Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 7 (view annotations)
7

Van had gone to bed, sandpaper-eyed, soon after "evening tea,"
a practically tea-less summertime meal which came a couple of
hours after dinner and the occurrence of which seemed to
Marina as natural and inevitable as that of a sunset before night.
47.05 This routine Russian feast consisted in the Ardis household of
prostokvasha (translated by English governesses as curds-and-
whey, and by Mlle Larivière as lait caillé, "curdled milk"),
whose thin, cream-smooth upper layer little Miss Ada delicately
but avidly (Ada, those adverbs qualified many actions of yours!)
47.10 skimmed off with her special monogrammed silver
spoon and licked up, before attacking the more amorphous
junkety depths of the stuff; with this came coarse black peasant
bread; dusky klubnika (Fragaria elatior), and huge, bright-red
garden strawberries (a cross between two other Fragaria spe-
47.15 cies). Van had hardly laid his cheek on his cool flat pillow when
he was violently aroused by a clamorous caroling—bright war-
bles, sweet whistles, chirps, trills, twitters, rasping caws and
tender chew-chews—which he assumed, not without a non-
Audubon’s apprehension, Ada could, and would, break up into
47.20 the right voices of the right birds. He slipped into loafers,
collected soap, comb and towel, and, containing his nudity in a

[ 47 ]

terry-cloth robe, left his bedroom with the intention of going
for a dip in the brook he had observed on the eve. The corridor
clock tocked amid an auroral silence broken indoors only by
the snore coming from the governess’ room. After a moment of
48.05 hesitation he visited the nursery water closet. There, the mad
aviary and rich sun got at him through a narrow casement. He
was quite well, quite well! As he descended the grand staircase,
General Durmanov’s father acknowledged Van with grave eyes
and passed him on to old Prince Zemski and other ancestors, all
48.10 as discreetly attentive as those museum guards who watch the
only tourist in a dim old palace.
The front door proved to be bolted and chained. He tried
the glassed and grilled side door of a blue-garlanded gallery;
it, too, did not yield. Being still unaware that under the stairs
48.15 an inconspicuous recess concealed an assortment of spare keys
(some very old and anonymous, hanging from brass hooks) and
communicated though a toolroom with a secluded part of the
garden, Van wandered through several reception rooms in
search of an obliging window. In a corner room he found,
48.20 standing at a tall window, a young chambermaid whom he had
glimpsed (and promised himself to investigate) on the preceding
evening. She wore what his father termed with a semi-assumed
leer "soubret black and frissonet frill"; a tortoiseshell comb in
her chestnut hair caught the amber light; the French window
48.25 was open, and she was holding one hand, starred with a tiny
aquamarine, rather high on the jamb as she looked at a sparrow
that was hopping up the paved path toward the bit of baby-toed
biscuit she had thrown to him. Her cameo profile, her cute pink
nostril, her long, French, lily-white neck, the outline, both full
48.30 and frail, of her figure (male lust does not go very far for
descriptive felicities!), and especially the savage sense of op-
portune license moved Van so robustly that he could not resist
clasping the wrist of her raised tight-sleeved arm. Freeing it,
and confirming by the coolness of her demeanor that she had

[ 48 ]

sensed his approach, the girl turned her attractive, though al-
most eyebrowless, face toward him and asked him if he would
like a cup of tea before breakfast. No. What was her name?
Blanche—but Mlle Larivière as called her "Cendrillon" because
49.05 her stockings got so easily laddered, see, and because she broke
and mislaid things, and confused flowers. His loose attire re-
vealed his desire; this could not escape a girl’s notice, even if
color-blind, and as he drew up still closer, while looking over
her head for a suitable couch to take shape in some part of this
49.10 magical manor—where any place, as in Casanova’s remem-
brances could be dream-changed into a sequestered seraglio
nook—she wiggled out of his reach completely and delivered a
little soliloquy in her soft Ladoran French:
"Monsieur a quinze ans, je crois, et moi, je sais, j’en ai dix-
49.15 neuf. Monsieur is a nobleman; I am a poor peat-digger’s daug-
hter. Monsieur a tâté, sans doute, des filles de la ville; quant à moi,
je suis vierge, ou peu sen faut. De plus, were I to fall in love
with you—I mean really in love—and I might, alas, if you pos-
sessed me rien qu’une petite fois it would be, for me, only
49.20 grief, and infernal fire, and despair, and even death, Monsieur.
Finalement, I might add that I have the whites and must see
le Docteur Chronique, I mean Crolique, on my next day off.
Now we have to separate, the sparrow has disappeared, I see,
and Monsieur Bouteillan has entered the next room, and can
49.25 perceive us clearly in that mirror above the sofa behind that
silk screen."
"Forgive me, girl," murmured Van, whom her strange, tragic
tone had singularly put off, as if he were taking part in a play
in which he was the principal actor, but of which he could only
49.30 recall that one scene.
The butler’s hand in the mirror took down a decanter from
nowhere and was withdrawn. Van, reknotting the cord of his
robe, passed through the French window into the green reality
of the garden.

[ 49 ]

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