Charles was bouncing noisily around the study under the indulgent eyes of both parents.
"Come on, Charles. It's time for your bath." Catherine stood and held out her hand.
Charles stuck out his lower lip mutinously. "No!" he declared in his best two-year-old manner. "No bath!"
"Yes," Catherine told him firmly. "You're dirty!"
"No bath!" Charles repeated stubbornly.
Catherine crossed the room and caught him as he tried to dodge away. "Don't tell me `no,' Charles," she reproved as she carried him through the nursery and into the bathroom.
Once in the water, Charles' attitude changed and he splashed happily as Catherine soaped and rinsed him. Wrapped damply in a fluffy towel, he trotted back into the study, where he dropped the towel to stand unselfconsciously naked in front of the fire.
Catherine retrieved the towel and used it to dry Charles' hair and efficiently got him into his diaper and pajamas. After a few strokes of a comb through his thick brown hair, Charles was ready for bed.
"Say goodnight to your father," Catherine urged. Galloping over to Vincent's big chair, Charles climbed up for a hug.
"'Night, Father," he said, planting a moist kiss on Vincent's cheek. He offered his own satiny cheek for a return kiss. "I love you." Charles wrapped his arms around Vincent's neck for one more hug.
"I love you, too, Charles," Vincent answered.
As Charles slid down, Catherine picked him up and carried him into the nursery. She held him tightly for a moment, feeling his soft cheek pressed against hers and smelling his sweet, clean scent before lowering him into the crib.
"Go to sleep, now," she directed as she switched off the lamp. She returned to the couch and picked up the novel she'd been trying to read.
A rhythmic squeak and bump came from the nursery as Charles stood and bounced on the mattress. He called repeatedly for both parents, but they ignored him and after a while, he began to cry. Soon his wails faded away, followed by a silence that indicated he had fallen asleep.
Sometime later, Vincent looked up to see Catherine gazing thoughtfully into the fire. Silently, he watched her for a few minutes before laying aside his book and going to sit beside her.
She snuggled against him as his arm went around her.
"Tell me what you're thinking," he urged softly.
She shook her head. "It's nothing."
"Catherine." His voice was gently remonstrative. "It's something. What is it?"
Burrowing more deeply into his arms, she sighed plaintively. "What's wrong with me, Vincent? Why can't I be satisfied with what I have?"
He kissed the top of her head and rested his chin there gently. "You want another baby." He said it quietly, a simple statement of fact.
Catherine pulled back a little, looking up at him wide-eyed.
"I feel the longing in you," he explained softly. "It's there every time you look at Charles."
"Yes," she nodded her agreement and rested her head against his chest again. "He's turning into a little boy," she added wistfully. "Sometimes I miss my baby."
There was a silence and Catherine shifted a little as she turned her face up to Vincent's. "I'll get over it," she promised with a small smile.
Vincent held her quietly for a few minutes. "I had a dream last night," he said after a while. "There were children's voices, laughing. Somehow I knew they were our children. Charles was there. He was older, maybe eight, nine years old. I couldn't see the others clearly, but there were two or three of them." There was another silence before Vincent spoke again. "One of them was a little girl with green eyes," he said softly.
"Was it one of your special dreams?" Catherine asked him.
"I don't think so. It was just a dream." He tightened his arms around her. "I think it means I want another baby, too."
Catherine pulled away from him. "You're serious."
"Yes." Vincent regarded her with quiet humor. "Does that surprise you?"
"I think shock is a more accurate word." She looked at him soberly. "After all we went through with Charles, after all your fears for me and for him, you are willing to risk having another child?"
"The risk does not seem so great, now. Charles is a perfect little boy. Even Father agrees that the odds are good that another child will be completely normal. And I know now that many of my fears for you were unfounded."
"You spoke to Father?" Catherine asked, reflecting that Vincent was full of surprises tonight.
"Yesterday," Vincent admitted.
"So we're going to try to have another baby," Catherine said slowly, wanting to be sure she and Vincent understood each other.
