1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 53

“I had to pass through Jena today, so I stopped by to see Dr. Gribbleflotz,” he explained.

“You sound awfully familiar with Dr. Gribbleflotz,” Tracy said.

“Didn’t your husband tell you that Dr. Gribbleflotz invited me to visit him?” Jonathan asked. With the high ground firmly in his possession he continued with the reason why he’d dropped by. “I’d heard a rumor that he didn’t have a doctorate, and well, the long and short of it is, I asked him, and he admitted that he didn’t.”

“He admitted to you that he doesn’t hold a doctorate?” Tracy demanded. “Why would he do that?”

Jonathan thought it better not to try and answer that question, so he hurried on. “And he said that the dean of medicine at the university was trying to get him run out of Jena.”

“Run out of Jena? But we’ve invested a fortune in him,” Tracy wailed.

“Yes, well, apparently all Dr. Gribbleflotz needs to stymie Professor Rolfinck is a duly awarded doctorate, and I was wondering if there mightn’t be an institution somewhere in Europe willing to award him a doctorate based on relevant life experience.”

Off to the side a loud choking sound came from Ted. “You mean a diploma mill?” he asked.

“Or something like that,” Jonathan said. “I mean, Dr. Gribbleflotz is earning you a fortune with his little blue pills. So surely you owe him something.” He shrugged. “What can it hurt to at least make inquiries?”

Next day

Jonathan stopped by his local pharmacy to ask about iodine for Dr. Gribbleflotz, and about using mercury to treat syphilis. He entered and walked up to the counter.

“Hi, Jonathan, how can we help you today?” Susan Little asked.

“I’ve just got a couple of questions. Firstly, can I buy iodine?” Jonathan asked.

Susan shrugged and called out to her colleague. “Hey, Bibi, Jonathan here wants to know if he can buy some iodine.”

“What do you want it for?” Bibi Blackwood called back.

“It’s for Dr. Gribbleflotz. He needs it for some experiments.”

The two pharmacy clerks exchanged looks. “I’ll ask Lasso,” Bibi said before disappearing out the back.”

“How do you know Dr. Gribbleflotz?” Susan asked.

“Ted Kubiak introduced me to him.”

Susan nodded knowingly. “You delivered a load of urine for them in one of the army’s trucks?”

Jonathan nodded. It wasn’t as if he had received any money for that trip. It had gone straight to the army.

“I understand you want to buy some iodine,” Lasso Trelli said as he entered the shop front.”

“I don’t actually want to buy it, Mr. Trelli. It’s for Dr. Gribbleflotz. I just want to know if you have any available for sale.”

“You’re in luck,” Lasso said, “the Sanitation Commission deemed a reliable supply of iodine sufficiently important to make getting it a matter of urgency. You can extract iodine from seaweed ash, and we recently received our first shipment from the Baltic, so we have a reasonable supply on hand.”

“Why’s it so important?” Jonathan asked.

“It’s important because it’s so useful. Iodine can be used to sanitize drinking water, and as an antiseptic. Also, your body needs iodine. Iodine deficiency can cause goiter and intellectual disability, and that can be prevented by adding iodine to the salt supply.” Lasso smiled. “Is that all you needed?” he asked.

“Yes. No.” Jonathan said.

Lasso grinned. “Make up your mind.”

“It’s about mercury. I was talking to Dr. Gribbleflotz, and I said how they didn’t allow it in schools back up-time because of how dangerous it is, and he insisted that it was safe, and that his great grandfather, the Great Paracelsus, used it to successfully treat syphilis.” He looked earnestly at Lasso. “Can it treat Syphilis? I always thought it was a dangerous poison.”

Lasso nodded. “That’s the modern view, but mercury has been used as a topical antiseptic for centuries. They only stopped distributing Mercurochrome in the US in October of 1998, and even then, that was done purely on the fears of potential mercury poisoning rather than because of any evidence. It was still available in Europe in 2000.”

