The Phar­ma­cist’s Ap­pren­tice

With Archie head­ing off to Lon­don, Lizzie saw an op­por­tu­nity to fol­low her own dreams . . .

The People's Friend - - This Week - by Sarah Swa­tridge

YOU seem down in the dumps, Archie,” Lizzie said. “What’s trou­bling you?” Archie looked in the di­rec­tion of his fa­ther’s shop. It was a bay-fronted build­ing on the cor­ner of Lon­don Street, and the only phar­macy for miles around.

“Shall I walk you home?” he of­fered, and they fell into an easy step.

“So, what is the prob­lem?” Lizzie con­tin­ued af­ter a few min­utes.

She had al­ways thought of her child­hood friend as tall and hand­some, but to­day Archie slouched and dragged his feet. It didn’t be­come him.

He gave a deep sigh. “I’ve de­cided I want to train as a physi­cian.”

It wasn’t a sur­prise. He’d worked along­side his fa­ther most of his life. Medicine was in his bones.

“You’ll be the finest physi­cian there ever was,” she told him. “You have your fa­ther’s head for science, and your mother’s car­ing na­ture. What more could you wish for?”

“A fa­ther who wants me to be happy.”

It was Lizzie’s turn to let out a sigh.

“Archibald Ja­cob!” she snapped. “I can­not be­lieve what you have just said. You are so lucky to have such won­der­ful choices. I wish I was in your po­si­tion!”

Lizzie marched off to­wards the bridge. Her home was on the other side of the River Lod­don, which, strictly speak­ing, meant she lived in the next vil­lage.

But this evening she felt she was liv­ing in a dif­fer­ent world from the likes of Archibald Ja­cob.

Archie fol­lowed her over the bridge and into Thyme Cot­tage, where she lived with her mother.

“I’m not lucky,” he said. “I’m never go­ing to be able to be a doc­tor, be­cause my fa­ther won’t hear of it. He wants me to work with him in the phar­macy, and even­tu­ally take over the fam­ily busi­ness.”

“If you think you’re un­for­tu­nate be­cause of that, you need look­ing at by a doc­tor,” Lizzie told him. “I’d love to work in a phar­macy and learn from your fa­ther.”

Lizzie and her mother had been out early that morn­ing col­lect­ing el­der­flow­ers, and their sweet per­fumed smell filled the air. Lizzie stirred the large pan of flower heads which were be­ing boiled to make an el­der­flower cor­dial.

“Will you stay and eat with us?” her mother asked when she ap­peared mo­ments later. She held a hand­ful of car­rots in one hand and a bunch of leaves in the other.

“Thank you, Mrs Cosham,” Archie replied, “but I have an im­por­tant mat­ter to dis­cuss with my fa­ther. I was just walk­ing Lizzie home to make sure she was safe.”

Lizzie no­ticed her mother look­ing at them both.

Archie touched his cap as he made for the door.

“My fa­ther asks if you could make more rose­hip syrup. It seems our cus­tomers pre­fer your recipe to the one he makes.”

Mar­garet Cosham tapped the side of her nose.

“That’ll be our se­cret in­gre­di­ent. I’m not go­ing to be shar­ing it.”

“I’ll be off, then,” Archie said, bow­ing his head to the ladies. “Send Lizzie with the syrup as soon as it’s ready.”

Lizzie set about her daily chores, but she couldn’t get her con­ver­sa­tion with Archie out of her head.

If he did get his wish to be­come a doc­tor then he’d have to go away to Lon­don to study, and there was no doubt she’d miss him ter­ri­bly.

As she col­lected some yel­low dan­de­lion heads, she let her mind swing be­tween feel­ing sad for Archie that his fa­ther wasn’t in agree­ment, and then be­ing cross with him be­cause he was so lucky to have such choices.

“If I’d been born a boy, I wouldn’t com­plain if my fa­ther asked me to work with him. I’d make my­self in­dis­pens­able, and we’d make a good team.”

“But you’re not a boy,” Mar­garet said, break­ing into her thoughts. “Although you are more or less in­dis­pens­able. And I think we make a good team.”

“I didn’t re­alise you were lis­ten­ing,” Lizzie replied, turn­ing to face her mother.

“You weren’t aware you were talk­ing to your­self, more like. No good wish­ing you were some­one else, Lizzie; you are what you are, and there’s noth­ing wrong with that.”

