And So It Begins...
Staying overnight in the tunnels was almost too much for Catherine, but the thought of the long trek back to her apartment and then being there alone with no midnight visit from Vincent to look forward to, was even worse. Thus she flitted in and out of sleep, restless for his presence, lost within and without unable to settle. Somewhere deep inside when she did fitfully doze she expected the touch of a warm hand upon her brow, checking her temperature and when it did not come even in sleep Catherine was not disillusioned that he would. Her deep subconscious knew that he had gone and would never take care of her well being in that way ever again.
Therefore even before first light Catherine was up and dressed, there was nowhere to go but she simply could not rest another moment.
Instead she paced the floor of the guest chamber she had been loaned trying to keep her mind on anything, something that would hold her to sanity and give her the strength to help Father through his grief and any one else that needed it. This day she would take the children to the mirror pool. Jamie had briefed her before bedtime on the names of children that had wanted to come. They needed to say their goodbyes and send their messages in flicking sparks of paper that would spiral above the fire and up through the ceiling above the mirror pool to a place that no one knew, for simply no one did know what was above, just this natural rock chimney with light at the top that could have been for all intents and purposes heaven as far as the children were concerned. But that was scheduled to take place three hours in time, and Catherine felt that if she didn’t soon find respite from her restlessness she would go mad, and so much as Vincent had done on occasions she donned her jacket and left the chamber deciding that traipsing the tunnels was better than being still.
Her footsteps took her nowhere and everywhere, she let her feet guide her and found herself standing beneath the nook where she and Vincent had spent many happy hours looking at the Waterfall. She found herself listening to the whispering voices on the bridge over the abyss and wondered if Vincent’s voice might be among them. There she found the frustration of hearing sobbing children, frightened women and not being able to trace or do anything about them. Such a place could send a person mad she concluded leaving the bridge and heading she knew not where. Finally at a crossroads she became undecided. Whether to stay below or rejoin her world, however some pull was stronger than the desire to go above and Catherine found her feet taking her in the direction of Father’s chamber where on her approach the sound of soft moaning could be heard. Catherine’s heart reacted violently to Father’s grief and not considering that she might be intruding she entered the dimly lit chamber and asked after his welfare.
“I’m here, Catherine.” His troubled voice told her, and she entered, eyes squinting against the unaccustomed dimness, slightly darker than that she had found within the lantern lit tunnels. There were no need for words, stumbling to his side Catherine sat down alongside him on his bed and took his hands in hers. They were cold, but through the light of one solitary candle she could tell that his face was red and swollen from crying and his brow looked hot and feverish. “Father, you’re not well!” Catherine exclaimed, “Why didn’t you call for someone?”
“I’m a doctor.” Father laughed derisively, “I know my own treatment, and everyone is equally indisposed. I’ll survive.”
“But you would rather you didn’t. Have you taken anything?” Catherine asked shrewdly.
“What is there to take? Will Mary Poppins’ medicine make me feel whole again? I fear Catherine that only magic could. I miss him so much. How can I ever live on without him?” Father fought back a sob.
“I know how you feel, but you like me are relied upon by others, we have to be strong for them Father. The little ones…”
“The little ones will recover, they will forget or Vincent will become as a fond memory. Catherine he was my son!”
There was little Catherine could say in response to that. Vincent had been her life but she knew if she allowed it that she could move on, she could not visualise a life without him but time would heal, however the loss of a child must be indeed a tragedy, for one would continually beat oneself up over it and with Father being a doctor and not able to save his son, then that must be doubly tragic.
“I can’t pretend to know how you feel, Father but if its any consolation, my heart is breaking too.”
“I know Catherine, and thank God for you. Thank God that Vincent knew what love was, even though he never experienced it in the fullest sense of the word. Part of him was a man and he loved you dearly.”
Catherine hadn’t meant to say anything, but something in Father’s tone, some sadness that his son had left the world unfulfilled nudged her in the ribs and made her say, “He loved me passionately too.”
For a moment time ticked by as Catherine’s words and obvious meaning sank in and Father turned with incredulous eyes “You mean?” He asked with disbelief.
