Linda "mini" Robin
Authors Note: This story is the sequel to "My Father was a Helper."
Once again, like so many times before, the children gathered around her skirt, the small ones tugging to get her attention, the taller ones hanging onto her hands and arms. "Tell us a story Kaitlin." they all pleaded in unison. This happened every time Kaitlin came Below. She never could resist stopping at the nursery chamber if it wasn't too late in the evening.
"Yes, pleeeeeease?" begged three year old Sarah.
"Not from a book." pronounced five year old Nathan. "A real story."
"A real story is it?" Kaitlin asked with an amused smile.
"YES!" they all responded in unison. From the look on Kaitlin's face they knew that they had won. They would get their story once again.
Thirteen year old Geoffery smirked and said under his breath. "Push-over."
Fifteen year old Zachary elbowed Geoffery in the ribs. "Shhh. Be sensitive to the little ones. If you are going to help watch them you have to try and understand them. It also means you need to try and understand why women can't resist their cute little smiles." Zachary punctuated his statement by grabbing three year old Annabelle and tickling her stomach until her she squealed in laughter behind her thumb that seemed to be permanently stuck in her mouth.
The children had found out from Kaitlin's very first visit Below that she had a vivid imagination and a real gift for story telling. She spoke not only from her creative mind but also with emotion from the heart. Her hands were never still during her tales and she brought them to life. She painted pictures in their young minds like Elizabeth painted pictures on tunnel walls. Pictures so real that you were instantly transported to the place they portrayed. Each felt they were actually there with her, be it in a fairy tale land with knights and castles, or a swampy lagoon with a talking frog, or a little beggar boy on the streets of London.
"All right, all right, a story it will be. A real story." Katilin sat in the overstuffed reading chair placed in the nursery just for that purpose and pulled little Sarah up on her knee. Three year old Jacob claimed the next esteemed position on Kaitlin's other knee. The remainder of the young children seated themselves as close as they could get. The older children were not to be left out and perched themselves on cots, beds, chairs, and floor all around the nursery.
Kaitlin had come down this time to speak with Father about her best friend, Katarina, who had just been appointed Assistant Librarian at the New York Public Library. She thought that Katarina would make an excellent helper and could provide the desperate help needed to organize Father's cluttered chamber into some semblance of order. He wouldn't let just anyone organize his books, but he might let an Assistant Librarian. Katarina also had access to all of the libraries cast off books to enrich it further. It was hard she found having to talk around all she knew when her best friend and she got together. But if Katarina became a Helper then all that would change. She would have someone else Above to confide in. 'Ah, well' Kaitlin thought 'Father will just have to wait. I have been shanghaied again.'
"What shall this story be about?" She mused aloud while tapping her index finger against her temple.
Zachary spoke first. "Tell us about your very first time coming Below."
"Yes, pwease Kaiwin, tell me 'bout dat and how youse met my Daddy?" Jacob pleaded and then punctuated his request with a kiss to Kaitlin's cheek. Her heart flip-flopped as it always did when faced with such affection.
Giving a returning hug to Jacob she said. "Alright. Hmmm. My first trip Below. Give me just a moment to organize my thoughts and I will tell you all the most amazing story." Kaitlin's eyes closed and her mind turned in upon itself remembering.
She thought back to her very first initiation into the tunnel society. Her own father had just passed away and while Kaitlin was cleaning up the family store she had run across his hidden journals in the safe. Upon reading them she had found out her parents had kept a very big secret from her. They had been previous tunnel residents as well as Helpers for most of their lives.
His last request to her was written in the final pages of his journal.
"Go into the basement, there is a hidden door behind the boxes marked with a 'B' in the South corner, go down the ladder into the tunnel below, use the pipes and tap out the message at the bottom of this page and wait. Someone will come to you. Tell them who you are and give them this enclosed letter to Father, tell them you will wait for a reply. Soon someone will come for you and lead you Below to Father. Kaitlin, this is the secret I know you have sensed in both your Mother and I through the years. A secret that must be kept so that others may survive. A secret that brought your Mother and I much joy. I am trusting you to find that joy, to live that joy, and to pass it along to your children someday. Let our family leave a legacy of Helpers. I am proud to trust you with our secret and know you will pass it along when your time comes. Make us proud my child. I love you Kaitlin, I will always love you. Dad."
