She looked at the box in her hands, and for a moment contemplated opening it. Perhaps that would shed some light on what was going on. She quickly discarded the idea, though. She could never betray Vincentís trust like that. She decided instead to find Vincent herself and ask him directly.
After a quick trip to her apartment to drop off Vincentís gift for Father, she was once again at the threshold. Quickly and determinedly, she began to make her way to the tunnels. As she drew nearer, she became aware of the sound of the pipes, furiously tapping. They seemed especially noisy this eveningóprobably because of people getting ready for Winterfest, she decided.
Suddenly Mouse appeared before her so quickly that she gave a startled jump. His shaggy blond mop appeared even more disheveled than usual, and his wide smile looked nervous.
"Hi, Catherine," he said.
She smiled warmly at him. "Hi, Mouse. Iím looking for Vincent, do you know where-"
Mouse bounced up and down, interrupting her. "Catherine, come quick. Something wrong with Arthur. Need you to help."
Catherine was puzzled. "Shouldnít you have Father take a look at him? I really donít know anything about raccoons."
Mouse shook his head furiously. "No, no, Father too busy. Catherine come now!"
Catherine hesitated a moment, then shrugged her shoulders and followed him to his chamber. Amidst the jumble of strange-looking contraptions and pieces of equipment in the room, Arthur sat grooming himself, looking perfectly content and healthy to her. She said so to Mouse, but he insisted that something was wrong. Cautiously she approached the little animal, who sat regarding her with bright, canny eyes. She slowly and reluctantly reached her hand out toward the raccoon, wondering all the while why on earth she had agreed to this. Suddenly Arthur leapt into action, and as Catherine stepped back with a small shriek, he scampered up some tubing and disappeared into a hole at the top of the chamber.
As Catherine tried to collect herself, she heard a small, stifled sound from the chamber entrance. She looked to see Jamie standing there with her hand over her mouth. Mouse saw her too, and grinned widely. "Guess Arthurís okay," he said with a shrug.
Before she could reply to him, Jamie spoke up. "Catherine, do you have a minute? I could really use your help with my Winterfest outfit. Iím just not sure which ribbons I should add to it."
"Well, actually, Jamie, I was looking for Vincent." Catherine said. "Do you know where- "
"Oh, it will only take a minute, Catherine," Jamie said pleadingly. "Please, I just donít know what to do."
Catherine had never known Jamie to be so concerned about fashion, but once more shrugged her shoulders and followed Jamie to her chamber.
While she felt much more qualified advising about designer labels than tunnel apparel, Catherine did her best to be helpful and to try not to appear exasperated as Jamie held up the same ribbons and scraps over and over, trying to decide between them. She noticed that Jamie seemed to glance often towards the entrance of her chamber. She became even more suspicious. Something strange was definitely going on here.
"Jamie, I really must go now. I need to speak to Vincent-"
"Oh, wait just a minute more, please, Catherine, I need--" Jamie began with a hint of desperation in her voice, then broke off with a relieved smile as she saw Father appear at the doorway.
"Catherine! Just the person I wanted to see!" Father exclaimed, smiling broadly as he walked toward her. "Could you come with me, my dear?"
Catherine frowned. "Certainly, Father, but can you tell me where Vincent is first? I came down here to speak to him."
Father took her arm and placed it in his. "Oh, Iím sure heís around here somewhere. If I could just have a moment of your time, I need some help."
Catherine sighed in resignation and followed Father to his chamber. Father picked up a thick book and said "Peter had just brought me some new medical journals. There are some articles here that I find particularly fascinating, and I think could be quite useful for our community. The print is so small, though, that it tires my eyes terribly. I wonder if you would be so kind as to read an article to me?"
Catherine fought to stifle her dismay. Reading a medical journal aloud was certain to be long and tedious work. Father so seldom asked for her help, though, that she couldnít refuse him. She forced a smile as she took the book from him and began to read.
Her own eyes were beginning to blur when at last she reached the end of the article. As she looked up at Father, she saw a flash of movement in the hall. A glimpse of golden mane caused her to stand up and cry, "Vincent! There you are!"
There was silence for a moment, then Vincent walked in, looking almost sheepish.
"Hello, Catherine," he said.
She went to him and resisted the impulse that she always had when she saw him, to throw herself into his arms and be enveloped by his warmth.
"Is everything all right? Iíve been looking for you. I wanted to know why you cancelled our date."
Vincent looked at Father as if asking for help, but Catherine continued.
"Something very strange has been going on this past month. I want to know what it is!"
Vincent shifted his weight from side to side, looking uncharacteristically nonplussed.
"Well, Catherine, umÖ"