Iron Behind the Velvet - Chapter 12

~ My Being's Silent Harmonies 1

Alone in the office, every desk weekend-cleared but hers …

Even Joe had departed, and though he’d said he was going for groceries and then home, he’d slammed the drawer on Phan’s case file so hard, a roller guide jumped its track and he’d had to wrestle it free. She had no doubt he’d go first to the 5th precinct house, from there call his detective friends in Murray Hill before he headed for his apartment. She switched on her desk lamp, snatching back her hand when the light bulb popped and went dark.

Maybe it’s a sign, she thought, surveying the room. I’ve done all I can. She sighed and stared down at her legal pad, its page soft yellow, its blue lines blank. Which was ... nothing.

“Stupid day. Stupid, stupid day,” Catherine grumbled. Purple gum bonded one shoe to her taxi’s floor. When she got out, she missed the curb and dropped her satchel in the gutter. Retrieved, latches closed and paperwork intact ... still something she didn’t recognize darkened the bottom of it. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Mouse would understand.

Vincent would.

She emerged from the shower discontent. From desk to table to dresser she paced, opened and closed her balcony doors, opened and closed a half-dozen books. She took nothing from the open refrigerator, but stood in its light, perplexed with its contents. She flopped onto the couch, rose to turn on music only to snap it off when her mood changed. She kicked her ruined briefcase to a corner. In her bedroom, at her mirror, she growled, “Damn it. A zit!” Perhaps in the candlelight below, no one would notice.


The desk’s surface was masked by a dozen open volumes, by towers and pyramids of texts. “What’s all this?” she asked, her hands on her hips. “Did I not spend an entire afternoon shelving for you?”

Father peered over his glasses, closing the volume in his hand. “Surely not these specific books! Other tomes, to be sure.” He smiled and gestured her closer. “Catherine, my dear. What a joy to see you. It's far too quiet around here with so many away. Sit with me. Will you take tea?”

“I came for that very thing.” She leaned in to kiss his cheek and gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “I’ve missed you.”

antique tea cup and strainer
He rose with some difficulty. Even with the aid of his cane, his limp was pronounced. A few steps eased his stiffness but still she filed away a reminder to have Peter pay a call. At the brazier, he lifted the lid of a gently steaming kettle and murmured his approval. The warming water poured away, he spooned dark, loose leaves into an ironstone pot, filled it and snugged a crocheted cozy over, a content smile cast over his shoulder. She hurried to set a tray for him – sugar cubes and silver tongs, a lidded pitcher of cream, two delicate, flowered china cups.

“Are you working on a particular project?” she asked, clearing a space for the tea.

“Ah, yes. I am indeed. I’ve taken on Vincent’s literature classes while he’s away. They were mine once before, you know.” Father angled a chair for her, attentive at her arm until she sat. “He left us at Wordsworth and Coleridge. I had this wild thought ...” he said, inching a sheaf of papers from beneath a carved wooden weight.

The chair had long lost its button tufts, but the worn velvet welcomed her, an old perfume wafting from its nap. She nestled in, accepted his notes. “A wild thought? I’m dying to know what that might be!” Page by page, she studied them. “Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott … Ellery Channing. The Transcendentalists! Oh, this is truly untamed.”

“And on to Dickinson and Whitman, even to Hawthorne and to Amy Lowell. You tease me,” Father said, “but it is a departure from the very detailed syllabus Vincent left for me. I still have a few independent thoughts.” Father tapped his temple and nodded. “It is a ... defensible segue ... from the British Romantics, don’t you think?”

“Oh, yes.” Catherine said. “There is a truth ...”

Beyond knowledge,” Father finished and beamed at her.

“Do you think ...” Her voice trailed away. “Will they be gone that long?”

“Oh, dear, no. I’m sure not. I might, however, attempt a coup once Vincent returns.”