Kaitlin began her story telling it just as it had happened. The children sat quietly as her soft voice began to unfold the tale of her excitement and wonder. Of her first trip down into the tunnels.
"After I read my father's journals I had no choice. My father's wishes told to me through his journal would be met. You see, I owed him that and more for the good life and love he had given to me so freely. "
She paused here as her feelings rushed through her, taking her back three years to the time of her awakening to other possibilities than the mundane life she had been living. She became the story, a participant, not just the teller.
Kaitlin snatched up the journal and letter and went down the stairs into the basement. Moving the described boxes she found the door. Opening it she felt a rush of excitement run through her veins and knew she was setting out on a real adventure. Turning back from the dark opening she dug around the basement until she located a flashlight and with a satisfying "click" turned it on. Shinning it into the opening she found the ladder her father spoke of.
Taking a deep cleansing breath Kaitlin climbed through the opening and down the ladder until her feet rested on stone floor. Shining the beam of light all around, she located a set of pipes about shoulder height running along the wall. Just below and attached to the smallest pipe by twine was a short length of metal pipe. Picking this up she opened her father's journal and started tapping out a message upon the big pipe as her father instructed. This felt right, felt good, almost felt familiar. 'Why was that?' she wondered. After completing the tapped message in her father's journal she heard a responding tapping coming from the pipe. 'They know I'm here' she thought.
Kaitlin waited, and waited. She shone the beam of light down onto her watch. Ten minutes had passed. Rocking from foot to foot she wondered if she should turn around and climb back up. Shaking her head 'No, I will wait a while longer'. No sooner had that thought passed through her mind then a figure carrying a lantern came into view around a bend way down the tunnel. The man advanced and stopped directly in front of her. Not recognizing the woman he asked brusquely. "What business do you have here?"
Kaitlin smiled. She had taken notice not only of the unusual circumstances she was in but of this man's unusual dress. It was like something she had encountered at on a recent trip to attend a Renaissance Festival with friends in Connecticut. The whole affair made a gurgle of a giggle erupt from her throat. A musical sound to the man's ears. She felt as if she were in one of the many story tales she would tell to the children at the Public Library three times a week during story hour.
"I'm sorry" she said. "But I feel as if I have stepped into a magical world like Alice Through the Looking Glass." The man was amused and returned her smile but did not speak again. "I am Kaitlin Green. My father was Barry Green of Green Groceries. I am here upon his request with a letter for someone called Father." Opening the journal she extracted the letter and held it out. The man put out his hand.
"I am Kanin" and upon taking the letter said "Wait here please. I will deliver your letter and bring you a reply. It is a long way and you might have to wait a while."
"I'm in no hurry" said Kaitlin "I'll wait." Kanin turned and retraced his steps back down the tunnel. She followed his retreat with her eyes until the light of his lantern disappeared. Kaitlin climbed halfway up the ladder and grabbed an old piece of tarp which she let flutter down onto the tunnel floor on which she perched herself to sit and wait patiently.
It was a half hour later according to her watch before she saw the lantern light returning. As the figure approached Kaitlin noticed that it was not the same man as before. This man walked slowly putting much of his weight upon an unusually carved cane. He was an older man, bearded, dressed much in the same manner as Kanin had been. Squinting her eyes against the light she noticed another figure just over his shoulder that held back a ways. She couldn't make him out, he seemed to be all shadow as if dressed head to foot in black. He stopped about 100 yards down the tunnel and seemed to disappear. Katlin blinked rapidly and returned her attention to the bearded figure. She smiled and cocked her head to the side as she spoke. "You wouldn't happen to be Father. Would you?"
A smile crinkled the older man's face. "Yes, I am called Father by many." Scrutinizing her Father said "You have your father's eyes, but your Mother's smile." At that Kaitlin beamed, immediately feeling an affection toward him. Before Kaitlin could open her mouth to speak again Father spoke "Before we go any further I am going to ask you to make me a promise."
Holding up his hand to silence any reply from Kaitlin he continued "The place I will take you to is a place of safety for many. Keeping it secret from the world Above is how we survive. Secrecy and with the continued aid of people like your Mother and Father who were our Helpers. That secret was kept by our dear Alana and Barry and I now ask if you can continue keeping that secret as well?" Kaitlin could only nod as she was fighting back tears at the affectionate tone of voice in which Father had spoken of her parents.
