Caverns Measureless to Man


By Linda White

 

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Other BatB Stories by

Linda White

A Crisis of Confidence

Vincent’s Day in the Sunshine

The Haunted Clock

The Plastic Surgeon

Origins

Blood Bond

And also appearing in the 29th Annual Beauty and the Beast Conzine

The Nightmare

 

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Dear Beauty and the Beast Fans,

One of my favorite episodes from the original show was entitled

“When the Bluebird Sings”

In one scene from that episode, Vincent and Catherine are standing at the Tunnel Entrance and Vincent speaks. “I was away. There’s a place, miles beneath the city. There’s a river that runs through the darkness. Sometimes I go there.”

Those lines have inspired this story!

 

 

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Caverns, Measureless to Man

 

“You look tired, Father,” came Vincent’s concerned remark.

“I admit I am fatigued-- feeling my age, I suppose. This year’s outbreaks of flu and bronchitis are more virulent than I’ve seen in many a year,” replied Father wearily. “I just hope Peter arrives soon with more antibiotics.”

“Don’t worry, Father, he’s never let us down before.”

As if on cue, Dr. Peter Alcott entered Father’s chamber carrying a box of medical supplies.

“Thank goodness,” murmured Father. “You’re a godsend, Peter. We’ve had four new outbreaks just this week. Can you stay and help?”

“I’m sorry, Jacob. I can’t. I’m heading to Connecticut as soon as I leave here. This concerns you too, Vincent. Catherine telephoned this morning. She’s come down with it… chills, fever, and the incessant coughing… the whole gamut of symptoms.”

“Has she sought local treatment?” Vincent asked anxiously.

“She says no,” said Peter gravely. “But she’s cancelled her appointment with the house painters for the time being and taken to her bed… which tells me she felt too poorly to attempt driving back to New York. She asked if it was possible for me to drive out there. As if I could refuse her! She’s like a daughter to me, as you well know.”

Vincent looked beseechingly at Father, and the elder patriarch knew exactly what was passing through his adopted son’s mind.

“Go, Vincent! She’ll need you, too! Don’t worry. We’ll manage here. Mary is keeping watch now, and some of the others are volunteering in the ward.”

“Thank you, Father.”

“I anticipated that you’d want to come, Vincent,” said Peter. “We’ll need to repeat the Burn Patient scenario1 in order for me to transport you out there safely, so we need to get back to my clinic and get your head and claws wrapped in gauze.You can go in via the door in the sub-basement. I unlocked it before I came here.”

“I’ll meet you over there shortly, then.”

“Allright, but hurry. It’s going to take at least forty minutes or so to plow through New York traffic and get across the state line. Thankfully her summer house is only a few miles over the border.”

*****

It was just dusk when they pulled into Catherine’s long driveway. Vincent had already removed all the gauze from his head and claws. He had known instinctively when they were nearly there.

“We made good time,” remarked Peter. “Starting before rush hour made a difference and once we were out of the city, the country roads were very quiet.”

Peter honked the horn to alert Catherine to their arrival. She would be expecting him. They saw the front door open and, even at a distance, Vincent could see how pale she looked. His heart was filled with sorrow to see her suffering.

Catherine waved, not at all surprised to see Vincent standing there with Peter, but just then she was overcome with a fit of coughing. Vincent dashed up the drive and swept her up in his strong arms. He carried her inside and gently laid her on the sofa in the living room. Peter, medical bag in hand, was hot on Vincent’s heels. Peter pulled an inhalant from his bag and squirted it into Catherine. The coughing eased up.

“That sounded bad,” Peter remarked gravely. “Let’s see what is going on with you.” He began his examination.

Meanwhile, Vincent was rubbing her back in soft strokes. He knew instinctively that her whole chest cavity and rib cage were hurting, remembering that some of her ribs had been broken that time he had first found her in the park. It had been a few years since then, but she must be feeling the pain of coughing more acutely because of the previous damage to her ribs.

Peter applied the stethoscope. “Deep breaths, Cathy,” Peter directed. She did her best to comply. “Again. In and out, slowly, breathing as deeply as you can.”

Peter put the stethoscope away. “It’s good we came today, Cathy. No pneumonia, but a bad case of bronchitis or, as we call it, an infection of the air passages. I’m going to give you some strong meds and an equally strong cough medicine. That should help you sleep.”

