Tell It To My heart
Alone in the darkness, Vincent studied his hands – the hands that had torn flesh – the hands that had rent life into death – had hurt the ones he loved – had distanced himself from them - had extracted vengeance...
He was worn to a shadow...only shadows and whispers remained now – visions and voices. Vincent’s awareness raced against time –
He turned toward the boy – the boy who had hurt his daughter, whose life literally hung in the balance, who Vincent could allow to die or choose to save...
* * *
Vincent had run the three miles to the quarry, shedding his clothing as he ran. His body burned with a rage he had never before experienced. Fury scorched his soul as he reached the place where he seized upon one of the sledge hammers and swung it fiercely against the large stones piled there against the walls. Naked to the waist, he struck the stones over and over, sending fragments shattering into the air, as he relived every one of his violent moments.
Only a surgeon – or a killer – could know how hot human blood actually was. The acrid scent of it as it sprang from the body, intermittently pumping in rhythm with the dying heart, was relived in his senses. He imagined the boy’s skull cracking alongside the boulders as the mighty hammer fell again and again.
With perverse pleasure, he indulged himself in fantasies of the kill. His talons slashing the jugular vein, his large hands snapping the cervical spine, bones splintering under his assault, the dull thud of bodies striking the wall or the ground.
The next hammer strike resulted in a ricocheting rebound that tumbled Vincent across the quarry floor, toward the edge of the black pool of wastewater where heated tools and stones were cooled for further process. The pause brought him a glimmer of clarity and tears mingled with the sweat on his face.
Nothing had ever caused him the wrath he now felt. That very first time, when Catherine had been threatened, he sprang to her rescue without hesitation, though his remorse was great after the fact. The violent death of Paracelsus had pushed him into madness. The worst was the night Jacob was born, when Catherine was held hostage and Vincent feared he would never reclaim his family – or himself.
Now many years had passed without killing. Vincent had developed other methods of conflict resolution and his children had never known him to use physical aggression.
But this...this agony, this pain, was the worst. How could anyone have hurt his little girl?
* * *
“Lift up a bit, child,” said Mary gently, as she changed the absorbent linens under Estelle’s body. Tucking the covers around her, Mary kissed her cheek, saying, “I’ll be back with the lemon tea.”
“Thanks, Granna Mary,” the child whispered, smiling wanly.
Catherine positioned herself on the bed beside Estelle, cuddling the young girl and kissing her hair.
“Where’s Daddy?” Estelle asked, looking up at her mother.
“He’ll be back in just a while,” Catherine soothed, stroking her daughter’s cheek.
“He’s gone to find Daniel, hasn’t he?” the child inquired fearfully. “He might hurt him, Mother! We have to stop him!”
“Shhhhhh...” Catherine quieted her. “All will be well...”
Just then, Mary returned with the tea and encouraged Catherine to step outside to talk with Father. Gathering her daughter in a warm hug, Catherine kissed her lovingly, saying, “I’ll be just outside with Granfer.”
In the outside corridor, Catherine let down her defenses and clutched the old doctor’s vest showing her true worry and fear. “How badly is she hurt, Father?”
“She has some torn tissue, some bleeding, which I believe will subside soon. There is bruising on her arms and thighs...Physically, I believe she will recover.”
Catherine could barely get the words out, as she asked, “Do we need to treat her for pregnancy? Or infection?”
“I’ll start an antibiotic...” said Jacob, raking his fingers through his gray hair. “She told Mary that the...contact...stopped almost as soon as it began...”
“But there is a risk...?” Catherine’s hand was at her throat. Her 16 year old daughter could be pregnant.
* * *
When Vincent entered the hospital chamber, his darling Estelle was asleep. Her quiet little breaths, her delicate hands resting against the counterpane, her tangle of golden hair like a halo spread over the pillow, framing her angel’s face where golden lashes rested against porcelain cheeks.
Nodding to Mary, who gathered her skirts and left soundlessly, Vincent took a seat at the bedside. In the candlelight, nothing was so beautiful as his sweet daughter, no one so vulnerable, no one so full of power.
Estelle, his Little Willow, who could bend without breaking, who could laugh and pout and hold his very heart in her hands. Vincent’s chest seized with anxiety, his breaths ragged and strained. He had hurt her! He had hurt her!! Daniel must die!
