Flower Of Hope – Episode 22

THE overseer was unhelpful.

“See for yourself, Doctor. I have only slow, old men,” he said, replying to Joseph Bradlin in Italian. “Others are too ill to leave their beds, more’s the pity!”

“But we were promised that our young man was here!” Joseph Bradlin protested.

Caroline unhurriedly detached herself from the doctor’s side while he continued pleading with the overseer. She walked along the ragged line of diggers.

Most bent to their shovels, eyes downcast as they turned the dusty earth.

She halted opposite the last. Despite the pale, streaked face, plastered fair hair and fixed expression, she knew who he was.

“Matthew,” she said gently, touching his arm, amazed at her own calm. “We have come to take you home.”

Matthew Field staggered and dropped his shovel, while Dr Bradlin hurried to Caroline’s side.

Behind them, the overseer bellowed.

“He says ‘no, no,’” Bradlin said breathlessly, interpreting the shouts that echoed across the field. “He says this one cannot leave, because he is . . . because another comes for him. Someone with authority.”

“I have every authority,” Caroline replied loudly. She shook out the letter and waved it in plain

sight. The overseer stuck out his chin, looking belligerent.

“They have men who are ill, Miss Waters,” the doctor said urgently. “I have offered help, but only if Matthew comes, too.

“I . . . I’m very much afraid I led the overseer to believe the boy is my errant assistant. It seemed to improve our case for negotiation with someone more senior.”

Caroline smiled at him gratefully. Then she spread her arms and embraced her shocked nephew.

“I can see you’ve had a fright, Matty, dear, with us turning up like this. We will discuss things while the patients are attended to. By the way, where is the infirmary?”

“In the chapel, Aunt Caroline. But we don’t have a doctor,” Matthew began, his voice hoarse and unused.

“Fortunately, we’ve brought one with us,” Caroline said briskly, and ignoring the overseer, she led Matty away.

In the chapel there was the smell of herbs, hot candlewax and washed and unwashed linen. Among the huddle of beds, and tended by monks, a patient was coughing.

At least two other patients were soldiers, Caroline guessed, brought in by friends to recover from injury.

As soon as her sight adjusted to the relative gloom, she offered to make herself useful, and was put to rolling bandages.

She quickly appreciated how tiny the building was. The decoration of it, by contrast, was anything but small scale. Wherever Caroline gazed there were exquisite carvings and brilliantly painted scenes that told stories of care, hope, and love.

Here was the Good Samaritan, and St Francis.

St Biagio was there, too, holding the crossed candles in his hands, a symbol of his healing power.

By this time, Caroline’s head was whirling at the colour and the detail, so she calmed her sight by attending to the doctor’s progress.

Alison Cook