The Only Gift - Chapter 4

Vincent was hard-pressed to keep his mind on his task and it was necessary that he do so. This was an important entrance into their northernmost tunnels, one of the few still used in the far reaches of the Bronx. Incursions by strangers, even if only teenagers on a dare, could not be allowed. The hidden panels and false walls were some of the oldest in their perimeter and the most primitive in design. It was a priority they be reconfigured, as there was evidence that visitors were exploring past the safe zones.

His thoughts wandered, pulled as they were by Catherine’s emotional swings of anxiety, wonder and near anger. He could not focus on one emotion, but he knew she needed him. Willing himself to narrow his connection to her, to concentrate, to proceed methodically and as quickly as possible, he set about completing the job.

He continued to drill, using an old-fashioned brace and bit, while Cullen bolted a barricade together between two false walls. It was a plan to buy them time to think and design, though complicated enough on its own. They reached a stopping place, finding it good enough, or at least the best they could manage on emergency notice. Mouse made intricate drawings and Cullen took precise measurements, while Vincent patrolled the area, erasing their footprints, checking for telltale debris and litter.

As they began the long walk home, Vincent could feel Catherine calling him, willing him to come to her. He knew where to find her, but he was still hours away in miles and until dark.


As if an offering, Catherine held the package in her outstretched hands, carrying it through the foyer of Sutton Place and into her father’s office. She set the parcel on the desk, untied the strings and lifted the top. Then she backed away to think.

The key …

It was there still, in the camphor-wood box in her father’s room. She had only to retrieve it and open the jeweled padlock. Drawn as by a magnet, she fetched the chest but willed herself to wait, unwilling to do this alone though her curiosity roared and raged.

Vincent … I need you close.

Dark was hours away and she was not entirely sure he would know where to find her. If only there were a nearby entrance where she could find a pipe and send a message. But he would tell her to simply trust in their bond, in his knowing of her.

And so she did.

Another mystery plagued her certainties. Smythe said her father had purchased a book, a first edition of Christina Rossetti’s sonnets.

“Ghosts don’t buy books,” she said aloud, startled by her own words in the silence. Of course, Mr. Smythe had not used the word purchased, but had said found. There might be a difference. And Kristopher had handed her a book, Mr. Tennyson’s book, in that very shop. Kristopher ...

She couldn’t go through the riddle of him again, not right now.

She began a determined search of the bookshelves in the office, but what would she discover on the inside cover, whose bookplate?

Not in the office, not in the library, not on the chair-side table in the den. There were so many rooms! What time is it ... when will Vincent come? Often she returned to the locked treasure, thinking she could no longer wait to open it, but each time she checked her curiosity and continued her search.

At last, on the fifth floor in a small, slope-ceilinged room her mother had used as a retreat, she found it. Soft, leather-bound and gilt-edged, a slim, supple volume, it lay in the seat of her mother’s chair as if she had been interrupted and would soon return to finish the poems. Catherine held her breath as she picked it up and with it clamped shut, her fingers tight on the bindings, she hurried with it downstairs. Now two mysteries would torment her until Vincent arrived.


Father would require a report but that must wait, or he could question Mouse who knew the answers if one had the patience to interpret. He should bathe, he knew, for the days of toil had left him dusty and sweaty, so he avoided the library and walked purposefully to their private chambers where he hurried his ablutions. Darkness, deep enough, would soon fall and he wanted to be as close as possible to her by then, waiting for it.

She’d left the rooftop door ajar for him, the lamps dim along the stairs and hallways. He went down and down, to find her curled asleep in a chair, her feet tucked beneath her. He knelt before her and called her name.

See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!” he whispered. “O that I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek.” 1

She opened her eyes and, without a word, slid from the chair into his arms, snugging herself to him. He nuzzled her hair. Whatever they were to find, they would find together. And suddenly, it could wait.


“You have much to tell me. Where shall you begin?”