Filled with anger and shame, Vincent leapt up from his chair and began to pace in the chamber. A white heat seared his mind as he cast about for a way to manage this pain. Daniel...the young man who had joined their community just last year. The musician, the scientist, the perpetrator...!!
Vincent slumped against the far wall, sitting down hard against the cold floor, still able to see his lovely Estelle resting innocently in her hospital bed. How had Daniel come to be part of their community?
Vincent remembered that it had been a stressful day. Excavations in the lower chambers had been hazardous and difficult and the workers returned hungry and exhausted. Pascal had remained behind that day to receive a shipment from Above of precious connector pipes. It was Pascal who had introduced Daniel, referred by the Helper who furnished the pipes and recommended the young man due to his architectural skills. As well, Daniel was an accomplished pianist. Additionally, he proved to be handy in the kitchen as he pitched in to assist William to prepare a sumptuous meal for the returning workers.
Daniel seemed to breeze through the Council’s approval process to be admitted to the Community. He was a handsome lad, tall and muscular, long dark hair tied back, the beginnings of a beard along his strong jawline. His tragic tale was one of loss – all his family killed in one fatal accident – a house fire. Soft-spoken and well-spoken, age 17, he made his case to be admitted Below and was accepted without delay. Vincent never thought to question it.
When had Daniel and Estelle become close? Vincent could not pinpoint the beginning of their connection. Yes, there had been concerts, and celebrations and tutoring; there had been collaborative events when all community members gathered to sew quilts, or pack Helper gifts, or can vegetables for William’s kitchen. Was Daniel always at Estelle’s side? In retrospect, it seemed so.
Just then, Estelle stirred and uttered a soft sigh that brought Vincent to the bedside. “Daddy?” she whispered, reaching for him.
“Yes, my sweet, I’m here,” Vincent replied, kneeling next to her.
Crystal blue eyes implored him, “Daddy, don’t tell anyone else! Jacob’s away at school and the twins wouldn’t understand! Let us just reconcile it among ourselves...” Estelle reached for his hands, clutching Vincent to her, entreating him.
“My dearest...!” Vincent got up abruptly, releasing her child’s grip, and strode to the far wall of the chamber, pressing his back against the rocks, struggling.
“Daddy, I don’t know why – but, I don’t hate him!” she went on. “He seems sick...troubled...You taught me to help those who lived with these demons - these dark places!”
“Estelle! He has hurt you!” Vincent rushed back to her now as his voiced cracked against the pain. “How can you...”
“Daddy! I love him! Please! Do not harm him!” Estelle struggled to sit up in bed and reach toward her father. “Promise me!”
Lost in her gaze, his rage melting inside him, Vincent whispered, “I promise.”
* * *
Later, with Estelle safely tucked in with Mary and Father in attendance, Vincent turned his attention to collaboration with his wife.
“She’s in love with him,” Catherine offered.
“He hurt her!” Vincent countered.
“It has to be her decision,” said Catherine gently, secretly worrying about the consequences of the encounter.
“I want to talk to him,” Vincent said, “I want to know what he was thinking!”
“I will talk to Estelle,” Catherine proposed. “Then we will know what to do...”
“Yes...” answered Vincent, frowning and projecting into the future.
* * *
The next morning, Catherine assisted Estelle to gather her belongings and move from the hospital chamber back to her own area. Once they had settled themselves, Catherine took up the hairbrush and began to dress Estelle’s hair. “Hair just like your father’s...!” she exclaimed, twisting the golden locks into a French braid.
Then, “Tell me what happened, darling,” said Catherine as she put the brush down and moved to face her daughter.
“We had come in from swimming,” Estelle began, “we were toweling off and getting dressed in separate areas. He surprised me by coming up behind me and hugging me tightly. He said ‘do you love me?’ I said, ‘I do love you, Daniel,’ and he said, ‘Show me how much.’
“I told him - Now is not the time, Daniel - let me get dressed.” He turned me to face him and he pressed against me, his hands clutching me, he said, “Let me love you!”
“I said No! but he...pushed into me and when he saw I was crying he withdrew right away; he was remorseful; he was crying, too; he apologized; he didn’t mean it; he wanted to take it all back! Mother! He really loves me! He didn’t mean to hurt me!”
Neither Catherine nor Estelle could know that, as they spoke, Vincent was simultaneously getting the story from Daniel.
