Flower Of Hope – Episode 12

ALBERT Lea felt if anyone could lift the spirits of poor Mrs Field, Jane could. Mrs Field had kept her own servants with her until they reached Marseilles, but sent them homewards once the party embarked.

She was anxious to hire others in Florence who might speak both English and Italian.

Until that time, she continued to accept Jane’s help, although not always graciously. Well before their sea-going journey began, as the Sea Goose rocked at the quayside, she had declared herself unwell.

Once his two gentlemen were settled, Albert had sought the fresher air and brought Jane up on deck with him for a while.

They heard the hiss and suck of waves along the side and viewed the pale glow of the wake spreading out behind them in the evening light.

“Well, I never!” Jane said, delighting Albert with her happy face.

After she’d clambered below, Albert eased his shoulders and took a few more turns along the deck.

Mr Hathern called his name as he passed by.

“Lea! How is Mrs Field?”

“Staying put, sir. A ship’s deck is an uncommonly gusty, groaning sort of place. Although it’s where I like to be, myself!”

Luke turned, resting both elbows on the rail behind him and looking thoughtful.

“Would you ask Miss Waters to join me? I should like a word.”

Caroline was sitting, not very comfortably, next to her sister. Three metal bunks, a cupboard with a loosened door and a fixed bench were the main elements of furniture.

Until recently, the only sound apart from the constant beat of the engine and the shouts of the crew had been of Eliza fretting. But at last, with Caroline stroking her hand, she had fallen asleep.

A small tap came at the door and Jane stepped in.

“Did you enjoy your turn on deck?” Caroline whispered.

“Ever so much! All them white, white bubbles in such a pathway!” Jane whispered back. “Do you want my help, Miss Waters?”

Caroline was about to shake her head, thinking she might as well stay where she was for the moment, when Albert’s bulky frame loomed.

“Begging your pardon, Miss Waters,” he said over Jane’s shoulder. “Mr Hathern would like to speak to you on deck.”

Standing up, Caroline could not help noticing the once-slight swell had increased. The Sea Goose had begun to pitch as well as roll.

“Jane, should Mrs Field wake . . .”

“I’ll take care of her, Miss Waters,” Jane promised, squeezing past to change places with her mistress.

Caroline gathered her travelling cloak close. Blessing her stout old boots, she took hold of the rail and clanged up the steps.

Once on deck, she sent a glance skywards. The stars were hidden by patchy, ragged cloud, but it did not seem unduly rough.

Then the wind whipped an end of her cloak stingingly against her ear.

Caroline anchored the corner beneath one arm and strode to the rail.

“Mr Hathern?” she asked, reaching him.

“I’m sorry to call you on deck, but best you see for yourself that the weather is worsening,” he said. “The captain felt we should be warned.”

“We cannot be far from the coast,” Caroline said.

“Far enough, I’m afraid.”

Caroline held the rail beside Luke, the swinging lantern lighting his face. Was something other than the weather bothering him? She remembered her father’s earlier concern about him.

“Are you feeling well?” she asked.

“I’ve no need of your vinegar remedy, if that’s what you mean,” Luke said, with a thin smile. “But I want your promise you’ll all stay in your cabins.”

Caroline felt annoyed at being told what to do, yet she could hardly say so, for Luke’s advice was sensible. Instead, she nodded and turned away.

She climbed slowly down the hatchway, opened the cabin door, curled herself into the empty bunk and closed her eyes.

Alison Cook