A few days later, Lizzie saw Archie talk­ing with Al­bert the black­smith.

She’d fin­ished her er­rands for the time be­ing and so si­dled up to the forge. Once she’d passed the time of day with Al­bert, Archie of­fered to carry her bas­ket as she made her way back to Thyme Cot­tage.

“I’m sorry about the other day,” Lizzie be­gan. “If you’ve re­ally set your heart on be­com­ing a physi­cian, then you must try to fol­low your dream. Have you spo­ken to your fa­ther yet?”

“I’m wondering if I’ve got what it takes,” he ad­mit­ted.

Lizzie halted and looked up at him in sur­prise.

“The other day,” he ex­plained, “your mother brought in a hand­ful of leaves which I couldn’t iden­tify. Yet you both can tell one plant from an­other with your eyes closed, just by feel­ing the leaves or smelling the aroma.”

“You’d learn if you had to. I’m sure that’s part of what a physi­cian has to know.”

“You’ll think me a cow­ard.” Archie frowned. “There never seems to be a good time to talk to my fa­ther, and I’m not as brave as you when it comes to stand­ing up to peo­ple.”

“Imag­ine your­self in years to come,” Lizzie replied, “when you’ve qual­i­fied as a doc­tor, and you have to give some­one a di­ag­no­sis.

“Per­haps that news is a mix­ture of good and bad, de­pend­ing on which way you view it, but you have to stress the good points for the sake of the pa­tient.”

“I see what you mean.” Archie nod­ded as he took in her wise words. “I will think of Fa­ther as my first pa­tient and prac­tise on him. I know I must speak with him, and the sooner, the bet­ter.”

Lizzie sat in church try­ing to con­cen­trate on Rev­erend Lewis and his ser­mon.

He was telling the story of Es­ther, which was one of her favourites. It al­ways made her feel as though any­thing was pos­si­ble, although she was only a young woman.

All she had to do was use her good sense and have God in her heart.

Af­ter the ser­vice, she and her mother spoke with Archie and his fa­ther.

“Thank you for the rose­hip syrup,” Mr Ja­cob said. “I don’t know what I’m do­ing wrong, but when I make it, it’s al­ways too bit­ter.”

“I used to have that prob­lem, but it was young Lizzie who solved it for me. She’s a clever girl.”

Mr Ja­cob nod­ded. “Young Archie’s a bright lad, too. He’s go­ing to be a physi­cian.”

“My,” Mar­garet said. “I thought he’d fol­low in your line of busi­ness and end up run­ning the shop for you.”

“That’s what his mother and I would have wanted, but it seems he has other ideas. And you can’t stand in their way, can you?”

“No, I don’t sup­pose you can,” Mar­garet agreed.

Archie smiled at Lizzie at the end of Church Lane. She was about to set off for Thyme Cot­tage.

“Thank you,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it with­out your urg­ing.”

“I’m pleased for you, re­ally I am,” Lizzie told him. “But for­give me, I’m en­vi­ous, too.”

“En­vi­ous? I didn’t know you wanted to be a physi­cian, Lizzie.”

“I don’t, but I do want to have some­thing to look for­ward to. I wish I had some­thing to aim for, to work hard for.

“If you come back in five or fifty years’ time, hav­ing qual­i­fied, you can be sure I’ll be here help­ing my mother with the herbs.”

“And what would the vil­lage do with­out you and your mother?” Archie asked. “I won’t be missed, but you cer­tainly would be.”

Walk­ing back to the cot­tage, she thought about what he’d said, and de­cided that her life could be worse.

“At least I know I’m loved. I have a roof over my head and food in my stom­ach.”

By the time she got home she’d be­gun to think of some­thing, and dis­cussed it with her mother.

“If Archie isn’t go­ing to be Mr Ja­cob’s ap­pren­tice in the phar­macy, then he’s go­ing to need some­one else. I could be brave, like Es­ther in the Bi­ble, and ap­ply for the po­si­tion.

“I know as much about medicine as any­one in the whole vil­lage, ex­cept per­haps you and Mr Ja­cob him­self.”

“I dare say that’s true,” Mar­garet agreed, “but that’s no job for a girl.”

An­noyed, Lizzie won­dered if they still had her fa­ther’s old clothes. Per­haps if she dressed as a boy she would be taken more se­ri­ously!

