Munich Nights Chapter 34: “A New Infirmary Is Planned And Some Further Alphabet Lessons Are Arranged For The Boy”
“Even then when an unexpected sudden shower splashed down onto the crowded square, the now excited audience did not decrease but somehow increased, in their sickening cruel enjoyment and satisfaction in this cruel puppet depiction of the king and his queen. The rain would certainly never be allowed to douse their frenzied enjoyment of what was happening it seemed before their very eyes.” The brother would quickly recall years later as he related the story to the young boy: “And to think the true monarchs of old were happily domiciled themselves were simply then just a mile away and oblivious to what being called entertainment and all in their name.
Some of the puppet masters or his assistant arranged for the puppets to pull the unfortunate pair down from the cart one by one, as both the king and his queen were pushed towards that grim waiting scaffold. Then several of the footlights were dimmed by an invisible hand probably using a stolen church candle snuffer. And the unfortunate quaking king placed his head onto that wooden chopping block. Then swooooooosh it was all over as that sharpened blade separated his head. Now the little queen awaited her own expected fate and none it seemed in the crowd stepped forward to speak or help her. She now looked down at her husband’s head (now secured snugly in a wicker basket) with fear and sadness in her heart as the crowd howled with delight at the late monarch’s misfortune. Now it was her turn. Her fate was sealed she realised.
I did not want to remain any more in this maelstrom market of disappointment that had somehow disturbed me. Although in Lockerbie Scotland and Dundalk in Ireland some years earlier I had witnessed some of this hostility to England and to the king and queen. Old wounds run deep it seems. And I had seen that serpent of nationalism also raise its ugly head too often for comfort.
The air had now turned hostile and it was time for me to quickly depart this popular Windsor market and not too soon either! In fact, I was booked to sail on the morning tide from the Rotherhithe docks in London. (Interestingly enough in 1620 the famous Mayflower ship eventually sailed with 65 hopeful God-fearing passengers from this port destined for the unknown New World).
I never did however learn if that poor defenceless puppet queen suffered the same fate as her husband. I suspect if she did it would be what the jeering crowd demanded and insisted upon. For some reason, I was never able to erase from my mind the sight of the king’s puppet head flying into that waiting wicker basket with such accuracy. I know it was all theatre of course but it somehow left a mark on my heart
Eight hours later I was crossing the turbulent English Channel bound for the port of Calais and feeling rather seasick. But something some weeks earlier – and in a dream – had suggested to me to hastily depart from England. Then journey to the continent first to France perhaps Belgium then onto Germany, where of course I would eventually and happily arrive surprisingly at your little village Rory and happily make your acquaintance.
These past recollections had perhaps then tired the brother the boy noticed and drained his strength. But now something quickly prompted him to talk to me about a matter he then considered very important to discuss.
“Now lad I would not usually inform you of what I’m about to say. I would usually hope and expect a parent to talk to his son or daughter about these important family matters.”
In the next few minutes, he explained to me without blushing about what is now known simply as ‘the facts of life.’ But he also wanted to explain to me the natural sufferings women are subjected to during their monthly period or in the cycle of procreation. It all goes back to what is referred to as the fall as depicted in the Book of Genesis when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command in that garden of paradise (Genesis chapter 3).
He had over the years explained and pursued and tested a natural medicine to help ease this condition. And he had been able to aid many women who had approached him for assistance during this painful time.
“I had the notion that Lady Louise would perhaps ask for the same medical help if possible and I was correct in my assumption. I simply supplied her with a potion before she left with several months supply. And in return, I asked if it was possible to build an infirmary for the villagers sick.” ‘This was new and surprising information to me.’
‘Several days later one of her ladies in waiting – that friendly young Scottish woman if you remember – arrived unexpectedly at night to deliver the brother a brief note. It read:
“Your prepared elixir for me has been successful.
Thank you, dear brother Jerome.
You have my permission for an infirmary to be prepared for the villagers.
It would be months later when I personally was finally able to read this important letter addressed to the brother myself. But first, another difficult alphabet instruction from the brother was being prepared for me, in hopefully learning more in being schooled in the art and joy of reading and writing and communicating.
Previously I had learned the first ten letters of the alphabet. Now with my school black slate and chalk held securely on my lap I was eager to learn the next ten letters. And it somehow now came rather easy to me.
Within a few days, I had mastered the first ten letters of the alphabet. And could read and understand such simple words as a bed, bad, dog, cat, egg, beg, and age, jab and dead. I was very proud of myself and of what I had achieved and so was my mother and sister.
But it was that next letter of the alphabet that being: J that the brother explained to me with a smile that being his own name. And it began with this important letter: J. Then he asked me for the 5th letter on my blackboard which was of course: E. They were now the first two letters of his own name.
Soon I could pronounce, but not just then, in trying to articulate his unusual name. It would be I knew a fortuitous entry to my future education. But I was a willing and happy pupil.
