1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz – Snippet 21
Francis smiled in relief. “And it did keep the insects away today,” he admitted. “Will you be reading the next chapter to us tonight?”
Philip’s brows shot up. “Yes, and thanks for reminding me. I have to let the innkeeper know.”
“Are you angling for better victuals again, Signor Gribbleflotz?”
Phillip grinned. That had been the result of him reading in inn common rooms previously. “That and because it is a sure way of getting most of the village together so Dr. Weitnauer can talk to them.”
“I could warn the innkeeper that you will be reading aloud in his common room this evening,” Francis suggested.
Phillip thought about the offer but shook his head. “He might want to see what I’ll be reading to his customers, so it’s probably best that I speak to him.”
That evening Phillip sat down to read to a packed house. He checked the small table beside him. There was a mug and a jug of the local cider to keep his throat lubricated. He poured a mug full and took a sip. There was shuffling about in the room as people got comfortable, and drinks were ordered. Phillip opened his book and adjusted the position of the lamps until he was comfortable with the light. Finally he was ready. A glance towards the inn keeper with a raised brow produced a nod of the head. He too was ready for the reading to begin.
Phillip inhaled the rarified air of expectation and started to speak. He gave a brief synopsis of the story so far before he started to read.
“Chapter twenty-four, In Which Is Continued the Adventure of the Sierra Morenaí. The history relates that it was with the greatest attention Don Quixote listened to the ragged knight of the Sierra, who began by saying,” Phillip read. His strong voice was able to be heard in even the most distant spots in the inn — the long hours reading to his landlord’s extended family in the barn had unexpected benefits.
After only a few sentences he knew he had the audience’s complete attention. The sound of the crackling fire being his only competition. It brought a sense of satisfaction, but also an obligation to deliver.
With each character he changed his voice, giving them different personalities so his listeners could more easily keep track of who was supposed to be speaking. Just like the children of the Rovarini in Padua this audience lapped it up.
Philip lost track of time as the thrill of all those people hanging onto his every word took over. Eventually he had to stop, and he closed the book to absolute silence. He’d held everyone’s attention all that time. With a sense of intense satisfaction Phillip stood and took his bows. “That’s all for tonight good people. You have been a wonderful audience, and for that I thank you. Now I must leave you to get on with your own business.”
He left the floor to Michael and found a quiet corner where he could rest. His thumb rubbed against a wart that had emerged on his finger recently. It had been annoying him for a couple of days now, but for various reasons he hadn’t got around doing anything about it. He knew a proper way to remove it, but it was bothering him right now. So he tried chewing on it. It was inefficient, but it did at least alleviate the itching.
He was checking his progress in the light of the fire when an older woman captured his hand and looked at it. “That’s the wrong way to get rid of it,” she said.
Phillip smiled at the grey-haired woman. “It’s annoying me. It’s right where my thumb rubs against the finger and it itches whenever I touch it.”
“There are better ways of making them go away than trying to chew them off,” the woman said.
“I know,” Phillip said. “Apply a slice of garlic that has been left to soak in vinegar.”
“I know a better way,” the woman said. “Come to my cottage tomorrow morning and I’ll show you how to get rid of it.”
Phillip realized he might have made contact with the village wise woman. Such women existed in most villages. They were women who knew the local herbal lore and cared for the health of the community. His great grandfather had written in his journals about how such women could be fonts of knowledge. He would be careful.
Phillip bowed his head. “Thank you, madam. I am Phillip Gribbleflotz. And you would be?” he asked.
“You may call me Eufemia. The innkeeper knows me.”
“Then tomorrow I will come and be schooled, and lose a wart. Which is your cottage?” he asked.
“You can’t miss it. It’s the third on your left when you leave the inn heading north.”
Phillip thanked the woman, watched her leave and settled down to wait for Michael.
Phillip asked the innkeeper about the woman, and was reassured by his answer. Eufemia was not only the village wise woman, but also happened to be his mother. Phillip thanked the man for the information and left the inn heading north.
Eufemia had been right, her house, which was a riot of color, was impossible to miss. He opened the rickety gate and walked up to the door and knocked.
“Come in Signor Gribbleflotz,” Eufemia called.
Phillip entered the dark cottage and followed the sounds of a knife on a chopping board to find Eufemia pouring chopped vegetables into a kettle. A large grey and white cat was entwining itself around her legs.
“Take a seat in the sunlight,” Eufemia directed. “I’ll be with you in a minute.”
The moment Phillip sat down the cat stopped twining itself around Eufemia’s legs and walked over to where he was sitting, leaped onto the arm of the chair and sniffed Phillip before stepping onto him.
“Don’t mind the cat,” Eufemia said as she put the kettle to one side and grabbed a clay pot and a couple of twigs. “Now let’s have a look at your wart,” she said as she turned Phillip’s hand in the sunlight.
Eufemia took his hand in her left hand, and with her right she opened the pot and used the twigs to pick up a dead iridescent green insect about as long as her thumbnail was wide.
“That’s a Cantharis beetle,” Philip said, recognizing the insect from an example his landlord in Padua had shown him.
Eufemia shook her head. “No, it’s a blister beetle.”
“Right, sorry, different places, different names,” Philip apologized. “What are you going to do with it?”
“I am going to rub it against the skin around the wart.”
Phillip instinctively tried to jerk his hand back, but Eufemia had a firm grip on it. “Don’t be such a baby,” she said as she carefully rubbed the dead beetle against Phillip’s finger.
Moments later she released Phillip’s hand and he drew it protectively close to him.
“Don’t touch the area I brushed with the beetle,” Eufemia warned. “Anything that touches it will also blister.”
Philip immediately moved his hand clear of his body and stared at his finger. “I can’t continue to avoid touching my finger,” he protested.
“Just leave it a little longer and then we’ll wash it with soap and water.”
“Then what happens?” Phillip asked.
“A blister will rise where I rubbed the blister beetle. When the blister bursts you should check to see if the wart is still in your finger. If it is, then you repeat the treatment.”
“And this will work?” Phillip asked.
Eufemia nodded. “Yes. And even better, it doesn’t leave a scar. Unlike what would happen if you managed to bite out the wart.”
That evening the skin around the wart on Phillip’s finger started to itch even as it ballooned out. He examined the blister. The wart was right there on the surface. He played with the blister a little. Surely, if the wart was rooted in his flesh the skin fluid in the blister wouldn’t have lifted the skin away from the flesh? It was a thought, which he immediately wanted to enter in his journal.