One of our fabulous volunteers hsa been inspired by the pest insects at Knole to write this wonderful short story, and we wanted to share it with you all. Kristin also wrote a sonnet inspired by Knole a couple of years ago.
Moving House by Kristin Gill
“ Some females just shouldn’t be allowed to lay eggs and that’s all there is to it!” snapped the outraged woodworm. “ Look where she left them – only in the chair leg nearest the door where all the humans walk in. As soon as they chew their way out they’ll be crushed at once. I did try to tell her when she was laying, but madam Death Watch had to know best – as always.”
“ Calm down,Woody,” soothed a suave vodka beetle, “it’s one of the nicest chairs in the House and you know how all the larvae love crawling round the leg and sliding down the dolphin. It’s the best treat they get, poor little grubs.”
“ That’s no excuse for irresponsible parenting. You know that cushion is covered with dust. It’s only fine stuff, but it could suffocate a little larva. I’m surprised you’re not taking this more seriously. You know she won’t come back, don’t you? Borers are terrible mothers.”
“ Woody, Woody, aren’t we forgetting something here? We came to check on the little larves, didn’t we, not to argue with each other?” The vodka beetle smiled encouragingly at his flustered, wood-munching friend. “ Here, have a nip of this, you’ll feel better.”
The woodworm wagged a menacing front leg. “ I don’t know why I bother,” she sniffed.
At that moment a handsome russet coloured cigarette beetle crept from behind the front leg of the chair. “ Ciggy!” exclaimed the vodka beetle. “Am I glad to see you, mate! She’s driving me to dust,” he whispered, jerking an antenna at the grumpy woodworm. “Have you come to help with the larves?”
“ Yeah, thought I would. I expect there’s quite a lot of them – when the Death Watches are in the mood there’s no stopping them – she’ll have laid hundreds of eggs and all plug ugly like their Mum, I expect. It’s that messy shaggy look they have that puts me off’ them.”
“ So not like me, then?” A sleek golden spider beetle sashayed into view from behind the other front chair leg. The antennae of both male beetles shot upright.
“ Goldie! It’s good to see you – it’s been a while”. The vodka beetle couldn’t stop his antennae from twitching. He had always fancied the voluptuous golden beetle.
“I know, Voddy, sweetie, but I don’t come up here very often. I’ve moved to the Ballroom – the floorboard under the lion mask table. The food’s a lot better than up here: in fact, I’m on a dried food and freeze-dried animal diet at the moment. All the silks and velvets make me gag these days. The larder and biscuit beetles do a great job of stocking up and it’s always nice and damp. You should come down and see me sometime: we’ve got loads of room and it’s easy to get between the floorboards – at least for most beetles,” she added pointedly, eyeing the woodworm’s dark, rounded tummy. The cigarette beetle sensed danger as Woody’s antennae twitched angrily.
“ We get that freeze-dried stuff too,” said Ciggy quickly, “ the fast-frozen ones, much healthier than the soggy ones trapped in the render.”
“ I thought all that had been repaired,” sniffed the woodworm.
“ They missed a bit,” replied the cigarette beetle darkly. “Humans, eh, what are they like?” You know, I’m not fond of soft centres either; I prefer a bit of crunch myself but when the wife’s laying I just stick to the ciggies.” He shrugged apologetically.
“We can’t stay here all day!” snapped the irritated woodworm. “ Are we going to get these larvae out or not?”
“ Yes we are!” shouted Ciggy and Voddy in unison.
“ Well then, get on with it!”
“ Me?!” they exclaimed together. “ I’m not sure I’d be very good with little ones,” said Ciggy.
“ It’s not really what chaps do, is it?” pleaded the vodka beetle.”
“ That’s a heap of frass and you know it!” shrieked Woody. “ I might have known you two would be useless!
The woodworm was about to shout at them again when an ominous sound came from the concealed cupboard on the landing, right opposite the entrance to the gallery – a sound that only meant one thing: Mighty Em and her team were bringing out their weapons of mass destruction. They uncoiled a smiley little cylinder called Henry, who remained cheerful as the three fearsome humans hauled him up and down and all around the long, dark gallery, sucking up tiny flecks of dried mud from the floor, the crushed bodies of careless beetles and other debris that had been carried in the day before, including tiny chips of stone or grit wedged under visitors’ shoes.
The four mature beetles waited. It was that time of day again. Any moment now Mighty Em would take her long pole and raise the heavy red blinds covering the windows, to reveal light, filmy curtains which allowed the sun to warm the glass panes. The residents in the gallery had mixed feelings about the light, most of them preferring cool, damp conditions as they went about their boring business.
