“You look better every time I see you, James.” Emily smiled. It had been two days since her last visit. It was good to see him sitting up, and fortunate that his makeshift bed in the field hospital was across from the opening of the tent so that he could see a little of the outside world.
The afternoon sun cast a warm glow across Gold Gate Park, with the promise of a glorious sunset. But James’s eyes were fixed on the sweet freckled face before him.
“It’s all thanks to extraordinary people, Emily – Cheng Tao’s friends, the doctors here . . . and you.”
“I haven’t done anything. The doctors want to learn what you were treated with in the Chinese camp. They were very impressed.”
“They’ve discovered things that western doctors know nothing about. And they risked their lives for me. I don’t know how to thank them.”
“They wanted to thank you for all that you’ve done for the Chinese community.”
Emily had felt she was walking a tightrope of diplomacy when, a week ago, she had begged Cheng Tao if they might move James to the hospital. He had started to recover – almost miraculously, it seemed – but then he’d taken a turn for the worse.
Cheng Tao had agreed. Now, there was no question in anyone’s mind that James’s recovery had been a shared victory, and that with it came the hope of greater understanding, respect and co-operation with the oppressed Chinese community.
“James, I have wonderful news!”
“The Farringtons? Have they been found?”
“Yes! Lord Witney was able to trace their whereabouts, and now they are all together in a hotel across the bay. Lord Witney came to see me this morning. And look what he brought.”
She reached into a satchel, took out a small box and lifted the lid.
There were the sprigs of lavender from outside the cottage, her mother’s embroidered handkerchief, her rag doll with only one button eye, the needle case that Sarah had made for her, the packet of letters, Will’s postcard . . .
A broad smile spread across James’s face, his eyes lighting on the most recent of the precious keepsakes. It was a red rosebud, now dried to a pale cerise, that he had plucked from the vase on their table at the Palace Hotel and given to her. He reached out a finger to touch it.
“Lord Witney had insisted on going back to the house to conduct a search for valuables,” Emily went on. “It hadn’t burned or been dynamited, and the Farringtons were so relieved. They explained where they’d left everything, and where to look. The officers searched my room as well. Lord Witney has been so kind, and he’s coming again tomorrow.”
As they gazed down at the little pile of memories, the silence between them was filled with relief, hope and foreboding.
“He’ll book passage to England as soon as it’s possible,” Emily finished.
She had barely slept since her meeting with him. The most agonising decision of her life had been hovering, and now it sat before her, huge and unavoidable in its urgency. Tomorrow Lord Witney would take her away from the camp, across the bay to the Farringtons. Soon they would board the train, and then the ship . . .
James’s gaze was steady.
“Emily, may I ask one thing? Please remember this – your future belongs to you. You must make your own decision. No-one else should make it for you. I keep thinking of you opening that shop you’ve always dreamed of. There has never been a better time! I’ve seen such determination, energy and spirit here. I’ve been told there are businesses cropping up and starting again, even amongst the rubble.”
For a moment Emily let her mind whirl with the exciting fantasy. Could it ever become reality? But her heart was torn in so many directions.