Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 23 (view annotations)

All went well until Mlle Larivière decided to stay in bed for
five days: she had sprained her back on a merry-go-round at
the Vintage Fair, which, besides, she needed as the setting for
a story she had begun (about a town mayor's strangling a small
142.05 girl called Rockette), and knew by experience that nothing
kept up the itch of inspiration so well as la chaleur du lit. During
that period, the second upstairs maid, French, whose moods and
looks did not match the sweet temper and limpid grace of
Blanche, was supposed to look after Lucette, and Lucette did
142.10 her best to avoid the lazy servant's surveillance in favor of her
cousin's and sister's company. The ominous words: "Well, if
Master Van lets you come," or "Yes, I'm sure Miss Ada won't
mind your mushroom-picking with her," became something of
a knell in regard to love's freedom.
142.15 While the comfortably resting lady was describing the bank
of a brook where little Rockette liked to frolic, Ada sat reading
on a similar bank, wistfully glancing from time to time at an
inviting clump of evergreens (that had frequently sheltered
our lovers) and at brown-torsoed, barefooted Van, in turned-up
142.20 dungarees, who was searching for his wristwatch that he

[ 142 ]

thought he had dropped among the forget-me-nots (but which
Ada, he forgot, was wearing). Lucette had abandoned her
skipping rope to squat on the brink of the brook and float a
fetus-sized rubber doll. Every now and then she squeezed out
143.05 of it a fascinating squirt of water through a little hole that Ada
had had the bad taste to perforate for her in the slippery
orange-red toy. With the sudden impatience of inanimate things,
the doll managed to get swept away by the current. Van shed
his pants under a willow and retrieved the fugitive. Ada, after
143.10 considering the situation for a moment, shut her book and said
to Lucette, whom usually it was not hard to enchant, that she,
Ada, felt she was quickly turning into a dragon, that the
scales had begun to turn green, that now she was a dragon and
that Lucette must be tied to a tree with the skipping rope so
143.15 that Van might save her just in time. For some reason,
Lucette balked at the notion but physical strength prevailed.
Van and Ada left the angry captive firmly attached to a willow
trunk, and, "prancing" to feign swift escape and pursuit, dis-
appeared for a few precious minutes in the dark grove of
143.20 conifers. Writhing Lucette had somehow torn off one of the
red knobbed grips of the rope and seemed to have almost disen-
tangled herself when dragon and knight, prancing, returned.
She complained to her governess who, completely miscon-
struing the whole matter (which could also be said of her new
143.25 composition), summoned Van and from her screened bed,
through a reek of embrocation and sweat, told him to refrain
from turning Lucette's head by making of her a fairy-tale
damsel in distress.
On the following day Ada informed her mother that Lucette
143.30 badly needed a bath and that she would give it to her, whether
her governess liked it or not. "Horosho," said Marina (while
getting ready to receive a neighbor and his protégé, a young
actor, in her best Dame Marina style), "but the temperature
should be kept at exactly twenty-eight (as it had been since the

[ 143 ]

eighteenth century) and don't let her stay in it longer than
ten or twelve minutes."
"Beautiful idea," said Van as he helped Ada to heat the tank,
fill the old battered bath and warm a couple of towels.
144.05 Despite her being only in her ninth year and rather under-
developed, Lucette had not escaped the delusive pubescence of
red-haired little girls. Her armpits showed a slight stipple of
bright floss and her chub was dusted with copper.
The liquid prison was now ready and an alarm clock given
144.10 a full quarter of an hour to live.
"Let her soak first, you'll soap her afterwards," said Van
"Yes, yes, yes," cried Ada.
"I'm Van," said Lucette, standing in the tub with the
144.15 mulberry soap between her legs and protruding her shiny
"You'll turn into a boy if you do that," said Ada sternly, "and
that won't be very amusing."
Warily, the little girl started to sink her buttocks in the
144.20 water.
"Too hot," she said, "much too horribly hot!"
"It'll cool," said Ada, "plop down and relax. Here's your
"Come on, Ada, for goodness' sake, let her soak," repeated
144.25 Van.
"And remember," said Ada, "don't you dare get out of this
nice warm water until the bell rings or you'll die, because that's
what Krolik said. I'll be back to lather you, but don't call me;
we have to count the linen and sort out Van's hankies."
144.30 The two elder children, having locked the door of the L-
shaped bathroom from the inside, now retired to the seclusion
of its lateral part, in a corner between a chest of drawers and an
old unused mangle, which the sea-green eye of the bathroom
looking-glass could not reach; but barely had they finished

