A 2nd Season Beauty and the Beast story
Wendy De~Veryard and Goldie Jones
A mighty roar shattered the silence of the Tunnels.
Sitting bolt upright in bed, Father reached for his cane and dressing gown and hobbled as quickly as his old bones would allow into the little boy’s room. There he found his son, Vincent, glaring down at the rock hewn Commode with an unfathomable expression on his face.
"VINCENT! Tell me I'm dreaming. Have you just urinated all over your slippers?" He asked pointing to a huge puddle gathering around his son's feet.
His son's reply both shocked and angered him, "I have, yes…but before you make any assumptions, Father…it wasn't my fault."
"It wasn't…your…fault?" Father gasped in disbelief.
"No, Father. It wasn't my fault. I aimed, honestly I did, just as always, only I seem to have missed." Vincent stared at the bowl in front of him. He never missed…well not since he was old enough to aim.
Father was almost choking on his spittle, "Seemed to have…what do you mean seemed to have? It's obvious there is no `seem to have' about it. You know why this has happened, don't you?"
Vincent shrugged; he hadn't a clue, but the look on his father's face told him he'd soon be informed.
Too many late nights. You, my boy, are out on the tiles, literally, far too often, burning the candle at both ends… and don't go shaking your head.” He pointed to the puddle at Vincent's feet. "All that is proof enough!"
"I'll get a mop," Vincent told his parent. He tidied clothing and turned to leave.
Father's mouth was agape staring at the huge puddle on the floor.
"And don't be gone too long!" Father's legs were crossed. "I need to use the facility, too, you know."
He waited, idly strumming his fingers against a dirty linen basket placed in one corner of the chamber; and as the minutes ticked by, Father's need became more and more desperate. Finally he sidestepped Vincent's little accident; and leaning on his cane with one hand, fumbled with the pants of his pajamas with the other, until he found what he was seeking, and then with blissful relief he began to pee.
No problem there. For his age, his waterworks worked just fine…
And then his slippers began to grow warm.
"Argh!!" he cried, looking down dismayed at his sodden footwear, just as Vincent returned carrying the mop and bucket and asking him dryly, "Now who's been having too many late nights?"
Father glared at his son as a hot flush of embarrassment turned his cheeks bright red. "I can't understand it, Vincent. I aimed. This has never happened before! What is happening?"
"We must both be overly tired, Father. Might I remind you that we were all up late last night, drinking wine and listening to Devin's tales of the past?"
Father grunted, but couldn't argue. That had to be the cause of their two unfortunate mishaps.
"I'll mop up," Vincent told him, and extracted the mop from the bucket, intent on filling the latter with water. Suddenly both men began to cough when a cloud of powder billowed from the bucket covering them and the whole area in seconds.
"What the…?" Father spluttered, waving his hands so he could breathe. He crossed the threshold separating the bathroom from Vincent’s chamber in a hurry. Vincent followed him out looking like someone had covered him in flour.
"Talcum powder…" Vincent explained, "in the bucket. Who would do such a foolish thing?"
Father could not reply. Tears ran unchecked down his face, forming rivers in the white powder coating his skin. Whoever had done it would not live to see another day. Father was fuming!
In the midst of the commotion, Devin wandered in, and taking one look at the spectacle before him, almost choked himself to death. His father, white as a sheet, rivers of tears revealing bright red skin beneath, and Vincent! Well, Vincent looked a little like Santa in drag. His hair was snow white; his face was smudged white and gold, he carried a powder coated mop in one hand and what was once a gray tin bucket, now coated with white powder around the rim, in the other.
"Is this a private party, or can anyone join in?" Devin asked.
Father stuttered a reply, and Vincent's words tripped over each other as he tried to explain.
Devin deciphered the words, "toilet…missed…mop…" and then his father removed his spectacles to reveal two perfectly clean eyes that stood out from the white powdered face starkly. It reminded Devin so much of a panda bear that he hooted with laughter.
Finally, he calmed down, and brushing aside their garbled explanation, he took the mop and bucket from Vincent, telling him, "Look I'll see to the mess. You two freshen up ok? Obviously you both had too much wine last night." He stepped by and into the `bathroom,' returning seconds later to ask, "I take it neither of you will be needing the powder room for the next few minutes?"
A sock flew through the air, landing at Devin's feet. He stared at it and looked up at his brother, who told him, "Just be thankful it was only a sock I laid my hands on first…" Devin shuddered when he saw the heavy paperweight Vincent had probably been intending to throw, sitting beside the other sock on Vincent’s desk.
For a few moments, as Father and Vincent recovered from their strange ordeal, all they heard from the `bathroom' was the sound of water, and a mop splish-sploshing in and out of the bucket, when suddenly all went quiet and an almighty shout came up from that vicinity.
Vincent rushed back only to find his brother standing by the toilet with a new pool of urine at his feet. The perplexed look on Devin's face, made Vincent laugh. "Now who's had too much wine?"
Dumbfounded, Devin could only stare at the toilet. The look was priceless. Vincent watched as his brother looked down at his traitorous manhood, and then to the toilet bowl and back as if assessing the distance, and then something clicked!
"Son of a…" He began dropping to his knees, and cursing as the urine soaked through his trousers, but reached forward and plucked from the basin, a strip of cling film that covered the whole toilet bowl, pulled tight like a bow, stretched finely so that an early morning riser might not notice it in place. Obviously three people had not, and whoever formulated the plan had succeeded brilliantly.
Devin chuckled. "The little blighters. Wish we'd thought of something like this when we were little, Vinny." His face glowed with delight. "Still I doubt this stuff existed back then…but what a great idea. Who would have thought it huh? The stuff is practically invisible. It was only that candle over there that reflected in it that made me peer closer." He then looked down at the mop and bucket. "And whoever did it, anticipated you'd run for these!" He held them aloft. "So they were prepared for that also. God, Vincent, I'd like to shake the hand of the monster who thought up this little gimmick.”
Overhearing at the doorway, Father announced, "I'd like to shake the living daylights out of him, that's what I'd like to do! Of all the stupid, foolhardy pranks, this is worse than anything you and Vincent ever dreamt up! If I ever catch who did this,” Father fumed, "I'll kill them!"
Of course, he wouldn't go to such extremes; but a mysterious someone who was eavesdropping, and trying desperately not to laugh out loud, overheard, and made a vow that no matter what, Father would never know who was responsible…
"Let's hope this is all they have done." Vincent replied dryly, not relishing the thought of anything else happening. That which had happened already had been embarrassing enough, and if word got out…
The eavesdropper smirked. 'Hope all you like, Vincent…' he giggled padding away softly. `And now for my next trick…'
The perpetrator of the practical joke could hardly wait to tell one of his companions, whom he felt no doubt would get quite a charge out of it. When he finally met up with the person whom he would elect to assist him in the next prank, the reaction was not quite what he expected.
"I can't believe you would do such a thing," the companion scolded. And to people like Father and Vincent. I could understand it if it were someone we didn't like, but I respect those two men. Oh, what a horrible thing you have done."
The perpetrator (who will hereafter be known as the perpetrator, since his identity must not be revealed at this point) said, "It was merely a practical joke. I have no disrespect for Father and Vincent. I was just playing a trick that I found in a book."
"Some trick!" His companion (who will hereafter be known as the companion since his identity must also not be revealed at this time) was visibly upset. "How would you like it if someone did that to you?"
The perpetrator hung his head, but only momentarily. "Yeah. I guess you're right. I should have picked other targets. But, you have to admit, it was pretty funny." And then he started laughing. "You should have seen the look on their faces, and their appearance after being covered with talc."
The companion walked away, obviously disgusted.
Well, the perpetrator thought, that didn't go exactly as I had planned. I would have thought my companion would have been delighted and appreciative of my humor, but instead he lectured me. Oh well, perhaps I should find another partner in crime to assist me in my next trick. Let's see, now where is that book?
