What Light Through Yonder Window by Lynette Combs (with sincere thanks to Randie Pressman) * * * * * "Look, look!" A ten-year-old skidded through the door to the large dining-chamber, his face alight and dark curls still windblown. One grubby hand clutched a sheet of pale blue paper, which he waved over his head like a flag. "Look what I got!" Heads turned; conversation ceased among those who had just settled down to the common supper. Jacob Wells, at the head of the long table nearest the door, scowled reprovingly. "Kipper, you're late." "I know -- I'm sorry, Father," the boy said, with a not-very-convincing show of contrition. "But look what I -- " "You're in Trouble," came a small cheerful voice from further down the table. Father turned, his scowl still in place. "Naomi?" The five-year-old gave him a sidelong look of total innocence. "Yes, Father?" "Be quiet, please, and finish your peas. You too, Eric, if you please. Now, Kipper -- " "Look, Father." Stepping forward, he pushed the flier into the elder's hand. "See?" "See...? Ah, yes, I do indeed." "What is it, Father?" Vincent, sitting opposite, leaned forward with curiosity. "`Shakespeare in the Park,'" the other read, in a voice that carried clearly to the farthest of the diners. "Well, it's about time they finished all that reconstruction. I was beginning to think it might never end." A murmur of excitement ran up and down the tables. "What're they playing?" someone called out. Father squinted down his nose; the print was just large enough not to require a search for his elusive spectacles. "Let's see... Richard the Third, next month... and then, beginning in August, Romeo and Juliet." He glanced up, smiling at the collective sigh of appreciation. "Father," came a small piping voice from his left, "what's `Shakes... Shakespuh - '" "Shakespeare, Naomi," he corrected her absently. "He," Vincent told the little girl, "was a playwright. He wrote plays." "I seen a play," she said eagerly. "Geoffrey and Samantha did it last week." "Which one?" Vincent asked her curiously, thinking that the older children hadn't been assigned to practice any readings for class, and pleased that they would undertake it on their own. "I dunno. They said, `It's the east, and Juliet is my son.'" Strangled mirth erupted at several points within earshot. "Naomi!" cried Samantha, her cheeks reddening. "That was supposed to be a surprise!" Geoffrey, too, looked so acutely uncomfortable that Father said, "No matter, no matter," rather hurriedly and, "I'm sure we will be surprised -- " "I'm sure you will be, too, if that's what he's going to say," Kipper grinned. "It isn't," Geoffrey said, stung by such teasing. "I know how it goes. `'Tis the east, and Juliet is the sun'!" The little instigator of all this looked from one to the other and back again, astonished and impressed at having been the cause of such discord. "And that," said Father, quickly seizing control of the conversation to avert certain disaster, "is Shakespeare, Naomi." "It's from Romeo and Juliet," Vincent agreed, "the very play we were discussing. When Romeo stands beneath the balcony and says, `Juliet is the sun,' do you know what he means?" She shook her unruly yellow head. Kipper said knowledgeably, "Means she's pretty" -- because this was, after all, his favorite play and he knew most of it by heart. "Oh -- like Samantha," Naomi flattered her shamelessly, looking up to see if this had gotten her back into the older girl's good graces. It had. "Well," Samantha (preening) said generously, "maybe more like Catherine." Eric pushed his glasses up on his snub nose. "If the grownups did it, Catherine could be Juliet." "She's even got a balcony," Kipper said excitedly. "If Catherine is Juliet," Eric went on, "then Romeo would have to be..." All eyes turned toward Vincent. His own eyes widened innocently at his friends' fond, sly smiles -- although he didn't look nearly as shocked as a certain patriarch, sitting nearby, might have expected. "I think," Vincent said gravely, "I would be content to see you children perform it, for now." Mary, watching out of the corner of her eye, thought she saw Jacob Wells breathe a secret sigh of relief. Suppressing a smile herself, she said briskly, "All right, children, let's finish our supper before it gets cold. Naomi, you still have to eat your peas, child..." "How much?" came another voice. "How much what, Mouse?" asked Father, thinking for a moment that this had to do with green vegetables, and casting a glance at Mouse's own plate. "What's it cost," the young man said, in his cryptic way. "The play?" "Oh -- well, nothing, I think." Father studied the flier in more detail. "Yes, that's right. It's always free of charge, there at the Delacorte Theater." "Delacorte...?" He shook his bowl-cut blonde head. Although he was completely familiar with Central Park in every detail, he didn't always think of things, or places, by their proper titles. "You know, Mouse," said Kanin, across the table. "All those seats, over by the Castle?" The other brightened. "Know it. Been there." "Yes," Father said wryly, "I believe I remember hearing that you'd fallen asleep at several performances, over the years." "Oh, do you think we could go?" Olivia asked, her brown eyes shining up at her husband. "It's been so long!" "Sure we can," Kanin answered. "Mary, do you think...?" "Oh, one of us will stay and watch over Luke, never fear." "Maybe we could all go," said Lena, at the next table, with a childlike eagerness. "Of course you shall," Father assured her, and all of them. "No reason why not -- " "Will you come, Father?" "Oh, my dear, I think not," he smiled. "It's a long way up, for these old bones." And after all these years he still rarely, except in times of gravest crises, went Above. Geoffrey turned, beaming with hope. "Can we ask Catherine?" Samantha elbowed him, hard. "That's for Vincent to do," she hissed in a whisper all could hear. "Vincent can't," Mouse blurted -- and heard a horrifying hush fall over the table, over all the tables, filling the dining-chamber with silence to its very ceiling. "What do you mean, Mouse?" Kipper demanded. "They go listen to concerts all the time, under the grate. And they walk in the park, after dark. Why can't they...?" Mouse cast a look of anguished apology at Vincent -- his idol, his mentor. "It's all right, Mouse," he said gently. "You're right. I cannot go and watch Shakespeare in the park." "You never been?" asked Eric. "You can never go?" pressed