Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 40 (view annotations)

Van was lying in his netted nest under the liriodendrons, read-
ing Antiterrenus on Rattner. His knee had troubled him all
night; now, after lunch, it seemed a bit better. Ada had gone on
horseback to Ladore, where he hoped she would forget to buy
283.05 the messy turpentine oil Marina had told her to bring him.
His valet advanced toward him across the lawn, followed by
a messenger, a slender youth clad in black leather from neck to
ankle, chestnut curls escaping from under a vizored cap. The
strange child glanced around with an amateur thespian's exag-
283.10 geration of attitude, and handed a letter, marked "confidential,"
to Van.

Dear Veen,
In a couple of days I must leave for a spell of military
service abroad. If you desire to see me before I go I shall
283.15 be glad to entertain you (and any other gentleman you
might wish to bring along) at dawn tomorrow where
the Maidenhair road crosses Tourbiere Lane. If not, I
beg you to confirm in a brief note that you bear me no

[ 283 ]

grudge, just as no grudge is cherished in regard to you,
sir, by your obedient servant
Percy de Prey

No, Van did not desire to see the Count. He said so to the
284.05 pretty messenger, who stood with one hand on the hip and one
knee turned out like an extra, waiting for the signal to join the
gambaders in the country dance after Calabro's aria.
Un moment,” added Van. “I would be interested to know—
this could be decided in a jiffy behind that tree—what you are,
284.10 stable boy or kennel girl?”
The messenger did not reply and was led away by the
chuckling Bout. A little squeal suggestive of an improper pinch
came from behind the laurels screening their exit.
It was hard to decide whether that clumsy and pretentious
284.15 missive had been dictated by the fear that one's sailing off to
fight for one's country might be construed as running away
from more private engagements, or whether its conciliatory
gist had been demanded from Percy by somebody—perhaps a
woman (for instance his mother, born Praskovia Lanskoy);
284.20 anyway, Van's honor remained unaffected. He limped to the
nearest garbage can and, having burnt the letter with its crested
blue envelope, dismissed the incident from his mind, merely
noting that now, at least, Ada would cease to be pestered by
the fellow's attentions.
284.25 She returned late in the afternoon—without the embrocation,
thank goodness. He was still lolling in his low-slung hammock,
looking rather forlorn and sulky, but having glanced around
(with more natural grace than the brown-locked messenger had
achieved), she raised her veil, kneeled down by him and soothed
284.30 him.
When lightning struck two days later (an old image that is
meant to intimate a flash-back to an old barn), Van became
aware that it brought together, in livid confrontation, two

[ 284 ]

secret witnesses; they had been hanging back in his mind since
the first day of his fateful return to Ardis: One had been mur-
muring with averted gaze that Percy de Prey was, and would
always be, only a dance partner, a frivolous follower; the other
285.05 had kept insinuating, with spectral insistence, that some nameless
trouble was threatening the very sanity of Van's pale, faithless
On the morning of the day preceding the most miserable one
in his life, he found he could bend his leg without wincing, but
285.10 he made the mistake of joining Ada and Lucette in an im-
promptu lunch on a long-neglected croquet lawn and walked
home with difficulty. A swim in the pool and a soak in the
sun helped, however, and the pain had practically gone when
in the mellow heat of the long afternoon Ada returned from
285.15 one of her long "brambles" as she called her botanical rambles,
succinctly and somewhat sadly, for the florula had ceased to
yield much beyond the familiar favorites. Marina, in a luxurious
peignoir, with a large oval mirror hinged before her, sat at a
white toilet table that had been carried out onto the lawn where
285.20 she was having her hair dressed by senile but still wonderwork-
ing Monsieur Violette of Lyon and Ladore, an unusual outdoor
activity which she explained and excused by the fact of her
grandmother's having also liked qu'on la coiffe au grand air so
as to forestall the zephyrs (as a duelist steadies his hand by
285.25 walking about with a poker).
"That's our best performer," she said, indicating Van to
Violette who mistook him for Pedro and bowed with un air
Van had been looking forward to a little walk of convales-
285.30 cence with Ada before dressing for dinner, but she said, as she
drooped on a garden chair, that she was exhausted and filthy and
had to wash her face and feet, and prepare for the ordeal of
helping her mother entertain the movie people who were ex-
pected later in the evening.

