With her back to Father and her concentration on her truelove, Catherine didn’t at that moment witness something unusual that met Vincent’s eyes as he fought for a suitable reply.
The first Catherine knew of it was from the commotion behind her as there came an almighty crash and a curse.
"Father!" Catherine cried as she turned to see what had happened, "Are you okay?"
"Just help me get my sock off will you, Vincent?" Father asked as he brought one leg over the other to rub at his toe. "And Catherine if you would be so kind as to fill a bowl with water, that would be appreciated."
"Of course, Father." Catherine took one worried look at the elderly man and then hurried to the washstand to fill the bowl. Vincent on the other hand rushed over to Father and dropped to his knees, where a low exchange passed between them.
"I owe you, Father."
"You most certainly do, my boy."
"How you could sit there though and pretend…beats me." Vincent chuckled.
"I’m pretending nothing, Vincent. My feet need washing."
Having by then extracted Father’s sock, Vincent replied, "Pooh, you’re telling me! When did you last wash them?"
"I have you know I wash my feet once a year whether they need it or not." Father replied in all seriousness. Vincent stared at his parent in disbelief, and Father chuckled "Only joking. If you could only see your face, it is all the reward I need for coming to your aid at such short notice."
Vincent chuckled too and sobered when Catherine returned to them with a bowl of cold water. "Here, Father put your foot in this, it should take away the pain."
Without thinking too much about his little ‘accident’ but rather feeling satisfied at his success of thwarting Catherine’s questions, Father placed his foot into the water and yelled loudly. "It’s fr…freezing!" He exclaimed and extracted his foot at once.
"It needs to be. That book was heavy and your toe may be broken. Maybe Peter should take a look at it. I can go call him for you if you like?"
"That’s okay Catherine, it won’t be necessary, but if you would just add some hot water to this that would be most appreciated."
"Oh I don’t think so, Father. Honestly you doctors, you make the worst patients, now just dip your toe in, that’s it, you don’t need to submerge your whole foot. There, that’s better isn’t it?" Father’s teeth were chattering too much for him to reply. Forget the face, Vincent owed him big time after this! And the glare he gave his son over Catherine’s shoulder, made that very plain.
"Perhaps I should find Mary?" Vincent suggested as a lull developed over the trio. He was scared that any moment Catherine would remember her earlier question, and the sooner he could make his exit the better.
Father however, was slow on the uptake this time and waved the offer aside, "No, don’t bother Mary, Vincent, I’m sure its not broken. I can manage. If you just stay while my toe soaks and help me get my sock back on, that will be fine."
"How long should you soak it?" Vincent asked, edging nearer to the exit, without Catherine noticing.
Father who could no longer bear his toe in the freezing water replied, "Now should be ok, I think that’s long enough."
"Oh but it can’t be." Catherine told him stepping forward, "When any of the children injure themselves you always make them hold their limb in cold water for at least ten minutes. You’ve said so yourself, ice or cold water needs to be applied that long or it does absolutely no good whatsoever. Now you just hold still. If you’re cold maybe a cup of hot tea will warm you up. It might also be good for the shock."
"Shock?" Father asked. He was beginning to feel like he was losing the plot.
"From dropping that heavy book on your toe. You might not know it now, but very soon you might start to feel light headed, I understand a cup of strong sweet tea would benefit in cases like this. That’s what you’ve always said anyway." Catherine didn’t wait for a reply, just hurried over to the brazier to pour tea. However, on her way, she stopped by the chair she had been sitting in earlier saying, "Perhaps while I’m over here I ought to move this book in case you drop that one too…oh…where is it?"
She looked around confused, then at Father and Vincent both of whom looked decidedly uncomfortable…but why? She had no idea.
"That’s strange…" she drew her brows together, perplexed.
Father hated to ask, but did anyway, "What is it my dear." He fought hard to keep the guilty squeak out of his voice. Fortunately he succeeded at least Catherine didn’t appear to notice anything amiss. She was instead looking extremely bewildered as she dwelled on her presence there earlier when she had been reading the medical book to him.
"This is most strange." She said to herself, then looked up to where Father sat as innocent as a lamb.
"What is it my dear?" Out of his eye corner he noticed Vincent had almost made it to the exit, edging an inch at a time, backwards too, making it look for all intents and purposes that he hadn’t moved from the spot at all. Any minute Catherine’s quick little lawyer brain would work out that quite a distance separated them now, and he couldn’t allow that to happen, could he? How many favours did Vincent owe him now? Two? No, that would be three? Father began to think on ways he could call in his favours, so that all Catherine saw of his expression was that the elderly man looked very thoughtful indeed.
"Well, when Vincent came into your chamber…and I jumped up to ask him something…oh that reminds me! Vincent? Vincent? Now where has he gone to?" Catherine looked back at Father who was trying to keep a straight face, for he had seen the look of horror on his son’s face as Catherine began to recount her time there earlier. Vincent had known she would remember what she wanted to ask him, and he’d gone…poof…just like that. Being so close to the exit he’d made not a sound, neither a flurry of dust, had just legged it, as Devin would say.
"Where did he go?" Catherine wailed. "I wanted to ask him something." In two minds whether to leave Father or go after Vincent she hesitated long enough for Father to think of another plan.
