The Jewish woman from two doors down in the Well Street tenement was sweeping the right-of-way and saw John Clark carefully close the latch on his dwelling, and when he stepped away and drew near she smiled playfully, stood to attention with her broom.
The sun was shining from behind the clouds for a change. It cheered John enough to acknowledge his neighbour with a salute. Ever since she had got out of him he was a Private in the New Model Army the sun could shine out of his arse!
It was gratitude to the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell for re-admitting the Jews. He told her it had nothing to do with him, but it didn’t matter. It was a bit of a laugh.
It was the height of Summer, 1690 and John Clark still felt it prudent he and his wife keep quiet about their role in the Civil War.
Mr. Clark, she said, going out dancing today? Spontaneously he raised his hand and combed his mop of red hair with his stubby fingers. You watch those ladies at St. Bartholomew Fair!
He couldn’t help but smile at her Portugese pronunciations. You couldn’t hide from a woman like Widow Cortez. She collected clothes and rags of any kind, hats, gloves anything in fact – to survive. See you there then!
The Cloth Fair at St. Bart’s had been running since ancient times, and it had reminded him to do what the old Parliamentary officer and apothecary Nick Culpepper had shown them when on the daily 10 miles march, to gathering the blooming rag-weeds along the roadside. They made a salve to ease their aches and pains on the road, and now it eased their arthritic joints.
It was a folk remedy for many of the poor, having various uses of its yellow raggedy daisies and leaves.
Shh! he winked, the Mistress of the house will hear you, and they smiled. Life was good in that very moment. Enough chit chat for now, I have to fresh pick some flowers.
She had seen him putting the sack-cloth bag over his shoulder and the dirty grey linen shirt he wore. She wouldn’t even sell that at the rag market!
The Widow asked where he was going for the flowers, Que? He looked like he needed food not flowers, and then wondered about his wife.
“Never mind, you go now, and I will look up in Monsieur Culpeppers book , si. Raggy weed. I will remember.
John walked away down Well Street into the Close. The Jewess might be able to read a book, but they got his medicine from the man himself.
Goody Cortez returned to sweeping the foot-made pathway and around her door. In she went, briefly to bring an ancient oak chair and sat. Traffic was building. The old man across the street was putting a stool down in front of his door to catch the sun-beams.
For a moment she sighed with the weight of her large breasts bearing down. As soon as she realised the sadness; loss of her family and friends back home in Lisbon, she stood up. How did she survive and arrive with her husband in this cold, grey city and they didn’t? What was it all for? Yes, God only knew.
She believed herself an instrument of the Divine.
She sighed again, deflated by what she called her London limbo…she must check John Clark’s wife if she was living. She had a traditional Sephardic soup tonic plus English herbs gleaned from Mr. Culpepper’s book. His wisdom was English herbs for English people. Pick local as often as practical.
It helped a little with her poor husband, but he still suffered as he wasted away, the same as her teacher apothcary. Both men had died in their 30th years. Her husband was a Kosher butcher – he worked hard for his cousins – a simple loving man who she had to put out of his interminable pain.
Captain Culpepper had a war-wound to complicate his consumption, but at least he went to the other world speedier, where he belonged. She had cooked him a favourite meal – he saw it, but the rice was spat up with blood again. He had moaned with tears from each eye. Then she knew it would be Time to send him home to his Mother.
The candles lit the poky room and she washed him, gently tapping his face with a wet cloth, and a touch of sweet lavender oil. She sung their sacred song, and let him go into a deep sleep even though he coughed it didn’t wake him. She judged the moment when it was time to take the pillow from under his head, and firmly pressed it to squeeze the laboured and torturous breath out of him.
She hoped somebody would do the same for her in the same situation. The next day she donned her black shawl and walked to the Rabbi’s house and inform him the merciful Yahweh had released her good husband from the hellish disease.
Women must sit outside, don’t stay inside on a lovely day like this! Louisa Cortez said with a purposeful lift in her voice. She had knocked on the door hard and many times. Now her dear husband had died so suddenly she had more free time to care for others. Nothing. She laid the linen covered pewter bowl down, so she could lift the latch on the ill-fitting wooden door.
She tried again, calling to the bodily lump under the blanket and what looked like an old army coat placed on top. Yes she was sure this was the right approach as she peered inside the dark room; Hello, anybody home?
John and Thomasine Clark lived here in 1690.
Descript : The greater common Ragwort hath many large and long, dark green leaves lying on the ground, very much rent and torn on the sides in many places: from among which rise up sometimes but one, and sometimes two or three square or crested blackish or brownish stalks, three or four feet high, sometimes branched, bearing divers such-like leaves upon them, at several distances upon the top, where it branches forth into many stalks bearing yellow flowers, consisting of divers leaves, set as a pale or border, with a dark yellow thrum in the middle, which do abide a great while, but at last are turned into down, and with the small blackish grey seed, are carried away with the wind. The root is made of many fibres, whereby it is firmly fastened into the ground, and abides many years.It is called also St. James’-wort, and Stagger-wort, and Stammer-wort, and Segrum.
There is another sort thereof differs from the former only in this, that it rises not so high; the leaves are not so finely jagged, nor of so dark a green colour, but rather somewhat whitish, soft and woolly, and the flowers usually paler.
Place : They grow, both of them, wild in pastures, and untilled grounds in many places, and oftentimes both in one field.
Time : They flower in June and July, and the seed is ripe in August.
Government and virtues : Ragwort is under the command of Dame Venus, and cleanses, digests, and discusses. The decoction of the herb is good to wash the mouth or throat that hath ulcers or sores therein: and for swellings, hardness, or imposthumes, for it thoroughly cleanses and heals them; as also the quinsy, and the king’s evil. It helps to stays catarrhs, thin rheums, and defluxions from the head into the eyes, nose, or lungs. The juice is found by experience to be singularly good to heal green wounds, and to cleanse and heal all old and filthy ulcers in the privities, and in other parts of the body, as also inward wounds and ulcers; stays the malignity of fretting and running cankers, and hollow fistulas, not suffering them to spread farther. It is also much commended to help aches and pains either in the fleshy part, or in the nerves and sinews, as also the sciatica, or pain of the hips or knuckle-bone, to bathe the places with the decoction of the herb, or to anoint them with an ointment made of the herb bruised and boiled in old hog’s suet, with some Mastick and Olibanum in powder added unto it after it is strained forth. In Sussex we call it Ragweed.
Apothecary, astrologer, Republican, Nicholas Culpepper was Captain of Infantry in 1643. He was the apothecary and surgeon for the Parliamentary soldiers.
Widow Cortez had removed the picture from Culpepper’s book, The Complete Herbal. Her husband had bought it for her in their first days of the English Commonwealth. She didn’t have a picture of her husband, but the image gave her comfort, and the fact that both men who had taught her so much about life had died on the same day of the same consumption connected her mutual respect for them into an eternal God-given love.