Chapter Twenty Nine
In Which Lucia Learns Something Interesting From Thomas
The cold, hard jail cell offered little but silence. Through the iron bars, Lucia stared morosely at the wall opposite the cell. The sun, which had previously been visible through the thin slits that stood in for windows, had since arched out of view. As she guessed at the late hour, a knot formed in Lucia’s stomach. Poor John might think she had run off for good. Or, worse, Claudette might think she was lazing around idly somewhere, and would take it out on John and maybe even poor Margaret.
Margaret. Was anyone tending to her? If it was up to John to take care of the mansion itself, he could not possibly have time to talk to Margaret or bring her tea or fix her blankets. Lucia thought back to John’s previous defiance of Claudette’s demands and wondered if there would be anything but fighting happening in the mansion at all.
And Julian. Julian would be oblivious, content to sit back in his room and stare at nothing or sketch out various artistic things that would no doubt be important to him but indiscernible to anyone else.
Still sitting on the stone floor, Lucia brought her knees up under her chin. She hugged herself and regretted ever leaving the mansion. She was no closer to determining what was wrong with Princess Evangeline, and therefore no closer to understanding any more of the mansion’s mysteries. All she had succeeded in doing that day was undoing Bryant’s kindness and, perhaps, invoking the wrath of the most loathsome people and directing it at her friends.
What’s more, she was in jail! Lucia had never done anything wrong in her life, up until today, and now she had lied and associated herself with witchcraft. She felt ill just thinking about it. Although her actions certainly did not warrant a jail sentence, she certainly found herself in such a place.
She looked over at Thomas. Having nothing else to do, she studied his face. It was quite a fine face indeed, she thought, noting his high cheekbones and well-defined nose. It was quite a lovely nose, as Lucia thought of it, as it had a high, defined bridge and was slightly upturned at the tip. Immediately after thinking such a thought, Lucia silently chastised herself. She reminded herself of the peril of her willingness to trust people based on looks, and told herself once more that she had more important issues on which to focus. To lessen the harshness, she added that after the mystery of the king’s death was solved and her name was cleared, she could travel the world and meet as many fine young men as she wanted – and this thought made her feel a bit better for even imagining something so bold.
But, in the meantime, there was the issue that she was currently stuck in jail. She glanced over at Thomas once more, but this time it was purely to ask if he’d gotten any ideas as to how they’d get out.
He had stood up and was admiring the masonry, as though evaluating a rich man’s house. Keeping one hand on a particular five-sided stone at about the centre of the wall, he reached out along the surface with his lengthy arms outstretched. With his other hand, he patted around in the corner. His fingers traced the streams of mortar between each stone. His gave traveled upward, enough for his head to tip back such that his collapsed bread hat dropped to the ground. The attention he paid to each seam between stones was unfitting, given the dreadful circumstances. Unless…
Hope filled Lucia’s heart. Here she was with the most highly educated man she had ever met. Perhaps he knew of some trick about the stones and was locating a weak spot through which they could secretly tunnel out. Or perhaps, Lucia imagined, he was searching for a means to make his voice echo hauntingly, thus frightening the jailer and tricking him into letting them go.
Rather than ask aloud, Lucia thought it might be better to wait and observe. Minutes passed without much progress. Thomas had moved on to patting different stones, seemingly without rhyme or reason, but he struck them in a rhythm that created an almost-musical effect. This behavior of his was curious indeed.
“What are you doing?” Lucia could not help but ask.
“Amusing myself,” Thomas replied, without breaking his rhythm.
Lucia’s mouth fell open. She clapped her hand over her face but continued to stare at him through her fingers in disbelief.
“You can join in if you want to,” Thomas added. “The whole wall’s not mine.”
“I am afraid I am not much in the mood for music right now,” she said heavily.
Thomas nodded. He ceased his drumming and sat down beside her.
“Very well, then. What do you think about birds?”
Birds? Lucia was rather surprised that Thomas wished to discuss something so frivolous as birds. After all, they were locked in a jail cell, something to which Lucia frankly was not accustomed. Perhaps, she wondered, Thomas was.
“Is this a regular occurrence for you?”
“What, birds?” Asked Thomas. “Why, yes. I see birds quite often. Every day, at least in the summer. No so much in winter as most of them have gone away.”
“Not birds,” said Lucia. “Prison.”
“Well, I’ve seen the prison from the outside before,” said Thomas. “Many times, as I pass by it every day on my way to the apothecary shop. And I know William, the jailer.”
Thomas then made some remark to himself about the man’s pigheadedness when it came to oral care.
“Most people have dreadful teeth, but, you know, there are ways to lessen the decay.”
“Yes? Oh, I’m sorry. We were talking about birds?”
Lucia sighed inwardly and doubted if this man’s intellect would ever show itself again. Perhaps noticing Lucia’s frustration, Thomas smiled at her.
“I’m only trying to pass the time, Miss.”
