Flower Of Hope – Episode 26

CAROLINE waited on the low stone bench in the shade beside the door. Matthew had taken Rufus for a walk, with strict instructions to stay within bounds.

Eliza, for the first time, had gone shopping with Jane and Albert, since her dear Matty needed new shirts and stockings.

Paola and Fabio were busy in the kitchen and Dr Bradlin was due to call upon them all again that afternoon.

Caroline was delighted that the return of good spirits at the pensione had happened so quickly. She wished Luke could feel the same.

“Which way shall we go?” Luke asked, appearing.

He looked calmer, but tired, as if he’d resigned himself to something.

“Widdershins!” Caroline said impishly.

She stood up.

“We shall undoubtedly

meet Matty and his hound halfway.”

They walked slowly and in silence until Luke stopped to commend the flowers that waved beside the path.

Papaver rhoeas, the common poppy. So beautiful,” he murmured, half to himself. “They will be flowering at home, too.”

“You miss London.” It was a statement, not a question. Caroline didn’t expect him to answer at all.

“I do. May we sit?”

They had reached the farthest point from the house. Once, there had been a small fountain here beside the stony path.

Two lively stone cherubs, blotched with lichen, still perched on the grass-filled bowl.

Luke sat on the rim.

“Miss Waters, I should tell you now. I intend to travel home as soon as possible.”

“I hope you haven’t decided to go ahead of time because . . . because of yesterday’s events,” Caroline said.

Luke shook his head.

“It’s not difficult to understand why you wanted your nephew back. But –”

“I admit I was luckier than I deserved,” Caroline broke in. She felt able to say that much.

“You took risks with others’ safety as well as your own. Still, the deed is done. Your father feels, as I do, we must go home. However, I fear we will be forced to leave without the Flower of Hope.”

“But we have our dear Matty safe! That’s the important thing?”

“Yes,” Luke said, smiling at her for the first time, and Caroline’s heart lifted.

She brushed at the sweet-smelling grasses around the stone bowl.

“Forgive me,” she said steadily. “But I noticed you’ve been . . . unsettled sometimes? Yet Paola made you particularly welcome!”

Luke got up and limped around the circle of the fountain, frowning. He crossed the path to stare again at the poppies.

“I think you deserve to know what happened to me in London, during the year that you and your father were away,” he said at last.

“I never listened to the rumours!” Caroline avowed.

Luke smiled bitterly.

“The reality may strike you as worse,” he warned.

Caroline waited, her hands in her lap.

“You know that Edward Smith, Paola’s husband, was my associate and very good friend. He died following a carriage accident in London.”

Luke’s shoulders lifted as he took a deep breath.

“I have always felt particular responsibility for his widow.”

“Yes. Paola has often confided in me how much she likes and trusts you.”

“She would not if she knew the whole story!” Luke said wretchedly. “I blame myself for Edward’s death.”

“Why?” Caroline asked, feeling a catch in her throat.

Luke sat heavily, his hands covering his face.

“Because when the carriage overturned I was the one who was driving!”

Caroline put her hand on Luke’s arm.

“An accident is just that,” she said.

“I know, I know. But that can never be how I feel! Worse, I’ve been too cowardly to tell Paola the whole story!”

“If she truly wants to know, then I say there is no better person she could hear it from than a good friend.”

Luke took a deep breath.

“Thank you for hearing me out, my dear Caroline.”

Anguished, he had used her first name.

“Then we are friends again?” she asked.

Luke Hathern gave the ghost of a smile and lifted her hand to kiss.

Her fingers in gentle imprisonment and her eyes reflected in Luke’s warm gaze, Caroline only gradually became aware of snuffling at her feet.

Rufus had found them.

As Matthew hurried forward to haul the dog away, Luke’s expression chilled.

“What is Kellard’s dog doing here?” he demanded.


Alison Cook