"If you wish for one," Vincent agreed.
Catherine smiled. Standing, she pulled Vincent to his feet and kissed him. "I think now is a good time to start."
* * * * *
After the effortless way she had gotten pregnant with Charles, Catherine anticipated no problems conceiving a second child. But after six months of trying, she was becoming frustrated and despondent.
Vincent spent his days Below with Charles while Catherine worked. One evening he came home to find her sitting on the bed, close to tears. Setting Charles on his feet, Vincent sent him into the nursery to play and gathered Catherine into his arms. "Tell me."
She attempted a smile. "Joe's wife brought their baby to the office today. When I held her..." she stopped and shook her head. "It's silly to feel this way."
"No," he corrected her gently. "You can't help what you feel."
"I wish I could be as accepting as you are, Vincent. I wish it didn't matter so much to me." She pressed her face hard against him, fighting back tears as he stroked her hair.A sudden crash from the study and a wail from Charles brought the conversation to an abrupt end.
With Vincent's help, Catherine was able to achieve a measure of serenity as the months passed and nothing happened, but she still felt frustration at times. At Winterfest, she spoke to Peter about the possibility of medical problems.
He laughed. "I think you're worrying too much."
Catherine smiled self-consciously. "That's what Vincent says."
Peter put an affectionate arm around her. "You come in after the first of the year and we'll run some tests to see if there's a problem. In the meantime, stop trying so hard."
* * * * *
Catherine did go to see Peter after the first of the year, but the only test he ran confirmed that she was pregnant at last.
A few weeks later, when Vincent was beginning to feel the child's presence, a perplexed look crossed his face.
"What is it?" Catherine asked.
"I think," Vincent said slowly, "there's more than one."
"More than one baby?" She looked down with a mixture of delight and consternation. "How many more than one?" she asked suspiciously.
Vincent made a helpless gesture. "I can't be sure. I think there are two."
An ultrasound in Peter's office confirmed Vincent's diagnosis - Catherine was expecting twins. After the initial surprise, everyone seemed pleased by the idea. Only Charles, who had just turned three, remained unimpressed. Theoretical babies didn't interest him - he was much more concerned with the here and now.
Except for mild morning sickness during the first few weeks, Catherine enjoyed a trouble-free pregnancy. Whether it was Vincent's experience as an expectant father or just that he was able to be with Catherine most of the time, this pregnancy was easier on him, too. Although he was careful of her and made sure she took care of herself, this time he didn't hover and worry. Catherine noticed and was grateful.
One weekday morning late in June, Vincent was in the nursery with Charles, helping the little boy gather up the belongings he wished to take Below today when Catherine called him, her voice and feelings hovering somewhere between amusement and frustration.
Leaving Charles to finish packing his tote, Vincent went to the open door connecting the nursery and bedroom. Catherine was sitting on the edge of the bed, leaning back on stiff arms and surveying her feet ruefully.
"Will you put my shoes on for me?" she asked. "I can't reach my feet anymore."
Vincent couldn't suppress a chuckle. Catherine was only in her seventh month, but already she was as large as she had been when Charles was born. Kneeling beside her, he eased her feet into the soft, flat shoes which were all she wore anymore. Later in the day, especially if she had to stand for any length of time, her feet would begin to swell.
"Who did this for you with Charles?" he asked.
Catherine cocked her head to one side and smiled. "Brooke," she admitted. "It was only the last week or so that I couldn't do it myself and she used to come in to help me. We didn't tell you because we didn't want you to worry."
As he finished with the shoes, Vincent stood up. "Was I that bad?" he asked, trying to remember.
"Worse," Catherine told him, holding out her hands. "Help me up."
He pulled her to her feet and she looked at the ceiling speculatively."I wonder what it would cost to have a crane installed in here."
Vincent grinned. "You don't need a crane," he said, sweeping her up into his arms. "As long as you have me."