“Thank you both for coming. I haven’t been this sick in a long time. Vincent, I’m happy you’re here, but you took an awful risk in coming. I hope you don’t catch this awful bug.”

“No more risk than I faced in the tunnels, Catherine. Several of our people are also sick with this nasty bug, as you call it. Father has his hands full.”

I was going to drive to the clinic in town, but I’ve been coughing so badly, I feared I’d pass out in the car and get into a bad accident. If you had not been available to come, Peter, I’d have called a cab, I suppose.”

“Well, there are a couple of options open to you, Cathy. We can bring you back with us or you can stay here under Vincent’s care. I’ll stay myself for a couple of nights… make sure you’re responding well to the drugs, but then I have to get back to town. My staff is handling things for the moment, but I fear we will shortly have more cases, and I want to go Below if time permits to help Jacob deal with the cases he has.”

“Then, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather stay here. I feel I can rest better as it’s so much quieter out here than in town. Besides, Vincent is the best caregiver on the planet! I feel better already, with him here.”

Peter could swear Vincent was blushing. “All right, Cathy, but at the least sign of things worsening, I want you to call an ambulance and get to the hospital. Understood? I can come back later and pick Vincent up if it comes to that.”

She nodded her acceptance.

*****

Catherine was sitting on the sofa, while Vincent, sitting opposite in the big wing chair, had been reading to her. She was feeling much better after a week on the strong meds Peter had given her.

Vincent closed the book, having read the last page.

She sighed. “Thank you, Vincent.”

“For what, Catherine?”

“For taking such good care of me, and for reading to me. I am reminded of how we first came to know each other… that time I lay wounded so grievously and all I had to hold my sanity together was your devoted care and the sound of your wonderful voice. I never tire of hearing it. I believe it heals me as much as Peter’s medicines.”

“Always, Catherine. Always. What is it they say at weddings? In sickness and in health. I will take care of you in whatever circumstances that befall us.” He arose from the wing chair and crossed to the sofa. He sat down beside her and pulled her into his arms. She laid her head on his shoulders. “I love you, Vincent,” she murmured.

“I love you too, Catherine.” Vincent held her like that until she fell asleep and then he lifted her easily and carried her into the bedroom. He carefully laid her in the bed then, quietly removing most of his clothing, crept in beside her. He enfolded her in his arms and held her gently throughout the night.

*****

The following morning, Vincent was surprised upon awakening to not only find Catherine dressed, but making breakfast. “I feel tons better, Vincent. Are you hungry? I’m making pancakes and there’s fresh coffee.”

“Thank you, Catherine,” he replied, helping himself to a mug of coffee. “I am hungry.”

“I’ve put some hiking boots on this morning.” Vincent looked down to see that she had, indeed, done so. “I thought we could take a walk. The weather is nice, and I think we’ve been cooped up too long.”

“We have,” he agreed. “But we must be careful that you don’t overdo it. I don’t want you to have a relapse. Peter would have my head on a platter! Any ideas where we should go?”

“I thought maybe that path down by the brook. The trail is not arduous, and the sound of the rushing water is pleasant.”

“A perfect choice. Shall we pack a lunch to have on our way?”

“That’s a good idea.” She smiled.

It was so good to see her feeling better and smiling. Soon, they had a hamper filled with food. “Let me get my own hiking boots from the bedroom closet,” he said. “I’ll be right back.” He wandered off down the hall but was back in a moment with the boots. He sat on a kitchen chair and began to switch footwear.

“Are those the boots I gave you last Christmas?” she asked.

“Yes, they’ve come in handy quite a bit out here in Connecticut. Some of your trails are quite challenging.”

Just then, the phone rang, making Catherine jump about a foot. The phone just didn’t ring much out here in the country. She picked up the receiver. “Hello.” After a moment, she held the phone out to Vincent. “It’s Peter. He wants to talk to you, Vincent. He probably wants a report on my well-being.” She gave him an enigmatic little smile.

Vincent put the phone to his ear. “Hello, this is Vincent.”

“Vincent, Peter here. I just wanted to check up on Catherine. How’s she doing?”

Vincent gave Peter a brief summary and was glad to note that Peter seemed pleased that they were about to take a nature walk.

“Just make sure she doesn’t overdo it, Vincent. I don’t want her relapsing.”

Vincent laughed to himself, knowing he had said that very thing not five minutes ago. “I will keep a close eye on her,” he promised.