* * *
Vincent had confronted Daniel just off one of the lower passageways, where access was limited. Daniel was clearly intimidated, though he squared his shoulders and faced Estelle’s father. “Tell me what took place between you and my daughter...” Vincent rasped and his heart seized at the adolescent emotion in Daniel’s voice.
“We had finished our swim and she was around the corner drying off....I came up behind her and took her in my arms...I asked her if she loved me and she said yes she did love me...”
A low growl escaped Vincent’s lips as he relived his own youthful desire and impulsivity and as he fought against the compulsion to attack Daniel.
“Her blue eyes, her blue eyes...” Daniel continued, looking away and lapsing into the past. “To touch her was all I dreamed of...once I had hold of her...my hands, my hands would not let go of her...”
Vincent inhaled sharply, painfully reliving the feel of Lisa’s body beneath his own clutch. His talons had hurt her, scarred her, drawn her blood! Was he so different from this boy?
Vincent retreated to the opposite wall. His temper was held with extreme effort as he asked Daniel to explain what happened next.
Daniel hesitated, not trusting Vincent’s invitation. Thinking of Estelle, Daniel was filled with regret. He felt the tears shed and unshed, the smiles seen and unseen. He felt the breaths that could have become the sighs. In his heart, he acknowledged the touch that could have healed, and instead, harmed and shamed.
He had entered her abruptly, tearing the soft flesh that would have given itself in love; the body that would have accepted and honored the request, had it been issued. He could not live with himself.
“I...I forced her...I don’t know why – I truly love her...I don’t know why I...”
Vincent roared in frustration, ripping his cloak in two and casting the garment from his shoulders. “I cannot abide you!” he yelled. “I cannot look at you! I cannot hear you!” He paced furiously along the cavern wall, striking one fist into the other.
“Then listen with your heart!” Daniel beseeched him. “We both love Estelle!”
Suddenly, Vincent lost perspective and snatched Daniel up by the neck, shoving him hard against the rocky wall. Vincent’s grasp crushed Daniel against the stones, closing his grip on Daniel’s throat.
“You hurt her!” Vincent accused.
As Daniel began to lose oxygen, the boy’s face took on a peaceful expression and he whispered, “Yes...kill me...please...”
Suddenly, Vincent opened his hands and Daniel’s body dropped to the stony floor.
Daniel gasped for breath, clutching his throat. He scrambled along the passageway, crawling, desperately trying to escape Vincent’s assault. He swiped the tears from his face, sobbing, “My father always told me a woman’s ‘no’ means ‘yes!’ I thought my father and brother died together in a terrible accident - come to find out - my brother killed my father for his abuses toward my mother! I never knew! I never knew!! My father and my brother and my mother – they all died the same day – they all died together – they killed each other! My brother set the fire that killed them all!!”
Daniel lurched along the cavern passageway, falling on his back, reaching up to Vincent, his face a tortured mask. “Kill me now!” he screamed. “I deserve it! I can’t live after what I’ve done! Kill me! Kill me!!”
* * *
“Mother, I know that Daniel crossed the boundary – he knows it, too. We do love each other. I forgive him! I do! We both want to know each other. Won’t you speak to Daddy? He’ll understand once he realizes how much we love each other!” Estelle implored her mother.
Catherine held her beloved daughter in her arms. The most like Vincent, Estelle was the child who could reach her father – or drive him into a seething revenge. Catherine rocked her little girl and prayed for a cooling justice.
* * *
The hour was late when Vincent returned to their chamber, and Catherine greeted him anxiously. He held her in his arms a brief moment, then turned to the washstand, pushing up his sleeves.
“Haven’t you been sleeping?” he asked over his shoulder as he began to wash.
“No, of course not, not with you...away,” she answered him. “And Daniel...” then, “Vincent? Where is your cloak?”
“I left it with Elizabeth to be repaired, it was...torn.” He toweled his face and arms and turned to look at her. “How is she?” he asked, his voice low and tender with concern.
“She’s well,” Catherine smiled up at him, “She’s recovering.”
“So much to be thankful for,” he responded, sitting down on the bed to remove his boots.
“Vincent...” Catherine ventured, “how did you leave things with Daniel?”
“He wishes he was dead.” Vincent’s tone was ice cold, his face expressionless.
Catherine’s breath caught in her throat. “Vincent! Is the boy – is he all right!?”
