Flower Of Hope – Episode 17

CAROLINE moved first. Above the pounding of her heart, she was aware of Luke’s and her father’s heavier footfall behind.

She turned sharply to the left as the servant directed, and felt the toe of Luke’s shoe catch her heel. He murmured an apology in a voice that echoed unexpectedly as they entered a high room.

A senior monk looked up from a desk that had been placed before a long window. No light fell on his features, and Caroline could hardly see whether his expression was kindly.

She swallowed, beginning to hope that they’d been lucky enough to trace Matthew at last.

But even as she moved to show their papers, the monk raised one hand.

“I will tell you quickly, to avoid pain, that the boy is not here.”

“Then where?” Luke demanded.

“He has been sent to San Biagi, in the hills, where it is cooler,” the monk said. “We had too many . . . guests here at that time.”

Caroline did not think Matthew had been their guest, exactly, and she saw Luke’s fingers had tightened on his stick.

“What is at San Biagi, if you please?” She spoke in Italian.

The monk answered her directly in a torrent of words, most of which came too fast for her to understand.

“It is our brother house, signorina,” the spiky-haired servant explained in English, seeing her confusion.

“But isn’t it dangerously exposed, if outside the city?” William asked.

The servant, after a deferential glance at the older man, told them everything possible had been done for the safety of their visitors. For wasn’t it well known that nowhere was perfectly at ease in the Italian states at present?

Life was improving, but everyone still grappled with the changes . . .

Luke interrupted to ask about Matthew’s state of health.

“He was well, I believe,” the older monk said. “As he still is, you will see, when he is brought back. We will send word immediately this happens.”

There followed an unmistakable gesture of dismissal.

Caroline reluctantly followed Luke and her father to the gate.

“Why should we wait?” Caroline asked, the minute they were outside. “Why not go directly to this monastery outpost, and see for ourselves?”

“Firstly, because it’s some way off. Secondly, because we have no transport,” Luke replied. “Such a journey would almost certainly be risky.”

“But equally dangerous for Matty, if he has to be brought back on our account!” she argued.

“I’m sure in that case he will have an escort,” Luke said. “Something it might be difficult for us to arrange at such short notice.”

“But if they’ve moved him once, he might be moved again. Perhaps to some other destination entirely!”

Caroline felt she wanted to take to the hill paths immediately, alone and

on foot if necessary.

“We will discuss everything when we get back,” Luke said firmly, glancing at William for support. “Paola will have good advice.”

Caroline made an impatient gesture.

“I must agree with Hathern.” William placed one hand on his daughter’s arm. “For Matty’s safety, we must plan.”

“I did not say we shouldn’t plan!” Caroline teetered on the edge of exasperation. “But it must be now – not in a week’s time!”

Alison Cook