[ 285 ]

"I've seen him in Sexico," murmured Monsieur Violette to
Marina, whose ears he had shut with both hands as he moved
the reflection of her head in the glass this way and that.
"No, it's getting late," muttered Ada, "and, moreover, I prom-
286.05 ised Lucette—"
He insisted in a fierce whisper—fully knowing, however,
how useless it was to attempt to make her change her mind,
particularly in amorous matters; but unaccountably and mar-
velously her dazed look melted into one of gentle glee, as if in
286.10 sudden perception of new-found release. Thus a child may
stare into space, with a dawning smile, upon realizing that the
bad dream is over, or that a door has been left unlocked, and
that one can paddle with impunity in thawed sky. Ada rid her
shoulder of the collecting satchel and, under Violette's benevo-
286.15 lent gaze following them over Marina's mirrored head, they
strolled away and sought the comparative seclusion of the park
alley where she had once demonstrated to him her sun-and-shade
games. He held her, and kissed her, and kissed her again as if
she had returned from a long and perilous journey. The sweet-
286.20 ness of her smile was something quite unexpected and special.
It was not the sly demon smile of remembered or promised
ardor, but the exquisite human glow of happiness and helpless-
ness. All their passionate pump-joy exertions, from Burning
Barn to Burnberry Brook, were nothing in comparison to this
286.25 zaychik, this "sun blick" of the smiling spirit. Her black jumper
and black Skirt with apron pockets lost its "in-mourning-for-a-
lost flower" meaning that Marina had fancifully attached to her
dress ("nemedlenno pereodet'sya, change immediately!" she had
yelped into the green-shimmering looking-glass); instead, it had
286.30 acquired the charm of a Lyaskan, old-fashioned schoolgirl uni-
form. They stood brow to brow, brown to white, black to
black, he supporting her elbows, she playing her limp light
fingers over his collarbone, and how he "ladored," he said, the

[ 286 ]

dark aroma of her hair blending with crushed lily stalks, Turk-
ish cigarettes and the lassitude that comes from "lass." "No, no,
don't," she said, I must wash, quick-quick, Ada must wash; but
for yet another immortal moment they stood embraced in the
287.05 hushed avenue, enjoying, as they had never enjoyed before, the
"happy-forever" feeling at the end of never-ending fairy tales.
That's a beautiful passage, Van. I shall cry all night (late
As a last sunbeam struck Ada, her mouth and chin shone
287.10 drenched with his poor futile kisses. She shook her head saying
they must really part, and she kissed his hands as she did only
in moments of supreme tenderness, and then quickly turned
away, and they really parted.
One common orchid, a Lady's Slipper, was all that wilted in
287.15 the satchel which she had left on a garden table and now
dragged upstairs. Marina and the mirror had gone. He peeled
off his training togs and took one last dip in the pool over which
the butler stood, looking meditatively into the false-blue water
with his hands behind his back.
287.20 "I wonder," he said, "if I haven't just seen a tadpole."
The novelistic theme of written communications has now
really got into its stride. When Van went up to his room he
noticed, with a shock of grim premonition, a slip of paper
sticking out of the heart pocket of his dinner jacket. Penciled
287.25 in a large hand, with the contour of every letter deliberately
whiffled and rippled, was the anonymous injunction: "One must
not berne you." Only a French-speaking person would use that
word for "dupe." Among the servants, fifteen at least were of
French extraction—descendants of immigrants who had settled
287.30 in America after England had annexed their beautiful and un-
fortunate country in 1815. To interview them all—torture the
males, rape the females—would be, of course, absurd and de-
grading. With a puerile wrench he broke his best black butter-

