parlor and a butchery, still stained with slaughtering devices hanging grimly from the rafters. Behind them the loggia and then, at one time, Maud’s kitchen garden and cold frames, a former vegetable patch and a spinney lead up to the north water garden. To the south, meadows run down from the terraced gardens to the brook, the peach houses and the riveted tail section of a Halifax bomber that landed in our fields. Then there are the things that only Vivi and I knew about, like the holm oak that looks solid from the outside but is completely hollow in the middle. If you climbed up its branches it was possible to lower yourself into the guts of the tree, where we’d agreed to hide when the Germans came.

Bulburrow Court has been in my family since 1861 and since then, Maud told us, each generation couldn’t resist stamping its mark on it so that the house has become a conspicuous register of its own history.

“Either Victorians were vulgar or we were very vulgar Victorians,” our mother would say. “Each of us put his crest here, initials there and a turret or two everywhere,” and it was true that if you wandered around the house you were reminded of the relative self-importance, or vulgarity, of each of them. The first, Samuel Kendal, who made his fortune illegally importing agricultural fertilizers from South America (which Maud was not proud of), commissioned an enormous stained-glass window as a backdrop to the hall stairs, spanning the height of two floors. It depicts four completely fabricated—Maud said—family crests along with pompous Latin mottoes as if he had in fact been the progeny of the coming together of four great families. Samuel’s son, Anthony—Maud’s grandfather—had too much time and all his father’s money on his hands, so he added a star-gazing tower on the east side, which, since I’ve been alive, has had a far better purpose housing a rare colony of greater horseshoe bats. He also embossed his initials wherever he could around the house, which Maud said was a dreadful mistake because he has been remembered only as ANK.

Since then nothing has been added and lots has fallen off. Likewise, Samuel’s fortune hasn’t been added to but, rather, has slowly dwindled, as those who came after him pursued a far less lucrative profession—the study of butterflies and moths. So it is that Vivien and I are direct descendants of an eminent line of lepidopterists— including our own father, Clive. The vast attic rooms and the expansive cellarage of Bulburrow Court, along with many of the north-wing rooms and most of the outhouses, have for more than a century been reserved solely for the study of lepidoptera, with net and tank rooms, laboratories, winter rooms, caterpillar houses, pupation troughs, display cabinets and an internationally renowned entomological reference library.

While life for the other village children revolved around cattle and sheep rearing, or the harvest, our yearly calendar centered around the life cycle of a moth. For us it was endless hours of pupae digging in the autumn, moss gathering in the winter, spring evenings spent dusking and sallowing, and long summer nights light-trapping and sugaring in secret glades and forgotten wastelands. But spring was the busiest time, the time of emergence, as Clive called it, when our captive breeders would emerge from their winter cocoons in our attic rooms and the mating season would start.

Bulburrow Court was saturated with the belongings of four generations. Furniture, pictures, books and also things—artifacts, possessions, mementos, letters, papers and countless other bits and pieces—so that the moment you stepped inside, you were aware of the historic progression of the house. The walls leached the desires and fears of those who had peopled it. The style of the furniture, the pictures on the walls, the quality of the rugs and carpets, the toys we played with in our nursery, all spoke of the wealth, tastes and virtue of its past owners. The silverware, crockery, tapestries, even the linen for the beds, monogrammed for posterity, the stains on a tablecloth, the marks in the woodwork, the wear of the stairs, the wistfulness of an ancestor inadvertently revealed in the eyes of his portrait. They all told part of the same story, so that the house and its contents became a museum to the Kendals, a claustrophobic tribute to one dynasty.

Visitors were left in no doubt as to the family profession or their eminence in the field. The oak paneling in the hall was barely visible behind framed photographs, letters and commendations, honorary entomology memberships, framed newspaper clippings (“‘Largest Moth in Asia’ Found by Dorset Expert”) and supercilious photos of one or other of them meeting royalty or receiving yet another accolade.

