Dr Hantrobus Garpike

Dr Hantrobus Garpike

Knelt beside the grave of Kit Fallon, the gloomy ghost of Dr. Hantrobus Garpike offered down his honest apologies and beseeched the boy-child for forgiveness. With a choke in his throat, the Doctor’s red-sore eyes streamed continually with tears…

In truth, tis a common sight abroad the graveyard of St Eligius Church, in the town of Rookwood in the very heart of Ormland… for Dr. Garpike, in that later period of his tenure as a Penny-Doctor, put more bodies in the sour ground than the virulent Marsh Ague he aimed to cure…

As so often happens, this tragedy was innocently invited upon life’s stage. The good doctor, very much in his cups with ale and port, scoffed a hearty supper of rankest cheese that proceeded to inflame his dreams…

Dr. Hantrobus Garpike discovered himself in his usual splendid attire, positively flamboyant in his scarlet wool coat with its wide skirt cut to mid-thigh, his favourite turquoise stockings clinging-tight so as to all-the-better show-off his elegant calves; elasticated stockings of course, none of those fiddly buckled garters or tatty fastening-ribbons for Dr. Hantrobus Garpike!

And then, by way of his crowning glory… his most expensive powdered periwig-peruke, tied neatly with a black silk ribbon at the back of his neck. He’d never thought more than nought of spending a veritable fortune on his most dashingly fashionable periwig, certain-sure that it commended him loudly unto the high esteem of his peers and equally, set all the ladies of Rookwood and Starlington a-swoon…

The dreaming Dr. Garpike looked about himself with all the sneering confidence of a man who knew everything. The planet Mercury shone down from a cloudless night sky as brightly as if it were a high summer’s noonday sun… and in so doing, it illuminated milkily the dark green Eden in which he found himself entirely at home…

“Mercury is most assuredly God’s own cure for Marsh Ague!” Dr. Hantrobus Garpike pronounced unto the planet-blazing sky, entirely confident that God preferred to confide His truth through a mortal’s dreams.

A low and boisterous draught then nagged at his ankles, laying flat to the ground all the profuse herbage that made so untidy Eden’s forest floor… only for it to then all be gusted vigorously otherwise and then again obtusely. But the deeply devout and ever-so clever-wise Dr. Garpike was so certain of the profundity of his God-delivered insight that he ignored the timid yet insistent whisperings of those flowerless plants…

Dr Garpike set at once to obtaining the very densest mercury that coin could acquire and via Ebenezer Luxulyan, the Apothecary in Starlington’s Orm Lane, he was purveyed a half-quart bottle of the liquid metal, labelled scratchily, ‘Quicksilver’.

Stirring it liberally into a soup of foulest eel and slimiest bleak, Dr Garpike prepared a decoction that he was certain-sure would cure the ghastly Marsh Ague that was then, as seeming ever, rife abroad all sodden and mildewed Ormland…

Eelers, withy-cutters, beetle-makers, hull-board shavers and nailers, sail-cutters and stitchers, rope-winders, kettle-weavers, flax-twisters and fish heavers, descalers and skinners… all had lost immediate kin and neighbours and constantly feared that the Ague would soon steal away their own souls into the long dark night…

So certain was Dr. Hantrobus Garpike of God’s inspirational Word that he continued to prescribe the deadly medication despite his patients falling in agony by the wayside so regularity that they quickly became a blur of unrecallable corpses. He simply assumed that he’d not been granted access to their mortal body’s with sufficient time to save them, what with the poor marshfolk too often not having spare the penny necessary to command his presence and attentions.

Of course, it being Marsh Ague they would have died anyway… Dr. Hantrobus Garpike simply made their passing into God’s embrace a Hell of a lot more agonied than would otherwise have been the case.

If only he’d realised that his rank-supper-cheese inflamed waking-dream wasn’t directing him to look up at the full moon, which, oddly for a clever fellow of great learning, he’d managed to imagine was the planet Mercury… no, it was directing him to look down at the profuse plant that had hailed and regaled him in furious whispers…

Bog’s Mercury, the ubiquitous yet essentially anonymous plant in question, wished for nothing more from its life than to be sacrificed as an admixture in a curative caudle… as all the many witches of Ormland knew of old; they called it Ague’s Ease, after all. But Dr Hantrobus Garpike was not the kind of man to stoop so low as to ask a crooked crone for advice; indeed, he was certain to sniffily dismiss their balms and charms as vain deceits…

But quickly upon commencing his personal wait for Doomsday, Dr Garpike came to regret his gross error… so, to this day he roams St Eligius’s graveyard, ever-beseeching the consolation of his many victims’ mercy…

And he has much work still to do before the trumpets of Doomsday release him from his guilt and reconcile him with his all-forgiving Lord.

Have pity for the poor fellow though as he approaches the agonied and raging spectre of Hugh Briss. He’ll find no comfort there, even if he begs for a million years…

Dr Hantrobus Garpike

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