Geoffrey. "Why not?" Father said quietly, "Because it isn't safe." "But then how come we can -- " "It is safe for you, all you children," he went on reassuringly. "And for everyone else... except Vincent. Do you understand?" "Get seen," Mouse said darkly. "Get caught." "That's exactly right," Father said sadly. "They light the whole area... and patrol it, against pickpockets and such. There is no safe vantage-point, from which he might watch." "And," Vincent said, "there are no tunnels under that area -- as there are at the Bandshell -- because of the Pond. It would take engineering of a very special kind." "But Belvedere's Castle," Samantha protested. "It's right there. Why can't you -- " Father said, "That's a very good suggestion, Samantha... except that there are always people watching from Belvedere's Castle; or they close it up entirely and post a guard against vandals. It simply isn't safe, and Vincent knows that." "That's not fair," a child shrilled. "Peas, Naomi," Father sighed. "But it isn't fair," Geoffrey frowned. "No, I know; most certainly, it is not. But that is the way life is sometimes." Kipper looked to Vincent, his expression as stricken as if he himself had been the cause of Vincent's awful privation. He wished he'd never found the flier; he wished he'd never come rushing into the common supper with it. "It's all right," Vincent said, clasping the boy's shoulder. Nothing in his manner betrayed the disappointment or anger every child knew they would have felt in his place. "It isn't your fault, Kipper... and certainly you must all go, and come back and tell me all about it. Perhaps you can join Geoffrey and Samantha in putting on your own production, and I can see that. Now, why don't you go and wash your hands, and come back and eat with us? I think William's prepared one of your favorite meals..." ____________________ "They were truly troubled," Vincent said later, looking out over the city. "Especially the children." "They love you." Her hands resting lightly beside his on the balcony rail, Catherine knew he could feel the subtle shrug of her shoulder against his. "They don't want to see you hurt." It bothered her, too -- the thought that, living in and under the park all these years, loving Shakespeare as he did, he'd been denied the thrill of watching those open-air performances. She, too, resented the circumstances that had conspired against him. "There are things I cannot change, Catherine; places I can never go. I've had to accept that... as they will." His voice was carefully neutral, "Will you go, when they begin?" "Not without you," she said at once; and knew that he had turned his head to look down at her. "Catherine, it's something I know you would enjoy -- " "What joy would I find in it," she answered, "without you?" What joy indeed, knowing it was a pleasure forbidden him; knowing she was indulging herself Above while he must remain Below? He tried again. "But if it pleases you, then I would feel -- " "You'd feel me wishing you were there," she countered, "or that I was Below, with you." Still she did not look up at him. The spring breeze ruffled her hair; and as she lifted her chin to meet it, she looked, he thought, entirely resolute. His mouth quirked with surrender. "You've seen Shakespeare performed in the park before," he guessed. "With my father... and with friends." Thus she dismissed the old beaux neither of them mentioned. And now, finally, she tilted her head to raise sparkling green eyes to his. "I'd rather see you and Father and Kipper and the others do it, anyway." "Then... the exposure hasn't served to sharpen your appreciation," he taunted her gently. Her shoulder bumped his, lightly. "Oh, I think it has." She smiled to see his blue eyes widen... and turned her complacent gaze back out over the city. "The things we can share, Vincent -- the park, evenings like this, the concerts under the grate -- those things make me happy, because I'm with you." He bowed his head. "It all seems so... limited." "We don't know what the limits are," Catherine reminded him. She turned, reaching out to put her hand on the sleeve that was uncovered by his cloak. Beneath the sweater's weave she felt his muscled forearm tense under her fingers... then relax. "That hasn't been decided yet." His gold-bristled eyebrows lifted, suggesting a contradiction he didn't voice. Instead he said, "They've finished reconstruction on the Bandshell, as well." She blinked at the change of subject but only said, "Yes, I know. All this good weather." "It took a long time. Much longer than it was supposed to." "Well," she said drily, "of course, they do get paid by the hour." The work had begun late the previous summer. During the long months of digging, repaving and rebuilding, she too had missed their evenings under the grate, and awaited their return with impatience. Now, with the mild spring days growing warmer, the city must have been under pressure to complete the project. Vincent seemed to consider. "It should remain warm, through next week." What was he trying to tell her? "What's happening next week?" "Only... the first outdoor concert of the season." She hid her delight, knowing he would sense it anyway. "Oh?" "It's Beethoven, I think." More than that -- he would have checked; he would be sure. He knew that Beethoven was one of her favorite composers. "Vincent," she smiled, "are you asking me...?" "It's Friday evening," he said diffidently -- as though she might have a conflicting date under some other storm-grate somewhere. "I... think I'm free." "It's supposed to be clear that night." "Well," she said softly, "I wouldn't mind if it rained." She saw that he was startled again, and she had a vivid, disconcerting sensory-memory of that other evening; the music and the thunder, falling into his waiting arms... the skin of his throat beaded with rain and warm beneath her lips... Catherine caught her breath and turned back to study the city blindly. She felt his eyes lingering, and she let her breath out again, slowly. Had he sensed what she felt? Glimpsed that memory too? Did he cherish it as she did? She felt her hand, still resting on his arm, covered by the larger warmth of his. "Friday evening?" came his voice, softly. She nodded. "Friday evening." _______________________ It was late the next night, as Father sat reading in his large library-chamber, that he looked up to find his doorway crowded with familiar faces. It looked like nothing so much as a delegation. "Now, what's all this?" he