Flower Of Hope – Episode 27

ALBERT Lea settled himself on the stone steps leading to the kitchen yard. He tilted his face to the warm sunshine, then took up one of two large, stiff brushes to clean his master’s boots.

Adding to his contentment was the knowledge he would soon be home in London. The only thing spoiling his happiness that morning was the sight of Jane Allebone’s tear-stained face.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Jane sobbed.

Albert patted the step beside him.

“Just talk, and I’ll listen.”

Jane sat beside him.

“It’s Signor Bartolini.”

Albert pursed his lips.

“If the signora’s young brother has upset you, he’ll have me to answer to!” His voice came low and fierce.

Jane shook her head.

“It’s not that. Fabio has asked me to marry him!”

“What?” Albert gasped. “You would leave your Miss Caroline with no help, and yourself with no work?”

Tears welled in Jane’s eyes once more.

“I have lain awake these three nights! I dread what Miss Waters will say.”

Just then Matthew Field swung into the yard with Rufus trotting at his heels. Jane sprang to her feet and would have disappeared had he not called to her.

“My mother expects me to walk with her and Aunt Caroline. Take care of Rufus.” He peered at Jane. “Is something wrong?”

She didn’t answer.

“Albert?” Matthew asked.

“Fabio wants to marry her,” Albert confided.

“Is that all?”

Albert frowned. Young Matthew Field had no business being flippant.

But he was pleased to see, when Jane made her

story clear, the lad had the grace to speak soberly.

“Don’t mind my aunt,” Matthew advised. “Even when she sounds cross, she often isn’t. Best to get it over with. You have no objection to Fabio’s offer?”

“None, sir.” Jane blushed.

Albert recalled the rumour that Matthew had had to give up some London girl he’d fallen for. The boy had fled. It was, in a way, why they’d all found themselves in Florence looking for him.

Matthew led Jane to the parlour while Albert buffed his master’s already sparkling boots.

Caroline smiled at Jane.

“Do you need something? A new apron, perhaps?”

Jane shook her head. She had one chance to get this right, because yesterday Fabio had said he loved her!

“Signor Bartolini – Fabio – has asked me to marry him,” she said.

“Is that your wish?”

Jane managed a nod.

“Speak up!” Caroline said briskly. “If I’m to give my opinion, I must hear that you know your own mind.”

Jane found her voice.

“I want to marry him more than anything!”

“You know it means leaving your post, Jane? Leaving everything, including your country?”

One of Caroline’s sketches fell from the desk. Jane stooped to return it. Who would look after her mistress once Jane left?

“Oh, ma’am, I shan’t miss England, for Italy is so beautiful. I shall miss you. But either I must leave you, or him. Fabio says you will find another servant, while he will never find another girl to love!”

It was the most heartfelt speech of Jane’s young life, and it left her shaking.

Caroline thought.

“Very well.”

“Thank you, miss.” Jane dried her eyes.

“Save your gratitude. I will think better of Fabio when he speaks to me on his own account.”

Jane hurried from the room, her knees shaky. She dropped on to a wooden bench near the kitchen and stared, unseeing, at the floor. She heard Fabio before she saw him.

“Jane?” he whispered, taking her hand. “Why your poor eyes so pink?”

He kneeled before her.

“I did not intend that you face this alone, little one!”

“My mistress promises she will hear you!” Jane said with a wobbly smile. “Go now!”

Alison Cook