“Lucia, then. Such a name. I say, you are indeed from far away.”
“I am,” she said. “And forgive me for failing to properly introduce myself sooner.”
Thomas leaned back against the stone wall behind them and stretched out his long legs. His gaze wandered to the ceiling but he did not drop the conversation.
“No need for introductions,” Thomas said. “Modern mannerisms are so fussy. I long for the historical days when people could live as barbarians.”
“Really? Wouldn’t that be dreadful?”
“No! For we should be kindly barbarians.”
“There is no such thing.”
“Oh, so I suppose you think those townspeople today were the epitome of kindness and civility. Do those things always go together?”
Lucia pondered this notion for some time, and finally answered, “I suppose not.” She fell silent once more, and then after a few moments, added, “I am terribly sorry that this happened to you.”
Lucia did not even want to say it out loud. Had he not tried to rescue her, he never would have been put in prison. Prison. Jail! The notion was still most unsettling.
“I know that you are no criminal,” she said.
“Nor are you,” Thomas replied. He readjusted his position again, getting as comfortable as one could on a stone floor. “So, then,” he asked, “what are you?”
“I am…” Lucia trailed off, not quite knowing how to finish that sentence. She removed an imaginary ball of lint from her dress.
“You are from out of town,” said Thomas. “Are you a traveller?”
“Yes,” said Lucia. “I am a traveller and a caregiver to horses.”
Upon hearing this, Thomas shifted to face Lucia directly.
“Now that is interesting,” he said. “How many have you got?”
Before answering “none,” for that was the number of horses Lucia had to her name, she considered the three horses belonging to the Drake family. If they were in her care, then maybe she could say they were, in a way, hers. However, thoughts of the Drake mansion made her think again of Margaret, and Lucia realized she could put this conversation to greater benefit.
“I have just as many horses as I need,” Lucia finally said. “Now, might I ask you a question?”
“I have a friend who is very ill. Her… her husband, I think, came to you yesterday to get some medicine. What is ailing her? Or, more directly, what should I do to help her become well again?”
Lucia was fleetingly distracted by the thought that she did not even know if John and Margaret were married or not. Refocusing her attention, she listened carefully to what John had to say.
“Ah, yes,” said Thomas. “I remember. Your friend has an ailment which is actually quite easy to treat, if it’s dealt with early. It is a simple medication, and, if taken properly, should cure the patient in a matter of days.”
“Really?” said Lucia. “How wonderful!” A wave of relief washed over her, only to be interrupted by Thomas’ next words.
“The difficult thing about this illness is that it can quickly become fatal if it’s left untreated.”
“But Margaret will be all right,” Lucia said firmly, more to herself than to Thomas.
“Yes,” said Thomas. “Yes, I believe so. However, not every town has an apothecary and not every apothecary knows how to properly identify this particular ailment and correctly prepare the remedy. That is why I… you’re a traveller, aren’t you? Perhaps you could help me.”
Lucia was taken aback by this notion. She wondered what Thomas, whose skill and years of training likely made him the most knowledgeable man in town, might have to gain from a displaced peasant girl. Still, she was more than willing to help in whatever way she could. Not only did he save her life, but he was recruiting help for a critical mission. Should he be successful, countless lives would be saved from suffering and disease.
“I would gladly,” said Lucia. “What shall I do?”
“Do you know your way around the countryside?”
“Not as of now,” Lucia said earnestly. “But I can learn quickly.”
“Excellent. I have been too busy working here in the apothecary to get out to other towns, not to mention the trouble at the border.”
Thomas looked at Lucia, reading her face to see if she recognized the issue in question. When it was clear that she did not, he continued.
“Nature, Lucia. Nature. It knows not of our political boundaries. Although we live and, unfortunately, die by them, they are mere artifice.”
“Indeed,” Lucia said, hoping to seem like less of a fool than she felt.
“Of course, you should just try telling that to King Giorgio.”
At the mention of that familiar name, Lucia’s senses sharpened. Thomas must have noticed this, because he stopped speaking and only gave Lucia a knowing smile.
The moment was interrupted by the sound of jangling keys. William the jailer walked by the front of their cell without as much as a glance in their direction. Lucia commented inwardly that this was quite rude, although she did not expect much better treatment considering she was his prisoner. How odd it seemed that she previously considered the Drake mansion to be her prison. Thoughts of the Drake mansion made the knot in Lucia’s stomach return, as she was met with a deluge of worry. What might Claudette be doing to John right at that moment? Was Margaret getting better or worse? And Julian. Lucia couldn’t bear to think about Julian. Thoughts of Julian only made Lucia feel angry with herself. Never before had she been so utterly consumed by someone without reason. In fact, the only other person she’d felt that way about before was Bryant, but Bryant had earned that place in Lucia’s heart through his honesty and kindness and good humour. What had Julian ever done? He had played the piano well, and lurked in the shadows like a crepuscular insect, and he had been volatile and selfish and outright rude. There was, Lucia could be certain, no kindness to be found in his heart. She couldn’t imagine him ever doing a good deed in his life. He had probably never helped another soul, ever. He was likely only pretending to care about his sister so that he’d have an excuse to treat everyone else so horribly. Lucia knew hardship and she had people dear to her heart who had fallen ill and even died – and still she didn’t act horribly toward others. It was no excuse. Lucia then realized that she was spending much more time thinking of Julian than she needed to. She moved on to happier thoughts, like why her other worries soon wouldn’t matter. Margaret would soon be well again, and her troubles with Claudette and the selfish Prince Julian would be over forever as soon as she could leave the mansion. Thomas had done much to help her calm her fears, from assuring her Margaret would recover fully thanks to his medicine, to offering her something to do that would take her away from the Drake mansion forever.
