Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 2, Chapter 5 (view annotations )

Van spent the fall term of 1892 at Kingston University, Mayne,
where there was a first-rate madhouse, as well as a famous
Department of Terrapy, and where he now went back to one
of his old projects, which turned on the Idea of Dimension &
365.05 Dementia ("You will 'sturb,' Van, with an alliteration on your
lips," jested old Rattner, resident pessimist of genius, for whom
life was only a "disturbance" in the rattnerterological order of
things—from "nertoros," not "terra").
Van Veen [as also, in his small way, the editor of Ada]
365.10 liked to change his abode at the end of a section or chapter or
even paragraph, and he had almost finished a difficult bit deal-
ing with the divorce between time and the contents of time
(such as action on matter, in space, and the nature of space it-
self) and was contemplating moving to Manhattan (that kind
365.15 of switch being a reflection of mental rubrication rather than a
concession to some farcical "influence of environment" endorsed
by Marx père, the popular author of "historical" plays), when
he received an unexpected dorophone call which for a moment
affected violently his entire pulmonary and systemic circulation.
365.20 Nobody, not even his father, knew that Van had recently

[ 365 ]

bought Cordula's penthouse apartment between Manhattan's
Library and Park. Besides its being the perfect place to work
in, with that terrace of scholarly seclusion suspended in a
celestial void, and that noisy but convenient city lapping below
366.05 at the base of his mind's invulnerable rock, it was, in fashionable
parlance, a "bachelor's folly" where he could secretly entertain
any girl or girls he pleased. (One of them dubbed it "your wing
à terre"). But he was still in his rather dingy Chose-like rooms
at Kingston when he consented to Lucette's visiting him on that
366.10 bright November afternoon.
He had not seen her since 1888. In the fall of 1891 she had
sent him from California a rambling, indecent, crazy, almost
savage declaration of love in a ten-page letter, which shall not
be discussed in this memoir [See, however, a little farther. Ed.].
366.15 At present, she was studying the History of Art ("the second-
rater's last refuge," she said) in nearby Queenston College for
Glamorous and Glupovatïh ("dumb") Girls. When she rang
him up and pleaded for an interview (in a new, darker voice,
agonizingly resembling Ada's), she intimated that she was
366.20 bringing him an important message. He suspected it would be
yet another installment of her unrequited passion, but he also
felt that her visit would touch off internal fires.
As he awaited her, walking the whole length of his brown-
carpeted suite and back again, now contemplating the emblazed
366.25 trees, that defied the season, through the northeast casement at
the end of the passage, then returning to the sitting room which
gave on sun-bordered Greencloth Court, he kept fighting Ardis
and its orchards and orchids, bracing himself for the ordeal,
wondering if he should not cancel her visit, or have his man
366.30 convey his apologies for the suddenness of an unavoidable de-
parture, but knowing all the time he would go through with it.
With Lucette herself, he was only obliquely concerned: she in-
habited this or that dapple of drifting sunlight, but could not be

[ 366 ]

wholly dismissed with the rest of sun-flecked Ardis. He re-
called, in passing, the sweetness in his lap, her round little
bottom, her prasine eyes as she turned toward him and the re-
ceding road. Casually he wondered whether she had become fat
367.05 and freckled, or had joined the graceful Zemski group of
nymphs. He had left the parlor door that opened on the landing
slightly ajar, but somehow missed the sound of her high heels
on the stairs (or did not distinguish them from his heartbeats)
while he was in the middle of his twentieth trudge "back to the
367.10 ardors and arbors! Eros qui prend son essor! Arts that our
marblery harbors: Eros, the rose and the sore." I am ill at these
numbers, but e'en rhymery is easier "than confuting the past
in mute prose." Who wrote that? Voltimand or Voltemand?
Or the Burning Swine? A pest on his anapest! "All our old
367.15 loves are corpses or wives." All our sorrows are virgins or
A black bear with bright russet locks (the sun had reached
its first parlor window) stood awaiting him. Yes—the Z gene
had won, She was slim and strange. Her green eyes had grown.
367.20 At sixteen she looked considerably more dissolute than her
sister had seemed at that fatal age. She wore black furs and no
"My joy (moya radost')," said Lucette—just like that; he
had expected more formality: all in all he had hardly known
367.25 her before—except as an embered embryo.
Eyes swimming, coral nostrils distended, red mouth perilously
disclosing her tongue and teeth in a preparatory half-open skew
(tame animal signaling by that slant the semblance of a soft
bite), she advanced in the daze of a commencing trance, of an
367.30 unfolding caress—the aurora, who knows (she knew), of a
new life for both.
"Cheekbone," Van warned the young lady.
"You prefer skeletiki (little skeletons)," she murmured, as

[ 367 ]