After poring through the book entitled, "Sick Tricks" by Charleton Picks, he found another perfect scheme to enact. "Now, if I can just find someone to assist me, I'll be set. I think I'll play the next one on Catherine when she comes to visit in the tunnels. And he set about to get ready.
Meanwhile, Vincent was so embarrassed he was almost ashamed to look Catherine in the eye. Even though what happened was not his fault, he was still ashamed. Imagine peeing on the floor like a two-year-old! And then being covered with powder. He actually did not want to see Catherine that evening.
However, she came at her usual time to see the man of her dreams. She was surprised that Vincent was not at the tunnel entrance to meet her. "Vincent," she called, "are you there?"
There was no answer. The perpetrator was hidden in the shadows, and was grateful that Catherine had worn a skirt tonight instead of trousers, because otherwise the trick wouldn't work. But when Catherine stepped a few feet into the tunnel -- Whoosh! Up went her skirt over her head, revealing her red, lacy unmentionables. She tried valiantly to pull the skirt down over her thighs, especially when a sentry appeared, having heard her call Vincent. However, there seemed to be a heavy air current coming from the floor of the tunnel; and, try as she would, her skirt was almost up over her head like an inverted umbrella. She shrieked with embarrassment, and the sentry, being a gentleman, was shocked, but nevertheless averted his glance. He could not help but notice, however, that Catherine's legs were indeed shapely. And that red bikini she wore -- ooh-la-la!
Meanwhile, the perpetrator was laughing his butt off, holding his hand over his mouth so no one would hear the paroxysms of laughter.
Finally, Catherine, whose face was as red as her underwear, stepped away from the air current and was decently covered once again. Just at that moment, Vincent rushed to her aid, as he also had heard Catherine's scream. "Catherine, are you all right," he asked worriedly, momentarily forgetting his hesitation in seeing her.
"I'm fine," Catherine gasped. "But I just had the most humiliating experience. Vincent, did you know there's a strong air current at the tunnel entrance?"
"Why, no. I don't believe I ever noticed that."
He walked over to the entrance. However, at that time, the perpetrator had turned off the flow of air, so everything seemed normal. What he had done was drill a hole in the floor of the tunnel entrance, and bury the hose of a machine used to blow air into tires to cause the air current. That machine could be turned on and off as he saw fit.
"I don't detect anything of that nature, Catherine. Why were you screaming? I could hear you all the way back in my chamber."
"I was so embarrassed. When I took a few steps into the tunnels, a strong air current blew my skirt over my head. I couldn't get it to stop. Oh, Vincent, it was terrible."
Vincent looked puzzled. "An air current? Indeed! I'm wondering if that - - -"
"Oh, nothing. Just an experience Father and I had this morning that was terribly embarrassing. Someone is playing practical jokes on us all, and I aim to get to the bottom of it."
That night, when Vincent climbed into his bed, he heard music playing. Then a muffled voice sang out:
"Vincent and Father
Flooded the floor
When they went 'paughty'"
For Christmas, Catherine gave Father a battery operated tape recorder, from which he derived much pleasure listening to music and recording recitals put on by the children at occasions throughout the year. He was very careful where he left the recorder; the switches were delicate, and he wouldn't allow any of the children to mess with it. The morning, following the first set of practical jokes that he, his sons, and Catherine had been subjected to, Father was very upset to find his beloved recorder missing.
"Oh no!" he wailed, immediately calling Vincent to his chamber.
"What is it, Father?" Vincent asked, concerned.
"The tape recorder is gone." Father stared at the dust-free square that indicated where it had been.
"This tape recorder?" Vincent asked, extracting it from a nearby shelf.
Father frowned. "I know I didn't leave it there. Besides, this dust free spot shows where it last stood. Let me see it, Vincent, someone has been tampering with it."
Passing the tape recorder to his father, Vincent watched as Father turned it over in his hands, and extracted the tape. He'd marked where the tape had last been used, and the reel showed that nothing had been added or detracted so he couldn't understand it.
"Perhaps you should play it?" Vincent suggested. Father nodded.
Rewinding the tape back to the beginning, the two men settled down in their favorite chairs to listen to the Christmas recital the children had last performed.
"Ah, I remember this piece…a solo by Brooke, such a delightful voice…" Father reminisced as Brook began singing “Silent Night”.
Happy to listen, both closed their eyes remembering that wonderful evening. They anticipated hearing the choir sing, `While Shepherds Watched', but both sat bolt upright as an unfamiliar soprano voice began singing:
"While shepherds washed their socks by night all seated round the tub, the angel of the Lord came down and they began to scrub.
Fear not said he, for mighty dread had filled their troubled minds, I bring you soap that's heaven sent, the sort that's hard to find."
"Wh…what??" Father spluttered angrily.
Vincent found it almost impossible to keep a straight face. Okay, it was very wrong of the prankster to blank out the choir and exchange his own version of the song; but it really was hilarious, and at any other time Vincent felt that Father would have thought so too. The problem was, Father had been so proud of the choir that afternoon, and that carol had been sung so beautifully that Father had derived much pleasure from listening to it ever since.
"It's ruined!" Father shouted with tears filling his eyes, "Ruined! Who could have done such an evil thing?"
Devin's entrance at that moment was suspicious – he was a master of foolishness. Father seized the opportunity to flare, "What do you know about this, Devin? Hmm, tell me?"
"Why does it always have to come back down to me? What's happened now?" Devin replied crossly.
Vincent rose and replayed the particular part to his brother; and Devin burst into laughter, which did little to simmer his father's temper.
"Don’t you recognize the voice?" Devin asked at length.
"No, and actually, whomsoever can sing like that has been keeping us in the dark." Vincent ventured.
Father, however, was having none of it. "When I catch up with them they will sing higher notes than ever before. If I don't strangle them first I shall castrate them or worse!" He snapped.
From a corner of the chamber, where he had not been seen, someone's eyes watered at the thought.
"I hate to say this, Dad," Devin told his father, "But as bad as that is, we seem to have got off lightly today by this prankster. After what happened yesterday…"And Devin's eyes lit up at the thought of Catherine's skirt blowing over her head, a tale that was doing the rounds by a not so discreet sentry, who saw too much. "I think changing a few lyrics isn't so terrible really."
"Well I do!" Father retorted angrily, glaring at his son; and Devin apologized when he saw how near tears his parent was.
"Look, let’s go have some breakfast, huh? Bring the recording with you. We may not be able to recognize whoever did this, but someone else might. You know the odd catch to the voice may give the prankster away," Devin suggested hopefully.
Unconvinced, Father clasped his beloved recorder to his chest; and, aided by a son on either side of him, the three walked toward the kitchen and breakfast.
Only one pair of eyes watched them go. A pair of eyes filled with mischief; by the time they came back…they’d have something else to worry about.
The perpetrator went to consult his book of sick tricks once again. Undaunted by Father's threat to have him castrated, he nevertheless had images of what that would be like. Mercy, he thought, I'd never be able to have sex, and my voice would be permanently soprano. But let's see -- where did I leave that book? I know what kind of trick to play, but I want to consult the book to make sure I get it right.
Meanwhile, the tunnels were buzzing with rumors about a prankster on the prowl. People were a bit nervous, wondering who would be the next target. Father, Vincent and Catherine had been first on the list. Vincent and Father refused to discuss what had happened to them, only that it was something they would rather not go into detail about, but Catherine's dilemma was well known by this time. Fortunately, she did not live in the tunnels, so she wasn't aware of the stares and whispers. A few kind souls had mainly felt sorry for her, rather than laugh about it, especially the women.
As Father, Vincent and Devin were finishing their breakfast, they heard another scream coming from somewhere in the tunnels. "Great Heavens," shouted Father. "I believe he's at it again." In unison, all three got up and ran outside the Great Hall. Then they heard the scream again.
"It's coming from this direction," Devin said. "Follow me."
