By Ginny Shearin

Chapter 5


During the next few days Vincent showed amazing improvement. He wasn’t ready to run any races or even to venture away from his chamber, but he was moving around a bit on his own and sitting up away from the bed much more often. The screen disappeared from the doorway to indicate visiting hours, which were now twice a day; and with the number of various visitors, he thought he must now know every scrap of news and gossip available in the tunnels. Father had apparently put a stop on any pipe messages that might cause Vincent concern while he recovered. Only messages of dire emergency were to be allowed, and there had blessedly been none of those. Vincent insisted that all messages be reinstated. He promised not to go rushing off to help before he was strong enough; but knowing his son as well as he did, Jacob prayed for an extreme lack of trouble for a few more weeks.

Catherine seemed to be taking on more and more the acceptance of a resident in the community rather than just a helper; and the community seemed to love her now simply for herself. At first there had been some distrust, but she soon proved herself a staunchly loyal and valuable helper; and, of course, they loved her for her devotion to Vincent.

Father brought Peter with him that morning to see the progress Vincent had made. Peter was both astonished and overjoyed to see Vincent on his feet and looking so much healthier.

“What do you suppose could have accomplished such wonders?” he asked Father jokingly.

“Being waited on hand and foot hasn’t hurt, I’m sure. I’ve noticed that the nursing care has been excellent,” Father answered, both of them looking at Vincent with an air of amusement. Vincent stood and looked at the two older men in mock disgust.

“If the two of you have had enough entertainment at my expense, I shall excuse myself to bathe and dress before Catherine returns. I believe I’ve lived in night clothes far too long.”

He made a short formal bow and went in search of comfortable clothing while the two older men talked. After he had dressed, he asked Peter to be sure to stop to see him before going back above.

When Catherine returned with breakfast, she was taken by surprise. She had become so used to seeing Vincent in his night clothes she had forgotten how good he looked in the real ones. She wondered if he had chosen those clothes because they were comfortable or because he knew they were some of her favorites - maybe both. As he sat down to eat breakfast, Vincent consciously allowed himself to bask in her pleasure at his appearance, and he wondered why he had suddenly permitted himself such a vanity. It was certainly unlike him to willingly give in to such feelings.

Finishing sausage, milk and a large stack of pancakes, he mentioned to Catherine that William seemed to be feeding everyone all of his favorite foods lately.

“You and Kipper wouldn’t be responsible for the sudden acquisition of ingredients, would you?” he asked. “And how did you know what to arrange for?” Knowing she couldn’t hide it from him, she laughed.

“I talked to Mary a lot. She’s forgiven me for usurping her place in your recovery, and we’ve both enjoyed conversations about you. You’re in love with a woman who has more money than she knows what to do with, and you deserve to be spoiled now and then. Indulge me a little and at least pretend to enjoy it.”

“The entire community is undoubtedly enjoying it,” he answered, smiling appreciatively.  “You spoil us all. We can’t allow this to go on too long, though. Reality will be too hard to accept, and they may wish me to be ill again.”

“Then I would have to cut them out of the indulgence loop,” she answered quickly, as she stacked dishes on a large tray, “and only spoil you.” Vincent stood to help her, showing signs of regaining the strength and grace of movement everyone was accustomed to seeing in him.

“I’m more spoiled by having you here for so long,” he answered. “I’m becoming much too dependent on seeing your face at the beginning of my day.”

“Good,” she answered lightly, not ready to think about having to leave him again. “Because you aren’t doing without me yet. I can’t give up taking care of you cold turkey. It’s become addictive.”

Catherine picked up the tray to return it and Vincent’s old instincts took over.

“I should be helping you with that,” he said.

“Not yet,” she answered. “Give yourself another day or two. Father says if you keep improving at this rate, we can start taking some short walks. Then I’ll let you help,” she promised.

“I look forward to that,” he answered.


When Catherine returned, Vincent was writing in his journal. Trying her best to hide her curiosity, she straightened the bed and leaned back on the pillows with a book.   