“ Wait until she’s gone,” hissed Woody.
“ Of course they’re going to wait,” snapped Goldie. “ Do you think they’re stupid?”
“ Don’t answer that,” said the vodka beetle hurriedly, not wanting to hear the woodworm’s opinion of them. Ignoring him, the two females started circling each other and flicking their antennae backwards and forwards. There was no love lost between these two. Nobody knew why, but a carpet beetle living in Lady Betty’s said there had been an unfortunate incident with a misplaced dosimeter in the Spangle Bedroom and Woody had been bad tempered ever since.
They all froze as the heavy red blinds went up and waited until Mighty Em had moved further along the gallery to the next set of blinds.
“OK, let’s go!” hissed the vodka, beetle. He crept over to the foot of the ornate chair near the entrance. “ Hello,” he called, “ Anybody there?”
There was a scuffling sound from inside the chair leg. “ I’m Voddy. I was one of your Mum’s friends.” There was more scuffling and he could hear giggling.
“ Prove it!” shouted a cheeky voice. “ Appalling manners,” sniffed the woodworm. Voddy ignored her. “ How can I prove it?” he called.
“What was her favourite joke?”
The vodka beetle smiled. “OK, I know this: two bookworms are making their way through the same volume from opposite ends. When they meet in the middle one says to the other “What was your half like?’ “Boring,” says the other.”
The little larvae giggled; they knew they were wood borers, just like their Mum.
“ Right little larves, it’s time for you to eat your way out of your chair leg and when you’re a bit more grown up you can set up home in any chair, stool, or bed you like, as long as you’re careful. Just one thing you must remember: never, ever underestimate Mighty Em and her team. You may be tiny, but they have cunning ways of seeing and trapping us. No beetle has ever walked off a sticky pad. Understand?”
“ Yes,” chorused all the little larvae, nervous now that they would be leaving the only home they had ever known.
“ OK,” said Voddy firmly, “if you get into three lines and start boring, you should have about a hundred and fifty of you out before the humans see the holes. Now I know it’s a bit scary and you’re nervous, but if you can manage not to…” he paused, wondering which word for ‘defecate’ was common amongst the young these days.
“ Just say ‘shit’, Voddy,’ urged Ciggy, from the back of the chair. “They know
what’s what, don’t you, larves?”
“Yes!” they all shrieked from inside the leg.
“ And if you have to ‘go’ just be discreet,” advised the worried vodka beetle. “If the humans see frass we’ve all had it. Now EAT!”
The little larvae set to work. It felt strange to be boring through the walls of their own home, but they munched their way obediently through the elegant chair leg, last sat in by a king. The adult beetles retreated to the dark paneling to wait behind the furniture.
“I think we’re going to make it,” said the vodka beetle excitedly, as hordes of baby beetles started pouring through the tiny holes made by their siblings, slid down the dolphin and disappeared into a dark gap in the wooden paneling behind their chair.
”Your Mum would be so proud of you,” sniffed the woodworm tearfully, watching the baby beetles slide down the dolphin. “If only my own brood hadn’t got caught up in the fringe of a Queen Anne footstool I might be a great- great grandmother by now.”
The male beetles shuffled uncomfortably. “ Well, if that’s all, I think I’d better be getting back to,,er.. getting back..things to do, you know..” They faltered into silence.
The woodworm glared at them. “ How could you live with yourself if you abandoned these poor larves now? We owe it to their mother to see them safe,” she added firmly.
“Even if you couldn’t stand the sight of her?” murmured the cigarette beetle.
The woodworm shot him a spiteful look, but said nothing.
“ Oh, alright, Woody, of course we’ll help – come on little larves, chomp away,” sighed the vodka beetle. “ Whoa there little bug, you’re heading for the cushion – you don’t want to get lost in there. No sense of direction, these young males,” he murmured to Ciggy, who sniggered in appreciation.
“Keep on this side, little larves, keep coming,” urged Voddy. “Ignore everything else: just keep eating and keep coming. We’ve been through this too, you know, it’s nothing to worry about.”
The cigarette beetle raised an antenna in disbelief. “ OK, I frassed myself – once” hissed Voddy. “No need to bring that up again, especially not in front of the larves. “Keep coming, little bugs,” encouraged the vodka beetle, “ you’re nearly all out.”
The woodworm shot Voddy a look of exasperation. “ You know perfectly well there’s loads of them still in there don’t you,” she hissed, “and the ones coming out are beginning to huddle together. Mighty Em and her thugs won’t miss a wriggling mass like that and the larves are starting to block the holes we bored in the paneling to help them. “
The adult beetles locked their antennae together and conferred anxiously.
