Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 8 (view annotations)

On the same morning, or a couple of days later, on the terrace:
"Mais va donc jouer avec lui," said Mlle Larivière, pushing
Ada, whose young hips disjointedly jerked from the shock.
"Don’t let your cousin se morfondre when the weather is so
50.05 fine. Take him by the hand. Go and show him the white lady
in your favorite lane, and the mountain, and the great oak."
Ada turned to him with a shrug. The touch of her cold
fingers and damp palm and the self-conscious way she tossed
back her hair as they walked down the main avenue of the park
50.10 made him self-conscious too, and under the pretext of picking
up a fir cone he disengaged his hand. He threw the cone at a
woman of marble bending over a stamnos but only managed
to frighten a bird that perched on the brim of her broken
50.15 "There is nothing more banal in the world," said Ada, "than
pitching stones at a hawfinch."
"Sorry," said Van, "I did not intend to scare that bird. But
then, I’m not a country lad, who knows a cone from a stone.
What games, au fond, does she expect us to play?"
50.20 "Je l’ignore," replied Ada. "I really don’t care very much how

[ 50 ]

her poor mind works. Cache-cache, I suppose, or climbing trees."
"Oh, I’m good at that," said Van, "in fact, I can even
"No," she said, "we are going to play my games. Games I
51.05 have invented all by myself. Games Lucette, I hope, will be
able to play next year with me, the poor pet. Come, let us start.
The present series belongs to the shadow-and-shine group, two
of which I’m going to show you."
"I see," said Van.
51.10 "You will in a moment," rejoined the pretty prig. "First of
all we must find a nice stick."
"Look," said Van, still smarting a bit, "there goes another
haw-haw finch."
By then they had reached the rond-point—a small arena en-
51.15 circled by flowerbeds and jasmine bushes in heavy bloom. Over-
head the arms of a linden stretched toward those of an oak, like
a green-spangled beauty flying to meet her strong father hang-
ing by his feet from the trapeze. Even then did we both under-
stand that kind of heavenly stuff, even then.
51.20 "Something rather acrobatic about those branches up there,
no?" he said, pointing.
"Yes," she answered. "I discovered it long ago. The teil is the
flying Italian lady, and the old oak aches, the old lover aches,
but still catches her every time" (impossible to reproduce the
51.25 right intonation while rendering the entire sense—after eight
decades!—but she did say something extravagant, something
quite out of keeping with her tender age as they looked up and
then down).
Looking down and gesturing with a sharp green stake bor-
51.30 rowed from the peonies, Ada explained the first game.
The shadows of leaves on the sand were variously interrupted
by roundlets of live light. The player chose his roundlet—the
best, the brightest he could find—and firmly outlined it with
the point of his stick; whereupon the yellow round light would

[ 51 ]

appear to grow convex like the brimming surface of some golden
dye. Then the player delicately scooped out the earth with his
stick or fingers within the roundlet. The level of that gleaming
infusion de tilleul would magically sink in its goblet of earth and
52.05 finally dwindle to one precious drop. That player won who
made the most goblets in, say, twenty minutes.
Van asked suspiciously if that was all.
No, it was not. As she dug a firm little circle around a par-
ticularly fine goldgout, Ada squatted and moved, squatting,
52.10 with her black hair falling over her ivory-smooth moving knees
while her haunches and hands worked, one hand holding the
stick, the other brushing back bothersome strands of hair. A
gentle breeze suddenly eclipsed her fleck. When that occurred,
the player lost one point, even if the leaf or the cloud hastened
52.15 to move aside.
All right. What was the other game?
The other game (in a singsong voice) might seem a little
more complicated. To play it properly one had to wait for p.m.
to provide longer shadows. The player—
52.20 "Stop saying ‘the player.’ It is either you or me."
"Say, you. You outline my shadow behind me on the sand.
I move. You outline it again. Then you mark out the next
boundary (handing him the stick). If I now move back—"
"You know," said Van, throwing the stick away, "personally
52.25 I think these are the most boring and stupid games anybody has
ever invented, anywhere, any time, a.m. or p.m."
She said nothing but her nostrils narrowed. She retrieved the
stick and stuck it back, furiously, where it belonged, deep into
the loam next to a grateful flower to which she looped it with
52.30 a silent nod. She walked back to the house. He wondered if
her walk would be more graceful when she grew up.
"I’m a rude brutal boy, please forgive me," he said.
She inclined her head without looking back. In token of
partial reconciliation, she showed him two sturdy hooks passed