“I don’t even know how to start. It’s all just too fantastic and you know ...”

“You don’t believe in magic ... or ghosts,” he said, finishing her sentence.

“You have to see this, Vincent.” She led him to the desk and recounted her last two days, beginning with the mail gathered from the entry floor.

She smoothed the letter out for him, much as she had for Smythe, and he read it carefully, more than once. She pointed out the dates, expecting him to suggest it all a mistake, but drew back with a bemused and anticipatory look on his face.

“What?” she challenged. “You don’t think ...”

“Tell me the rest, Catherine. I will think later.”

So she told him Smythe’s story of her father’s request and of her childhood visit to Edinburgh and her sadness there, of the book of sonnets her father ... found ... and that she had found, of the book box or casket or whatever ... of the padlock with no key ...

“You haven’t opened the box? Or the book?” He shook his head. “How could you resist? Your curiosity is generally undeniable.”

“I had to wait for you. I just had to.”

“Are you ready then? To see?”

“No,” she said. “I mean, yes. Yes!”

“Catherine, are you afraid?”

“No, not afraid. I’m ... something, though. I just don’t know what.”

They stood together at the desk, solemn before the mysteries amassed there.

“If this book belonged to Kristopher ...”

“We both know already,” he said, his voice hushed below a whisper. He opened the cover to find the expected bookplate, the familiar signature.

Vincent picked up the volume, fanning the aged, ivory pages. It was a beautiful book, with tissue papers bound between the illustrated poems. A ribbon, thin and pale, almost unnoticed, marked a page, and he read ...

I lov'd you first: but afterwards your love
Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song
As drown'd the friendly cooings of my dove.
Which owes the other most? my love was long,
And yours one moment seem'd to wax more strong;
I lov'd and guess'd at you, you construed me--
And lov'd me for what might or might not be
Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong.
For verily love knows not "mine" or "thine;"
With separate "I" and "thou" free love has done,
For one is both and both are one in love:
Rich love knows nought of "thine that is not mine;"
Both have the strength and both the length thereof,
Both of us, of the love which makes us one. 2

His voice faltered near the end, so tender were the words, marked by someone, left for her to hear. “Do you know this poem, Catherine?”

“I remember Daddy and Mother would say ‘I loved you first’ to each other. I didn’t know ... I thought they were just teasing.” Tears spilled from her eyes as she took the book from him and read the poem again. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it. So ...”

“Bonded,” he said.

“All last night, I felt their presence, Daddy’s and Mother’s. I was packing little trinkets and photographs and it was as if they were with me, helping me, enjoying the memories. I wasn’t even sad, not a bit. I told Mother all about you and she was happy for me, for us. I just wish they could know you.”

“I understand wishes, Catherine.”

“Vincent, how can this be happening? The book, Kristopher, the poem ... it’s more than I can take in.”

“You should wait to say that, as there is more,” he said, indicating the treasure yet unexplored, still locked and wrapped in soft layers.

“Who’s going to open it?” She reached for the flannel but pulled her hand back. Then she reached out again, laying her fingers to the covering. “I’m supposed to, aren’t I. That’s what you think.”

Vincent remained silent, leaving the choice to her.

“All right,” she said. She lifted the book casket and unwrapped it. Of heavy silver, warm in her hands, something inside shifted as she laid it on the desk. She took up the key and inserted it into the padlock. Of course it fit and of course it turned and the shackle slipped out of the body of the lock with a soft click. She removed it and lifted the hasp and, after a moment’s hesitation, opened the cover.

It was he who was forced to close his eyes, who was stunned into silence, while she could not tear her gaze away from the sight. Her gasp was jubilant.

One glance ... and for Vincent, it was as if a saber had been hurled across a vast land, turning end over end to stab so deeply into his heart as to cleave his being into two – one, weak-kneed with pure and perfect love and the other, fierce, relentless and unyielding, determined to protect, to safeguard with his last breath ... his most precious treasures.