asked, surprised as one by one they came filing down his short metal stair. "Jamie, Cullen... Mouse? And Kipper, Geoffrey -- you children all know you ought to be in bed." "We had an idea, Father," Samantha told him eagerly. "Yeah," Eric put in, "a real great idea!" "It's really worth listening to, Father -- " "Yes, Jamie, I'm sure it is, but don't you think that perhaps tomorrow would be better -- " "Big project," Mouse announced importantly -- a phrase guaranteed to stop Father in mid-breath. "Now, just a minute, Mouse. What exactly -- " "Need drills, shovels, plans," the young man scowled. "Have to work fast --" "Mouse," Father said sternly. "What `big project'? What on earth are you all talking about?" Cullen stepped forward. "It's really kind of ambitious, Father -- I'm the first one to admit that -- but if we start now, this week, we just might get it done in time." "It doesn't by any chance involve, ah, plastic explosives, does it?" He was appalled to see Mouse brighten at the thought. Cullen, seeing the elder's look of alarm, rushed in with, "No, no, Father, we'll end up doing most of it by hand." Eric said, "We'll get everybody to help!" "And why exactly," Father asked, "will they wish to do that?" The boy beamed. "`Cause it's for Vincent." _________________________ Catherine lifted her face to the soft, barred light filtering through the grate above them. "It's wonderful," she sighed. "Yes." More than the beauty of the composition itself, though, Vincent felt its effect within the woman sitting beside him; her feelings followed the rise and fall of the music like a gull on the wind. When the piece had ended amid a soft swell of applause she turned, her sea-green eyes alight. "Thank you, Vincent." Her delight was infectious but he asked, "Thank you?" "For the magic." He smiled bemusedly. "Which magic?" "Why... all of it." She tucked herself more securely under his arm. "But tonight, for sharing this place with me." Only you, he thought to himself. She was at once so still and yet so incredibly alive, there in the circle of his arm; at her waist, silky fabric warmed his fingers. Her gown was precisely the color of her eyes. She glanced up. "It seems to be intermission." "They'll soon return." "You know, Vincent... since our first night together here, I've often thought of all those concerts I attended through the years, not knowing you might have been nearby." He was silent, gazing up into the light. She looked up too; listened to the murmur of casual conversation punctuated by passing footsteps. Had he heard something, noticed something beyond the range of her senses? "What is it?" "... Nothing, Catherine." "Vincent," she insisted gently. "Do you know," he said, "those were some of the bitterest nights of my life... those nights I spent here, listening to the great music." Settling her head on his shoulder, she curled her fingers lightly into the lacings of his vest. "Tell me." His voice was faraway. "When I was young, and discovered this place, I would come here on the nights there was music." "Alone?" "Always alone." "I wish I'd known you then." "I would listen, Catherine -- not only to the musicians, but to the people in the audience. Talk, which bore no relation to the life I knew; conversations I could never share. And yet they were people not unlike myself in some ways, it seemed to me then. I heard them argue; I heard them discussing the daily trials and tribulations of their lives. I heard... lovers among them... and they were, all of them, like the people I'd grown up with Below. I wondered, `Are we truly so different?' We were uplifted by the same glorious music. This was something that spoke to me of our -- our sameness. It was something, like great literature, or Shakespeare in the park, that we could share... and never would. Time and again I found myself quelling the urge to go among them; forcing myself to picture their reaction, had they but glimpsed me as I eavesdropped here." She felt the sting of tears and whispered, "`I would not for the world they saw thee here.'" After a long moment he said, "Juliet." "Yes." "`I have night's cloak to hide me from their sight.'" And now, she thought, we both do. She held her breath, hoping he'd go on; waiting for the beautiful lines that followed. Instead he said, "Only here, in this place -- unseen, undetected -- could I pretend to share such beauty with them. It was here that I truly began to realize how limited my life was to be." "And yet," she answered, looking up to challenge his stoic resignation, "on so many of those nights I must have been there too. I had to be. You know it, now. And neither of us knew the other was there, just out of sight. -- Did we?" He saw her eyes widen, and nearly smiled. "No. Neither of us knew. If I had known such hope..." "The point is, Vincent, neither of us did know. But we were there anyway, in our separate pasts, both of us moving toward this future whether we knew it or not." "Destiny, Catherine?" She couldn't gauge his tone. "I'm only saying that... we couldn't see each other, but maybe somebody was looking down on us... and smiling." He recognized his own words, and had the grace to smile. "I'm not sure I understand." She snuggled nearer. "Sometimes now, when things seem sad or hopeless, I wonder if life -- or `fate' -- isn't making us promises we know nothing about." Above, she could hear the audience returning, and the musicians once more taking their places. And after a moment she thrilled to feel his lips nuzzling, warmly, the part in her hair. "Perhaps," he whispered. "Perhaps." __________________________ It was less than a week later that Catherine, hearing a faint familiar tap at her French doors, came out onto the terrace to find Vincent standing there with a look of half-amused bewilderment on his face. "Vincent? Is something the matter?" "I'm not sure, Catherine." He turned; spread his hands. "I've been sent Above for the evening." "Sent Above? But what -- " "I went to see Father, to offer to play him a game of chess. He and Cullen were puzzling over some plans. I suppose I came upon them unexpectedly; they were plainly startled. But they... tried to shield the plans from my view. Then Father said that if I was going to be underfoot `all the time this way,' then I ought to come Above and see you." Now it was Catherine's turn to be suspicious. "Are you sure it was Father?" He gave her a rueful smile. "I'm sure. He hasn't spoken to me that way since I was a teenager." "So... you think he was