“Yes.” Tears in her eyes Catherine replied, nodding, “And it was beautiful for the both of us.”
“Oh Catherine! I never knew. He never said…oh Catherine, oh my dear you are one remarkable woman.” Drawing her close Father hugged her against him. In so few all important words Catherine had suddenly been elevated in his eyes to the woman that had truly loved his son, forsaking all others to be with him, in the fullest possible way. “I love you Catherine.”
The heartfelt way he said it had tears gushing from Catherine’s eyes and she felt this was not the time, if ever there’d be one to tell him when that particular wonderful, mind blowing event had actually taken place. It was just enough for him to know that it had. It made Father feel complete, as though he had done his very best that a parent could do, guiding and shaping his youngling in such a way that a beautiful woman could not only find it within herself to fall in love with that child, but to give herself to him too.
“Now I know that you loved my son.” Father told her pulling back from her arms a little to study her face, “I’m sorry, Catherine for all the times that I tried to come between you.”
“You loved him Father, you weren’t to know that I would not harm him, you did what every good parent would do. You looked out for your child’s heart lest it be broken. There was nothing wrong in that.”
“You’re too kind Catherine, but we both know that my reasons were that I was jealous of the attention that he paid you. Having convinced myself that Vincent would be around me for the rest of my days it came as a complete shock to find that some other held his heart. It had been bad enough with Lisa but I was able to expel her from the community, I couldn’t do that with you try as I might, for Vincent would just follow wherever you led. Can you ever forgive me, my dear? I put up obstacles where there should have been none. Without my interference you and Vincent may have achieved so much more together, might even have got married.” A wan smile brightened Father’s eyes when he said this, “Just imagine huh being married to Vincent. Would you have given up your life above to be with him?”
Catherine smiled, “With hindsight I might have considered anything. If I’d known that Vincent’s life would be cut short I would have spent much more time with him. There should be a lesson in there somewhere Father, we should always give of ourselves even when it’s the last thing that we want to do, not that I didn’t want to spend time with Vincent, but that I shouldn’t have let work cloud out the time we could have been together. I didn’t need to work, I could have been here full time.”
“And because we cannot see into the future, that set up would have made you restless. Vincent would never have allowed it either.” Father chuckled remembering some occasions when Catherine had begged to live with Vincent and he had refused bringing up all kinds of reasons why she should not. “Its just that every time Vincent maintained that you would be wasting your life by tying yourself to him he forcefully reminded himself and me of what he was and I had come to accept his reasons. And yet you tell me that you and he became lovers. That is what you meant isn’t it?” Suddenly Father wondered if he might have got hold of the wrong end of the stick.
“Yes, that’s what I meant, Father. But it had only recently happened, so Vincent’s views may eventually have changed but its something we’ll never know.” Both were quiet for a while each left to their own thoughts and daydreams, until something prompted Father to ask, “I know its really none of my business…but…well…did either of you consider…that is…oh I’m sorry Catherine, I shouldn’t be asking.” Seeing him blush Catherine did not pursue it. Whatever he had wanted to know had clearly embarrassed him and she felt it would likely embarrass her too. Therefore she said nothing and he did not bring it up again. Instead they moved to less delicate areas while Catherine made tea and buttered some scones warming them first over the brazier. “Here Father, you have to eat.” She told him handing him one on a plate. He bit into it, relished the warm pastry and swallowed but did not take another bite. “You must eat too.” He had wanted to add, desperately wanted to add, “You are eating for two.” But he did not know that and it grated on his nerves that he dare not ask. Though his son could never be replaced the hope that there might be another to follow in his footsteps made Father feel so much better. And that too annoyed him, but in some small way he understood why he felt as he did, a slim hope was better than none, and another chance of bringing up such a child under his care gave him a reason for continuing to live and with his natural doctoral inclination, making love and having babies went hand in hand, after all Grace had born him a son after just one never to be repeated again moment of passion, so Father knew that it could happen.
“What will you do now?” Father asked as if that question was the most important in the world and in a way it was, he could do little for Vincent now, but he could continue to look after the woman that he loved, he could do that much.
