7 September, in the year of our Lord 2020
Up, and a tiny bat on the kitchen floor, which was a first, and a trophy of which Banjo seems proud, for he hath presented it whole, lying by his bowl, a sweet thing which did weigh almost nothing, but thanks be to God the life had departed it. After a breakfast of bacon, two rashers with an egg, fried, and a piece of bread with the blue bits cut off, I placed in the oven two trays of my water from the morning which I passed, which is strong and the colour of a malmsey and much to my content, they to dry on a low heat, it being showery so they will not dry outdoors, to make the urea salve for my heel which I have had in mind for several weekes and is ready to be done with the base unguent, only lacking the grease of a boar. Anon to the Physician’s, where empty save for two figures gloomly lit on the further side of the counter: himselfe perusing a stack of ledgers, the turning of the leaves provoking a cloud of dust, and beside him his new assistant, before whom a brass nameplate, the cleanest thing in the entire room, proclaiming ‘Mr. G. Erchin – Apprentice Trackentracer, by Appointmente of Matt. Handcock, Esq., Secretarie for the Plague’ along with sundry items there arrayed, incl. a pair of compasses and a map of England.
‘I would like to book a Covey test for my father — please,’ say I. ‘On the understanding that your methods have improved.’
The Physician glares me over his spectacles. ‘We lead the known world in our methods, as proclaimed by none other than the First Lord of the Treasurie! Doth your father have a cough or a fever? Doth he smell all right?’
‘He smells alright to me. He is to have a Procedure on Thursday next, so the Hospitalle hath performed copious tests upon the blood which they have taken from his veins, but must ensure he harbours not the plague.’
‘I regret I am unable to help,’ says the Physician. ‘Our appointments are fully booked for six weekes. It is out of my hands — ’ (which he spreads helplessly).
‘I do not see how that can be,’ I protest. ‘It is always the case when I come that there is no one here but I! The Secretarie for the Plague assures all and sundry that the Capacitie for tests is prodigious.’
‘Alas, I cannot vouch for the pronouncements of the Secretarie of State.’
At which his underling gives a polite cough. ‘Perhaps I may make a suggestion, Mr. Peepeyes,’ says he, ‘which is that we pigeon the hospitalle to acquaint ourselves with your father’s results, and mayhap then together essay this — ’ whereupon he indicates the paraphernalia laid out before him.
‘Which is — ?’
‘ — which is nothing less than a World-Beating Initiative from the Secretarie for the Plague. Mr. Handcock’s very own Bespoke Covey Application, which he hath touted up and down the land!’
‘If you know how it works,’ say I, with suspicious dubiety.
‘If you want to know how Technologie works, ask a ten year old,’ says the Physician, shambling into the dark recesses. ‘I will attend to the pigeon.’
‘It is done on line, Mr. Pespy,’ says the Trackentrace Apprentice, nodding me to the now familiar chalk mark on the floor behind me, and setting within his reach the disparate objects comprising the Application and dividing his attention between the parchment, whereupon appear writ his Instructions, and the map, which he has unfolded to its fullest extent. In his right palm he cups the corpse of a field mouse, sliding it here and there, up and down and round, over the map, from time to time stopping to mutter ‘Click’, while seeming to make choices and to watch for a result; after near a half-hour takes he in his hand his pair of compasses, sets the distance using a rule, places the pin on certain positions on his map, and draws two arcs that interesect.
‘I have it!’ exclaims he. ‘The Covey App has found the very place where you may take your father for his test!’
‘That is excellent news, if somewhat surprising since I thought you unable to read or write. Where is this place? I hope it is not too far.’
‘Liverpuddle!’ declares he, in triumph at his achievement.
I blanche. ‘Liverpuddle! But Liverpuddle is a vile port seething with villainy, iniquity and depravity, not to mention it is seventy leagues or more away!’
‘To be exact,’ says he, consulting his map, ‘as the crow flies it is fifty-nine — ’
‘As the crow flies? What manner of calculation — ?’
‘ — point three,’ he fades out.
‘Secure your wheels when you get there,’ advises a voice from the back room.
Maddened by this chicanery I step to the counter to grab the urchin’s parchment. ‘This is not technologie! It is Codologie of the first order! Your instruction sheet is upside down, you clodpate!’
Whereupon returns the Physician with a pigeon in his hands and un-wraps the message on its leg.
‘These are your father’s results,’ says he, discarding the bird and assuming a physicianly mien. ‘He hath a slight depletion of the red Corpuscles; his phlegm is thick and viscouse, and of a bottle green hue; and his Humours are within the accepted range, save that his black to yellow bile ratio is a little on the high side. Would you say he was inclined to the melancholic at the present?’
‘Of course he’s inclined to the melancholic at the present! Get on with it.’
‘His gamma-G & T is perfect.’
‘Which is — ?’
‘A magick enzime, essential to the health of the Hepar and maintained by wine, beer and divers spirits such as genever. Hence the name.’
‘I am grateful for the timely update,’ say I, ‘for which you will no doubt invoice me, but this App, as you call it, is the most blatant tomfoolery I did ever see in my entire life and I shall decline its help. Good day, gentlemen.’
At which point Mr. Erchin reaches for his overcoat and comes to shew me out. ‘I too must be abroad, Mr. Popeyes,’ explains he as he opens the door. ‘I am late for my morning Trackentrace.’ But on the threshold we are stopped with a start! For across the lane are two Constables, and between them Jervas the Barber, which they are frogmarching in the direction of the river, and the urchin takes my forearm in his grasp and mutters, ‘I knowed it!’, which at that moment I cannot account for.
By and by comes Mr. M. Jones for supper, eager to shew to me the gazette and its head Line — viz.: ‘In which is presented, for the Edification of the Public, News, firstly of a Great & Sordid Covey Outbreak Scandal, with Severalle Arrests Made, and furthermore of the Exploits of a Trackentrace Hero, named herein.’
‘I shall prepare supper,’ says Mr. Jones, ‘if you wish to read it.’
And so I did read that ‘An outbreak of Covey disease has been traced to the premises of one Wm. Jervas, Gentleman’s Barber and Purveyor of Periwigs, who, with his entire family, has been found to have used Feathers, which they did procure through shocking and illicit Practices from lawful Centres for the Testing of the Plague, in the manufacture of Quiltes, Down Pillowes and Feather Duvets, these being sold on the street for unlawful Profit…’ (‘I saw the sign outside his shop!’ breathed I, aghast) ‘…which Discoverie was made manifest by the Diligence, Determination and Dedication of Mr. George Erchin, an Apprentice newly admitted to the Loyal Companie of Trackentracers…et cetera, et cetera.’
‘An interesting story, is it not?’ says Mr. Jones over supper.
‘Indeed,’ I reply with my mouth full. ‘I knew the man to be a scoundrel! What do we have on our plates tonight?’
‘Burger and oven chips.’
‘I thought they would be quick,’ says he, placing one in his mouth and savouring it, ‘and by a happy circumstance there were trays ready warmed for them in your oven. They have an uncommon taste I cannot place. I do not think you will need salt.’
‘Wha-a-a-t — ?!!’