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“Three-Hole Privy”

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2021-05-01-DG-bee-image-cropRoger found Jamie standing on the edge of a large rectangular hole in the ground, evidently lost in contemplation of its depths.

“New privy?” he asked, nodding into the pit. Jamie looked up, smiling at sight of him, and Roger felt a rush of warmth—on more than one account.

“Aye. I’d only meant it to be the usual, ken, wi’ a single seat of ease.” Jamie gestured at the hole, the last of the sun touching his hair and skin with a golden light. “But with four more—and maybe yet more, in time? As ye say ye mean to stay, I mean.” He glanced sideways at Roger, and the smile came again.

“Then there’s the folk who come to see Claire, too. One of the Crombie boys came down last week, to get a remedy for a case o’ the blazing shits, and he spent so long gruntin’ and groanin’ in Bobby Higgins’ privy that the family were all havin’ to trot into the woods, and Amy wasna best pleased at the state of the privy when he left, I can tell ye.”

Roger nodded.

“So, ye mean to make it bigger, or make two privies?”

“Aye, that’s the question.” Jamie seemed pleased that Roger had grasped the essence of the situation so quickly. “See, most o’ the places wi’ families have a necessary that will accommodate two at once—the MacHughs have a three-hole privy, and a thing of beauty it is, too; Sean MacHugh is a canny man with his tools, and a good thing, what wi’ seven bairns. But the thing is—” He frowned a little and turned to look back toward the fire, presently hidden behind the dark bulk of the chimney stack. “The women, ken?”

“Claire and Brianna, you mean.” Roger took Jamie’s meaning at once. “Aye, they’ve notions of privacy. But a wee latch on the inside of the door…?”

“Aye, I thought of that.” Jamie waved a hand, dismissing it. “The difficulty’s more what they think of…. germs.” He pronounced the word very carefully, and glanced quickly at Roger under his brows, as though to see if he’d said it right, or as if he weren’t sure it was a real word to start with.

“Oh. Hadn’t thought of that. Ye mean the sick folk who come—they might leave…” he waved his own hand toward the hole.

“Aye. Ye should ha’ seen the carry-on when Claire insisted on scalding Amy’s privy wi’ boiling water and lye soap and pourin’ turpentine into it after the Crombie lad left.” His shoulders rose toward his ears in memory. “If she was to do that every time we had sick folk in our privy, we’d all be shitting in the woods, too.”

He laughed, though, and so did Roger.

“Both, then,” Roger said. “Two holes for the family, and a separate privy for visitors—or rather, for the surgery—say it’s for convenience. Ye dinna want to seem high-falutin’ by not letting people use your own privy.”

“No, that wouldna do at all.” Jamie vibrated briefly, then stilled, but stayed for a moment, looking down, a half-smile still on his face. The smells of damp, fresh-dug earth and newly-sawn wood rose thick around them, mingling with the scent of the fire, and Roger could almost imagine that he felt the house solidifying out of the smoke.

Jamie left off what he was thinking, then, and turned his head to look at Roger.

“I missed ye, Roger Mac,” he said.

[Excerpt from GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE, Copyright © 2021 by Diana Gabaldon (publication date: November 23rd, 2021).]

Visit my BEES webpage for links to more than ninety excerpts from my new novel..

Many thanks to Dianne Guettler Flannery for the lovely photo of a flying bee landing on dill!

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This excerpt was also posted on my official Facebook page on Saturday, May 1, 2021.