Flower Of Hope – Episode 09

THE Channel crossing was, in fact, quite calm, and now half of France had been traversed.

Within the heavy coach lumbering through Avignon, William dozed. The coach driver urged his team up a hill with a loud “Hup! hup!”

Suddenly everything rocked, shuddered and came to a halt. William sat up, thoroughly awake.

Albert peered in from his place on the roof, his face upside-down in the window.

“One horse has cast a shoe, sir!” he bellowed. “The driver states we cannot continue.”

William flung open the door and climbed from his seat. Eliza twitched a blind and looked out.

“What’s to be done?” William asked, walking up to the crossroads where Hathern stood with the coachdriver.

“There’s no blacksmith nearby,” Luke told him. “We must stay overnight.”

William’s heart sank. One night longer before they could reach Florence! He sighed, but also knew everyone was tired enough to make this halt something of a blessing.

Caroline placed her hand on his arm.

“Think how much worse had this happened in the middle of nowhere, Papa! We will find an inn here.”

There followed the tiresome business of unhitching the horses and of convincing Eliza that this unplanned respite was a welcome one.

“I am not glad of it!” she said waspishly. “I can’t think why the wretched horse had to cast a shoe so far from the coast. Is there no replacement animal?”

“Calm yourself, Eliza,” William snapped. His neck ached, and he badly needed a rest.

The inn they found was clean, though small. Striding ahead, Luke anticipated the low doorway by ducking. William, however, hit the lintel with a smack.

“I shall take a walk,” he said, rubbing his brow.

“Where?” Eliza sank on to a settle in the corner, grasping her reticule as if she dared not put it down.

“Out!” William replied.

Walking back towards the crossroads, he discovered a busy café and found a seat in a corner.

Coffee, hot and strong, was brought

by the waiter. After a few sips William relaxed and looked around him.

He blinked as someone he knew came in, a dark-haired young man in a narrow black coat and well-shone boots.

William watched as he tucked into a hearty-looking pie at a table in the centre of the room.

“I will introduce myself,” William told himself. “But I will let him eat first.”

The young man finally pushed away his plate.

“Mr Kellard, is it not?” William asked, going over. “We met in London. May I order us both coffee, sir?”

A preoccupied gaze met William’s before Mr Kellard stood up, smiled and offered his hand.

“Mr Waters! I recall your interesting talk at Kew, over a year ago, on the subject of the plants you intended to seek on your South American travels. I’d enjoy hearing how you did.”

William’s face fell.

“Some successes, certainly.” He took a seat. “But one particular failure.”

“Your Flower of Hope remains elusive, Mr Waters? I am sorry. My sympathies also, on the plight of your grandson.”

“Poor, foolish boy! So you have heard?”

“The news was all across London,” Kellard said. “I’m sorry if I’ve caused distress by mentioning him.”

“An impetuous young man, but we will surely get him home soon,” William said quickly. Sympathy only renewed his grief.

Mr Kellard seemed to understand. He spoke instead of a wonderful garden he’d visited – apparently one to surpass any but the best in Italy. Kellard described overarching trees, wonderful flowers and amazing fountains.

William marvelled.

“How is this garden maintained?”

“By its owner’s wealth.”

“Does it have a purpose? Education? Study?”

“Hardly!” Kellard said. “This garden is private. It holds many plants, some new to the Old World.”

“I would love to visit it,” William murmured.

The other man leaned back, his gaze resting easily on William’s face.

“It is in Florence.”

“But that is our destination!” William exclaimed. “If you are travelling there also, perhaps I – we – could arrange to meet?”

“I intend to visit you,” the young man promised. “In fact, since I know Florence well, I hope your family will not hesitate to ask for my help if needed.”

“Why not journey with us?” William asked, warming to the idea as he spoke. “Hathern has arranged passage from Marseilles – there’s bound to be enough room!”

Alison Cook