THE WRECK OF MY MEMORIES
Vincent had gone to Catherine again. Father felt the resentment build deep within himself as he sat alone in his study, staring sightlessly into the golden haze. Moments ago, he had watched his son leave, and he'd experienced a sudden renewed resentment of Catherine Chandler and the role she was assuming in Vincent's life.
Seeking comfort, Father took Margaret's silk scarf from beneath his shawl and held it against his cheek. She had worn it over her hair when she had first come to the tunnels less than three weeks ago. And now he was seeking desperately to cope with the fact that she had come back to him, only to be taken away again.
He had shared seven beautiful days with her, one week in which they had attempted to live the dreams of a lifetime. Margaret had insisted that it had been enough. ..that the final hours had been all that mattered. But in his heart Father felt the nagging certainty that something had remained incomplete.
Twice he had asked Margaret why she had stayed away so long, why she had not tried to come to him when her father had died several years ago. Both times she had seemed to struggle with the answer. Her eyes had glittered with varied emotions, and finally she had answered him with nothing more than a silent kiss. He was certain that there had been one last secret she had wanted to share with him, but the time and the emotions had never been right. He closed his eyes, trying to accept the fact that now she would be forever silent. If there had been a secret, it had died with her.
In the midst of his love for Margaret, he again felt the familiar pain which had always accompanied his thoughts of her. She had left him. No amount of love had ever erased the fact that he felt he had been abandoned and betrayed by the one he held most dear.
She had stayed away for the unexplained years, and whether it was fair or not, Jacob Wells resented the world of wealth and power which had nurtured Margaret. Something in that world had hardened Margaret enough to keep her away, even after she had been free to return to him. He hated the pain the world had brought to him, and now he believed he could see that same pain waiting in his son's future as Vincent also grew to love a daughter of the rich and powerful.
Quietly Jacob breathed into the silken scarf, loving Margaret, hating the pain, and vowing to do everything within his ability to protect his beloved son from this agony.
Margaret Chase was dead. Catherine frowned at the unfairness of that fact as she stared at the locked file box on the dining table in her apartment. Handing a cup of hot tea to Vincent, she seated herself next to him at the table and murmured, "I feel like an intruder somehow. Margaret's life is in this box. All her legal papers, her will, personal documents. She said I would even find personal letters."
Vincent Shook his head slowly, his long golden mane shifting across his broad shoulders. "Catherine, she would not have asked you to be her executor if she didn't trust you with that information."
"I know. But. .." She ducked her head briefly, remembering Margaret's voice as she had asked Catherine to take responsibility for her new will and legal affairs. Looking up, Catherine pushed her hair back from her face. "Do you realize that after I've gone through that box I'll know more about Margaret's life than Father does? He loved her so much, and there's so little that he really knows about her." Catherine rested her hand near Vincent's on the table.
Vincent nodded. "I believe that is precisely the reason she entrusted you with this responsibility, Catherine. Her estate is large and the legal matters are complex. You're the only person with both the professional knowledge and the compassion to deal with the personal aspects of settling her affairs." He paused, covering her hand with his own. "And you know secrets which can never be revealed in the courts above." He paused. "There is no one else who could oversee the provisions Margaret made for the children below."
Catherine smiled weakly. "Do you think Father will accept the endowment? He's so fiercely independent."
With a nod, Vincent answered, "I think so. The health and education of our children have always been his prime concerns. ..and also the most expensive." His eyes reflected her gentle smile, "Besides that, according to what you've told me, you and Margaret made plans that will make it very difficult for him to refuse."
Catherine sighed, recalling her long conversation with Margaret two days before the woman's death. Margaret Chase had spent a lifetime apart from Jacob Wells, but she had known him so well.
Reaching to stroke the back of Vincent's hand, Catherine thought of the joy that had been stolen from Jacob Wells and his bride. They had been lovers from different worlds, forced apart by barriers beyond their control. "Vincent, when her father came between them they lost so much. .."
Suddenly she saw herself in Margaret's fate. Catherine's ears rang with Father's angry words stating that the relationship she shared with Vincent was a terrible mistake. She leaned closer to the man she loved, needing his nearness.