trying to get you out of the way?" "I'm certain of it. They're plotting something." "Father, and Cullen?" "Father... and everyone, I'm beginning to think." She felt her investigative instincts stir. "What makes you think so?" "I've been forbidden the north tunnel." "Who said -- " "Mouse." "Mouse?!" He chuckled outright. "Yes, Mouse. He appeared to be standing guard at the main access. There is always someone there, now. He was wearing his miner's hat -- " "The one with the dual flashlights?" she grinned. "Yes, that one. He barred my way." "Did he say why?" Vincent shook his head. "He only said, `Can't come this way. Go back.' He was quite emphatic. `It's secret,' he said." "Secret from whom?" Catherine asked. "From me, apparently." Catherine laughed softly. "You know that the only thing Mouse like better than keeping a secret is making sure -- " " -- That everyone knows he's keeping a secret," Vincent nodded. "I may be imagining things but... lately everyone Below seems to know something I don't. Most of the young people -- Jamie, for instance, Mouse or Luke -- are nowhere to be found. Even the children turn up grimy, and happily exhausted. Naomi skips around singing about a secret she can't tell me." "Naomi, keeping a secret from you?" Catherine knew how devoted the five-year-old was to Vincent, her rescuer. "This is serious!" "And I heard Father telling Cullen that Kanin was working too hard... and yet I know they're not preparing any new chambers." "So, they're using a stonecutter," she mused. "Yes. They're digging, or tunneling, that's certain. But where, and why? And why haven't they asked for my help?" "Vincent." She came to take his hand. "Maybe it has something to do with you. Maybe they're trying to surprise you." "Me? But... I know of no holiday -- " "All the better," she shrugged. She looked up into his strong leonine face with mischievous eyes. "Do you want me to try and find out, next time I come Below?" "No, Catherine." (He said this knowing full well that Mouse worshipped her, and could probably be coaxed into telling her anything she wanted to know.) "I'll respect their secret. And it can't be such a terrible thing, can it," he said, drawing her into his arms, "if it sends me here?" ____________________________ "Do you think he suspects anything?" Cullen had asked, as the sound of familiar footsteps faded from the corridor outside. "Oh, I rather think he must," Father said drily. "I daresay he hasn't been shooed out of any part of these tunnels like that since he was a boy." And there was the little matter of the blueprints, still spread wide upon the table. The scramble to shield them from view had been clumsy -- almost comedic, he realized with chagrin. No wonder, indeed, that Vincent had looked so puzzled. "Well," he sighed, "no matter. A little unsatisfied curiosity will do him no harm." "But Father," the middle-aged man said doubtfully, "do you really think we're going to be able to keep this all a secret for months?" "That will be up to all of you. It was your idea, after all. -- Ah, Mouse. How is the work coming?" Stepping down into the chamber, that young man shook rock-dust out of his bowl-cut blond hair. His makeshift miner's hat dangled from one hand. "Hard work. Have to be careful too, so close to the surface -- " "And the Pond, I should imagine." Ever since they'd begun this project, Father had been uneasily imagining how one careless pickax might drain that body of water into the edifice cellar and thence to the tunnels Below... "Just water," Mouse scoffed, causing both his elders to look at him askance. "Built aqueducts; laid conduits. No difference." "No difference? No difference?" Had the boy no concept at all of the difficulties, the dangers involved? Father could fairly hear the torrent rushing toward them. "Now look here, my boy -- " "I'm sure he understands, Father," Cullen put in hastily, clapping Mouse on the back with enough energy to startle him quiet. "There's no more natural engineer down here than Mouse, you know that. Don't worry. We'll be careful." His wink said clearly, We'll keep an eye on him. ________________________ Spring passed into summer. In Central Park, the elms put forth fingers of reaching green that met over even the widest walkways. The lengthening days saw these "park avenues" fill up with joggers, students, skateboarders; the evenings were full of moonlight, and mystery. "You were right," Catherine whispered one night, her fingers tightening on Vincent's. "They're watching us." "From a discreet distance," he nodded, complacently. "You don't mind?" "No," he said. "It's all part of the puzzle." She glanced back again. The shadowy shape she'd glimpsed, as it darted by an old globe-streetlamp, had disappeared again into the underbrush. The soundless stealth spoke of someone young -- Jamie perhaps, she guessed. "They need to know where you are?" "Or where I am not. Below," he began -- " -- And Above," she finished. "What on earth could they be up to?" He chuckled softly. "I will admit to a certain..." "Rampant curiosity?" She smiled, tucking her hand beneath his, needing to be closer. "You've been very restrained. Father's told me what a little busybody you used to be." "They are so secretive, Catherine. I wouldn't want to spoil their surprise." "Whatever it is?" "Whatever it is." An air of suppressed excitement had been growing among the tunnel-dwellers for months now. So had the number of scrapes and bruises, and the amount of grime visible on nearly everyone around him. It hadn't escaped his notice, either, that Father was nightly turning a blind eye to dirty hands and lateness at the supper-table. Vincent, too, pretended to a benign blindness. "Do you think he noticed?" he heard the children whisper to each other. "Do you think he knows?" He didn't know; had made no effort to find out, and would not. But he was certain that eventually, all would be revealed to him. _________________________ June brought with it mild and brilliant evenings; outdoor concerts; and the culmination of months of rehearsals at the Delacorte open-air Theater. Twice a week the tunnel-world all but emptied itself upward; couples and families, young and old intermixed and chattering with anticipation. Richard the Third was a hit among them. The children took to padding one shoulder or the other (it didn't seem to matter which); and wearing these impromptu "humps," would challenge one another to impromptu duels and readings in the corridors. Their discomfort at realizing