Van applied light lips (which had suddenly become even drier
than usual) to his half-sister's hot hard pommette. He could not
help inhaling briefly her Degrasse, smart, though decidedly
"paphish," perfume and, through it, the flame of her Little
368.05 Larousse as he and the other said when they chose to emprison
her in bath water. Yes, very nervous and fragrant. Indian sum-
mer too sultry for furs. The cross (krest) of the best-groomed
redhead (rousse). Its four burning ends. Because one can't stroke
(as he did now) the upper copper without imagining at once
368.10 the lower fox cub and the paired embers.
"This is where he lives," she said, looking around, turning
around, as he helped her with wonder and sorrow out of her
soft, deep, dark coat, side-thinking (he liked furs): sea bear
(kotik)?No, desman (vïhuhol'). Assistant Van admired her
368.15 elegant slenderness, the gray tailor-made suit, the smoky fichu
and as it wafted away, her long white neck. Take your jacket
off, he said or thought he said (standing with extended hands,
in his charcoal suit, spontaneous combustion, in his bleak parlor,
in the bleak house anglophilically named Voltemand Hall at
368.20 Kingston University, fall term 1892, around four p.m.).
"I think I'll take off my jacket," she said with the usual
flitting frown of feminine fuss that fits the "thought." "You've
got central heating; we girls have tiny fireplaces."
She threw it off, revealing a sleeveless frilly white blouse.
368.25 She raised her arms to pass her fingers through her bright curls,
and he saw the expected bright hollows.
Van said, "All three casements pourtant are open and can
open wider; but they can do it only westward and that green
yard down below is the evening sun's praying rug, which makes
368.30 this room even warmer. Terrible for a window not to be able
to turn its paralyzed embrasure and see what's on the other side
of the house."
Once a Veen, always a Veen.

[ 368 ]

She unclicked her black-silk handbag, fished out a handker-
chief and, leaving the gaping bag on the edge of the sideboard,
went to the farthest window and stood there, her fragile
shoulders shaking unbearably.
369.05 Van noticed a long, blue, violet-sealed envelope protruding
from the bag.
"Lucette, don't cry. That's too easy."
She walked back, dabbing her nose, curbing her childishly
humid sniffs, still hoping for the decisive embrace.
369.10 "Here's some brandy," he said. "Sit down. Where's the rest
of the family?"
She returned the balled handkerchief of many an old romance
to her bag, which, however, remained unclosed. Chows, too,
have blue tongues.
369.15 "Mamma dwells in her private Samsara. Dad has had another
stroke. Sis is revisiting Ardis."
"Sis! Cesse, Lucette! We don't want any baby serpents
"This baby serpent does not quite know what tone to take
369.20 with Dr V.V. Sector. You have not changed one bit, my pale
darling, except that you look like a ghost in need of a shave
without your summer Glanz."
And summer Mädel. He noticed that the letter, in its long
blue envelope, lay now on the mahogany sideboard. He stood
369.25 in the middle of the parlor, rubbing his forehead, not daring,
not daring, because it was Ada's notepaper.
"Like some tea?"
She shook her head. "I can't stay long. Besides, you said
something about a busy day over the phone. One can't help
369.30 being dreadfully busy after four absolutely blank years" (he
would start sobbing too if she did not stop).
"Yes. I don't know. I have an appointment around six."
Two ideas were locked up in a slow dance, a mechanical

[ 369 ]

menuet, with bows and curtseys: one was "We-have-so-much-to
say"; the other was "We have absolutely nothing to say." But
that sort of thing can change in one instant.
"Yes, I have to see Rattner at six-thirty," murmured Van,
370.05 consulting a calendar he did not see.
"Rattner on Terra!" ejaculated Lucette. "Van is reading
Rattner on Terra. Pet must never, never disturb him and me
when we are reading Rattner!"
"I implore, my dear, no impersonations. Let us not transform
370.10 a pleasant reunion into mutual torture."
What was she doing at Queenston? She had told him before.
Of course. Tough course? No. Oh. From time to time both
kept glancing askance at the letter to see if it was behaving it-
self—not dangling its legs, not picking its nose.
370.15 Return it sealed?
"Tell Rattner," she said, gulping down her third brandy
as simply as if it were technicolored water. "Tell him" (the
liquor was loosening her pretty viper tongue)—
(Viper? Lucette? My dead dear darling?)
370.20 —"Tell him that when in the old days you and Ada—"
The name yawned like a black doorway, then the door
"—left me for him, and then came back, I knew every time
that you vsyo sdelali (had appeased your lust, had allayed your
370.25 fire)."
"One remembers those little things much too clearly, Lucette.
Please, stop."
"One remembers, Van, those little things much more clearly
than the big fatal ones. As for example the clothes you wore
370.30 at any given moment, at a generously given moment, with the
sun on the chairs and the floor. I was practically naked, of
course, being a neutral pure little child. But she wore a boy's
shirt and a short skirt, and all you had on were those wrinkled,
soiled shorts, shorter because wrinkled, and they smelled as