The three ran in the direction of the scream, only to end up in front of Mouse's chamber. Jamie ran out, her eyes wide with fright.
"What is it, Jamie," Father asked worriedly. "What's happened?"
For a moment, Jamie couldn't speak. Then she finally replied in a choking voice, "It's on our bed." And then she began to shake.
"What's on your bed, Jamie?" Vincent asked, trying to calm the young woman.
"Go inside and look!" And she pointed to the Chamber where Mouse at that moment emerged, looking as though he had seen a ghost.
Father, Vincent and Devin entered the chamber. There on the bed they saw what looked like a dead rat, all bloodied and mangled.
"Good God!" exclaimed Father. “This is the last straw. I'm going to catch that little twerp and make him sorry he was ever born."
Vincent approached the bed and looked at the cause of Mouse and Jamie's scream. "Look at this, Father."
"No. I don't want to see it. From where I'm standing, it's close enough."
"It's not a real rat, Father. It's just one of those fake rubber things that looks like a bloody rat." And Vincent held it up by its rubber tail so Father and Devin could see it.
Devin took a deep breath. "Well, it's still something that would create fright, and in Jamie's condition, I...."
Jamie was three months pregnant, and it was a great shock to her. She had heard Mary and some of the other older women say if a woman is expecting and sees something frightening, her baby would be marked.
"I must find them and tell them it's not a real rat," Vincent said, as he tossed the offensive object into a trash can. But by this time, the young couple had fled to the safety of the Great Hall.
When the three arrived back at the Hall, Jamie was huddled in a corner; and Mouse was trying to comfort her as best he could. Father approached the couple and told them what they saw was only a rubber rat, realistic though it may have seemed, especially in the dim light of dawn.
"But who would do such a thing," the distraught Jamie asked. "I think it was a terribly cruel joke."
"Indeed it was," agreed Vincent. "I am going to do my best to find out who is responsible."
"Okay good," said Mouse, "okay fine."
And in a seldom-used pantry off the side of the kitchen, the perpetrator lurked, laughing.
The days that followed were fraught with suspense and paranoia. Everyone in the community wondered who the next victim of the perpetrator would be. He had already targeted Father and Vincent, Catherine, and then Jamie and Mouse. Was anyone safe from this abhorrent prankster?
Meanwhile, the perpetrator and his companion were working on their next practical joke. "I think I will pass on this one," the companion said. "We're going to get caught eventually; and I don't know about you, but I don't particularly want to face Father's wrath."
The perpetrator laughed. "Hey, it's all in fun. Don't go chickening out on me now. Besides, I ain't afraid of that old man. What's he gonna do? Yell and make all kinds of stupid threats like the one he made the other day?"
"What did he threaten you with?"
"Aw, something about castration. It's all a bunch of talk. All he's gonna do is yell at us."
The companion had a worried look on his face. "Castration? Man, that's pretty serious for just a few practical jokes, ain't it?"
"That's what I'm tellin' you. It's just talk. That's all it is. Now, are you gonna help me with this or not?"
The companion hesitated. "Well, I need to think about it. I'm gonna get some lunch, and I'll get back to you."
The perpetrator shrugged. "Okay. If that's the way you're gonna be, I guess I'll have to do it myself."
"Just be careful, man. I think you've gone too far already."
“Spoken like a true chicken...Cluck! Cluck! Cluck!"
"Okay. Don't say I didn't warn you." The companion turned and left the perpetrator to do his dirty work alone.
Later that evening, as the tunnel folk gathered for their dinner, the Great Hall was much more silent than usual. Even the little children didn't horse around or sail their paper napkins folded into flying missiles. Never had they been quieter or had better manners. Everyone was frightened, waiting for the other shoe to drop. At first, everything progressed normally. Father gave the blessing, and the food was passed from person to person and from table to table until everyone was served. The meal was eaten in relative silence, and everything went well until the dessert came.
Suddenly there was a noise over the loudspeakers that Mouse had crafted on each end of the Great Hall. It was a highly magnified sound of someone belching. "Errrrrrkkkkhhhh!" Everyone looked around the hall, and then at one another, and soon the sound came again: "Errrrrrkkkkhhhhhhh," even louder this time. Father stood up and shouted, "You hellion! Stop that this instant, or..."
"Or what?" came the voice, although it was not recognizable because the amplifiers were turned up so high, the voice sounded garbled. "Or what?" it repeated. "Are you going to make a eunuch of me? You'll have to find me first." And then there was magnified, garbled laughter.
Father's face was so red, Catherine was afraid he would have a stroke. Vincent was baring his fangs. Children were sobbing, and running to their mothers for comfort. The parents were utterly appalled at the gruff and nasty language the perpetrator was yelling into the microphones.
"I'm putting a stop to this right now," Father shouted angrily, as he started for the door.
Vincent stopped him. "Father, it may not be safe. This person, whoever he is, may have others with him, and could do you some harm. I will go. I am better able to handle the situation, that is, if I can find the renegade." And he left the Great Hall, taking huge strides as though he were truly on a mission.
Catherine tried her best to calm Father. Jamie and Mouse sat across the table from them, looking wide-eyed, and were speechless with fright. Catherine finally spoke. "When will this ever end? This character will not stop unless he is caught.”
Vincent practically ran through the Tunnels as though he were crazed. He wasn't even sure which direction he should be heading. There were so many chambers up and down the Tunnels. The Tunnels themselves were winding off in many directions. This prankster could be anywhere, but how did he have access to the loudspeakers? The microphones were carefully hidden in Mouse's chamber, but Mouse had taken to locking his doors ever since the rubber rat incident several days before. Vincent let out his usual primal scream of frustration.
It was some time after that, when the meal was finished and everyone was helping William clean up, that Catherine and Father were painfully aware that Vincent had not returned. Father kept wanting to go after him, and Catherine kept discouraging him. At last, everything was done and the Tunnel folk were returning to their chambers. Everything seemed to have quieted down. Father still insisted he wanted to look for Vincent, and Catherine stopped him. Catherine and Father finally returned to their respective chambers, and Catherine nervously awaited Vincent's return. An hour passed, and still he had not shown up. Catherine lay on the bed and tried to sleep, but it was useless. She was wide-awake and worried that something bad had happened to Vincent. It was almost midnight, and there was still no sign of Vincent. She went to the door and peeked out into the halls. All was quiet, and she had never seen the dim halls quite so empty.
While Catherine worried herself sick in his chamber, like Tigger, Vincent was busy bouncing. In fact he couldn't stop bouncing, and he was feeling decidedly sick after half a day of it. His head was dizzy, and even though he tried on numerous occasions to climb out of the shaft to which he had fallen into, he repeatedly slipped due to grease coating the walls, landing upon the trampoline positioned beneath, only to begin bouncing again.
In fact, Vincent had bounced so much he was beginning to feel more like Tigger's friend, Winnie the Pooh, with Pooh, being the appropriate word. He was sweating like a hog; and his temper was frayed to the limit, because all the time he bounced, rancorous laughter could be heard coming from the top of the shaft from where he had fallen.
"Hehe, Vincent…your tops are made of rubber and your bottoms are made of springs, and you're bouncy flouncy, bouncy flouncy, a silly old fluffy thing.'
"GRRRR" Vincent roared with his failing strength.
"Here, kitty, kitty, kitty…" An outburst of laughter followed.
"Who…(bounce) ever…(bounce) that…(bounce) is…. (bounce)… I'll…(bounce)"
"Yeah you and whose army, Vinnie? Oh, no, don't tell me. Not the grandpa brigade?" More laughter. "Bouncing along, bouncing along, at the bottom of the briny sea…"
“Now, now, Vinnie, be nice. You should be grateful. Up top kids have to pay for jumping about on that thing, or they used to have to do. Can't now, cos it's gone, see. You've got it."
"Let me out of here!"
"Wow, Vinnie, you managed that all in one breath!"
There was no reply.