Vincent couldn't share their special outings, seemed to have disappeared. Indeed, any mention of those performances Above was sure to bring on a flurry of sidelong conspiratorial glances and, among the youngsters, muffled giggles. "Curiouser and curiouser," Vincent scowled, one July evening. "You, or the situation?" Catherine teased him gently. They were strolling down the hillside toward the drainage-tunnel entrance. Above them the moon was full, and in its light the profusion of hair falling over his shoulders looked more silver than gold. "Vincent, what do you think it's all about, really?" "I don't know," he confessed. "At first I suspected it might have something to do with Shakespeare being performed here in the park, although I had no idea what they were planning. But now..." "Now?" They were near the tunnel incline. Catherine didn't want to go in just yet; she slowed, touched his arm. "How do you mean?" He turned to face her. "Because tonight is the last performance." "Of this production," she pointed out. "The other starts next month, don't forget." "How could I forget," he sighed. It does hurt him, she thought, confirmed in her own mind what she'd suspected all along -- and what he'd worked long and hard to conceal. "But Vincent, even if the next production does begin soon, what could they be planning that involves one play... and not the other?" ____________________________ Tomorrow night, 7:00 p.m., at the Threshold. Catherine glanced covertly around at her coworkers and turned the note over; but there was nothing on the back more significant than a little mayonnaise. She'd found the slip of paper folded into a corned beef on rye a strange deliveryman had all but forced into her hands. "No charge," he'd winked, at once giving away his status as Helper. His voice dropped confidentially. "Dress formal," he whispered, and without another glance he pushed the cart back out of the office -- Joe in hot pursuit. So she had -- luckily -- frisked the sandwich before biting into it. The note was unsigned. She studied it, a slight frown appearing between her brows. The handwriting appeared to be Vincent's. She couldn't put her finger on whatever there was about it that wasn't quite... right. But why, after all, should there be anything wrong with it? You've been working too hard, Radcliffe, she told herself. Tomorrow night. What could be happening tomorrow night? It was only Tuesday, a weekday like any other. Why should Vincent wish to see her then? And why the suggestion that she "dress formal"? Well, she supposed she'd find that out when she met him at the entrance beneath her building. _______________________ The sweep of her soft white gown made descending the ladder a challenge; and the matching heels didn't help matters, although they were the lowest she owned. When she turned Vincent was already standing there, reaching out one hand to steady her; and she knew at once, from the look on his face, that he had not sent the note she'd received the day before. In his free hand he too held a folded slip of paper. "Catherine," he began, "what is it? Your note didn't say -- " Her heart leapt with alarm. "Vincent," she said urgently, "I didn't send you any note. Here, I got this -- " And she offered him her own bogus missive. "I don't know what this is all -- " A rustling behind deeper in the tunnels, silenced them. She drew closer, ready to shield him or fly to the attack. After what seemed an interminable moment, a familiar face peeked around the brickwork. "Mouse!" Vincent exclaimed. "Just me," the young man nodded, a lit flashlight bobbing on either side of his helmeted head. "Don't be scared. -- Sorry," he said, as Vincent put up a hand to shield his eyes. He fumbled with the switches to shut the flashlights off. "Follow me," he said, and turned to go. "Mouse," Vincent said sternly. "Is this your doing?" "Hurry," he said impatiently. "Not much time." They had no choice, then, but to hurry along in his wake as he scurried back toward the main tunnels. "It couldn't just be Mouse," Catherine hissed. "The notes!" Those insidious slips of paper themselves testified to at least one other hand in all this. Mouse could barely write, much less forge. Her mind racing, Catherine stumbled; Vincent caught her arm. "Catherine? Are you all right?" "These aren't exactly hiking boots," she stage-whispered, and was relieved when he went on holding her elbow. Now they were nearing one of the main "intersections." To their surprise Mouse, still trotting well ahead, didn't continue on toward the home tunnels. Instead he took a turning unfamiliar to Catherine -- and she realized too that after their initial, gradual descent they'd begun to move uphill again. She glanced uneasily into one of the dark side-tunnels branching off their own route. "Where are we going?" Vincent shook his head, and she saw that his scowl had given way to an expression of bemused curiosity. "I have no idea," he whispered. "There is nothing in this direction -- " A muffled giggle interrupted him. There were scuffling sounds not far away, and they exchanged a look of surprise. Plainly there were others paralleling them in secret -- following perhaps, or running ahead like Mouse. Vincent turned quickly, and caught a glimpse of someone darting into the shadows a hundred yards behind. A smile tugged at his mouth. "Vincent?" Catherine tugged at his arm; they'd nearly lost sight of their guide. "Mouse, wait!" She felt absurdly like Alice, trying to keep up with the White Rabbit. As they quickened their pace Vincent leaned down to murmur, "Could this be their surprise?" A raw-silk strand of his hair brushed her cheek, and she smiled. Whatever it was, it had been planned to include both of them. Someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to bring them together this night. Why? She'd never been in this portion of the underworld before, and looked around her with interest. The hidden lights that had illuminated this tunnel at its beginning, had given way finally to lamps and lanterns. The brackets holding them were affixed to rough walls that looked, she thought, freshly scarred. The soft light glittered over a surface of the mica schist peculiar to the park geology. It gave the tunnel the exotic look of a gold mine, and added to the general air of excitement. Now they could hear movement, whispers and giggles ahead and behind, and in nearly every side-tunnel they hurried by. Catherine glanced back and saw Mary and Brooke shepherding several of