Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 2, Chapter 6 (view annotations)

The matter of that important discussion was a comparison of
notes regarding a problem that Van was to try to resolve in
another way many years later. Several cases of acrophobia had
been closely examined at the Kingston Clinic to determine if
388.05 they were combined with any traces or aspects of time-terror.
Tests had yielded completely negative results, but what seemed
particularly curious was that the only available case of acute
chronophobia differed by its very nature—metaphysical flavor,
psychological stamp and so forth—from that of space-fear
388.10 True, one patient maddened by the touch of time’s texture pre-
sented too small a sample to compete with a great group of
garrulous acrophobes, and readers who have been accusing Van
of rashness and folly (in young Rattner's polite terminology)
will have a higher opinion of him when they learn that our
388.15 young investigator did his best not to let Mr T.T. (the chron-
ophobe) be cured too hastily of his rare and important sickness.
Van had satisfied himself that it had nothing to do with clocks
or calendars, or any measurements or contents of time, while he
suspected and hoped (as only a discoverer, pure and passionate
and profoundly inhuman, can hope) that the dread of heights

[ 388 ]

would be found by his colleagues to depend mainly on the
misestimation of distances and that Mr Arshin, their best acro-
phobe, who could not step down from a footstool, could be
made to step down into space from the top of a tower if per-
389.05 suaded by some optical trick that the fire net spread fifty yards
below was a mat one inch beneath him.
Van had cold cuts brought up for them, and a gallon of Gal-
lows Ale—but his mind was elsewhere, and he did not shine in
the discussion which forever remained in his mind as a grisaille
389.10 of inconclusive tedium.
They left around midnight; their clatter and chatter still came
from the stairs when he began ringing up Ardis Hall—vainly,
vainly. He kept it up intermittently till daybreak, gave up, had
a structurally perfect stool (its cruciform symmetry reminding
389.15 him of the morning before his duel) and, without bothering to
put on a tie (all his favorite ones were awaiting him in his new
apartment), drove to Manhattan, taking the wheel when he
found that Edmond had needed forty-five minutes instead of
half an hour to cover one fourth of the way.
389.20 All he had wanted to say to Ada over the dumb dorophone
amounted to three words in English, contractable to two in
Russian, to one and a half in Italian; but Ada was to maintain
that his frantic attempts to reach her at Ardis had only resulted
in such a violent rhapsody of 'eagre' that finally the basement
389.25 boiler gave up and there was no hot water—no water at all, in
fact—when she got out of bed, so she pulled on her warmest
coat, and had Bouteillan (discreetly rejoicing old Bouteillan!)
carry her valises down and drive her to the airport.
In the meantime Van had arrived at Alexis Avenue, had lain
389.30 in bed for an hour, then shaved and showered, and almost torn
off with the brutality of his pounce the handle of the door lead-
ing to the terrace as there came the sound of a celestial motor.
Despite an athletic strength of will, ironization of excessive
emotion, and contempt for weepy weaklings, Van was aware of

[ 389 ]

his being apt to suffer uncurbable blubbering fits (rising at
times to an epileptic-like pitch, with sudden howls that shook
his body, and inexhaustible fluids that stuffed his nose) ever
since his break with Ada had led to agonies, which his self-pride
390.05 and self-concentration had never foreseen in the hedonistic past.
A small monoplane (chartered, if one judged by its nacreous
wings and illegal but abortive attempts to settle on the central
green oval of the Park, after which it melted in the morning
mist to seek a perch elsewhere) wrenched a first sob from Van
390.10 as he stood in his short 'terry' on the roof terrace (now em-
bellished by shrubs of blue spiraea in invincible bloom). He
stood in the chill sun until he felt his skin under the robe turn
to an armadillo's pelvic plates. Cursing and shaking both fists at
breast level, he returned into the warmth of his flat and drank a
390.15 bottle of champagne, and then rang for Rose, the sportive
Negro maid whom he shared in more ways than one with the
famous, recently decorated cryptogrammatist, Mr Dean, a per-
fect gentleman, dwelling on the floor below. With jumbled
feelings, with unpardonable lust, Van watched her pretty be-
390.20 hind roll and tighten under its lacy bow as she made the bed,
while her lower lover could be heard through the radiator pipes
humming to himself happily (he had decoded again a Tartar
dorogram telling the Chinese where we planned to land next
time!). Rose soon finished putting the room in order, and
390.25 flirted off, and the Pandean hum had hardly time to be
replaced (rather artlessly for a person of Dean's profession) by
a crescendo of international creaks that a child could decipher,
when the hallway bell dingled, and next moment whiter-faced,
redder-mouthed, four-year-older Ada stood before a convulsed,
390.30 already sobbing, ever-adolescent Van, her flowing hair blending
with dark furs that were even richer than her sister's.
He had prepared one of those phrases that sound right in
dreams but lame in lucid life: "I saw you circling above me on
libelulla wings"; he broke down on "...ulla," and fell at her

