Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 3, Chapter 4 (annotations forthcoming)

A teasy problem demanded Dr. Veen’s presence in England.
Old Paar of Chose had written him that the “Clinic” would
like him to study a singular case of chromesthesia, but that given
certain aspects of the case (such as a faint possibility of trickery)
468.05 Van should come and decide for himself whether he thought it
worth the trouble to fly the patient to Kingston for further ob-
servation. One Spencer Muldoon, born eyeless, aged forty,
single, friendless, and the third blind character in this chron-
icle, had been known to hallucinate during fits of violent
468.10 paranoia, calling out the names of such shapes and substances
as he had learned to identify by touch, or thought he recog-
nized through the awfulness of stories about them (falling trees,
extinct saurians) and which now pressed on him from all sides,
alternating with periods of stupor, followed invariably by a
468.15 return to his normal self, when for a week or two he would
finger his blind books or listen, in red-lidded bliss, to records
of music, bird songs, and Irish poetry.
His ability to break space into ranks and files of “strong”
and “weak” things in what seemed a wallpaper pattern remained
468.20 a mystery until one evening, when a research student (R.S.—

[ 468 ]

he wished to remain that way), who intended to trace certain
graphs having to do with the metabasis of another patient, hap-
pened to leave within Muldoon’s reach one of those elongated
boxes of new, unsharpened, colored-chalk pencils whose mere
469.05 evocation (Dixon Pink Anadel!) make one’s memory speak
in the language of rainbows, the tints of their painted and
polished woods being graded spectrally in their neat tin con-
tainer. Poor Muldoon’s childhood could not come to him with
anything like such iridian recall, but when his groping fingers
469.10 opened the box and palpated the pencils, a certain expression of
sensual relish appeared on his parchment-pale face. Upon ob-
serving that the blind man’s eyebrows went up slightly at red,
higher at orange, still higher at the shrill scream of yellow and
then stepped down through the rest of the prismatic spectrum,
469.15 R.S. casually told him that the woods were dyed differently—
“red,” “orange,” “yellow,” et cetera, and quite as casually
Muldoon rejoined that they also felt different one from another.
In the course of several tests conducted by R.S. and his
colleagues, Muldoon explained that by stroking the pencils in
469.20 turn he perceived a gamut of “stingles,” special sensations some-
how allied to the tingling aftereffects of one’s skin contact with
stinging nettles (he had been raised in the country somewhere
between Ormagh and Armagh, and had often tumbled, in his
adventurous boyhood, the poor thick-booted soul, into ditches
469.25 and even ravines), and spoke eerily of the “strong” green stingle
of a piece of blotting paper or the wet weak pink tingle of
nurse Langford’s perspiring nose, these colors being checked
by himself against those applied by the researchers to the
initial pencils. In result of the tests, one was forced to assume
469.30 that the man’s fingertips could convey to his brain “a tactile
transcription of the prismatic specter” as Paar put it in his
detailed report to Van.
When the latter arrived, Muldoon had not quite come out
of a state of stupor more protracted than any preceding one.

[ 469 ]

Van, hoping to examine him on the morrow, spent a delightful
day conferring with a bunch of eager psychologists and was
interested to spot among the nurses the familiar squint of Elsie
Langford, a gaunt girl with a feverish flush and protruding
470.05 teeth, who had been obscurely involved in a “poltergeist” affair
at another medical institution. He had dinner with old Paar in
his rooms at Chose and told him he would like to have the poor
fellow transferred to Kingston, with Miss Langford, as soon as
he was fit to travel. The poor fellow died that night in his sleep,
470.10 leaving the entire incident suspended in midair within a nimbus
of bright irrelevancy.
Van, in whom the pink-blooming chestnuts of Chose always
induced an amorous mood, decided to squander the sudden
bounty of time before his voyage to America on a twenty-four-
470.15 hour course of treatment at the most fashionable and efficient
of all the Venus Villas in Europe; but during the longish trip
in the ancient, plushy, faintly perfumed (musk? Turkish to-
bacco?) limousine which he usually got from the Albania, his
London hotel, for travels in England, other restless feelings
470.20 joined, without dispelling it, his sullen lust. Rocking along softly,
his slippered foot on a footrest, his arm in an armloop, he re-
called his first railway journey to Ardis and tried—what he
sometimes advised a patient doing in order to exercise the
“muscles of consciousness”—namely putting oneself back not
470.25 merely into the frame of mind that had preceded a radical
change in one’s life, but into a state of complete ignorance re-
garding that change. He knew it could not be done, that not
the achievement, but the obstinate attempt was possible, because
he would not have remembered the preface to Ada had not life
470.30 turned the next page, causing now its radiant text to flash
through all the tenses of the mind. He wondered if he would
remember the present commonplace trip. An English late spring
with literary associations lingered in the evening air. The built-
in “canoreo” (an old-fashioned musical gadget which a joint