the children along ahead of them -- making no attempt to dodge out of sight now, she noticed. Were they nearly there? She hoped so; her feet were beginning to hurt. Rounding a corner as they tried to keep Mouse in sight, they suddenly found themselves in a larger open area -- almost a chamber -- and face to face with Jacob Wells. The two fairly skidded to a halt. "Father!" exclaimed Vincent. Dozens of tunnel-dwellers were pressed in behind the elder, their faces alight with anticipation. Mouse peeked out from behind his shoulder. "Got 'em here!" he announced, just in case anyone had failed to notice. "Your turn now." Leaning gravely upon his walking-stick, Father cleared his throat. "Yes, thank you, Mouse." Those who had been bringing up the rear now filled the chamber entrance behind Vincent and Catherine, and the large space hummed with irrepressible excitement. Catherine felt Vincent take her hand. "Everyone here? All right?" Father drew himself up to his full and dignified height, and began. "Vincent, you may have noticed, over the past several months, that many of us have been involved in activities of a rather, ah, covert nature." Vincent regarded him with widening blue eyes. "Have you, Father?" Amusement rippled audibly through the assembled company. Father affected a scowl, aiming at his son and incidentally silencing everyone there. "Yes, well... I remember your curiosity as a child -- you and Devin -- and I must say you've been very restrained, very restrained indeed, in not investigating the many odd goings-on you must have noticed this spring and summer." There was a murmur of protest among the very young members present, who thought they'd been magnificently secretive. "But tonight," Father went on, "tonight our work is done and our gift complete, and we had only to conspire to bring you both here." "The notes!" Vincent said, with some consternation. "We held a contest," Father said, above the giggles of his accomplices. "Competition was fierce, I'm afraid, and while I usually frown on that sort of thing, it turned out to be quite a lot of fun." "What... what kind of competition?" "Oh... a small matter of deciding who was most adept at forging your handwriting, both of you." For just an instant, Vincent looked completely taken aback. Then surprise gave way to the soft, rasping sound of his laughter. "I'm glad you approve. All in all, I felt quite the Fagin." And the flash of a devilish smile brought Catherine a glimpse of the man he had been in his youth. "As judge, I took myself out of the running, of course." "Who won?" Catherine couldn't help but ask. "William is the Vincent of your note," Father informed her. "Surprising penmanship -- I would never have guessed it." Vincent was still smiling. "And for Catherine?" "Ah." He tugged regretfully at his silvering beard. "Old Sam, I'm afraid." "Old Sam?!" she cried in mock dismay, and the chamber filled with muffled mirth. " -- But having made our choices," Father went on determinedly, "we had only to complete the task we'd set for ourselves. This we did, only days ago -- just in time, I might add." "In time for what, Father?" He beamed at her. "How very good of you to ask, my dear. Do either of you know where we are?" She saw Vincent glance around; could feel him getting his bearings. They'd hurried along and this was an uninhabited area, but no one knew these tunnels better than Vincent. He cocked his head, his voice hesitant. "Somewhere... between the lake and the pond, I would imagine." "Very close," Father nodded approvingly, as though it were a geography lesson. "And what, pray tell, is located between the lake and the pond, Above?" The answer, when it came, was nearly inaudible. "Belvedere's Castle?" The children broke into ragged cheers. "The Castle! The Castle!" It was a favorite playground of theirs -- especially after-hours -- but clearly it meant something more to them tonight. "Belvedere's Castle," Father nodded. "That's exactly right. And now, before we tell you anything else -- " "Not tell," Mouse urged. "Show!" "Yes, Mouse, you are quite right. So before we go on, we require that both of you be blindfolded. I trust you won't mind?" Whether they might or not, silk scarves were swiftly brought out and tied over their eyes. Catherine felt the fabric stretch cool and soft against her cheeks. Through it all, Vincent never let go of her hand. "All right, now," came Father's voice, "we're going to guide you both to our little surprise." Gentle hands propelled them forward. They heard the crowd part, ahead, and close in again behind them. Mary's voice came from somewhere close to Catherine's ear. "There's a short tunnel, here, and then some steps going up. Be careful..." There was a soft scraping sound, and Catherine felt that perhaps a part of the wall had been swung aside. A hidden door?, she wondered. The unseen passage gave an impression of narrowness, and newness. The air was sharp with the scent of raw earth. And these steps, wending upward -- had they just been carved into the living stone? They went a little further and Vincent, to his surprise, smelled summer and green things in the air. "Father?" "Come, come now," the old man was saying. "We haven't much time, they're getting ready -- " Who's getting ready?, Catherine thought. Where are we? Someone was fumbling with the knot at the back of her head; the blindfold fell away and she saw Vincent standing beside her, his eyes wide as a child's, and she turned to look wherever he was looking. They were standing in a small chamber -- no bigger, certainly, than his bedchamber Below. The only light came from a half-dozen candlesticks arrayed, lit, along a low stone ledge opposite the entrance. There, too, was a collection of odd pillows a stack of folded quilts and coverlets. The walls and floor were not earthen; they were made of tightly-fitted blocks of stone, very similar to the construction of the Castle itself... "Father." Vincent's voice was hushed. "What is this place?" The doorway was crowded behind the old man, as was the narrow passage and the stone stairway beyond. "Vincent," he began, "you know that we've never had an entrance into Belvedere's Castle." Vincent nodded. "You always said that because of the water, the engineering would be too difficult." "And we had other priorities, it's true. There was really no reason for such an access. What use would it be to us? It seemed no more than a luxury. But early this spring, I was finally persuaded that it might be possible... even