Flower Of Hope – Episode 01

CAROLINE put out one gloved hand and touched her father’s arm.
“Papa, we’re very nearly there. Home!”

William Waters opened his eyes.

“Every plant must be accounted for!”

“We’re no longer on our jungle expedition, Papa,” Caroline said, smiling.

Their South American adventures were now far behind them.

William sat upright.

“Have I slept long?”

“Since we left the docks. A rest will do you good.”

He looked rueful.

“I hope our employer allows us respite before we consider any further plant-hunting on behalf of Hathern’s Nurseries.”

The coachman brought the horses to the front of the townhouse. The great front door swung open and Mrs Blackett the housekeeper appeared.

“At last,” Caroline murmured gratefully.

Never during their time abroad, nor aboard the ancient ship that had brought them home, could she remember feeling in such need of comfort. For herself, but especially for her father.

She climbed down unaided. After a year of jungle tracks, how strange the London pavement felt beneath her feet!

William stepped down beside his daughter, watching their trunks being bumped to the ground.

“Take care!” he bellowed.

Caroline took her father’s arm and persuaded him up the short flight of steps.

“Welcome home, sir, madam.” Mrs Blackett spoke as if they’d returned from a week at the seaside rather than from the other side of the world.

Caroline strode into the hall, removing her stiff bonnet, her gloves and her warm jacket. She hoped her father would not notice she was still wearing her battered travelling boots beneath her skirts.

She knew he wished her to be more ladylike, but Caroline could only manage to be herself.

“Mr Luke Hathern called again yesterday,” Mrs Blackett said. “That makes three times. I took the liberty of asking your employer not to call again until the end of the week.”

Caroline nodded. Mrs Blackett was always more than a match for Mr Hathern’s quiet insistence. Or for anyone who might wish to annoy her dear Mr Waters before he’d recovered from his travels!

Clearly, neither she nor Mr Hathern had changed during their year away.

Caroline recalled the weeks before she and her father had set out on this journey. She’d overheard Luke Hathern, in the next room, asking her father if they might speak for a moment.

Unwilling to eavesdrop, she’d turned away from the door, but couldn’t avoid hearing what came next.

“Marry?” her father had boomed. “But Carrie’s never mentioned anything!”

Caroline had been astounded. She counted Luke Hathern a friend, but had never thought of him, or anyone else, as a husband!

“I know she thinks well of you,” William had said finally. “I will speak on your behalf.”

He’d kept his promise that evening while she briskly packed paints and brushes for the botanical sketches she intended to make during the expedition.

Caroline had told her parent flatly she would refuse anything that might keep her from this adventure.

“Don’t be too hard on the poor man,” William had said.

“I don’t believe I am,” Caroline had said coolly. “What if I agreed, Papa? I’d have to stay in London, and how would you manage this expedition alone?”

“Not as well as with your help,” William had conceded.

“There!” Caroline had triumphantly crammed one more well-wrapped brush into a small wooden box.

To his credit, Luke had remained professionally polite throughout the preparations for their expedition. But from the way he’d avoided her gaze as their departure drew nearer, Caroline had understood she had hurt Luke’s feelings.

She regretted she hadn’t been kinder and at least listened to his request.

Now they were home, Caroline hoped Mr Hathern was looking forward to seeing her as much as she was to seeing him. She had news she longed to share as a friend.

Alison Cook