That evening, when Mar­garet was check­ing the hives and Lizzie was fetch­ing wa­ter from the well, Archie came down the lane.

“Twice in one day,” Lizzie said with a smile. “What will I do when you’re study­ing miles away in Lon­don?”

“I wanted to thank you for giv­ing me the con­fi­dence and courage to speak to my fa­ther. I think I’ve found a way to re­pay you.”

“I’m lis­ten­ing.” Lizzie put down the bucket and gave him her full at­ten­tion.

“I know you’re a girl, but if you re­ally wanted to be my fa­ther’s ap­pren­tice, I’d ar­gue your case for you. Although I can’t promise he’d lis­ten.”

Lizzie reached up on tip­toes and kissed Archie on the cheek.

He turned crim­son.

“I’ll kiss you prop­erly if he lis­tens to you!”

“I think I’ll ask your cousin Nancy to come and stay,” Mar­garet an­nounced. “She’s al­ways been a bright lass, and she’s in­ter­ested in what we do.”

“Why?” Lizzie asked. “You’re not ill, are you, Mother? Am I not work­ing hard enough?”

“I’m fit and well, thank you, and you are a trea­sure – but I can see there’s a good chance you’ll spread your wings, and it’ll take me years to train Nancy. So I bet­ter start now.”

The fol­low­ing day, Lizzie made sure she cleaned her­self up be­fore she had to take a cough rem­edy she’d made to the phar­macy.

She’d al­ways stopped to chat with Mr Ja­cob, and he knew how in­ter­ested she was in his work. Of­ten she would ask what

Lizzie tried not to feel jeal­ous; af­ter all, her life could be worse

he was do­ing, and why.

To­day was no ex­cep­tion.

“I’m grind­ing this up to make a tooth pow­der,” Mr Ja­cob ex­plained, lean­ing over his pes­tle and mor­tar.

“Is that a very dif­fi­cult job?” she asked. “Or is that some­thing some­one like me could do?”

“This is the easy bit. The tricky part is mea­sur­ing out the in­gre­di­ents.”

“Like I would if I were mak­ing pas­try?”

“Prob­a­bly!” Mr Ja­cob laughed. “I wouldn’t know, as I’m not much of a cook. I leave that to the house­keeper.”

“Well,” Lizzie said. “I can tell you, you def­i­nitely need the right quan­ti­ties when you’re bak­ing or mix­ing po­tions. Or, like your rose­hip syrup, it might end up sour.”

Mr Ja­cob chuck­led. “Yes, I re­mem­ber mak­ing my smelling salts so strong once that they knocked out my first pa­tient in­stead of re­viv­ing them.”

“You soon get to know the quan­ti­ties to use,” Lizzie told him with an air of con­fi­dence.

Mr Ja­cob nod­ded in agree­ment.

“I’ve been hear­ing good things about you, Miss Cosham.”

Lizzie stood up tall. No one had ever called her Miss Cosham be­fore, least of all some­one as im­por­tant as the phar­ma­cist.

“Granny Grainger said if you hadn’t given her your spe­cial herbal tea, she’d be cough­ing in her grave. And Jane Smith said you sat with her all night and cured her child’s colic.

“Archie, too, has been singing your praises, say­ing you’re quick to learn, cheer­ful, and that you’d be good with the cus­tomers.”

“I al­ways do my best, sir,” Lizzie said. “I’ve brought you my new cough rem­edy to try.”

“I’ll have some of that!” Mrs Potts, the farmer’s wife, said im­me­di­ately from the other side of the counter. “Jimmy’s been cough­ing all night, and noth­ing’s worked so far. I’d trust any­thing Lizzie or her mother makes.”

“If your mother can spare you,” Mr Ja­cob said, “you can be my ap­pren­tice for one day, and we’ll see how we get on.”

“Oh, thank you, sir! I won’t let you down.”

Lizzie skipped back to Thyme Cot­tage, con­fi­dent she’d get her mother’s ap­proval for her one-day trial at her dream job.

The fol­low­ing Mon­day morn­ing, Lizzie ar­rived early and fetched the jars of pow­ders that Mr Ja­cob asked for.

She was so keen to im­press that she tried to carry them all at once, and would have dropped the lot had Mr Ja­cob not come to her res­cue.