Still no reply.
The perpetrator peeked into the shaft, carefully avoiding the splintered remains from the sealed hole in the ground. It was too dark to see all the way down, so he held a lantern into the hole and peered around its glow.
"Vincent?" He enquired worriedly.
"Vincent quit joking," he continued, his voice trembling.
When there was still no reply, the culprit ran to the nearest pipe and started sounding out the message. "Vincent, injured, Level D, old shaft, bring a long rope, a scrubbing brush and some washing up liquid." He hoped the latter would help the rescuers clean the grease from the shaft walls that he's applied there so they could climb in and out. And then he legged it, as fast as his two legs would carry him, to wait and watch from somewhere discreet to see what would happen next.
Now worried since she hadn't seen Vincent for more than six hours, Catherine slipped on a robe and hurried to Father's chamber. She knocked hesitantly on the door... It was the wee hours of the morning, and she hated to wake Father; but she really needed help finding Vincent. She knocked again, a bit louder this time; then she heard some sounds within the chamber, and Father came to the door.
"Who is it?" he asked, his voice hoarse with sleep.
"Father, I'm sorry to disturb you, but I still can't find Vincent. I'm terribly worried."
Father opened the door. A worried expression creased his brow. "Come in, my Dear. Great Heavens. Do you mean he's still missing?"
Catherine began to cry. "I'm afraid something terrible has happened to him."
Father motioned for Catherine to come in, but just at that moment, they heard tapping on the pipes. "Be still for a moment, Catherine, so I can make out the code...Oh, my...Vincent is indeed in trouble."
"What is it, Father? What's happened to him?" Catherine was now beside herself with fear.
"Vincent is trapped in an underground shaft in Level D. We must round up a rescue unit to get him out."
Catherine stared at him with wide eyes, not believing what she heard. "But how -- how did he get down there?"
"Well, apparently the prankster is at it again. He must have created a trapdoor."
"But Vincent could have climbed out, couldn't he?" Catherine asked, remembering how Vincent easily climbed up the brick walls to her balcony.
"Yes, but from what the code message stated, there's grease all over the walls. And that's not all," Father sighed, "He fell onto a trampoline."
Catherine just stood with her mouth open. "We must get help for him, Father. I'll get Mouse, William, Kanin, Stubbs, all the strong men in the Tunnels, and we'll get him out."
Before long, there was a flurry of activity in the Tunnels, as Vincent's friends and loyal followers proceeded to the remote Level D to rescue him. They came with ropes, chains, cables, a strong washing compound for the grease, and other tools they needed. After some painstaking work, they finally brought a very tired, dirty and angry Vincent to the surface, followed by the well-bounced upon trampoline.
Catherine was so overjoyed to see him that she ran and hugged him, sweaty and greasy as he was. He held her against his chest, grateful to be out of his bouncy hell, and relieved to see her, as he never expected he would again. "Oh, Vincent," Catherine cried, "How on earth did this happen to you?"
Father asked, "Was it those horrible monsters again?"
Vincent barely uttered, "Yes, it was. I couldn't see them because it happened so fast, and it was dark. But I heard their voices and their insane taunts and laughter."
"It must have been terrible for you," Catherine observed.
"The bouncing was the terrible part," Vincent said. "All I could do was try to jump high enough to get out of there, but couldn't quite make it. The walls were too high, and the monsters had poured grease all over them."
"Where did they go?" Father asked.
Vincent rubbed his forehead. All that bouncing had given him a terrible headache. "I don't know, Father. I think I must have fainted and fallen back on the trampoline. All I know is, I woke up and heard voices yelling at me, friendly, concerned voices, telling me to grab the cable and wind it around my waist. How did you find me, anyway?"
"Catherine came to my chamber. She was terribly worried. While we were talking, a message came over the pipes that you were in trouble, and your location. We brought help, and came to where the message told us we would find you." Everyone nodded in agreement.
Mouse said, "Vincent in trouble. Mouse and everyone come quick. Glad to find you."
"Well, I'm certainly grateful to get out of that hole," Vincent said, still rubbing his forehead. "Now, I could sure use a shower, a bite to eat, some clean clothes and a good night's sleep."
Catherine had a worried look on her face. "You know, one thing certainly puzzles me. How did the person giving the message know where you were, unless that person was the perpetrator himself?"
"I was thinking the same thing," Father said. "But why would he try to get help for you if he were the one who did this dastardly thing?"
Vincent thought about it for a moment. "Well, I did lose consciousness momentarily. Perhaps he thought I was dead. I don't think he really meant to kill me, and he must have gotten frightened."
"I agree," Father said. "Oh, if only you saw his face. Did you say there was more than one?"
"I heard two voices," Vincent told him, "and they sounded like juveniles. I couldn't recognize the voices, as mostly they whispered and giggled and sang silly little songs."
"It certainly seems that way, as those pranks are definitely childish ones, but sophisticated in some ways. They have gone to considerable trouble to create this last one. That takes plenty of ingenuity, and strength, I might add, which the average child wouldn't have."
"Unless," William added, "they had some adult assistance."
"You're making it sound like some kind of conspiracy or plot," Father said. "Who among us in this underground sanctuary would conceive of such things? I can't imagine it is anyone in the Tunnel community."
"Well, I'm certainly going to make it my business to find out, and sooner than you might think," roared Vincent. "This nonsense has gone on long enough. Sooner or later someone is going to get hurt, and hopefully it will be the perpetrator."
Father yawned and said, "Thank you, gentlemen, for helping Vincent. I'll see that you are rewarded for your trouble at this ungodly hour. And now, if you'll all excuse me, I'm going to get out of this dank and musty area, and back to my warm bed. And Vincent, I'd advise you and Catherine to do the same."
"We're going, Father," Catherine told him, as she put her arm around Vincent. He leaned heavily on her, as most of his strength was spent jumping up and down in that shaft. "Tomorrow is another day, and something tells me the perpetrator will be found very soon."
In the shadows the perpetrator giggled, for Father had just said, `I'm going to go back to my warm bed and I suggest that Vincent and Catherine do the same?'
The dirty old man.
He-he, three in a bed and the little one said roll over… roll over…
It gave the prankster a BRILLIANT idea!
It happened during lunch four days later.
Prior to this, the prankster had spent a whole day photographing Catherine going about her business up top. Then he'd developed the photos and superimposed Catherine's face on top of nude female models. The finished product didn't look half bad.
Giggling, he crept first into Vincent's chamber while everyone was dining in the kitchen, and stuck nude photographs of `Catherine' everywhere, even tucked one under Vincent's pillow and one down beneath the covers of his bed.
Next he crept into Father's chamber and did likewise there. He thought only of the horrified gasps of the occupants, and how they'd be rushing about pulling the photographs down and screwing them up. He thought it would be hilarious. Not one moment did he stop to wonder how Catherine would feel when she found out about it.
Having a couple of photographs with nowhere to stick them, he placed them inside books, hoping these wouldn't be discovered for several weeks, and what did it matter if someone borrowed that book and found it? That would be excellent!
Then he tucked himself into a tight little corner and prepared to wait.
"So what do you think then, Vincent, should we hold the recital at the weekend? Do you think the children are ready?" Father's voice preceded him as he entered his chamber after lunch.
Vincent replied, "I think that would be wonderful. The children practiced all last week, so by the weekend…" Vincent walked into Father's back. "Something wrong Father?" He asked.
Following his father's gaze Vincent gasped and fled past him, dragging the photos from the walls. The sound of Catherine calling goodbye to someone in the tunnel made him run faster to destroy them all before she arrived.
Thump, Catherine walked straight into Father's back. "Father, are you alright?" Catherine enquired coming around to face him. He looked ghastly. Catherine searched for Vincent, saw a pile of paper in his hands, watched as he tore it into shreds and then asked, "What's happened?"
