Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 5 (view annotations)

In the early afternoon he descended with his two suitcases into
the sunny peace of the little rural station whence a winding
road led to Ardis Hall, which he was visiting for the first time
in his life. In a miniature of the imagination, he had seen a
34.05 saddled horse prepared for him; there was not even a trap.
The station master, a stout sunburnt man in a brown uniform,
was sure they expected him with the evening train which was
slower but had a tea car. He would ring up the Hall in a
moment, he added as he signaled to the anxious engine driver.
34.10 Suddenly a hackney coach drove up to the platform and a
red-haired lady, carrying her straw hat and laughing at her
own haste, made for the train and just managed to board it
before it moved. So Van agreed to use the means of transporta-
tion made available to him by a chance crease in the texture
34.15 of time, and seated himself in the old calèche. The half-
hour drive proved not unpleasant. He was taken through pine-
woods and over rocky ravines, with birds and other animals
singing in the flowering undergrowth. Sunflecks and lacy
shadows skimmed over his legs and lent a green twinkle to the
34.20 brass button deprived of its twin on the back of the coachman’s

[ 34 ]

coat. They passed through Torfyanka, a dreamy hamlet con-
sisting of three or four log izbas, a milkpail repair shop and
a smithy smothered in jasmine. The driver waved to an in-
visible friend and the sensitive runabout swerved slightly to
35.05 match his gesture. They were now spinning along a dusty
country road between fields. The road dipped and humped
again, and at every ascent the old clockwork taxi would slow
up as if on the brink of sleep and reluctantly overcome its
35.10 They bounced on the cobblestones of Gamlet, a half-Russian
village, and the chauffeur waved again, this time to a boy in a
cherry tree. Birches separated to let them pass across an old
bridge. Ladore, with its ruinous black castle on a crag, and its
gay multicolored roofs further downstream were glimpsed—
35.15 to be seen again many times much later in life.
Presently the vegetation assumed a more southern aspect as
the lane skirted Ardis Park. At the next turning, the romantic
mansion appeared on the gentle eminence of old novels. It was
a splendid country house, three stories high, built of pale brick
35.20 and purplish stone, whose tints and substance seemed to inter-
change their effects in certain lights. Notwithstanding the va-
riety, amplitude and animation of great trees that had long re-
placed the two regular rows of stylized saplings (thrown in by
the mind of the architect rather than observed by the eye of a
35.25 painter) Van immediately recognized Ardis Hall as depicted in
the two-hundred-year-old aquarelle that hung in his father’s
dressing room: the mansion sat on a rise overlooking an abstract
meadow with two tiny people in cocked hats conversing not
far from a stylized cow.
35.30 None of the family was at home when Van arrived. A
servant in waiting took his horse. He entered the Gothic arch-
way of the hall where Bouteillan, the old bald butler who
unprofessionally now wore a mustache (dyed a rich gravy
brown), met him with gested delight—he had once been the

[ 35 ]

valet of Van’s father—"Je parie," he said, "que Monsieur ne me
reconnaît pas," and proceeded to remind Van of what Van had
already recollected unaided, the farmannikin (a special kind of
box kite, untraceable nowadays even in the greatest museums
36.05 housing the toys of the past) which Bouteillan had helped him
to fly one day in a meadow dotted with buttercups. Both
looked up: the tiny red rectangle hung for an instant askew
in a blue spring sky. The hall was famous for its painted ceilings.
It was too early for tea: Would Van like him or a maid to un-
36.10 pack? Oh, one of the maids, said Van, wondering briefly what
item in a schoolboy’s luggage might be supposed to shock a
housemaid. The picture of naked Ivory Revery (a model)?
Who cared, now that he was a man?
Acting upon the butler’s suggestion he went to make a tour
36.15 du jardin. As he followed a winding path, soundlessly stepping
on its soft pink sand in the cloth gumshoes that were part of the
school uniform, he came upon a person whom he recognized
with disgust as being his former French governess (the place
swarmed with ghosts!). She was sitting on a green bench under
36.20 the Persian lilacs, a parasol in one hand and in the other a book
from which she was reading aloud to a small girl who was pick-
ing her nose and examining with dreamy satisfaction her finger
before wiping it on the edge of the bench. Van decided she
must be "Ardelia," the eldest of the two little cousins he was
36.25 supposed to get acquainted with. Actually it was Lucette, the
younger one, a neutral child of eight, with a fringe of shiny
reddish-blond hair and a freckled button for nose: she had had
pneumonia in spring and was still veiled by an odd air of re-
moteness that children, especially impish children, retain for
36.30 some time after brushing through death. Mlle Larivière sud-
denly looked at Van over her green spectacles—and he had to
cope with another warm welcome. In contrast to Albert, she had
not changed at all since the days she used to come three times a