“Listen, Vincent. I checked in with Jacob, and there is no pressing need for you to hurry back. All is well Below. He has everybody who was ill on the mend. He sends his love to you both.”

“Thank you, Peter.” They said their good-byes and hung up.

“I’ve locked the backdoor, Vincent,” said Catherine. “Shall we go out the front?”

Vincent nodded and picked up the hamper of food. They left by the front door, locking it behind them. They walked down the long gravel driveway, then turned aside, taking a shortcut through a small apple orchard.

On the other side of the orchard, they found the path that followed the brook. They walked in silence for a time, simply enjoying the fresh air and the sounds of nature, the babbling of the brook, birds singing, and the gentle breeze sighing through the trees.

Presently, Vincent spoke. “Do you know what this reminds me of, Catherine?”

“What’s that, Vincent?”

“It reminds me of the overture and second movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral, his sixth symphony. They say he himself was inspired by time spent in the country. He must have gone there and heard the wonderful sounds of nature before he lost his hearing completely. The music mimics the sounds so beautifully.”

“Well, let’s hope we don’t get the equivalent of his third movement… the big thunderstorm!” she remarked dryly.

Vincent chortled. “Good point. Let’s hope not.”

A few minutes later, they came to a fork in the path. The path to the right continued to follow the course of the brook, but the path to the left seemed to meander off through a meadow of tall grass. “Have you ever taken the path to the left, Catherine?”

“To be honest, I don’t remember ever going that way. I’ve always taken the path that follows the brook. Isn’t that funny? My own property and I am still unfamiliar with parts of it. Hard to recall every detail of a sixty-acre plot! Maybe we should go that way and see where it leads.”

“I’m game if you are,” he said. “Perhaps there are wonders to behold.”

She laughed. “You’re such a romantic, Vincent.”

Vincent smiled. It was so good to hear her laughing instead of coughing.

They turned toward the left and began to follow that path. The grass had grown so tall it was hard to see what lay ahead but after a moment, Catherine pointed. “Look, Vincent. There’s a small hill up ahead. Maybe we can have our picnic at the top. The view might be nice.”

Vincent nodded agreement and they made for the hill.

The hill turned out to be a bit steeper than it had first appeared and Catherine was quite winded by the time they reached the top.

“Are you quite all right, Catherine?” Vincent asked, suddenly worried.

She bent over, taking some deep breaths. She realized she wasn’t quite up to running marathons just yet. “I’m okay. Just got myself a tad winded, that’s all. I’ll be okay in a minute.”

Vincent looked all around. “Well, you were right about one thing, Catherine. The view is fantastic.”

Catherine looked up to see that he was quite correct. The vista of gently rolling hills was lovely. They spread their blanket under a stately old elm out of the direct sun and began to unpack their lunch.

*****

“I do believe that’s the most food I’ve eaten in a month!” declared Catherine. “I’m stuffed. I feel like I could take a nap.”

“It is good to see that you have an appetite.” He leaned against one of the big elm trees. “Here, curl up in my lap if you like, and sleep.”

“Thank you, Vincent, but I think I need to get up and walk for a bit, instead.” She arose and looked around. “There’s a huge boulder over there. They say all the gigantic boulders scattered throughout the Northeast were deposited by melting glaciers during the last ice age. I’m going to go check that one out.”

Vincent, who was perfectly content leaning against his tree, replied. “Okay, don’t get lost.”

Catherine wandered in the direction of the boulder. Vincent closed his eyes, thinking a short nap might be nice. He no sooner closed his eyes when a sharp jab of fear came through the bond and, in the distance, he heard a soft cry.

Vincent was instantly in motion, running in the direction of the large boulder. When he reached the spot however, she was nowhere in sight. He called out. “Catherine, where are you?”

“Here, Vincent.” He heard her, but the sound was muffled. And then he saw it on the other side of the huge rock. A gaping sinkhole in the ground, perhaps five or six feet deep. He approached the edge and looked down. Catherine was at the bottom.

“Are you injured, Catherine?”

“I don’t think so, Vincent. Just shocked. Luckily, I fell on a pile of leaves.”

“Hold on, I’ll get you out.” Vincent laid flat to the ground and extended his arms over the edge of the sinkhole. “Grab hold, Catherine. I’ll pull you up.”