"Nothing!" Both Vincent and Father exclaimed together, each sending the other a sidelong glance. It was only just dawning on them that not only had someone plastered the walls with nude photographs of Catherine, but Catherine had actually posed naked somewhere!
"Are you sure?" Catherine edged toward the paper bin and Vincent snatched it up, "Positive." He said running for a plastic sack. He spilled the bin contents inside, and knotted the top of the sack firmly.
"I wouldn't call that nothing, Vincent. What are you hiding?"
"Nothing!" Both Father and Vincent exclaimed together. Catherine looked hard at both of them in turn. They looked decidedly embarrassed, but she could tell they would hold their tongues.
"Well, since you aren't going to tell me, I'll just collect my things from Vincent's chamber, as planned, and be off home. Are you coming with me, Vincent?"
"I'll meet you there." He replied.
As Catherine left he sighed heavily, asking Father, "Who would have done such a thing?"
Father shook his head, "When I find out whose been doing these things I will castrate them personally!" Father flared. "What a terrible thing to do." He wanted to add about Catherine posing for such photographs but didn't dare.
Neither could Vincent, but he tactfully remarked, "He must have been to Catherine's apartment and taken them from there. It must have been something she took part in long ago. Though why she kept them, I'll never know."
Father sighed, "Perhaps it's the photographer. Perhaps he's the one doing all these things. I never thought of it before, but he might have an axe to grind against Catherine and is getting at her through us."
"Then that means it’s someone that isn't associated with us, which means it’s someone who has gained access to the tunnels." Vincent reminded him.
Father clapped a hand over his mouth at the thought. Suddenly, he noticed someone standing in the entrance to his chamber.
It was Catherine, glaring at Vincent. She looked furious! "Would you mind telling me what the meaning is of this Vincent?" From a pile in her hand she held up a photograph found in his chamber. Vincent and Father stole looks at one another and turned bright red.
"I assume that this is what you were destroying in here when I walked in. Well let me inform you that you didn't get them all. Vincent, your chamber was full of them."
"We think the prankster put them up. We didn't want you seeing them Catherine." Vincent explained.
"Well I have." Then for the sake of the perpetrator she shouted loudly, "And when we do find out who has done these things, I will personally see that they are prosecuted. They have certainly gone too far this time!"
Shocked, the prankster gasped loudly, and three pairs of curious eyes turned toward the sound.
"Did you hear that?" Catherine whispered.
"Yes, I did. It sounded like a sharp intake of breath. Who's there?" Father practically shouted. "Come out and show yourself!"
Vincent bared his fangs and clenched his fists. Meanwhile, the perpetrator discovered a huge, gaping hole in the corner where he was hidden, and crawled deep into it. He was now out of sight, and no one would see him unless they, too, crept into his corner and discovered the hole.
"Come on out, you coward," Father repeated, his blood pressure and adrenaline both rising. Vincent began pacing, and Catherine stepped aside, afraid of whom she might see, and even more afraid of what Vincent and Father might do. They waited. Silence. The perpetrator was trying to be as still as he could, hoping against hope that he wouldn't have to sneeze, belch or have a call of nature. The silence was deafening, except for the ubiquitous gurgling of the pipes, and an occasional tapping.
"Maybe we imagined the sound," Catherine observed, letting down her guard. "There are always strange sounds in the tunnels."
"I don't think we imagined anything. That ruffian is here somewhere, but he is cleverly hidden. I know when I've heard something, and when I've imagined it." Father joined Vincent in pacing.
"Well," Catherine said, exasperation in her voice, "I'm not going to stand around here all day, waiting for him to show himself, if it is a 'him'. I'd say let's go looking for that individual ourselves."
Vincent sighed. "Where do you suggest we start, Catherine? We've been all through the Tunnels, every nook and cranny and catacomb, and we are still being besieged with these horrible pranks."
"Now, now," Father said, "Let's not disregard Catherine's suggestion. This character is indeed clever, but he can't hide forever. Sooner or later he will make his appearance, and we will be waiting for him. Right now, he knows we will go looking for him, so he will redouble his efforts to secrete himself. But we'll catch him when he least suspects it."
Vincent cleared his throat. "Father, we know he is nearby, so let's not be planning our mode of operation while he is in earshot." And with that, Vincent motioned for Catherine to follow him to a different location.
The perpetrator heard the chamber door close, and breathed a sigh of relief. He figured he'd better be more adept at hiding and not do stupid things like gasping, or dropping something. Either that or he just might stop his insidious pranks. No -- that would never do. He was having too much fun, even though there was the ever-present danger that he could be caught.
I'll just play one more trick, he said to himself. Just one, and then I'll stop. They'll never figure out who did it, and I can just go about my business, act normal and carry the secret with me until everyone forgets about it, or until I am discovered, whichever comes first. Discovered? No! That is not an option. They won't discover me because I am too smart. Now, to get my book of tricks and see what further damage I can inflict on these people. And with that, he crawled out of his hiding place, slipped out of Father's chamber, and with a secret smile, went on his next mission.
Meanwhile, Father, Vincent and Catherine headed for the Great Hall to have a little snack, and discuss the current events.
"I have an idea," Father said. "Why don't we make up a team of different people to help us in our search? There is safety in numbers, you know, and that saying can be applied to conquer an evil force."
"You might have something there, but who could we get?" Vincent's expression was one of deep concentration.
Catherine said, "That's easy. How about the people who helped Vincent out of the pit the other night? They were angry and upset, and I think they just might be willing to help us find the culprit."
Vincent smiled..."I have an even better idea. I believe the person doing these things -- and this has been mentioned before -- is a young person, a child perhaps, albeit a crafty child. What I was thinking would be to have our team consist of many members of persons who are between the ages of twelve and fifteen...in other words, the trickster's peers. They would know of or conceive all the hidden areas of the Tunnels, where someone up to no good would most likely be hiding."
"That's a great idea," Father agreed. In fact, why don't we ask that young man over there if he would like to join in the search?"
Vincent and Catherine looked in the direction Father was pointing, and then looked at one another, and in the same breath and same voice, both shouted, "Isn't that Mitch's son?""
Father replied, "I beg your pardon?"
"You know," Vincent reminded him. "I forget the lad's name, but I'm sure that's who it is. He’s a good lad. I'm sure he would be willing to help us."
Meanwhile, the young man sitting across the hall, nonchalantly took his nose out of his book, and waved, then continued reading. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Vincent, Catherine and Father coming toward him, and rapidly closed the book. "Hello, there," he said pleasantly. "May I help you?"
As they approached, Catherine caught a glimpse of the book's title: "Sick Tricks by Charleton Picks"
Father nearly fainted when he saw the title of the book the young man was reading. However, he pretended not to notice, and cleared his throat before he said, "You look familiar. Are you the son of Mitch?"
The boy looked up and replied, "Yes, sir, I am. What can I do for you?
Meanwhile, Catherine and Vincent exchanged looks. Catherine noticed that Vincent was becoming angry. She whispered to him not to say anything just yet.
"What's your name, young man?" Father asked.
"I'm Justin. And you, sir?"
"They call me Father, but my name is Jacob Wells. May I ask what you are doing here?"
Justin put the book aside and told Father he was waiting for his father, Mitch, to pick him up on Wednesday. "I hope you don't mind, sir, but he had an emergency and had to leave New York City. He said you tunnel people wouldn't mind looking after me for a few days. A gentleman by the name of William said I could use one of the empty chambers, and to make myself at home, which I have, sir."
"Interesting," Father replied. "When did you get here?"
"Just last night, sir."
Well, Father thought, that's strange. If this boy is the perpetrator, he has been here much longer than one day. And if he is not the perpetrator, what was he doing reading that book? "Might I ask what you are reading?"
"Oh, this? Well, I found it in the chamber under my bed, and I was curious. It's indeed a silly book with a lot of stupid practical jokes in it. Do you know to whom it belongs?"
Father stroked his beard and replied, "I certainly wish I did. That book has evidently been the source of much trouble we've been having around here."