“Are they ...” He could not voice his question. Like me?

“Ours?” she answered, changing his world. “Oh, yes. Ours.” She lifted the painting from the silver box, leaned it against a lamp and turned his face toward hers with a gentle touch to his cheek. “Look, Vincent. We’re glorious!”

And so he did.

It was an oil painting and quite dry, K Gentian clear in the lower corner. Smaller than his usual work but unmistakably his.

Therefore the poet brings his poem; the painter, his picture ...

As a hand-tinted photograph, the painting was in shades of gray and black and white and sepia, washed in rose and bronze and gold and splashed with azure. A strange, pale light bathed the figures, transfiguring them, exalting them. All he had ever wanted, all he had only dreamed he might have ... Catherine ... and children of his own.

She stood clothed in filmy white, her arms and shoulders bare, her hair long and honey-colored, a strand of it clutched in the tiny fist of the fat, naked, sleeping infant she held to her breast. Wide-stanced behind, clad in dress whites beneath his cloak, he held her, one arm encircling her waist, a child on his hip, a girl-child, with waving amber hair. Her hands were buried in the folds of his cloak, and her face, turned against his neck, into his hair, showed only the peek of an eye, her bright blue eye, evidence of her merriment. Another child ... a third, a boy ... stood between his feet, the cloak pulled across his face, leaving exposed only azure eyes sparkling with glee and short, bronze curls.

He had no words.

Three!” she sighed. “We’re so ... happy.” She sighed again, reaching out, tracing the baby’s face and her own and down to her waist and hips. “Look at me, Vincent. Just look. I’m so ...”

“Lush,” he whispered.

“I was going to say plump.” And she laughed.

He watched her face. She was not afraid; his fears were not hers. She saw no monsters roaming the dark hollows of their life together. Indeed, she had forbidden the word that night in the mirror room. He loosed a ragged, guttural, rasping breath. He could not hold her close enough as she kissed his tears away.


“Do you believe in magic now?” he asked her. They sat together, twined in an embrace that would not be broken this evening, the painting and the book of poems moved to the table before them, never out of their sight.

“I don’t know. Not in magic. Not in ghosts. But maybe in a certain power.”


“The power of love, Vincent. Daddy heard me, he heard you, that night in the hospital. He told me he did when he came to my chamber. That wasn’t a dream, not a sleeping dream ... and I think the doctors were wrong.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t think he was blind. I think he could see you. I think he could see ... us.”

“The paintings are evidence of seeing.”

“Kristopher knew your name. When he followed me that night in the park, he called you by name. He said, ‘and I won’t speak about Vincent.’ Out of the blue. How could he have known your name?”

“He knew because ...”

“Because Daddy told him about us, when he went to the bookstore. Months before. He described you. He ... commissioned Kristopher. Daddy wasn’t ready to go. He couldn’t go. He wanted to give me something, something I needed desperately.”

“His blessing,” Vincent said, softly

“Yes,” she sighed. After a moment, she continued, “I suppose my going to the shop later was simply a coincidence.”

Coincidence is the word we use when we can’t see the pulleys and levers.”3 And that doesn’t explain Kristopher.”

“No. There’s only so much I can bear to examine and I’m way past that point already. But if I ever get my hands on him ...”

“You will thank him.”

“I will.”


A week later, the house was emptied. The movers, come and gone with her furniture and crates to a warehouse with a secret entrance, left little trace of her family’s tenure here. The antiques dealer gathered her treasures for a special sale and the Mission came for a second load of useful things. A cleaning service would polish the property, and that done, she would turn it over to the realtor.

They’d moved the painting and the poems and the silver book casket below, packed them all into the camphor-wood chest. Catherine had carried it from a taxi to her apartment and then to the basement, where Vincent met her and took it from her. She insisted that all the treasures, these and Vincent’s collection, stay in their bedchamber where she could see them. She intended to count her blessings, each morning and every night.

