1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 20
“What’s the matter, Michael?” Phillip asked as he approached.
Michael held up his hand so Phillip could see the splat of blood on it. “An insect bit me.”
Slap! Slap! Michael looked at the new splats of dead insects on his hands with grim satisfaction before turning his attention back to Phillip. His eyes widened and he pointed an accusing finger at Phillip. “Why aren’t they biting you?” he demanded.
Phillip looked down at his hands. They were clear of insects and insect bites. As an experiment he moved his right hand towards the cloud of insects flying around the hand Michael was pointing at him. Rather than land on his hand they avoided it.
Michael had been watching with interest. “They must scent the flower essence on your hands from when you made the wreaths.”
“Let’s try something,” Phillip said. He reached up and snapped a flower head from the wreath of flowers around Michael’s head and grabbed Michael’s left hand.
“The right hand, please, Phillip,” Michael said as he pulled his left hand free and proffered his right hand to him.”
Phillip held Michael’s right hand and firmly rubbed the flower head over the back of it. The results were astonishing. Almost immediately the insects abandoned that hand in favor of the other.
Michael grabbed the flower head from Phillip and rubbed it over the back of his left hand. Then he rubbed it around his neck.
Phillip felt something on his neck and slapped it. He didn’t bother confirming that it was a biting insect. Instead he retreated from the edge of the marsh to the relative safety of the track around the lake so he could rub a daisy on his exposed flesh. When he was finished he stared at the remains of the flower head in his hand. There had to be an easier way, and he made a note in his notebook to ask the next local they came across.
Later that day
Gasparo, Francis, Leon, and Michael were sitting at a table. Michael was carefully drawing a flower from a sample he had beside him while the others were relaxing over a mug of ale. The flower wreaths Phillip had made for them had wilted and now sat in the middle of the table. Off at another table they could see Phillip pounding away with a pestle and mortar.
Gasparo turned to Michael. “Do you know what Signor Gribbleflotz is doing?”
Michael glanced at Phillip. “It looks like he’s grinding something.”
Gasparo grimaced at Michael. “I can see that he is using a pestle and mortar. I was wondering if you knew what he was preparing.”
Michael studied Phillip for a while before answering. “We had a few words with some of the locals. Apparently they sometimes use a lotion of water and powdered flower heads to ward off insects. I assume Signor Gribbleflotz purchased some dried flower heads and is now grinding it to make an insect repellent.”
Francis ran a hand lightly over the bite marks on the back of his neck as he stared at Michael. “Do you think it’ll work?”
Michael nodded. “Signor Gribbleflotz and I discovered in the marsh today that if you rubbed the flowers into your skin the insects would avoid that area, so I see no reason why splashing a solution containing traces of the flower over your skin shouldn’t work at least as well.”
“That’s good to hear,” Leon said. “I don’t suppose you have anything with which to treat insect bites?” he asked.
“There’s a broad-leafed plant that can be rubbed over the bites,” Michael said. “I can look for some tomorrow.”
“That’s going to make for an uncomfortable night,” Gasparo muttered. “Hang on. Here comes Signor Gribbleflotz. Maybe he has something to hand.”
The group watched Philip approach. He had a small pot of something that he placed on the table in front of them.
“What’s that?” Gasparo asked.
Phillip looked fondly at the pot. “It’s a paste made from the leaves of Plantago major. You should find it soothes the insect bites.”
“That’s the broad-leafed plant I was thinking of,” Michael said. He looked up at Phillip. “Did you learn about it from Professor Alpini?”
Phillip nodded. “He mentioned it in his medical botany lectures, but I first met it when I was helping my stepfather. He was an apothecary.”
Francis gestured towards Michael. “Dr. Weitnauer here thought that you were grinding up flower-heads to make an insect repellent.”
Gasparo turned to Phillip. He gestured towards the pot. “That’s right. Does that mean you haven’t made any insect repellent?”
“Don’t worry. I’ve bought some powdered flower-head. All I have to do is mix it with water. Now, who would like me to smear some of my soothing paste over their insect bites?”
The next few days progressed without any drama. Michael continued to bring the expedition to a halt whenever he found an interesting plant. Gasparo, Francis, and Leon continued to look after the animals and provide security. Meanwhile Phillip continued to help Michael and collect his own plant samples.
They were camped in the open tonight. The sun was still up, but it was late and all of them were tired. They gathered around the campfire close to Phillip as he pulled a book out of his pack and carefully opened it and started to read aloud. The book was an Italian edition of Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, and Phillip had been reading a few pages to the group every evening. Tonight he was reading chapter twenty-three, Of What Befell Don Quixote in the Sierra Morena,
“You’d like the shirts,” Michael said as Phillip read the description of what was in the valise Don Quixote and Sancho Panza found.
Phillip pointedly examined the sad state of his current shirt. “Four shirts of fine Holland wouldn’t go amiss,” he confirmed.
“And neither would the gold,” Leon said.
Phillip grinned. “Gold never goes amiss. Now, can I continue?” All heads nodded and Phillip continued.
“. . . and he said what will be told farther on.” Phillip carefully marked the page with a ribbon and closed the book.”
“You can’t stop there,” Leon protested.
“It’s the end of the chapter,” Phillip said.
“But it doesn’t feel complete,” Leon protested.
Phillip just grinned. “I’ll read the next chapter tomorrow.”
“There’s still plenty of light,” Leon said hopefully.
“No,” Phillip said shaking his head.
On that note Phillip wrapped the book in an oilskin cover before putting it back into his pack. Then he laid out his blankets and made himself comfortable. He glanced around the campsite one last time before laying down his head. Leon was standing guard while everyone else went to bed.
The next night they exchanged the discomforts of the great outdoors for the more common discomforts of a small inn.
Phillip deposited the inn supplied blankets in a corner and sprinkled powdered Tanacetum cinerariifolium over them. He was liberally sprinkling the powder over the canvas covered straw pallets that were their beds for the night when Francis entered the room with one of the packs.
Francis stopped when he saw what Phillip was doing. “I thought you had herbs to keep down the bed bugs?”
Phillip stopped in mid sprinkle and turned to Francis. “The powdered flower is much more powerful than anything I’ve used before.”
“Is it safe?” Francis asked as he dropped the pack he was carrying against the wall.
Phillip looked at the powder in his hand before smiling at Francis. “I wouldn’t recommend eating it by the handful, but Dapple didn’t have any trouble eating the flowers.”
“But he’s a donkey, and donkeys don’t care what they eat.”
Phillip wiped his hands clean of the dust on his tights and shook his head. “Goats will eat anything because they think everything should be food. Horses and ponies will eat almost anything they find in the hope that it is food, but a donkey will only eat what it is sure is food.” He grinned. “If Dapple thinks it is safe to eat the flowers, then it should be safe to sleep in the powdered remains of the flowers.”
Francis looked a bit dubious at Phillip’s explanation. “Should be?” he asked.
“We all applied a lotion of the same powder mixed with water this morning, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel any the worse for the experience.”