A vital fluid
Astave struck the floor three times, demanding attention from the assembled crowd. The effect was a brief lull in the hubbub, followed by a resumption of the cacophony. Three more times the stave hit the marble tile, each assault more strident than the one before.'S'il vous plaît', called the official in the clipped accent that marked him as a resident of Paris.'S'il vous plaît,' he repeated, spacing each word and ensuring that his call was noticed. The case before them was serious — after all, accusations of murder should never be taken lightly, particularly in such unusual circumstances. The date was Saturday, 17 April 1668. The place, Le Grand Chastelet, the central court in Paris, a fantastic building in the heart of the city on the banks of the River Seine.
In the centre of one small group stood Jean-Baptiste Denis, one of a number of science-minded medics who had the acquaintance of King Louis XIV. Denis had been born into a family that moved on the edge of royal circles, but was never in a position to gain full acceptance. His father was Louis XIV's chief engineer, who had made a name for himself designing and building water pumps. Now aged about twenty-seven, Denis had a superb mind and had obtained a bachelor's degree in theology before going on to study medicine at Montpellier. He had recently been awarded a doctorate in mathematics, and had returned to his native city of Paris, assuming the position of professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, and dividing his time between his major interests of mathematics and astronomy. As a hobby he dabbled in medical research. Like so many hobbyists he had hoped that one day this pastime would strike gold. Instead it had brought him to court - on trial for murder.
The legal professionals surrounding him wore black gowns and square hats with one corner pointing forward, casting a triangular