Flower Of Hope – Episode 15

LUKE set aside his book and got to his feet as Dr Joseph Bradlin was shown into the main parlour.

“I’ve have just left Mrs Field in the capable care of her sister,” Dr Bradlin said.

“Most grateful.” Luke shook the doctor’s hand.

Bradlin was one of many Englishmen living in Florence. Luke appreciated the man’s professional air and straight gaze. He thought that even Eliza might be persuaded to take advice from him.

“The lady has suffered from the heat since we arrived,” Luke explained. “When we heard you lived nearby, we thought it best to send for advice.”

“Quite so. Your party has been here a while? Miss Waters enjoys the sun, I understand. But it can take longer for some to acclimatise than others.”

“What can we do?”

“Staying indoors with a cool drink to hand is common sense. But . . .”

He hesitated.

“Must Mrs Field wear such heavy garments? Fashionable in London, I’m sure. But here she should wear something lighter. And out of doors, a hat. A word from her sister might help.”

Luke suppressed a smile. Eliza was not one to take fashion advice, least of all from her younger sister.

“I shall soon be returning to take up a post in London,” Dr Bradlin went on, “but until then I can be summoned if needed. The lady ought to remain as quiet as possible. I understand . . .”

Again the doctor paused, looking awkward.

“I understand there is anxiety about a missing son?” he managed to say at last.

“Yes. Mrs Field’s son wrote to us from near Florence a while ago. He’d been injured on his travels. Since we arrived, Miss Waters has already discovered her nephew’s last address, and has written to arrange a further visit.”

Luke noticed Bradlin’s expression change. Along with William and Caroline, in the past weeks he’d heard rumours already.

“I did attend a young Englishman with a lacerated leg some while ago. He was taking longer to heal than he should because he ignored my advice to rest!”

Luke nodded. This was the sort of comment often aimed at Matthew. Young, headstrong Matty, who hadn’t ever learned to do as he was told.

It would be wrong to pin the family’s hopes on such flimsy evidence, but Luke felt his spirits rise a little.

“Did he give a name?”

He was dismayed to see Bradlin shake his head.

“He called himself ‘a Derby man’. He seemed wary of giving more information, at least to me. But I can describe him . . .”

By the time Dr Bradlin left, Luke was hopeful he might indeed have treated Matthew Field. But why would the boy say he came from Derby?

And why did Bradlin say he’d met this young man beyond the city of Florence? Caroline had seemed almost certain her nephew was still here.

Where should they be looking for him?

Luke’s lone thoughts were interrupted by an agitated Paola, fretting over her guest’s ailment. He calmed her, taking her hands in his to thank her for arranging Dr Bradlin’s visit that morning.

For a moment the   stilled, a smile beneath her usual sharp, clever gaze.

“Of course I help, my dear Mr Hathern! You were my husband’s dearest friend, and where would my Nico and I be without you? Mrs Field recovers soon, I’m sure. And most better, when her son returns.”

Paola Smith’s open kindness towards him still caused Luke to wince. He’d told no-one why he sometimes found her friendship difficult to bear, and fervently hoped Paola herself would never discover the reason.

It was bad enough that he had been the one who’d had to write and tell her she’d become a widow . . .

Paola freed her hands from Luke’s.

“Now I remember. Miss Waters waits for you in the garden.” She gave Luke a small push. “Go, you must go!”

Alison Cook