“Wait, Vincent. I think this hole is the entrance to a cave of some sort. You should have a look at this.”

Vincent examined the edges of the sinkhole and satisfied himself that there were tree roots protruding here and there so that there might be something to grasp and climb back out. “I’m coming down.” He leaped into the hole, landing easily on his feet. He hugged Catherine. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Yes, I’m fine. Just scared me, that’s all.” She pointed to what looked like a cave entrance under a lot of hanging tree roots.

“I think you’re right, Catherine. It does look like an entrance to a cave. The sinkhole must have exposed this opening. I wonder how far back it goes?”

“It might be fun to explore, but we don’t even have so much as a flashlight with us. Maybe we can come back with some equipment and explore a bit.”

And Vincent suddenly realized their quiet walk in the woods had just turned into an adventure!

*****

Three days later, Catherine was feeling like her normal self and full of energy. They had assembled an assortment of equipment they had found down in the boathouse by the lake, including kerosene lanterns.

Catherine had checked in with Peter the night before and made him aware of what they were up to. “Make sure you bring a first aid kit,” he had admonished.

“Don’t worry, it’s the first thing I packed,” she had replied.

They set off along the path by the brook, then turned left again at the fork, traversing up the hill, which was easier this time for Catherine to climb. They retraced their steps to the big boulder and found the sinkhole. Vincent took hold of Catherine’s hands and gently lowered her, backpack and all, into the hole, then jumped in himself, once again landing on his feet like some super gymnast executing a perfect dismount.

“Your feline grace never ceases to amaze me,” Catherine said in wonder.

“All part of the Vincent package,” he quipped. He had long ago come to terms with the aspects of the leonine part of his nature and all that it implied.

Vincent took a couple of moments to get the kerosene lanterns lit. “We’ll keep the flashlights in our pockets as backup, okay? No sense wasting the batteries. The lanterns will last a lot longer. As you know, we use a lot of kerosene lanterns and candles in the world Below, only tapping the city’s electricity marginally so as not to be noticed. Mouse proposes we should build a Tesla-style dynamo at the Chamber of the Falls and generate our own electricity.”

“That’s a brilliant idea, Vincent. Would Father and the other Council members sanction a project like that? I’d be glad to help with the costs.”

“Well, there’s been a lot of argument back and forth among the people. Some say it would be wonderful and some argue that it would destroy the beauty of the Chamber of the Falls. Ironically, it is that faction which complains the loudest that we don’t have enough power.”

“Is there a way to hide the dynamo? Behind the falls, perhaps.”

“Possibly. Mouse, Cullen and some of the others are looking at ideas.”

Catherine suddenly sensed they were on an incline. “Vincent, does it seem like we’re going downhill?”

“Yes, I noticed. A gradual slope.”

“We should look at the compass. Will it work down here, do you think?”

“Not necessary, Catherine. We are currently heading in a southwesterly direction.”

“Are you sure, Vincent?”

He quirked his eyebrows at her. “I’ve lived in caverns and tunnels my whole life, Catherine. I believe I have an inborn sense about such things.”

“Of course. All part of the Vincent package,” she said teasingly.

Suddenly, the passage they were traversing seemed to be getting narrower. “We may have to go single file through that cleft in the rock,” he said. “Watch your step. I think there is a lot of moisture ahead. The floor of the cave may be wet.”

“How do you know that?” she asked, amazed at his uncanny senses.

“I can smell it.”

They carefully eased through the narrower passage. Vincent went first. If there was any danger at all, he didn’t want Catherine to become a victim of it. But the passage came out into a much larger chamber filled with dozens of stalagmites and stalactites.

“How beautiful,” said Catherine enthusiastically. “But I can never remember which ones are stalagmites and which ones are stalactites.”

“Well, if you remember that stalactite has a C in it, then you can remember that the C stands for ceiling. Stalactites grow down from the ceilings of caves. Stalagmite, on the other hand, has a G. Hence, G for ground. Those grow upwards from the ground.”

“Brilliant! A very useful mnemonic.”

They proceeded through the vast chamber, mindful of the moisture, but also looking for further passage. And then they both heard it. The rushing of water. “Look, Catherine, there is another deep cut in the rock up ahead and from the sound of it, an underground river beyond.”

