Flower Of Hope – Episode 38

AT home, the maid brought in a smudged letter, newly arrived.

Caroline turned it over in her hand twice before she realised it was addressed to her, and that its battered state was due to its long journey. She opened it.

Jane’s neat, rounded handwriting had changed hardly at all, except that it looked more sure of itself.

Dear Signora Waters, Caroline read.

I hope you are well, and your father. My husband and I are very happy. He dug out and mended Paola’s fountain, also he made the water run again at Signor Kellard’s house which is a miracle, since the stream now reaches the village as it used to and is not stopped inside the gardens. So Signor Kellard must share it, even though he didn’t want to. Which serves him right.

I have a son, and he is very handsome like his papa. We call him Edoardo. Nico brings him toys, and his Zia Paola spoils him very much. She sends her kind regards.

Please tell Albert my news, and say I remember him kindly. Also Mrs Blackett, should she remember me.

Now I must close this letter, with my best wishes.

Jane Bartolini.

Caroline smiled. So Fabio and Jane had a son! What good news.

It was also particularly good to hear that Fabio had dealt so successfully with Kellard.

Caroline was sure Luke would like to hear of it. Then she remembered his recent coolness. It was true he hadn’t avoided her altogether, but she missed their old, easy discussions.

As winter moved into spring, Luke arrived unexpectedly at Lyon Place. After a short, happy exchange of news William sent him into the garden.

“You might find Caroline among the flower beds,” he suggested, but his tone said he wasn’t certain where she was.

“I will find her.”

Luke was already on his way. If he didn’t tell Caroline his news very soon, he felt he’d burst.

He went along the gravel path behind the kitchens. Pausing beside a fuchsia, he looked about him.

Then he spotted Albert, a crumpled hat pulled well down against the chilly airs of early spring, gathering together tools that had been left on the lawn.

“There she is, sir.” William’s manservant waved an arm towards the end of the path. “Though I don’t think Miss Waters be expecting visitors, Mr Hathern.”

That was certainly true. Luke didn’t know many respectable folk who would care to be found doing work usually carried out by a servant.

He reached the side of the well-wrapped figure kneeling in the blown dust beside the flowerbeds, digging in the turned earth.

He cleared his throat, and Caroline looked up. There was an earthy smudge across her nose, a twig caught in her voluminous hat and a thick brown muffler knotted around her neck.

“Mr Hathern!” she said, as calmly as if they were meeting in some grand ballroom, and not a muddy London back garden.

She sat back on her heels, frowning a little.

“I won’t get up, if you’ll forgive me. There’s much to do.”

“A pity. I was hoping to entice you away to Hathern’s for a while for a special viewing.”

Luke found his voice wavering. He hadn’t meant it to, of course, but his news was exciting and he longed to share it with the people most involved.

“You see, today Nash found one of the seeds . . .”

Caroline was on her feet in an instant, scattering gloves and twine.

“Do you mean the Flower of Hope?” she demanded.

Luke nodded, and suddenly both of them were laughing and holding hands.

“I thought you might . . . what I mean is, would you like to see it?” he asked breathlessly.

“Would I?” Caroline said, eyes shining. She checked herself suddenly. “What about Papa?”

“He’s very pleased to hear the news,” Luke said. “But he says he prefers not to leave home on such a chill day.”

“I’m pleased he’s taking Doctor Bradlin’s advice seriously.” Caroline was already clearing up. “Will you ask Albert to come with us, please?”

“Of course. My carriage is outside,” Luke said eagerly.

“I won’t keep you one moment,” Caroline said.

He watched her scurry back up the path to the house, the edges of her disreputable coat flying, tearing off the muffler as she went.

She called impatiently to Albert as she passed him, almost breaking into a run.

Luke followed more slowly, to allow her time to unwind herself from those enveloping scarves. Then he, too, found himself hurrying to join them.

Suddenly he wanted to run, skip and jump like any six-year-old! The care he and his staff had taken throughout the winter had delivered the thing all of them most wanted. But surely these warm feelings meant something more than that . . .

As Luke entered the hallway to wait for Caroline and Albert to appear, he realised why everything suddenly felt more hopeful.

It had as much to do with being in receipt of Caroline’s smile as it had with any budding leaves.

How foolish he’d been to keep his distance since their return, and all on account of him wishing for more than friendship.

Painful though it might be, he decided from now on he ought to be content with whatever Caroline offered.

Alison Cook