“Most of it is about you,” he said, not even looking up. “When you brought it to me at first, it was more about the illness; but since then the entries have been about you.”

“Maybe it’s time I should move back to the guest chamber,” she answered, feeling a little embarrassed about not being able to hide her curiosity. “You’re enough better now that you probably need more time to yourself. I didn’t mean to intrude into your thoughts.”

“It wasn’t an intrusion, just an agreeable presence,” he answered.

“You’re writing only about me?” Catherine couldn’t help asking.

“About us,” he admitted. “Father has insisted that we need to speak honestly and make decisions about our future. I know he was right, and the journal helps me think.” He still hadn’t faced her. She thought that probably made it easier to say things he wasn’t entirely comfortable saying yet.

“Father has actually said such a thing?!” Catherine exclaimed, and Vincent chuckled.    

“Yes. Apparently you won him over quite thoroughly while I was ill.”

“Well, that’s one more bridge we don’t have to cross on our journey,” Catherine laughed, with evident relief.

Vincent still didn’t look up. He closed the journal and sat a little sideways in the chair, his head still down, shifting the pen back and forth between his hands for a few seconds.


“Yes?” she answered, looking up.

“Don’t move back to the guest chamber,” he said softly.

She went to him immediately, putting her arms around him from behind and nestling her face in his hair. He reached up to hold her arms in his hands.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” she answered happily. Then, to add to her happiness, he leaned his head back against her shoulder and turned so his forehead rested against her cheek. She pressed her face a little closer to his and smiled.

“I know you have to go back to work soon,” he told her with a resigned sigh, “but this time it will be more difficult to see you go.” She held him a little tighter.

“It will be harder for me, too.” 

“Do you know how much I love you?” he asked.

“I think so,” she answered. “Do you know how much I love you?”

He leaned his face closer against hers and indulged in a brief, self-deprecating little chortle. “I don’t pretend to understand your reasons, but yes, I know,” he answered, and he tightened his hold on her arms.

“Thank you, Father,” she thought, “for whatever you said to point Vincent in this direction.”


Toward the end of the evening visits Kanin stopped by. When the last of the other visitors had gone, Catherine pulled the screen across the door again. She stayed for a little while and talked with them, then she went to do some visiting of her own to allow them time to talk alone. She knew Vincent enjoyed Kanin’s company. He seemed to be able to speak more freely with him than with most of the others, and she knew he had missed that while Kanin was gone. She enjoyed spending time with Olivia as well, and they both enjoyed Luke. This was about as close as she and Vincent came to having another couple to spend time with. She hadn’t realized that she had missed that, too.

She went to the nursery to see if she could help with the bedtime stories - or bedtime wrangling. Extra hands were usually welcome for the bedtime tasks. That job accomplished, at least for the time being, she walked Mary back to her chamber. “Vincent finally noticed that he was being indulged, and I had to admit to your role in the conspiracy,” she laughed.

“Does he know about tomorrow’s indulgence?” Mary asked.

“No,” Catherine smiled. “He might suspect something. He can’t actually read my mind, but it’s hard to keep secrets. It can be a little inconvenient when I want something to be a surprise; but this is so small and silly, maybe he won’t notice. I hope his childhood tastes haven’t changed too much to enjoy something so foolish. At least I can be sure the children will enjoy it.”

She hugged Mary and took her time walking back to Vincent’s chamber, thinking how much she didn’t want to go back to the District Attorney’s office on Monday. She knew Joe didn’t feel he could spare anybody when she had demanded leave time, and he had allowed her this time off only because it was Catherine asking . . . and threatening to resign. It was Wednesday. She could send Joe a message that she would be back on Monday, and she would still have a few more days with Vincent.

Vincent was much better now; and there was no real reason he needed twenty-four hour care - no reason for her to still be living in his chamber at all now - except that he had asked her to stay. He was learning to accept from her, even to ask. In the midst of the smile that accompanied that thought, she nearly bumped into Kanin leaving Vincent’s chamber.

“Better not wear that smile too much in public,” Kanin teased. “Somebody might get the feeling there’s more than nursing duties going on behind that screen,” he grinned.  “Behave yourself!” she laughed, and swatted him on the arm.

