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Authors: Charlotte Betts

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #General

The Apothecary's Daughter

BOOK: The Apothecary's Daughter
5.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Published by Hachette Digital

ISBN: 978-0-748-12495-4

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2011 by Charlotte Betts

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

Hachette Digital

Little, Brown Book Group

100 Victoria Embankment

London, EC4Y 0DY



The Fading of the Light

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Into Darkness

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

House of Shadows

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Ghosts and Shadows

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Into the Light

Chapter 32


For my mother and father, Dorothy
and Michael Spooner

The Fading of the Light
Chapter 1

Inside the apothecary shop Susannah stood by the light of the window, daydreaming and grinding flowers of sulphur into a malodorous
dust as she watched the world go by. Fleet Street, as always, was as busy as an anthill. The morning’s snow was already dusted
with soot from the noxious cloud blown in from the kilns at Limehouse and the frost made icebergs of the surging effluent
in the central drain. Church bells clanged and dogs barked while a ceaseless stream of people flowed past.

Thwack! A snowball smashed against the window pane. Susannah gasped and dropped the pestle, shocked out of her lazy con -templation.
Outside, a street urchin laughed at her through the glass.

‘Little demon!’ Her heart still hammering, she raised a fist at him. She watched him darting away through the horde until
her eye was drawn by the tall figure of a man in a sombre hat and cloak picking his way over the snow.

Something about the way he moved amongst the hubbub of the crowd, like a wolf slipping silently through the forest, captured
her curiosity. As he drew closer Susannah recognised him as a physician, one of her father’s less frequent customers. Stepping
around a steaming heap of horse droppings and a discarded cabbage, it became apparent that he was making his way towards the

Susannah pulled open the door. ‘Good morning,’ she said, shivering in the icy draught that followed him.

He touched his hat but didn’t return her smile. ‘Is Mr Leyton here?’

‘Not at present. May I help?’

‘I hardly think that you …’

She suppressed her irritation with a sigh. Why did he assume she was incapable, simply because she wore skirts? ‘Do, please,
tell me what you require, sir.’

‘What I
is to discuss my requirements with your father.’

The man’s tone tempted Susannah to make a sharp retort but she reined in a flash of temper and merely said, ‘He’s gone to
read the parson’s urine.’

The doctor’s dark eyebrows drew together in a frown as he took off his gloves and rubbed the warmth back into his hands. ‘This
is a matter of urgency. Please tell him Dr Ambrose came by and ask him to call on me when he returns.’

‘May I tell him what it is you wish to discuss?’

Dr Ambrose hesitated and then shrugged. ‘I have a patient who suffers from a stone in the bladder. Leyton mentioned to me
that he’d had some success with his own prescription in cases of this kind. The patient’s state of health is not so strong
that I can recommend cutting for the stone since he has a chronic shortness of breath. Can you remember all that?’

‘Oh, I should think so.’ Susannah smiled sweetly and vigorously stirred up the ground sulphur with the pestle until it floated
in a choking cloud between them. ‘Father usually recommends spirits of sweet nitre for a stone, mixed with laudanum and oil
of juniper. Your patient should sip a teaspoonful in a cup of linseed tea sweetened with honey.’

Dr Ambrose coughed and pressed a handkerchief to his nose. ‘You are sure of this?’

‘Of course. And you might try milk of gum ammoniac stirred with syrup of squills for the wheezing in the chest.’

Dr Ambrose raised his eyebrows and Susannah did her best not to
look smug. ‘Perhaps you would like to warm yourself by the fire while I prepare the medicines for you?’ she said.

‘Do you know the correct proportions?’

‘I am perfectly used to dispensing my father’s prescriptions.’

She retired to the dispensary, a curtained-off alcove at the rear of the shop, and peeped through the gap in the curtains
while he, apparently thinking he was unobserved, lifted his cloak and warmed his backside by the fire. Stifling a laugh, she
turned to the bench and set to work. As she bottled up the last prescription the shop bell jingled. She pulled aside the curtain
to see an elegantly dressed lady enter.

‘Please, take a seat by the fire and I will help you in just a moment,’ Susannah said.

She handed the two bottles of medicine to Dr Ambrose and, in the interests of repeat business, made the effort to be civil.
‘I hope you are warmer now?’ She wondered whether to tell him he had a sulphurous streak across his nose but decided against
it. ‘They say this bitter wind comes from Russia, which is why the frost has barely lifted since December.’

‘Perhaps that’s as well,’ the doctor said. ‘The cold moderates the severity of the plague.’

‘Except in the parish of St Giles, of course. We must pray that the freeze destroys the pestilence.’

‘Indeed. Put the prescriptions on my account.’ He nodded and left.

Susannah, wondering if he’d been sucking lemons, watched him set off again down Fleet Street. What a shame his darkly handsome
face wasn’t matched by more pleasing manners!

The other customer was a fair-haired woman of about Susannah’s own age and dressed very finely in a fur-tipped cloak with
a crimson skirt just visible beneath. She stood on tiptoe, examining the preserved crocodile which hung from one of the ceiling
beams. Her small nose wrinkled with distaste. ‘Is it real?’