Almost as if he could read her thoughts, Vincent stood, bringing her up with him. His right arm enveloped her as his other hand came up gently to lift her chin until her gaze met his. His ice rumbled with reassuring confidence. "Catherine, I am not Father and you are not Margaret. Our lives are our own, and we are not to be governed by something that happened over thirty years ago."
"I know. Still. ..it would be so much easier if only he could understand. ..If we could have his approval. .." She trembled slightly as Vincent's thumb traced a path across her cheek.
After a moment of silence, he whispered, "Perhaps, someday we will." Pulling her to him, he held her closely and breathed a kiss into her hair.
Father had sat at his desk, patiently trying to comprehend Catherine's explanation of the terms of Margaret's will. Vincent had stood in silent support. Now only the personal concerns remained.
"She left two personal items for you, Father. A letter and a small package." Catherine placed the letter on the desk in front of the elderly man as he gathered his shawl. about him. Knowing how difficult this was for Father, Catherine said softly, "She wanted Vincent and me to know the contents of this letter. She said she wanted us to be able to give you our support, and that no secrets should remain between you and Vincent."
Catherine paused, and Vincent continued softly, "We followed her instructions, Father, and read the letter before we came here." He pulled Catherine into a gentle embrace and backed into the shadows behind Father, leaving the elderly man to confront the letter alone.
Trembling, Father's gloved hands opened the envelope, and he read silently. ..
Do not grieve for me, my darling. I want you to remember me with happy thoughts and to know how very much I love you.
All the years we spent apart. ..my lifetime ...were the prelude to these past five days. I suppose some people would consider that a great waste and a reason for sorrow, but my heart is so full of joy. ..so full of loving you. Even with the hours so limited, we still have had time to know what it is to love each other. And for us, that will be enough.
Jacob, I never stopped loving you. You have been in my heart since the moment so long ago when you stopped me on the street and introduced yourself. You were quite charming. ..so brash and determined in the midst of your shyness. I loved you almost instantly, and I have carried you with me all this time.
My regret is that I was unable to share the years with you. You have been very patient. Twice since my return you have asked me why I waited so long to search for you, and I could not answer. Now that I know our time is almost gone, I still cannot say the words that would tell you the full truth. Perhaps it is my selfishness or cowardice, or maybe I don't have enough faith in your willingness to forgive me, but I'm not willing to risk these last few days of joy. So I am writing you this letter, putting on paper the words I was unable to tell you in life.
I hardly know where to begin. It has been such a long time. Thirty-seven years, my dearest. Thirty-seven years since I climbed into my father's car and watched your figure grow smaller and smaller in the mirror as we drove away.
I wonder if I would have more strength now. Martin Chase had always been the dominating force in my world. I was taught from infancy that his word was indisputable, and I believed that. When I was forced to choose between his will and our happiness, Jacob, I was too weak to even realize that a choice existed.
My father had expected to have our marriage quickly and quietly annulled. When he discovered I was pregnant . . . Jacob, his rage was so terrible that I was afraid he would hurt you, or that you might hurt him. I knew I broke your heart when I agreed to an abortion, it wasn't until my father and I were on the ship sailing for Europe that I knew you would be safe, and it was at that moment that I felt the full horror of what it would mean to live my life without you.
It was also at that moment that I knew I would find a way to give life to your child.
Jacob, for all these years, I let you believe that my pregnancy ended in a clinic in Paris. My father died believing that. I cannot let that lie die with me. So I must tell you the truth as well as I can.
When Father and I arrived in Paris, I was able to get word to friends in Denmark. It was not easy, but with carefully arranged pretense, a series of falsifications, and a great deal of money secretly exchanging hands, we were able to convince my father that an abortion had been performed, and that I was going to Denmark to recuperate.
Father had business which took him to London, and he seemed relieved to be free of me. Six months later I gave birth to a baby boy. I named him Jacob Edward. I knew there was no way I could raise him myself, and I still feared for your safety if my father ever found out what I had done. My friends in Copenhagen found a loving couple who were eager for a child. I gave Jake to them. They agreed that he would know me only as Aunt Margaret and that I would be allowed a role in his life. I bought a home for myself nearby, and have lived there in relative contentment all this time.
