Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 6 (view annotations)

Ada showed her shy guest the great library on the second floor,
the pride of Ardis and her favorite "browse," which her mother
never entered (having her own set of a Thousand-and-One Best
Plays in her boudoir), and which Red Veen, a sentimentalist
41.05 and a poltroon, shunned, not caring to run into the ghost of his
father who had died there of a stroke, and also because he
found nothing so depressing as the collected works of unrecol-
lected authors, although he did not mind an occasional visitor’s
admiring the place’s tall bookcases and short cabinets, its dark
41.10 pictures and pale busts, its ten chairs of carved walnut, and two
noble tables inlaid with ebony. In a slant of scholarly sunlight
a botanical atlas upon a reading desk lay open on a colored plate
of orchids. A kind of divan or daybed covered in black velvet,
with two yellow cushions, was placed in a recess, below a plate-
41.15 glass window which offered a generous view of the banal park
and the man-made lake. A pair of candlesticks, mere phantoms
of metal and tallow, stood, or seemed to stand, on the broad
window ledge.
A corridor leading off the library would have taken our
41.20 silent explorers to Mr. and Mrs. Veen’s apartments in the west

[ 41 ]

wing, had they pursued their investigations in that direction.
Instead, a semi-secret little staircase spiraled them from behind
a rotatory bookcase to the upper floor, she, pale-thighed, above
him, taking longer strides than he, three steep steps behind.
42.05 The bedchambers and adjacent accommodations were more
than modest, and Van could not help regretting he was too
young, apparently, to be assigned one of the two guest rooms
next to the library. He recalled nostalgically the luxuries of
home as he considered the revolting objects that would close
42.10 upon him in the solitude of summer nights. Everything struck
him as being intended for a cringing cretin, the dismal poorhouse
bed with a medieval headboard of dingy wood, the self-creaking
wardrobe, the squat commode of imitation mahogany with
chain-linked knobs (one missing), the blanket chest (a sheepish
42.15 escape from the linen room), and the old bureau whose domed
front flap was locked or stuck: he found the knob in one of its
useless pigeonholes and handed it to Ada who threw it out of
the window. Van had never encountered a towel horse before,
never seen a washstand made specially for the bathless. A round
42.20 looking-glass above it was ornamented with gilt gesso grapes; a
satanic snake encircled the porcelain basin (twin of the one in
the girls’ washroom across the passage). An elbow chair with a
high back and a bedside stool supporting a brass candlestick with
a grease pan and handle (whose double he had seemed to have
42.25 seen mirrored a moment ago—where?) completed the worst
and main part of the humble equipment.
They went back to the corridor, she tossing her hair, he
clearing his throat. Further down, a door of some playroom or
nursery stood ajar and stirred to and fro as little Lucette peeped
42.30 out, one russet knee showing. Then the doorleaf flew open—but
she darted inside and away. Cobalt sailing boats adorned the
white tiles of a stove, and as her sister and he passed by that
open door a toy barrel organ invitingly went into action with
a stumbling little minuet. Ada and Van returned to the ground

[ 42 ]

floor—this time all the way down the sumptuous staircase. Of
the many ancestors along the wall, she pointed out her favorite,
old Prince Vseslav Zemski (1699-1797), friend of Linnaeus
and author of Flora Ladorica, who was portrayed in rich oil
43.05 holding his barely pubescent bride and her blond doll in his
satin lap. An enlarged photograph, soberly framed, hung (rather
incongruously, Van thought) next to the rosebud-lover in his
embroidered coat. The late Sumerechnikov, American precursor
of the Lumière brothers, had taken Ada’s maternal uncle in
43.10 profile with upcheeked violin, a doomed youth, after his fare-
well concert.
On the first floor, a yellow drawing room hung with damask
and furnished in what the French once called the Empire style
opened into the garden and now, in the late afternoon, was
43.15 invaded across the threshold by the large leaf shadows of a
paulownia tree (named, by an indifferent linguist, explained
Ada, after the patronymic, mistaken for a second name or sur-
name of a harmless lady, Anna Pavlovna Romanov, daughter of
Pavel, nicknamed Paul-minus-Peter, why she did not know,
43.20 a cousin of the non-linguist’s master, the botanical Zemski,
I’m going to scream, thought Van). A china cabinet encaged
a whole zoo of small animals among which the oryx and the
okapi, complete with scientific names, were especially recom-
mended to him by his charming but impossibly pretentious
43.25 companion. Equally fascinating was a five-fold screen with
bright paintings on its black panels reproducing the first maps
of four and a half continents. We now pass into the music
room with its little-used piano, and a corner room called
the Gun Room containing a stuffed Shetland pony which an
43.30 aunt of Dan Veen’s, maiden name forgotten, thank Log, once
rode. On the other, or some other, side of the house was the ball-
room, a glossy wasteland with wallflower chairs. "Reader, ride
by" ("mimo, chitatel’," as Turgenev wrote). The "mews," as
they were improperly called in Ladore County, were archi-

