Flower Of Hope – Episode 20

HERE was where Bonnie Prince Charlie lived in exile.” Luke leaned on a balustrade. “He was then known as the Count of Albany.”

Caroline gazed from the vantage point she and her maid, Jane, had reached with Luke in the famous Boboli Gardens. She appreciated Florence’s beauty, but this morning her mind was elsewhere.

She felt suddenly anxious.

“Where is my father?”

William had been walking behind with his manservant, Albert Lea.

“He went with Albert to visit the grotto,” Luke said. “Shall we walk on?”

Caroline wondered how he managed to act as if so little worried him. As if there had been no stolen

seeds, no delaying bureaucracy and, above all, no family members set on claiming a missing son.

He had not mentioned their strange visitor of yesterday, either.

“Don’t worry, Miss Waters, I can offer you a strong arm if the climb proves tiring,” Luke said.

“Thank you.” Caroline was well able to negotiate mountain slopes.

They reached the highest point of the Boboli Gardens. Florence, city of the Renaissance, was spread before them. Caroline gazed beyond the gardens towards sunlit palaces, piazzas, the gleaming river and the red-tiled rooftops.

Above all was the magnificent dome of the cathedral.

“The Duomo looks wonderful,” Caroline said. “Rebuilding seems in progress wherever we look!”

“Florence wishes to be a worthy capital,” her companion agreed. “Some changes have caused trouble. The main market area, for example.”

“Mr Hathern, when will you tell me what was said in the parlour yesterday?”

“My apologies.” Luke frowned. “I recognised our visitor from London. He and Kellard at present live in Florence, where lies the amazing garden he described to your father on our journey. The servant was sent to tell me . . .”

“Let me guess. The Flower of Hope seeds can be ours – for a large payment?”

The surprise on Luke’s face was gratifying.

“How did you know?”

“The man lost his glove in the courtyard, and I recognised his injured hand,” she said. “I encountered that same man on a South American quayside, moments before someone took those seeds.”

“What do you think I should do?” Luke asked. “If we don’t pay, we may lose them for good.”

Caroline considered.

“We obtained those seeds by agreement. Kellard did not,” she began.

“But?” Luke prompted.

“He is an opportunist, but you say he has a genuine feeling for plants. I feel the seeds’ survival is paramount. He might have more success here.”

“Yes, I’d considered that.”

“What was his price?”

Luke shook his head, meaning it was far too high.

“Do we have anything he might want, apart from money?” Caroline persisted.

“Bargain for our own seeds? Never!”

“Call it negotiation,” she suggested. “He might agree to less.”

Luke laughed.

“I’m amazed at the sidelong way you look at things. I will count myself lucky you’re not planning to deceive me!”

Jane ducked her head and both she and her mistress smiled.

Caroline’s father arrived breathless with Albert at that moment.

“When will we hear more of Matthew’s return, Mr Hathern?”

“I have recently had news,” Luke admitted. “Matthew has recovered, so the monks say he no longer needs their care.”

“Where will he go?” Caroline demanded.

“An English custodian is suggested to help with family negotiations. I’ve been told our Mr Kellard has offered to take him in.”

“What? It’s possible to trust this man with plants,” Caroline said, aghast, “but we know how devious Kellard is with people!”

Kellard had clearly ingratiated himself with the authorities in Florence, and she feared the worst if Matthew was handed over.

Jane edged closer to her mistress, sympathising.

“Certainly, we should speak to Kellard,” Luke agreed calmly. “Mr Waters, might we visit his mysterious Florentine garden? We can make the case for Matthew’s return as soon as he’s brought back to the city. I can arrange it, if you wish.”

Caroline watched in disbelief as her father gave his grim-faced assent.

She shut her eyes, needing to think. She opened them to see her maid clasping the shawl she carried for her.

Jane seemed to be reading her mind. Caroline hoped no-one else in the group had the least inkling of her plans.

Alison Cook