Hawthorne's Grave
“I was in Concord once," Catherine said. One inquisitive brow arched, Father poured an amber half-cup, a margin against a spill. "With my Dad. It was late fall. I was thirteen. We saw Walden Pond, toured The Old Manse and Wayside and Orchard House. I was desperate for one of those little half-moon desks like Louisa’s father built for her. She put on her ‘glory cloak’ and wrote Little Women at it, in just six weeks. Did you know that?” She took a careful first sip. “That afternoon we walked through the cemetery – Author’s Ridge. The sky had clouded up and Dad wanted to leave before it rained. I was determined to see all the grave stones though so I pretended I didn’t hear him and walked up to Hawthorne’s marker. Just as I picked up an acorn from his gravesite this huge clap of thunder blasted overhead. I ran back to the car like a scared rabbit." She nested the cup to its saucer. "I kept that acorn on my desk for years, until one day, it just disintegrated into dust.”

“Perhaps you might enjoy leading a session of the class. This was a time in history when women took on new roles of intellectual and artistic leadership. I believe my students would benefit from your perspective.”

“Thank you,” she said. She traced the ribbons and rose petals carved in the table's edge, as intricate a pattern as her own path to acceptance. “Thank you for asking, but I’m ... I’m not really a teacher. I’ll think about it. I need to participate. I want to, but I’m not sure ...”

Father leaned forward, his eyes glistening in the candlelight. “Catherine. You must trust what I say to you. This is truth ... our love for you has no price tag. It simply is. You're a part of us. Yes, I know ... I fought against it, but it was nevertheless true from the first moment. And it will ever be ... whether you teach a class or nurse the sick or simply sit and talk with an old man who enjoys your company.”

“Is it enough, Father. Really? I ... you don’t need a lawyer below, not very often anyway,” she said with a soft laugh.

“Let us pray we will not.” He busied with his tea, stirring in a drop more milk, a sift of sugar. His spoon tinged against the china. “You’re more than your profession to us, Catherine. Truly. To spend an hour with the kind, intelligent, generous woman who loves my son?" He reached out, touched her cheek, urging her to meet his gaze. “The woman who brings light into his life. Into mine? Yes, it is enough. You must simply let us love you.”

She covered his hand with hers, then pressed a kiss into his palm, folding his fingers over it. He swallowed hard and took back his hand, rummaged for a book, opening it to a marked page. “I found this poem earlier this evening,” he said. “And I thought of you. You bring the colors to us, Catherine. Here. I’ll read to you.

“April had covered the hills
With flickering yellows and reds,
The sparkle and coolness of snow
Was blown from the mountain beds.

Across a deep-sunken stream
The pink of blossoming trees,
And from windless appleblooms
The humming of many bees.

The air was of rose and gold
Arabesqued with the song of birds
Who, swinging unseen under leaves,
Made music more eager than words.

Of a sudden, aslant the road,
A brightness to dazzle and stun,
A glint of the bluest blue,
A flash from a sapphire sun.

Blue-birds so blue,‘twas a dream,
An impossible, unconceived hue,
The high sky of summer dropped down
Some rapturous ocean to woo.

Such a colour, such infinite light!
The heart of a fabulous gem,
Many-faceted, brilliant and rare.
Centre Stone of the earth’s diadem!

Centre Stone of the Crown of the World
Sincerity graved on your youth.
Your eyes hold the blue-bird flash,
The sapphire shaft, which is truth.” 2

Together they watched the candles burn low, her hand gentle on Father’s arm. Little was said ... or needed to be ... and when she stirred and rose, when she leaned in to kiss his temple ...


Surprised, she skittered back. “I thought you were sleeping.”

“No, only ... thinking, though I’ve kept too many late nights. I can scarcely keep my eyes open during morning councils.”

“You could reschedule the meetings, you know.”

“I could, yes.” Father picked up his pen, toyed with it. “There’s some ... news from the work sites. I shouldn’t keep it from you ...” At her sharp intake of breath, Father rushed on. “Oh, please don’t worry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. There was a ... scare ... but it was nothing. Only teenagers, urban spelunkers, Pascal calls them.”

“Did Vincent … ”

“No,” he assured her. “He only had to rumble at them from a distance and they scurried away. He sent an all’s-well message but sometimes rumors ... drama ... I wouldn’t want you to hear half the story.”

“Cullen told me about the change in plans, about the two crews. Vincent will feel responsible to both of them. He’ll never sleep ...”

“You saw Cullen?”

“I brought a letter for Vincent down last night.”