Yet, forever was a long time, and surely she would miss Bryant terribly. If he ever returned, that is. She wondered if she would have the opportunity to return again, if only to see him again for a day or two. Would there be time to do so? Would it be safe?
Lucia looked up at Thomas’ face and marvelled at how someone could be so casual. Then again, she presumed that her face, too, betrayed no worries. Sometimes it was impossible to tell what was going on beneath the surface. She looked at his hand, resting on his knee. It was in the same position as before: palm angled upward with fingers bent in all directions. Her brother used to do same, making spiders with his hands and letting them creep along and playfully frighten their younger siblings. This familiar thought comforted her, as did the notion that she had met such a wise and righteous person. How good was he that he should use his brains to help others. That’s when another question entered Lucia’s mind.
“How do you know so many things?”
“Study and research,” he said. “A lot of that.”
“But how did you start? Surely, one needs to know how to read in order to do that. Did your village have a school?”
Thomas paused. His friendly spider hands reformed themselves into a neatly folded bundle.
“My siblings and I had a tutor.”
He let his words fall gently. Although his calming voice remained slow and careful, Lucia was still shocked. With her eyes opened wide, she struggled to find words that could properly encapsulate her surprise and yet not sound impolite.
“You… you must be… Forgive me, but… How did…”
“Yes,” Thomas said, interrupting her scrambling. “We were very rich.”
“Then why…? Why are you working here?”
“I wish to help those who need it,” Thomas replied.
“Forgive me. I know this sounds much too forward, but someone with access to a private tutor – You’re not in the clergy, are you? You never lived with monks?”
“Never,” he said. “I learned from the books owned by my family, and when I was old enough to travel on my own, I journeyed to other lands and learned from people there.”
Lucia’s head spun. A private tutor. A private library. The money to travel around the world and still gain access to all the resources of other towns. And yet, Thomas Dee still lived and worked in a miserable little town in the middle of nowhere, while he ought to be as rich as royalty.
“Please don’t mind my saying so, but a person of your means should not have to… That is… Forgive me, but…”
Thomas could only laugh.
“All is forgiven, Lucia,” he told her. “In fact, there is nothing to forgive. Yes, I suppose it is odd, but it should not be. Those with the means to help others should do so. It is only right. If one looks at nature, and nature is never wrong, one will see that all beings come from very much the same substance. There is no such thing in nature as rich and poor, or man and woman, or clergy and layman. We are all equal, and so when we see someone in need, it is our duty as humans to help our fellow human.”
“I need not forgive you for asking, Lucia. We need only forgive one another for building a world so far from what nature intended. It’s corrupted, really, these notions of place and hierarchy and who is deserving of what. Nature cares not of these things. Disease cares not, and will afflict any person it can find. That is why I do what I do, Lucia. There is always someone in need.”
Lucia nodded. She understood, but the impassioned Thomas was still speaking.
“One can work one’s hands until they’re bleeding, day in and day out, but what does it matter if it serves no purpose?”
These words hit Lucia hard. She could only nod in total agreement as Thomas continued.
“Diligence and responsibility are rare qualities, sadly, but when you find people who possess them, it is even rarer to find those who are putting their abilities to good use. We should be guided by love and righteousness, not… not…”
Thomas licked his lips, hoping to loosen the missing word.
“Habit?” Lucia offered. The answer came to her too easily.
“Not habit,” said Thomas. He got up and stretched his long limbs. “Fear.”
Fear? Lucia wondered. But as she thought about more, she knew in her heart that Thomas was right. More than right. He had clarified the world itself and boiled it down to one shining crystal of truth. Although Lucia considered herself to be at least moderately courageous – courageous enough when the situated called for it, in any case – she could not help but concede that many of her efforts were motivated by fear. The fear of going hungry. The fear of incurring a superior’s wrath. The fear of not being worth very much, and knowing even by herself that she would not be valued. Her heart ached upon absorbing this truth, and strained like the shell of a baby bird about to hatch.
The moment swelled around her and she fought to stay within it, but a sound interrupted her burning thoughts. It was the twin sounds of approaching footsteps and jangling keys.