"Oh Catherine…Quick, help me!"
"Father what is it?" Catherine turned her gaze from the exit and hurried over to the elderly man. He was leaning over the table trying to fish for his cane that had rolled underneath when he had used it to drag the book from the chair earlier.
"Here let me help you. Were you going to stand? I don’t think you should. Here, let me dry your foot and replace your sock." She reached for both at the same time, the foot and the sock but dropped the sock at once, "Goodness! Have you never heard of odour eaters, Father?"
"Odour eaters. You place them in your shoe and they stop bad foot smells. Doesn’t matter," she added as she saw his look of bewilderment, "Do you have any clean socks anywhere?"
"Er…yes…somewhere…I believe Mary placed some clean ones in that drawer over there." Father pointed.
Catherine stared at him dismayed, "How long have you lived here? And you don’t know for certain where your socks are kept? Shame on you!" Catherine chuckled to show she wasn’t serious and made her way over to the dresser that was behind the chair she had sat in earlier.
"That reminds me…" She paused and looked down at the chair. "When I was sat here earlier, I was reading from the medical journal and I distinctly remember dropping it onto the seat as Vincent sped by your chamber entrance. But it’s gone. So where is it?" She looked suspiciously over to where Father was sitting foot in hand, bowl at his feet, medical book laying open on the floor…
Medical book laying open on the floor!
"Just a minute! " Catherine exclaimed. "If this is the book I was reading to you earlier…" she picked it up looked at the cover, "And I think it is…then…one, how did it get way over here…and two, why is it laying here when your foot is there? In fact since your legs were under your desk when Vincent breezed past, how come not only did this book leap over there by itself but how did it land on your foot when your feet were under the desk?" She looked suspiciously at Father, but could not for the life of her believe that he had A, dropped the book on his toe deliberately, and B, if he had, why he had done it. Unless…She looked to the exit…Vincent had disappeared mighty quick hadn’t he?
"You know if we had a jury here right now, I would assume that they would be pretty flummoxed by this whole thing, so how about you telling me just what is going on here…Father!"
Sheepishly Father replied in all innocence, "Going on? My dear, I truly do not know what you mean? The only thing that ought to be going on is my sock. Don’t you think my foot has been subjected to the cold long enough already?"
"Mm, perhaps so…but then maybe your sock hadn’t needed to have come off in the first place? Hmm?" She walked back to his side and dropped down onto her knees. Reaching for his now dry foot, she was not amused when Father tried to pull it from her grasp.
"Show me that foot, Father! I want to see just how bad the swelling is."
"Catherine, behave yourself, what do you think I’m doing? Dropping a book on my foot on purpose or something?"
"No…but…you might be pretending to have hurt yourself…so as to…oh I don’t know…" Catherine swept a hand through her hair, "Call me paranoid, but some pretty strange things are going on around here, and I only wanted to know what they are."
"Okay then…" Father replied and Catherine looked up hopefully.
"You’ll tell me?"
"You’re paranoid." Father had to clasp a hand to his mouth to prevent a chuckle escaping.
Not amused Catherine rose to her feet, knocking over the bowl of water in her haste, and fumbling for the bowl, she slid on the water and banged her forehead on Father’s chair.
She went out like a light.
"Oh Lord…Catherine? Catherine?" Father jumped to his feet and stubbed his toe on his desk, "Damn!"
"Divine retribution you call that…" Vincent chuckled as he passed back that way and peeked into the chamber to see if Catherine had left. "Catherine’s gone?" He whispered as he hurried to help his father. Then he spied her flat on the floor.
"CATHERINE!" He spun round looking accusingly at his father who stood leaning on his desk with his cane in one hand and his foot in the other.
"What did you do to her?!" Vincent cried accusingly, "I know we didn’t want her finding anything out, but did you have to resort to concussion?"
"Well, what’s a little coma between friends…Vincent! What do you take me for? I was just coming to her aid when I stubbed my toe. Oh my God, I think I’ve broken it."
"Let’s hope so." Vincent retorted angrily, bending to Catherine’s side, taking her wrist checking her pulse, sighing when it appeared that apart from being unconscious she appeared okay.
"Lay her on my bed. There are some smelling salts in the cabinet. Waft them under her nose, you know the drill." Father barked his orders since he was indisposed. His toe hurt like hell.
Vincent obeyed and very soon Catherine was coughing and spluttering like an old vagrant in London city, (Father thought).
"What…happened? Oh my head…ouch!" Catherine moaned as she touched a hand to her forehead.
"Don’t you remember?" Vincent asked, trying not to sound too hopeful.
Catherine shook her head, even that hurt, "Ouch…no… What am I doing down here, Vincent?"
"Just visiting, unfortunately you slipped on some water and banged your head. You must have sustained temporary memory loss."
Father thought it most uncharacteristic of his son for crossing his fingers behind his back at that moment. Even so…
If Catherine had sustained memory loss it gave them all the time they needed to do what had to be done without her suspecting a thing…
‘Ah God works in mysterious ways…’ Father decided, but then he tried not to dwell on that too much as he gingerly nursed his throbbing toe.