Father held out his hand and continued. "Then I bid you welcome to our world. If you will follow me I will take you Below where the Council is waiting to meet you."
"Council?" Kaitlin queried.
"Our governing body. A group of our oldest and wisest tunnel members." replied Father.
"What could I do children? I had to take Father's hand and let him lead me into the unknown." Kaitlin looked at each child in turn waiting for the questions she knew were coming.
Zachary spoke up first. "You were so brave Kaitlin, not knowing who Father was or where Father was leading you. Not knowing any of the people you had just promised to protect with your silence."
Kaitlin nodded to Zachary as six year old Benjamin piped up with "You wasn't scared? I was so scared the first time I came below." Kaitlin shook her head 'no'.
Jacob bounced upon Kaitlin's knee. "Kaiwin tell 'bout my Daddy."
"Patience Jacob, I'm coming to it." Kaitlin stilled the wriggling little body.
Taking Father's hand I allowed him to turn me in the direction of his home. We talked of my parents on the long walk down. My eyes darted to and fro, noticing the changing scenery. There were cement walls, brick walls, rounded tunnels, squared tunnels, a long spiral staircase so ancient it creaked with each step we took. I remember thinking 'I hope he walks me back as I would never find my way again with so many twists and turns.' Then the tunnels became hewn from solid rock, their shape as unusual as the situation I found myself in. We passed over a bridge where I became lightheaded when I chanced to look down into nothingness. Father reached out a hand to steady me and we continued onward. Father related to me the some of the history of the tunnels as we ambled along. He explained about their communication system on the pipes, even translating a few messages for me when we stopped so he could tap on the pipes to tell those Below that we were coming. It was a long walk. I didn't mind. My eyes were taking everything in. It was all so fascinating.
My only problem was that I kept sensing another’s strong presence around us. I had always been very sensitive to the feelings of others and of my surroundings. Sometimes the presence was behind us, sometimes in front of us. Whoever it was surely knew these tunnels well to be able to move around us so easily almost unnoticed. But he wasn't unnoticed. Not at all. For my active eyes had seen his shape. It had to be a man for the shadow was well over 6 foot tall. Our 'shadow', as I thought of him as I only saw him in the shadows. He kept pace with us well. I sensed nothing to be afraid of in our 'shadow'.
Coming around a section of tunnel where it forked into a 'Y' I stumbled upon a loose stone and my feet came out from under me. I lurched backwards towards a side tunnel, arms waving wildly, my father's journal flying out of my hands, only I didn't land on hard stone. I landed up against a solid but very human feeling body that righted me quickly and carefully before releasing me. As I turned I caught a glimpse of an enormous black cloaked figure stepping quickly away.
Jacob began bouncing upon Kaitlin's knee once more as he squealed. "Oh boy! My bestest part."
Kaitlin thought 'I'm going to have to speak to his Daddy about letting Jacob spend so much time with Mouse. She couldn't help a small giggle.
"Shhhhh, Jacob...Let me continue please." Kaitlin stilled the bouncing boy again and continued her tale.
As Kaitlin turned the figure backed up quickly out of their surrounding lantern light. Finding her voice she said "Thank You." Their 'shadow' nodded his head and, a soft voice that sounded like sandpaper being pulled over velvet, replied "You are welcome." Then he bent to retrieve her father's journal from the stone floor where it had landed when she slipped. The 'shadow' held out the journal towards her and Kaitlin caught a glimpse of the 'shadows' hands. 'Strange hands, or were they hands?' Kaitlin thought for they were furry and tipped with extremely sharp looking nails.
"That was my Daddy!" Jacob broke in.
"Yes Jacob, that was your Daddy." Kaitlin said giving him a little squeeze.
Once Kaitlin and the 'shadows' hands met over the journal she looked up into the bluest pair of eyes she had ever seen. Time seemed frozen as she looked up at him. Those eyes seemed to shine, reflecting the lantern light. Kaitlin smiled and said. "Hello, my name is Kaitlin Green. And you are?"
The 'shadow' backed up further, letting go of the journal, and spoke softly again "My name is Vincent. It is a pleasure to meet you, Katlin."