[ 470 ]

Anglo-American Commission had only recently unbanned)
transmitted a heart-wounding Italian song. What was he? Who
was he? Why was he? He thought of his slackness, clumsiness,
dereliction of spirit. He thought of his loneliness, of its passions
471.05 and dangers. He saw through the glass partition the fat, healthy,
reliable folds of his driver’s neck. Idle images queued by
—Edmund, Edmond, simple Cordula, fantastically intricate
Lucette, and, by further mechanical association, a depraved little
girl called Lisette, in Cannes, with breasts like lovely abscesses,
471.10 whose frail favors were handled by a smelly big brother in an
old bathing machine.
He turned off the canoreo and helped himself to the brandy
stored behind a sliding panel, drinking from the bottle, because
all three glasses were filthy. He felt surrounded by crashing
471.15 great trees, and the monstrous beasts of unachieved, perhaps
unachievable tasks. One such task was Ada whom he knew he
would never give up; to her he would surrender the remnants
of his self at the first trumpet blast of destiny. Another was his
philosophic work, so oddly impeded by its own virtue—by that
471.20 originality of literary style which constitutes the only real
honesty of a writer. He had to do it his own way, but the
cognac was frightful, and the history of thought bristled with
clichés, and it was that history he had to surmount.
He knew he was not quite a savant, but completely an artist.
471.25 Paradoxically and unnecessarily it had been in his “academic
career,” in his nonchalent and arrogant lectures, in his conduct
of seminars, in his published reports on sick minds, that, start-
ing as something of a prodigy before he was twenty, he had
gained by the age of thirty-one “honors” and a “position” that
471.30 many unbelievably laborious men do not reach at fifty. In his
sadder moments, as now, he attributed at least part of his
“success” to his rank, to his wealth, to the numerous donations,
which (in a kind of extension of his overtipping the haggard
beggars who cleaned rooms, manned lifts, smiled in hotel cor-

[ 471 ]

ridors) he kept showering upon worthwhile institutions and
students. Maybe Van Veen did not err too widely in his wry
conjecture; for on our Antiterra (and on Terra as well, ac-
cording to his own writings) a powerfully plodding Adminis-
472.05 tration prefers, unless moved by the sudden erection of a new
building or the thunder of torrential funds, the safe drabness
of an academic mediocrity to the suspect sparkle of a V.V.
Nightingales sang, when he arrived at his fabulous and ignoble
destination. As usual, he experienced a surge of brutal elation
472.10 as the car entered the oak avenue between two rows of phal-
lephoric statues presenting arms. A welcome habitué of fifteen
years’ standing, he had not bothered to “telephone” (the new
official term). A searchlight lashed him: Alas, he had come on
a “gala” night!
472.15 Members usually had their chauffeurs park in a special en-
closure near the guardhouse, where there was a pleasant canteen
for servants, with nonalcoholic drinks and a few inexpensive
and homely whores. But that night several huge police cars
occupied the garage boxes and overflowed into an adjacent
472.20 arbor. Telling Kingsley to wait a moment under the oaks, Van
donned his bautta and went to investigate. His favorite walled
walk soon took him to one of the spacious lawns velveting the
approach to the manor. The grounds were lividly illuminated
and as populous as Park Avenue—an association that came very
472.25 readily, since the disguises of the astute sleuths belonged to a
type which reminded Van of his native land. Some of those
men he even knew by sight—they used to patrol his father’s
club in Manhattan whenever good Gamaliel (not reelected
after his fourth term) happened to dine there in his informal
472.30 gagality. They mimed what they were accustomed to mime—
grapefruit vendors, black hawkers of bananas and banjoes,
obsolete, or at least untimely, “copying clerks” who hurried in
circles to unlikely offices, and peripatetic Russian newspaper
readers slowing down to a trance stop and then strolling again

[ 472 ]

behind their wide open Estotskiya Vesti. Van remembered that
Mr. Alexander Screepatch, the new president of the United
Americas, a plethoric Russian, had flown over to see King
Victor; and he correctly concluded that both were now sunk
473.05 in mollitude. The comic side of the detectives’ display (be-
fitting, perhaps, their dated notion of an American sidewalk,
but hardly suiting a weirdly illuminated maze of English hedges)
tempered his disappointment as he shuddered squeamishly at the
thought of sharing the frolics of historical personages or content-
473.10 ing himself with the brave-faced girlies they had started to use
and rejected.
Here a bedsheeted statue attempted to challenge Van from
its marble pedestal but slipped and landed on its back in the
bracken. Ignoring the sprawling god, Van returned to the still-
473.15 throbbing jolls-joyce. Purple-jowled Kingsley, an old tried
friend, offered to drive him to another house, ninety miles
north; but Van declined upon principle and was taken back
to the Albania.

[ 473 ]

(back to Part Three, Chapter 3)
(forward to Part Three, Chapter 5)

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