Catherine laughed and kissed his cheek. "Put me down," she instructed. "This is horribly uncomfortable and besides, I'm late for work."
* * * * *
Because twins are often premature, Father and Peter both insisted that Catherine begin her maternity leave early. She complied without argument, thankful for the chance to rest frequently. She conscientiously followed orders, staying off her feet and lying down whenever possible. She quickly learned that forced inactivity can be unbelievably monotonous.
Charles took full advantage of this special treat. For as long as he could remember, he had spent his days Below while his mother worked. Now she was home all the time, and, since Vincent still had his duties Below, he had her all to himself.
One hot July afternoon he played on the bed beside her, running hand-carved wooden cars along highways bordered by folds of the quilt. Catherine, as usual, was lying next to him trying to read. Concentration was made difficult by the boisterous sound effects as the cars climbed pillow hills and swept down into blanket valleys.
Something moved against ber belly and she brushed at it absently, thinking it was one of the babies moving. Her hand encountered a smaller one, clutching a car that was vrooming up her side. "Charles, what are you doing?"
He grinned. "Good hills, Mother!"
She laughed and gave up on her novel. "Why don't you go get a book and I'll read to you."
Abandoning his cars, he trotted into the nursery, returning a moment later with not one, but at least eight books piled haphazardly in his arms. He dumped them on the bed and climbed up.
"Charles, I meant one book," Catherine remonstrated gently.
He looked up, his eyes round with innocence. "Maybe four?" he suggested.
"Two," she bargained.
"Three." He stuck out his lower lip, looking sad and mistreated.
Catherine laughed. "Two now," she repeated firmly. "Maybe I'll read another one later. Okay?"
Charles just grunted, rearranging himself to nestle against her side before handing her his first choice. Her arm went around him and she bent her head to his as she opened it and began to read.
* * * * *
A week later it was Vincent on the bed beside her.
"Jenny called today and we must have spent an hour on the phone," Catherine was saying. "She's going..." She stopped abruptly, shifting uncomfortably and rubbing her side.
Charles had been delaying his bedtime by pretending to be very content to sit and listen to his parent's conversation. Now he scrambled over to Catherine, curling up beside her and placing his head very precisely against her abdomen. His face was a study of concentration. Catherine stroked his head as she, too, appeared to be listening for something. Suddenly they both laughed.
"What are you doing, Charles?" Vincent was unable to contain his curiousity.
"I'm feeling," the boy replied, with the air of one who thinks his actions are perfectly obvious.
"It's a new game," Catherine explained.
Charles sat up. "It tickles my ear," he said. "I like it." He gave the right side of Catherine's stomach a proprietary pat. "This one kicks a lot," he told his father seriously. "The other one just goes up and down."
After hugs and kisses, Charles was dispatched to bed. Catherine shifted positions again as the baby she privately thought of as "the kicker" resumed its assault on her ribs. Vincent moved closer, putting his arm across her swollen body as he rested his head against her in imitation of Charles. The baby kicked in response to the weight and Vincent smiled. "It does tickle," he said, moving so he could feel the baby's kicks against his cheek.
Catherine indulged him for a little while before nudging the top of his head. "I have to move now," she informed him. "You're in the way."
Vincent moved back against the pillows as Catherine turned heavily onto her side. He ran his hand across the left side of her abdomen, where the other baby lay. "How is this one today?"
"Making waves," she said irritably. This baby was much quieter than the other one, but when it did move, it seemed to heave and roll. It was an annoying sensation at best.
Vincent smiled at her tenderly. "Have I told you recently how beautiful you are?"
She scowled at him impatiently. "Vincent, I'm enormous! I waddle like a duck... I look like a blimp..."
"You are... large," he conceded diplomatically, taking her face gently between his hands and kissing her. "But you'll always be beautiful to me."
* * * * *
Four weeks before the babies were due, the family moved Below. "Do you ever think about what they'll be like?" Catherine asked Vincent as they prepared for bed on their first evening there.