Kaitlin advanced on Vincent with her hand held out and he in turn backed away from her. Stunned at his retreat and a little hurt by his actions she said in a low soft voice "Don't be afraid, please don't be afraid."
That more than anything stopped Vincent's retreat in his tracks. Those were his words. Words he always used when first encountering anyone he did not know and who did not know of him. Those were the first words he had spoken to his Catherine. After a moment of indecision Vincent took a step closer. Kaitlin took a step closer, hand still out. Vincent lifted his head, looked Kaitlin straight in the eyes and took her hand. Instead of releasing Vincent's hand after a small shake of welcome she stepped back towards Father continuing to hold his hand. "Come, join us please? We shall all continue on to your home together. There is no need for you to linger in the shadows."
Vincent allowed Kaitlin to pull him onward until they came even with an open mouthed Father who stared at the unusual meeting. Clearing his throat and finding his voice Father spoke hoping to give Vincent an escape route. "Vincent, why don't you go on ahead and tell the Council we will be right along."
Surprising Father, Vincent said "I shall walk along with you if you don't mind Father."
Father stammered "But....but...well if that is your wish."
Vincent nodded and turned to Katlin. "Shall we?" As he pointed ahead and took the lantern from Father's grasp. All three moved forward.
"Kaiwin?" Jacob commanded her attention once again. "Did you fink my Daddy was boo-ti-ful?"
At this Kaitlin's laugh tickled down everyone’s spine. "At this point Jacob all I had seen of your Daddy was his hands and eyes. And of course how tall he was for I had to look up to see his eyes."
Jacob nodded. "Daddy is BIG! Bigger dan big, de biggest."
"Yes, he most certainly is." Kaitlin kissed the top of Jacob's head. Making another mental note to speak with Catherine also about Jacob spending so much time in Mouse's company. "Now where was I? Oh yes, I remember."
The three of us continued down the tunnel conversing easily until we came to the outer inhabited areas. There was more light and Vincent raised the lantern to blow out the candle inside. I gasped for I had seen, to my eyes astonishment, a wondrous creature. Much more than the soft spoken, intelligent man who had walked beside me, much much more. His face had the resemblance of a lion. He was a being from which fairy tales are written.
Vincent stopped his forward movement and lowered his head. Kaitlin stopped and turned towards him. Her hands of their own volition it seemed to rise to the edges of the hood of Vincent's cape. Vincent sucked in a breath and held it. Kaitlin lowered his hood onto his wide shoulders, looked approvingly into his face, and smiled a smile that made her whole face light up. "You are beautiful, Vincent."
Father gasped and choked. Vincent released his held breath.
"See Is tole yous! Kaiwin finks my Daddy is boo-ti-ful!" Jacob stuck his tongue out at his disbelievers.
Putting her hand over Jacob's mouth gently, Kaitlin looked over the group of children and asked "What? Did you not believe Jacob? Do you not all think that Vincent is beautiful? Because I surely do. Vincent is beautiful. Just ask Catherine."
Feet shuffled, eyes glanced away shamefully. Children began to stammer. "Course he is." Annabelle enforced. And with that all the rest of the children chimed in "Sure." "Uh huh." "Yes ma'am." "He sure is."
Unknown to the children or Kaitlin, Vincent had been standing just outside the chamber entrance. He had heard Kaitlin's voice in passing and hadn't known she was down for a visit. He had stopped intending to give her a greeting. Now he could not. He was overcome with emotion. They all thought him beautiful. Catherine had always told him so but he had a hard time believing it. Now he was not so sure. He stayed rooted to the spot as Kaitlin's voice began to take up her tale where she left off.
"Now, please no more interruptions or Father will come along and send you all to bed before my story is finished." Kaitlin warned and silence fell. "Now where was I... oh yes, I had just told Vincent that he was beautiful."
I remember I giggled then and asked Vincent. "Has anyone ever told you that you remind them of Aslan?"
Vincent smiled showing just the hint of his over long canine teeth. 'Her smile and manner was infectious' he thought. Letting out his breath and blushing as much as he could through his golden colored skin replied. "A few of the children have on occasion associated me with Aslan, yes."
Patting his arm gingerly she continued. "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was my favorite story when I was little. My father must have read it to me about a hundred times."