[ 370 ]

they always did after you'd been on Terra with Ada, with
Rattner on Ada, with Ada on Antiterra in Ardis Forest—oh,
they positively stank, you know, your little shorts of lavendered
Ada, and her catfood, and your caked algarroba!"
371.05 Should that letter, now next to the brandy, listen to all this?
Was it from Ada after all (there was no address)? Because it
was Lucette's mad, shocking letter of love that was doing the
"Van, it will make you smile" [thus in the MS. Ed.].
371.10 "Van," said Lucette, "it will make you smile" (it did not:
that prediction is seldom fulfilled), "but if you posed the famous
Van Question, I would answer in the affirmative."
What he had asked little Cordula. In that bookshop behind
the revolving paperbacks' stand, The Gitanilla, Our Laddies,
371.15 Clichy Clichés, Six Pricks, The Bible Unabridged, Mertvago
Forever, The Gitanilla ... He was known in the beau monde
for asking that question the very first time he met a young lady.
"Oh, to be sure, it was not easy! In parked automobiles and
at rowdy parties, thrusts had to be parried, advances fought off!
371.20 And only last winter, on the Italian Riviera, there was a young-
ster of fourteen or fifteen, an awfully precocious but terribly
shy and neurotic young violinist, who reminded Marina of her
brother ... Well, for almost three months, every blessed after-
noon, I had him touch me, and I reciprocated, and after that I
371.25 could sleep at last without pills, but otherwise I haven't once
kissed male epithelia in all my love—I mean, life. Look, I can
swear I never have, by—by William Shakespeare" (extending
dramatically one hand toward a shelf with a set of thick red
371.30 "Hold it!" cried Van. "That's the Collected Works of
Falknermann, dumped by my predecessor."
"Pah!" uttered Lucette.
"And, please, don't use that expletive."
"Forgive me—oh, I know, oh, I shan't."

[ 371 ]

"Of course, you know. All the same, you are very sweet.
I'm glad you came."
"I'm glad, too," she said. "But Van! Don't you dare think I
'relanced' you to reiterate that I'm madly and miserably in love
372.05 with you and that you can do anything you want with me. If
I didn't simply press the button and slip that note into the
burning slit and cataract away, it was because I had to see you,
because there is something else you must know, even if it makes
you detest and despise Ada and me. Otvratitel'no trudno (it is
372.10 disgustingly hard) to explain, especially for a virgin—well,
technically, a virgin, a kokotische virgin, half poule, half puella.
I realize the privacy of the subject, mysterious matters that one
should not discuss even with a vaginal brother—mysterious, not
merely in their moral and mystical aspect—"
372.15 Uterine—but close enough. It certainly came from Lucette's
sister. He knew that shade and that shape. "That shade of blue,
that shape of you" (corny song on the Sonorola). Blue in the
face from pleading RSVP.
"—but also in a direct physical sense. Because, darling Van,
372.20 in that direct physical sense I know as much about our Ada as
"Fire away," said Van, wearily.
"She never wrote you about it?"
Negative Throat Sound.
372.25 "Something we used to call Pressing the Spring?"
"She and I."
"Do you remember Grandmother's scrutoir between the globe
372.30 and the gueridon? In the library?"
"I don"t even know what a scrutoir is; and I do not visualize
the gueridon."
"But you remember the globe?"

[ 372 ]

Dusty Tartary with Cinderella's finger rubbing the place
where the invader would fall.
"Yes, I do; and a kind of stand with golden dragons painted
all over it."
373.05 "That's what I meant by 'gueridon.' It was really a Chinese
stand japanned in red lacquer, and the scrutoir stood in bet-
"China or Japan? Make up your mind. And I still don't know
how your inscrutable looks. I mean, looked in 1884 or 1888."
373.10 Scrutoir. Almost as bad as the other with her Blemolopias and
"Van, Vanichka, we are straying from the main point. The
point is that the writing desk or if you like, secretaire—"
"I hate both, but it stood at the opposite end of the black
373.15 divan."
Now mentioned for the first time—though both had been
tacitly using it as an orientator or as a right hand painted on a
transparent signboard that a philosopher's orbitless eye, a peeled
hard-boiled egg cruising free, but sensing which of its ends is
373.20 proximal to an imaginary nose, sees hanging in infinite space;
whereupon, with Germanic grace, the free eye sails around the
glass sign and sees a left hand shining through—that's the solu-
tion! (Bernard said six-thirty but I may be a little late.) The
mental in Van always rimmed the sensuous: unforgettable,
373.25 roughish, villous, Villaviciosa velour.
"Van, you are deliberately sidetracking the issue—"
"One can't do that with an issue."
"—because at the other end, at the heel end of the Vaniada
divan—remember?—there was only the closet in which you two
373.30 locked me up at least ten times."
"Nu uzh i desyat' (exaggeration). Once—and never more.
It had a keyless hole as big as Kant's eye. Kant was famous for
his cucumicolor iris."

