Beyond the Stained Glass
Love feels no burden, thinks nothing of trouble, attempts what is above its strength
sequel to Marriage Morning
She awoke to find him watching her and when she found her voice, she managed a scratchy whisper.
“Vincent, I have to get up.”
He acknowledged her request with a slow nod and turned and reached over the side of the great bed, bringing back his soft, loose shirt for her. She sat up on her knees beside him and he held it for her arms and wrapped her in it, doing up the buttons each with a kind of sadness, a regret to cover her, her rosy skin a blushing contrast to the faded cream of the flannel. He had never before seen anything, anyone, so beautiful.
“There’s something we must fix right away, before it gets any worse.”
This was a jolt to him, a blindside, and he feared that lost in his own pleasures, he had indeed disappointed her or had somehow offended her …
“Oh, Vincent, I’m sorry! You look … stricken! I mean, I’ve got to have coffee and soon. Or else.”
His relief was audible. “Catherine, you do surprise me … you do. I’m … unprepared yet again, but I do have Yerba Mate tea. Will that do?”
She squinched her eyes and lips. “What is that? It sounds very … green and grassy.”
“You should see your face. Have you never had it?”
“No. Not on purpose, anyway. Not that I know of.”
“It has all the caffeine you should need and I’ll give it to you in a mug. I don’t have the traditional drinking gourd to share with you.” He ducked his head and turned away, hiding his smile behind a veil of hair.
“I don’t know. I think I’d better have the coffee. William makes very good coffee. What time is it?”
“I have no idea. Afternoon?”
“I’ll be very cranky very soon if I don’t have coffee. It may already be too late.”
“I’ll go then.” He rose from the bed and reached for his trousers.
“NO! Don’t go.”
His pants held open, one foot raised to step in, he ventured a look at her. “Catherine, I don’t know what to do. Go? Stay?”
“Now you should see your face. Tell me the truth, you’re wondering how on earth you will ever live with a woman, aren’t you?” Out of bed herself, she gathered her strewn lingerie, his long-sleeved undershirt.
He drew up his jeans and took the shirt from her, then took her in his arms. “I’m thinking that I don’t know you as well as I’d thought … and how glad I am of that. What wonders the next days will bring.”
“The next years, Vincent. Years.”
She stroked his stubbled cheek and touched her lips to his. “Go. Please. I’ll explore while you’re gone. But come back right away.”
* * *
When he returned with a very large thermos and a basket of food and cream and sugar, he found her still in his shirt, dwarfed by it, an angel in it … upstairs in the arched rooms. She turned to him and her smile was brilliant, heart-stopping.
“We need more furniture, Vincent. A lot more. And I know exactly what I want to bring below.” She took the thermos from him and sat down on the top step of the curving stairs. “Give me the basket,” she demanded, delightfully cross.
He’d been wrong before; he knew that now. This was the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen.
* * *
Later on, he was forced to admit his mistake.
She’d disappeared down the passageway to the bath and he’d followed a few minutes after, arriving to find her standing in the fall of waters, her face lifted into it, her back to him, the candlelight dancing on her skin, the water rainbow prisms down the course of her spine, over the flare of her hips. She turned at his entry and smiled at him over her shoulder, and he could see the fullness of her breasts and he knew there was nothing more beautiful than this … than Catherine.
* * *
In the warm waters, he sat before her in a carved-out hollow of stone. She combed out his hair, working the tangles free, laying each smoothed strand forward over his shoulder. It was exquisite – the brush of her fingers against his neck as she gathered a lock of hair, her patience with an unruly knot, the pleasure he knew she felt …
“We should talk, Catherine. There are things we should, things we must discuss.”
“Change places with me first,” she said and when he did, she nestled into the embrace of his legs and his arms, against his chest, sinking low enough in the water to cover her breasts … though her movement rippled the surface and her position stirred him.
“I’m begging you for mercy. Please be still.”
She laughed, her delightful trilling laugh he so loved and promised to be good.
“Just be still,” he teased and waited for her to comply. “We must discuss …”
“Our wedding?” She finished his sentence. “It’s already done, Vincent. It seems far too private, something only between us. But your family …”
“Your family as well, Catherine.”
“Yes, mine too. I know that. They’ll want to celebrate this for you … for us.”
“My vow was made to you, and it was only for your ears, to your heart.”
“What shall we do?” she asked.
“I told Father to make no plans of his own until he hears from us.”
“Do you believe he can …”
“Contain himself? No,” he said with a chuckle.
“I would like his blessing.”
“He will give it gladly and with great love for you.”
“Yes, we talked long into the night while you were away. We found our own connection.” She was quiet for a moment. “Maybe a dinner, just in the dining hall? Kanin comes home in two weeks. I know there’s a big party in the works for him. I don’t want anything to diminish his homecoming, and it’s already wearing William out … all the planning. Would that please you, Vincent? Is it enough?”
“I have all that I want, more than I deserve. If it pleases you, I am pleased. But this surely cannot be the wedding you dreamed of as a girl … a church, your friends …”
“I’m hardly a girl, Vincent, and I know one day, you will meet Jenny. Nancy too. But I could never have dreamed …”
“Of me? That is a … certainty.”
She let her head drop back against his shoulder. “I wish Devin could be here. This would make him happy – to see us together.”
