making his brand-new Regency mansion look like a

[ 350 ]

renovated farmhouse or of producing a converted convent on a
small offshore island with such miraculous effect that one could
not distinguish the arabesque from the arbutus, ardor from art,
the sore from the rose. We shall always remember Little
351.05 Lemantry near Rantchester or the Pseudotherm in the lovely
cul-de-sac south of the viaduct of fabulous Palermontovia. We
appreciated greatly his blending local banality (that château
girdled with chestnuts, that castello guarded by cypresses) with
interior ornaments that pandered to all the orgies reflected in
351.10 the ceiling mirrors of little Eric's erogenetics. Most effective,
in a functional sense, was the protection the architect distilled,
as it were, from the ambitus of his houses. Whether nestling in
woodland dells or surrounded by a many-acred park, or over-
looking terraced groves and gardens, access to Venus began by
351.15 a private road and continued through a labyrinth of hedges and
walls with inconspicuous doors to which only the guests and
the guards had keys. Cunningly distributed spotlights followed
the wandering of the masked and caped grandees through dark
mazes of coppices; for one of the stipulations imagined by Eric
351.20 was that "every establishment should open only at nightfall and
close at sunrise." A system of bells that Eric may have thought
up all by himself (it was really as old as the bautta and the
vyshibala) prevented visitors from running into each other on
the premises, so that no matter how many noblemen were wait-
351.25 ing or wenching in any part of the floramor, each felt he was
the only cock in the coop, because the bouncer, a silent and
courteous person resembling a Manhattan shopwalker, did not
count, of course: you sometimes saw him when a hitch occurred
in connection with your credentials or credit but he was seldom
351.30 obliged to apply vulgar force or call in an assistant.
According to Eric's plan, Councils of Elderly Noblemen
were responsible for mustering the girls. Delicately fashioned
phalanges, good teeth, a flawless epiderm, undyed hair, impec-
cable buttocks and breasts, and the unfeigned vim of avid venery

[ 351 ]

were the absolute prerequisites demanded by the Elders as they
had been by Eric. Intactas were tolerated only if very young.
On the other hand, no woman who had ever borne a child (even
in her own childhood) could be accepted, no matter how free
352.05 she was of mammilary blemishes.
Their social rank had been left unspecified but the Committees
were inclined, initially and theoretically, to recruit girls of
more or less gentle birth. Daughters of artists were preferred,
on the whole, to those of artisans. Quite an unexpected number
352.10 turned out to be the children of peeved peers in cold castles
or of ruined baronesses in shabby hotels. In a list of about two
thousand females working in all the floramors on January 1,
1890 (the greatest year in the annals of Villa Venus), I counted
as many as twenty-two directly connected with the royal
352.15 families of Europe, but at least one-quarter of all the girls be-
longed to plebeian groups. Owing to some nice vstryaska (shake-
up) in the genetic kaleidoscope, or mere poker luck, or no
reason at all, the daughters of peasants and peddlers and plumb-
ers were not seldom more stylish than their middle-middle-class
352.20 or upper-upper-class companions, a curious point that will
please my non-gentle readers no less than the fact that the
servant-girls "below" the Oriental Charmers (who assisted in
various rituals of silver basins, embroidered towels and dead-end
smiles the client and his clickies) not seldom descended from
352.25 emblazoned princely heights.
Demon's father (and very soon Demon himself), and Lord
Erminin, and a Mr Ritcov, and Count Peter de Prey, and Mire
de Mire, Esq., and Baron Azzuroscudo were all members of the
first Venus Club Council; but it was bashful, obese, big-nosed
352.30 Mr Ritcov's visits that really thrilled the girls and filled the
vicinity with detectives who dutifully impersonated hedge-
cutters, grooms, horses, tall milkmaids, new statues, old drunks
and so forth, while His Majesty dallied, in a special chair built

[ 352 ]

for his weight and whims, with this or that sweet subject of the
realm, white, black or brown.
Because the particular floramor that I visited for the first time
on becoming a member of the Villa Venus Club (not long be-
353.05 fore my second summer with my Ada in the arbors of Ardis)
is today, after many vicissitudes, the charming country house of
a Chose don whom I respect, and his charming family (charm-
ing wife and a triplet of charming twelve-year-old daughters,
Ala, Lolá and Lalage—especially Lalage), I cannot name it—
353.10 though my dearest reader insists I have mentioned it somewhere
I have frequented bordels since my sixteenth year, but al-
though some of the better ones, especially in France and Ireland,
rated a triple red symbol in Nugg's guidebook, nothing about
353.15 them pre-announced the luxury and mollitude of my first Villa
Venus. It was the difference between a den and an Eden.
Three Egyptian squaws, dutifully keeping in profile (long
ebony eye, lovely snub, braided black mane, honey-hued faro
frock, thin amber arms, Negro bangles, doughnut earring of
353.20 gold bisected by a pleat of the mane, Red Indian hairband, or-
namental bib), lovingly borrowed by Eric Veen from a repro-
duction of a Theban fresco (no doubt pretty banal in 1420 B.C.),
printed in Germany (Künstlerpostkarte Nr. 6034, says cynical
Dr Lagosse), prepared me by means of what parched Eric
353.25 called "exquisite manipulations of certain nerves whose position
and power are known only to a few ancient sexologists," ac-
companied by the no less exquisite application of certain oint-
ments, not too specifically mentioned in the pornolore of Eric's
Orientalia, for receiving a scared little virgin, the descendant of
353.30 an Irish king, as Eric was told in his last dream in Ex, Switzer-
land, by a master of funerary rather than fornicatory ceremonies.
Those preparations proceeded in such sustained, unendurably
delicious rhythms that Eric dying in his sleep and Van throbbing