“Vincent looks much better than I expected after the stories I’d heard this summer,” he said.

“He’s come a long way, Kanin,” she told him. “For a while we thought he might not make it. I’ve never been so afraid.”

“From what I understand, folks were pretty worried about you, too. For what it’s worth, Vincent knows what a lucky man he is.”

They talked for a few more minutes, then Kanin excused himself to return to Olivia. He wanted to be sure she understood how lucky he considered himself.

Using her best tunnel manners, Catherine called Vincent’s name to let him know she was back before she entered his chamber. At his response she went in and found him at his desk in his night clothes, again writing in his journal. She just smiled and said “Hello” and left him to his writing. As she began to move the cot in what had now become an accepted nightly ritual, he offered his help; but she sent him back to his journal entries. If that journal helped him think about working out their future together, that was certainly where she wanted his mind to be.

Completing her task, she realized his robe was still hanging on the hook; another sign of his becoming more comfortable with her constant presence - another smile all the way to her soul. She was, she thought, in serious danger of having her face freeze in this position if anything else good happened.

“I’ve felt a joy in you all evening,” Vincent observed, closing his journal and looking at her. “What is it that makes you so happy?” he asked with a smile.

“The pleasure of your company,” she answered, their bond sending him a feeling of deep contentment. He didn’t question her further, just shared her joy. They both slept well that night, dreaming very pleasant and well-behaved dreams.


When Catherine woke, Vincent was already dressed. His hair was still damp, indicating that he had probably been up early and bathed.

“You’re getting pretty independent,” she mumbled. He had learned that she needed a few minutes to organize her thoughts, so he just smiled and allowed her some time. He had water heating for tea and had already been to the kitchen and successfully talked William into an early breakfast tray - an unheard of concession. She took all this in as she ran her fingers through her hair to straighten it a little.

“Who’s taking care of whom?” she asked. “If you do too much of this, rumors will start flying. It doesn’t take long down here, you know.”

“I told William you weren’t feeling well and it was your turn to be cared for.”    

“Vincent!” she exclaimed with a grin. “You told a lie?”

“Just a little one,” he smiled. “It was too early in the morning for one of William’s lectures; and after the recent influx of groceries, I knew he couldn’t refuse you anything.”

“Shameless manipulation? A side of you I haven’t met,” she laughed.      

“A side infrequently used and only with the best of intentions,” he assured her with one of those endearing half smiles, as he arranged breakfast plates at the desk and moved another chair across from his. He served the plates while she tried to make herself more presentable. Sleeping in her clothes was becoming an annoyance, but well worth it to be able to spend so much time this close to him. They had a long way to go toward a future together, but there had definitely been progress.

They had a leisurely breakfast and were finishing just as Father called. He was surprised to see the depleted breakfast tray.

“How did you manage that so early in the day?” he asked, amused as well as amazed.

“He woke up before I did and lied to William,” Catherine laughed. “Apparently I’ll need to call on my acting abilities and appear to be ill at least for the morning.”  

“Did I miss a visit from Devin?” Father quipped, a little chortle escaping. Turning toward Catherine, he added, “This sounds like something the two of them might have tried as youngsters.”

“Would you like some tea, Father?” Vincent asked innocently, ignoring them both.

“That response looks very much like the two of them as children as well,” Father said with a smile. Then toward Vincent, who was still looking quite innocent, he answered, “Tea would be nice, Son. Thank you.” Picking up the last muffin, he added, “And if you don’t mind, I’ll help you enjoy your ill-gotten gains.”

They visited for a while, all of them enjoying the conspiratorial tone of the meeting. Father suggested that they leave the tray outside the door and allow one of the children to pick it up later. He would let William know that he had looked in on Catherine and that she would be fine. He even suggested that they leave the screen at the door during morning visiting times so Catherine could “get some rest” - that is if they could stand to be alone for that much longer. Having been assured that alone would not be a problem, Father hobbled off for a more complete and properly obtained breakfast.

