Tuesday, July 20, 2010

DEATH in the Garden

"Dear G_d, Holmes!" I cried, viewing the skeletal remains with horror and--let me confess it--a certain superstitious dread. "What could have done this?"

Holmes drew a magnifying glass from a pocket of his houndstooth coat and examined the evidence. He showed no overt emotion, but did his hand tremble ever so slightly? No one could be human and not be moved by the ghastly site before us.

"Stripped of all fleshy parts," he murmured. "Too high off the ground to be the work of The Tortoise or a lagomorph."

He parted the stems.

"Aha!" he exclaimed. "Look, Watson, look! What do you see?"

I peered through his glass at a scattering of black pellets on the leaves below the ravished branches.

"Good Lord! What are those?"

"You've neglected your study of common garden pests," he said. "Perhaps I should suggest you visit Audrey."

"Yes, yes," I said, with (I believe) understandable impatience. "But what ARE they?"

Almost absently, he said, as he carefully parted the victim's stems, searching beneath the scant foliage that was left, "They are the droppings of the larva of the hawkmoth, that is--Ah!"

He stepped back, turning up a stem and revealing a most revolting creature--a tomato hornworm! These hideous beasts begin as tiny eggs but, unchecked, they grow to the size of a double-decker bus.

"Kill it, Holmes!" My revulsion burst instinctively from me. "Or stand back and let me do it!"

"Your stout British heart does you credit, Watson," he said, with a rare show of approval. "But Nature herself has beaten you to it. Observe."

True enough, the monster was covered with white ovals. A wasp had discovered the fiend and, in the midst of the hornworm's depredations, had laid its own eggs upon the beast. The young wasps would feed upon the ravenous worm, even as the worm had fed upon the innocent plant.

"Justice," Holmes intoned, "is served."


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