Flower Of Hope – Episode 18

ALONE in her room with a jug of cool lemonade, Eliza Field grew restless. She went several times to the door and called for Paola.

When that lady failed to appear, Eliza sighed and took herself down the wide staircase, intending to sit in a shady spot in the garden until Caroline and the others returned.

Matthew’s rescue was the only thing that mattered, and she felt restless and on edge for want of news.

As she reached the mosaic floor, one of Paola’s servants was clattering open the tall front door to a strange, thin gentleman dressed in black.

When he was permitted to enter, he stepped across the patterned floor and acknowledged Eliza with a polite bow.

“I am sent by Mr Kellard to see Mr Hathern,” he said in English.

“He is out,” Eliza said shortly.

Then she softened. At least she would have something to occupy her thoughts until the others returned.

“Perhaps I can help instead?”

She led him into one of the large downstairs rooms farthest from the kitchen. The space was clean, but dark and barely furnished.

Eliza took the only chair. The thin gentleman stood, his gloved hands clasped in front of him.

Eliza looked him up and down, feeling confused. How should this visitor be treated? He looked too well dressed to be a servant, yet his manners were those of someone waiting for permission to speak.

She decided on direct questioning.

“Would you prefer to wait for Mr Hathern? I don’t know how long he’ll be.”

The door clicked open suddenly and Paola rushed in. The voluble conversation in Italian between her and the visitor, which Eliza could not understand, resulted in the man abruptly following Paola back through the door.

“Where are you going?” Eliza demanded. “Come back at once!”

It wasn’t her fault she’d felt so ill today and could do so little! Now that she’d made the effort to come downstairs, she wished everyone would take more notice of her.

When she called out a second time, Paola at last reappeared, retying her apron.

“I have placed him in another room, Signora Field, which is more suitable. Many chairs. You wish to speak?”

With a chilly stare, Eliza got up and stalked to the door.

“I will speak to him immediately,” she said. “Be so good as to send Albert with something cool to drink.”

As Eliza Field was preparing to question Luke Hathern’s visitor, Fabio and Jane were driving home.

This time, they sat together at the front, where Jane had begun to feel a little less out of place. But twice along the way, the old cart had been surrounded by a jostling, excitable crowd, and moved but slowly.

The second time, long ears twitching, the animal pulling them actually came to a stop at the side of the road.

Jane bit her lip and gripped her full basket anxiously.

“There is often procession,” Fabio said, reassuring her.

“What is it for?” Jane asked, catching and holding a rolling fruit.

“Who knows?” Fabio said cheerfully. “For a saint, a festival, or in honour of freedom! Any reason will do in Florence! We are simply excellent at processions.”

So Jane tucked her chin on to her chest and concentrated on keeping her basket balanced.

But when she saw how relaxed her companion was, she began to look and above all, to listen.

Somewhere up ahead, a band was playing a joyful march, while nearby men, women and children danced, everyone wearing at least one brightly coloured scarf, ribbon or hat.

“It’s as if they made up their steps this minute,” she cried, realising why the whole procession seemed so carefree and happy.

“They have!” Fabio laughed. “But the costumes, maybe they planned them for many, many weeks. Look at that one! Luna gialla, like the bright moon in the daytime!”

He turned a smiling face towards Jane.

“Do you like yellow?”

Jane watched a particularly dashing group of young men and women celebrating their joy at being citizens of the capital city, and suddenly she longed to be part of their dance.

Her fingers white on the basket handle, she clung to it tightly in case the impulse to leap from the cart and join in got the better of her.

“You like to dance?” Fabio asked, above the glorious noise.

“Oh, no, sir! Not at all!” Jane said.

Fabio, his feet tapping alongside hers, raised his eyebrows in disbelief, and suddenly both of them were giggling at her words – so very polite, and so clearly far from the truth!

Alison Cook