"Sometimes," he admitted, helping her lie down before climbing in beside her.
"Charles seems so like I imagine you must have been at his age... quiet and thoughtful... full of questions..."
Vincent chuckled. "Father says he is."
"He's so funny sometimes. I have so much love for that
little boy... and now these two..." She shook her head in wry amazement. "Did you ever think we'd be the parents of three children?"
There was a long pause and she looked up at him, touching his hand.
"I never believed I would be a parent at all," he reminded her finally. "Now, to be not once, but three times blessed... it is a treasure beyond words."
"It's going to be chaos for a while," Catherine said. "Two newborns demanding to be fed and changed at all hours... keeping up with Charles..."
Vincent smiled, remembering the time and effort expended to meet the needs of one infant. Two babies would be at least twice as much work and their lives would be altered drastically. Some of the changes had already begun to take place. In their house, two cribs were wedged into the tiny nursery, joining Charles's small bed and a single chest of drawers. The toybox and bookcase had been moved into the study and the only place for the rocking chair was a corner of their bedroom.
"I wonder if we're having girls or boys or one of each," Catherine said wistfully, changing positions with an effort. She and Peter had agreed when she was carrying Charles that any prenatal tests which required labwork would have to be foregone. The risk of Vincent's child having, like its father, qualities that might be identified as "not human" was too great to take. Things had not changed in that regard and amniocentesis was one of the tests which had not been performed. Peter had done several ultrasound tests in his office, but, he freely admitted, he wasn't qualified to do much more than count limbs and check the babies' positions. Their sexes remained a mystery.
"Doesn't matter," Vincent answered sleepily. "We already love them."
"I know it doesn't matter," Catherine moved closer to him, trying to get comfortable. "It would be nice to have a little girl, though."
"Mmmm," Vincent agreed, automatically adjusting his own position to hers.
He was just drifting into sleep when, with a sharp sound of discouragement, Catherine pushed herself up to sit tensely on the side of the bed. Immediately alert, he watched her with careful patience. Sympathetic questions were likely to elicit irritation and he knew from experience it was best to wait for Catherine to speak.
After a moment, she did. "I can't sleep." She sounded almost resentful. "I haven't slept in a week."
Vincent knew that was very nearly true. She had been up and down several times each night recently. Most of the time she went into the study, where he could see a light and knew she was trying to read or work. Sometimes he heard her ponderous step as she wandered the room restlessly.
Those nights, he remained in bed only because he knew she was happier believing he slept. When she did return to their bed, she slept only fitfully, waking often to begin the cycle again. Twice he had found her dozing uncomfortably in a chair.
"When I lie down, I can't breathe," she complained now. "The babies press on me and I have to sit up." She sounded suddenly on the verge of tears. "I'm so tired, Vincent. I don't know if I can do this anymore."
Wordlessly, he rearranged the pillows to form a backrest and settled himself against them before reaching for Catherine. "Come here," he urged softly. She did, burying her face against him as he stroked her hair. After a while she began to relax in the security of his arms and at last she fell asleep.
Despite her protests, he held her in the same semi-sitting position night after night so she could sleep, snatching what rest he could at odd times during the day.They were both relieved when labor began a week later.
As previously arranged, Vincent carried a sleeping Charles to Kanin and Olivia`s chamber and summoned Mary and Father. They were joined by Lena, who had become Mary's apprentice midwife two years ago, following the birth of her son. Father sent a message to Peter before settling in to monitor Catherine's labor. After Mary or Father examined her, Lena would examine her, too. Catherine found it trying, but she knew that Lena had never seen a twin birth before and this was an important learning experience for her.
Peter arrived, and, not too many hours later, the first twin was about to be born. "Here's the head," Mary said. "Bear down one more time, Catherine... it's a boy!" Quickly she handed the baby to Lena.
As she had been taught, Lena cleaned his mouth and nose and made sure he was breathing properly before wrapping him snugly in a blanket. She held him in her arms as they waited for the birth of the second twin.
