Dangerous Chimes continued…
Goldcaster residents fleeing from the pirates had camped in the dense forest well away from the town. Now there were reports that two of the pirate’s prisoners had also escaped. Elisabeth was intrigued. Who were strong, brave, determined, and clever enough to get away from their enemy ? Husky young sailors perhaps – bristling beards, rippling muscles, glints in their eyes… Or perhaps ransom worthy aristocrats – handsome, rich, from the highest echelons of sophisticated society, men of the world who would sweep a young woman off her feet at the slightest encouraging flutter of an eyelash…?
Perhaps not. The two men who now came out of the trees were something of a disappointment. The younger was a rather podgy middle aged person with a pointy nose and an amiable but rather worried expression. His clothes were fashionable but somewhat frayed, with two silver buttons missing from his dark green waistcoat, brambles caught up in his cloak, mud on his boots, and his wig askew beneath his tricorne hat. A kindly man, thought Elisabeth, noting the concern with which he held the arm of his elderly companion as they walked towards her. Then she gasped as they came into the light and she realised the identity of this unusual old gentleman.
He was a huge man, tall, but unwieldy and corpulent. His powerful features were scarred and there were folds of flesh about his face and neck. He was leaning on a large oak staff, and not just his head, but his whole body twitched and shook as he came into the fire light and the glow from the lamps.
He wore a big, bushy, bristly greyish wig under an aged black pudding basin hat. Leaves were caught up in the hat band, and the broad brim was rather spoiled by the profusion of bird droppings. His greatcoat had two large bulging pockets, presumably containing his travelling possessions, and Elisabeth could see scraps of paper and the corners of small books sticking out of various other pockets about his person. All his clothes were plain, brown, strong, and generously cut, but gave the appearance of having been folded around him rather than fitted, and were very much dirtier and more dishevelled than those of his companion. He was obviously not in the best of tempers.
‘It’s the Doctor!’ whispered Elisabeth to Mr Bagley.
‘Doctor? What doctor? We haven’t got a doctor.’ whispered Mr Bagley.
‘Doctor Johnson! The great writer from London. His picture is in the bookshop window.’
‘Oh, him. Good heavens!’
‘Pray speak up sir. I am a little hard of hearing on occasion, but even those in whom that sense is totally unimpaired would find it difficult to communicate meaningfully with mutterers.’
‘Er, good evening gentlemen. I do apologise.’ said Mr Bagley, with as much formality as possible considering that he had streaks of dirt on his trousers, pirate footprints all over his coat, and bits of seaweed from the harbour steps caught up in his hat. ‘I understand that I have the honour of addressing the renowned Doctor Johnson?’
‘You have sir. But you also have the advantage of me. Who might you be?’
‘My name is Bagley. I am the Mayor of Goldcaster.’
‘In that case you have my sympathy sir.’
‘Are you implying that Goldcaster is an unworthy town sir?’
‘I am not sir. I am merely implying that I am aware of your predicament. Allow me to introduce my friend, James Boswell Esquire, Advocate, of Edinburgh and London. Having been kidnapped by the pirates under whose foul attentions you also have obviously suffered, we were at first marooned, then escaped, then sought haven in your town, but being frustrated in that endeavour have had perforce and unbelievably been guided to you by no less than a seagull…’
‘How very unfortunate for you.’
‘Unfortunate you say, sir?’
‘Lamentable sir? I would describe our experience as intolerable, indeed humiliating, and absolutely outrageous. And with the advent of conversation between us and your winged brethren, our situation is rapidly becoming in insult to rationality.’
‘Well, of course we shall do what we can to help, although we have few resources and our own situation is very inconvenient.’
‘I am aware of your lack of conveniences, sir. I have been obliged to void my bowels in your bushes.’
‘How dreadful…’ said Mr Bagley who then introduced the visitors to the townsfolk, most of whom had never heard of Doctor Johnson before that night.
‘You being a doctor as well as a book man, any chance of having a look at my back? Been playing me up a bit lately.’
‘I got a nasty whack on the bonce in that punch up.’
‘I get this itch around the apricots from time to time…’
‘My wife reckons chicken dung is best for baldness. Don’t seem to do no good. What do you think?’
‘Got anything for athlete’s foot?’
‘No, no, no….’spluttered Mr Bagley. ‘Our guest is a Doctor of Literature, not Medicine.’
‘Nevertheless, Mr Mayor, I may be able to assist.’ smiled Doctor Johnson. ‘I have made it one of my concerns to study the remedies for common ills, and have for many years prescribed for my friends with some success, principally following the wisdom of the excellent Nicholas Culpeper.
For your back sir, I recommend that you have your wife prod you about to discover if any particular muscle be strained. If that be established, apply a poultice of goose grease, have yourself tightly corseted about and rest as much as possible. Should there be no obvious site of your discomfort, take a broth twice a day of chicken, chick peas, marshmallow, and barley, with again much rest, and that should ease your discomfort.
With regard to any pain in your head, sir, dizziness in the morning may indicate concussion and the need for bleeding to relieve the pressure. However, if you are merely bruised, Sweet Marjoram on a honey plaster is very good.
For the itch of which you speak I recommend Nigella seeds boiled in oil together with the inner bark of the Black Alder boiled in vinegar, added to which the boiling froth of the sea gathered at the height of the tide will bring the richness of minerals to the mixture. For your baldness it is said that laudanum in a plaster of bear’s grease is efficacious, but should you be short of bears, try oil of crushed linseed. I do not advocate the chicken dung. I carries with it irritation and infection, attracts flies and other insects, and I am sure repels your friends.
As to athlete’s foot, apply the juice of the iris flower twice a day. This remedy is also very good for piles.’ There was a chorus of appreciation; ‘Well, fancy!… That’s really useful… Never tried that… I’ll give it a go for sure.’
‘Dear, oh dear, all these years and all that chicken shit – where are nearest bears?’
‘Never mind the bears, where are the nearest iris beds?’