Flower Of Hope – Episode 14

JANE stood on tiptoe in the centre of the courtyard, clutching a wide basket. A brilliant floor mosaic spread a pattern of moonbeams around her feet, and from somewhere behind her came the sound of Signora Paola’s little son giggling.

Jane turned to find Nico.

“Has your mamma given you a list for me, please?” she asked.

“Cento,” Nico said stoutly.

“One hundred things on the list?” Jane said in mock amazement. She held out her hand.

“Si.” His dark eyes gleaming, Nico whipped the slip of paper out of reach and danced away.

Jane, laughing, dropped her basket. Nico ran and a

chase followed round and round until Nico stopped and gave her the list.

“Please to buy . . .” he said in English.

“Carota, cipolla, cavolo,” Jane read slowly.

She could already name vegetables in Italian, although her pronunciation caused Nico to giggle.

“No cavolo,” he pleaded. “I not like cabbage.”

“But I must, if it’s on your mamma’s list!” Jane said.

“You shall wait here now for my uncle Fabio,” Nico said. He ran towards the kitchen, then halted. “We play later?”

Jane agreed, if his mamma and her employer allowed it.

The boy sped off, and Jane smiled. Nico was so friendly, chattering as if he’d known her all his life.

The child was delighted to show off the English remembered from his father, and to be Jane’s unofficial household guide.

Jane had noticed, too, that he’d helped Mr Hathern’s meeting with the boy’s widowed mother.

Jane knew that Mr Hathern had once been a good friend of Signora Smith’s husband, yet he had hung back from greeting her until Nico pulled him forward to be properly embraced.

Now Jane took a deep breath. She looked forward to being out and about, but the marketplace would be unfamiliar. She was glad she would have an escort.

“Don’t stay out long in this heat!” Mrs Field said, passing through the courtyard.

She wore a full dress with many frills and looked pale and tired.

Miss Waters appeared, cool and purposeful, unlike her sister.

“Don’t worry if you don’t know exactly what to say.”

Her easel was under her arm and she held her brushes in a small case. “Decide what you want on each stall, then point at it.”

“Yes, ma’am . . . of course, Miss Waters.”

“Are you waiting for Albert Lea?”

“No, I am to wait here for Signora Smith’s brother. Signor Bartolini will drive the cart for me, Miss Waters.”

“Whatever you purchase,” Miss Waters said kindly, “it’s certain you and Paola will make it into something delicious!”

By agreement between Miss Waters and Signora Smith days after the party arrived, Jane had been directed to learn something of the kitchen first.

As Miss Waters said, it was sensible not to send the girl out shopping before she knew what she ought to do.

But Jane hadn’t found it easy to stay indoors while Mr Hathern and Miss Waters (although not Mrs Field) were frequently out on matters concerning Matthew, Mrs Field’s son. Jane found the sounds and smells wafting in from the street each day entrancing.

Still, little Nico had kept her entertained.

Signor Fabio Bartolini’s footsteps echoed into the courtyard. A short, handsome man, he paused in the doorway, then stepped across the bright mosaic moon, indicating Jane should follow.

She caught up the basket, and hurried to his side. Her mind burned with questions, but in the weeks she’d been here Jane had learned Signor Bartolini was a man of few words.

He spoke Italian to his sister, and understood and used a little English, too.

But to anyone from the London party, even Mr Hathern himself, Fabio spoke little in any language.

So once at the cart, Jane simply climbed in and sat down. She was surprised when he invited her to take the seat next to him.

“Thank you, but I’ll stay here,” Jane said, feeling strangely pleased and put out at the same time.

Fabio gave an easy shrug and shook the reins. The cart rumbled off and Jane glanced over her shoulder to see the decorated front of the house, squeezed tall and thin by buildings on either side.

She understood what Mr Hathern had meant when they’d arrived, that he’d known this place when it showed a far grander face to the world.

The home of his friend and business colleague, Mr Edward Smith, it had once boasted many fashionable decorations – sweeping curtains, sumptuous carpets and elegant furniture.

But now only an ornate porch and the spectacular courtyard mosaic remained.

Since the signora was widowed, he said, the house was a flower that had lost some petals.

“Though you might say its foliage is growing strongly,” Mr Hathern had added. “It’s simply that a working guesthouse can never quite look glamorous.”

“Might it not, in some respects, be more suitable for its purpose?”

If Miss Waters’s reply surprised Jane, it also made Mr Hathern smile.

“I was sure you would say that, Miss Waters!”

“I don’t have much use for mere decoration.”

Jane disagreed. In her opinion, the more pretty floors and grand curtains a house had, the better! But she kept that to herself.

The rough wheels rattled and bumped. From her place up on the back seat Jane could see tables of colourful produce. The sound of chatter and smell of hot, smoky food drifted down the street.

“The market is closer than I thought,” she said as Fabio drew to a halt. “I did not need the cart!”

Fabio dropped down beside the wheels and offered his hand.

“But this way I have company, which is my pleasure. Stay close, little one. The streets are busy.”

No-one had ever spoken to Jane in that way before. She looked at Fabio’s face, and received a mischievous grin in return.

Recollecting her errand and her wits, she followed him. Together they hurried towards the busy, bargaining crowd, Jane reciting the Italian names of vegetables as she went.

Alison Cook