[ 353 ]

with foul life on a rococo couch (three miles south of Bedford)
could not imagine how those three young ladies, now suddenly
divested of their clothes (a well-known oneirotic device), could
manage to draw out a prelude that kept one so long on the very
354.05 lip of its resolution. I lay supine and felt twice the size I had
ever been (senescent nonsense, says science!) when finally six
gentle hands attempted to ease la gosse, trembling Adada, upon
the terrible tool. Silly pity—a sentiment I rarely experience—
caused my desire to droop, and I had her carried away to a feast
354.10 of peach tarts and cream. The Egypsies looked disconcerted,
but very soon perked up. I summoned all the twenty hirens
of the house (including the sweet-lipped, glossy-chinned dar-
ling) into my resurrected presence. After considerable examina-
tion, after much flattering of haunches and necks, I chose a
354.15 golden Gretchen, a pale Andalusian, and a black belle from
New Orleans. The handmaids pounced upon them like pards
and, having empasmed them with not unlesbian zest, turned the
three rather melancholy graces over to me. The towel given me
to wipe off the sweat that filmed my face and stung my eyes
354.20 could have been cleaner. I raised my voice, I had the reluctant
accursed casement wrenched wide open. A lorry had got stuck
in the mud of a forbidden and unfinished road, and its groans
and exertions dissipated the bizarre gloom. Only one of the
girls stung me right in the soul, but I went through all three
354.25 of them grimly and leisurely, "changing mounts in midstream"
(Eric's advice) before ending every time in the grip of the
ardent Ardillusian, who said as we parted, after one last spasm
(although non-erotic chitchat was against the rules), that her
father had constructed the swimming pool on the estate of
354.30 Demon Veen's cousin.
It was now all over. The lorry had gone or had drowned,
and Eric was a skeleton in the most expensive corner of the Ex
cemetery ("But then, all cemeteries are ex," remarked a jovial

[ 354 ]

'protestant' priest), between an anonymous alpinist and my
stillborn double.
Cherry, the only lad in our next (American) floramor, a
little Salopian of eleven or twelve, looked so amusing with his
355.05 copper curls, dreamy eyes and elfin cheekbones that two ex-
ceptionally sportive courtesans, entertaining Van, prevailed
upon him one night to try the boy. Their joint efforts failed,
however, to arouse the pretty catamite, who had been exhausted
by too many recent engagements. His girlish crupper proved
355.10 sadly defaced by the varicolored imprints of bestial clawings and
flesh-twistings; but worst of all, the little fellow could not
disguise a state of acute indigestion, marked by unappetizing
dysenteric symptoms that coated his lover's shaft with mustard
and blood, the result, no doubt, of eating too many green
355.15 apples. Eventually, he had to be destroyed or given away.
Generally speaking, the adjunction of boys had to be dis-
continued. A famous French floramor was never the same after
the Earl of Langburn discovered his kidnapped son, a green-
eyed frail faunlet, being examined by a veterinary whom the
355.20 Earl shot dead by mistake.
In 1905 a glancing blow was dealt Villa Venus from another
quarter. The personage we have called Ritcov or Vrotic had
been induced by the ailings of age to withdraw his patronage.
However, one night he suddenly arrived, looking again as ruddy
355.25 as the proverbial fiddle; but after the entire staff of his favorite
floramor near Bath had worked in vain on him till an ironic
Hesperus rose in a milkman's humdrum sky, the wretched
sovereign of one-half of the globe called for the Shell Pink
Book, wrote in it a line that Seneca had once composed:

355.30 subsidunt montes et juga celsa ruunt,

—and departed, weeping. About the same time a respectable
Lesbian who conducted a Villa Venus at Souvenir, the beautiful

[ 355 ]