[ 390 ]

feet—at her bare insteps in glossy black Glass slippers—pre-
cisely in the same attitude, the same heap of hopeless tenderness,
self-immolation, denunciation of demoniac life, in which he
would drop in backthought, in the innermost bower of his brain
391.05 every time he remembered her impossible semi-smile as she ad-
justed her shoulder blades to the trunk of the final tree. An in-
visible stagehand now slipped a seat under her, and she wept,
and stroked his black curls as he went through his fit of grief,
gratitude and regret. It might have persisted much longer had
391.10 not another, physical frenzy, that had been stirring his blood
since the previous day, offered a blessed distraction.
As if she had just escaped from a burning palace and a perish-
ing kingdom, she wore over her rumpled nightdress a deep-
brown, hoar-glossed coat of sea-otter fur, the famous kamchat-
391.15 stkiy bobr of ancient Estotian traders, also known as "lutro-
marina" on the Lyaska coast: "my natural fur," as Marina used
to say pleasantly of her own cape, inherited from a Zemski
granddam, when, at the dispersal of a winter ball, some lady wear-
ing vison or coypu or a lowly manteau de castor (beaver, ne-
391.20 metskiy bobr) would comment with a rapturous moan on the
bobrovaya shuba. "Staren'kaya (old little thing)," Marina used
to add in fond deprecation (the usual counterpart of the Bos-
tonian lady's coy "thank you" ventriloquizing her banal mink
or nutria in response to polite praise—which did not prevent her
391.25 from denouncing afterwards the "swank" of that "stuck-up
actress," who, actually, was the least ostentatious of souls).
Ada's bobrï (princely plural of bobr) were a gift from Demon,
who as we know, had lately seen in the Western states con-
siderably more of her than he had in Eastern Estotiland when
391.30 she was a child. The bizarre enthusiast had developed the same
tendresse for her as he had always had for Van. Its new expres-
sion in regard to Ada looked sufficiently fervid to make watchful
fools suspect that old Demon "slept with his niece" (actually,
he was getting more and more occupied with Spanish girls who

[ 391 ]

were getting more and more youthful every year until by the
end of the century, when he was sixty, with hair dyed a mid-
night blue, his flame had become a difficult nymphet of ten).
So little did the world realize the real state of affairs that even
392.05 Cordula Tobak, born de Prey, and Grace Wellington, born
Erminin, spoke of Demon Veen, with his fashionable goatee and
frilled shirtfront, as "Van's successor."
Neither sibling ever could reconstruct (and all this, including
the sea-otter, must not be regarded as a narrator's evasion—we
392.10 have done, in our time, much more difficult things) what they
said, how they kissed, how they mastered their tears, how he
swept her couch-ward, gallantly proud to manifest his im-
mediate reaction to her being as scantily gowned (under her
hot furs) as she had been when carrying her candle through
392.15 that magic picture window.
After feasting fiercely on her throat and nipples he was about
to proceed to the next stage of demented impatience, but she
stopped him, explaining that she must first of all take her morn-
ing bath (this, indeed, was a new Ada) and that, moreover, she
392.20 expected her luggage would be brought up any moment now
by the louts of the "Monaco" lounge (she had taken the wrong
entrance—yet Van had bribed Cordula's devoted janitor to prac-
tically carry Ada upstairs). "Quick, quick," said Ada, "da, da,
Ada'll be out of the foam in two secs!" But mad, obstinate Van
392.25 shed his terry and followed her into the bathroom, where she
strained across the low tub to turn on both taps and then bent
over to insert the bronze chained plug; it got sucked in by itself,
however, while he steadied her lovely lyre and next moment
was at the suede-soft root, was gripped, was deep between the
392.30 familiar, incomparable, crimson-lined lips. She caught at the
twin cock crosses, thus involuntarily increasing the sympathetic
volume of the water's noise, and Van emitted a long groan of
deliverance, and now their four eyes were looking again into
the azure brook of Pinedale, and Lucette pushed the door open