[ 52 ]

into iron rings on two tulip-tree trunks between which, before
she was born, another boy, also Ivan, her mother’s brother, used
to sling a hammock in which he slept in midsummer when the
nights became really sultry—this was the latitude of Sicily, after
53.05 all.
"A splendid idea," said Van. "By the way, do fireflies burn
one if they fly into you? I’m just asking. Just a city boy’s silly
She showed him next where the hammock—a whole set of
53.10 hammocks, a canvas sack full of strong, soft nets—was stored:
this was in the corner of a basement toolroom behind the lilacs,
the key was concealed in this hole here which last year was
stuffed by the nest of a bird—no need to identify it. A pointer
of sunlight daubed with greener paint a long green box where
53.15 croquet implements were kept; but the balls had been rolled
down the hill by some rowdy children, the little Erminins, who
were now Van’s age and had grown very nice and quiet.
"As we all are at that age," said Van and stooped to pick up
a curved tortoiseshell comb—the kind that girls use to hold up
53.20 their hair behind; he had seen one, exactly like that, quite re-
cently, but when, in whose hairdo?
"One of the maids," said Ada. "That tattered chapbook must
also belong to her, Les Amours du Docteur Mertvago, a mystical
romance by a pastor."
53.25 "Playing croquet with you," said Van, "should be rather like
using flamingoes and hedgehogs."
"Our reading lists do not match," replied Ada. "That Palace
in Wonderland was to me the kind of book everybody so often
promised me I would adore, that I developed an insurmountable
53.30 prejudice toward it. Have you read any of Mlle Larivière’s
stories? Well, you will. She thinks that in some former Hindooish
state she was a boulevardier in Paris; and writes accordingly.
We can squirm from here into the front hall by a secret passage,
but I think we are supposed to go and look at the grand chêne

[ 53 ]

which is really an elm." Did he like elms? Did he know Joyce’s
poem about the two washerwomen? He did, indeed. Did he like
it? He did. In fact he was beginning to like very much arbors
and ardors and Adas. They rhymed. Should he mention it?
54.05 "And now," she said, and stopped, staring at him.
"Yes?" he said, "and now?"
"Well, perhaps, I ought not to try to divert you—after you
trampled upon those circles of mine; but I’m going to relent
and show you the real marvel of Ardis Manor; my larvarium,
54.10 it’s in the room next to mine" (which he never saw, never—
how odd, come to think of it!).
She carefully closed a communicating door as they entered
into what looked like a glorified rabbitry at the end of a marble-
flagged hall (a converted bathroom, as it transpired). In spite
54.15 of the place’s being well aired, with the heraldic stained-glass
windows standing wide open (so that one heard the screeching
and catcalls of an undernourished and horribly frustrated bird
population), the smell of the hutches—damp earth, rich roots,
old greenhouse and maybe a hint of goat—was pretty appalling.
54.20 Before letting him come nearer, Ada fiddled with little latches
and grates, and a sense of great emptiness and depression re-
placed the sweet fire that had been consuming Van since the
beginning of their innocent games on that day.
"Je raffole de tout ce qui rampe (I’m crazy about everything
54.25 that crawls)," she said.
"Personally," said Van, "I rather like those that roll up in a
muff when you touch them—those that go to sleep like old
"Oh, they don’t go to sleep, quelle idée, they swoon, it’s a
54.30 little syncope," explained Ada frowning. "And I imagine it may
be quite a little shock for the younger ones."
"Yes, I can well imagine that, too. But I suppose one gets
used to it, by-and-by, I mean."
But his ill-informed hesitations soon gave way to esthetic

[ 54 ]