Both delighted and surprised by Father’s willing participation in Vincent’s little subterfuge, she turned to Vincent and smiled.

“Sometimes I wish I could talk to someone about Father’s childhood behavior. It intrigues me that yours doesn’t seem to fit the same standards of dignity you insist on now.”

Leaving the breakfast tray at the door, Vincent smiled at her observation.

“Would you like to visit some remnants of my childhood?” he asked, adding rather mischievously, “since we will have ample time alone this morning.”

“I would be honored,” she answered with a little curtsy, enjoying the playful side of him that surfaced now and then.

He went to a shelf and took down a dusty wooden chest with a curved lid and dusted off the top before opening it. She had seen the larger chest with the carousel.

“The chest itself often held pirate treasure,” he told her. “Eventually the treasures were just the memories.” He opened the chest and took out two small wooden swords elaborately painted in childish renderings of royal markings, a few glued on jewels still remaining.

“Devin and I fought off many a villain with these swords,” he smiled. “A few too many for Father’s peace of mind, I’m sure.”

He provided a few of the more exciting stories concerning the small swords.

Catherine had heard a couple of pirate stories from Father and Mary, but Vincent shared a few new ones that she suspected the two most important adults in his life probably still didn’t know about - a couple that might still have the capacity to give Father and Mary a few new gray hairs. One story was even punctuated with a little impromptu swordplay. She couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the unexpected sight of a usually quite dignified Vincent briefly becoming a pirate for her entertainment. There was also a small cape, similar to the cloak he still wore.

“And what was the cape for?” she ventured.

“It had miscellaneous purposes,” he said, obviously enjoying the memories. “One day it might belong to one of the three musketeers, on another it might be Sherlock Holmes’s coat or belong to one of a large variety of villains, and we weren’t entirely unaware of Superman and Batman. Children of our helpers found their way into the tunnels, along with their comic books. Sometimes it belonged to Dracula,” he pronounced the last word with the appropriate accent.  “At that time, I thought built-in fangs were rather impressive.”

At other times that last remark might have brought the light-hearted atmosphere to a close; but this conversation seemed to be centered entirely in his childhood, and he looked deeper into the chest. There were a few picture books - obviously well used by small hands, one showing castles similar to the ones in the book they had spent so much time with recently. He showed her pictures he had drawn when he was small - pictures that someone older, probably Mary, she thought, had lovingly preserved in an envelope with a cardboard lining. His artistic talent showed even then. There was a small battalion of toy soldiers and their cannons and banners, and typical little boy collections of marbles and rocks. There were a few shiny rocks that would obviously have caught a child’s fancy, a small geode with amethyst crystals, and several others that seemed to have nothing special about them. Vincent had a story to explain the importance of each of them, though; and he kept her spellbound with one story after another, again one or two that would probably still curl Father’s hair. Catherine would occasionally comment, insert a similar story from her own childhood, or ask a question; but mostly she listened.

She absorbed not only the stories but the little hints she found in them of what had formed the man she now loved. She enjoyed imagining him just playing and being free, not having to think about who or what he was. She especially loved that he wanted to share his memories with her.

“It was fun visiting your childhood for a little while,” she smiled, helping him put his treasures back in the chest.

He left the books on the bed before closing the chest, thinking it seemed selfish to hide those books away. If he had enjoyed them as much as he did, the present tunnel children would surely enjoy them, too.

“I enjoyed the visit much more for having you there,” he answered, placing the chest back on the shelf. By the time they returned the chest to its resting place, most of the morning was gone.

“Do you suppose I’ve been ‘ill’ long enough to cover your story?” Catherine asked. “You obviously have enough strength to get to the kitchen. Maybe we could have lunch in the dining hall today.”

“Are you already tired of being alone?” he teased.

“Never,” she smiled, and wrapped her arms around his waist. He laughed and put his arms around her the same way.

“Before we leave here again,” he suggested, looking down at her, “one of us should probably ask Father what your symptoms were.”

She chuckled against his chest.

“Next time you invent a story that involves me, let me in on the planning.”

