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“Better A Lobster…”

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[This is an excerpt from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, Copyright © 2020 by Diana Gabaldon.]

2020-05-23-bee-imageI was listening with half an ear to the singing in the kitchen as I pounded and ground sage, comfrey, and goldenseal into an oily dust in the surgery. It was late afternoon and while the sun fell warm across the floorboards, the shadows held a chill.

Lieutenant Bembridge was teaching Fanny the words to “Green Grow the Rushes, O.” He had a true, clear tenor that made Bluebell yodel when he hit a high note, but I enjoyed it. It reminded me of working in the canteen at Pembroke Hospital, rolling bandages and making up surgical kits with the other student nurses, hearing singing coming in with the yellow fog through the narrow open slit at the top of a window. There was a courtyard down below, and the ambulatory patients would sit there in fine—or even not-so-fine—weather, smoking, talking and singing to pass the time.

“Two, two, the lily-white boys,
 Clothed all in green, O—
 One is one and all alone
 And evermore shall be so!”

In 1940, the fog-muffled song was often interrupted by coughing and hoarse curses, but someone could always carry it through to the end.

Lieutenants Bembridge and Esterhazy were eighteen and nineteen, respectively, lusty and in good health, and with Bluebell’s joyous assistance, were making so much noise that I didn’t hear either the front door opening nor footsteps in the hallway, and was so startled to look up from my mortar and see Jamie in the doorway that I dropped the heavy stone pestle straight down onto my sandaled foot.

“Ouch! Ow! Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” I hopped out from behind the table, and Jamie caught me by one arm.

“Are ye all right, Sassenach?”

“Do I sound like I’m all right? I’ve broken a metatarsal.”

“I’ll buy ye a new one next time I go into Salisbury,” he assured me, letting go of my elbow. “Meanwhile, I’ve got everything on the list, except… Why are there Englishmen singing in my kitchen?”

“Oh. Ah. Well…” It wasn’t that I hadn’t thought about what his response to two of His Majesty’s naval officers lending a hand to the domestic economy might be, but I’d thought I’d have time to explain before he actually encountered them. I rested my bottom against the edge of the table, lifting my wounded foot off the floor.

“They’re two young lieutenants who used to sail with Captain Cunningham. They were cast ashore or marooned or something—anyway, they lost their ship and it’s so late in the year that they can’t find a ship to join until March or April, so they came to the Ridge to stay with the Captain. Elspeth Cunningham lent them to me for chores, in payment for my reducing her dislocated shoulder.”

“Elspeth, is it?” Luckily, he seemed amused, rather than annoyed. “Do we feed them?”

“Well, I’ve been giving them lunch and a light supper. But they’ve been going back up to the Captain’s cabin in the evening, and coming down mid-morning. They’ve repaired the stable door,” I offered, in extenuation, “dug over my garden, chopped two cords of wood, carried all the stones you and Roger dug out of the upper field down to the springhouse, and—”

He made a slight gesture indicating that he accepted my decision, and now would like to change the subject. Which he did by kissing me and asking what was for supper. He smelled of road dust, ale, and faintly of cinnamon.

“I believe Fanny and Lieutenant Bembridge are making burgoo. It has pork, venison and squirrel in it—apparently you must have at least three different meats for a proper burgoo—but I have no idea what else is in it. It smells all right, though.”

Jamie’s stomach rumbled.

“Aye, it does,” he said thoughtfully. “And what does Frances make o’ them?”

“I think she’s somewhat smitten,” I said, lowering my voice and glancing toward the hall. “Cyrus came to call yesterday while she was serving the lieutenants luncheon, and she asked him to stay, but he just drew himself up to about seven feet, glared at them, said something rude in Gaelic—I don’t think she understood it, but she wouldn’t need to—and left. Fanny went pink in the face—with indignation—and gave them the dried-apple-and-raisin pie she’d meant for Cyrus.”

[“Better a lobster than no husband,” — Gaelic] Jamie said, with a philosophical shrug. Better a lobster than no husband.

“You don’t actually think that, do you?” I asked, curious.

“In the case of most lassies, yes,” he said. “But I want someone better for Frances, and I dinna think a British sailor will do. Ye say they’re leaving in the spring, though?”

“So I understand. Oo!” I tenderly massaged the throbbing bruise on my foot. The pestle had struck smack at the base of my big toe and while the original pain had receded a bit, trying to put my weight on the foot and/or bend it resulted in a sensation like hot barbed wire being pulled between my toes.

“Sit yourself down, a nighean,” he said, and pushed the big padded chair that Brianna had dubbed the Kibitzer’s Chair toward me. “I brought a few bottles of good wine from Salisbury; I expect one o’ those would make your foot feel better.”

It did. It made Jamie feel better, too. I could see that he’d come home carrying something, and I felt a small knot below my own heart. He’d tell me when he was ready.

Return to my official webpage for GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE for links to information and more Daily Lines (excerpts).

And thanks to Diane Dillon Hooper for the lovely bee on Chinese chive blossoms!

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This excerpt (“Daily Lines”) was also posted on my official Facebook page on Saturday, May 23, 2020.

This BEES excerpt page was last updated on Friday, September 18, 2020 at 6:30 a.m. (CT) by Diana or Diana’s Webmistress.