They turned their steps toward the sound of the rushing water. Once again, Vincent led the way, easing his large frame through the rock cut. He turned to hold Catherine’s hand as she eased through behind him. As they came into a much larger chamber, they were rewarded with one of the most spectacular sights either one of them had ever seen. Two gushing waterfalls spilled into a beautiful pool of crystalline water. And above, patches of sunlight shone through several small holes where rock and soil had worn away to illuminate this fairyland grotto.

“This is utterly beautiful,” said Catherine in complete awe. “Do you think it’s still within the boundaries of my land, Vincent? Could I possibly be the owner of something so beautiful, yet never to have known before?”

“Indeed, I can’t help wondering if we are the first to ever witness this amazing sight, so very much like our own Chamber of the Falls, yet with a beauty all its own. Yes, I think we are still within the margins of your acreage, Catherine.”

A line from a Coleridge poem suddenly came to Catherine. “…where Alf the sacred river ran, in caverns measureless to man, down to a sunless sea.”

“Perhaps we should name this river Alf,” said Vincent.

“Oh, Vincent, I love that idea. Our own private sacred river. What could be more beautiful? Can we rest here for a while? This is truly a magical place.”

“Of course. There might be a dry spot on that ledge where you can sit.” He pointed. “I want to check out these waters and see if they are deep enough for a swim.”

“I’ll use one of the sleeping bags for padding, Vincent. Don’t float away.”

“Fear not, fair maiden,” he quipped. “I’ll rejoin you presently.”

With that, he climbed carefully down to the edge of the pool. He took his hiking boots and thick socks off and dangled his feet over the edge. He was surprised to find that the water was warm. He turned back toward Catherine. “Catherine, the water in this pool is warm. Do you see how this stream is fed by two sources? One must be a hot spring and the other a colder stream.” By this time, Vincent had shed the rest of his clothing and waded out waist high. He took a few sips of water to moisten his throat. “How odd,” he muttered. Before Catherine could ask what he meant, he submerged.

A full two minutes passed and just when Catherine was beginning to panic, he broke the surface in a watery spray like some Atlantean god from Neptune’s domain. He was magnificent.

“I was right, Catherine. This underground river is being fed by two sources. The hot spring feeds it from the west while the cooler waters flow from the north. There is also something very peculiar about these waters.”

“Peculiar? In what way, Vincent?”

“I sipped a mouthful to moisten my throat just before I went under and the water has a distinct taste to it, identical to an underground river I have often visited below our own tunnels.”

“You can distinguish sources of water by taste, Vincent?” Catherine was flabbergasted.

“Yes, some waters have a high mineral content, others have a brackish salty taste. Still other waters are somewhat alkaline and so on. Can you not taste the difference yourself?”

“Well, I can taste the difference in, let’s say, bottled water versus tap water, but I can’t discern sources of water, certainly not whether the water came from a certain river. This must be one of your Vincent super powers.”

Vincent rolled his eyes but laughed. “The uncanny thing here, though, is that if I’m right, this river may flow downstream far enough to join the flow of water systems beneath our home tunnels. That would explain why I’m tasting the same water.”

“Are you saying this river and these caverns might extend far enough to join with the tunnels of your world, Vincent?”

“I’m saying there’s a high probability!”

“If that’s true, then…”

“Yes, the implication is intriguing. It just might be a way for me to safely travel to your Connecticut house without having to disguise myself and rely on Peter for transport. A very long hike, no doubt, but I have made many such journeys within our own tunnels and cave systems. It was a two-day trek to the cavern where I located the crystal for your necklace, Catherine. And, if you’ll recall, you and I made such a journey when I rescued you from Paracelsus.”

Catherine nodded, remembering that time. Paracelsus had nearly killed them both. She shivered at the memory. But she also knew from that experience that cave systems often go for many miles underground. “We must continue exploring down here, Vincent! We must find out if this system runs all the way through to your home tunnels as you suspect. Do we have enough supplies to continue, or should we go back and get more?”

“Well, we certainly won’t lack for fresh water if this cave continues to follow the course of the underground river, and we packed a lot of food, so we should be fine to continue.”

“How far have we come, do you think?” she asked.

“Not too far, perhaps a mile or two. I estimate we’re right at the southern edge of your property line.”

Catherine groaned. “Only thirty or forty miles to go.”

“Catherine, you’re thinking in road miles. Travelling underground might be much more direct.”

“You’re right, Vincent. I didn’t think of that.”