As she stood one last time at the windows of her old room, gazing out over the park behind the house, she thought of Kanin and Olivia. Kanin would be released today, and tonight there was a party for his homecoming. He would have Olivia’s surprise soon – a new baby – a daughter.

Drifting toward dreams, she was startled to see three people standing right below her at the edge of the trees in the park – a man, tall and slim, a woman with honey-colored hair ... and a rumpled, dark-haired figure in a ball cap. She plucked at the window latch, trying to open it and finding it stuck, frustrated at the watery glass she’d always loved because now she couldn’t see clearly. The rumpled figure shook hands with the man and the woman reached out to touch his shoulder. Then the couple, hand in hand, disappeared into the trees down the path toward the river, never looking back.

But the rumpled figure, a man with longish, brown hair and wearing a Mets cap, threw his head back to look up at her and smiled a brilliant, sweet smile she had no trouble seeing. She shook the latch once more and bent to examine it, and when she had it unlocked and the window open, she saw only a woman walking a bulldog along the sidewalk and two teenagers together on a bench, their heads bent over a magazine and a little girl, eating ice cream.


Love pleads no excuse of impossibility. It is therefore able to undertake all things, and it completes many things, and warrants them to take effect. 4


1. William Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet. Act 2, Scene 2, lines 23 - 25.
2. Christina Rossetti. Monna Innominata: A Sonnet of Sonnets, #4. 1881.
3. Emma Bull. Coincidence quote attributed to her. Science Fiction author.
4. Thomas á Kempis. Imitation Christi. Book 3, Chapter 5. The Wonderful Effect of Divine Love. ca. 1418.


Immediate sequel to this story is Iron Behind the Velvet - a novel-length story still in progress. More than 40 chapters are posted (see the sidebar) but the story is not yet finished. There are probably a dozen more chapters to be written! If you can bear the slow progress I make, you're very welcome to read along.

The following story – The Thing with Feathers – is a flash-forward from the events of the first stories and was written for BatBLand's April 12th Celebration - 2008. We were given the theme word Hope.


Anonymous said...

So Imaginative! This was a magic story.


Anonymous said...

Hi Carole,
Everytime I watch "When the Bluebird Sings", I'm puzzled by why it isn't ever acknowledged that Christopher says to Catherine "and I won't speak about Vincent".

I read this over and over. The enchantment and genius (there's simply no other word) simply takes my breath away.

How you intertwine episodes and characters is truly magical.


Carole W said...

Thanks, J! I have to admit - I am rather fond of The Only Gift. It seems so ... alone ... and while I shouldn't look for or wish for more comments on it, I wonder sometimes if it resonates with anyone else. I'm pleased to know that it draws you back.

We know so little about Catherine's life - her childhood - and she has a depth of character that begs exploring. I see her in her castle-like room, a loved little girl but lost in something ... some place ... large and overwhelming. Certainly there is grief and then there is her circumstance of wealth and her father's immersion in work – perhaps to help him cope - doing his best of course, but lost himself.

And somewhere - not so far below - her soul's mate waits - equally adrift in a way. If magic should touch anyone, it should touch V & C.

I appreciate your response so very much.
~ C.

Krista said...

I'm rereading this now for the third (fourth?) time, and it's still one of my favorite stories. I've often hoped that Charles Chandler could see and hear, at least a little bit, so he would know of Vincent's love for his daughter. And bringing Kristopher back into this is pure magic. ;)


Carole W said...

awww, now look. You two are going to make me weepy. This story is blossoming under your praise. I can feel it rising up a little, for it had always sort of hung its head, unchosen - though loved dearly by its mother :-).

It was a test of both my logic and willingness to believe in magic to write it - to weave possibility into an Above story. I loved Bluebird and Kristopher and Vincent's spreading his hands and saying 'then what is all this?'

Thank you, Krista - for reading it more than once! That is the ultimate compliment.

~ Carole

Brandy said...