“No doubt he would wish to kiss my bride and with far more interest than he should have. I would need to stand watch. ”
“Hmmm. Maybe.” She squirmed a little and her hand, resting on his knee, disappeared underwater. She laughed when he fished frantically after her. “It means we’ll have to dress and leave these rooms.”
“A sad necessity, yes.” His chest heaved and he fell silent.
“What? What are you thinking?”
“I was thinking … how quickly these days will pass, how difficult it will be to have you go back.”
“I’m not going back, not in the way you mean. We’ll find a balance of both worlds. I promised you that.”
“Your work … your friends. You cannot abandon your life Above, Catherine. There will be stretches of time … obligations …”
“Yes, possibly. Probably. I know that. But if I can’t come below at night, you’ll come to me, won’t you? But now … you could, you would … come inside.”
He whispered close to her ear. “Yes, now … I will come inside.”
* * *
Father paced his library in eager anticipation. His son and his bride … Vincent … and his Catherine. He would have the opportunity he’d believed inconceivable, impossible – the opportunity to bless his son’s love. That Vincent could know acceptance and approval such as this … Catherine would live in Father’s heart forever as a most perfect gift.
Dinner was prepared. William had thrown himself into the occasion with an astounding enthusiasm. Though already in the weeds over Kanin’s homecoming, nothing would deter him from making Vincent’s favorite meal or from baking a many-layered cake, decorated no less, and in great detail. He’d called in markers from nearly everyone in the community. Jamie, protesting she had no talents, was taught in record time to make sugar roses and tiny lilies of the valley from frosting. Rebecca volunteered to stay up with him the whole night, making sure he did not fall asleep and leave his pans to burn, and this thrilled William so, that he baked a second, more complicated confection just to enjoy more of her company. Geoffrey and Zach and Eric were conscripted to polish silverware – penance for a mess they’d left in the kitchen late one night – and even the boys plunged into the work, ribbing each other with good humor, making a game of it.
The tunnels abounding with joy, the pipes abuzz with plans for surprises and gifts … friends met in the corridors wearing wide smiles and hugs were plentiful. Quiet and casual, they would repeat, their heads thrown back in laughter. The words would be redefined. There was just too much love for the two of them, too much happiness spilling over. They would have to bear up.
His son … Vincent ... in love … and his love returned. If this … then all else was indeed possible.
Father was prepared. He’d kept it simple as was requested, but just so. The hour approached and Mary met him in the library doorway.
“Do you have your notes? You don’t want to forget all you wish to say.”
“They’re here in my pocket.” He patted his robes, listening for the telltale crinkle of papers. “Bother! I was sure! Now where did I leave them …”
Mary walked to the table, probed at a stack of books, moved aside a pen rest and unearthed Father’s handiwork. “Maybe I should hold on to them for you,” she said with a fond smile. “This is a grand day, Jacob. A grand day.” She held his arm as they walked the corridor. “He was such a tiny thing,” she said. “So strange and … singular. And now, a man … a man in full.”
“More than a man, Mary.”
“Yes, that is the mystery of it …”
* * *
Mouse skidded into the room.
He ran out again into the corridor, grabbing up a thick pipe to give the central line a mighty whap! whap! whap-whap! It was code for Pascal, who – somehow, someway – managed to send forth a peal of pipe sound like carillon bells that rang and rang and rang … until Vincent and Catherine arrived.
A round of huzzahs greeted the two and at the head of the table, Father joined in. Though he fumbled and dropped his papers twice – applauding, ordering his notes, applauding again – he was unwilling to call for its end. It was Sebastian who quieted the crowd with a flash of magic powder.
They stood in the doorway, haloed in candlelight, their hands clasped. Father beckoned them forward, held out his arms …
“My friends … my family. We have great occasion to celebrate tonight. We have been witness to no less than a miracle. From the first hour of that first dark night, when Catherine came to us, a change has been wrought below. And now, there is nothing but light before us, and the way shown proves love will shelter us, that love is our force, our power. It only grows stronger as we give it …
“My words cannot compare to these, penned by Thomas à Kempis more than 500 years ago …
Love is a great thing, yea, a great and thorough good. By itself it makes all that is heavy light; and it bears evenly all that is uneven.
It carries a burden which is no burden; it will not be kept back by anything low and mean.
Love thinks nothing of trouble, attempts what is above its strength, pleads no excuse of impossibility. It is therefore able to undertake all things, and it completes many things, and warrants them to take effect, where he who does not love would faint and lie down.
Though weary, it is not tired; though pressed it is not straitened; though alarmed, it is not confounded; but as a living flame it forces itself upwards and securely passes through all.
“Bless you, dearest Catherine, daughter of my heart. And you, my son. My love for you knows no boundaries, no limits. We will be your champions, all of us, throughout this land and this life and into the next …”
The cheer went up in the hall when Vincent kissed her. And indeed, he did watch over her, keeping close at her side as she received many, many kisses. Blushed the exact color of ox-blood, Pascal offered his kiss and then, drawing himself up, gave her a second.
“That’s from Winslow,” he said. “He’d want you to have it.”
The next story in the Beyond the Stained Glass arc is Questions
1. Thomas à Kempis. Imitatio Christi. Book Three, Chapter 5. The Wonderful Effect of Divine Love. ca. 1418.
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