“It will still be a long hike, assuming this cave system goes all the way through. The only way to know for sure is to explore as far as we can.”

*****

Catherine couldn’t even begin to imagine what the odds must be that not only one, but two different underground passages would provide access for Vincent to be able to reach her safely in both her homes, the one in New York and the house in the Connecticut countryside. She prayed the passage they were currently exploring went all the way to join with his home cave-systems and tunnels. Surely the fates that had forced so many limitations on her beloved Vincent had compensated by providing more generously for him in the ways of love. A gift for her, too! She lifted her head and prayed a silent thank you to the heavens.

Vincent, too, was thinking along those lines. Ever since he’d found Catherine on that fateful night, his destiny had been altered in ways that seemed to allow their love to grow and flourish. He was eternally grateful for it!

“Assuming this underground river system goes all the way, how long do you think it will take to traverse it, Vincent?” she asked curiously.

“If the passage does not deviate from the southwesterly direction too much, and if the course does not become too difficult or dead-end at any point, we can expect to maintain a speed of maybe two or three miles per hour.” Vincent knew that if he were alone, he could travel at least twice that speed, having been used to caves and tunnels his whole life, but he didn’t want to hurt Catherine’s feelings by verbalizing that fact. “I estimate somewhere between twenty and twenty-five miles further before it joins with our systems. Then perhaps another two or three miles in those caverns. We have sleeping bags, Catherine. We could break the journey into two segments and go perhaps another seven or eight miles today, then sleep and continue tomorrow.”

Catherine agreed, trusting implicitly in Vincent’s judgment.

*****

Just when Catherine felt worn out from the long trek and was about to ask Vincent if they could find a good resting spot, they came upon another large chamber. This one was not spectacularly beautiful like the chamber of the two waterfalls, but it was dry except where the streambed flowed through, and fairly level. There would be room to lay the sleeping bags.

“This seems like a good place to make camp,” declared Vincent to Catherine’s intense relief. “There seem to be several little cubbyholes against the left side of the rock face. Perhaps one of those will do for a privy,” he informed her.

Catherine seemed glad of this, having felt the urge for the last half hour. “If you’ll excuse me then, Vincent.” She dug in her bag and retrieved a small package of tissue.

When she came back into the large chamber, Vincent took a turn.

“I’m going to try and wash away most of the sweat and grime of cave travel before turning in, Vincent.” She headed for the stream’s edge. Vincent followed her a short time after that.

Feeling somewhat refreshed, they worked together to put together a meal. Vincent then took some fat pillar candles out of his backpack and lit them, setting them on little rock protrusions around the chamber. He extinguished the kerosene lanterns. “We need to preserve the kerosene until tomorrow, Catherine.”

“Is it just me, or is this cavern especially chilly?” She shivered.

“You might have gotten chilled from the stream water, but it is cold in here. I’ll get a fire going.”

He gathered up all the biodegradable items they’d been using. The towelettes they’d used to dry off, paper plates and cups, and so on, as well as small twigs, pinecones and any other combustible items they could find scattered about the chamber. “It’s amazing what washes down the stream beds,” he remarked.

“Vincent, can we zip the sleeping bags together for warmth?”

“I was just about to suggest it myself.” They soon had the bags zipped together and they both crawled in. Catherine snuggled into Vincent’s warm body and fell asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow, or at least the jacket she had rolled up and was using for a pillow. Vincent turned to watch her face in the dancing light of the candles. How utterly beautiful she is, he thought. He knew he would dream of her as he, too, quietly drifted to sleep.

*****

Catherine stretched and yawned. Vincent was already up and had rekindled the fire. He held a paper cup with instant coffee out to Catherine.

“Mmmm, thank you, Vincent. Just what I need to wake up.” She looked at her watch and frowned. “My watch has stopped. Do you know what time it is?”

“It’s about seven, Catherine.”

Catherine didn’t even question this. She simply trusted his instincts.

“We should get going as soon as you have something to eat. It’ll be another long hike today, assuming we don’t dead-end somewhere along the way. I checked our supplies this morning to make sure we have enough to turn around and go back if we do, in fact, come to a dead end. There’s still a little hot water in the pan here, Catherine. Do you want some instant oatmeal?”

“That would be great. Thank you, Vincent.”