[ 373 ]

"Well, that secretaire," continued Lucette, considering her
left shoe, her very chic patent-leather Glass shoe, as she crossed
her lovely legs, "that secretaire enclosed a folded card table and
a top-secret drawer. And you thought, I think, it was crammed
374.05 with our grandmother's love letters, written when she was
twelve or thirteen. And our Ada knew, oh, she knew, the
drawer was there but she had forgotten how to release the
orgasm or whatever it is called in card tables and bureaus."
Whatever it is called.
374.10 "She and I challenged you to find the secret chuvstvilishche
(sensorium) and make it work. It was the summer Belle sprained
her backside, and we were left to our own devices, which had
long lost the particule in your case and Ada's, but were touch-
ingly pure in mine. You groped around, and felt, and felt for
374.15 the little organ, which turned out to be a yielding roundlet in
the rosewood under the felt you felt—I mean, under the felt
you were feeling: it was a felted thumb spring, and Ada laughed
as the drawer shot out."
"And it was empty," said Van.
374.20 "Not quite. It contained a minuscule red pawn that high"
(showing its barleycorn-size with her finger—above what?
Above Van's wrist). "I kept it for luck; I must still have it
somewhere. Anyway, the entire incident pre-emblematized, to
quote my Professor of Ornament, the depravation of your poor
374.25 Lucette at fourteen in Arizona. Belle had returned to Canady,
because Vronsky had defigured The Doomed Children; her
successor had eloped with Demon; papa was in the East, maman
hardly ever came home before dawn, the maids joined their
lovers at star-rise, and I hated to sleep alone in the corner room
374.30 assigned to me, even if I did not put out the pink night-light of
porcelain with the transparency picture of a lost lamb, because
I was afraid of the cougars and snakes" [quite possibly, this is
not remembered speech but an extract from her letter or letters.
Ed.], "whose cries and rattlings Ada imitated admirably, and,

[ 374 ]

I think, designedly, in the desert's darkness under my first floor
window. Well [here, it would seem, taped speech is re-turned-
on], to make a short story sort of longish—"
Old Countess de Prey's phrase in praise of a lame mare in
375.05 her stables in 1884, thence passed on to her son, who passed it
on to his girl who passed it on to her half-sister. Thus instantly
reconstructed by Van sitting with tented hands in a red-plush
"—I took my pillow to Ada's bedroom where a similar night-
375.10 light transparency thing showed a blond-bearded faddist in a
toweling robe embracing the found lamb. The night was oven-
hot and we were stark naked except for a bit of sticking plaster
where a doctor had stroked and pricked my arm, and she was a
dream of white and black beauty, pour cogner une fraise,
375.15 touched with fraise in four places, a symmetrical queen of
Next moment they grappled and had such delicious fun that
they knew they would be doing it always together, for hy-
gienic purposes, when boyless and boiling.
375.20 "She taught me practices I had never imagined," confessed
Lucette in rerun wonder. "We interweaved like serpents and
sobbed like pumas. We were Mongolian tumblers, monograms,
anagrams, adalucindas. She kissed my krestik while I kissed hers,
our heads clamped in such odd combinations that Brigitte, a
375.25 little chambermaid who blundered in with her candle, thought
for a moment, though naughty herself, that we were giving birth
simultaneously to baby girls, your Ada bringing out une rousse
and no one's Lucette, une brune. Fancy that."
"Side-splitting," said Van.
375.30 "Oh, it went on practically every night at Marina Ranch, and
often during siestas; otherwise, in between those vanouissements
(her expression), or when she and I had the flow, which, be-
lieve it or not—"
"I can believe anything," said Van.

[ 375 ]

"—took place at coincident dates, we were just ordinary sis-
ters, exchanging routine nothings, having little in common, she
collecting cactuses or running through her lines for the next
audition in Sterva, and I reading a lot, or copying beautiful
376.05 erotic pictures from an album of Forbidden Masterpieces that
we found, apropos, in a box of korsetov i khrestomatiy(corsets
and chrestomathies) which Belle had left behind, and I can
assure you, they were far more realistic than the scroll-painting
by Mong Mong, very active in 888, a millennium before Ada
376.10 said it illustrated Oriental calisthenics when I found it by
chance in the corner of one of my ambuscades. So the day
passed, and then the star rose, and tremendous moths walked on
all sixes up the window panes, and we tangled until we fell
asleep. And that's when I learnt—" concluded Lucette, clos-
376.15 ing her eyes and making Van squirm by reproducing with dia-
bolical accuracy Ada's demure little whimper of ultimate bliss.
At this point, as in a well-constructed play larded with comic
relief, the brass campophone buzzed and not only did the
radiators start to cluck but the uncapped soda water fizzed in
375.20 sympathy.
Van (crossly): "I don't understand the first word ... What's
that? L'adorée? Wait a second" (to Lucette). "Please, stay
where you are." (Lucette whispers a French child-word with
two "p"s.). "Okay" (pointing toward the corridor). "Sorry,
376.25 Polly. Well, is it l'adorée? No? Give me the context. Ah—la
durée. La durée is not ... sin on what? Synonymous with dura-
tion. Aha. Sorry again, I must stopper that orgiastic soda. Hold
the line." (Yells down the 'cory door,' as they called the long
second-floor passage at Ardis.) "Lucette, let it run over, who
376.30 cares!"
He poured himself another glass of brandy and for a ridicu-
lous moment could not remember what the hell he had been—
yes, the polliphone.