“I haven’t even thought about it. Work will of course help me to keep my mind off of it, and they say time is a great healer, but I don’t know Father, I don’t think I will ever heal from this. There will never come again a man like Vincent. Even if we should find another in his image it wouldn’t be him. You did a grand job in raising him Father. Much of Vincent’s personality was down to you and for that I am grateful.”
“Strange when you think on it, if I hadn’t been a doctor, Vincent might never have carried you down here to heal that first night, have you ever thought of that?” Father asked sipping his tea.
“He would have done something though wouldn’t he? He wouldn’t have left me there to die it wasn’t in him to turn the other cheek. But I see what you mean, had he not brought me here, we might never have met in the literal sense and I would never have fallen in love with him.”
Father beamed, “It does my heart glad to hear you speak like that my dear. I never thought I would ever hear a woman confess to falling in love with Vincent. The two of you were the proverbial beauty and the beast, except that your story hasn’t had a happy ending and has had a rocky path all the way through. You shouldn’t have been denied happiness Catherine, it should never have happened. Vincent should never have died!” It was the first time that Catherine had seen Father so angry over his son’s death and she hurried to place a comforting hand upon his shoulder, squeezing tightly showing her affection.
“Don’t beat yourself up over it Father. You did all that you could do in the circumstances no one will ever say that you could have done more. And Vincent knew, and he went to the cave to die if either of us should be filled with remorse it should be me.”
Father looked at her sceptically over the rim of his mug and then asked, “How do you draw that conclusion?”
Taking a deep breath, Catherine exhaled with a long sigh, “I’ve misled you Father. I wasn’t going to tell you this, but if it stops you blaming yourself then I have to do. Its true that Vincent and I became lovers, but what you don’t know is that it happened only the once and then down in the cave when I went to him, just before he…”
“Just before he died?” Father’s eyes were wide and incredulous, “Oh Catherine, that’s even worse!”
“Even worse than what?” Catherine managed a wan smile.
“Wrong choice of words, my dear. What I mean is that he should die after such a miraculous event in his life…oh…you don’t mean that you are blaming yourself for his death due to it are you? I mean you aren’t assuming that his heart gave out due to that combined with all the other things?”
“Like it was the last straw? Was it?” Catherine’s eyes searched his hoping to find the answers there. “Father I would gladly have traded one fleeting moment of bliss for a lifetime of platonic love if I could have Vincent with me now.”
“Yes I know, but Catherine there is something else isn’t there. You implied such earlier when you spoke of remorse?” Father’s kindly eyes looked into hers, begging for her revelation.
“Vincent was always against such a joining…”
“Yes I know.”
“Yet I pushed him all the time. It was what I wanted more than anything…I wanted to love him, show him what love could really be, but he was always so afraid…terrified that he would hurt me by his massive strength alone…” Catherine sighed and continued slowly, “Had I not of goaded him, had I not have pushed for something he was unprepared to give, I truly believe that he would not have undergone that madness and frustration would not have caused him to act like he did. Father, I am to blame for Vincent’s illness, I know I am!” Catherine wailed and burst into tears.
“No, no Catherine. It was Paracelsus you know that. He goaded Vincent… it was he that started the turn of events that led to Vincent losing his mind.”
“Events that Vincent thought were true because I had demanded more of him than he could give, oh Father don’t you see it? Paracelsus fed on the belief Vincent held that he was animal incapable of love in that way. And our Bond only aided him to know of my needs. That he felt he could not satisfy me caused him to believe that I would leave him and go to someone that could. You didn’t know it, Father but Vincent constantly tried to palm me off onto Elliot Burch, despite how that would have broken his heart.”
“I didn’t know that.” Drawing in a deep breath, Father finally announced, “We’re going nowhere with this Catherine, and it doesn’t change facts. You cannot apportion the blame wholly to yourself I take some of the share and no amount of arguing about it is going to bring Vincent back. I suppose by some merit of lightness we could venture to say that my son died happy?”