“So Dr. Gribbleflotz was right, it is safe. Can be used to treat syphilis?”

Lasso sort of shook his head. “It’s mercury, so I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say it’s totally safe, but it could be applied to genital ulcers as a topical antiseptic. But I doubt it would be much use beyond the primary stage.”

“Thanks,” Jonathan said. “I’ll tell Mrs. Kubiak that Dr. Gribbleflotz wants some iodine and that you can provide it.”

Lasso snorted. “Tracy’ll probably place the order with Tino.” he shook his head ruefully.

Jonathan dropped his head. He’d forgotten about Mrs. Kubiak’s connection with Nobili’s Pharmacy. “I’m sorry, Mr. Trelli.”

“Don’t worry about it, Jonathan. We’re making enough off Dr. Gribbleflotz’ little blue pills of happiness that missing the sale of a little iodine won’t hurt us.”

“Thanks for the information,” Jonathan said as he left. He was going to have to apologize to Dr. Gribbleflotz for doubting him, he thought. Maybe he’d better check what the encyclopedias had to say about the medical uses of mercury.

December 1631, Amsterdam

Caspar Barlaeus sat at the table with the other members of the recently created Athenaeum Illustre. He looked around at his colleagues. “Can anyone tell me why this meeting has been called?”

His question was met with blank faces and shaking heads.

There was a perfunctory knock on the heavy wooden door before it was pulled open. Casper shot to his feet, all ready to protest, but then he recognized who were standing at the door — Jacob Dircksz de Graeff and his nephew Andries Bicker. Together the two men controlled the city’s politics. There was a third man, a colorless functionary of some sort. Judging by the quality of his clothing he was probably a lawyer, though why Jacob and Andries would turn up at a meeting of the faculty with a lawyer in tow he had no idea.

“Please be seated,” Jacob said, as if he was in charge. “I have wondrous news for the Atheneaeum Illustre.” He gestured for the lawyer, who walked around the table placing some papers before each person.

Casper glanced down, meaning to just have a glance, but the title on the top page caught his eye and he started reading in earnest. He only looked up after reading the first couple of paragraphs. When he did he saw his colleagues were equally shocked. “How can the Atheneaeum Illustre suddenly be turned into a university,” he demanded, “it’s only just been formed as school of higher learning.”

Jacob turned to his nephew and raised a brow, inviting him to answer the question.

“It’s not a done deed, yet,” Andries said, “but with my uncle and I supporting the petition, I am sure the city council will sign off on it and present it to the Stadtholder for confirmation.”

Casper could readily believe that these two men could force anything they wanted through the city council, but that didn’t explain why they would do it. “That’s not what I meant. I’m sure you and your uncle are capable of having the Atheneaeum Illustre suddenly turned into the University of Amsterdam, but why would you do it?” he demanded.

Andries gestured for the lawyer to speak.

“My esteemed colleagues in Jena have a client who wishes to have a doctorate awarded to a man in their employ,” Johannes Rutgers said.

Casper didn’t like the implications of that, but he had a ready solution that wouldn’t put the school in an invidious position. “Our charter doesn’t allow us to award degrees, let alone doctorates,” he said.

“Your current charter may not permit you to award degrees or doctorates,” Johannes corrected, “but the new charter, which would be in force if the Atheneaeum Illustre were to become the University of Amsterdam, would allow it.”

“You can’t just suddenly turn an advanced school into a university,” Casper protested.

Jacob Dircksz de Graeff just smiled. Casper understood what that smile meant. When you were as rich and powerful as he was, you could do just about anything you wanted.

One of the men at the table stood up. “Even if we were a university able to award degrees you can’t just walk in here and expect us to give a doctorate to someone to suit yourselves,” Wilhelm Dorschner protested. “It violates every principle one has as a teacher. Why can’t this client of your colleagues do the proper thing and pass the requisite exams?”