"Good literature is meant to inspire." Vincent parried.
Father, still at a loss for words continued to stare, his eyes going back and forth between them.
Sensing Father's unrest Vincent took his arm and gesturing towards Kaitlin said "Shall we continue on? The Council is waiting on us."
Four year old Annabelle popped her thumb out of her little bow mouth and piped in. "Faver is readin' us Wion, Wich, n Warwobe." Then popped her thumb back into her mouth.
"It really is my favorite book. It is good, isn't it Annabelle?" Kaitlin replied.
Annabelle never took her thumb out of her mouth, nodding. "Yeeth."
An easy camaraderie had sprung up between Kaitlin and Vincent and Father remained silent for the rest of the journey.
Soon they reached Father's chamber which was filled with Council members. Vincent took over the introductions as Father seated himself behind his desk.
Vincent cleared his throat to gain the attention of the Council. "Everyone, this is Barry and Alana Green's daughter, Kaitlin."
"Kaitlin, this is Mary, she is nurse and mother to us all." Steering her over to a slender older woman, hair up in a bun, shoulders covered with a knitted shawl. "How do you do?" Kaitlin said as she shook her hand. Mary beamed back.
"And this big fellow is William, best cook in the tunnels." Kaitlin reached across the table to shake his large hand.
"Over here is Kanin, who I believe you have met already." Kaitlin nodded to Kanin.
"And last but not least is Pascal, master of few spoken words, but ruler of our pipe prattle." Vincent chuckled as Pascal blushed. Kaitlin shook Pascal's hand joining in with a laugh of her own. "Pleased to meet you."
Father seated himself at the Council table. "Well, shall we get started? I have already gotten a promise of silence from Kaitlin and filled her in on our history. Now I'm sure she would like to tell us a little about herself and then ask any questions she would like answers to." He paused, "Where is Catherine?"
A petite figure carrying a fussing baby came down the steps into the chamber. "Right here, Father. I was just trying to get this little one quieted down. He has been a bit fussy today."
Vincent strode over and took the baby into his own arms and immediately it quieted.
Catherine stuck her tongue out at Vincent and they erupted into laughter, the room soon following.
Jacob squealed. "Dat baby was me, right Kaiwin, right?
"Yes Jacob, you were the fussy one. I'm sure glad you grew out of that. I'm sure your Daddy is glad too. He used to have to hold you all the time. You cried if anyone else held you." She chuckled softly and the older children joined in.
Jacob wasn't sure whether to pout or laugh and chose the latter.
Vincent outside the chamber entrance had to bury his face in his hands to hide his own laughter.
Catherine turned to Kaitlin and held out her hand. "Hi, I'm Catherine, Vincent's wife."
Kaitlin smiled and headed towards her when she tripped on a wrinkle in the carpet. As luck was with her a second time, Vincent reached out and steadied her before she could fall. "Thank you again, Vincent." Turning back to Catherine. " Hi, I am Kaitlin the klutz."
Laughter filled the room once more. Catherine took an instant liking to this young lady.
The Council listened to Kaitlin as she told them she had just graduated from the Community College with a Business Degree and was at loose ends as to how she was going to apply her training when her father passed away leaving her the grocery store. She had thought of selling.....but.... After reading his journals she now knew that she would become a green grocer just as her father before her. All she needed now was to ascertain the tunnel communitie’s needs and how to go about fulfilling them. Many questions were asked and answered on all sides until Father called a halt, saying it was time for supper. He called on the Council to vote on accepting Kaitlin as a Helper. It was a unanimous "AYE!"
Benjamin interrupted again. "Then you met us. Right?"
"Yes Benjamin, then I met all of you." Kaitlin's heart filled with love.
William escorted Kaitlin into the dining chamber on his arm, telling her that she was in for a treat tonight as he had make his famous lamb stew and apple pie with raisins for desert. Appropriately Kaitlin's stomach rumbled and set William off into gales of fresh laughter. William always loved showing off his cooking skills to newcomers. He was one man truly proud of his cooking achievements.
The head table was one big happy family that evening. Kaitlin started in by telling a few jokes and had everyone choking on their laughter. She fully complimented William telling him she hadn't eaten so well since her mother passed away. That sent William into a huge blush and he hugged Kaitlin in silent thanks with tears in his eyes.
