1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 46

Mary Rose blushed. “If we lock in the local suppliers of urine? Hold it. How do we do that? And who are the local suppliers of urine?”

Tracy grinned. “Ted claims that the various drinking houses produce buckets full every day. Currently a lot of it is being dumped via the sewage system. He reckons he and a couple of the cousins can modify the urinals so that the urine is diverted into some barrels rather than the sewer. If we offer to make the modification at no cost in return for the urine, he thinks we could lock in most of the taverns. They’ll save on the toilet tax since they won’t be pumping so much into the sewerage system.”

“Those years with O’Keefe’s are good for something then,” Belle commented with a grin.

“Don’t forget the papers in waste engineering Ted’s done at college. But yes, he’s happy to be able to make a useful contribution to this project.”

Late November 1631, Jena

Maria Anna Siebenhorn sat on the blanket wrapped bundles of the worldly goods of her, her brother, and their friend and leaned against the exterior wall of the bakery and tried to absorb a bit of warmth from the oven’s chimney. Across her body was a stick she could use to defend herself and the bundles, although to use it she would first have to free her hands. She was cold, as one would expect in Jena in November during the Little Ice Age, and she was hungry. Both problems had their origin in her current situation — she was a refugee. It wasn’t that the good citizens didn’t care about the refugees from the wars who had looked to their city for aid, but there were too many of them for the available alms.

Maria, her elder brother Michael, and his friend Kurt had found shelter in the city. They’d also managed to find work, but now that the grape harvest was almost over the vineyards no longer needed so many pickers. The three of them had been without work for three days, which was about the limit the city authorities allowed, and things were strained.

Across the street Maria Anna watched a man approached a young woman who’d been standing in a doorway flashing her wares all the time Maria Anna had been sitting against the wall. They talked, and then, after striking an agreement, they entered the building, the man’s hand clamped firmly to the buttocks of the young woman. Maria Anna knew what was going on, and she shuddered at the idea of doing it herself. She knew that if she and Michael didn’t find work soon, she might be forced into selling her body.

“Maria Anna!”

The shout, almost in her ear, freed Maria Anna from her nightmare. She looked up at her brother. He looked excited. “You’ve found work?” she asked.

Michael nodded. “But we have to be quick.” He hauled Maria Anna to her feet and thrust one of the bundles she’d been sitting on into her arms before grabbing the other two and setting off.

“What sort of work?” Maria Anna demanded as she hurried to catch up with her brother.

“An alchemist is looking for people he can train to produce something for the Americans.”

Maria Anna rushed in front of her brother and turned to confront him. “An alchemist?”

“Yes,” Michael said, “an alchemist. But it’s honest work, with meals and accommodation provided.”

Maria Anna stood aside to let Michael past and walked along beside him. Michael had just said the magic words. She was cold, tired, and hungry, and this job addressed all three of her problems, overcoming any fears she might have about working for an alchemist.

Jena, the shop floor of Dr. Phil’s new laboratory, a few days later

Phillip passed his eyes over the hard-working young urchins he had recruited as laborants to make the “baking soda” for the American women. He smiled to himself as he remembered his victory over naming of the product. Who would want to be known as the man who makes “baking soda?” Sal Aer Fixus, now there was a product to be proud of. Any alchemist worth the title would immediately respect the abilities of the man who can produce Sal Aer Fixus. Baking soda was for cooks.

“Hans.” His high-pitched squeal penetrated the noise of the laboratory. “Did I tell you to stop grinding the ice maker?” All eyes turned to Hans Saltzman, who had hastily returned to grinding the icemaker.

Phillip walked up and down the production line checking on his workers. For a pack of illiterate street refuse, they had taken to the work well. Most of them didn’t understand what they were doing, but they were all capable of following his clear and concise instructions. At the ringing of a bell, everybody concentrated on finishing the current batch. As the batch passed from station to station, the youths cleaned down their work stations before helping other workers clean up. Soon, the batch was finished and ready for packaging in the fancy new paper bags the Grantville ladies had supplied. Waving his workers off to the noon meal, Phillip ran a finger over the image printed on some of the bags, a woodcut portrait, with “Gribbleflotz’s Sal Aer Fixus” written around the border. The image was very good, if he did say so himself. The artist had managed to catch his true essence. He appeared suitably regal and dignified. On the back of the bag there was more printing. There was a list of several uses for Gribbleflotz’s Sal Aer Fixus, including a recipe for the America culinary atrocity they called “biscuits.”

He gave the workroom one last sweep with his eyes. What he saw filled him with pleasure. The workroom and his personal laboratory had been fitted out to his specifications, with a few suggestions from the Americans, at considerable expense. The Americans themselves had come in and done much of the work setting up the laboratories. They now boasted “fume cupboards,” something that was especially valuable when dealing with fermented urine and Spirits of Hartshorn, and easy to drain hot and cold baths. There was even running water, as long as the tanks were kept topped up.

Passing into the dining room, Phillip waved the laborants back to the important task of eating. He well remembered the times when he had lacked sufficient food to eat, and had insisted to the Grantville ladies that the laborants should eat as well as he and Frau Mittelhausen. His eye caught on a couple of the laborants. They were some of his best workers, in spite of being female. If they caused any trouble it would be up to Frau Mittelhausen to deal with it. After all, that was what she was paid to do.

He walked into his study. A cloth-covered tray sat on the table where he wrote up his research and did his accounts. Not that he had to do many accounts since the ladies from Grantville had encouraged him to join them in a company. Frau Mittelhausen did all that, and ran the household. All he had to do was ensure the baking soda was prepared according to the recipe, and that sufficient quantities were being made. He relaxed in his chair before removing the cloth covering his lunch. The steam rising from his simple meal reminded Phillip of the meals he had been eating only a few weeks ago. Those meals had been anything he could buy cheaply and eat quickly before returning to his laboratory where he did assays and other work to pay off his debts. He cast an eye to the shelf where his lucky crystal now sat. He would be a lot more careful with his money in future.

He had recently started training a couple of the better laborants to do assays. Soon he would be able to leave them to conduct the rote aspects of the assay work while he concentrated on more important things. Meanwhile, he was receiving a good income from the company just for supervising its production of Sal Aer Fixus. He smiled, remembering the contract the Grantville Ladies had had him sign. He received a salary, and a share of any profits, all without having to pay a Pfennig towards the costs of the wretched baking soda.