As has been said by others, this was a magic story. What fun that you combined The Bluebird and Charles and his blessing and threw Kristopher for fun.

I love the anticipation you built up. Catherine desperately wanted to open those, but managed to find the strength to pull back and wait a little more.

Catherine is a beautiful woman, slender and a healthy weight/shape. I liked that Vincent called her "lush," when she said "plump." My boyfriend and I have fairly continual disagreements about my own body shapes, though I am slowly coming to recognize what is healthy and what is not. (He thinks I'm gorgeous, I think I could lose a few pounds). I wonder what the body image of those Below is like? If they are exposed to fewer media images of perfect bodies, are they more accepting of their own? Vincent, is, as always, a special case.

Carole W said...

Thanks, Brandy. I'm thrilled and surprised that this little story has found enjoyers.

Those are good questions about body image and exposure. Below, where it's cooler, a bit of lushness would be welcome, wouldn't it.

Sonia Who? said...

Ch. 4

I love this part, love the feeling of magic in it, love Kristopher's painting of V & C and their future 3 children. Love that Catherine's father new about Vincent and accepted him. It's so cool how you maintained their mystery, keeping the readers guessing and asking, "are they leonine or are they completely human?" I can't wait for V & C to have their kids. I hope it's soon, 'cause Catherine is getting up in years and her biological clock must be ticking loudly.

You've done a marvelous job with your writing in keeping V & C and their amazing love alive.

Carole W said...

Sonia, the great thing about fan fic is that time can sloooowwww , but you're right about C's biological clock. If we advance the fan fic into the time after the canon episodes, then she's soon 33, 34, 35.

I'm glad you picked up on the lack of clear description of the babies to come. I wanted to leave it in mystery - and so each reader could fill in that blank with their own perceptions too.

Thanks for re-reading all these stories, Sonia. Your feedback is so appreciated. You took the time to respond to all the chapters and that really means a lot to me.


RomanticOne said...

Just finished my umpteenth reading of this wonderful chapter and the same scene gets to me every single time. It's the scene where Catherine uncovers the painting of her and Vincent and the three children. He cannot complete his question about whether or not they are like him. "Ours?" she answered, changing his world. I cry every time I read it. With just one word, Catherine has again showed Vincent how deeply she loves him. Carole, you are a truly gifted writer.

Carole W said...

Thank you, R1 - for your support, always. I'm so glad to know you like that scene. Sweet Vincent ... so loved.

When this story was being serialized initially on Tunnel Tales, the site went down at Chapter 2 and there was a glitch of a couple of weeks. It kind of got lost and I worry about it still - this forlorn little story, left behind, the family car pulling away from the gas station one kid short, so to speak.

Whenever anyone reads it, my heart warms up. There's just something about it for me ... I don't know how to explain it, really. I'm attached to it and feel for it. I guess that sounds weird and it certainly is vague.

I'm grateful that you like this story enough to reread it and for your kind words about the writing. I can't tell you how nice it is to hear.


RomanticOne said...

I'm back to my favorite scene - the one where Vincent and Catherine unwrap the family portrait. Wouldn't it be great if one of the wonderful artists that contribute to B&B fanfic would try to bring that picture to life? It's times like these I wish God had gifted me in that way, but my hand could never interpret the picture in my mind. Maybe you could "blog" around and see if there any takers. I bet I'm not the only one who would like to see this dream-come-true put to paper.

Carole W said...

R-1, I'm touched that you reread this story. I have to admit it's one of my favorites and it always feels a little hidden away, kind of lost. I'm so glad you like it. That makes me feel really good.

Yours is a most excellent idea. I'd just love to see this drawn out and I will petition those talented ones for their interpretations. In fact, I'll do that today and if you don't mind, can I copy your request into the email?

Thanks again for being so good to me in comments. You've made my day.


NYC Utopia said...

