Flower Of Hope – Episode 23

JOSEPH Bradlin edged slowly from bed to bed, offering kind words and practical advice.

Matthew, by now under his direction, well scrubbed and looking every inch his assistant, paced gravely alongside.

One of the younger monks hurried towards Caroline, his shoes padding across the hard floor.

She smoothed out the letter for him.

“I am the boy’s aunt,” she explained in Italian while he read it.

She waited, wearing what she hoped was a confident expression. The monk nodded, unsmiling. The letter was returned.

It took Caroline a further passage of time to realise that, at last, someone had indicated Matthew could leave.

“Doctor,” she said, in his ear. “We can go.”

“I will finish writing my instructions,” he told her without looking up. “Matthew, you have time to collect your belongings.”

On each clenched fist, Caroline suddenly noticed the boy’s knuckles had gone white. Her heart pounded. It came to her she had anticipated everything about this drama except an unexpected change of heart in the final scene.

“What about my friend?” the boy asked, rigid. “I promised.”

Caroline saw from the gleam in the doctor’s eye that Joseph Bradlin might be about to try to reason with Matthew, and she knew it wouldn’t work.

“Tell us where he is, Matthew,” she ordered quickly.

“He’s tied up by the kitchen.”

“Tied up?” the doctor asked, incredulous.

“Who is he, Matthew?” Caroline asked. “Another boy?”

“No. Rufus is a dog, Aunt. If he stays, so do I!”

The usually serene doctor stood up and shut his eyes against such unwelcome delay.

“Doctor, would you mind returning to the cart to say we are coming?”

Caroline felt she must take charge, and quickly pulled Matthew by the sleeve until they were outside.

“If you haven’t recovered your friend in five minutes, we cannot wait longer,” she told him. “Do you understand?”

“Yes, Aunt,” Matthew said, already starting to run.

It occurred to Caroline, hurrying behind him, that her nephew must have grown up, if only a little.

Because, for perhaps the first time, the boy was thinking of some creature other than himself.

At the kitchen, Matthew threw himself to the floor, untying the rangy animal before they’d both finished sliding across the kitchen tiles. The rope fell away, and Matthew grabbed an excited Rufus by the scruff of his neck.

“This way!” Caroline said, turning about.

The cart was in sight beyond the chapel when they heard shouts.

“Someone’s determined we shan’t leave!” Caroline cried.

“Hurry!” Matthew urged Rufus into a gallop.

Jane ran towards them. She and Caroline hauled the squirming animal into the cart and together held him beneath the blanket.

“Get in,” Caroline ordered her nephew. “Don’t let the dog bark.”

Dr Bradlin, already mounted, circled while holding out the reins of her mule.

“Thank you. Signor Bartolini, we should leave!”

Fabio instantly brought the cart round and the overseer’s shouts died behind them. With Matty and Rufus safe beneath the blankets, the rescue party plunged towards home.


Alison Cook