|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
|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-
|geration of attitude, and handed a letter, marked "confidential,"
|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
|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
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|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
|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,
|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
|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);
|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.
|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
|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
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|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
|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
|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
|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
|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
|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-
|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.
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|"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-
|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
|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-
|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-
|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
|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
|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
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|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
|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
|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
|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.
|"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
|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
|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-
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|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
|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
|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
|"linen-folding" voice humming "Malbrough" (...ne 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
|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
|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
|In the meantime obstinate Lucette kept insisting that the
|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.
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|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
|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
|"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
|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
|"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."
|"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
|from its hook in the hall.
|"Well, what's the matter?" she asked when they met a minute
|later on the drawing-room terrace.
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|"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
|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.
|"Your obedient servant," replied Van.
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