“One at a time will be good enough,” he told her. “Just re­lax and be your­self. Re­mem­ber I’ve known you since you were born.”

Wilma, the shop girl, let out a scream. Mr Ja­cob ran into the shop, fol­lowed closely by Lizzie.

Wilma had gone as pale as the tal­cum pow­der. She pointed a shak­ing hand at the large earth­en­ware jar that held the leeches.

“Didn’t you put the lid on prop­erly?” Mr Ja­cob snapped, look­ing not at Wilma but at Lizzie.

“I thought I did. I used the me­tal clip like you showed me.”

“Well, col­lect them up and put them back in the pot, and then we’ll try some­thing else. Some­thing you might be bet­ter suited to.”

Lizzie’s cheeks burned as she care­fully scooped up the leeches. She de­tested the blood-suck­ing crea­tures, but she wasn’t go­ing to show her dislike to any­one. Be­sides, she un­der­stood what a valu­able job they did.

Fi­nally, Mr Ja­cob sug­gested she fol­low his writ­ten in­struc­tions to make some laven­der wa­ter.

Lizzie did her best, but his hand­writ­ing was aw­ful, and so she used her ini­tia­tive and im­pro­vised.

It smelled and tasted good enough to her, but the phar­ma­cist wasn’t pleased and sent her home.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Lizzie said from the door­way. “I couldn’t read your writ­ing, so I used my own recipe. I re­alise now I should have checked with you first. I’ve learned my les­son.” Mr Ja­cob nod­ded. “Apol­ogy ac­cepted. Ini­tia­tive is good, and your recipe is ac­cept­able, but with medicines we need to be ex­act. You’ll know that next time.”

“So there will be a next time?” Lizzie asked hope­fully. “I’ve loved it here.”

“That’s good to know. But I also promised the vicar’s son he, too, could have a day’s trial.”

Lizzie’s heart sank.

Archie had been away in Lon­don sort­ing out lodg­ings and buy­ing books in or­der to be­gin his stud­ies. He looked quite the gen­tle­man as he walked over the hump-backed bridge and into the cot­tage gar­den.

“I come bear­ing good news,” he an­nounced.

Mar­garet sat him down with a cup of ver­bena tea.

“When I was in the city, I heard about a woman called Philom­ena Dea­con.”

“You’ve only been away two days, and al­ready you’ve found a new friend to con­fide in,” Lizzie said sadly.

She knew she was still cross with her­self for mak­ing so many mis­takes at the phar­macy. She also knew she shouldn’t take it out on Archie.

“I didn’t say I’d met her. But I’d like to, be­cause she’s the first woman to qual­ify as a phar­ma­cist. And if she can do it, so can you.”

“But I messed up, and now your fa­ther’s got Rev­erend Lewis’s son.”

“Fa­ther says Ger­ald Lewis can sing like a lark, but is as lazy as the church cat. He could tell you were a hard worker, and he liked your laven­der wa­ter, even if you didn’t fol­low his recipe.

“Plus, Wilma con­fessed that she was the one who ac­ci­den­tally let the leeches out. He’s will­ing to give you a sec­ond chance, if your mother is in agree­ment.”

Both Lizzie and Archie turned to look at Mar­garet Cosham, who was stir­ring ap­ple peel­ings in a pot.

“I’ll not stand in your way, love,” Mar­garet told her daugh­ter. “But don’t give away our se­cret recipes.

“And make sure you tell all the cus­tomers it was you who mixed them for him. Don’t let him take the credit.”

“In that case,” Archie said, “I have strict in­struc­tions that you are both to come up to the phar­macy with me now, and you’re to bring a bot­tle of your best el­der­berry wine – which he’ll buy from you in or­der to cel­e­brate.”

Mar­garet took her pan from the fire and went to the larder for the wine.

“I think you owe me a kiss,” Archie said with a smile.

He reached out, put his hands on Lizzie’s slim waist and pulled her into his arms.

“And when you come back as our vil­lage doc­tor,” Mar­garet in­ter­rupted, bran­dish­ing a bot­tle of wine, “I trust you’ll send all your pa­tients to see Lizzie, the newly qual­i­fied phar­ma­cist.”

“That’s all part of the plan,” Archie replied. “Now, let’s take that wine and not keep my fa­ther wait­ing any longer. He’ll be de­lighted to hear the good news that he’s got him­self a new ap­pren­tice.” ■

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