necessary." A faint cheer echoed up from behind him; the crowd funneled a little forward. "Hush, hush, everyone," he said, making an effort to be stern. "Someone may hear -- " "Aw, nobody'll hear," Kipper said, peering around his elbow. "We did a good job." Vincent's eyebrows rose. "You children?" "They all helped," Father said proudly. "Every one of them. In truth, it was their idea... this place, and its purpose." Catherine felt Vincent's fingers tighten on hers. Father went on, "They wanted to give you something. We all did, really, once they made us see." "Nearly time," Mouse whispered hoarsely for all to hear. " -- So we built this place," Father scowled, not liking to be hurried. "It is quite safe and solid, I think. The engineering did turn out to be a bit tricky, but with Mouse's and Cullen's expertise was not as dangerous as I'd feared." "Then we're in part of the Castle itself," Catherine breathed. "Yes." "But -- but I've been in the Castle a hundred times," she said. "I don't remember anything like this -- " "We're inside one of the walls, actually," Father said modestly. Her mouth dropped open, and she sensed Vincent's amusement. "Inside one of the walls?" "In a way." He didn't appear to need the others' urging, to explain it. "You see, the Castle has a cellar... a rather large one, used for storage and rarely investigated. The walls are mortar, cement and blocked stone, as you've seen. We tunneled up into the cellar, and when our preparations were complete, one night, we simply built up a false, thinner wall that, ah, happened to look just like the original one." "Simply!?" Catherine clapped her hands with delight. No wonder the passage and stair behind it were narrow, probably no more than two feet wide. How much space could you shave off a basement, before someone noticed? Father's eyes were shining with mischievous pride. "Now," he said, "we're in a sort of crawlspace between floors. Rather carelessly designed, this Castle; quite a lot of unused space to be had." "It's wonderful. But, Father..." The ever-present crease between Vincent's brows had deepened. "Why?" "Ah, the purpose I spoke of. Samantha, Geoffrey, if you would do the honors -- " "Can I help?" came another small, piping voice as the two older children came forward. "Yes, Naomi, you may blow out the candles. I nearly forgot, we wouldn't want anyone to see in..." The five-year-old darted to the far side of the chamber and, dropping to her knees, began puffing wildly at the candleflames. "Careful," Father warned, "don't set yourself afire --" As the space began to fall into darkness Samantha and Geoffrey, just visible now, began tugging at one of the large blocks making up the outside wall. Vincent, with a wordless sound of dismay, started forward to help them. "No, Vincent." Father caught his arm. "We're letting the children do it, so that you can see; once the lever is freed, several of those stones they're lifting are very light." "Artificial!" Mouse exclaimed. "Hardly," Father corrected him. "But they aren't granite or marble, and they are quite hollow. But you see -- " and he stepped forward to lean invitingly toward the opening " -- we've made you a window." "A window," Vincent whispered, as though to himself. The world Below had many things; chambers and corridors, chasms, waterfalls and regions as yet unexplored. One thing it did not have, however, was windows. Jamie's voice came from behind him, young and eager. "Don't you want to see out?" A whispered clamor echoed the question over and over again, as Father stepped back. He motioned Vincent into his place. "Go on." Almost in self-defense Vincent went forward, and sank slowly into a crouch before the opening. Catherine heard him gasp, and she moved swiftly to his side, reaching for his wide shoulder. "What is it? Vincent?" He shifted a little to one side, looking up to invite her to join him. She knelt, her gown pooling palely around her, and peered out. "It's the theater," Vincent whispered, his voice low and hoarse with emotion. To the right, their window overlooked the pond. To the left, floodlit and already bustling with activity, was the Delacorte. Beyond it, the audience was already settling in. The sound carried clearly over the open ground between there and here; he and Catherine would have no trouble hearing anything that went on. He had the feeling of still being safe underground... and yet he was looking down on the stage itself! "It was so clear, once we realized," Father was saying. "From the Castle parapet, just above us, one overlooks the theater. Why not, then, a private box-seat?" "Too bad the scenery blocks part of the stage," Cullen said apologetically, for indeed the Castle was situated at an angle, almost behind the stage-set. "Took some," Mouse said smugly. "Mouse?!" Father turned, aghast. "You stole part of their scenery?" "Not stealing," the young man defended himself. "Taking! Just cardboard wall -- too much there already. Blocked the view!" "Yes, well," Father blustered, over the others' muffled laughter, "see that you stay clear of the place from now on, unless you're in the audience. Understand?" "Okay good," Mouse said quickly. "Okay fine." Father returned his attention to the matter at hand. "You'll have to be careful, of course, about the light; but we left some underbrush on the ledge outside, and that will help obscure any glimpse they might have." Dear Father, Catherine thought with an unexpected rush of affection. Topsiders were still "They" and "Them" under any circumstance. "And when you leave, the secret door -- well, the mechanism is like any other. I'm sure you won't have any trouble with it. Vincent?" But Vincent still crouched at the opening, utterly engrossed. Catherine lifted her hand from his shoulder, to stroke the hair back from his temple. Father saw the infinite tenderness in that gesture, and was silent. She said, "Vincent." He seemed to shake himself... and stood. It was a fluidly graceful movement for so large a man. When he turned everyone could see, even in the half-light, that his steady eyes were brilliant with unshed tears. "Father," he said, and took a deep breath. "All of you." Father said, softly, "The performance will be beginning soon. You don't want to miss any of it." "But... this gift you give me -- " " -- Is given with joy and love, our love for both of you." "You must know that, child," Mary said softly. He bowed his wild golden head. "I have no words with which to thank you... any of you." Father