“Infirmary, what is it Rory and what is its purpose?” he suddenly asked me the next day as we shared our daily midday meal, that my saintly mother had prepared herself for us both. This being a nutritious vegetable soup served with baked bread and all being very nourishing we both agreed when we finished. He then continued: “An infirmary Rory is a building with a trained nurse that cares for the maimed, the sick, and those with minor injuries.” He continued as he then wiped away flecks of vegetables from the corner of his mouth.
“If I can get the needed permission from Lady Louise hopefully a building perhaps no longer in use on the estate will be offered to me. Then my boy we can help and care for the sick of your village of which I know there are many in need of its services.”
I was certainly proud to be included with his future plans and this encouraged me to learn even quicker and to hopefully be able to read and write and offer my own opinion if and when asked.
True to her word the lady kindly offered the brother when he was summoned to the castle her reply. An abandoned abode close to the lighthouse with a smaller separate area almost with now an abandoned outhouse. Both could be his for his own requested future purpose. It had been used previously to store tools and outdoor weather wear. The other larger brick building had in years past been an accommodation as a lighthouse and then being occupied by two lighthouse keepers. Both constructions were kindly offered to the brother. And without bothering to examine its suitability or near location he accepted it graciously and humbly from her.
But how those men in the lighthouse had survived in the past and retained their sanity in that always weather-beaten forlorn cliff edge confinement, I could not understand.
In fact, I myself had often run alone along the cliff edge and lowered myself close to its dangerous craggy footholds in a carefree manner. Usually searching for available gulls eggs nests usually hidden in the crevices to then take home for the family meal.
Probably today most of that cliff ledge that I roamed around so freely as a fearless boy has collapsed due to erosion being swept down into the sea. Time sadly claims all of us as its supplicant victims eventually, doesn’t it?
Karen suddenly shivered simply because she had always had a personal aversion and severity of any heights. And the sight – in her mind – of that young boy then hopefully with a strong rope secured around his waist. Then stretching and jumping from rock to rock in the dangerous pursuit of much-needed food caused the fine-tuned hairs on the nape of her neck to bristle.
The infirmary and its initial construction happily and unexpectedly commenced almost immediately. And the brother was able to somehow obtain the services of several of the young castle tradesmen. Along with some young soldiers he had somehow coerced to be used for general labouring. Within days six used pallets had been constructed into bearable cots with stitched sacks of straw placed as a mattress with pillows also being supplied for headrest comfort. Along with other pliable materials for building a small much-needed working dispensary. This to be finally finished and opened for the brother to freely dispense his welcomed medicines and potions for all suffering sick patients who had arrived at that open door for help.
And that little hospital certainly flourished in the early days.
The first tentative patient I recall to seek was the brother’s medical aid in the infirmary – and with tears in her eyes – was, strangely enough, my own dear mother there to thank him.
The brother had previously noticed when he broke bread with us one evening and usually when he had completed one of his regular numerous fasts, that my mother simply was unable to open wide two of her right-hand fingers. And she also had painful difficulty in holding any sized spoon, sometimes causing her to drop it onto the floor. Much to her annoyance and embarrassment.
The following early morning as we walked together through the awakening woods, it had become to me always a pleasant time when the world welcomed a new day. The brother usually collected and replenished assorted plants and roots and berries to frequently refill his medical stocks. He informed me that it was a medical condition my mother, unfortunately, suffered and also popularly referred to as arthritis. He called it if I remember correctly ‘a suffering ageing scourge.’ I always remembered that unusual expression.
Our daily walk had then formed a well-beaten path that we religiously kept to each day. But my suggestion to try a new walk was dismissed by the brother; that simply if we forsook this daily ritual would then allow the forest to claim back unconditionally this used pathway, he seriously informed me as we both walked and talked.
Each morning and evening my mother had been asked by him to drink an especially prepared potion to ease her painful condition. This the brother had specially created for her. He had also prepared for her a concocted balm to rub into her stiffened fingers (probably comfrey root, goldenrod and birch leaves and other mysterious mixtures only he knew about and how they were secretly prepared by him).
One evening several days later in the cottage the brother slowly reached for my mother’s hand and placed it into his own hands and gently began to massage the anointment into those crooked almost withered fingers and protruding joints that she was always so ashamed about showing. Then after a few minutes, much to my astonishment her fingers with his motivational gentle touch slowly straightened up to become almost as straight as a wooden arrow. It was an amazing and memorable moment and I have never forgotten it now nearly one hundred plus years later.
All the human frailties that had painfully condemned her years before to painful suffering had now quietly departed, leaving her hand as it should now be and in future would always function with no fear being presented to her. She was now simply a new woman. All pain of the past that my poor mother had silently suffered. It had now slipped away rather like the rising morning mist seen floating on any mystical Highland Glen.
To be continued…
(C) Copyright G. Patrick Battell