Hmmmph. No one told me you were here.”

“There were problems at work. I had to get back and should now. It’s a long and frustrating story,” she said, noting his inquisitive expression. “Another time.”

“Must you go, Catherine? There’s something else ... something I’ve wanted to discuss with you for some time now. May I?”

She returned to her chair. “Of course.”

“About Vincent ... this past winter ... before ...”

“Before I came below?” she prompted. “Before our wedding?” 3

Father asking questions
“And it is still your honeymoon. I rue this interruption of your, ummm, celebration.” After a delicate cough into his fist, he sobered and steepled his fingers. “But yes. Then. Before.” His gaze focused on an immeasurable distance. “Vincent was so inwardly turned ... as if he prepared for some final test. He was uncommonly silent and I was unable to reach him, though I tried. God knows, I tried. He did his work, led his classes, participated in council, but there was something switched off in him. I knew he'd not gone above ... to you ... for weeks. Then he left us ... for the dark river. I felt as if I had missed the essential clue, that I failed him ... that he suffered some terrible pain alone.”

“I felt the same way,” Catherine answered. And I had no word4 She tripped over an old resentment, but kicked it away without examination. It’s over, she reminded herself. We are ... now. That’s all that matters.

“You suffered as well and as alone.” Father’s shoulders sagged. “I am sorry, Catherine, for my neglect of your feelings, for my ... narrowness of concern.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, his spectacles riding up on the knuckles of his thumb and forefinger. “Has he spoken of it ... explained himself?”

“Not entirely,” she admitted. “You mustn’t blame yourself. Something happened soon after Winterfest. I hope one day he'll tell me all of it.”

“He seems ... recovered.”

She heard the question in his voice. “Most of it is resolved.”

Father started to speak and stopped, then began again. He lifted his gaze to hers, his half-smile wavering as if reflected by rippled water. “Will you and Vincent ... Have you spoken of ...”

“Children?” Catherine folded her hands, studied them ... and then Father. Contrition and contemplation warred in equal measure on his face – regret for having asked, for the need to ask; the threat and prospect of joy. “You will understand, won’t you, when I tell you that the subject of children is entirely between Vincent and me. The yes or no of it ... is ours.”

“Please forgive me. Forgive me for prying. I ... worry.”

“I’m not afraid. Whatever we decide ... or whatever happens.”

“I know you’re not afraid ...”

“Is there something ... something that we should know that you haven’t told Vincent?” Stones lodged between her ribs.

“There is nothing,” he said. “Only the unknown ...”

“He would never hurt me.” So much is mystery, uncertainty ... but not that. Never that.

For a long moment, Father stared into the candle’s flame. “No, he would not.”

“If I could carry his child ...” Her arms crossed over her belly, palm to elbow. “But it is ... between us.”

Father stood and steadied, pulled her to her feet into his embrace, pressing his cheek against her hair. “Your strength humbles me,” he whispered. “You cut what you know from what you do not. You cast the remains behind and move only toward love. You’ve given all to love. You obey your heart. You refuse nothing. 5 My dearest Catherine ... my daughter. I am blessed by you.”


The moon was opalescent, and through the weathered cracks in the slatted door, Vincent could see the shadow-shrouded figure seated in an alcove, the flash of the flute’s silver keys under quick, sure fingers. Martin. The night’s concert was already an enthused romp; the tunes fiery; the rhythm kept by a stamping foot. No laments, no yearning waltzes, but dances – accented reels, lilty jigs. He settled near the door and drew up one knee. To muffle any tapping, he padded the stone floor beneath his boot with a thick fold of his cloak.

He needed, wanted this respite. The day had wearied him. Catherine’s had at last smoothed; she’d ... let go. But engagement had left a hollow place within him. The music helped.

His hood pushed back, turning his head left and right, he rolled his shoulders against the stones to ease the tension from his muscles. A poor substitute, he allowed. He loosened the laces of the leather bag, tipping out the ivory rose. The velvet of it warm in his palm, he allowed Catherine’s tender ministries to flood his mind, a sensuous cradle of memory. Her touch.

He woke himself, startled by his own deep, fluttery sigh. His eyes adjusted. Martin sat in the shadows, the flute athwart his knees. Vincent closed his fingers over the rose, though not before a sliver of moonlight lit the petals.

