1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 52

Jonathan sent Phillip a shocked look before he hurried over to the drawer in question and pulled out a pair of down-time spectacles. The moment he had them in his hands he held them in front of his eyes and smiled. “I’m not surprised you think these things are useless, but what about proper up-time ones. There’s an optometrist in Grantville. He can test your eyes and make you a pair of glasses that’ll give you 20/20 or better vision.”

“Twenty/twenty vision?” Phillip asked, not having any idea what it meant.

“It means you can read a line of type of a certain size at twenty feet that a normal person can read at twenty feet.” Jonathan waved towards the paper Phillip had been reading. “The way you were squinting at that, your vision might be something like 20/30 or 20/40.”

“How much would this cost?” Phillip asked.

Jonathan laughed. “You’re worried about being able to afford new glasses? You must be raking in a fortune with your little blue pills of happiness.”

Phillip winced a little at the name they were using for his Sal Vin Betula in Grantville. More important though, was the idea of getting spectacles. “How long would it take?”

“Well, the actual examination shouldn’t take more than an hour. Making up your prescription will depend on what they have in stock. You might be able to walk out of Grantville on the same day with a new pair of spectacles, or it could take a week or so if they have to grind some new lenses.”

“I will instruct Frau Mittelhausen to make an appointment for me. Who should she make it with?” Phillip asked Jonathan.

“Dr. Shipley, but make sure you ask for the optometrist, otherwise you’ll end up with an appointment to see his wife, the doctor of osteopathy.”

“Doctor,” Phillip said.

“Well, yes. Is that a problem?” Jonathan asked.

“No, no, of course not.”

Jonathan didn’t look convinced. “Dr. Gribbleflotz, I’ve heard a rumor that you don’t actually hold a doctorate.”

“Rumors, who believes rumors?” Phillip said with a shaky voice. “There is also a rumor that Professor Rolfinck would like to have me run out of Jena.”

“We can’t have that,” Jonathan said.

Phillip shook his head regretfully. “No one can stop him.”

“Well, I’m sure Mr. and Mrs. Kubiak can do something.”

“What can they do against the dean of medicine at the University of Jena?”

“Would it make a difference if you held a doctorate?” Jonathan asked.

“Of course it would, but unfortunately, I don’t. Almost, but I don’t.”

“Does it matter where you get your doctorate from?” Jonathan asked.

“Of course it matters,” Phillip said. “A medical degree from Padua is the top medical degree. Jena is okay for law, and . . .”

“No,” Jonathan said. “I meant does it matter where your doctorate comes from when it comes to dealing with Professor Rolfinck?”

Phillip shook his head. “But it doesn’t matter, because I don’t have a doctorate, and I am unlikely to ever earn one.”

Jonathan nodded sympathetically. “There might be a way to get around your problem, Dr. Gribbleflotz.”


Jonathan nodded. “Back up time there were institutions that awarded degrees, including doctorates based on what they called relevant life experience. All we have to do is find a suitable down-time institution.”

“No reputable university will award a degree based merely on relevant life experience,” Phillip said.

“They might,” Jonathan said, “if they were offered enough money.”

Phillip snorted his disbelief. “Impossible.”

“You wait,” Jonathan said, waving a finger at Phillip. “I’ll talk to Mr. and Mrs. Kubiak and see what they think.”

“It would be easier for me to leave Jena,” Phillip said.

“But you’d be leaving under a cloud, and it would damage your brand,” Jonathan protested.

“My brand?” Phillip asked.

“Sure. Gribbleflotz Sal Vin Betula, Gribbleflotz Sal Aer Fixus, and Gribbleflotz’ little blue pills of happiness.” Jonathan waved his hands. “The Kubiaks can’t afford to have you kicked out of Jena.”

Phillip glanced around his laboratory. It was a nice space, built according to his specifications, with a few up-time improvements. He didn’t want to leave it. “You’re welcome to talk to the Kubiaks about a, what do you call the kind of institution that sells degrees?”

“A diploma mill,” Jonathan said. “You won’t regret this,” he said.


Jonathan leapt over to the fume cupboard and hauled down the sash. He turned and smiled at Philip. “I guess we forgot about something. Do you want to have another go?”

Phillip looked at the purple cloud being drawn up the fume cupboard chimney. He’d forgotten all about the experiment. “That is supposed to be safe?”

“Hey,” Jonathan protested. “It’s not like we’re chasing mercury around the bench tops with our bare hands.”

Phillip looked askance at Jonathan. “What is wrong with mercury?”

“It’s considered too dangerous to use in the classroom,” Jonathan explained. “Dad calls it health and safety gone mad, because when he was at school they used to be allowed to play with it. On the other hand,” Jonathan admitted, “there are the stories about mad hatters.”

“Pardon?” Philip asked.

“Hat makers used to use mercury, and it drove them mad. Hence the phrase mad as a hatter, like in Alice in Wonderland.”

“Alice in Wonderland?” Phillip asked. He was getting very confused.

“It’s the name of a famous up-time book. One of the characters was called the Mad Hatter.”

Phillip shook his head. “Mercury is perfectly safe,” he said as he wandered over to a bookshelf and pulled out a book. “My great grandfather, the Great Paracelsus himself, wrote this book about using mercury to treat syphilis.”

“But did it work?” Jonathan asked. “Back up-time we were regularly bombarded with reports on the dangers of mercury.”

“Of course it worked!” Phillip said with some heat. “My great grandfather wouldn’t have promoted a treatment that didn’t work.”

Jonathan held his hands up defensively. “Okay, okay, keep your shirt on. I know they tried and failed to ban its use in dentistry.” That reminded Jonathan of something else. “While you’re getting your eyes tested, it might be an idea to have one of the dentists check out your teeth.”

“There’s nothing wrong with my teeth,” Phillip insisted, even as he tried to look at them in the reflection of the fume cupboard’s sash window.

“It’s just a suggestion,” Jonathan said. “Now, back to our experiment.”


Phillip touched the feather to the nitrogen tri-iodide on the middle paper. He’d thought that he’d been ready for it, but the reaction happened so fast. Fortunately he’d had the sash of the fume cupboard almost closed, so only a little of the purple vapor entered his laboratory. A few minutes later the vapor dissipated to reveal the tower of samples of nitrogen tri-iodide on sheets of paper had all exploded. He looked at the result with interest. He’d only touched one sample, but all of them had detonated, and so quickly. It would definitely be an interesting addition to his public demonstrations.

He walked over to his chemicals rack and pulled out the jar of iodine. It was nearly half full, or for someone intending to use the contents in important public seminars, half empty. He turned to Jonathan. “Next time you’re in Grantville, could you order some more iodine for me?’

“Are you planning on repeating the experiment?”

Phillip nodded. “I hold regular seminars and demonstrations of various things of interest. I’m sure my regulars would be interested in seeing your contact explosive.”


Jonathan stopped off at the Kubiak residence on the way home. Actually, the house on Mahan Run was quite a way out of the way home, but he thought that the sooner something was done about finding a diploma mill for Dr. Gribbleflotz the better.

There was a new face it the house when he arrived. A young girl grabbed a baby and bolted the moment she saw Jonathan at the door.

“Who was that?” he asked when Ted let him into the house.

“Richelle. She’s a refugee we’ve decided to adopt.”

Refugee, female, plus baby all went together to give Jonathan an idea why she might have bolted at the sight of a strange male. It made him sick to think of what might have happened to the girl, but there was little he could do about it, so he turned to the reason for his visit. “I dropped by to visit Dr. Gribbleflotz today and . . .”

“You did what?” Tracy demanded from the kitchen door.