[ 376 ]

It had died, but buzzed as soon as he recradled the receiver,
and Lucette knocked discreetly at the same time.
"La durée ... For goodness sake, come in without knocking
... No, Polly, knocking does not concern you—it's my little
377.05 cousin. All right. La durée is not synonymous with duration,
being saturated—yes, as in Saturday—with that particular phi-
losopher's thought. What's wrong now? You don't know if it's
dorée or durée? D, U, R. I thought you knew French. Oh, I see.
So long.
377.10 "My typist, a trivial but always available blonde, could not
make out durée in my quite legible hand because, she says, she
knows French, but not scientific French."
"Actually," observed Lucette, wiping the long envelope
which a drop of soda had stained, "Bergson is only for very
377.15 young people or very unhappy people, such as this available
"Spotting Bergson," said the assistant lecher, "rates a B minus
dans ton petit cas, hardly more. Or shall I reward you with a
kiss on your krestik—whatever that is?"
377.20 Wincing and rearranging his legs, our young Vandemonian
cursed under his breath the condition in which the image of the
four embers of a vixen's cross had now solidly put him. One of
the synonyms of "condition" is "state," and the adjective "hu-
man" may be construed as "manly" (since L'Humanité means
377.25 "Mankind"!), and that's how, my dears, Lowden recently trans-
lated the title of the malheureux Pompier's cheap novel La Con-
dition Humaine, wherein, incidentally, the term "Vandemonian"
is hilariously glossed as "Koulak tasmanien d'origine hollandaise."
Kick her out before it is too late.
377.30 "If you are serious," said Lucette, passing her tongue over her
lips and slitting her darkening eyes, "then, my darling, you can
do it now. But if you are making fun of me, then you're an
abominably cruel Vandemonian."

[ 377 ]

"Come, come, Lucette, it means "little cross" in Russian, that's
all, what else? Is it some amulet? You mentioned just now a
little red stud or pawn. Is it something you wear, or used to
wear, on a chainlet round your neck? a small acorn of coral,
378.05 the glandulella of vestals in ancient Rome? What's the matter,
my dear?"
Still watching him narrowly, "I'll take a chance," she said.
"I'll explain it, though it's just one of our sister's 'tender-turret'
words and I thought you were familiar with her vocabulary."
378.10 "Oh, I know," cried Van (quivering with evil sarcasm, boil-
ing with mysterious rage, taking it out on the redhaired scape-
goatling, naive Lucette, whose only crime was to be suffused
with the phantasmata of the other's innumerable lips). "Of
course, I remember now. A foul taint in the singular can be a
378.15 sacred mark in the plural. You are referring of course to the
stigmata between the eyebrows of pure sickly young nuns
whom priests had over-anointed there and elsewhere with cross-
like strokes of the myrrherabol brush."
"No, it's much simpler," said patient Lucette. "Let's go back
378.20 to the library where you found that little thing still erect in
its drawer—"
"Z for Zemski. As I had hoped, you do resemble Dolly, still
in her pretty pantelets, holding a Flemish pink in the library
portrait above her inscrutable."
378.25 "No, no," said Lucette, "that indifferent oil presided over
your studies and romps at the other end, next to the closet,
above a glazed bookcase."
When will this torture end? I can't very well open the letter
in front of her and read it aloud for the benefit of the audience.
378.30 I have not art to reckon my groans.
"One day, in the library, kneeling on a yellow cushion placed
on a Chippendale chair before an oval table on lion claws—"
[The epithetic tone strongly suggests that this speech has an
epistolary source. Ed.]

[ 378 ]