Surprised that he could joke about it amazed Catherine, even so his kindly eyes spoke of his mischievousness as well as his sympathy, and Catherine knew he wasn’t being malicious, he hadn’t it in him and he wouldn’t be so as he suffered the same feelings of guilt as she. So she returned his smile with a slight one of her own, and hoped it would suffice to show that she had not be offended by his remark.
“Yes, Father. I think of that we can guarantee. Vincent did die happy and at peace.”
“Yes Father?” Something in his tone belied more than was implicated “Is something bothering you, still?” Catherine grinned just a little.
“I know I shouldn’t ask…it really is none of my business…but if you went to Vincent at the cave and did not plan for such things to happen…and Vincent certainly would not have done…then…” Suddenly, following his train of thought Catherine understood what it had been he had wanted to ask earlier and she gasped.
“Father!” Eyes wide she looked at him incredulously and a hand strayed unwittingly to her abdomen, and Father knew that she had understood. “Could it be possible?” The hope that flared in her heart was seen in her eyes and Father nodded, “I don’t want to speculate, but yes it is possible. How would that make you feel, my dear?”
“Make me feel? Oh Father, are you kidding! Oh to have this…a part of Vincent…oh Father…I would love it!”
Tears gathered and fell from two pairs of eyes and Catherine threw herself into Father’s arms. Her heart pounded, ‘oh let it be so, let it happen, oh please let it be so.’ And Father’s thudded in rhythm, ‘Dear God please let Catherine be pregnant, please let it be so, please let her bear a son…a son with a kittenish face and golden hair…a son of my son…oh let it be so…please, please, please.’
*** *** ***
Later that morning other tunnel members saw a drastic change in Catherine than that of her appearance the day before. She seemed to float on air and led the group of children to the mirror pool with much enthusiasm, so much so that they started to come out of their shells and join in without too much sadness. One by one they read their letters out loud, although for some it was a private affair, popping the sheets of folded paper into the fire and watching the heat take the charred paper up and away and out of their midst as it tugged by a ghostly apparition that would repair the letters and hand them to Vincent wherever he was. Still Catherine could not help shedding some tears, as the occasion brought back another memory and stealing a glance in Eric’s direction she knew that he remembered just as vividly the day when they had sat around the mirror pool doing exactly the same thing, sending notes of love to his sister, Ellie.
Catherine stood, brushed sand from her pants and walked to where Eric sat opposite to where she had been. There she dropped to her knees and with an arm around his shoulders hugged him close. The threatened tears that he had so wanted to shed but had held at bay came then and he whispered brokenly, “Ellie is lucky now. She has Vincent with her.”
“Vincent will never be that far off from any one of us.” Catherine told the group that appealed to her for answers. Some had murmured that Ellie was indeed lucky but that had left them without Vincent. “He taught you many things, and you can make him proud by continuing with those things. When he looks down on you Vincent will be so proud of your achievements. Never think that he cannot see you. Ellie too will be so proud of her brother for learning carpentry from Cullen and using that gift to make nice things for the rest of you and if you ever do feel alone you can come here and feel close to them again. You can always send more messages too, this doesn’t have to be the only time.”
“Will you be staying here?” Geoffrey asked. He’d been wondering about that ever since he had escorted Catherine down two days ago.
“I haven’t decided. But if I do return above I will always consider this my home and visit often. You can also come up to see me at the apartment, try to get father to come up and stay sometime, it will do him good to get out in the sunshine, I think.”
“I don’t think Father will live very long now.” Geoffrey spoke his thoughts out loud causing several children to gasp with horror, and leaving Catherine to pacify them until she was certain that Geoffrey’s remark had been forgotten. Geoffrey never spoke again, but he still believed what he thought would be. Even more so, when leaving the mirror pool a rattling on the pipes signified that something important was happening in the tunnels, though Catherine did not think it was within her place to enquire and continued to escort the children back to their parents. It was only when she found those same parents in a flap that she felt inclined to enquire.
“Narcissa is missing!” Olivia told her hurrying through the tunnels on route to Father’s chamber.
“Missing? Narcissa is always missing.” Catherine stated as she fell into step with Olivia.