empathy. Many decades later Van remembered having much
admired the lovely, naked, shiny, gaudily spotted and streaked
sharkmoth caterpillars, as poisonous as the mullein flowers
clustering around them, and the flat larva of a local catocalid
55.05 whose gray knobs and lilac plaques mimicked the knots and
lichens of the twig to which it clung so closely as to practically
lock with it, and, of course, the little Vaporer fellow, its black
coat enlivened all along the back with painted tufts, red, blue,
yellow, of unequal length, like those of a fancy toothbrush
55.10 treated with certified colors. And that kind of simile, with
those special trimmings, reminds me today of the entomological
entries in Ada’s diary—which we must have somewhere, mustn’t
we, darling, in that drawer there, no? you don’t think so? Yes!
Hurrah! Samples (your round-cheeked script, my love, was
55.15 a little larger, but otherwise nothing, nothing, nothing has
"The retractile head and diabolical anal appendages of the
garish monster that produces the modest Puss Moth belong to
a most uncaterpillarish caterpillar, with front segments shaped
55.20 like bellows and a face resembling the lens of a folding camera.
If you gently stroke its bloated smooth body, the sensation is
quite silky and pleasant—until the irritated creature ungratefully
squirts at you an acrid fluid from a slit in its throat."
"Dr. Krolik received from Andalusia and kindly gave me
55.25 five young larvae of the newly described very local Carmen
Tortoiseshell. They are delightful creatures, of a beautiful jade
nuance with silvery spikes, and they breed only on a semi-extinct
species of high-mountain willow (which dear Crawly also ob-
tained for me)."
55.30 (At ten or earlier the child had read—as Van had—Les
Malheurs de Swann, as the next sample reveals):

[ 55 ]

"I think Marina would stop scolding me for my hobby
(‘There’s something indecent about a little girl’s keeping such
revolting pets...,’ ‘Normal young ladies should loathe snakes
and worms,’ et cetera) if I could persuade her to overcome her
56.05 old-fashioned squeamishness and place simultaneously on palm
and pulse (the hand alone would not be roomy enough!) the
noble larva of the Cattleya Hawkmoth (mauve shades of
Monsieur Proust), a seven-inch-long colossus flesh colored,
with turquoise arabesques, rearing its hyacinth head in a stiff
56.10 ‘Sphinxian’ attitude."
(Lovely stuff! said Van, but even I did not quite assimilate
it, when I was young. So let us not bore the boor who flips
through a book and thinks: "what a hoaxer, that old V.V.!")
At the end of his so remote, so near, 1884 summer Van, before
56.15 leaving Ardis, was to make a visit of adieu to Ada’s larvarium.
The porcelain-white, eye-spotted Cowl (or "Shark") larva,
a highly prized gem, had safely achieved its next metamorphosis,
but Ada’s unique Lorelei Underwing had died, paralyzed by
some ichneumon that had not been deceived by those clever
56.20 prominences and fungoid smudges. The multicolored tooth-
brush had comfortably pupated within a shaggy cocoon, promis-
ing a Persian Vaporer later in the autumn. The two Puss Moth
larvae had assumed a still uglier but at least more vermian and
in a sense venerable aspect: their pitchforks now limply trailing
56.25 behind them, and a purplish flush dulling the cubistry of their
extravagant colors, they kept "ramping" rapidly all over the
floor of their cage in a surge of prepupational locomotion.
Aqua had walked through a wood and into a gulch to do it last
year. A freshly emerged Nymphalis carmen was fanning its
56.30 lemon and amber-brown wings on a sunlit patch of grating, only
to be choked with one nip by the nimble fingers of enraptured
and heartless Ada; the Odettian Sphinx had turned, bless him,

[ 56 ]

into an elephantoid mummy with a comically encased trunk
of the guermantoid type; and Dr. Krolik was swiftly running
on short legs after a very special orange-tip above timberline, in
another hemisphere, Antocharis ada Krolik (1884)—as it was
57.05 known until changed to A. prittwitzi Stümper (1883) by the
inexorable law of taxonomic priority.
"But, afterwards, when all these beasties have hatched," asked
Van, "what do you do with them?"
"Oh," she said, "I take them to Dr. Krolik’s assistant who sets
57.10 them and labels them and pins them in glassed trays in a clean
oak cabinet, which will be mine when I marry. I shall then have
a big collection, and continue to breed all kinds of lepsmy
dream is to have a special Institute of Fritillary larvae and
violets—all the special violets they breed on. I would have eggs
57.15 or larvae rushed to me here by plane from all over North
America, with their foodplants—Redwood Violets from the
West Coast, and a Pale Violet from Montana, and the Prairie
Violet, and Egglestone’s Violet from Kentucky, and a rare
white violet from a secret marsh near an unnamed lake on an
57.20 arctic mountain where Krolik’s Lesser Fritillary flies. Of course,
when the things emerge, they are quite easy to mate by hand—
you hold them—for quite a while, sometimes—like this, in
folded-wing profile" (showing the method, ignoring her poor
fingernails), "male in your left hand; female in your right, or
57.25 vice versa, with the tips of their abdomens touching, but they
must be quite fresh and soaked in their favorite violet’s reek."

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