limped forward, clasping his son by one shoulder. "You've no need to thank us," he said firmly. "It's no less than you deserve -- either of you," and with a glance he deliberately included Catherine, much to her surprise. "Now we're going to leave, and I want you two to settle in here and enjoy the performance. All right?" He drew Vincent into his arms, and the little crowd broke ranks around them. Geoffrey and Samantha clung to his waist; Naomi fastened herself to one leg. Cullen, Mouse and Pascal clapped what shoulders they could reach. One moment, Catherine was standing quietly to one side, watching -- and the next, she had been drawn into this family embrace and was being warmed by it too. "Look," she whispered, "I think they're ready to start." Vincent leaned toward the rectangle of light; but Catherine, instead of sharing the view at once, continued to study him. His face, in all its amber stillness, was as intent as a child's, for once entirely open and unguarded. The light glittered over his wild hair, and the bristled planes and hollows of his face -- and in the deepset eyes that flickered now as though sapphires had been set ablaze there. Catherine thought he was magnificent. She shifted her weight slightly, to press her shoulder nearer the hard warmth of his. They were sitting on the several quilts he had unfolded by the opening to cushion the hard stone floor. She'd kicked off her impractical shoes and now, as opening night began outside, she felt only a deep, unquestioning happiness at having him so close. Our own private box, she repeated to herself, thinking they were surely incandescent with joy. How could the audience and actors down there help but see them shining so brightly? Vincent did turn then; his arm encircled her, possessively and irresistibly, and she was drawn into his kiss without thought, without reservation -- almost without surprise. His lips, seeking hers, were still slightly parted; the upper one with its familiar cleft, the lower full, and softer. She tasted the sweetness of his mouth and felt the hidden sharpness of his teeth just before he drew away again. Her head spun; she heard a distant swell of applause. "Share this with me, my Catherine," he whispered, nodding toward the secret window. Anything, she thought; and snuggling blissfully there against his side, she turned only part of her attention to the romance going on outside. It wasn't much later that, glancing up, she saw his lips moving, voicelessly following a dialogue he had long known by heart: What light through yonder window breaks? -- And for an instant she ceased to hear the actor without, and heard instead Vincent's own voice, within. This was her favorite part of the play; two young people in the full first flush of innocent love, no grief yet visible on any horizon... Catherine believed in happy endings, and clung to a wistful hope that even Shakespeare might one day surprise her. "It is my lady, O, it is my love!" Her heart leapt; for, turning to look at her, Vincent had spoken these words aloud. What magic was at work in him, this night? To him, she had never before looked quite so enchanted, or enchanting. He felt his gaze caught, like the light, in the silk of her hair and the soft brilliance of her eyes. She listened breathlessly as he murmured Romeo's words to her; and when Juliet spoke, Catherine whispered lines she'd hardly remembered since high school. " -- And for that name which is no part of thee, take all myself." "I take thee at thy word," Vincent assured her, his arm tightening round her waist again. "Call me but love..." She'd never known such a night, or such feeling; never sensed in him such soaring exhilaration. "How comest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?" she asked. "The orchard walls are high and hard to climb, and the place death, considering who thou art, if any of my kinsman find thee here." He seemed to have forgotten the enactment below, in the joy of filling his eyes and his heart with her. "With love's light wings did I o'erperch these walls," he answered. "For stony limits cannot hold love out. And what love can do, that dares love attempt." Afterwards, still safe in their castle lookout when players and audience alike had all gone home to bed, neither of them had yet been able to bring the evening to a sensible end. And drowsing in the warmth of his embrace, Catherine remembered not only the words, but the intensity of his voice and eyes. I take thee at thy word, she thought, with a smile he couldn't see but would, she suspected, feel just the same. She considered the years of evenings he'd spent beneath the Bandshell grate, convincing himself of a just and lifelong isolation. Hadn't that certainty later been lovingly blasted?... Likewise, now, had earlier Shakespeare seasons been proven false; no longer was even this a forbidden fantasy for him. Catherine decided it wouldn't hurt to remind him of all this, later. It was just possible, she mused, that certain other promises had been made to them, this very night. She would wait and see. Perhaps, she thought (with apologies to Shakespeare), happy endings are possible... but it is up to us to write our own. Because after all, she remembered, What love can do... that dares love attempt. The End This story is affectionately dedicated to Ritch & Kathi Brinkley. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ About the Author Lynette Combs Talents: Writer, Artist, Poet, Editor Tenure: 1989 Interests: Classics; G-X, art, photos, videos, stationary. (Letterzines have been too angry and bitter, and too dominated by third season.) Occupation: Graphic Artist (computer) for newspaper; freelancer. Favorite Episodes: Brothers, Bluebird Sings, Masques, God Bless the Child, --It depends on what day of the week it is... Favorite Moment: Last moment in " Fair and Perfect Knight" on the balcony when Vincent pulls Catherine towards him. Subtle but incredibly erotic! Favorite character (after V&C, of course!): Father, because of the growth his character displayed, and his change of attitude toward Catherine, during the two seasons. (I confess, I'm also influenced by the fact that in "real life," Roy Dotrice is a true gentleman, artist and someone worthy of admiration.) Comment: This show has "opened the world" for me. I never took myself, or my artwork and writing, seriously until Vincent & Catherine told me I had the courage to do that. This was an amazing catalyst toward helping me to really LIVE the rest of my life.