[ 43 ]

tecturally rather confusing in the case of Ardis Hall. A latticed
gallery looked across its garlanded shoulder into the garden
and turned sharply toward the drive. Elsewhere, an elegant
loggia, lit by long windows, led now tongue-tied Ada and in-
44.05 tolerably bored Van into a bower of rocks: a sham grotto, with
ferns clinging to it shamelessly, and an artificial cascade bor-
rowed from some brook or book, or Van’s burning bladder
(after all the confounded tea).
The servants’ quarters (except those of two painted and
44.10 powdered maids who had rooms upstairs) were on the court-
yard side of the ground floor and Ada said she had visited them
once in the explorative stage of her childhood but all she re-
membered was a canary and an ancient machine for grinding
coffee beans which settled the matter.
44.15 They zoomed upstairs again. Van popped into a watercloset
—and emerged in much better humor. A dwarf Haydn again
played a few bars as they walked on.
The attic. This is the attic. Welcome to the attic. It stored
a great number of trunks and cartons, and two brown couches
44.20 one on top of the other like copulating beetles, and lots of
pictures standing in corners or on shelves with their faces against
the wall like humiliated children. Rolled up in its case was an
old "jikker" or skimmer, a blue magic rug with Arabian designs,
faded but still enchanting, which Uncle Daniel’s father had used
44.25 in his boyhood and later flown when drunk. Because of the many
collisions, collapses and other accidents, especially numerous in
sunset skies over idyllic fields, jikkers were banned by the air
patrol; but four years later Van who loved that sport bribed a
local mechanic to clean the thing, reload its hawking-tubes, and
44.30 generally bring it back into magic order and many a summer
day would they spend, his Ada and he, hanging over grove and
river or gliding at a safe ten-foot altitude above surfaces of roads
or roofs. How comic the wobbling, ditch-diving cyclist, how
weird the arm-flailing and slipping chimney sweep!

[ 44 ]

Vaguely impelled by the feeling that as long as they were in-
specting the house they were, at least, doing something—keep-
ing up a semblance of consecutive action which, despite the
brilliant conversational gifts both possessed, would degenerate
45.05 into a desperate vacuum of self-conscious loafing with no other
resource than affected wit followed by silence, Ada did not
spare him the basement where a big-bellied robot throbbed,
manfully heating the pipes that meandered to the huge kitchen
and to the two drab bathrooms, and did their poor best to keep
45.10 the castle habitable on festive visits in winter.
"You have not seen anything yet!" cried Ada. "There is still
the roof!"
"But that is going to be our last climb today," said Van to
himself firmly.
45.15 Owing to a mixture of overlapping styles and tiles (not
easily explainable in non-technical terms to non-roof-lovers),
as well as to a haphazard continuum, so to speak, of renovations,
the roof of Ardis Manor presented an indescribable confusion
of angles and levels, of tin-green and fin-gray surfaces, of scenic
45.20 ridges and wind-proof nooks. You could clip and kiss, and sur-
vey in between, the reservoir, the groves, the meadows, even
the inkline of larches that marked the boundary of the nearest
estate miles away, and the ugly little shapes of more or less leg-
less cows on a distant hillside. And one could easily hide behind
45.25 some projection from inquisitive skimmers or picture-taking
A gong bronzily boomed on a terrace.
For some odd reason both children were relieved to learn that
a stranger was expected to dinner. He was an Andalusian archi-
45.30 tect whom Uncle Dan wanted to plan an "artistic" swimming
pool for Ardis Manor. Uncle Dan had intended to come, too,
with an interpreter, but had caught the Russian "hrip" (Spanish
flu) instead, and had phoned Marina asking her to be very nice
to good old Alonso.

[ 45 ]

"You must help me!" Marina told the children with a worried
"I could show him a copy, perhaps," said Ada, turning to
Van, "of an absolutely fantastically lovely nature morte by
46.05 Juan de Labrador of Extremadura—golden grapes and a strange
rose against a black background. Dan sold it to Demon, and
Demon has promised to give it to me on my fifteenth birthday."
"We also have some Zurbarán fruit," said Van smugly.
"Tangerines, I believe, and a fig of sorts, with a wasp upon it.
46.10 Oh, we’ll dazzle the old boy with shop talk!"
They did not. Alonso, a tiny wizened man in a double-
breasted tuxedo, spoke only Spanish, while the sum of Spanish
words his hosts knew scarcely exceeded half a dozen. Van had
canastilla (a little basket), and nubarrones (thunderclouds),
46.15 which both came from an en regard translation of a lovely
Spanish poem in one of his schoolbooks. Ada remembered, of
course, mariposa, butterfly, and the names of two or three birds
(listed in ornithological guides) such as paloma, pigeon, or
grevol, hazel hen. Marina knew aroma and hombre, and an
46.20 anatomical term with a "j" hanging in the middle. In con-
sequence, the table-talk consisted of long lumpy Spanish phrases
pronounced very loud by the voluble architect who thought he
was dealing with very deaf people, and of a smatter of French,
intentionally but vainly italianized by his victims. Once the
46.25 difficult dinner was over, Alonso investigated by the light of three
torches held by two footmen a possible site for an expensive
pool, put the plan of the grounds back into his briefcase, and
after kissing by mistake Ada’s hand in the dark, hastened away
to catch the last southbound train.

[ 46 ]

(back to Part One, Chapter 5)
(forward to Part One, Chapter 7)

(This page is part of ADAonline, which depends on frames for navigation. If you have been referred to this page without the surrounding frameset, follow this link.)