"—I got stuck with six Buchstaben in the last round of a
Flavita game. Mind you, I was eight and had not studied anat-
omy, but was doing my poor little best to keep up with two
Wunderkinder. You examined and fingered my groove and
379.05 quickly redistributed the haphazard sequence which made, say,
LIKROT or ROTIKL and Ada flooded us both with her raven
silks as she looked over our heads, and when you had completed
the rearrangement, you and she came simultaneously, si je puis
le mettre comme ça (Canady French), came falling on the black
379.10 carpet in a paroxysm of incomprehensible merriment; so finally
I quietly composed ROTIK ("little mouth") and was left with
my own cheap initial. I hope I've thoroughly got you mixed up,
Van, because la plus laide fille au monde peut donner beaucoup
plus qu'elle n'a, and now let us say adieu, yours ever."
379.15 "Whilst the machine is to him," murmured Van.
"Hamlet," said the assistant lecturer's brightest student.
"Okay, okay," replied her and his tormentor, "but, you
know, a medically minded English Scrabbler, having two more
letters to cope with, could make, for example, STIRCOIL, a
379.20 well-known, sweat-gland stimulant, or CITROILS, which
grooms use for rubbing fillies."
"Please stop, Vandemonian," she moaned. "Read her letter
and bring me my coat."
But he continued, his features working:
379.25 "I'm amazed! I never imagined that a hand-reared scion of
Scandinavian kings, Russian grand princes and Irish barons could
use the language of the proverbial gutter. Yes, you're right, you
behave as a cocotte, Lucette."
In sad meditation Lucette said: "As a rejected cocotte, Van."
379.30 "O moya dushen'ka (my dear darling)," cried Van, struck by
his own coarseness and cruelty. "Please, forgive me! I'm a sick
man. I've been suffering for these last four years from con-
sanguineocanceroformia—a mysterious disease described by
Coniglietto. Don't put your little cold hand on my paw—that

[ 379 ]

could only hasten your end and mine. On with your story."
"Well, after teaching me simple exercises for one hand that
I could practice alone, cruel Ada abandoned me. True, we never
really stopped doing it together every now and then—in the
380.05 ranchito of some acquaintances after a party, in a white saloon
she was teaching me to drive, in the sleeping car tearing across
the prairie, at sad, sad Ardis where I spent one night with her
before coming to Queenston. Oh, I love her hands, Van, be-
cause they have the same rodinka (small birthmark), because
380.10 the fingers are so long, because, in fact, they are Van's in a
reducing mirror, in tender diminutive, v laskatel'noy forme"
(the talkas so often happened at emotional moments in the
Veen-Zemski branch of that strange family, the noblest in
Estotiland, the grandest on Antiterra—was speckled with Rus-
380.15 sian, an effect not too consistently reproduced in this chapter—
the readers are restless tonight).
"She abandoned me," continued Lucette, tchucking on one
side of the mouth and smoothing up and down with an abstract
palm her flesh-pale stocking."Yes, she started a rather sad little
380.20 affair with Johnny, a young star from Fuerteventura, c'est dans
la famille, her exact odnoletok (coeval), practically her twin in
appearance, born the same year, the same day, the same in-
stant —"
That was a mistake on silly Lucette's part.
380.25 "Ah, that cannot be," interrupted morose Van and after rock-
ing this side and that with clenched hands and furrowed brow
(how one would like to apply a boiling-water-soaked Watte-
bausch, as poor Rack used to call her limp arpeggiation, to that
ripe pimple on his right temple), "that simply cannot be. No
380.30 damned twin can do that. Not even those seen by Brigitte, a
cute little number I imagine, with that candle flame flirting with
her exposed nipples. The usual difference in age between twins"
—he went on in a madman's voice so well controlled that it
sounded overpedantic—"is seldom less than a quarter of an

[ 380 ]

hour, the time a working womb needs to rest and relax with a
woman's magazine, before resuming its rather unappetizing con-
tractions. In very rare cases, when the matrix just goes on
pegging away automatically, the doctor can take advantage of
381.05 that and ease out the second brat who then can be considered
to be, say, three minutes younger, which in dynastic happy
events—doubly happy events—with all Egypt agog—may be,
and has been, even more important than in a marathon finish.
But the creatures, no matter how numerous, never come out à
381.10 la queue-leu-leu. 'Simultaneous twins' is a contradiction in
"Nu uzh ne znayu (well, I don't know)," muttered Lucette
(echoing faithfully her mother's dreary intonation in that
phrase, which seemingly implied an admission of error and
381.15 ignorance, but tended somehow—owing to a hardly perceptible
nod of condescension rather than consent—to dull and dilute
the truth of her interlocutor's corrective retort).
"I only meant," she continued, "that he was a handsome
Hispano-Irish boy, dark and pale, and people mistook them for
381.20 twins. I did not say they were really twins. Or 'driblets.'"
Driblets? Driblets? Now who pronounced it that way? Who?
Who? A dripping ewes-dropper in a dream? Did the orphans
live? But we must listen to Lucette.
"After a year or so she found out that an old pederast kept
381.25 him and she dismissed him, and he shot himself on a beach at
high tide but surfers and surgeons saved him, and now his brain
is damaged; he will never be able to speak."
"One can always fall back on mutes," said Van gloomily. "He
could act the speechless eunuch in 'Stambul, my bulbul' or the
381.30 stable boy disguised as a kennel girl who brings a letter."
"Van, I'm boring you?"
"Oh, nonsense, it's a gripping and palpitating little case his-
Because that was really not bad: bringing down three in as