“ What’s up with you lot, then?” called a breezy voice from halfway down the gallery.
A large-winged orangy brown moth was flying towards them, sweeping gently from side to side and looping the loop until it reached the worried beetles and landed on the arm of the larvae’s old home.
“ Well hello, lovely to see you too,” he said reproachfully to Voddy.
“ Sorry, Tiger old chap, we’re a bit busy at the moment. The Death Watch larves are on the move and we need to get them down to the Ballroom sharpish before ‘you know who’ gets wind of them.”
“ Ah, you’re busy, then. I’ll leave you to it. I’m busy myself, actually. In fact, I’m in love at last.” He sighed heavily. I can’t stop thinking about her. She smells divine – I know she’s the one for me. In fact I must go back to her now.”
“ Wait,Tiger,” pleaded Ciggy, suddenly alert to his friend’s danger. “You don’t want to look too keen. Females don’t appreciate it. Mean, moody, magnificent. That’s what you want to aim for. Trust me, you don’t want to go back up the gallery too soon. Make ‘em wait and keep them keen – that’s the way to handle females, take it from me.”
“Well, if you sure..”
“Tell you what, “ said Voddy, “ Could you take a few larves on your wings and drop them off under the Lion Mask table – Goldie will show you where. It would be a real help and it will take your mind off your girlfriend for a bit. She’ll think you’re a real hero when you tell her.”
“ If you put it like that… let’s do it!” Tiger was excited now. “ You know what? There was an ugly dark winged moth hanging around my girl before I came down to see you lot. She won’t look twice at him after I tell her I’ve been rescuing baby beetles. Must get on now. By the way, where is the Ballroom?”
“ Is he really that thick?” asked Ciggy when Tiger had flown away.
“ Oh yes, and more. I’m afraid he’s in for a shock when he gets back to his ‘girlfriend’.
Didn’t anybody ever tell him about sticky pads?
Behind the King’s chair, Woody was fretting about the number of larvae milling about, terrified that Mighty Em would spot them.
“ Where should we send them?” she wailed. “ The steps down to the Ballroom are too exposed to be safe.”
“ Leave that to me,”offered the golden spider beetle. “ I know a back way into the Ballroom, behind the steps. It’s nice and dark so no human will spot them.”
“Are you sure?” fussed the woodworm. “ Believe me, doll, I use it all the time when I’m ‘entertaining’ “smirked Goldie.
“ I’m sure you do”, relied the woodworm tartly. “”Alright, lead on.”
It took a while, but after many twists and turns behind the steps, the young beetles found themselves on the chapel side of the Ballroom door and slipped under it easily. Goldie guided them to the floorboard under the Lion Mask table, where the Larder and Biscuit beetles welcomed them with wide antennae, delighted at having more beetles to feed and fuss over.
Back in the Brown Gallery, Tiger was hovering distraught over the raggedy remains of a moth. “ She’s dead, she’s dead” he cried in anguish.
“ No she’s not,” said a passing woodworm flatly. “For a start that’s a male moth. She doesn’t even exist. It’s a typical human trick. They make you think you can smell a nice bit of totty, so that you’ll land on the sticky trap and get stuck forever. That poor blighter must have fought hard – he’s almost torn himself to pieces. There’s bits of black wing all over the place. Ugh, I can’t stay here, it’s giving me the willies.”
“You mean that’s a male ?” squeaked poor Tiger. “ That could have been me!”
“ Well, you’ll know for next time, won’t you?” said the woodworm. “Now, if you’ll excuse me I believe my sister’s offspring are moving house today so I’d better go and show willing.”
At the dolphin chair, all was calm. Voddy and Ciggy were sitting companionably on the feet, tired out by the day’s events. “ We did it, we got them all out,” said Voddy proudly. “ We did!” agreed Ciggy. “ We’ll have to tell the girls that none of them can lay in the dolphin chair again – too many bore holes in the legs. We’d all be gassed at once.”
“ Yeah, but it was worth it.” They sat in silence for a few minutes, then the vodka beetle said casually, “ I might just pop down to the Ballroom to see how the larves are getting on.” Ciggy gave him a look.
“ Oh, alright, I just thought it might be nice to say thank you to Goldie.”
“ If you want to thank Goldie it’s not the ballroom you should try, it’s the steps – you heard her.”
“ Yes, yes I did,” agreed Voddy happily, beetling off to the gap in the paneling behind the dolphin chair, where he disappeared.
Note: All characters in this story are completely fictitious except for the Beetles and Moths