• Home
  • Wendy Mass
  • Beauty and the Beast: The Only One Who Didn't Run Away Page 7

Beauty and the Beast: The Only One Who Didn't Run Away Read online

  “Would you like to be handsome? Like your brother?”

  I shrug again. “That is not a big matter, either.”

  “Riley does not mind looking like a beast,” Alexander explains. “He only combs his hair for church on Sundays!”

  “I cannot change my looks,” I explain. “And Alexander is vain enough for the both of us.”

  “Come now,” she says, holding her hand out to me. “Let us talk while we dance.”

  And suddenly we are away and dancing. Surprisingly, I have no problem following the steps at all. Before I know it, we have made a full circle already.

  “See?” she says, her eyes glistening bright. “You are a natural!”

  Father, still atop his horse, claps.

  “And you are certain you would not like to be handsome?”

  I shake my head. I am glad that my face won’t make girls scream for me in the streets. Alexander can have that particular blessing. I know he finds it difficult to believe, but I honestly do not care what stares back at me from the mirror. Especially since I almost never gaze into one.

  “I told you,” Alexander says, grinning. “He enjoys being beastly!”

  She laughs in response, and we keep dancing. “Riley is not beastly,” she says. “A real beast would have nails as sharp as an eagle’s talons!”

  “And tufts of fur all over his body!” Alexander calls out.

  “And a nose the size of … well, the size of his nose now!” Father shouts.

  We all laugh then, even Mother.

  “Only pointed, like a hawk’s!” Alexander adds.

  Mother joins in. “With hair like a lion’s mane!” she says. “So even if he combed it, it wouldn’t matter!”

  More laughter. It is at my expense, but I do not care. I am having too much fun. “As broad as two men, and as strong as an ox!”

  “Is that all?” she teases as we begin our third time around the clearing.

  “Well, I would not mind being taller,” I admit. “That way I would be closer to the stars.”

  “As tall as a giraffe!” Alexander calls out. “Then you can pick our morning oranges straight from the branches!”

  “Done,” the girl says, her voice clear and strong. I assume she means we are done dancing, so I stop. But suddenly, I feel very strange. Heavy and hot. The ground seems to be farther away somehow. The girl’s eyes are closed. Her lips are moving, but I hear no words coming from her mouth.

  Then Mother’s screams echo through the woods and do not stop until she falls from her horse.

  “You have done well,” the apothecary tells me, peering over my shoulder. I am up to R — Rose Hips — and am getting quite an education in the tools of the apothecary trade. I had no idea so many different ingredients existed. This job is a hundredfold better than the butcher shop.

  The hours pass quickly. I learn how to boil herbs into tea over the cauldron, to grind minerals like sulfur and lead into a fine powder, how to measure dry ingredients with the scale, and wet in glass beakers. Master Werlin teaches me how to make pills by pressing the paste into a long thin roll like a snake, then cutting the roll into even sections. He has just set aside a dozen or so sections to dry when the door bangs open.

  “Please, Master Werlin,” a little girl cries. “You must help us. It is Grandfather. He came to visit me at the monastery, but he is acting strangely. I am afraid he is ill!”

  I recognize her right away. Handsome’s friend, the girl with hair so light it is nearly the color of snow.

  The apothecary reaches down under the sink and pulls out a black leather bag. “You, older sister,” he says, pointing at Clarissa. “You’ll hold down the shop. Beauty, come with me. This is part of your education.”

  “Are … are you certain?” I ask, looking from him to Clarissa.

  “I shall be fine,” Clarissa says, waving us out. “I have been listening to your lessons.”

  I find this hard to believe since she has spent most of the afternoon sampling different lotions for the face and oils for the hair. But I take off after Master Werlin nonetheless. Hopefully, when we return the shop will still be standing and there will be some face cream left over for the customers.

  I follow the pair through the streets, past the cobbler, the spectacle-maker, the fishmonger. Past the group of singing schoolchildren marching across the square. I duck my head as we run by the butcher shop. We round the corner to the churchyard and run right into Handsome, who is panting hard. He flashes me a quick smile, then turns to Veronica. “I received your urgent message. What is the matter?”

  Veronica grabs onto his sleeve and tugs him along. Handsome looks at me, but I shake my head, as confused as he is.

  We reach the courtyard between the church and the monastery. I don’t know what I expect to see — a crowd of monks surrounding an old man on the ground, perhaps. There is an old man, but he is sitting on one of the benches, bouncing the tip of his wooden cane on the ground and humming. He certainly looks healthy to me.

  “Bartholomew!” Master Werlin says as we approach. “Are you ill?”

  “I am fine,” the old man replies, keeping his eyes closed. “Should I not be?”

  Master Werlin turns to Veronica and narrows his eyes. “Your granddaughter led us to believe you were on your last breath.”

  “Veronica!” her grandfather scolds. “Why would you do that?”

  She shrugs. “I needed to get everyone here quickly. You always tell me to use my wits.”

  He shakes his head at her disapprovingly, but does not look too angry. “Yes, you should use your smarts, but use them wisely, not to lie to friends. Especially not ones to whom you are about to ask a large favor.”

  Handsome clears his throat. “Um, can someone tell me what is happening? I have three loaves of rye in the oven that will soon turn to black bread.”

  “You must be Handsome,” the man called Bartholomew says, lifting his face toward where Handsome stands. “And the girl, Beauty? Is she with you?”

  “M-me?” I stammer in surprise. How does he know my name? He turns his head toward me. Even though I know he is blind, it is as though he can see right through me. Although the old man is not frightening, I still find myself shivering.

  “Yes, Grandfather, she is here, too.”

  Master Werlin sits down beside his friend. “Bartholomew, what is going on?”

  Bartholomew reaches into his cloak and pulls out the largest coin pouch I have ever seen. It bulges in all directions. Handsome’s eyes widen, too, as do Master Werlin’s. I am certain my expression is the same. Veronica’s grandfather must be quite wealthy. Why is it she lives in the monastery, then? Surely he could afford maids to care for both of them at his own house.

  “How old are you, Beauty?” he asks, drawing my attention away from the purse. I am glad he cannot see that I had been staring. And then I instantly feel shamed for thinking such a thing.

  “Beauty?” he repeats. “Are you still here?”

  I clear my throat. “I … I am nearly thirteen years, sir.”

  “Have you lived in the village long?”

  “All my life, sir.”

  “Have you gone past its borders?”

  “Um, yes, sir,” I reply, surprised at the question. “My father is a traveling bookseller. My sister and I have gone with him on many short trips.”

  “Excellent, excellent. And do you find yourself a resourceful person?”

  “Resourceful?” I repeat. “I … I am not certain. It is only of late that I have had to fend for myself. My family has … come on hard times.”

  Veronica tugs on her grandfather’s arm and says, “She will do fine! Ask her.”

  “Sweetheart,” he says, patting her on the head, “the young lady already has a job. I cannot simply steal her away.”

  “What is this talk of stealing my new assistant, Bartholomew?” Master Werlin asks. “I may finally have found someone competent. So far she has not burned half the store by leaving the dried herbs too close to