A Secret Grave 91: The “Bukh”

 

“What do you think this is?” Janet called to Victor. The book was too heavy to lift up in the air to show him.

Victor left the bulletin board and its array of perplexing photos and came to her side. “It’s the ‘Bukh’,” he said, his eyes widening behind his glasses.

“The ‘Bukh’? What’s that?” Janet’s lips strained to pronounce the unusual word.

Victor laughed, an odd shocked sound, as if he’d made an alarming discovery. “I’ve only heard of it a few times. Frankly I wasn’t even sure it really existed. It’s a book of secret medical information that’s been passed down in our family for generations. It’s probably worth a fortune.”

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The Bukh

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The two of them looked at one another triumphantly. Victor reached down and touched the outer cover of the ‘Bukh’ with almost the same tenderness he would an ailing plant or animal. Then he opened it. The first page looked like an illuminated manuscript, borders illustrated with gilded images of plants and flowers. The script was in German (there were sections in Russian and Hebrew); turning the pages, they saw beautifully drawn miniatures of doctors in medieval clothing performing surgeries on extremely ill looking people. The Gottliebs, whose name must have changed over the generations, appeared to have been doctors of the court, tending to kings as well as commoners.

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A page from the journal of Henry Walsh Mahon showing the effects of scurvy, from his time aboard HM Convict Ship Barrosa (1841-2)

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“How much do you think this is worth?” Janet breathed.

Victor laughed softly again. “I don’t know. A hundred thousand? It’s probably why he keeps this room locked.”

“Do you think we should xerox some of the pages?”

Victor shook his head. “I’d be afraid the paper would crumble.”

“Let’s try anyway,” Janet said. “We’ve got to do something.”

With great reverence Victor lifted the ‘Bukh’ and carried it over to the xerox machine. “I feel like I’m committing some sort of sacrilege,” he said as he turned the ‘Bukh’ on its belly and placed it on the copier. It took a great deal of fussing, but they managed to reproduce five pages of sacred text. One of the pages ripped in the process and Victor gave a sharp cry. “I hope this doesn’t lead to eternal bad luck,” he said, his face blanching. Just as he said this, they heard the front door opening downstairs.

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To be continued…

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Cover photo ~ http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/haventohome/images/hh0028s.jpg

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