“Don’t be afraid. I know you’re there.” Martin’s voice was low, gentled by his rich, sweet brogue.

He froze; his pulse hammered loud in his ear. He could be away in moments, down the steps, the trap door eased shut behind him, through the gates. I should ...

“It’s all right. Are you ... hurt?”

“No,” he answered, his voice a whispery astonishment even to himself.

"I can help you. Let me, please.”

“I’m well. I need no help.”

“Are you cold? Or needing a place to sleep tonight ... indoors? ”

“No,” Vincent repeated. “I have a home.”

“There’s cold chicken left from my supper,” Martin persisted. “Or I could get you a fry up, should you’d fancy something hot.”

“I’ve eaten well, but thank you.” He gathered his legs beneath him. “I should go.”

“Don’t go. Come out with you. This is a church. A haven. You’re safe here.”

“No, I ... can’t.”

“The door ... I’ll help you get it open.”

He counted back. Four no’s, one implied. He couldn’t manage another.

“We could sit, then, just like this, yes?” Martin petitioned. “A companionable silence, they call it. Or ... you might tell me how you enjoyed the music.”

In the fallen hush, he could hear the rasp of Martin’s breathing, a high fine crackle hidden in it. He rose and shifted toward escape.

Ah, well,” The chair groaned with a settled weight. “Tonight, I was practicing dance music for a ceilidh, a little house party in the neighborhood. But you’ve heard the sad songs too, on other nights.”

Surprise trumped his caution. “You knew that I was here ... other nights?”

“‘Tis my business to know when someone’s on the other side of a wall. I’ve forty-odd years of practice after all, hearing what people say and don’t say.”

“A priest?”

“You'd see that. Most would.”

Away, instinct demanded, but he stepped closer to the door. “What do you mean?”

“The collar, the expectations ... but I am only a man. I work. I worry. I dream. I ... remember.

“You love.”

“I love,” Martin agreed. “Indeed I do.”

“I was here,” Vincent said. “Last night. When you spoke with the man ... Flynn. I know his story.”

“It was in all the newspapers. And is again today, I saw. He is a rare man. A warrior who suffers for his greatest strengths, born to it, shaped and weighted by its requirements.”

“His own expense counts for little.”

“Does it?"

Vincent counted three deep breaths between them.

"His story resonates with you,” Martin ventured. “Were you a soldier? A veteran?”

“No.” The stone in his voice was colder, harder, older than the barrier wall between them. He left no room. No room.

But through that wall, Martin reached for him, turning him as surely as if he’d called him by name, touched him. “Then will you return to the subject of my music. I’ve worn out my usual audiences and can wring no more commentary from them. A performer lives for response, you know. You would be doing me a kindness.”

A kindness. Vincent smiled, a memory skidding in from childhood – Noah’s grandfather’s commandment. A mitzvah! One a day at least. “Your music is truly beautiful, but often melancholy and full of loss.”

We are the men that God made mad, for all our wars are merry and all our songs are sad.6

“G. K. Chesterton."

“You know The Ballad of the White Horse? Now that ‘tis a bit ... obscure. Fully impressed, I am.” There was a creak or metal, a hitching scrape. “My name is Martin.”

“I know.”

“Will you give me yours?”

The palest light glimmered up from the base of the stairs, his torch stabbed into a sheltered crevice. He turned his back on retreat. “Vincent.”

“Ah. Good. Vincent.” Martin said. “You’re real, then.”

“Did you think me otherwise?”

Martin chuckled and muffled a cough. “So you’ve found out our secret, one I’ve heard of only in stories. Tell me. What’s it like in there?”

“Inside this passageway?” He felt a subtle anticipation, a whisk of breeze in tender whirlwind about him.

“The priest here before me, old Seamus, told me he once traveled miles beneath this city, that he’d seen great waterfalls and swinging bridges and caverns studded with diamonds. He showed me the entrance to that world, a forgotten door in a dark closet off the sacristy. Then he pulled me through the courtyard, whispering in my ear of the glories of below, here to this second door. I thought him quite mad, of course.”