They ate quickly. Once finished, Vincent threw the paper cups and plates on what was left of the fire. He rinsed his little pan in the stream and filled it with a dash of water and brought it back to the fire. He stirred the fire until there was nothing but embers, then threw the remaining water on the embers to douse the last of it.

They grabbed the backpacks and set off.

An hour later, Vincent noticed they were going downhill again. “We’re getting closer to sea level,” he remarked.

“Is that a good thing?” she replied.

“It might be. I might have overestimated the distance we need to travel today.”

“Let’s hope!”

They walked for another two hours, telling silly jokes back and forth to pass the time, then stopped in a little alcove just big enough to eat some lunch. They continued.

Ten minutes later, Vincent suddenly became very excited.

“What is it, Vincent?”

“This flat rocky track, Catherine! I recognize it! It’s the furthest point I ever reached while exploring my underground river system. That means the passage goes through! I absolutely know the rest of the way from here. We did it! We’ll reach our own tunnels in another couple of hours.”

“Oh, Vincent, how wonderful!” She threw her arms around him, hugging him fiercely.

And then they both suddenly had tears of joy, neither of them realizing until that moment just how much hope they had placed on this quest to find safe passage for Vincent. From now on, he would have the twenty-minute walk through the home tunnels to reach her New York brownstone and he would have this, too. A long but safe trek underground to reach her summer house in Connecticut. It was almost beyond belief.

They both fell to their knees and clasped each other. Vincent was murmuring her name over and over. “Catherine, Catherine, Catherine… When I tasted that water in that beautiful cavern on the edge of your Connecticut property, I almost didn’t dare to hope.”

“I know, Vincent. I know. I felt the same way. Your uncanny senses led us to this miraculous discovery.”

“The gods conspire to help us, Catherine!”

“Indeed, they do, Vincent. Indeed, they do, and I am eternally grateful for it.”

“As am I.” He bowed his head in deepest humility, offering up a silent prayer of thanks to the heavens.

*****

A couple of hours later, after they had come through the last leg of their journey, Vincent and Catherine walked nonchalantly into Father’s study, where they found that venerable patriarch chatting quietly with Peter Alcott. The two doctors were both stunned to utter silence!

Finally, Father stammered, “How—?”

Vincent and Catherine looked at each other and broke into laughter.

“Unless I miss my guess,” uttered Peter, “you two have just had quite an adventure.”

“This, I have got to hear,” remarked Father.

Sometime later, after Vincent and Catherine had related their amazing tale, Peter said, “I foresee I’ll be driving you out to Connecticut to retrieve your car, Cathy.”

Catherine’s hand flew to her mouth and she uttered a surprised, “Oh! It never dawned on me when we started out that we’d be hiking all the way here!”

Everybody laughed.

*****

Later, in the quiet of Vincent’s chamber, the intrepid explorers lay in each other’s embrace. “I listened carefully when you were telling the others about our adventure, Vincent. You made no mention of the wonderful cavern with the double waterfall. In fact, you described the entire journey in rather mundane terms.”

“No. No, I didn’t mention that beautiful cavern,” he said matter-of-factly. “Perhaps I am being selfish, but I have a strong desire to keep those truths known only to us.”

“I know exactly how you feel,” she agreed. “If the others became aware of the wondrous beauty of that magical grotto, they would undoubtedly wish to visit it themselves, and it would no longer be our secret place! You and I have been through so much, Vincent. I feel we deserve this tiny little piece of paradise to call our own, a private refuge, if you will. And, it is on my land after all… or rather, under it. Makes me feel a little bit like Alice!”

Vincent chuckled at the reference to Alice. “Yes, this is exactly how I feel! I want to go there again soon, Catherine. I want to swim again in that warm crystalline pool, and I hope you will swim with me next time.”

“Then, perhaps we should tell Peter not to worry about driving me back to Connecticut. Perhaps we should walk back!”

Vincent smiled. “What a splendid idea!”

He gathered her into a tight embrace, kissing her soft lips. His soul-mate, his life partner. The one woman in all the world who knew his heart. They were joined in a bond so deeply enmeshed within one another that he could feel his heart beating in perfect sync with hers. He kissed her again... deeply, passionately. He felt her respond in equal measure.

They were in perfect harmony… another adventure was waiting right around the corner, but for now, the night was theirs.

“I love you, Catherine.”

“And I you, Vincent.”

He blew out the candles.

 

 

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Footnotes:

1. See my story, The Plastic Surgeon