"Yes. There have been some cruel pranks played on some innocent people here in the tunnels. I want to know who is responsible; and when I find out, there will be a lot of explaining for that person to do."
"Perhaps I can help, then," Justin said. "I'm pretty good at finding jokesters, as I used to be one myself."
Father paled visibly. "You did?"
Vincent, who stood in the background with Catherine, came forward with an ominous look on his face. Catherine gasped, and wrung her hands. The last thing she wanted this morning was a confrontation between Vincent and Justin. Besides, Justin seemed like a very polite and cultured young man, not at all the way she had pictured the perpetrator.
"That was a long time ago, sir. I daresay I have long outgrown such foolishness."
Father also decided this boy was too refined and sincere to be the evil prankster. "So what makes you think you can find this urchin?" Father asked.
Justin looked thoughtful. "Well, I could have sworn I heard noises last night. It was past midnight, and there were sounds of giggling."
"Coming from your chamber?" Father asked.
"No, sir. It was out in the hallways, but it sounded fairly close to my chamber."
"Did you get up to investigate?"
"That I did, sir. But by the time I got to the door, the sounds disappeared. Then, about fifteen minutes later, I looked out again, and saw what appeared to be a white-clad figure scurrying around the corner."
"So what did you do then?"
"Nothing. I went back to bed." There was a slight pause as Justin tried to read Father's expression. Obviously, Father was not pleased with the reply. "But I can stay awake tonight and see if I can catch him in the act."
"Hmm. Well, I guess it's worth a try. By the way, how old did you say you were?"
Justin smiled. "I didn't. But I am 15, sir."
"Fifteen... I guess that's old enough. However, I must warn you, this person, whoever he is, could be dangerous." And then Father went on to enumerate all the activities the perpetrator had been involved in thus far.
When he had finished, Justin sat silently, a concerned expression on his face. "How stupid he is...How utterly dumb and stupid. I would like to capture the little twit and give him a taste of his own medicine, I would."
"So would I. So would everyone he has victimized. Very well, then, I will appoint you as my personal sentry. You will watch and wait for any white-clad figures prowling around in the wee hours. Do you agree to that?
"At your service, sir," Justin said, as he got up to leave. "I'm going to catch a few winks this afternoon, so I can stay up during the night. It's nice to have met you, sir, and that couple with you - I don't believe I caught their names."
"I'm sorry. I totally forgot my manners. This is my son, Vincent, and his companion, Catherine."
"Glad to have met both of you also." Justin said as he waved them all goodbye."
Justin yawned loudly. Then he looked at the clock. It was 1:00 a.m., and he had heard nothing of the sounds that interrupted his sleep the previous night. He checked the halls periodically, but saw no white-clad figures. He wondered if the prankster had caught on to the surveillance in some way or another, or perhaps he just ran out of tricks. After all, Justin mused, I have his silly book.
Just then, there was a sound as though someone were dragging something across the floor. Justin sprinted to the door in time to see a young lad carrying a chain. His back was to Justin, so he didn't realize he had been seen. A-ha, Justin said to himself. Now I've got you, you little twerp. "Stop right where you are!" he hollered. "I've caught you in the act."
The young man's face illuminated by candlelight, appeared to be shocked and frightened. He immediately dropped the chain and started to run around the bend of the corridor.
Justin, having longer legs, easily outran the perpetrator, and caught him by the back of his night-shirt. He jerked the lad toward him, and pushed him against the wall of the corridor. "I've got you now, you little devil, and I demand to know what you're up to this hour of the night. Speak up now, you hear; or I'll make you wish you had."
The perpetrator struggled to get away, but Justin held him tightly against the wall.
"I'm waiting," Justin warned, "And I haven't much patience left. I've been watching for you since seven o'clock. I haven't had much sleep, and I'm in a very bad mood. Now talk! Who are you, and what the devil are you up to?"
"I--I--my name is Jonathan."
"Okay, Jonathan Aimsley. Suppose you tell me what you're doing with a chain at this ungodly hour."
Although Jonathan was visibly frightened, he tried very hard to keep his cool. "Nothing. I swear. I wasn't doing anything."
Justin still held Jonathan steadfast against the wall. "I see. Boys your age always go creeping about after midnight carrying a chain, do they? What were you going to do with it?"
"Nothing! Let me go!"
"Not until you give me some answers. My patience is wearing thin."
"I was just taking it to my chamber, that's all. Now let me go."
"Taking it to your chamber. All right. And for what purpose, may I ask?"
"That's none of your business. Let me go!"
Justin took a deep breath. This was going to be a lot harder than he anticipated. "Okay. Let me guess...You were going to use that chain to play another of your nasty tricks on some poor, unsuspecting victim. Is that right?"
"No!" Jonathan shouted, although he knew he had met his match, and the jig was up.
"And you thought you could just get away forever with all this mayhem you've been causing the tunnel people, didn't you?" Justin continued.
Defeated, Jonathan began to cry. And in spite of it all, Justin felt a momentary sympathy for this child. "How old are you, Jonathan?"
"Eleven. I'll be twelve next month," the boy sobbed.
"All right. Now, stop your blubbering and just explain to me why you've been doing all these terrible things. I can't believe an eleven-year-old child could be so devious."
"I-I don't know."
"Come on. Let's go to my chamber, and we'll sit down and have a man-to-man talk about it."
Jonathan meekly followed Justin, sobbing all the while. Justin felt sorry for the boy, putting himself in his place. He would have been frightened if it were him. But if he could get to the source of the problem, perhaps he could explain it to Father and the rest of the people, and they wouldn't be as harsh on Jonathan.
"Now then," Justin said, handing Jonathan a tissue, "Blow your nose and wipe your tears. I am not going to hurt you. I just want an explanation. Don't you realize how you have hurt these people?"
"I guess so." All the spark and rebellion was gone, and Jonathan was just a scared eleven-year-old who had been confronted by a bigger and stronger youth who was a threat to him.
"Then why did you do those awful things, Jonathan?"
When he had calmed down a bit, Jonathan tried to explain himself. "It started out as a big joke. I never meant to hurt anyone. I was just trying to have a little fun, and I guess everything got out of hand. Once I started, I couldn't seem to quit."
Justin nodded. "So tell me, how did you get in this place? You're not a resident here in the tunnels."
Jonathan explained that he knew of the tunnels, but he had wandered in accidentally and had been hiding out long before he started his practical jokes. He got to know the habits and character of the persons living in the tunnels. At first, all he did was steal food. Then he found the book of tricks in a trash can in Central Park. All his ideas came from reading it. He never meant to put them into practice; but like he had explained, one thing led to another, and then he couldn't stop. It was the thrill of not being discovered that mesmerized him.
Justin listened patiently, and then asked, "Where are your parents?"
"Don't have any."
"You don't have a mother and father? Who's been taking care of you?"
"My mom died when I was nine. Then my dad was supposed to take care of me, but he drank a lot, and he would beat me up. I ran away from home several times, but the police always picked me up and brought me back. Then dad would beat me some more. One night he left to go drinking, and he never came back. So I've been taking care of myself."
Justin felt tears welling up in his own eyes. A homeless lad with no one to look after him - no wonder he was so scrawny and his clothes were too small. They probably had not been properly washed for a long time, and neither had Jonathan. He looked pretty scruffy, at that. "So, how long have you been by yourself?"
"I dunno. I guess about six months or so."
"How ironic," Justin laughed. "You've wandered into the right place. This tunnel community is a shelter for homeless people.”
“I know. My mum brought me here once. She came to see Father and Vincent to ask if we could stay here awhile. I forgot how we came down here; and after mum died and dad was so horrible, I often thought about coming back to find it.”
“Well, folks like you, who can't make it in the world above, are welcomed here. If only you had conducted yourself properly, you would have been welcomed with open arms. As it is -- Oh, my gosh - - -
"Father! I forgot all about him and the rest of the people you have played tricks on. They're out to get you. I've got to think of some way to protect you until I can speak with them on your behalf."
