Flower Of Hope – Episode 24

WHAT kind of dog is it?” William asked.

He hadn’t stopped smiling once.

“Impossible to tell,” Matthew said, one steadying hand on Rufus’s narrow head while the dog drank noisily from a bowl of water. “I don’t doubt there’s something of the lurcher in him, though.’’

The rescuers had safely reached the yard, and Caroline, elated beyond words, stood back to watch the swirl of events.

Bit by bit, the excitement had begun to settle.

“You’re lucky we came back when we did,” William said.

“Where is it you’ve been, Grandfather?”

“A most amazing garden, my boy! Come, let me tell you about it, while we wait for your mother.”

Caroline, still clutching her mule’s reins, reviewed their morning’s work. Happiness was threatened by a sudden hollowness when she brought to mind everything that could have gone wrong.

She instantly recovered, because nothing had!

For proof, here was her nephew, talking about dogs and smiling with his grandfather.

Despite Caroline’s inner turmoil, it was not in her nature to leave tasks undone. Everyone was hot and dusty, but Fabio must be thanked, Jane restored to her usual duties, the mules fed and watered and the cart returned to its station.

Caroline looked across the yard towards the benign, smiling doctor, his straw hat askew. She hurried over to tell him he was owed the greatest debt of gratitude.

“Where is Mrs Field?” he asked her.

“Papa,” Caroline called. “Has anyone seen Eliza?”

“You sister will be down directly!” her father assured her as he vanished inside, one hand holding his grandson’s arm as if he’d never let go.

Jane shook the blankets from the back of the cart. She heard a screech, and there was Nico, wanting to know where she’d been and why her face was so dirty.

“Be patient, little one!” she said, smiling.

“Tell me now!” the boy demanded, wrapping himself into her skirt and giggling.

Struggling to disentangle herself, she found the problem unexpectedly resolved. Luke Hathern strode angrily into the yard and grabbed Nico by the arm.

“I will take the boy inside.” Caroline intervened.

“I think you first owe me an explanation about this morning,” Luke said.

Caroline, tight-lipped, did not reply.

“Nico, go to your mother,” Luke said, watching Caroline’s face.

Unfortunately Nico was in no mood to obey. He ducked out of Luke’s grasp and pelted after Fabio and the mules.

Jane recalled what Fabio had once said as he’d taught her to guide the cart.

“The mule is not stubborn, but intelligent! He does not follow orders if he feels danger.”

Jane realised Mr Hathern understood the danger, too, because he reached for the boy and swung Nico out of danger as the mule kicked.

Unfortunately, the animal’s hoof caught a glancing blow on Mr Hathern instead.

Dr Bradlin rushed forward, and Nico escaped to the kitchens. Then Mr Hathern doubled over, his face white, wincing as he breathed.

“I will take care of him,” Dr Bradlin said. “Miss Waters, please go to your sister. And Jane, you will send Albert Lea to me immediately.”

After the noisy upset in the yard, Caroline entered a silent parlour. Matthew stood beside the table as if carved from wood. William had taken a chair, his hands gripping the arms.

Caroline was alert for her sister’s footfall across the mosaic floor. Already anxious about Luke’s condition, not to mention his angry questions, she prepared herself for an outburst from her sister.

Instead, wearing a dark, patterned shawl about her shoulders, Eliza stopped at the door. For a long minute no-one moved.

Matthew slowly met his mother’s gaze.

“You have put us all to a great deal of trouble,” Eliza stated, her eyes glistening.

“Yes, Mama,” Matthew whispered.

“Your aunt and our dear Doctor Bradlin have risked their lives! Not to mention Signor Bartolini. We should not forget the young maidservant in our care, also dragged into danger.”

Caroline, scarcely breathing, wondered how long her sister could maintain this calm.

“Will you not welcome your son, Eliza?” she asked gently.

“I wish to hear his apology, Caroline,” Eliza said, clasping and unclasping her hands. “He should be grown enough to admit to foolishness.”

Her betraying voice shook, but only a little.

Matthew’s head bowed and he studied the floor.

“I am very sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused, Mama,” he said at last.

At that, Caroline was relieved to see, Eliza didn’t hesitate and swept her shaken son into her arms.

The words she whispered against his fair, curling hair, broken and tearful, were words of love and forgiveness.

“We will leave them,” William said quietly.

He led the way out and Caroline followed while Jane closed the door.

Dr Bradlin, standing on the mosaic moon, was preparing to leave.

“Mr Hathern is recovering in the smaller parlour,” he told them.

“How is he?” Caroline asked.

“Bruised only, thank goodness. I shall call again tomorrow. Much against my advice, Miss Waters, he insists on seeing you immediately.”

Alison Cook