Hearing the sound of Father’s cane in the passageway, Catherine hurried to wait at the door and surprised him by reaching out and catching his arm to pull him into Vincent’s chamber.

“We plan to have lunch in the dining hall today; and before we go near him, we need to know what you told William,” she insisted, snickering.

“You had a debilitating headache, dear. Don’t you remember?” he chuckled. “It seemed to be a sinus problem. A decongestant was all you needed. You did take your medication, didn’t you?” he asked with mock seriousness.

“Of course, Father. I always follow my doctor’s orders.” She had to laugh. Two of the most dignified men she knew were being as playful as children but still looked dignified. How did they manage that?

“Now, if the two of you have completed your cloak and dagger snatching of innocent old men from hallways, I shall continue to my own chamber,” Father stated, and left shaking his head, the sound of a soft laugh trailing behind him.

Vincent picked up a book from the shelf near the chest and handed it to Catherine. “If you want insight into my sense of humor as a child, you might want to look at this,” he told her with a little twinkle in his eye.

She took the book from him and read the title. It was a book of silly poems.

“Devin and I would read these to each other and laugh uncontrollably.”

Catherine read the first poem aloud and chuckled, imagining Vincent and Devin stretched across the bed in gales of foolish laughter. Vincent read the next one and looked for the ones he and Devin had particularly enjoyed. They both laughed at the image of two little boys indulging themselves in silliness; and, before they knew it, it was time for lunch.

Armed with the correct “medical information”, they walked hand in hand to the dining hall.

Seeing Vincent out of his chamber for the first time in weeks, the lunch goers broke into applause and welcoming remarks. The tunnel grapevine also had them asking about Catherine’s health.

She managed to keep herself under control while sticking to her decongestant story and changing the subject as quickly as possible. Catherine insisted Vincent’s reprieve would be short and left him talking to friends while she collected their lunches. He was beset by nearly every child in the tunnels, the smaller ones wanting to be held or to sit close. The older ones wanted to tell him what they had been doing or pin him down about when he would be teaching their classes again, voicing the same complaints about his lengthy absence that one might have heard from their counterparts Above.

Mary finally shooed them away so Vincent could finish his lunch, then she stayed to have some time with him. She was the closest to a mother Vincent had known, and he loved her as he would a mother. She was now holding the same place in Catherine’s life. Like some of the others, she first loved Catherine for loving Vincent. She now just loved her as if she had always been there.

As they walked back to Vincent’s chamber, Catherine stopped suddenly.  “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“The little girls’ room,” she answered, smiling as she scurried off. When she returned, Vincent wasn’t there, but he reappeared quickly from the same direction she had just come from.

“Where were you?” she asked.

“The little boys’ room,” he said with an amused smile, still wondering where topsiders found some of their terminology.

Catherine grinned at hearing such an unfamiliar term from his voice. “Another small barrier breached,” she thought.

On their way back they stopped to talk to well-wishers they passed in the halls. Now and then they would encounter a comment about being confined for so long or going stir-crazy. When they finally reached his chamber, Catherine pulled the screen back across the doorway.

“You should rest a while,” she said.

“I’m not tired.”

“I want you to rest anyway,” she insisted, knowing that, since there was now a third visiting period in the evening, this extra trip might take at least a small toll on his energy. “People will expect to visit this afternoon and this evening. At least lie down and I’ll read to you for a while.”

He sighed in resignation and stretched out on the bed. “It seems to me we’ve used this technique on wayward children at bedtime,” he mumbled.

“The way you’ve been behaving today . . . .  If the shoe fits,” she answered with amusement as she looked for the book they were last reading from.      

“Catherine, have you felt confined having to spend so much time in this room?”

“No,” she answered. “Sleeping in my clothes is getting a little old; but other than that, no.”

“Neither have I,” he told her.

“Father says you’ve never been such a good patient, that you would normally be trying to escape.”

“I’ve never been in love with Father,” Vincent responded playfully. She offered him a look that left no doubt his last remark pleased her; then he heard, “Aha!” as she found the book, a mystery; and she read a few chapters before the first visitors were calling.

 Chapter 6