"Can you hide me? Please!" Jonathan's eyes were big with fright again.
"No. There's been enough hiding. You're going to come out of hiding and apologize. Not only that, but you're going to have to make it up to them somehow. Now, don't start crying again. Promise me you'll stay right here until I get back. I'm going to explain your situation to Father and the rest of them. They are really understanding people, and they will forgive you. I promise."
"But I'm scared."
"I know you are, Jonathan. That's why I want to talk with them first."
"Why are you doing this for me? I really don't deserve it."
"No, you don't. I should clobber you. But I think you've had a very unhappy childhood so far. No one has ever bothered to teach you right from wrong. Further abuse would not solve your problem. And, I was your age once myself, and full of mischief I might add," Justin told him with a twinkle in his eye. "Now promise me you'll stay here and not go running off hiding again."
"Okay. I'm holding you to your word. Let's shake on it."
Justin tapped lightly on the door to Father's chamber. "Mr. Wells, it is I, Justin. I need to speak with you."
After a few minutes, Father came to the door. He held a lighted candle that illuminated Justin's face. "Come in, lad. Have you some news for me."
"Indeed I have, sir. I have found your villain."
"At last," Father sighed, barely paying attention to the candle wax dripping on his hand. "Well, who is it? Where is he?"
"His name is Jonathan Aimsley, and he is waiting in my chamber."
Father tied a robe around his nightshirt, and stuffed his feet into a pair of slippers. "Let's get him before he gets away. I'm going to pound some sense into his head. Quickly -- let's go."
"Mr. Wells, umm --umm - - -"
"Now what is it? Why are you just standing there and stammering?"
"Sir, your villain is just a child."
"A child? A young child?"
"Indeed, Sir. He is only eleven years old."
Father stroked his beard and frowned. "An eleven-year-old child could not have possibly done all those terrible things. Are you certain he's the one?"
"Yes, sir. He admitted it all to me. I caught him creeping through the halls, carrying a chain."
"Hmm," Father said, "Up to no good again, I suppose."
"Yes, sir. But you see, sir, he is a homeless child without parents. His mother died two years ago, and his father was a drunken sot who beat the hell out of him daily, and then took off. Excuse me, sir. I didn't mean to swear."
"Well, I still want to see him, to find out what his motives were. That is, if he's still waiting in your chamber. He's probably long gone by now, and in hiding again."
"No, sir. I trust that he's still there."
"What makes you so certain? His track record would indicate otherwise."
Justin struggled to find the right words to explain Jonathan's actions to Father. On the surface, it would seem that Jonathan was not a trustworthy youth, but Justin felt he was now contrite. "Sir, Jonathan's tricks started out innocently enough. He then discovered he could get away with doing them, and that was the thrill of it all. Now that he's been discovered, there is no longer any excitement connected to his bad behavior; and I truly believe he is sorry, as he was in tears when I left him."
But Father was not that easily convinced. "You are a very intelligent lad, Justin, wise beyond your years, in fact. However, I feel you are naive about the behavior of children, especially children like Jonathan. I want to see him now."
"Very well, sir. I'll lead the way."
"And you may call me Father, like everyone else in the Tunnels. There is no cause for formality in this place."
"Yes, sir -- I mean, Father."
As Father and Justin made their way through the tunnels to Justin's chambers, Justin hoped against hope that Jonathan was still there. He had given Jonathan a vote of confidence and assured Father of the same. However, Justin wondered if perhaps he had trusted the boy too much. If the youngster had gone into hiding again, it might be a long time before he was re-discovered. At last they reached the chamber and peered inside. There on the bed lay Jonathan, fast asleep.
"He does look innocent, doesn't he, Father?" Justin whispered, grateful that Jonathan hadn't again escaped. "Almost angelic, I would say."
"Yes," Father agreed, "although I wouldn't go quite that far. He is more of a devil in my estimation, at least until I have a chance to speak with him."
"Can it wait until morning, Father?" Justin was much more fatigued than he realized. I think we could all benefit from more sleep."
"Perhaps you're right," Father said. "But you must give me your solemn promise that you'll keep a close watch on him."
"I promise, sir. I will lock the door and hide the key under my pillow."
"Very well, then. Good night. Oh, and thank you for solving this mystery."
"My pleasure, sir. Good night."
The next morning, Justin awoke early. Jonathan was still sleeping, but stirring restlessly. Finally, he sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes. "Where am I?" He jumped out of bed and ran for the door.
"Whoa, there. You're in my chamber, remember? We had a little talk last night, and I went to get Father. I told him a bit about you, and he wanted to meet you; but when we came back, you were sound asleep, and we decided to wait until morning."
"I don't want to meet anybody. Leave me alone," Jonathan whimpered. "I just want to leave this place."
Justin sat Jonathan down on a chair. "Now listen here. I went to great lengths to see that you weren't punished right on the spot. Father is quite angry about the things you've done, and rightly so. However, he is willing to talk to you, and I think you at least owe him that much."
"Don't wanna," Justin cried, some of his belligerence returning.
"Well, you're gonna, if I have to drag you to his chamber myself. Now brush your teeth -- I have an extra toothbrush -- wash up, or better yet, take a shower and put on some clean clothes. I have a pair of trousers that you can roll up, and a shirt that might be big on you, but you can tuck it inside the pants and roll up the sleeves. And comb your hair. I don't want you looking like a street urchin." And despite considerable grumbling, Jonathan did what Justin told him, fearful that the older boy might decide to turn on him too.
Jonathan, scrubbed and groomed, and looking slightly dwarfed in his oversized borrowed garments, reluctantly accompanied Justin to Father's chamber. He felt as though he were going to his execution, despite Justin's assurance that Father would be lenient with him because of his tender age, and his unfortunate life circumstances.
At last they reached Father's chamber. "Come in, boys," Father called. "Would either of you care for a scone and a glass of milk?"
Although his stomach did rumble with hunger, Jonathan was reluctant to partake of the proffered breakfast.
"Thank you, Father. I don't mind if I do," Justin said as he wolfed down a raisin scone and gulped a big glass of milk. "C'mon, Jonathan, have a bite. Father, may I present Jonathan Aimsley. Jonathan, this is the man everyone calls Father. He is the leader of all the people down here."
Father extended his hand, surprising even himself at his cordiality, considering the fact he was still very upset with the youngster. "I'm very glad to finally get to meet you, Jonathan."
Jonathan looked down at the floor and in barely a whisper replied, "Glad to meet you, too."
"Do have something to eat, and then we'll talk," Father said, handing Jonathan a scone. The boy took it, and found it was delicious. He hadn't eaten since yesterday morning when he sneaked a biscuit from William's kitchen.
Father and Justin exchanged small talk while Jonathan ate hungrily and drank every drop of milk. He then set his glass down and said, "I'm sorry for all the trouble I caused."
Father smiled. "Well, now, I'm glad to hear that. You do realize that you'll have to apologize to all the people whom you played those nasty tricks on, don't you?
"Yes, sir," Jonathan whispered.
"I understand you don't have parents or a place to live, is that correct?" Father asked.
"Yes," Jonathan said.
"Well, then, how would you like to live here in the tunnels?"
Jonathan's eyes grew enormous. "You mean here? You mean I can live here? Really?"
"Yes, of course," Father told him. "This is a place for people who have no homes or ties in the world above. You will be safe here, and you will be loved."
Jonathan struggled to hold back tears. Then he jumped into Father's outstretched arms. Father held him tightly. Jonathan sobbed.
Then Father said, "Now there are certain rules you must follow. There will be no more -- absolutely no more tricks. Do you understand?"
"I do. I won't ever play any more tricks. I promise. I swear."
"Very well, then. After lunch in the great hall, I will make an announcement, followed by your sincere apologies, and then you will officially be made a member of the tunnels. How does that sound to you?"