‘Certainly! It came from Africa. My father bought it from a sailor.’ Susannah still remembered her mixed fear and fascination
he’d brought it home many years before. She had tentatively touched its hard, scaly body with the tip of her finger, shuddering
as it stared back at her with beady glass eyes. Her younger brother, Tom, had hidden behind the counter until their mother
assured him the creature wasn’t alive.

Mr Leyton’s apothecary’s shop, at the sign of the Unicorn and the Dragon?’

‘As you see, the sign hangs over the door.’

‘Is Mr Leyton here?’

‘Not at present. May I help you?’

Pursing her lips, she looked Susannah up and down. ‘I would like …’ She glanced around at the bottles and jars that lined
the walls, frowning a little. ‘Yes. A bottle of rosewater will do very well. Tell me,’ she said, running her gloved finger
along the counter, ‘how many hearths do you have in this building?’

‘Why, we have three bedchambers, the parlour and the dining room and then there is the shop, dispensary and kitchen,’ stammered
Susannah, taken aback.

‘The house is narrow and crooked with age.’

‘But it is also deep.’ Susannah stood up very straight, a flare of temper bringing warmth to her face. ‘And the parlour is
panelled and we have a good yard.’

The woman sighed. ‘I suppose it is well enough.’ She put a handful of coins on the counter, picked up the rosewater and waited
until Susannah snatched open the shop door for her.

Relieved to be rid of the woman with her prying questions, Susannah stood shivering in the open doorway for a moment, glancing
up the snowy street beyond the waiting sedan chair. She saw Ned, the apprentice, hurtling along towards the shop, returning
from delivering a packet of liver pills to the Misses Lane. His head was down against the bitter wind and she realised that
he was on course to collide with the departing customer.

‘Ned, look out!’ she called.

At the last second he swerved, narrowly avoiding barrelling into the lady as she climbed into her sedan chair.

She gave Susannah an accusing look, put her nose in the air and motioned for the chair to leave.

‘Take more care, Ned!’ snapped Susannah.

He banged the door behind them and hurried to the fire to warm his hands and stamp the feeling back into his feet.

‘For goodness’ sake!’ Susannah’s repressed irritation with both her recent customers made her voice sharp. ‘Fetch the broom
and clear up all that ice from your boots before it turns into puddles.’

‘Sorry, miss.’

‘And then you can dust the gallypots.’

‘Yes, miss.’ He blew on his fingers, collected the broom from the dispensary and began to sweep the floor.

Susannah relented. Sometimes Ned put her in mind of her brother, Tom, now living far away in Virginia. She reached a large
stone jar down from the shelf, scooped out a spoonful of the sticky substance from inside and smeared it onto a piece of brown
paper. ‘Here!’ she said, handing him the salve. ‘Rub this on your chilblains and it will stop the skin from breaking. And
don’t forget to dust the gallypots!’ She retrieved the sulphurous pestle and mortar from the counter and carried it in to
the dispensary to mix up an ointment for pimples.

She had lived in the apothecary shop for all of her twenty-six years and it held her most precious memories. As she measured
ingredients and mixed the ointment she hummed to herself as she remembered how, when they were children, she and Tom had learned
to add up by counting out pills. She recalled experimenting with the weighing beam, fascinated that a huge bunch of dried
sage weighed exactly the same as a tiny piece of lead. In the big stone mortar, the same one she was using now, she’d made
gloriously sticky mixtures of hog’s lard combined with white lead and turpentine as a salve for burns. She’d learned to read
by studying the letters, in Latin, painted on the gallypots which lined the walls and then to write by tracing her father’s
exquisite handwriting on the labels fixed to the banks of wooden storage drawers.

Now she busied herself setting a batch of rosemary and honey
linctus to boil, sniffing at its sweet, resinous scent. Cold weather and London’s putrid fog was excellent for business since
most of the customers had a perpetual winter cough. Licking honey off her thumb, she glanced through the gap between the dispensary
curtains to see Ned lying over the counter, teasing the cat with a trailing piece of rag. Suddenly he slid back to the ground
and with meticulous care began to dust the majolica jars. Susannah guessed from this that he’d glimpsed his master returning.

Cornelius Leyton struggled through the door with a large box, which he placed on the counter between a cone of sugar and the
jar of leeches. The frost had nipped his nose cherry red.

‘What have you bought, Father?’

Taking his time, he began to untie the string.

‘Let me!’ she said, snatching a knife from under the counter and slicing through the knot.

‘Always so impatient, Susannah!’ Carefully, Cornelius lifted the lid.

Susannah caught a glimpse of dark fur and gasped. Was it a puppy? But then, as her father lifted aside the tissue paper, she
realised with disappointment that she was mistaken.

Cornelius gathered up the wig and shook out its long and lustrous black curls. ‘What do you think?’ he asked.

‘It’s … magnificent. Put it on!’

Eyes gleaming with anticipation, he snatched off his usual wig, a modest mid-brown affair that he’d had for a number of years,
to expose his own cropped grey hair. Then, reverentially, he placed the new wig over the top.

Susannah stared at him.


Speechless, she continued to stare. Her father was fine-looking; tall, with dark eyes and an air of authority, but she had
never thought of him as a vain man. In fact, she’d always had to chivvy him into buying a new coat or breeches and his hat
was embarrassingly old-fashioned. But this wig was an entirely different affair. It turned him into an elegant stranger and
it made her uneasy.

BOOK: The Apothecary's Daughter
5.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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