[ 381 ]

many years—besides winging a fourth. Jolly good shot—Adi-
ana! Wonder whom she'll bag next.
"You must not press me for the details of our sweet torrid
and horrid nights together, before and between that poor guy
382.05 and the next intruder. If my skin were a canvas and her lips a
brush, not an inch of me would have remained unpainted and
vice versa. Are you horrified, Van? Do you loathe us?"
"On the contrary," replied Van, bringing off a passable imita-
tion of bawdy mirth. "Had I not been a heterosexual male, I
382.10 would have been a Lesbian."
His trite reaction to her set piece, to her desperate cunning,
caused Lucette to give up, to dry up, as it were, before a black
pit with people dismally coughing here and there in the in-
visible and eternal audience. He glanced for the hundredth time
382.15 at the blue envelope, its near long edge not quite parallel to that
of the glossy mahogany, its left upper corner half hidden behind
the tray with the brandy and soda, its right lower corner point-
ing at Van's favorite novel The Slat Sign that lay on the side-
382.20 "I want to see you again soon," said Van, biting his thumb,
brooding, cursing the pause, yearning for the contents of the
blue envelope. "You must come and stay with me at a flat I now
have on Alex Avenue. I have furnished the guest room with
bergères and torchères and rocking chairs; it looks like your
382.25 mother's boudoir."
Lucette curtseyed with the wicks of her sad mouth, à l'Améri-
"Will you come for a few days? I promise to behave properly.
All right?"
382.30 "My notion of propriety may not be the same as yours. And
what about Cordula de Prey? She won't mind?"
"The apartment is mine," said Van, "and besides, Cordula is
now Mrs. Ivan G. Tobak. They are making follies in Florence.
Here's her last postcard. Portrait of Vladimir Christian of Den-

[ 382 ]

mark, who, she claims, is the dead spit of her Ivan Giovanovich.
Have a look."
"Who cares for Sustermans," observed Lucette, with some-
thing of her uterine sister's knight move of specious response,
383.05 or a Latin footballer's rovesciata.
No, it's an elm. Half a millennium ago.
"His ancestor," Van pattered on, "was the famous or fameux
Russian admiral who had an épée duel with Jean Nicot and after
whom the Tobago Islands, or the Tobakoff Islands, are named,
383.10 I forget which, it was so long ago, half a millennium."
"I mentioned her only because an old sweetheart is easily
annoyed by the wrong conclusions she jumps at like a cat not
quite making a fence and then running off without trying again,
and stopping to look back."
383.15 "Who told you about that lewd cordelude—I mean, inter-
"Your father, mon cherwe saw a lot of him in the West.
Ada supposed, at first, that Tapper was an invented name—that
you fought your duel with another person—but that was be-
383.20 fore anybody heard of the other person's death in Kalugano.
Demon said you should have simply cudgeled him."
"I could not," said Van, "the rat was rotting away in a hos-
pital bed."
"I meant the real Tapper," cried Lucette (who was making
383.25 a complete mess of her visit), "not my poor, betrayed, poisoned,
innocent teacher of music, whom not even Ada, unless she fibs,
could cure of his impotence."
"Driblets," said Van.
"Not necessarily his," said Lucette. "His wife's lover played
383.30 the triple viol. Look, I'll borrow a book" (scanning on the near-
est bookshelf The Gitanilla, Clichy Clichés, Mertvago Forever,
The Ugly New Englander) "and curl up, komondi, in the next
room for a few minutes, while you—Oh, I adore The Slat

[ 383 ]

"There's no hurry," said Van.
Pause (about fifteen minutes to go to the end of the act).
"At the age of ten," said Lucette to say something, "I was at
the Vieux-Rose Stopchin stage, but our (using, that day, that
384.05 year, the unexpected, thronal, authorial, jocular, technically
loose, forbidden, possessive plural in speaking of her to him)
sister had read at that age, in three languages, many more books
than I did at twelve. However! After an appalling illness in
California, I recouped myself: the Pioneers vanquished the
384.10 Pyogenes. I'm not showing off but do you happen to know a
great favorite of mine: Herodas?"
"Oh yes," answered Van negligently. "A ribald contempo-
rary of Justinus, the Roman scholar. Yes, great stuff. Blinding
blend of subtility and brilliant coarseness. You read it, dear, in
384.15 the literal French translation with the Greek en regarddidn't
you?—but a friend of mine here showed me a scrap of new-
found text, which you could not have seen, about two children,
a brother and sister, who did it so often that they finally died
in each other's limbs, and could not be separated—it just
384.20 stretched and stretched, and snapped back in place every time
the perplexed parents let go. It is all very obscene, and very
tragic, and terribly funny."
"No, I don't know that passage," said Lucette. "But Van,
why are you—"
384.25 "Hay fever, hay fever!" cried Van, searching five pockets at
once for a handkerchief. Her stare of compassion and the fruit-
less search caused such a swell of grief that he preferred to
stomp out of the room, snatching the letter, dropping it, pick-
ing it up, and retreating to the farthest room (redolent of her
384.30 Degrasse) to read it in one gulp.
"O dear Van, this is the last attempt I am making. You may
call it a document in madness or the herb of repentance, but I
wish to come and live with you, wherever you are, for ever and