Vincent’s head dropped forward and he exhaled forcefully. He covered his face with his hands and thrust his fingers into his hair, gripping his head. “I did not kill him, if that is your question,” he replied.
“Oh, Vincent! We can’t mishandle this!” Catherine cried, gripping his arm. “Estelle’s in love with that young man! She forgives him! She’ll be distraught if he’s harmed!”
“I won’t hurt him. I promised her...” Vincent disclosed with resignation. He stared down at his tight fists and Catherine put her arms around him before the tears began to fall.
* * *
Over the next days, Estelle’s body signaled that pregnancy had not occurred, so Catherine breathed a sigh of relief. One less thing to bring to Vincent’s attention...
Daniel was keeping his distance from Estelle and her family, though there were curious reports from other community members about his behavior.
“It’s not like Daniel to miss kitchen duty,” sputtered William, “especially tonight when we’re making gumbo! It’s his favorite!”
At breakfast, Pascal wondered aloud why Daniel had made him a gift of his best tools, saying he might not have as much time to work on the pipes now. Pascal had wanted to know more, but had been called away and not finished the conversation.
Mary was touched, though also surprised, when Daniel presented her with his first edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, bound in the green cloth cover. She had protested the gift, saying, “Daniel, it’s much too rare and valuable. You should keep it, my dear, for your children!” But Daniel had only muttered something like it is lost and departed abruptly.
Vincent kept these reports to himself. He had been where Daniel was now.
Estelle brooded quietly, intending to give Daniel some personal space, yet aching to see him and speak to him. She had completely regained her strength by now and was wanting to go in search of him. She confronted her parents, saying she was unwilling to go another day without knowing where and how Daniel was.
Vincent smiled inwardly at his daughter’s resolve, though outwardly, he attempted to dissuade her. Between the three of them, they agreed Vincent would go to find him and carry Estelle’s message. Later that day, Vincent gathered torches and supplies and set out.
* * *
Without really thinking, Vincent knew where Daniel would go. He would return to the scene...as Vincent had returned to the dancing chamber many times...so many times. Daniel would surely return to the swimming chambers.
As Vincent’s steps neared the swimming pools, he slowed unconsciously, almost stopping in his tracks. He had experienced moral conflict before – though never more intensely than now – as he deliberated between allowing Daniel to evaporate from Estelle’s life or to rescue him to be a significant part of her life.
Something reached out to Vincent through the Bond; what else could it be? He had always lived with empathic channels, but this seemed more intimate, more personal. He knew with true conviction what Daniel was planning.
As Vincent rounded the corner, in the torchlight, he was immediately faced with the lanky body suspended from the stalactites. Seeing Daniel there, Vincent hesitated - many hours passing in the moment. Guiltily noticing the slight quiver along the limbs, Vincent rushed forward, lifting the near lifeless body up from the straining noose with one arm, while tearing at the knot with the other hand. Carefully, he eased Daniel’s body to the cavern floor.
No need for resuscitation efforts as Daniel sputtered and coughed once his airway was opened. Upon resumption of regular breaths, Vincent positioned Daniel over his shoulder and carried him along the tunnel passageways to the hospital chamber.
Lena was on watch in the infirmary and went to fetch Father and Mary as soon as Vincent arrived with Daniel in need of care. Vincent laid Daniel on one of the beds and stepped back to look upon the boy.
Daniel shook himself awake and started up from the mattress, attempting to run from Vincent.
“Do not run, do not fear,” Vincent soothed, “I know you. I heard you with my heart.”
Daniel settled back onto the bed, though he eyed Vincent warily.
Vincent retreated to the entryway as Father and Mary entered the chamber and began to evaluate Daniel and apply a neck brace.
As he stood there observing the young man who loved and had hurt his precious daughter, Vincent felt his wife creep up beside him and slip her arm into his. “How is he?” she asked, snuggling under Vincent’s left arm and resting her head against his heart.
“He will live...” Vincent answered, pressing a light kiss against her hair.
“She will want to see him,” Catherine offered.
“Yes...” he replied.
In the next hour, Estelle took her place at Daniel’s bedside. Tenderly, she held his hand against her cheek and gazed lovingly onto his sleeping face.
Vincent lingered in the entryway, until Catherine came to entice him away.
Estelle would sit in the candlelight with Daniel all night. And she would be there when Daniel waked up in the morning.