Vincent spared a glance at the baby and turned his attention back to Catherine. There would be time enough to see his second son after the other twin was born. It was only a few minutes before Mary was delivering the second baby. "This one's a girl," she smiled. Suddenly her expression changed. "Father!"
Father and Peter responded quickly to the alarm in Mary's voice, taking the baby and placing her on the table. As they worked frantically over the too-still form, Catherine began to panic, struggling up on her elbows in an effort to see.
"Vincent!" Mary snapped commandingly. "Make her lie down!"
Vincent, too, wanted to see what was happening to his daughter, but at this moment, Catherine needed him more. Gently, he pressed her back down and persuaded her to cooperate while Mary delivered the two afterbirths. She complied, but she stared at him with wide, frightened eyes.
Over his shoulder, Vincent watched Father and Peter. From where he knelt at Catherine's side, he could feel the small life slipping away as Peter stepped back, looking at Father with compassion in his eyes. Slowly, painfully, Vincent got to his feet.
"Father." Gently he laid his hand on Father's arm. "It's over. You tried."
Tenderly, Vincent wrapped the lifeless form in the blanket that had been waiting for her and lifted her in his arms. He cradled her close, looking at her for the first time. She was tiny, much smaller than Charles had been at birth. She had fine, dark hair and her eyes were peacefully closed. Her resemblance to Catherine was unmistakable, and, like Charles, she was completely human in appearance.
The room was eerily quiet as Vincent held the baby... the child for whom life had come and gone so quickly. Catherine's voice, unnaturally steady after her near-hysteria a few minutes before, shattered the silence.
"I want to see her."
Vincent looked at her uncertainly.
"Please, Vincent. I want to see her."
Mary helped Catherine to sit up and Vincent approached hesitantly. Doubt shadowed his eyes as he placed the child in Catherine's arms.
He knelt beside her. His heart ached as he watched her tenderly exploring the tiny features of their little girl. Her fingers carefully smoothed the dark wisps of hair before travelling down to gently touch the baby lips, brush across a soft pale cheek, and trace one perfect little ear.
Opening a fold of the blanket, she exposed one diminutive hand. She picked it up and uncurled the long, delicate fingers which lay lifeless across her palm. Quickly, protectively, her hand closed over the smaller one as she clutched the little body closer.
It was Mary who came, after a few minutes, to take the baby away. Catherine gave her up reluctantly and turned to the strong, quiet strength of Vincent's arms.
Lena stood unobtrusively in a corner, the firstborn twin in her arms all but forgotten by the others in the room. Since his birth, the child had been quiet, but now he let out a plaintive cry.
Catherine turned toward the sound. "Lena," she whispered hoarsely. "Bring him here."
Lena looked down at the baby... and hesitated.
Panic began to creep back into Catherine's voice. "Bring him here!"
Lena came slowly, hesitating again before finally laying the baby in Catherine's arms.
This child was fair, with a square face, wide-set eyes and a perfectly molded nose and brow. His mouth was wide, too, with a full lower lip and narrow upper one. His upper lip was cleft.
Catherine looked at him for a long time before lifting her face to Vincent. "He's beautiful," she said, her voice daring anyone to deny it.
"Yes," he agreed quietly. "He looks like you."
* * * * *
Despite his lip, the baby had no trouble nursing, and after he'd been bathed and fed, Vincent went for Charles.
The little boy came in more quietly than usual and climbed up on the bed. "Hello, Mother," he said gravely. "Father says I have to be careful and not bounce too much." He paused. "Can I hug you?"
Catherine smiled. "Of course you can."
Charles put his arms around her neck in a fierce embrace and kissed her cheek wetly.
"Do you want to meet your new brother?" Catherine asked him. The baby was sleeping beside her in the bed and she picked him up, holding him for Charles to see.
Charles looked at the baby with no more than casual interest."Where's the other one?" he asked innocently. "You said there were going to be two babies."
Catherine gave Vincent a helpless look of despair and he came to her rescue.
