Flower Of Hope – Episode 29

KELLARD finally arrived late in the afternoon. Luke hurried to the hall, but Caroline got to the door before him and Kellard swept in, clearly thinking Caroline was the maid.

Luke frowned, expecting trouble. Instead, Caroline dropped the deepest curtsey Luke had seen.

“My father and I are honoured to see such a famous plantsman here at the pensione!”

“Thank you, Miss –”

“Miss Waters.” Caroline extended her hand.

“The daughter of the equally famous plant-hunter, Mr William Waters?” Recovering quickly, Kellard took her hand. “I am delighted to meet you!’

Luke, astounded, watched Caroline simper. It was surely for effect, but Kellard seemed to imagine this was the way she always behaved.

“You’ve met Mr Hathern,” Caroline said, graciously indicating Luke.

“Indeed.” A stiff bow in Luke’s direction.

“You agree to this?” Luke asked. “Miss Waters’s nephew will loose the dog.”

Kellard bowed again and Matthew, his face pale, slipped the leash. Rufus didn’t move, and Luke saw Matthew could not bring himself to urge the animal from his side.

“What is his name?” Luke asked Kellard.

“I never gave him one,” he said offhandedly.

Luke felt oddly annoyed on Rufus’s behalf.

Then Kellard, in an uncharacteristically humble movement, dropped to one knee.

“Come!” he said kindly, holding out his hand.

Rufus suddenly lifted both raggedy ears and lolloped towards Kellard, adoration on his face.

The man stroked the dog’s neck, and the animal leaned against his knees.

“I would say that proves the case,” their visitor stated, rising to his feet. He looked smug.

Luke glanced at Caroline and Matthew, wishing the evidence before them could be denied.

It was Matthew who broke the tension.

“It’s clear he knows you,” he said, coming forward to shake Kellard’s hand.

He patted Rufus one last time and hurried away.

“You were lucky Matthew cared for your dog while he was lost,” Luke said, relieved the boy had taken the parting so well.

“Perhaps I should have noticed the animal was following me on my visits to San Biagio,” Kellard admitted carelessly. “My servant will collect him tomorrow.”

“Won’t you take him with you now, sir?”

“I have a royal meeting to attend,” Kellard said loftily. “I hardly think his Majesty would appreciate dog hair on his furniture!”

Luke tried to think of how to convey his irritation with Kellard’s high-handedness without losing his co-operation.

“Would you allow me to bring Rufus to you?” Caroline asked.

Kellard turned on her his most charming smile.

“Certainly. Perhaps you would care to view my gardens at the same time?”

“My father spoke of his recent visit with enthusiasm.” Caroline beamed. “I should be delighted!”

“What were you thinking?” Luke demanded as soon as Kellard had left.

“The man is caring towards animals and plants. He is just not very polite towards humans,” Caroline replied. “I am curious to see his garden, and hoped he’d invite me!”

“You mustn’t visit alone,” Luke warned.

“I know that you’re leaving tomorrow. I shall have dear Rufus as my protector,” Caroline replied, smiling fondly at the dog.

“I wish you would take Kellard more seriously!” Luke said tightly.

Caroline laid her free hand on his arm.

“I’ll go with Papa, Albert and Fabio, as well as the dog! Will that do?” she said, suddenly serious.

Luke caught Caroline’s hands in his, as he had once before beside the fountain. He drew her close.

“You are at once the most sensible and most worrying person I have ever met in my life,” he said.

Caroline’s brown-eyed gaze did not waver.

“May I still hope – once we have returned to London – that we may again discuss the future?”

“A new expedition abroad, perhaps?” Caroline asked eagerly. Then she frowned. “Or perhaps you meant an exhibition of paintings in London?”

It was clear to Luke that Caroline never imagined a further discussion of marriage between them. He released her hands gently, one at a time.

The warmth of Florence must surely have caused this awful misjudgement on his part. He must make sure never to mention his feelings so openly in the future.

“Yes, a new expedition,” he said, his voice sinking. “That is what we must decide.”

“Papa and I will be home to help with plans very soon,” Caroline promised.

On the floor, Rufus lowered his head to his front paws and sighed.

Luke, equally miserable, decided not to offer any opinion about Caroline’s decision concerning her maid. He had no wish to mention weddings again.

Alison Cook