“I know, but apparently there are signs of a scuffle. Wherever Narcissa is, she isn’t there by design. Someone has kidnapped her.”
“But that’s ridiculous!” Catherine cried, “Who would want to do that?”
“I don’t know Cathy. No one has attempted to hurt her before, and though she is a little weird she is a dearly loved member of our community and one several of us hold in high regard.”
“Yes Vincent did too.”
“I know.” They rounded the final corner to Father’s chamber and found a group had already congregated there. Father was in their midst, directing search parties with the aid of various maps and the general atmosphere was one of apprehension and fear. Catherine understood at once, without Vincent their defence was down, if someone had kidnapped an old blind lady what more could they do?
When his chamber was empty Father turned to Catherine, “I know you should help with the search Catherine, I know that you want to, but please do not be offended if I do not assign you some territory.” His eyes wandered down to her belly and she understood, even though she did not agree. “If it’s to happen Father, it will happen, nothing we can do will change that.”
“I disagree. Catherine this child is so important to me, and I won’t let the chance of anything happening that might cause you to lose it.”
Catherine laughed, “Father, I don’t need to remind you that it might not even have happened.”
“No, all the same its best not to take unnecessary risks besides there are quite enough people searching for Narcissa already, you could stay here and look after me.”
Chuckling Catherine replied, “Humour you don’t you mean?” Father had the grace to blush but set about boiling a kettle without further ado his intention obvious. “You’ll keep me company today I take it?” He asked her. Defeated, Catherine nodded, besides she didn’t really want to be anywhere else. Vincent’s chamber seemed foreboding and her own one was empty without him, so Father’s chamber with its warmth and his company would be just right.
“I’ve been thinking Catherine. Correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t there some tester kits that one can buy at drug stores these days that would establish things for us? Seems silly to wait weeks in hopeful expectation if we can know sooner. At least then we will not be building up our hopes to have them dashed six weeks from now. When is your next menstruation due?”
Catherine almost choked on her tea. Father didn’t beat about the bush did he? Suddenly she wondered whether having Vincent’s child was such a good thing. Father was obviously shifting thoughts to the past. By believing in a child in his son’s image he could almost believe that his son had not died at all. Catherine wondered whether she should ask Peter’s advice. Father obviously had let go too soon and would likely be in for a fall if he weren’t careful.
“I’ll make an appointment to see Peter if that would make you feel any better?” Catherine told him.
Father’s eyes lit up, “Then go today, Catherine promise me that you’ll go today?” She almost heard the words, ‘I must know’ tagged on to what he’d said and it worried her greatly.
Nodding Catherine reached for her jacket recently discarded, “Okay, but I’ll be back tonight. And oh Father by the way, as Vincent’s casket entombing has been delayed due to Narcissa’s disappearance, have Winslow and William refrain from smothering the casket with cement. I’ve had a better idea. While I’m up top I’ll order some marble panels, we’ll use those instead. Nothing but the best for Vincent.”
Though he acknowledged what she said, Father seemed to look right through her, leaving Catherine feeling very uneasy. His eyes seemed to focus on her belly and look only to the future…nothing else seemed important.” “I’ll go see Peter, “ Catherine told him, “I’ll be back as soon as there is anything to tell. Good luck with finding Narcissa.”
Father nodded and his presence alone seemed to usher Catherine from his chamber leaving her troubled all the more. Whether she was carrying Vincent’s child or not remained to be seen. It was what it would do to Father if she wasn’t that worried her the most now for clearly she could see that he had his heart set on it.
*** *** ***
Catherine didn’t return straight away. Taking the piece of paper that Peter had handed her back to her apartment Catherine’s mind was in turmoil. Father had been right about the testing kits. There had been several available on the market that not only could give a positive or a negative result after a missed period, but some could at a price, for they were expensive, tell if a woman had conceived within three days of intercourse. Catherine clutched the evidence to her, a slim pen like object with three pink lines that told her that she most definitely without a whisper of a doubt carried Vincent’s child.