"Come here, Charles," he said, holding out his hand. "Come sit with me."
Charles clambered down obediently and went to sit on his father's knee.
"I have something to tell you," Vincent said, softly and slowly. Charles watched him, wide-eyed, and waited.
"There were two babies," Vincent went on, studying Charles' face to be sure he understood. "This baby," he gestured toward the bed, "and another one, a little girl. Your sister."
"Where is she?"
"She was very sick, Charles... she died."
"Oh." Charles was quiet, resting his head against his father's chest and swinging his feet reflectively. "Father?" he asked after a minute. "What does died mean?"
"It means she went away, Charles."
"Oh. Is she coming back?"
"No. She will never come back."
"Oh." Charles sat quietly for another minute before looking up. "Can I go play with Jonathan now?"
Vincent smiled in spite of his sadness. "`May I,' Charles. And yes, you may." He watched the boy scamper out and went to the bed.
Catherine was curled on her side, so still that, if not for their bond, Vincent might have thought she was asleep.
Sitting beside her, he touched her shoulder and she rolled back to look at him.
"I'm glad you were here to talk to him," she said. "I couldn't have."
"If I had not been here, you would have found the words."
Catherine closed her eyes briefly. "I can't even feel sad, Vincent. I just feel... empty. As if I'll never feel anything again."
"What you feel now is shock. It will take time for it to seem real." He shifted his attention to the new baby. Catherine was holding the child tightly against her body, as if drawing comfort from his closeness.
Catherine followed his glance. "I can't even feel any happiness for this one," she said, touching the baby's head lightly. "He doesn't even have a name."
"We chose names," Vincent reminded her gently. "One for a boy and one for a girl. Have you changed your mind?"
After a moment, Catherine shook her head. "His name is Jacob," she said softly. "Father will be pleased."
"Yes," Vincent agreed. "And our little girl? Will we give her the name we chose?"
Catherine looked at him with some of the numbness gone from her eyes. "She existed, Vincent. She lived, even if for a very short time."
"Then her name is Rose."
It had been Catherine's grandmother's name, and a name that seemed symbolic of their relationship.
* * * * *
Much later, Father found Vincent in the Chamber of the Falls. Carefully, the older man eased himself down beside his son. They sat in silence for several minutes before Father spoke.
"How is Catherine?"
"She's sleeping now."
Father nodded. "That's good, she needs to rest." He paused. "Vincent, I thought you would like to know... Peter and I examined the baby... your little girl..."
"Rose," Vincent interrupted, his eyes on the waterfall. "Her name is Rose."
"Rose," Father repeated. "A pretty name." He gathered his thoughts again. "I thought you would want to know... what happened was unavoidable. Peter and I suspect a rare condition called congenital alveolar dysplasia. It means that her lungs did not mature as they should. They were simply not developed enough to allow her to live."
"If she had been born Above, in a hospital..." Vincent's voice was hoarse and laced with bitterness.
"No, Vincent. She might have lived a little longer... an hour or two, perhaps a day. But no more."
"And if she were not my child?" His tone was accusing, full of self-blame and loathing.
"No, Vincent." Father's air of authority was absolute. "This is a condition which occurs in human babies. It does not appear to be genetic. It has nothing to do with you." His voice softened. "Believe me."
"Why, Father? They were only three weeks early. Why would one baby be fine and the other... unable to survive?" Finally, a kind of pleading anger had crept into his voice.
"No one knows, Vincent. Sometimes it happens that way. What you must remember," Father continued, trying to comfort, "is that you have two fine sons. Your new little boy is healthy and strong."
After a reflective moment, Vincent nodded. "I know."
He climbed to his feet and reached down to help Father up and they started back toward the living chambers. "We named him Jacob," Vincent said after a few minutes. "After you."
Father grumbled a little, but Vincent knew Catherine was right - he was pleased.
As they neared the entry to Vincent's chamber, he laid a restraining hand on Father's arm. "If you'll wait a moment, Father, I'll walk with you back to your chamber."