"It sounds great," Jonathan said. "Can Justin stay here with me, too?"
"Well, Jonathan," Justin told him, "You see, I don't live here. I stay with my father who is out of town right now. But I promise I will come as often as I can to see you."
"And I have another surprise for you," Father said. I have a grandson who is about your age. How would you like to share a chamber with him? His name is Jacob."
"I'd like that fine," Jonathan said.
"One more thing," Father asked. "How did you manage to do all those things by yourself, being as small and young as you are?"
"Well," Jonathan said, "There was this guy, Alfred. At first, he helped me. He was about Justin's age and size. But then he chickened out on me, and left. I did the rest by myself."
"I see," Father remarked. "Are you ashamed of what you did?"
"Yes, I am. I promise never to do those things again, and I would like to make it up to the people."
"I believe I can think of some ways," Father said. "There are a lot of chores around here that a boy your age could help with. Can I put you to work, starting now?"
"Yes, sir," Jonathan said with a smile.
"But first, let's get you some clothes that fit. Justin, can you take Jonathan to one of the stores Above and get him fitted with his proper size?"
"Yes, sir," Justin said. "I will do so as soon as the stores open in about an hour."
"Very well," Father said. "Now Jonathan, let's put you to work."
Justin was pleased with the way things turned out. He had faith that Jonathan would thrive in the tunnel atmosphere and make something worthwhile of his life. As he neared his chamber, he remembered something he had to do. He knelt by his bed and retrieved a book Jonathan had taken from the trash, "Sick Tricks by Charleton Pick". "This belongs in the trash from whence it came," Justin said aloud, and immediately proceeded to fulfill that mission.
After assigning Jonathan some chores, Father went immediately to Vincent and Catherine, and explained the entire situation to them. As he predicted; they were all very understanding.
Later that day, Father made an announcement to the assembly of tunnel people gathered in the Great Hall. He explained to them, Jonathan's circumstances and the sad conditions of his life that contributed to his bad behavior. Then he introduced Jonathan. It was the hardest thing Jonathan had ever done in his young life, but he took a deep breath and apologized for his misdeeds. As young as he was, he knew embarrassment was a small price to pay for the opportunity of turning his life around. He hoped these good and decent people would forgive and forget in time. He hoped they weren't going to try and get revenge, or scorn him. But to his surprise, they stood up and applauded and cheered, welcoming him to the community. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Justin who gave him a thumbs-up sign and a huge smile. Overnight, these wonderful people had changed his life and given him the first happiness he had ever known. And from now on he would do everything he could to be deserving of it.
When he was taken there, Jonathon marveled at the Crystal cavern, just like every other child did when first shown the amazing cavern of sparkling crystals. Jonathon however, was given a glimpse of a way of helping the tunnel people and repaying his gratitude at the same time. Many years earlier he had overheard his mother speaking to a gypsy friend about a great underground cavern full of sparkling stones when she had taken him to visit her.
The friend had asked where it was, but his mother wouldn’t say. Then the gypsy showed Jonathon and his mother what she would do if she owned such a plentiful supply of crystals. Now with that memory in mind Jonathon wasted no time; and employing Mouse’s help, the two set out to surprise Father and the rest of the tunnel community with sparkling, hand crafted gifts.
There had never been so much activity in Mouse's chamber. Once Mouse and Jonathon returned, weighed down with crystals, they began chiseling and refining the gems into broaches, and ornaments, paperweights and ashtrays. They'd even managed to make three toothbrush holders, of a fashion, and some soap dishes. By the end of the two weeks and after visitations from almost every member in the community save the patriarch, Jonathon took an armload of his wares to Father's chamber.
Jacob Wells wasn't quite sure what to expect, although he'd heard reports over the last fourteen days that kept intriguing him; but when presented with the actual result he was utterly dumbfounded.
"They're…they're beautiful. And you made these?" He asked incredulously.
Jonathon showed Father the blisters that covered his hands. Mouse had some too, but with his hands used to hard labor they weren't quite so noticeable.
"Well you really put your imagination to use here, Jonathon." Father passed the items around one at a time to Catherine, who passed them to Vincent, Mary and so on. There were a great many people in Father's chamber at the time.
"You know…" Catherine spoke her thoughts aloud "I think there would be a market for these up top."
"Oh, no, no," Father began to interrupt, but Vincent stopped him, "Hear her out, Father. Catherine is aware that the tunnels must be kept a secret. She would suggest nothing to harm us."
Reluctantly, Father held his tongue.
"If I could find someone, a trader, a helper perhaps," Catherine looked at Vincent hopefully, wondering if he had any ideas, "Well they might be willing to place these items in their store for sale. The money will always be useful, since none of you will permit me to use mine down here, on frivolous things."
"The thing is, my dear, once you begin something like that, and if it takes off, chances are they will want more. And even if we could meet the demand, we'd soon exhaust the crystal cavern for supplies, and Jonathan's hands will be red raw."
"We'd help," some of the other children chirruped together happily.
Vincent and Catherine smiled in their direction showing their approval.
"I don't know…" Father went on, but the eager faces around him soon made him add, "Do you really think it would work?"
"I do," Catherine replied. "Jonathon, what do you think? Would you like me to go up top and try to find a market for these items? Just as importantly, would you like to continue making them for a while? Father's right about exhausting the supply of crystals, but what if each item bears a number or a symbol? We could maintain that there are only so many pieces available. In fact, that might even make them more valuable."
Jonathon was smiling, and he happily agreed. And optimistically, Catherine went Above later that day to see what she could do.
For years she had thought about something like this. The tunnel dwellers needed money, though they tried to do without it. There were a lot of talented people down there. Cullen with his craftsmanship in woodwork and William in his pastries…Mouse with his inventions, he should patent the better ones, Catherine thought. It was such a shame that they couldn't be put to use for the sake of their future, or their children's futures…and with that thought in mind Catherine had a wonderful idea!
***She returned to the tunnels weary and footsore but smiling and bursting with news. She had found just the place; and not only were they delighted with the items, they had even made a suggestion. Since the supply was limited, (though Catherine hadn't divulged from where the crystals came) the store would happily purchase crystals from other places and hand them to Catherine for her friends (she did not say they were children) to fashion and be sold at the store. She had presumptuously signed a contract and had promised to supply the store once a month with a dozen pieces. There was only one problem; she had to have a name for the production company, and on the spur of the moment could come up with only one thing.
"So what did you name us?" Vincent asked with a grin, and everyone in the chamber with them was eager to hear her answer.
Catherine smiled, "First let me tell you what other idea I have had. Since this looks to be a valuable venture, I suggest that the money is held in trust for the children of the tunnels to pay for their education when they leave here. Many will want to go to university; or if any should marry and live up top, they might need a supplement to set up a home. Therefore this kind of money will be useful, and then we wouldn't be earning it now for frivolous things." Catherine winked in Father's direction, since it had been him who had originally labeled the use of her own money that way.
Father had to agree her idea was sound, and nodding, he approved the whole venture, "Yes, my dear, that is a good suggestion, and one we shall apply. Thank you."
"So what name did you give us?" Jonathon asked, believing that Vincent's question had been overlooked.
Catherine smiled, "Oh, that was the easy part, really. It couldn't have been anything else." She chuckled, aware that all eyes were on her and people were holding their breath in anticipation. "The soap dishes and toothbrush holders, and especially the miniature toilets, were the key…so…I named our business venture, "Chamber Made Crystal Ware"; very apt huh?"
Laughing, every one agreed. To think something wonderful and profitable had been derived from some cruel practical jokes - good from evil. And from that day forward, Chamber Made Crystal Ware secured a bright future for every child who left the tunnels to live in the world above.
It is always good to know, if only in passing,
Charming human beings.
It refreshes one like flowers and woods and clear brooks.
(From a Garland of Quiet Thoughts – 1913 Edition)