Flower Of Hope – Episode 08

SOME while later Caroline, with Jane in tow, halted on the threshold of the railway office, watching passengers of every size and shape push and push again. At only ten o’clock, the place was overflowing.

Some politer customers made way, but it was still for all the world like chopping out a jungle path. Caroline turned constantly to keep Jane in sight.

She ought to have sent her servant to buy their tickets, but Caroline admitted she rather enjoyed the hurly-burly. Far better to be out and active than sitting at home with a lapful of cross-stitch.

The queue heaved, but she stood her ground. Then someone called her name.

“I hoped I would find you here!” Luke said, arriving by her side. “I have just this minute seen your father and persuaded him to include me in your party.”

Caroline recalled that Mr Hathern often travelled to the gardens of Florence.

“You mean to do business while we search for Matthew?” she asked.

“I mean to help all I can,” Luke said. “You need to know your way around Florence these days!”

“I heard it had been made a capital city,” Caroline said, avoiding the point of a fierce umbrella. “Does that mean life there has become calmer?”

“The present settlement has not been welcomed by everybody,” Luke warned. “But the King sets a good example. He rises for work at four each morning!”

“I’m beginning to think we should have arrived here at a similar hour, to be sure of a booking!”

She reached the head of the queue and shouted their requirements into the clerk’s ear. Soon after, the travellers found themselves on the pavement outside.

Caroline spied her young servant at Luke’s elbow, looking pink and happy.

“We’re on our way to Dover,” Caroline told her.

“Will I see the sea?”

“Have you never done so?” Luke was amazed.

“No, sir. Though I have always longed to.”

“Now is your chance,” Caroline promised. “I hope you prove a good sailor!”

She saw Luke’s expression.

“I never suffer from sea-sickness, Mr Hathern, do you?”

“Nearly always.”

“Then I must pack a remedy. Do you prefer ginger wine or vinegar?”

“I generally find it best to keep below deck.”

“Jane has a book of excellent remedies,” Caroline persisted. “Vinegar is most effective, I’m told.”

“Some remedies are worse than the diseases,” Luke muttered.

He offered an arm and they walked home. Caroline felt pleased Papa had invited Luke to travel with them, but wondered what part in the invitation, if any, Eliza might have had.

Eliza! Caroline’s mood sobered. For a while, she’d been able to enjoy the familiar bustle of London. But her sister hadn’t stirred outdoors since her arrival.

“Have we anything which may comfort Mrs Field?” Caroline asked her maid.

“Certainly, Miss Waters!” Jane said. “I will prepare lavender water the moment we reach home.”

Jane quickly realised her well-travelled mistress hardly needed her services in the matter of packing.

Miss Waters declared herself ready as soon as her usual two bags were strapped up and her painting equipment secured. She directed Jane to help Mrs Field instead.

“I do have servants, Caroline,” Eliza said stiffly.

“But none as capable as Jane.”

Jane felt warmed through by this praise. She continued to help Mrs Field prepare, even though this meant she had to endure a string of woes. Mrs Field hated dust, uneven pavements and anything to do with railways.

“There’s a smut in my eye!” she wailed as their train left the platform. “Why is there never a clean handkerchief?”

To Jane, every jolt spelled adventure, so even as she soothed Mrs Field she enjoyed her journey.

At Dover they came, as promised, in sight of the sea. Jane caught her breath, never imagining so much water in one place.

She stared dizzily at the endless inky blue line that met the sky while the salt wind stung her face. She listened, entranced, to the screams of gulls and music of the waves.

“Here.” Albert bundled several packages into her hands. “Hurry along the gangplank!’

“Oh, my!” was all Jane could say, over and over.

“If you keep gawping, girl, your eyes will pop!” Albert said. “See how amazed you feel when we meet bad weather at sea.”

Alison Cook