I SHALL call on Eliza, Papa, if you do not do as I ask!” Caroline said.
She had tried to get her father to rest, but he’d somehow got himself downstairs and was stomping about the library. She took William’s arm and guided him to the nearest chair.
“If this carries on, you will exhaust yourself!”
William sat, taking a moment to recover. Then he smiled impishly.
“Eliza’s presence will improve my behaviour because no-one ever defies your elder sister, I suppose?”
“You have acted against my advice too often, Papa,” Caroline warned.
She was pleased that her voice remained even.
“When Doctor Bradlin calls this afternoon . . .”
“I should have thought he had enough to do, what with taking on Eliza, as well as young Matty,” William grumbled.
Caroline clasped her left hand with her right as if that made it easier to hold on to her patience.
“I know he is also busy with preparations for the wedding, but please say you’ll see him!”
News of Eliza and Joseph’s engagement had astounded William on his return.
Caroline had been less surprised. Meeting her sister again in London, she soon realised Eliza’s air of contentment was not only due to bringing her dear son safely home again.
Her sister’s appreciation of the kindly doctor and all he’d done to help them had translated into far closer feelings on their long journey home.
William’s eyes closed against the fact he still wasn’t as well as he’d like.
“I will see the doctor if you wish, my dear,” he agreed at last.
Caroline kissed her father on his forehead. This sudden giving in to her wishes was almost the most alarming thing about her father’s state of health.
Usually, he would fight to the last any suggestion that he couldn’t manage.
“Thank you, Papa,” she whispered encouragingly. “Remember, you need to be well for the wedding!”
When Dr Bradlin arrived at Lyon Place the next day, Caroline greeted him in the hall.
“I’m hopeful we have no need for worry,” Joseph said, handing his heavy coat to a servant before hefting his bag. He rested a calming hand on her arm. “Your father has a strong constitution.”
“He refuses all sensible advice,” Caroline said.
“I agree your father has a strong will also,” he replied wryly. “I will do my best to persuade him my suggestions are his own.”
The doctor had his foot on the bottom stair before Caroline asked about Eliza and Matthew.
“Your sister is very well, thank you. She sends her love, of course. As for young Matty, I can’t praise that young man enough. Have you spoken since his most recent decision?”
“What decision?” Caroline asked.
“Why, to study as a doctor! It seems his time among the Florentine monks has had an effect.”
Still smiling, the doctor hurried to the top of the staircase.
Outside William’s bedroom door he squared his shoulders and took a deep breath. Then he knocked, and went in.
Caroline thought Joseph was being too modest. His own example had had a great deal to do with her nephew’s decision.
At last, the lad had grown up. The young lady Matty left behind when he fled had not been mentioned since their return.
Caroline sighed deeply and went to chivvy the new kitchen maid. The poor girl was nowhere near as clever as Jane, but she was learning.
Normally, Caroline would have left this supervision to her housekeeper, Mrs Blackett, but she suddenly felt a great urge to keep busy.
She was amazed to find an hour had passed when she returned.
“How is he?” she asked.
Joseph was standing with his back to the window, so she had no clear view of his face.
“Your father has agreed to rest,” Joseph said.
“Is there more I should do? He’s been so unlike himself, so lacking in concentration, in patience, ever since we returned.”
Joseph moved towards a sofa and hitched up the knees of his trousers before sitting down.
“May I speak frankly?”
“You are soon to become one of the family, Joseph. Of course you must speak your mind.”
“I think he fears Florence was his last expedition.”
Caroline grew thoughtful. The problem was, as ever, uncertainty. Any new project had to have purpose.
It went without saying it must have a sponsor and would need money. A great deal of money.
With a jolt, Caroline realised she ought not to take their re-employment for granted.
“I meant to speak to Hathern’s as soon as Papa seemed better,” she murmured.
Joseph rubbed the side of his face.
“I do hope your father hasn’t been upset at my news of a family wedding. It must have seemed sudden, coming to his ears just as he arrived home.”
“Not at all. I think it has delighted everyone,” Caroline said.
Joseph’s smile transformed his quiet face.
“Try not to worry about your father’s health. But if Mr Hathern suggests sending you on your travels again, that might be the very news your father needs to feel better!”