[ 384 ]

ever. If you scorn the maid at your window I will aerogram my
immediate acceptance of a proposal of marriage that has been
made to your poor Ada a month ago in Valentine State. He is
an Arizonian Russian, decent and gentle, not overbright and not
385.05 fashionable. The only thing we have in common is a keen interest
in many military-looking desert plants, especially various species
of agave, hosts of the larvae of the most noble animals in Amer-
ica, the Giant Skippers (Krolik, you see, is burrowing again).
He owns horses, and Cubistic pictures, and 'oil wells' (whatever
385.10 they are—our father in hell who has some too, does not tell me,
getting away with off-color allusions as is his wont). I have told
my patient Valentinian that I shall give him a definite answer
after consulting the only man I have ever loved or shall ever love.
Try to ring me up tonight. Something is very wrong with the
385.15 Ladore line, but I am assured that the trouble will be grappled
with and eliminated before rivertide. Tvoya, tvoya, tvoya
(thine). A."
Van took a clean handkerchief from a tidy pile in a drawer,
an action he analogized at once by plucking a leaf from a writ-
385.20 ing pad. It is wonderful how helpful such repetitive rhythms on
the part of coincidental (white, rectangular) objects can be at
such chaotic moments. He wrote a short aerogram and returned
to the parlor. There he found Lucette putting on her fur coat,
and five uncouth scholars, whom his idiot valet had ushered in,
385.25 standing in a silent circle around the bland graceful modeling of
the coming winter's fashions. Bernard Rattner, a heavily bespec-
tacled black-haired, red-cheeked thick-set young man greeted
Van with affable relief.
"Good Log!" exclaimed Van, "I had understood we were to
385.30 meet at your uncle's place."
With a quick gesture he centrifuged them to waiting-room
chairs, and despite his pretty cousin's protests ("It's a twenty
minute's walk; don't accompany me") campophoned for his

[ 385 ]

car. Then he clattered, in Lucette's wake, down the cataract of
the narrow staircase, katrakatra (quatre à quatre). Please, chil-
dren not katrakatra (Marina).
"I also know," said Lucette as if continuing their recent ex-
386.05 change, "who he is."
She pointed to the inscription "Voltemand Hall" on the brow
of the building from which they now emerged.
Van gave her a quick glance—but she simply meant the
courtier in Hamlet.
386.10 They passed through a dark archway, and as they came out
into the colored air of a delicate sunset, he stopped her and
gave her the note he had written. It told Ada to charter a plane
and be at his Manhattan flat any time tomorrow morning. He
would leave Kingston around midnight by car. He still hoped
386.15 the Ladore dorophone would be in working order before his
departure. Le château que baignait le Dorophone. Anyway, he
assumed the aerogram would reach her in a couple of hours.
Lucette said "uhn-uhn," it would first fly to Mont-Dore—sorry,
Ladore—and if marked "urgent" would arrive at sunrise by
386.20 dazzled messenger, galloping east on the postmaster's fleabitten
nag, because on Sundays you could not use motorcycles, old
local law, l'ivresse de la vitesse, conceptions dominicales; but
even so, she would have ample time to pack, find the box of
Dutch crayons Lucette wanted her to bring if she came, and
386.25 be in time for breakfast in Cordula's recent bedroom. Neither
half-sibling was at her or his best that day.
"By the way," he said, "let's fix the date of your visit. Her
letter changes my schedule. Let's have dinner at Ursus next
weekend. I'll get in touch with you."
386.30 "I knew it was hopeless," she said, looking away. "I did my
best. I imitated all her shtuchki (little stunts). I'm a better actress
than she but that's not enough, I know. Go back now, they are
getting dreadfully drunk on your cognac."
He thrust his hands into the warm vulvas of her mole-soft

[ 386 ]

sleeves and held her for a moment on the inside by her thin
bare elbows, looking down with meditative desire at her painted
"Un baiser, un seul!" she pleaded.
387.05 "You promise not to open your mouth? not to melt? not to
flutter and flick?"
"I won't, I swear!"
He hesitated. "No," said Van, "it is a mad temptation but I
must not succumb. I could not live through another disaster,
387.10 another sister, even one-half of a sister."
"Takoe otchayanie (such despair)!" moaned Lucette, wrap-
ping herself closely in the coat she had opened instinctively to
receive him.
"Might it console you to know that I expect only torture
387.15 from her return? That I regard you as a bird of paradise?"
She shook her head.
"That my admiration for you is painfully strong?"
"I want Van," she cried, "and not intangible admiration—"
"Intangible? You goose. You may gauge it, you may brush it
387.20 once very lightly, with the knuckles of your gloved hand. I
said knuckles. I said once. That will do. I can't kiss you. Not
even your burning face. Good-bye, pet. Tell Edmond to take
a nap after he returns. I shall need him at two in the morning."

[ 387 ]


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