[ 287 ]

fly on the wheel of his exasperation. The pain from the fang
bite was now reaching his heart. He found another tie, finished
dressing and went to look for Ada.
He found both girls and their governess in one of the "nursery
288.05 parlors," a delightful sitting room with a balcony on which
Mlle Larivière was sitting at a charmingly ornamented Pem-
broke table and reading with mixed feelings and furious annota-
tions the third shooting script of Les Enfants Maudits. At a
larger round table in the middle of the inner room, Lucette
288.10 under Ada's direction was trying to learn to draw flowers;
several botanical atlases, large and small, were lying about.
Everything appeared as it always used to be, the little nymphs
and goats on the painted ceiling, the mellow light of the day
ripening into evening, the remote dreamy rhythm of Blanche's
288.15 "linen-folding" voice humming "Malbrough" ( sait quand
reviendra, ne sait quand reviendra) and the two lovely heads,
bronze-black and copper-red, inclined over the table. Van real-
ized that he must simmer down before consulting Ada—or in-
deed before telling her he wished to consult her. She looked gay
288.20 and elegant; she was wearing his diamonds for the first time;
she had put on a new evening dress with jet gleams, and—also
for the first time— transparent silk stockings.
He sat down on a little sofa, took at random one of the open
volumes and stared in disgust at a group of brilliantly pictured
288.25 gross orchids whose popularity with bees depended, said the
text, "on various attractive odors ranging from the smell of
dead workers to that of a tomcat." Dead soldiers might smell
even better.
In the meantime obstinate Lucette kept insisting that the
288.30 easiest way to draw a flower was to place a sheet of transparent
paper over the picture (in the present case a red-bearded po-
gonia, with indecent details of structure, a plant peculiar to the
Ladoga bogs) and trace the outline of the thing in colored inks.

[ 288 ]

Patient Ada wanted her to copy not mechanically but "from
eye to hand and from hand to eye," and to use for model a live
specimen of another orchid that had a brown wrinkled pouch
and purple sepals; but after a while she gave in cheerfully and
289.05 set aside the crystal vaselet holding the Lady's Slipper she had
picked. Casually, lightly, she went on to explain how the or-
gans of orchids work—but all Lucette wanted to know, after her
whimsical fashion, was: could a boy bee impregnate a girl flower
through something, through his gaiters or woolies or whatever
289.10 he wore?
"You know," said Ada in a comic nasal voice, turning to
Van, "you know, that child has the dirtiest mind imaginable
and now she is going to be mad at me for saying this and sob
on the Larivière bosom, and complain she has been pollinated
289.15 by sitting on your knee."
"But I can't speak to Belle about dirty things," said Lucette
quite gently and reasonably.
"What's the matter with you, Van?" inquired sharp-eyed
289.20 "Why do you ask?" inquired Van in his turn.
"Your ears wiggle and you clear your throat."
"Are you through with those horrible flowers?"
"Yes. I'm going to wash my hands. We'll meet down-
stairs. Your tie is all crooked."
289.25 "All right, all right," said Van.

"Mon page, mon beau page,
Mon page, mon beau page..."

Downstairs, Jones was already taking down the dinner gong
289.30 from its hook in the hall.
"Well, what's the matter?" she asked when they met a minute
later on the drawing-room terrace.

[ 289 ]

"I found this in my jacket," said Van.
Rubbing her big front teeth with a nervous forefinger, Ada
read and reread the note.
"How do you know it's meant for you?" she asked, giving
290.05 him back the bit of copybook paper.
"Well, I'm telling you," he yelled.
"Tishe (quiet!)!" said Ada.
"I'm telling you I found it here," (pointing at his heart).
"Destroy and forget it," said Ada.
290.10 "Your obedient servant," replied Van.

[ 290 ]

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