Missouri spa, throttled with her own hands (she had been a
Russian weightlifter) two of her most beautiful and valuable
charges. It was all rather sad.
When the deterioration of the club set in, it proceeded with
356.05 amazing rapidity along several unconnected lines. Girls of
flawless pedigree turned out to be wanted by the police as the
"molls" of bandits with grotesque jaws, or to have been criminals
themselves. Corrupt physicians passed faded blondes who had
had half a dozen children, some of them being already prepared
356.10 to enter remote floramors themselves. Cosmeticians of genius
restored forty-year-old matrons to look and smell like school-
girls at their first prom. Highborn gentlemen, magistrates of
radiant integrity, mild-mannered scholars, proved to be such
violent copulators that some of their younger victims had to
356.15 be hospitalized and removed to ordinary lupanars. The anony-
mous protectors of courtesans bought medical inspectors, and
the Rajah of Cachou (an impostor) was infected with a venereal
disease by a (genuine) great-grandniece of Empress Josephine.
Simultaneously, economic disasters (beyond the financial or
356.20 philosophical ken of invulnerable Van and Demon but affecting
many persons of their set) began to restrict the esthetic assets
of Villa Venus. Disgusting pimps with obsequious grins dis-
closing gaps in their tawny teeth popped out of rosebushes
with illustrated pamphlets, and there were fires and earthquakes,
356.25 and quite suddenly, out of the hundred original palazzos, only
a dozen remained, and even those soon sank to the level of
stagnant stews, and by 1910 all the dead of the English cemetery
at Ex had to be transferred to a common grave.
Van never regretted his last visit to one last Villa Venus. A
356.30 cauliflowered candle was messily burning in its tin cup on the
window ledge next to the guitar-shaped paper-wrapped bunch
of long roses for which nobody had troubled to find, or could
have found, a vase. On a bed, some way off, lay a pregnant
woman, smoking, looking up at the smoke mingling its volutes

[ 356 ]

with the shadows on the ceiling, one knee raised, one hand
dreamily scratching her brown groin. Far beyond her, a door
standing ajar gave on what appeared to be a moonlit gallery
but was really an abandoned, half-demolished, vast reception
357.05 room with a broken outer wall, zigzag fissures in the floor, and
the black ghost of a gaping grand piano, emitting, as if all by
itself, spooky glissando twangs in the middle of the night.
Through a great rip in the marbleized brick and plaster, the
naked sea, not seen but heard as a panting space separated from
357.10 time, dully boomed, dully withdrew its platter of pebbles, and,
with the crumbling sounds, indolent gusts of warm wind reached
the unwalled rooms, disturbing the volutes of shadow above the
woman, and a bit of dirty fluff that had drifted down onto her
pale belly, and even the reflection of the candle in a cracked pane
357.15 of the bluish casement. Beneath it, on a rump-tickling coarse
couch, Van reclined, pouting pensively, pensively caressing the
pretty head on his chest, flooded by the black hair of a much
younger sister or cousin of the wretched florinda on the tumbled
bed. The child's eyes were closed, and whenever he kissed their
357.20 moist convex lids the rhythmic motion of her blind breasts
changed or stopped altogether, and was presently resumed.
He was thirsty, but the champagne he had bought, with the
softly rustling roses, remained sealed and he had not the heart
to remove the silky dear head from his breast so as to begin
357.25 working on the explosive bottle. He had fondled and fouled her
many times in the course of the last ten days, but was not sure
if her name was really Adora, as everybody maintained—she,
and the other girl, and a third one (a maidservant, Princess
Kachurin), who seemed to have been born in the faded bathing
357.30 suit she never changed and would die in, no doubt, before reach-
ing majority or the first really cold winter on the beach mattress
which she was moaning on now in her drugged daze. And if
the child really was called Adora, then what was she?—not
Rumanian, not Dalmatian, not Sicilian, not Irish, though an

[ 357 ]

echo of brogue could be discerned in her broken but not too
foreign English. Was she eleven or fourteen, almost fifteen
perhaps? Was it really her birthday—this twenty-first of July,
nineteen-four or eight or even several years later, on a rocky
358.05 Mediterranean peninsula?
A very distant church clock, never audible except at night,
clanged twice and added a quarter.
"Smorchiama la secandela," mumbled the bawd on the bed
in the local dialect that Van understood better than Italian. The
358.10 child in his arms stirred and he pulled his opera cloak over her.
In the grease-reeking darkness a faint pattern of moonlight es-
tablished itself on the stone floor, near his forever discarded
half-mask lying there and his pump-shod foot. It was not Ardis,
it was not the library, it was not even a human room, but
358.15 merely the squalid recess where the bouncer had slept before
going back to his Rugby-coaching job at a public school some-
where in England. The grand piano in the otherwise bare hall
seemed to be playing all by itself but actually was being rippled
by rats in quest of the succulent refuse placed there by the maid
358.20 who fancied a bit of music when her cancered womb roused
her before dawn with its first familiar stab. The ruinous Villa
no longer bore any resemblance to Eric's "organized dream,"
but the soft little creature in Van's desperate grasp was Ada.

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