1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 33

“Please, Dr. Gribbleflotz, you must come,” Peter said between gasps for breath. “They think Katarina murdered Ludwig Schaub.”

“Is Katarina okay?” Johann demanded as he grabbed Peter.

“Settle down!” Phillip ordered as he pulled Johann from Peter. “Now, Peter, can you tell me what has happened?”

Peter took a deep breath and slowly released it. “Katarina’s mistress married Herr Ludwig Schaub yesterday, and the bridegroom died before the marriage could be consummated. Herr Schaub’s family is insisting that he was poisoned, and they’re claiming that Katarina and Frau Beck did it.”

“Calm down, Peter,” Phillip said, “the guard isn’t going do anything to your sister just because someone claims she poisoned someone. They need evidence.”

Peter nodded. “That’s why you have to come. I told Captain Brückner how you and Professor Bauhin determined what killed Elisabeth Brotbeck. Both the Becks and the Schaubs have agreed to let you examine Herr Schaub and Captain Brückner sent me to get you.” He paused for a moment. “The Beck family will pay for your time,” Peter added as an afterthought.

“I don’t have the reputation in Basel to carry enough weight with the courts,” Phillip said. “We need someone with a higher public profile.” He turned to Peter. “I want you to find Professor Bauhin and tell him what you’ve told me. No.” Phillip stopped speaking and shook his head. “That won’t work. I need you to lead me to Herr Schaub’s house.”

“I know where it is,” Johann said.

Phillip looked questioningly at Johann.

Johann blushed under Phillips gaze. “I’ve been walking out with Peter’s sister, and she showed me where she would be living after her mistress married.”

That was good enough for Philip. He turned back to Peter. “Quick as you can, find Professor Bauhin and give him the message. Johann will lead me to Herr Schaub’s house.”

Peter nodded and made for the door. Seconds later his wooden shoes could be heard clattering along on the cobblestones.

Phillip turned to Johann. “Help me collect my medical bags. We’d best take a bit of everything.”


Even though it was bigger than most bedrooms, Ludwig Schaub’s room felt crowded. Captain Daniel Brückner of the city guard was there with Sergeant Heinrich Schweitzer. Katarina and Maria were sitting huddled together on a settee as far away from the bed where the body was lying as they could get. A man Phillip assumed was the dead man’s personal servant stood by the bed, and members of the Beck and Schaub families lined opposite sides of the room with their respective lawyers in attendance.

“What are we waiting for?” Professor Dr. Johannes Thomas Cludius, counsel for the Schaub family demanded. “Herr Dr. Gribbleflotz is here. Let him get to work.”

“A woman’s life may be at stake, so I’ve asked that Professor Bauhin join me,” Phillip said.

Professor Dr. Kaspar Bitsch’s eyes lit up. The counselor for the Beck family obviously appreciated the inclusion of the professor of the practice of medicine. “I’m happy to wait for Professor Bauhin to arrive.”

So wait they did. No more than ten minutes later Professor Gaspard Bauhin, his son, and Peter entered the room.”

“It’s a bit crowded in here,” Gaspard said to Phillip.

“Maybe some of them will leave when we start the autopsy,” Phillip said.

“Where were you proposing to hold it?” Gaspard asked. He waved towards the bed. “If nothing else, that’s an awkward height.”

“There should be a big table in the kitchen. Failing that, there’s always the dining room,” Phillip said.

“You can’t cut open Ludwig in his own dining room,” one of Ludwig’s relatives protested.

“I hardly think he’s going to mind,” Phillip said. “Still, I’m sure his widow will allow us to do whatever is necessary to discover what killed her husband.”

“She killed him,” one of the Schaub wives said, pointing an accusing finger at Maria.

“Maria didn’t kill Ludwig,” one of Maria’s family countered.

It quickly degenerated into a yelling match between the two families, which Phillip tried to ignore as he looked around the room looking for clues.

Gaspard joined him as Captain Brückner and Sergeant Schweitzer separated the two families. “What are you looking for?” he asked.

Phillip nodded towards Ludwig’s personal manservant. “He said that his master complained of abdominal cramps, and burning pain in his stomach and throat before he went into convulsions,” Phillip whispered.