[ 144 ]

their violent and uncomfortable exertions in that hidden nook,
with an empty medicine bottle idiotically beating time on a
shelf, when Lucette was already calling resonantly from the
tub and the maid knocking on the door: Mlle Larivière wanted
145.05 some hot water too.
They tried all sorts of other tricks.
Once, for example, when Lucette had made of herself a
particular nuisance, her nose running, her hand clutching at
Van's all the time, her whimpering attachment to his company
145.10 turning into a veritable obsession, Van mustered all his persua-
sive skill, charm, eloquence, and said with conspiratory under-
tones: "Look, my dear. This brown book is one of my most
treasured possessions. I had a special pocket made for it in my
school jacket. Numberless fights have been fought over it with
145.15 wicked boys who wanted to steal it. What we have here" (turn-
ing the pages reverently) "is no less than a collection of the most
beautiful and famous short poems in the English language. This
tiny one, for example, was composed in tears forty years ago by
the Poet Laureate Robert Brown, the old gentleman whom my
145.20 father once pointed out to me up in the air on a cliff under a
cypress, looking down on the foaming turquoise surf near Nice,
an unforgettable sight for all concerned. It is called 'Peter and
Margaret.' Now you have, say" (turning to Ada in solemn
consultation), "forty minutes" ("Give her a full hour, she can't
145.25 even memorize Mironton, mirontaine")—"all right, a full hour
to learn these eight lines by heart. You and I" (whispering) "are
going to prove to your nasty arrogant sister that stupid little
Lucette can do anything. If" (lightly brushing her bobbed hair
with his lips), "if, my sweet, you can recite it and confound Ada
145.30 by not making one single slip—you must be careful about the
'here-there' and the 'this-that', and every other detail—if you
can do it then I shall give you this valuable book for keeps."
("Let her try the one about finding a feather and seeing Peacock
plain" said Ada drily—"it's a bit harder.") "No, no, she and I

[ 145 ]

have already chosen that little ballad. All right. Now go in
here" (opening a door) "and don't come out until I call you.
Otherwise, you'll forfeit the reward, and will regret the loss
all your life."
146.05 "Oh, Van, how lovely of you," said Lucette, slowly entering
her room, with her bemused eyes scanning the fascinating fly-
leaf, his name on it, his bold flourish, and his own wonderful
drawings in ink—a black aster (evolved from a blot), a doric
column (disguising a more ribald design), a delicate leafless
146.10 tree (as seen from a classroom window), and several profiles of
boys (Cheshcat, Zogdog, Fancytart, and Ada-like Van himself).
Van hastened to join Ada in the attic. At that moment he felt
quite proud of his stratagem. He was to recall it with a fatidic
shiver seventeen years later when Lucette, in her last note to
146.15 him, mailed from Paris to his Kingston address on June 2, 1901,
"just in case," wrote:
"I kept for years—it must be in my Ardis nurserythe
anthology you once gave me; and the little poem you wanted
me to learn by heart is still word-perfect in a safe place of my
146.20 jumbled mind, with the packers trampling on my things, and
upsetting crates, and voices calling: time to go, time to go. Find
it in Brown and praise me again for my eight-year-old in-
telligence as you and happy Ada did that distant day, that day
somewhere tinkling on its shelf like an empty little bottle. Now
146.25 read on:
"Here, said the guide, was the field,
There, he said, was the wood.
This is where Peter kneeled,
That's where the Princess stood.
146.30 No, the visitor said,
You are the ghost, old guide.
Oats and oaks may be dead,
But she is by my side."

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