1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 10

“Why on earth would he do that?” Even as he said it Phillip realized there was probably a good reason why Dietrich hadn’t immediately taken the boy to Frau Kilian. “What have you been up to?” Phillip reconsidered the merits of that question the moment he’d uttered it and held up his hands. “No, don’t tell me. I’m sure that Dietrich has a very good reason. This Paulus is in Dietrich’s room?” Claus nodded.

Phillip surveyed his current experiment. There was nothing that needed to be cleaned and put away other than the reaction vessel with its precious sample. However, nothing had happened in the last hour and a half, and it was becoming more and more obvious that nothing was going to happen. With the immediate problem dealt with he started thinking about his new problem. He turned to Claus. “I have to get some things from my room. I want you to get a bucket of water, as hot as possible, and some soap. I’ll meet you in your room.”

“Why do you want soap and hot water, Herr Gribbleflotz?” Claus asked.

“So I can wash my hands of course,” Phillip said. “Now get moving.”

Phillip watched the youth sprint out of the laboratory and wondered if he had ever been that young.


He managed to get to Dietrich’s room without being noticed. Not that there would have been any questions asked about him being up and around at this hour, but he preferred not to take any risks. He slipped into the room and saw the reassuring sight of Dietrich and his new acquaintance watching over a second young apprentice. Sitting on the floor was the requested bucket of water. Phillip was happy to notice the steam coming off of it.

“Hi, Dietrich. Who’s the patient?”

“Thanks for coming, Phillip.” Dietrich gestured towards the boy lying on the bed. “Paulus here managed to cut open his leg rather badly. And I think it needs to be stitched up.”

“I hope you’re wrong,” Phillip said as he removed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. “I’ve never sewn human flesh before.

“My mother has insisted on sewing up cuts that weren’t half as bad as Paulus’.”

“What? You mean you know how to sew up cuts? If you know how to do that, why do you need me?” Phillip demanded.

“I said my mother did the sewing. I didn’t say I ever watched her doing it,” Dietrich said.

That was different. “Squeamish?” Philip asked.

Dietrich nodded. “You would be too if you’d ever seen what a saw can do.”

Phillip didn’t even want to think about the damage a woodsman’s saw could do to human flesh. In an effort to rid his mind of that thought he picked up the candle holder and dropped to his knees so he could examine the injury. Fortunately, this wound had not been made by a saw. “It seems like a clean cut,” he said as he ran his little finger the length of the wound. In fact it was too clean a cut. He turned and looked straight at Dietrich. “Was it a knife?”

Dietrich shook his head. “From what Paulus told me, it was probably a piece of copper guttering.”

Phillip raised his brows at that. Copper guttering was usually found on roofs. Which raised the question, what had the boy been doing on a roof at this time of night. He thought about asking, but with a gentle shake of his head reconsidered. It was probably better that he didn’t know. “Just as long as it wasn’t a fight,” he said, making it clear that he was not going to be a party to keeping quiet about a fight where knives had been used.

“It was copper spouting,” Dietrich affirmed.

Phillip studied Dietrich for a few seconds. It seemed he honestly believed the cut wasn’t from a knife. That was good enough for him. He felt in his satchel for his clothes repair kit and a small pot of ointment. He selected a curved needle that he used to sew lightweight leather and threaded it with some of his coarsest thread before sticking it point-first into the wood of the bucket so he could find it again easily. Then he opened the pot of ointment and took a big dab on his index finger and smeared it into the full length of the wound. There was an intake of breath followed by a yip of pain and the muscles of Paulus’ leg tensed; reminding Phillip that he’d forgotten something. He rolled up one of the handkerchiefs that had been used to bind the wound and told Paulus to bite on it.

The impossible happened and Paulus turned even paler as he tried to focus on the bloodied handkerchief. “Why?” he muttered as he tried to push it away from his mouth.”

“So your screams don’t wake everyone up and get us all into trouble.” Phillip punctuated the word trouble by shoving the handkerchief into Paulus’ mouth and got to work.

The first thing he did was use the other bloodied handkerchief to wipe the skin around the wound so his hand wouldn’t slip and grabbed the flesh on both sides of the injury with his left hand. With the edges of the wound held together he reached for his needle with his right hand, and froze. Just because he knew how to sew didn’t mean he knew how to sew flesh together. The only sewing of flesh he’d ever seen was when cook sewed the belly of a chicken or goose closed after filling them with stuffing.

The room around him was so quite you could hear a pin drop. Phillip looked up at the terrified face of Paulus. Well, that made two of them. He swallowed and stuck the needle into Paulus’ flesh. It was much harder to force it through the flesh than he’d expected, and his ointment smeared fingers slipped on the needle. He wiped his hand on a rag and tried again, this time managing to get the point of the curved needle to come out the other side of the wound. He left enough thread to tie off later and selected a spot a quarter inch along for his next stitch. With the thread held reasonably firmly by the flesh it had been forced through Phillip was able to make a knot. He continued along the wound, using a modified blanket-stitch, until he had the whole wound sewn closed. With a sigh of relief he wiped his sweaty brow on his shirt sleeve and sat back to admire his handiwork. It was very neat and tidy. He smiled at Paulus. “Almost finished.”

Paulus didn’t respond, but then he wouldn’t, having fainted shortly after Phillip started pushing a needle into his flesh. Phillip hadn’t noticed that Paulus’ muscles had stopped tensing with every jab of the needle because he’d been so intent on his task that the rest of the world might as well not have existed.

He tied he last stitch and cut the thread with the candle before using its light to examine the stitched wound. There didn’t seem to be any leakage, so he smeared another finger’s worth of his special ointment over wound. “There you are,” he said as he got back to his feet. “As good as new.” At this point he noticed Paulus had fainted and turned to Dietrich. “The stitches need to be removed sometime, but I don’t know when,” he said as he washed his arms and hands.

“My mother usually left them in for a week,” Dietrich said. ”

“You’ll remove them?” Phillip asked. “Good,” he replied when Dietrich nodded. He made a final check that he hadn’t forgotten anything and noticed the needle sticking out of the bucket. He didn’t remember sticking it there, but he must have. He grabbed it and returned it to its slot in his clothes repair kit. “Well, if that’s everything. I’ll leave you to clean up in here and be on my way, and remember . . .”

“You were never here,” Dietrich said.

Phillip met and matched Dietrich’s smile before checking out the two junior apprentices. Paulus looked like he’d fallen asleep, while Claus looked like he would soon follow him. Satisfied he’d done all he could, Phillip pulled on his jacket and left.


The next day Phillip got into the laboratory early so he could clean up last night’s experiment before one of the apprentices could get to it and throw out his precious flecks of nobilis auri. He carefully washed and dried the flecks before brushing them onto a clean glass. He was so intent on getting every last particle that he didn’t notice his supervising journeyman come up behind him. Fortunately, instead of disturbing his concentration, which could have resulted in his losing some of his flecks, Wilhelm Neuffer waited until he’d finished before speaking.