I love this magical story just as much, possibly more, each time I read it again.
Just a few impressions out of the whole lovely bunch of them...
How do you do it? You push the issue of those uncertainties with both power and subtlety. One chapter had me simply wondering whether Vincent was feeling Charles' or Kristopher's presence... and the next, what Smythe himself might be!
And the family portrait! I see it, and it is timeless...

Carole W said...

Oh Claire - I can't express how finding this comment made me feel today when I really needed a lift. I was so touched by your thoughtfulness, so grateful. Thank you.

Big big hug,

Anonymous said...

And now I've come to the end of my re-reading, unless, of course, I start re-reading I/V for the third time!

I LOVE "The Only Gift" so MUCH! I love the way you have blended the episode of Charles Chandler's death with the Kristopher Gentian episode into a coherent magic-enfused whole. Catherine's final almost-vision of Kristopher meeting her parents in the park below the house is just sheer genius.

"We shall lay our hands upon the basilisk, and see the jewel in the toad's head. Champing his gilded oats, the Hippogriff will stand in our stalls, and over our heads will float the Blue Bird singing of beautiful and impossible things, of things that are lovely and that never happen, of things that are not and that should be."


Regards, Lindariel

Anonymous said...

And yes, of course, on a day when I'm visiting favorite places, I must, MUST stop here! To augment my comments from a few years ago, I do have this to add today:

"One glance ... and for Vincent, it was as if a saber had been hurled across a vast land, turning end over end to stab so deeply into his heart as to cleave his being into two – one, weak-kneed with pure and perfect love and the other, fierce, relentless and unyielding, determined to protect, to safeguard with his last breath ... his most precious treasures.

“Are they ...” He could not voice his question. Like me?

“Ours?” she answered, changing his world. “Oh, yes. Ours.” She lifted the painting from the silver box, leaned it against a lamp and turned his face toward hers with a gentle touch to his cheek. “Look, Vincent. We’re glorious!”"

Again, you give us Vincent's glorious Otherness contrasted with all of his painful doubts and how beautifully Catherine dispells them: "Are they" (Like me?) "Ours? . . . Oh, yes. Ours."

I LOVE this story so much!

Regards, Lindariel

Carole W said...

Bless you to pieces, Lindariel! You've made me want to work even harder on these stories. And thank you so much, extra extra much, because this story seems to be one of the Lost Ones.

When it originally posted to Tunnel Tales years ago, after chapter 2, the server went down for several weeks, and whatever momentum the story might have had was lost. I doubt many readers ever finished it.

It's one of my favorites and I had a lot of fun writing it, but I always sort of feel The Only Gift needs a cuddle or something. You've really made a difference with your kind words. The scene you mentioned is so important to the story and I'm grateful to you for calling it out.


NYC Utopia said...

In chat the other day, when I mentioned re-reading ICYH-MM and some of IV, a fan who hasn't commented here replied: don't forget AGATG! I could tell that she meant it.

Here's an extra cuddle for "the Only Gift from the Great and Thorough Ghosts":

the family portrait you imagined is part of my personal canon.

And I am *so* glad we have your own recordings for some of the stunning poems in the story.

Barbara A said...

THIS IS SO GOOD!!!! I could just read this over and over again. I am sure I will. It's such a wonderful story of love that endures beyond death. It’s just brilliant and magical!

Anonymous said...

I'm back -- AGAIN! I've read the entire canon from "I Carry Your Heart" through "The Only Gift." Too bad I/V is down, because I'd love to continue straight through.

I came back especially for "The Only Gift," thinking especially of my Dad. From the Emerson quote, to the red nose, to the book casket, to the Christina Rossetti sonnet, to the Kristopher Gentian family portrait -- everything about this story is pure magic!

I borrowed your Emerson quote for a post on Facebook today in Dad's memory, coupled with a wonderful photo from my childhood. It isn't a photo of a little girl who just lost her ice cream, but it is an equally wonderful memory of a happy day with Dad.

Thanks again for this magnificent story!

HUGS, Lindariel