After that fine fare was consumed Father rose and tapped his spoon on his glass for silence. When a hush fell over the crowd he reached for Kaitlin's arm, helping her rise.
"Everyone. We have the pleasure of the company of a very special young woman tonight. Will you all please welcome our new Helper, Kaitlin Green. She is the daughter of Barry Green and will be providing the ingredients for many of your future meals.
Kaitlin was surrounded, hugged, kissed, had her hand shaken, and back patted by every man and woman. She had her skirt tugged by little ones who shyly whispered their thank you's as she bent down to their level. Kaitlin was overcome with emotion. Vincent passed his handkerchief to Catherine who pressed it into Kaitlin's hand.
Kaitlin wiped her eyes and cleared her throat and began to speak. A hush fell once more over the crowd. "Thank You, everyone, for such a warm welcome. Earlier today I was bemoaning the fact that with my father gone I was all alone. No more was I part of a family having no other relatives." Kaitlin paused to wipe her eyes again. "Seems I was wrong. It seems also that my father was wrong. He left me the charge of taking care of all of you, seeing to your needs. But instead I find myself on the opposite side of the fence and you are all taking care of me. I have found my family again." Kaitlin burst into tears of happiness as she was once again surrounded and hugged.
"That's us right Kaitlin? We are all your family now right?" Geoffery asked.
"Exactly right Geoffery. You are all my family." Kaitlin took her hand, brought it up to her mouth and blew kisses to each child in turn. "I love you all."
A chorus of "We love you too." came back at her.
Vincent had to pull out his handkerchief. He was filled to bursting with all the emotion coming out of the nursery chamber.
After everyone put their dishes in the kitchen and that night’s kitchen crew began the washing up Vincent and Catherine volunteered to take Kaitlin on a tour of the tunnels.
As they strolled along they showed Kaitlin some of the living chambers and stopped to chat with several inhabitants. They took her to see the sewing chamber, the hospital chamber, the laundry chamber. They stopped at a bathing chamber where several of the older girls were supervising young children's baths. Jacob fell asleep in Vincent's arms as they strolled on. Catherine asked if she might be excused to put the little one to bed.
"Shall we wait for you Catherine?" Vincent asked. "We could go to Father's chamber for a cup of tea or take a trip to the nursery chamber and then you can get Brooke or Jamie to watch Jacob while we continue Kaitlin's tour."
"Nursery chamber?" Kaitlin queried. "Don't the children stay in chambers with their parents?"
Vincent and Catherine turned sad eyes towards Kaitlin and Vincent spoke. "Many of our children below are orphaned or were abandoned. Some come from abusive situations. Here they are safe, cared for, taught, loved, and healed. Those without parents stay in either the nursery chamber or in the older boys or girls dormitory chambers.
Tears welled up in Kaitlin's eyes once more tonight. "I would very much like to see the nursery chamber where the children stay."
Catherine said "I'll put this one down and meet you at the nursery chamber then." Catherine raised up on tip toe to place a soft kiss upon Vincent's lips. "See you in a bit," knowing full well that they would be at the nursery chamber for a while. Once seeing Vincent they would want their story.
Vincent steered Kaitlin down another tunnel until they could hear the sound of Mary's voice. "Children, children, if you do not get dried and into your pajamas quickly there will be no story tonight." Then the sound of a chorus of "yes ma'am's". Vincent and Kaitlin chuckled and shared a look. "Children will be children no matter where they are or under any circumstances. Should we wait until after their story before intruding Vincent?"
"How are you at reading bedtime stories?" he looked at her a little funny Kaitlin thought.
"Who usually reads to them?" a curious thought hit Kaitlin 'bet it is Vincent, with that voice.'
"Anyone available. Except for Friday and Saturday nights then everyone adult and child alike all end up in Father's chamber for a story hour that is divided between Father and myself reading several chapters each from different books."
"Oh, I love reading stories, but more than reading I enjoy telling stories. I volunteer for story hour three times a week at the Public Library where my friend Katarina works." Kaitlin knew she had done it then. Vincent smiled wickedly, then took her arm and steered her directly into the nursery chamber.
"Children." All eyes turned to Vincent. "Our new Helper, Kaitlin, has volunteered to tell you a bedtime story. Won't it be nice to have someone new tell you a story you have never heard before?"