[ 392 ]

with a perfunctory knuckle knock and stopped, mesmerized by
the sight of Van's hairy rear and the dreadful scar all along his
left side.
Ada’s hands stopped the water. Luggage was being bumped
393.05 down all over the flat.
"I'm not looking," said Lucette idiotically, "I only dropped
in for my box."
"Please, tip them, pet," said Van, a compulsive tipper—"And
pass me that towel," added Ada, but the ancilla was picking up
393.10 coins she had spilled in her haste, and Ada now saw in her turn
Van's scarlet ladder of sutures—"Oh my poor darling," she
cried, and out of sheer compassion allowed him the repeat per-
formance which Lucette's entrance had threatened to interrupt.
"I'm not sure I did bring her damned Cranach crayons," said
393.15 Ada a moment later, making a frightened frog face. He watched
her with a sense of perfect pine-fragrant bliss, as she squeezed
out spurts of gem-like liquid from a tube of Pennsilvestris lotion
into the bath water.
Lucette had gone (leaving a curt note with her room number
393.20 at the Winster Hotel for Young Ladies) when our two lovers,
now weak-legged and decently robed, sat down to a beautiful
breakfast (Ardis' crisp bacon! Ardis' translucent honey!)
brought up in the lift by Valerio, a ginger-haired elderly
Roman, always ill-shaven and gloomy, but a dear old boy (he
393.25 it was who, having procured neat Rose last June, was being paid
to keep her strictly for Veen and Dean).
What laughs, what tears, what sticky kisses, what a tumult of
multitudinous plans! And what safety, what freedom of love!
Two unrelated gypsy courtesans, a wild girl in a gaudy lolita,
393.30 poppy-mouthed and black-downed, picked up in a café between
Grasse and Nice, and another, a part-time model (you have
seen her fondling a virile lipstick in Fellata ads), aptly nick-
named Swallowtail by the patrons of a Norfolk Broads floramor,
had both given our hero exactly the same reason, unmention-

[ 393 ]

able in a family chronicle, for considering him absolutely sterile
despite his prowesses. Amused by the Hecatean diagnose, Van
underwent certain tests, and although pooh-poohing the symp-
tom as coincidental, all the doctors agreed that Van Veen
394.05 might be a doughty and durable lover but could never hope for
an offspring. How merrily little Ada clapped her hands!
Would she like to stay in this apartment till Spring Term
(he thought in terms of Terms now) and then accompany him
to Kingston, or would she prefer to go abroad for a couple of
394.10 months—anywhere, Patagonia, Angola, Gululu in the New
Zealand mountains? Stay in this apartment? So, she liked it?
Except some of Cordula's stuff which should be ejected—as, for
example, that conspicuous Brown Hill Alma Mater of Almehs
left open on poor Vanda's portrait. She had been shot dead by
394.15 the girlfriend of a girlfriend on a starry night, in Ragusa of all
places. It was, Van said, sad. Little Lucette no doubt had told
him about a later escapade? Punning in an Ophelian frenzy on
the feminine glans? Raving about the delectations of clitorism?
"N’exagérons pas, tu sais," said Ada, patting the air down with
394.20 both palms. "Lucette affirmed," he said, "that she (Ada) imi-
tated mountain lions."
He was omniscient. Better say, omni-incest.
"That's right," said the other total-recaller.
And, by the way, Grace—yes, Grace—was Vanda's real
394.25 favorite, pas petite moi and my little crest. She (Ada) had,
hadn't she, a way of always smoothing out the folds of the past
making the flutist practically impotent (except with his wife)
and allowing the gentleman farmer only one embrace, with a
premature eyakulyatsiya, one of those hideous Russian loan-
394.30 words? Yes, wasn't it hideous, but she'd love to play Scrabble
again when they'd settled down for good. But where, how?
Wouldn't Mr and Mrs Ivan Veen do quite nicely anywhere?
What about the "single" in each passport? They'd go to the

[ 394 ]

nearest Consulate and with roars of indignation and/or a fabu-
lous bribe have it corrected to married, for ever and ever.
"I'm a good, good girl. Here are her special pencils. It was
very considerate and altogether charming of you to invite her
395.05 next weekend. I think she's even more madly in love with you
than with me, the poor pet. Demon got them in Strassburg.
After all she's a demi-vierge now" ("I hear you and Dad—"
began Van, but the introduction of a new subject was swamped)
"and we shan't be afraid of her witnessing our ébats" (pronounc-
395.10 ing on purpose, with triumphant hooliganism, for which my
prose, too, is praised, the first vowel à la Russe).
"You do the puma," he said, "but she does—to perfection!—
my favorite viola sardina. She’s a wonderful imitatrix, by the
way, and if you are even better—"
395.15 "We'll speak about my talents and tricks some other time,"
said Ada. "It's a painful subject. Now let's look at these snap-

[ 395 ]

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