Even in my fear for you, I think I would have told you about Jacob, except that soon after his first birthday, we discovered that Jake was developmentally retarded. We never knew why. Some doctors believed that it was a congenital defect, others said he had been injured in the birth process. Whatever the reason, Jacob never matured mentally past the age of five.
He is thirty-six years old now, living in Denmark with his parents and a younger married sister. She loves him very much and has promised to take care of him all his life.
My dearest, our child is happy and loved. He is such a sweet and trusting person. He loves his sister's children and is their favorite playmate. A few years ago, I gave him a very large woolly dog which he adores. Jake told me the dog sleeps at the foot of his bed every night.
It breaks my heart to think that I'll never see him again.
Jacob, I am convinced that he belongs there, and that you must never try to seek him out. It would only bring unhappiness and confusion to a family of very dear people.
Still, Still, i always knew that you had the right to someday know the truth. My illness has determined that someday" must be now. And that's the reason I put the notice in the paper. I knew you would recognize 'the wreck of my memories' as our signal to each other, and that you would find me if I couldn't find you.
Can you forgive me, my dearest? I have failed you in so many ways. You deserved so much more from our love. I just didn't have the strength and courage to be what you needed me to be.
When Alan told me you seemed to have vanished from the earth, I feared the worst. There was a time when I was terrified that you might have died, but I can see now that you were the one with the strength. you left the cruelty of the world we knew and created a world of your own.
I am so proud of what you have done. Vincent told me how you had conceived this dream, how you have fought for it and protected it with your very life. This is a magical place where gentle people love and take care of each other. If this place found its beginning in our separation, then I will rest easier knowing it was worth the price we paid ... that something lovely has sprung from the wreck of our memories.
Your dream is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing it with me.
Thank you for loving me, Jacob. Our days together were brief, but a love like ours cannot be measured in hours and days. If Blake could discover the world in a grain of sand, and eternity in an hour, then surely you and I have discovered at least that much in each other.
Jacob lowered the letter as he absorbed the impact of Margaret's words. A child. Their child still lived.
"Father, are you all right?" Vincent's voice came from the stillness behind him.
With a small start, Father became aware of the couple waiting near the stairs. "What?" He paused. "Oh. Yes. Yes, I'm quite all right."
"Father, there's something more." Catherine came toward him with a small box.
"More?" Father wondered how he possibly could accept more at this moment.
The young woman nodded. "Margaret wanted all three of us to know about the letter, but she said this box was private between you and her. She asked me to have you open it alone after you had read the letter."
She put the parcel in his hand as he looked at her blankly. Then she exchanged a glance with Vincent. Looking back at Father, she asked, "Will you be okay alone?"
"Of course," he murmured as he gazed at the box. "I believe I'd like to be alone now."
Bending to kiss his forehead, she gave Father one brief hug and returned to Vincent. Together they walked from the chamber leaving the old man with the letter in one hand and the unopened box in the other.
Almost hesitantly, Jacob turned the box, finally summoning the courage to lift the lid. Inside he found a folded bit of stationery, and slowly his gnarled fingers opened the note. Again he saw Margaret's familiar handwriting.
Since I arrived in your world I have seen many beautiful things. I know you appreciate the miracles around you, but I am not certain you see the loveliest miracle of them all. Jacob, I want you to look at Vincent and Catherine together and truly see them.
They are so much in love. I've tried to understand why you are so withdrawn from her, and I wonder if I must take the responsibility for your cool attitude toward her. You believe I violated your trust. I know that. But I trust Catherine with Vincent's love, and I want you to trust her, too. Their love will endure without you, but they want and need your approval.
Catherine is such a special woman, and she loves Vincent so dearly. I know she will make him happy. ..and no one deserves happiness more than Vincent. Their life will begin where ours has stopped. ..and through them, you and I can truly become never-ending.
Someday you will come to understand. When that day comes, I believe that you'll agree with me that the item in this package rightfully belongs to them.
