Flower Of Hope – Episode 19

CAROLINE was first through the pensione doors, followed by Luke and her father. Worse than her aching ankles was the feeling of defeat.

She felt crushed. They’d told each other it was too much to expect to discover their dear Matthew so soon, but that hadn’t stopped any of them hoping.

“I am sorry, Mr Waters, my dear Miss Waters, that this time we did not find him, despite everything,” Luke said, keeping his voice low. “But I beg you not to show outright dismay, or his mother may lose hope.”

At that moment, Eliza’s voice could be heard, indistinct but raised in some kind of argument.

A door opened suddenly and she rushed out to take hold of both Caroline’s arms.

“What news of my dear boy, Carrie?”

“News that he is safe, my love.”

“But when can I see him?”

“We must be patient,” Caroline heard herself saying, although she herself felt little of that emotion.

She shook Eliza’s arms a little with each word she spoke, the better to convince her sister they’d done everything possible that morning. Meanwhile, she prayed for Luke’s support.

“Although an immediate meeting cannot be arranged, we have the word of a senior monk here in Florence that the boy is cared for,” Luke said steadily.

Caroline glanced uneasily at his closed expression. He seemed to think it better not to mention where Matthew had been taken.

Eliza, totally overwrought, clung suddenly to her sister, shaking from head to foot.

“He is not within the city, then, as we hoped? I knew it! Oh!”

Caroline called urgently for Jane, but since no-one came she was forced to leave her sister in her father’s care and go to look for help.

In the garden, she found only Paola, resting in the shade.

“Where is my maid?” Caroline asked.

Paola struggled to her feet.

“She is not here, Miss Waters. But they will return soon. She and my brother, they have been away long. I will send someone else right away.”

Caroline returned to the parlour where Eliza now sat, clinging to each arm of her chair as if sailing a cockleshell on a running tide. William stood next to her, a calming hand on her shoulder.

A dark stranger, looking embarrassed, was speaking urgently to Luke beside the window. Even at this distance Caroline could see Luke’s intense concentration.

“Did you find help?” he asked Caroline sharply.

“Paola says she will send someone, Mr Hathern.”

But no-one came.

At last, sounds beyond the door, a rustle of skirts, then Caroline heard soft exclamations.

Fabio appeared with Jane, explaining why their outing had taken so long.

“A procession,” the young man began breathlessly.

“Should I fetch the lavender water for poor Mrs Field?” Jane cut in quickly. “Or the smelling salts?”

Caroline, blessing the girl for her quick wits, sent her for both.

Amid a swirl of comings and goings, she realised the tall thin man had turned away from his conversation with Luke. He was preparing to leave.

“Who is that?” Caroline whispered as both passed by where she knelt beside Eliza.

“Kellard’s man,” Luke answered, in a low voice. “Here with a proposition you might find of interest, Miss Waters. We must speak later.”

Caroline was about to ask what proposition when the stranger had the misfortune to meet a small whirlwind while crossing the mosaic moon.

“Nico!” Caroline called in warning, but she was too late.

Nico, as ever, was unscathed, but Kellard’s man staggered and only remained on his feet at all because he managed to grip the newel post at the foot of the stairs.

His scattered papers he rescued, but he left behind a glove as he scurried through the tall front doors.

Signor!” Nico shouted, waving the lost glove above his tousled head.

Caroline knew Nico wasn’t likely to give up the chase even as the man moved out into the street.

She left Jane and her father ministering to her sister, and strode after Nico to make sure the child came to no harm.

Eventually the small figure stopped, and she saw it was only because he’d caught up with the stranger.

The man took his stray glove awkwardly, and for a moment Caroline saw his naked hand.

Nico turned into a wriggling eel the moment Caroline took charge of him, so it was a while before she realised where she’d seen those badly injured fingers before.

Nico ran to his mother, while Caroline froze in thought at the centre of the mosaic moon.

“You will be pleased to hear your sister is recovering,” she heard Luke say as he approached.

Caroline grew aware of his curious expression as though she viewed it through a lifting gauze veil.

“Is something wrong, Miss Waters?”

“Indeed there is, Mr Hathern. I think you had better tell me exactly what Mr Kellard’s man had to say.”

“You’ve met him before?” Luke asked.

Caroline nodded, but for the moment she did not say where.

For, as she now realised, she had last met Mr Kellard’s messenger on a busy South American quayside, moments before the seeds of the Flower of Hope disappeared from her father’s cabin.

Was there a connection?



Alison Cook