[ 36 ]

week to Dark Veen’s house in town with a bagful of books and
the tiny, tremulous poodlet (now dead) that could not be left
behind. It had glistening eyes like sad black olives.
Presently they all strolled back, the governess shaking in
37.05 reminiscent grief her big-chinned, big-nosed head under the
moiré of her parasol; Lucy gratingly dragging a garden hoe
she had found, and young Van in his trim gray suit and flowing
tie, with his hands behind his back, looking down at his neatly
stepping mute feet—trying to place them in line, for no special
37.10 reason.
A victoria had stopped at the porch. A lady, who resembled
Van’s mother, and a dark-haired girl of eleven or twelve, pre-
ceded by a fluid dackel, were getting out. Ada carried an untidy
bunch of wild flowers. She wore a white frock with a black
37.15 jacket and there was a white bow in her long hair. He never
saw that dress again and when he mentioned it in retrospective
evocation she invariably retorted that he must have dreamt it,
she never had one like that, never could have put on a dark
blazer on such a hot day, but he stuck to his initial image of her
37.20 to the last.
Some ten years ago, not long before or after his fourth birth-
day, and toward the end of his mother’s long stay in a sana-
torium, "Aunt" Marina had swooped upon him in a public park
where there were pheasants in a big cage. She advised his nurse
37.25 to mind her own business and took him to a booth near the band
shell where she bought him an emerald stick of peppermint
candy and told him that if his father wished she would replace
his mother and that you could not feed the birds without Lady
Amherst’s permission, or so he understood.
37.30 They now had tea in a prettily furnished corner of the other-
wise very austere central hall from which rose the grand stair-
case. They sat on chairs upholstered in silk around a pretty
table. Ada’s black jacket and a pink-yellow-blue nosegay she

[ 37 ]

had composed of anemones, celandines and columbines lay on
a stool of oak. The dog got more bits of cake than it did or-
dinarily. Price, the mournful old footman who brought the
cream for the strawberries, resembled Van’s teacher of history,
38.05 "Jeejee" Jones.
"He resembles my teacher of history," said Van when the
man had gone.
"I used to love history," said Marina, "I loved to identify
myself with famous women. There’s a ladybird on your plate,
38.10 Ivan. Especially with famous beauties—Lincoln’s second wife or
Queen Josephine."
"Yes, I’ve noticed—it’s beautifully done. We’ve got a similar
set at home."
"Slivok (some cream)? I hope you speak Russian?" Marina
38.15 asked Van, as she poured him a cup of tea.
"Neohotno no sovershenno svobodno (reluctantly but quite
fluently)," replied Van, slegka ulïbnuvshis’ (with a slight smile).
"Yes, lots of cream and three lumps of sugar."
"Ada and I share your extravagant tastes. Dostoevski liked
38.20 it with raspberry syrup."
"Pah," uttered Ada.
Marina’s portrait, a rather good oil by Tresham, hanging
above her on the wall, showed her wearing the picture hat she
had used for the rehearsal of a Hunting Scene ten years ago, ro-
38.25 mantically brimmed, with a rainbow wing and a great drooping
plume of black-banded silver; and Van, as he recalled the cage
in the park and his mother somewhere in a cage of her own,
experienced an odd sense of mystery as if the commentators of
his destiny had gone into a huddle. Marina’s face was now made
38.30 up to imitate her former looks, but fashions had changed, her
cotton dress was a rustic print, her auburn locks were bleached
and no longer tumbled down her temples, and nothing in her
attire or adornments echoed the dash of her riding crop in the

[ 38 ]

picture and the tegular pattern of her brilliant plumage which
Tresham had rendered with ornithological skill.
There was not much to remember about that first tea. He
noticed Ada’s trick of hiding her fingernails by fisting her hand
39.05 or stretching it with the palm turned upward when helping
herself to a biscuit. She was bored and embarrassed by every-
thing her mother said and when the latter started to talk about
the Tarn, otherwise the New Reservoir, he noted that Ada was
no longer sitting next to him but standing a little way off with
39.10 her back to the tea table at an open casement with the slim-
waisted dog on a chair peering over splayed front paws out into
the garden too, and she was asking it in a private whisper what
it was it had sniffed.
"You can see the Tarn from the library window," said
39.15 Marina. "Presently Ada will show you all the rooms in the
house. Ada?" (She pronounced it the Russian way with two
deep, dark "a"s, making it sound rather like "ardor.")
"You can catch a glint of it from here too," said Ada, turning
her head and, pollice verso, introducing the view to Van who
39.20 put his cup down, wiped his mouth with a tiny embroidered
napkin, and stuffing it into his trouser pocket, went up to the
dark-haired, pale-armed girl. As he bent toward her (he was
three inches taller and the double of that when she married a
Greek Catholic, and his shadow held the bridal crown over her
39.25 from behind), she moved her head to make him move his to
the required angle and her hair touched his neck. In his first
dreams of her this re-enacted contact, so light, so brief, in-
variably proved to be beyond the dreamer’s endurance and like
a lifted sword signaled fire and violent release.
39.30 "Finish your tea, my precious," called Marina.
Presently, as Marina had promised, the two children went
upstairs. "Why do stairs creak so desperately, when two chil-
dren go upstairs," she thought, looking up at the balustrade

[ 39 ]

along which two left hands progressed with strikingly similar
flips and glides like siblings taking their first dancing lesson.
"After all, we were twin sisters; everybody knows that." The
same slow heave, she in front, he behind, took them over the
40.05 last two steps, and the staircase was silent again. "Old-fashioned
qualms," said Marina.

[ 40 ]

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