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[ This excerpt is from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE. Copyright © 2021 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.]
William found Moira, the cook, in the kitchen garden, pulling spring onions. She was talking to Amaranthus, who had evidently been gathering as well; she carried a trug that held a large mound of grapes and a few pears from the small tree that grew near the cook-house. With an eye for the fruit, he strode up and bade the women good morning. Amaranthus gave him an up and down glance, inhaled as though trying to judge his state of intoxication from his aroma, and with a faint shake of the head, handed him a ripe pear.
“Coffee?” he said hopefully to Moira.
“Well, I’ll not be saying there isn’t,” she said dubiously. “It’s left from yesterday, though, and strong enough to take the shine off your teeth.”
“Perfect,” he assured her, and bit into the pear, closing his eyes as the luscious juice flooded his mouth. He opened them to find Amaranthus, back turned to him, stooping to look at something on the ground among the radishes. She was wearing a thin wrapper over her shift, and the fabric stretched neatly over her very round bottom.
She stood up suddenly, turning round and he at once bent toward the ground she’d been looking at, saying, “What is that?”, though he personally saw nothing but dirt and a lot of radish tops.
“What do they do with them? The, um, balls of ordure, I mean.”
“Eat them,” she said, with a slight shrug. “They bury the balls for safekeeping, and then eat them as need requires—or sometimes they breed inside the larger ones.”
“How… cozy. Have you had any breakfast?” William asked, raising one brow.
“No, it isn’t ready yet.”
“Neither have I,” he said, getting to his feet. “Though I’m not quite as hungry as I was before you told me that.” He glanced down at his waistcoat. “Have I any dung beetles in this noble assemblage?”
That made her laugh.
“No, you haven’t,” she said. “Not nearly colorful enough.”
Amaranthus was suddenly standing quite close to him, though he was sure he hadn’t seen her move. She had the odd trick of seeming to apparate suddenly out of thin air; it was disconcerting, but rather intriguing.
“That bright green one,” she said, pointing a long, delicate finger at his middle, “is a Dogbane Leaf Beetle, Chrisosuchus auratus.”
“Is it, really?”
“Yes, and this lovely creature with the long nose is a Billbug.”
“A pillbug?” William squinted down his chest.
“No, a Billbug,” she said, tapping the bug in question. “It’s a sort of weevil, but it eats cat-tails. And young corn.”
“Rather a varied diet.”
“Well, unless you’re a dung beetle, you do have some choice in what you eat,” she said, smiling. She touched another of the beetles, and William felt a faint but noticeable jolt at the base of his spine. “Now here,” she said, with small, distinct taps of her finger, “we have an Emerald Ash Borer, a Festive Tiger Beetle, and the False Potato Beetle.”
“Very much the same. This one’s called a False Potato Beetle because while it will eat potatoes in a pinch, it really prefers horse nettles.”
“Ah.” He thought he should express interest in the rest of the little things ornamenting his waistcoat, in hopes that she’d go on tapping them. He was opening his mouth to inquire about a large cream-colored thing with horns, when she stepped back in order to look up into his face.
“I heard my father-in-law talking to Lord John about you,” she said.
“Oh? Good. I hope they’d a fine day for it,” he said, not really caring.
“Speaking of False Potato Beetles, I mean,” she said. He closed his eyes briefly, then opened one and looked at her. She was perfectly solid, not wavering in the slightest.
“I know I’m a trifle the worse for drink,” he said politely. “But I don’t think I resemble any sort of Potato Beetle, regardless of my uncle’s opinion.”
Go to—or return to— my official webpage for GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, where more excerpts (aka “Daily Lines”) and other information about book nine in my OUTLANDER series of major novels.
And HUGE thanks to Yolande Torjman for the lovely assemblage of bees on lemon blossoms!
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