“Did you not try the way yourself?” Seamus. The name sparked no memory.

“Oh, I’ve given them a hard rattle every now and then.” He laughed. “Well, being truthful, I’d have to admit to trying this one nearly every night. But the doors won’t budge. He must have barred them from the inside, though how he managed that is a secret he’s kept to this day. I’ve had no cause to break through. At most, I figured, I’d find a hallway full of the damp and the dark and spiders and maybe snakes, and I’d get only from that closet to this door in the end. I suppose there’ve been times when one might have wanted out and about by other than the front door. But you now ... you’ve found the other way in. Will you tell me about it?”

Reprimand chimed in his ear. Your exposure confirms what was only a fantastic story. The risk, Vincent. The risk! “It is …" he said, "best left secret.”

“And how did I know you’d be sayin’ that?”

“May I ask you a question, Martin?”

“‘Tisn’t yet a fair exchange, Vincent, but go on with you. Ask away.”

“Who is Lily?”

“Ah,” Martin said, his voice softening. “You’ve heard her name a few times, have you?”

“I have.”

Martin sighed. “How shall I start? She was ... is ... cuisle mo chroí. The pulse of my heart.”

“You loved her deeply,” Vincent prompted.

“I loved her. The word seems inadequate. Have you known love, Vincent?”

“I have.”

“Was she the kindest, the most beautiful, most precious woman on earth?”

“She is.”

Ach. She is.” Martin tapped his foot, accompaniment to a private melody. “Her name was Lillian Burke. She loved me once, but I was a fool.”

Click HERE for Chapter 13.

drawing of Vincent listening at the door by Esther Wijnbeek. Click for a larger view.

1. Amy Lowell. Dreams.
2. Amy Lowell. Azure and Gold.
3. I Carry Your Heart.
4. I Carry Your Heart. Chapter 4. Visitor.
5. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Give All to Love.
6. G. K. Chesterton. The Ballad of the White Horse.


Krista said...

Carole, as soon as you posted that you'd finished editing this (for now LOL) I found a reason to take an early break and zoomed over here to see what you'd done now. And it's wonderful...Catherine's end of the day conniptions; Father recognizing his own failures and reaching across the divide to her; Vincent, deciding to stay at talk to Martin when every instinct tells him to go . Truly, this is marvelous (and you know I loved the original version.)

Great job...again and still.


RomanticOne said...

"She is." Those two words from Martin spoke volumes. I felt the pain of his loss and also the sense of nostalgia when he discovered that Vincent's love is still very much alive. Great chapter.

Carole W said...

Oh, Krista. You are the best. Thank you for such confidence - and you know I'll work even harder on the next effort. Your interest and support mean everything and I'm grateful and humbled.

I did add the conniptions (great word!) and expanded on Father's scene. He owes her an apology from way back in I Carry. Another apology and another! Surely he knows now how strong she is.

You're good to me and your words give me strength to keep after it. Thank you again.


Carole W said...

R-1, I'm so glad you like this part of the Martin/Vincent scene. I very much hoped those two words would stand up. It means so much to know the conversations are meaningful.

Thank you for being so kind and generous with your time and comments. It helps me tremendously to know you're reading.

OKGoode said...

Carole - this story, like all of your writing, was so rich and detailed that it breathed - but you've made it even better!

Very loving it!

Carole W said...

Laura, thank you! I owe you cookies and hugs for that.

And you know, you've given me the greatest gift with your words. I want them to live on the page. It's so important to me to try to make that happen.


Anonymous said...

Dearest Carole,

I am revisiting -- yet again -- ALL of your work! I plowed through I Carry Your Heart, etc., over the Thanksgiving holidays, and now I'm embarking once again on Iron/Velvet, barrelling through the first 12 chapters before even lifting my head.

But now, here, when Martin first reaches out to speak with the hidden Vincent, I must pause once again to breathe, and weep just a few tears, at the poignancy and sheer electricity of this "first contact." I dearly, dearly love Martin so much, and the immediacy of his connection to Vincent, the sense of the father/confessor both consoling and being consoled in return, and knowing how this lovely relationship will continue to blossom just wraps up and wrings my heart in the very best of ways!

Love always, Lindariel