“That’s consistent with poisoning,” Gaspard whispered back.

“I know. I’m hoping that if it was poison, it was self-administered, and somewhere there should be a pill box of some description.” Phillip crouched to look under the bed. The stink of urine hit him as he lifted the cover. He reached out for the chamber pot and pulled it out from under the bed. Phillip smiled at the sight and glanced at Gaspard. “Blood in the urine.”

Gaspard examined the chamber pot. “That certainly had to have happened before the real pain set in.”

“What are you two whispering about?” Dr. Cludius demanded.

“Let me handle this,” Gaspard whispered to Phillip. He got back to his feet and faced Dr. Cludius. “It’s very simple, Johannes. We noticed the smell of urine and were looking to find the source.” Gaspard lifted up the chamber pot so everyone could see. His innocent sounding statement calmed everyone down. “Now, can we get the body moved to the kitchen? I’d like to get started on the autopsy.”

Chamber pots were such innocuous devices that no one noticed that after Gaspard passed the pot to Phillip he poured the contents into a flask from his medical kit. Meanwhile footmen carried the body down to the kitchen where it was laid out on the kitchen table. Ludwig Schaub’s bed gown was removed to reveal a corpulent and hairy body. Phillip handed the flask to Johann and told him to put it away before he joined Gaspard in examining the now naked body. They walked around it, taking turns to poke at the fat belly.

“Where would you suggest we start?” Gaspard asked.

Ever since he’d seen the bloody urine Phillip had been thinking about the combination of blood in the urine and a brand new, and young, wife. He had an idea of what might have killed Ludwig Schaub, now he just had to collect the confirming evidence. “The stomach.”

Gaspard turned to the people encroaching on the space around the table. “I’d appreciate it if everyone would give us some room,” he said as he attempted to shoo them away from the table.

Everyone took at most half a step back, until Gaspard started unrolling his autopsy equipment. Not to be outdone, Phillip found room on a work bench to lay out his own tools of his trade. The sight of the various saws and blades had the onlookers stepping well clear of the two surgeons.

“After you?” Phillip suggested to Gaspard, gesturing to the naked belly of Ludwig Schaub.

“No, after you, Phillip. Today I’ll assist.”

To have Professor Bauhin assisting him was a great honor, and Phillip had no intention of declining his offer. He selected a scalpel and made a long incision from Ludwig’s groin right up to his neck. He followed the vertical incision with a couple of horizontal incisions at rib level to form a cross and the two surgeons started to peel back the skin.

Finding the stomach took a little time, but soon afterwards Phillip was able to cut it out and drop it onto a silver platter that had been requisitioned for the purpose. Together Phillip and Gaspard opened it and examined the contents.

“Look at those flecks,” Phillip said.

Gaspard scraped some small iridescent flecks from the stomach lining. “What do you think it is?” he asked.

Phillip examined them under a lens. With everything else he had seen he was pretty sure he knew what had killed Ludwig, but there was one sure way of confirming it. “I think it’s what killed Ludwig,” he whispered. “I need to conduct a test. Let’s find a kidney.”

The kidney was a little harder to find in amongst the fatty tissues, but eventually Gaspard was able to cut one free. He dropped it into a bowl. “Now what?” he asked.

Phillip looked and the fat encrusted kidney. “If what I think is right, if we cut that open and rub it on skin, it should raise blisters.”

Gaspard glanced at the interested onlookers. “Well, we can’t use any of these people. Would a rabbit do?”

Phillip nodded. “Although it would probably be better to have two — one for the Becks and one for the Schaubs.”

Gaspard grinned before turning to the onlookers and requesting a couple of live rabbits, with large patches of their fur shaved off.

While Gaspard gave instructions Phillip cut open the kidney and proceeded to mash it up some of it, while being careful not to touch it with his bare skin. He was finished well before a kitchen hand returned with a couple of rabbits.

While Gaspard described what was happening Phillip used a pair of metal tongs to take some of the mashed kidney and smear it on the shaved flanks of the rabbits. Then they sat down to watch.

“What are we looking for?” Dr. Bitsch asked.