Half pajama clad children jumped up and down hollering "YEAH!" Kaitlin was caught.
"I’s ‘membered your first story." said Nathan.
"Me’s too" replied Annabelle around her thumb.
"No you don't" parried Jacob "we’s was jus babies."
"I’s do too ‘member." pouted Annabelle who had popped her thumb out of her mouth in indignation.
"Children, children....lets be nice now. It doesn't matter if you remember or not. I do!" Kaitlin passed Sarah to Jamie and placed Annabelle on her vacant knee then hugged Annabelle and Jacob both. "I remember every minute of the first story I told you. And if anyone forgets, I will remind you."
Out in the tunnel Vincent was remembering too.
"Alright. You all finish getting your pj's on and then I'll tell you a fantastic story."
"What is the story about?" asked the a nursery inhabitant, 4 year old Samuel.
"The story I will tell you is about a Prince and a Pauper." Kaitlin replied.
"Vincent read the story of 'The Prince and The Pauper' to us already." chimed in Samantha who was helping to dress the smallest of the children.
"Not the way I tell it." replied Kaitlin with a grin.
Soon all were buttoned up, snapped up, diapered, and ready to begin a fanciful tale.
The older children from the boys and girls dormitory arrived and began sitting all around a big overstuffed chair, pulling the little ones onto their laps.
Kaitlin looked at Vincent. "Guess it is showtime. You going to watch?"
"I have never been one to pass up a good story." Vincent chuckled and took his own seat on one of the beds as several children clamored up to sit one his lap and beside him.
"All right. The story as I know it is about a handsome if a somewhat unusual Prince who lead a very boring life and a Pauper.....
"What is a Pauper?" asked Samuel.
Vincent spoke up then. "A Pauper is a very poor person. They have nothing to call their own."
"As I said the story is about an unusual Prince who was always bored and a Pauper who was always seeing and doing something new and was never bored." Kaitlin continued the story.
As Kaitlin kept the children all riveted with her words Vincent felt like she was telling the story of his and Devin's childhood and all of their misadventures. He was just as riveted to her tale as the children. He hardly noticed when Catherine crept in and picked up Anthony from his right side, sat down putting Anthony on her lap. Kaitlin brought the story to life. Each child found themselves along side the Prince and the Pauper on each of their escapades. Vincent just knew that some of the misadventures they were hearing about tonight would be tried in the days to come. The adults would have to be on the lookout for future mischief. When the story ended the children were left speechless. Vincent was just as sorry to see the story end as the children were.
All at once they seemed to come awake from story land and they began begging for another. Kaitlin couldn't say 'no'.
Soon not only was the nursery chamber full but the tunnel outside was packed with adults and teens who thought they were too old for nursery story time. Everyone found themselves immersed in the characters of the second story. When it finished there was a hush which was shattered as Father clapped his hands loudly. Soon Kaitlin found herself in a standing ovation. She arose from the overstuffed chair and took a bow.
Little pajama clad bodies were tucked into beds, liberally hugged and kissed goodnight, candles extinguished and the room emptied of all other inhabitants but those soundly sleeping little angels.
Nathan jumped in "You missed your tour huh?"
"That's right Nathan. By the time all the stories were told it was quite late indeed." Kaitlin sighed. "But the best part is that I can come back anytime I want to and do it all over again."
"Yess" Jacob snuggled his tired little head under Kaitlin's chin and closed his eyes. "Yous can come back anytimes yous wants."
Vincent chose this moment to make his presence known. Silently, no words spoken between them, they tucked in all the little sleeping darlings into their cots, passed out hugs and kisses, and crept out of the nursery chamber leaving Mary, with a kiss to her weathered cheek, to rock and knit while watching over their sleep.
Kaitlin turned to Vincent in the tunnel as they walked towards Father's chamber and whispered. "There are still so many places Below that I have heard about but never seen. When are you going to take me on that tour you promised me three years ago?"
Vincent took Kaitlin's hand and smiled. "When you learn not to stop at the nursery chamber to tell them their bedtime stories."
"I guess I'll be very old then." And they were both laughing heartily as they met Catherine and Father in his chamber for a good hot cup of evening tea, maybe a game of chess, and some good conversation.