1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 03

“Very lucky. I’m told I have you to thank that I didn’t lose my sight.”

Phillip shook his head. “All I did was what Herr Neuffer told me to do.”

“Herr Neuffer told me he thought to use water to wash off the Oil of Vitriol, and that it was your idea to use the stale beer. Herr Reihing says that the stale beer saved my sight. So thanks. If there’s anything I can ever do for you, just ask.”

Phillip muttered “You’re welcome.” and after a glance around the table, Bernhard walked back to his table.

There was a massive sigh of relief from the table as Bernhard walked away. “Do you know who that was?” Christoph demanded in a whisper.

“He’s one of the apprentices who got splattered by Oil of Vitriol.” The name Wilhelm had used popped into his head. “Herr Neuffer called him Bernhard.”

“That was Bernhard all right.” Christoph said. “I don’t think you need to worry about him bullying you.”

That was when Phillip recognized the name from the warnings his roommates had given him. He stared in the direction Bernhard had gone in silence.”

“How’d you save Bernhard’s sight? Have you been holding out on us?” Christoph asked.

Phillip looked at the interested faces looking his way and sighed. He had so hoped for his actions to go unnoticed. “I was in the laboratory when the alembic exploded. Herr Neuffer saw that that Bernhard was in trouble and dragged me along to help look after him. I continued to wash away the Oil of Vitriol with stale beer from the barrels in the laboratory while Herr Neuffer joined Herr Reihing to help him tend to Herr Brenner.’

“How did you know to wash away the Oil of Vitriol with stale beer?” Frederik asked. “Is that something you learned from your stepfather?”

Phillip was all ready to admit that he’d only proposed using the stale beer because he hadn’t known where to find water to wash away the Oil of Vitriol, but one of the other apprentices at the table asked if he’d been burnt and the opportunity to correct the misapprehension was lost. Phillip answered by showing a few red marks on the back of his hand. “Only a little bit when I was washing the Oil of Vitriol off Bernhard.”

“Does it hurt?” Another apprentice asked.

“Not now. I’ve smeared a special burn ointment over it,” Phillip said.

“Does it work on ordinary burns?” Christoph asked.

Phillip nodded. The apothecary who’d made it had used the same ointment on the burns a couple of the apprentices had suffered when they dropped or grabbed hot items in the shock of the exploding alembic.

“Can you get me some?” Frederik asked. “I’m always getting small burns from coming into contact with hot alembics.”

Again Phillip nodded. He’d watched the apothecary very closely as he’d prepared the ointment and was sure he had or could get all the ingredients to make it. “I can make it.”

“What else do you know how to prepare?” Christoph asked.

Phillip hesitated. After a moment he described some of the things he’d helped his stepfather make. The man would have been horrified if he’d realized Phillip had kept accurate records of everything he’d helped him make in the last few years of his life. Some of the concoctions he’d prepared were extremely dangerous in the wrong hands, and hands didn’t come much wronger than those of a teenage boy. It was fortunate that although Phillip had the recipes and knew how to make them, he didn’t know what some of the more dangerous concoctions were supposed to treat.


Over the next month Phillip started to fit in. Compared to his experiences in his stepfather’s household, life was good, but there was still a blight on his life — his clothes. An apprentice was usually given two “new” sets of clothes a year, and it was going to be another five months before Phillip saw the first of them. That meant he had to continue wearing the clothes he’d brought with him. There wasn’t really much wrong with them, if one ignored the washed out colors and poor fit. They were warm and well patched. One might even say “overly well patched”, with one pair of pants being more patches than pants. But that was what one had to live with when your clothes were hand-me-downs.

Unfortunately, everyone else seemed to have better clothes.

Things came to a head that morning as Phillip dressed. He was pushing an arm down a sleeve when suddenly his fingers went through the fabric at the elbow. He examined it to see if he could sew the edges together, but the fabric was too worn. He was going to have to sew on a patch. Reluctantly he pulled on another shirt and went in search of the housekeeper.

He ran the housekeeper to ground in her workroom. “Frau Kilian, do you have any scrapes of fabric I can use to patch my shirt?” he asked, showing the elbow he needed to patch.

Veronika Kilian lowered what she was working on and held out her hand for the shirt. After fingering it for a few seconds she nodded. “The girl is busy at the moment, but she should be able to have it done by Friday.”

“Oh, no, Frau Killian,” Phillip protested. “I can repair it myself, but I need some fabric to use as a patch.”

“You can sew?” Veronika asked.

Phillip nodded and gestured to some of the repairs on his shirt.

“Hmmm. Someone has obviously tried to teach you how to sew.”

“My mother,” Phillip said proudly.

Veronika’s brow lifted for a moment in response to that statement. “If you’re willing to do your own sewing, I can ask Sofia to supply you. Come along, and we’ll make the arrangements now.”

The next day

Phillip was sitting on his bed sewing when Christoph and Frederik entered the bedroom. “What’re you doing?” Christoph asked.

Philip was prepared for the question. There was no way he was going to admit to having to repair his clothes, so he lied. “Adding some color and style to my wardrobe.” He held a shirt up to show them how he’d revamped its look by sewing matching scarlet patches over the elbows of the washed out blue shirt.

Frederik pointed at a large strip of fabric in a vivid green. “What are you going to do with that piece?”

“I thought I’d use it to line the collar,” Phillip said, making sure his grip on his shirt hid the worn areas the green strip was going to cover.

“Where did you get the material?” Christoph asked.

“From Frau Kilian. She’s letting me have some scraps.” Phillip didn’t mention that he was paying for the scraps by helping with the sewing.

“Can you sew patches like those on the elbows of my shirt?” Frederik asked.

Phillip didn’t immediately answer. He didn’t want to say no, but there was the small matter of getting the necessary cloth from Frau Kilian.

“I can pay,” Frederik said, fumbling for his purse.

That changed things. “If you’d like to tell me what colors and type of cloth you’d like the patches made out of, I’ll see if I can get some suitable material.”

“Thanks, Phillip.”


A couple of days later Phillip stole a few minutes during the noon break to see if he could find some suitable material for Frederik’s patches. Being a logical youth, he’d asked Frau Kilian for advice and she’d given him the direction of a local rag collector, where he struck gold.

The rag collector usually sold his linens and cottons to the paper makers, but papermakers preferred white or near white rags, and didn’t pay much for dyed cloth, whereas Phillip was looking for strong colors. The deal was mutually satisfactory. Phillip got good pieces of material in a variety of colors, and the rag collector got a little more than he would have got from the paper makers.

The next Sunday Frederik made an entrance to the dining room in his newly revamped shirt. All credit for the work was directed to Phillip, who immediately received half a dozen new requests to revamp clothes. It was to become a regular little earner for Phillip. He was never going to get rich dressing up shirts and pants for his fellow apprentices, but the few pfennigs they could afford to pay him allowed him to feed his growing addiction to color.