Flower Of Hope – Episode 13

MINUTES – or hours – later a great jolt and bellowing overhead brought her awake.

“Hand me that rope, or you will have a man overboard by the next wave!” Her father’s voice came loudly.

For a moment, hearing the creaks and groans of the boat, Caroline imagined she and Papa were still on board the ancient wooden vessel which so recently had brought them across the Atlantic.

With an effort, she rolled over and pushed both feet to the floor.

Jane had woken also, ready in the gloom to follow her mistress.

“Stay here!” Caroline ordered, reaching for her cloak.

She felt Jane’s disappointment, but Papa had sounded troubled, and it was a bad idea to risk an unseasoned traveller on deck in rough weather.

Emerging, the wind snatched Caroline’s breath away. She gripped her cape and with her free hand felt in the driving dark for a handhold, finding each one treacherous with rain and spray.

She craned her head from the shelter of the hatch, straining for a glimpse of her father.

Several pairs of boots thumped to her right as a group of sailors crossed the plunging deck. As the boat fell into a watery trough the dim light showed one man falling on to the streaming boards. His shipmates reached out, but he slid away like a fish.

The boat rose on the next wave and he finished his fall hard against the rail, unmoving.

Action took the place of thought. Caroline tore off her cloak, braced one arm around the rail and threw the cloak’s end to the flailing crewman.

“Catch!” she bellowed.

At first, it looked as if the sailor might continue sliding until he was swallowed by the waves washing over the deck and sides of the ship. But at the last second he managed to grasp the cloak’s hem.

His crewmates closed round him, hauling him upright. Her father’s face, streaming with water, loomed beside Caroline in the shadows, his arms shepherding her to safety.

But before her feet could rediscover the steps, she heard Luke’s angry shout below.

Cloakless and wet, her lips pressed tight in case she said anything she shouldn’t, Caroline missed the final two rungs and fell gracelessly into the corridor.

The storm blew itself out, leaving the Sea Goose to trundle towards the coast with all the appearance of never having been tossed on a troubled

sea at all.

Luke Hathern leaned once more against the ship’s side, watching the land, green and inviting, advance. In a short while, they would be ashore.

He rubbed the side of his face.

His problems had grown weightier than he’d ever imagined in London. Painfully, he recalled his most recent conversation with Caroline.

“What were you thinking?” he had demanded.

“Mr Hathern, I should not have to explain how dangerous the conditions were!”

“Why were you on deck?” Luke had persisted.

“I heard my father shout. Whenever and wherever we travel, we absolutely depend on each other. My only thought was to help!”

“In such conditions?”

“There was even more reason. I take full responsibility.” Caroline’s face had shone wetly as she pushed dripping hair from her eyes.

“Since Hathern’s arranged this sea passage, I feel the responsibility for safety is mine,” Luke had said.

“No more than my father’s!” Caroline had stated. “Or mine,” she’d added defiantly.

Luke had given up the argument. He had stalked to his cabin and after two angry attempts, had managed to shut the door.

Later, he sat on the edge of his bunk, seeking calm by reading a paper written only last year about the amazing Flower of Hope. Those lost seeds, that lost opportunity, returned vividly to mind.

He recalled Caroline showing him her beautiful, delicate sketches, only to hang her head sorrowfully immediately afterwards as she confessed the plant’s loss.

Luke had never pitied her before, but he had at that moment. If it had been possible, he’d have taken her hand in sympathy.

But Caroline had a strong sense of what was proper, so he’d kept the usual distance between them.

Under the stress of last night’s storm, however, he had been less able to keep his feelings to himself. What if she had been washed away?

The thought made him shudder.

Luke stared shorewards. Had he jeopardised good relations with both Caroline and Eliza with his recent sharp words?

What were his chances, now, of the family allowing him any part in the search for Waters’s grandson?

He could clearly picture Matthew Field, as tall as his aunt and not unlike her in features, although as fair as she was dark.

Luke had been fond of him, and had hopes the boy would do well once he’d learned sense.

Now Luke wondered wretchedly whether the family would ever see Matthew restored to his mother.

The air ruffled the water’s surface. Luke’s present difficulties, however troublesome, would fade once the party reached their destination, he knew.

Paola’s husband had been not only his business partner, but also his closest friend. For reasons he’d long managed to bury deep in his mind, meeting her again was going to be difficult.

The air blew sweetly from the land, bringing with it the remembered smells of earth, and growing things.

With an effort, Luke Hathern squared his tired shoulders.

He would have to restrain any impatience with Matthew Field’s family.

He would perhaps have to deal with the unreliable
Mr Kellard.

But how best to help Paola and her little son – that was surely the problem he must focus on . . . .

Alison Cook