Flower Of Hope – Episode 02

WILL that be all, sir?” Mrs Blackett asked after dinner.

“Not quite. How have you managed here?”

“Fairly well, sir. But we’ve lost another maid.”

“For what reason?” Caroline asked.

“Marriage, Miss Waters. We’ll need another.”

Once the housekeeper left, William sought his favourite armchair.

“Sit with me, Carrie. I’ve been wondering what we should tell Mr Hathern.”

“The plants are secured, and all our other notes are in order, Papa.”

“I’m not thinking of those we brought safely back to England.” William stared bleakly into space.

“The seeds we lost?”

Her father nodded sadly. What had happened just before they sailed had devastated William.

He had packed the seeds from the Flower of Hope with care and attention. Around them, the busy South American port had been full of the shouts of men, grinding carts and braying donkeys.

Caroline remembered several strangers pushing past, especially one thin, dark man with a scarred hand who’d stopped to help her gather up fruit she’d dropped. But neither she nor her father could recall anything truly suspicious.

At last, the ship had cast off and steered slowly away from land. Caroline had checked her cabin one final time, then her father’s.

With a sense of shock, she discovered their precious seeds from the Flower of Hope had vanished!

What were they going to say to Mr Hathern?

Hathern’s Nurseries, the brass plate on the fine wooden door said. Folk from London and beyond, wishing to stock their gardens with the most beautiful, unusual or exotic plants they could afford, came to Hathern’s.

Luke’s father had started the business. After Mr Hathern’s death, the conviction was that Luke was too young and inexperienced for such a chancy business. But Luke’s determination had begun to change opinion. Not that he, or his employees, took anything for granted.

Still, as Luke stood in his office that morning, he felt pleased. Ever since the return of the Waters’s expedition, he’d looked forward to Hathern’s nurturing exciting new plants. Not least the Flower of Hope which, till now, Luke himself had only heard of.

He heard footsteps in the corridor, and looked up as Caroline came in.

It had been a year since he’d seen her and had had that awkward discussion with her father.

“Miss Waters!” Despite a rush of feelings more mixed than he expected, Luke responded to her smile as always. “I didn’t expect you until the end of this week. Is your father with you?”

“I must apologise, Mr Hathern,” Caroline said, placing her holdall on the floor between them. “Father will come as soon as he’s recovered. I’ve brought papers.”

“You carried that here without help?”

“If I can tramp the jungles of Brazil, you don’t imagine I’d find a journey through London too difficult?” Caroline spoke pleasantly, but he knew she was making a point. He was not her fiancé and had no say in her conduct.

“My father asked me to bring them, and I thought I may as well include a few sketches,” she went on.

Luke took the small painting she offered, and held it closer to the light.

Caroline’s work, precise and detailed, astonished him as always. The sketch was of a golden, bell-like flower protected by deep green leaves. Behind, a waterfall lit by sunlight fell in endless cascade.

“Wonderful! The way you show each plant in its surroundings, so that we see it grows near water, or on a mountainside. So much information at a glance!”

“They will need finishing.” Caroline seemed pleased.

Luke placed her painting carefully on the table.

“Thank you, my dear Miss Waters!”

He moved forward impulsively to take her hands in his. Caroline stepped away, looking flustered.

“My thanks to you and your father, of course.” Luke let his hands fall to his sides. “I always admire the way you work together.”

“He would be lost without me!” she replied lightly. “Which would never do in a jungle, would it?”

“Very true.” He hesitated. “Miss Waters, I would like you to know that last year I had no intention, by my request to your father, of upsetting your existing arrangements in any way.”

“You acted with the best of motives,” Caroline replied. “I hope you realise I did, too.”

She turned away to concentrate on binding some loose papers.

“I’ll leave these with you.” She paused. “As to our collected specimens, some will arrive here tomorrow.”

“I can see from the leaf studies you have here that you located some lily-like plants,” Luke said. “Surely, this is the Flower of Hope?”

Caroline turned to him.

“Mr Hathern, I have rehearsed my speech many times, but still do not know how to say this . . .” She wrung her hands.

“Tell me,” Luke said steadily.

“The painting of the lily is all we have of the plant you wanted most! The seeds were stolen from us before we sailed.”

Alison Cook