Father waited in the doorway as Vincent bent first over the big bed, then the cradle.
"It's strange," said Vincent, as they resumed their journey toward Father's chamber. "I knew Catherine was still sleeping and that she was all right, but knowing it through our connection wasn't enough. I felt... compelled... to see with my own eyes that she and the baby were well."
"Not so strange, Vincent. You lost a child today. It's only natural that you feel the need to safeguard the rest of your family."
They reached Father's chamber and Vincent accompanied him inside.
"I see Mary has brought me my pot of tea," Father said. "Will you join me for a cup?"
Vincent sat across the table from Father as the old man poured out the herb tea Mary made for him every evening. They sipped the hot liquid in silence for a time.
Setting down his cup, Father said, "You know, Vincent, "You need to begin thinking about the memorial service for little Rose. If there's anything special you or Catherine want..."
Vincent put his cup down abruptly, sloshing some of the contents out onto the table. "I can't, Father." He sprang to his feet and began to pace in agitation. "I can't think about it now. Perhaps tomorrow..."
"All right. Perhaps tomorrow, Vincent," Father agreed, rising and going to his son. "It's late. You should try to sleep."
The two men embraced, comforting each other before Vincent returned to Catherine.
* * * * *
The next morning Vincent and Charles walked slowly back from breakfast. Charles had been giving yesterday's events a great deal of thought and he had more questions to ask.
"Why did our baby die, Father?"
"Because she wasn't able to breathe, Charles."
"Did she want to die?"
"No, Charles. I don't think so." Vincent knew these questions were necessary for Charles to grasp what had happened to his sister, but they caused him deep pain, which he hid for fear of frightening the boy.
They walked in silence for a few moments before Charles had another question. "Are you going to die, Father?"
Vincent stopped and looked at Charles for a moment before dropping to one knee. "Everyone dies, Charles," he answered carefully. "But most people don't die until they are very old. I hope I won't die for a very long time."
Charles' light gray eyes were almost colorless in the dim light of the passage as he stared at his father. "Am I going to die?"
Vincent could never be less than honest with his son. "Yes, Charles, someday. But probably not until you are very old."
Charles had a wisdom beyond his years, but he was still just a little boy. His curiosity was satisfied and his fears were soothed for now. But Vincent knew, even as he and Charles resumed their stroll, that these questions would come up again and again until Charles could be at peace with the idea of death.
* * * * *
Two mornings later, Vincent sat at the table in his chamber, leafing through a book Father had given him. Catherine had just finished feeding Jacob and was putting him back in his cradle. Vincent looked up from his book to watch her. Her stoicism disturbed him. She had not yet shed any tears for the loss of baby Rose and Vincent knew she needed to cry before she could truly begin to mourn and heal.
Looking down, he began to skim the page before him. Abruptly, he stopped, went back, and began to read more carefully.
"Catherine," he said, after reading the page twice. She looked up from folding freshly laundered diapers.
"Come sit with me. Let me read something to you."
She came and sat beside him as he began to read, softly.
"`Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing foritself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which youcannot visit, not even in your dreams...'"
* * * * *
As he spoke, Vincent looked at the faces of those who had gathered by the Mirror Pool to mourn for little Rose. Catherine was seated beside him with Charles standing solemnly by her side and Jacob in her lap.
She wiped away a tear. Earlier this morning, as Vincent read the same poem to her, he had felt her grief and looked up to see tears rolling down her face. He had laid the book aside to take her in his arms and together they had cried for the loss of their daughter.
Rose's body had already been laid to rest, deep in the catacombs, and this, her memorial service, was almost over.
"`...For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as livingarrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,and he bends you with His might that His arrows may go swiftand far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves
also the bow that is stable.'"
As the sound of Vincent's voice died away, a single column of sunlight shafted down to reflect off the smooth surface of the Mirror Pool. It was, Vincent thought, a ray of hope.