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[Excerpt from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, Copyright © 2020 by Diana Gabaldon. In celebration of Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser’s birthday, October 20, 1918! John Quincy Myers has brought Claire a swarm of bees, and is explaining to her the notion that she should bless her new bees.]
“Do God’s will,” he finished, opening his eyes. He shook his head. “Don’t that beat all? Tellin’ one bee to sit still, let alone a thousand of ‘em at once? Why would bees put up with something unmannerly like that, I ask you?”
“Well, it must work,” I said. “Jamie’s brought home honey from Salem, many times. Maybe they’re German bees. Do you know a more… mannerly blessing?”
His lips pursed dubiously, and I caught the glimpse of one or two ragged yellow fangs. Could he still chew meat? I wondered, revising the dinner menu slightly. I could dice the rabbit meat small and stir it into scrambled eggs with chopped onions…
“I suspect I remember most of this’n…
“O God, Creator of all critters, you bless the seed and make it profitable… is that right, profitable? Yes, I reckon that’s it… profitable to our use. By the intercession of… well, there’s a passel of saints or somesuch in there, but dang if I recall anybody but John the Baptist—though if anybody should know about honey, you’d think it’d be him, wouldn’t you? What with the locusts and livin’ in a bearskin—though why anybody’d do like that in a hot place like I hear the Holy Land is, I surely couldn’t say. Anyway….” His eyes closed again, and he stretched out his hand, almost unconsciously, toward the bee-skep, wreathed in a slow-moving cloud of flying bees.
“By the intercession of whoever might want to intercede, will You be mercifully hearin’ our prayers. Bless and sanctify these here bees by Your compassion, that they might… Well,” he said, opening his eyes and frowning at me, “it says ‘abundantly bear fruit,’ though any damn fool knows it’s honey you want ‘em to be abundant with. Still..” The wrinkled lids closed against the dying sunlight again, and he finished, “for the beauty and adornment of Your holy temple and for our humble use.”
“They’s a bit more,” he said, dropping his hand and turning to me, “but that’s the meat of it. What it comes down to, I’d say, is you can bless your bees any way as seems good to you. The only important thing—and you maybe know this already—is that you got to talk to ‘em regular.”
“About anything in particular?” I asked warily, flexing my fingers and trying to recall if I’d ever had a conversation with my previous hives.
I probably had, but not consciously. I was, like most gardeners, in the habit of muttering to myself among the weeds and vegetables, execrating bugs and rabbits and exhorting the plants. God knew what I might have said to the bees along the way…
“Bees are real sociable,” Myers explained, and blew one of them gently off the back of his hand. “And they’re curious, which only makes sense, them goin’ back and forth and gatherin’ news with their pollen. So you tell ‘em what’s happening—if someone’s come a-visitin’, if a new babe’s been born, if anybody new was to settle, or a settler depart—or die. See, if somebody leaves or dies,” he explained, brushing a bee off my shoulder, “and you don’t tell the bees, they take offense, and the whole lot of ‘em will fly right off.”
I could see quite a few similarities between John Quincy Myers and a bee, in terms of gathering news, and smiled at the thought. I wondered if he’d be offended at finding out that someone had kept a juicy piece of gossip from him, but on the whole, I doubted that anyone did. He had a gentleness that invited confidence, and I was sure that he kept many people’s secrets.
“Well, then.” The sun was coming down fast now; the damp scent of the plants was strong and rays of light knifed between the palisades, vivid amid the rustling shadows of the garden. “Best get on with it, I suppose.”
Given the disparate examples offered by John Quincy, I was fairly sure I could roll my own with regard to the blessing. We filled the four dishes with water and put them under the legs of the stool, to keep ants from climbing up to the hive, drawn by the scent of honey. A few of these voracious insects were already making their way up the stool’s legs and I brushed them away with a fold of my skirt—my first gesture of protection toward my new bees.
John Quincy smiled and nodded at me as I straightened up, and I nodded back, reached out a tentative hand through the veil of bees coming in to the hive, and touched the smooth twisted straw of the skep. It might have been imagination, but I thought I could feel a vibration through my skin, just below the threshold of hearing, a strong and certain hum.
“Oh, Lord,” I said—and wished I knew the name of the patron saint of bees, for surely there must be one—“please make these bees feel welcome in their new home. Help me to protect and care for them, and may they always find flowers. Er… and quiet rest at the end of each day. Amen.”
“That’ll do just fine, Mrs. Claire,” John Quincy said, and his voice was low and warm as the hum of the bees.
We left, closing and fastening the gate carefully behind us, and made our way down, out of the shadow of the towering chimney and along the eastern wall of the house. It was getting dark fast now, and the cooking fire leapt up as we came into the kitchen, shedding light on my waiting family. Home.
Return to my official webpage for GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE for links to information and more Daily Lines (excerpts).
And many thanks to Julie Ellis for the lovely bee photo!
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