The centerpiece in the drawing-room cabinet was a black-and-white photo of a fresh-faced ANK in a dense jungle, looking dapper with a clean flat cap angled to one side, surrounded by mud-soaked local porters. He’s holding up a board pinned with around two hundred moths that we assumed were the Blue Sapphires he had recorded collecting from Peru in 1898. Next to it, as if in perpetual competition, was the one of my grandfather Geoffrey solemnly shaking hands with the king of Mustang on an internationally acclaimed butterfly expedition to the Himalayas during the first part of the last century, his young assistant behind him, beaming into the camera while holding aloft a setting board and a huge bottle of killing fluid as if they were trophies.

Above this, framed specimens were arranged on the walls; Incatua molleen from Brazil, the size of a child’s hand, faded and worn and lifeless; a completed box-framed plate of all the known Brazilian Underwings, unidentifiable without the tabulated index beneath, set and pinned in the days before they knew how to fix the colors with ammonia. In the next display cabinet, caterpillar skins were laid out and labeled, the name of the famous nineteenth-century case makers, White and Sons, stamped across its mahogany top. The skins had been carefully pricked and blown, then dried papery and rigid over a Bunsen burner. Other, larger insects from across the world had their places lining the walls or in glass-topped mahogany cabinets: a bird-eating tarantula, a giant Australian cockroach, an Atacama scorpion, labeled as gifts from other eminences in the field of Victorian entomology, all of which led to the impression that rather than my family having been fond of the natural world, they had scoured the earth in a bid to kill and pin every poor insect that crossed their path. Maud thought the displays repulsive and Clive thought them unnecessary, but neither took them down.

*   *   * 

Maud had added her own small exhibit to the museum. Half a dozen framed photos of our family stood together on an occasional table alongside the back of the sofa in the drawing room. One was of a young Maud and Clive embracing on a balcony in a foreign city, Paris perhaps, with the evening light behind them, eyes only for each other. It must have been taken before the war, before I was born. Maud is wearing a pretty peacock-print dress. She’s lifting her chin and arching backwards with happiness, Clive’s arms looped round the small of her back, supporting her preciously. Then there was the one of me as a baby, wrapped up so you can’t actually see any of me at all, Maud and Clive holding up the package between them next to the sundial on the top terrace. Snow hid the ground and lay, heavy and precarious, on the fir-tree limbs above us, and the image was blurred in a couple of places where snowflakes had caught the lens.

Most visitors would remember the house, foremost, as cold. It was built in the days when the vast rooms with their high ceilings and box bay windows could be kept warm only if constantly stoked by a staff that outnumbered the family. But after the war Maud said we couldn’t afford more than one help in the house and two in the garden so our maids, Anna Maria and Martha Jane (two of nine sisters from Little Broadwindsor) were sent home, and we were left with Vera. Vera was our housekeeper.

Vera said she didn’t work in the house but she was part of it, like the hall stairs or the potting shed. She didn’t talk very much but she was most interesting to study. She had wiry gray hair, and she’d been alive so long that her whole body was slowly shrinking, except for her nose, which grew instead and became slightly redder and more bulbous as time went by. Vivi said that Vera’s nose was sucking the life out of the rest of her body for its own independent growth. Sometimes another little lump would appear, or an aberrant gray hair an inch or so long as if it had arrived overnight already at full length. Maud would laugh when Vivi pointed out these things—Vivi was always making Maud laugh—although she said that she’d be Very Cross Indeed if either of us mentioned it in front of Vera as it was “a condition.” It was as if Vera’s face was in a constant state of flux, perhaps weather dependent or in response to what she’d eaten the day before.

The way we got around a diminishing staff was an evolving fluidity in the volume of the house throughout the year, a constant expansion and contraction, like a lung. In the most bitter winter weeks, we’d lock up the extremities and retreat to the inner sanctum, huddling in the heart of the building—the kitchen, the study and the library—where the fires could be kept continuous.

When we were children, Vivi and I were inseparable. When she went to play in the stream, scour the ridge for mushrooms, collect acorns for the farmers’ pigs, turn the apples for cider or go scrumping in the next-door village, whatever the pursuit, I’d go too. Our parents liked us to stay together. Sometimes Maud would check when she saw one of us setting out. “Have you got Ginny?” or “Are you with Vivi?” she’d shout, often out of a window from a higher level of the house. And if she ever saw Vivi set out without me she’d call her back, even the times I

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