Flower Of Hope – Episode 30

THE next morning so many trunks, cases, bags and valises covered the floor that the mosaic moon was eclipsed. Fabio had taken Rufus out to the back yard to prevent his escape through the great open doors at the front.

Caroline passed them, hurrying into the hallway.

“Goodness!” she said to William, who was doing his best to supervise. “Is all this Eliza’s luggage?”

“Mostly, Carrie dear,” her father said above the hullaballoo of the servants loading the carts. “Although don’t forget, Doctor Bradlin is travelling with them, too.”

Jane rushed up, bearing packages wrapped in strong paper and string.

“Food for the journey, sir,” she said to William. “Signora Smith says please do not let them be squashed before they reach the railway station!”

William sent Jane in the direction of Eliza’s new servants, two stout, sensible women hired in Florence to help with the journey.

There was a commotion at the kitchen door as Paola appeared, looking for Luke. Caroline couldn’t help seeing how closely they stood, and how tearfully Paola took her leave.

Then she remembered that by now Luke had probably told his friend the full circumstances of her husband’s accident.

Paola clearly did not blame him. She clung to his arm as if hoping to persuade him to stay in Florence for ever.

At last Luke murmured something close to her ear, and she kissed his hand, hurrying back through the doorway.

Caroline moved towards the staircase at the same moment. Luke stood aside to let her pass. She turned to speak, having it in mind to ask if some of her flower paintings might travel with him.

Preoccupied, he gazed distantly while directing where yet another a bag should be carried, and the chance was lost.

Caroline watched him as he strode away. She was aware a coolness had grown between them since she’d told him her plan to see Kellard’s garden.

Eliza’s opinion was that Caroline had upset him by deciding her maid might stay in Italy.

But now Caroline couldn’t be sure Luke’s distraction didn’t have an added cause – a growing affection for the widow of his dear friend.

Despite continued sharp differences of opinion following the museum visit, when it was time to say goodbye Eliza grew tearful. Caroline consoled her sister and gave a warm hug (plus brisk advice) to her nephew.

Finally, and more formally, she shook hands with Dr Bradlin.

“I wish you a safe journey, too,” Caroline said, offering her hand to Luke.

For answer, he nodded and climbed up swiftly beside the doctor. Then he seemed to regret such an abrupt leavetaking.

“Make that traditional wish in the market place before you go,” he reminded her. “And take great care when you visit Kellard, do you hear me?”

He reached for and held Caroline’s hand.

“Perhaps I will, at last, charm the Flower of Hope away from him!” she replied, smiling up at him.

“On no account attempt anything so foolish!” Luke said urgently.

The cart jolted. As the travellers moved off, the emphatic grip of Luke’s fingers became a memory within

Caroline’s folded, empty hand. She saw him look back once, then he was gone.

Alison Cook