The revelation of that turned Catherine’s world upside down. Why now? When there was no Vincent to share the joyous news and when there was a foreboding feeling that telling his father would create so many problems, many of them that she only speculated upon. Peter had been of like mind when it had come to her explanation of that, but his advice had been heart warming, “ Jacob just wants something to cling to Catherine. Vincent’s death has been such a blow to him. Ordinarily losing a child is bad enough, but Vincent was so extraordinary and it must feel as though a chapter had closed forever on his life. Try not to worry, just know that never will there be a grandfather so doting.”
Catherine smoothed the note and stared at it. With it she could take maternity leave from her job, but what of that? Could she actually present such a note to Joe and then have an acceptable reason as to why he could never see her baby? Even if the child should look normal other problems were posed, not least of all who and where was the father? Catherine didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for her when they knew he had died, neither did she want some gallant male to offer her marriage and a father for her child as if that was what she needed and apart from all those things, what of her? What of her needs? Did she not get a say in it now? Was her fate, sighed, sealed and delivered? Would she have to spend the rest of her life living beneath the city that she adored with out the man that she loved? Catherine wasn’t certain that she could do it, and suddenly she realised something…neither had Father been sure of that! So that was why he had been so excited! Of course, if she could not live below, the upbringing of her child would fall primarily on his shoulders - was that what he wanted? Did Father believe that by having the son of his son close by he could hold onto Vincent forever?
Catherine didn’t really know. She clutched at explanations as they flitted through her mind, and an overwhelming sadness enveloped her. Beneath her heart she carried Vincent’s child…Vincent’s child! She shook her head with disbelief it was wonderful and all so tragic…and then before she could put it off any longer she donned her shoes and jacket again and set off for the tunnels.
*** *** ***
Father was in conference when she arrived back, and with almost indecent haste he dismissed the people bringing reports on no news of Narcissa and ushered her in, then before the last person was even out of sight, he asked her, “Well?”
Wearily sitting, Catherine nodded, “Yes Father. I’m pregnant.” She replied watching his face very closely.
It was a picture. So many emotions chased their way across Father’s face that it was impossible for Catherine to keep up, until finally he leaned back in his chair and with a triumphant smile told her, “and so it begins…again.”
Regretfully Catherine worried about that comment. What had begun again? Did her early misgivings have foundation? Father’s next comment told her the answer to that.
“We will assign you the guest chamber, unless you would rather have Vincent’s, yes I think that would be suitably fitting. Forget the guest chamber and move straight into Vincent’s. When the time comes you will have the baby down here, there is no question of anywhere else. Peter and I will keep a close eye on you, and I think you should hand in your resignation at work straight away. This child is precious Catherine, and we must do everything in our power to keep it safe. After it is born of course what you do is up to you. Should you chose to return above then I will not stand in your way, only the child must remain here. You do see that don’t you? There is no way Vincent’s child can be reared above. Even if he did not resemble his father.”
Catherine had difficulty keeping up and the happiness gushing out of Father was almost too much to bear. “Father stop, stop, you’re moving too fast. Anyone would think that you are happy that…” She had been going to say that Vincent had died, but knew that to be wrong, however Father turned on her understanding the unspoken word, “NEVER!” He cried, “Never assume that I am glad Vincent is dead. On the other hand never assume that I will sit by and have no say whatsoever in the welfare of his child. That’s my grandchild you are carrying Catherine, and I do have a right to any decision regarding it. Vincent would want that, and he would expect me to take care of you…” Suddenly Father paled, “Oh Lord, you wasn’t contemplating a termination were you?”
“No!” Catherine snapped, “How could I? But I do feel as though I am trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea right now, Father. Can’t you see, I am the one carrying this child and whatever your rights, the final say is mine. And I will not come to live here just yet, I can’t, not without Vincent, but I will have the baby here that goes without saying. As to its future that will be up to me also.”
The two regarded one another hotly and both could see it would be a battle of wills. Neither would back down and both wanted what was best for the child, unfortunately living in different worlds would mean that the features of the child would force the trigger into that particular game of Russian Roulette and the problem even if Catherine did foresee the drawbacks, was that neither were prepared to lose.
*** *** ***
To be continued in Chapter Three.