I love you.
Father lifted the tissue wrapped article from the bottom of the box. Slowly he pulled the paper
loose, and after the last of the tissue fell away. he shuddered.
As he held the object tightly in his fist, the controls over his emotions collapsed. And Father cried.
* * *
Two Years Later
Father stood at his bureau, gazing at the drawer which held his most personal and valuable possessions. Margaret had been dead for almost two years, but he felt her now, as strongly as if she stood at his side. He'd felt her presence during Vincent's recent terrible illness, and he'd seen her tenderness in Catherine's green eyes as the young woman had nursed Vincent back to health. Father and Catherine had worked together in perfect harmony, resisting the forces which had almost destroyed the man they both loved, until at last Vincent had fully recovered.
Now, finally, Father knew the time was right. His fingers opened the bureau drawer and fumbled far into its recesses until they settled upon the small hidden box. He smiled as he withdrew his most precious of all treasures. Then he moved to the nearest pipes and sent the message which would summon Vincent and Catherine.
* * *
"You are very mysterious, Father." Vincent stood with his arm resting lightly upon Catherine's shoulders. The time of darkness had left him thinner, but his eyes were shining were shining with new-found peace since Catherine had moved Below.
Catherine tilted her head in a gesture that reminded Father of Vincent. "Your message said you had something to give us."
The old man nodded. "Yes. Come and sit." He led the way to Vincent's chair, which was now flanked by a smaller chair of the same vintage. As the couple sat holding hands, Father stood before them. He smiled down at his son. "Every day you seem to grow stronger and more fit."
Vincent answered with a nod and a smile. "I am, Father. But you did not call us here just to say that."
"No, no, of course not." He fingered the small box in his pocket. "There is something very important which has been waiting for just the right time. ..a gift from me. ..and from Margaret."
Catherine asked quietly, "Margaret?"
Father continued with a nod. "Perhaps you recall the letter and the parcel you brought to me after her death."
Vincent and Catherine exchanged a glance. The letter had been written a long time ago, but some things were impossible to forget. Vincent murmured softly, "Of course, we remember, Father. Has something happened to cause you to think of the letter again?"
The old man smiled, watching the silent interplay between his son and this young woman who was now such an important part of their lives.
Never had Father believed that Vincent could be this happy, this. ..complete. 'Yes,' he thought, 'something has happened.' Something that he had once considered impossible.
At last Father responded quietly, "Margaret. .." His voice failed. He cleared his throat and began again. "Margaret was acquainted with the two of you for only seven days, but in that short time she saw something it has taken me three years to see." Jacob stepped nearer, resting his left hand upon Catherine's shoulder. With his other hand, he reached into the hidden pocket and withdrew a small white box. "There is a note inside," he whispered. "It was written by Margaret, addressed to me ...but now she and I give this gift together. And her words speak for us both." Tenderly he placed the box into Vincent's hand.
Straightening, Father took one step back, his eyes misting as he murmured, "Now, if you'd excuse me, there's a place near the Great Falls which was a favorite place of Margaret's. I haven't been there in a long time, and I believe I would like to visit it for a while." Without further comment, Jacob Wells hobbled up the chamber steps and disappeared into the outer chamber.
In surprised silence, the couple watched him leave. Then Vincent leaned forward, holding the box above Catherine's lap, and carefully she lifted the lid. Finding the slip of paper inside, she opened the note, and together they read it in silence.
A small object wrapped in tissue rested in the bottom of the box. Slowly Vincent lifted it, his eyes again coming up to meet Catherine's. "Catherine?"
"You open it," she whispered, slipping her arm around his, leaning against his warmth.
With a slight nod, he turned the tiny parcel, unfolding the layers of thin paper one by one. Finally, the last of the tissue fell away, and he held the object delicately between his fingers, watching it glitter in the candle-lit haze.
Bringing his arm around Catherine's shoulders, he pulled her even nearer, and together they gazed at the gift which represented the love Father had felt for Margaret, and which carried the blessings which Father could finally bestow upon the love shared between Vincent and Catherine.
There in Vincent's hand lay Margaret's wedding ring.