After the first two days had passed, she heard servants whispered amongst themselves about the changes in their charge. "She must've been struck dumb in London," one of them whispered while performing her daily duty of emptying Cate's wash basin. A second servant was with her.
"I heard that a knight accidentally knocked her upside the head," the other one said emphatically, "I've heard of people going mad from things like that."
"D'ya think she is really mad?" the first servant mused, "I 'spose she does just sit and stare all day. A normal thinking person wouldn't do that." As Cate remained expressionless on the bed, the servant's voice grew louder with confidence, though it still remained a whisper.
"Oh, I'm positive she's mad," the second servant nodded, "Mad as a hatter, that one."
"It's too bad," the first shrugged, "She was the only one in this household worth looking after."
The two servants disappeared through the heavy, wooden door. Cate could hear the lock click shut as they sealed the it behind themselves. Apparently, even though all of the servants thought she had lost her mind, Sir Marcus was still insisting on keeping her locked in the room. He needn't waste his time and money, though, she thought, dejectedly. Surely, there were knights standing guard under her windows—even though the were barred shut. With a locked door, iron-shuttered windows, and the energy of a smallpox patient, she felt rather helpless.
Cate jolted upright in her bed. Her stiff muscles protested at their first movement in days. She looked around her room, which was now dark—night must have fallen. Her wardrobe was sitting silently in the corner, both doors firmly shut. Her wash basin was gone, as the servant had taken it with her. The small, wooden table it usually sat on was still in its place against the wall. Cate gingerly stepped out of bed, silently cursing herself for refusing to move for two days—her legs had never ached so much in the times she could recall.
She crept from her bed to the window, then peered through the iron bars. The view out of her window was the same as it always had been—in the distance, she could see the small creek running through the Broadshire Manor fields, the bright moon reflecting on its slow-moving water. The knee-high grasses of the fields swayed ever-so-slightly in the gentle nighttime breeze. The occasional hoot of an owl could be heard outside, but there was nothing that could have somehow resembled her name. Unless, of course, someone was hiding outside. The only person she could think of who would be stupid enough to hide out on Sir Marcus Grigsby's grounds was Alexander—but she assumed he was far, far away, locked in a prison somewhere in London.
"Catherine Marie Grigsby! Get your sorry arse over here!"
Cate stood still for a moment, certain that the words she had just heard could not have come from an owl or some other creature outside her window. She turned and hurried towards the door.
"Who is it?" she asked breathlessly, the sound of her own voice surprising her after having not heard it for days.
"Who the bloody hell do you think it is, you nitwit?" a male voice said.
"Yeah!" a second male voice chimed in, "Who else would be coming to rescue you?" Cate felt her heart leap for a moment.
"Jack?" she whispered, "Henry?" A smattering of laughter confirmed her suspicions—her twin brothers were standing outside of her door. "I'm locked in here, you know," she said.
"Yeah, Cate—we may not have been able to run away to London successfully, but we're not stupid," Jack said.
"Did you really think Sir Marcus would just throw you back in your room and let you run away again? Although we did hear that you've been doing a fairly decent imitation of a potato for the past couple of days," Henry explained.
"Oh, that," Cate said, her cheeks flushing, "It's nothing."
"It was rather brilliant," Henry continued, "I never would've thought of it. Cause who's going to stick a loony under careful guard all day long?"
"And not even the lunatic of lunatics, Roger Thornton, would want to marry someone who just lies about in their bed all day, staring at the wall. I heard that Father was livid when Thornton backed out of the marriage proposal," Jack said. Cate stared at the door in shock.
"Roger Thornton backed out of the proposal?" she inquired. She was answered by nothing but silence. "Jack? Henry? You there?" she asked, leaning closer to the door and hoping that her loyal brothers hadn't left.
"Oh, yeah," Jack said sheepishly, "Forget that you were on the other side of the door. We were both nodding like fools over here."
"So, besides being locked in my room, I'm a free woman again!" she exclaimed.
"Well, the locked door and iron-covered windows do put a bit of a damper on the whole 'free woman' thing, but I suppose you might be able to say that," Henry shrugged.
"You know what I mean," Cate hissed, "So have you all come to pick the lock and get me out of here?" She heard two sighs come from the other side of the door.
"We've been trying to pick the lock every night since you've been here, but it's a particularly tricky one," Henry explained, "We're going to keep trying, but we may have to resort to trying to get those bars off of your windows somehow."
"Ha," Cate chuckled, "Good luck with that." She glanced over at the massive bolts that secured the iron to the stone of the manor's walls. Something told her that the bars were not going to come off very easily.
For the next hour or so, Cate caught her brothers up on all of her adventures in London with Alexander. They mused over Alexander's whereabouts and what kind of trouble he could have gotten himself into, but all hoped that he eventually found his way back to Stratford. Life in their town, they all agreed, was much more exciting when Alexander was around. Eventually, their conversation turned to Genevieve and her approaching marriage.
"She's been a mess anytime Sir Marcus isn't around," the twins informed Cate, "Insisting that everyone call her Princess Genevieve or Her Royal Highness. We won't do it, of course, so she threatens to send us to the dungeons for eternity. The Prince doesn't come around here nearly as often anymore, though, so I think some of whatever potion Genevieve concocted to win him over is starting to wear off."
"Oh, great," Cate sighed, "That's just what I need. If the Prince breaks off his betrothal to Genevieve, she'll never leave Broadshire. She'll just become a spinster and torment me for the rest of my life."
"Maybe she'll marry Roger Thornton," Jack suggested, "Since she's getting too old to marry just about anyone else."
"Or maybe Father will kick her out!" Henry exclaimed, "Maybe he'll finally see that she's a miserable excuse for a person."
"If you're not careful, he'll have the two of you locked up for talking that way about his precious little girl," Cate said, rolling her eyes. She was quite glad that she had yet to see Genevieve since her forced return to Stratford.
"Cate, we've got to get back to our quarters," Jack whispered, "but we'll visit tomorrow and keep working on the lock. Keep up that whole pretending to be mad thing and maybe they'll take the lock off before we have to pick it. We'll get you out."
"We promise," Henry affirmed. Cate whispered a good-bye to her brothers, but remained on the floor by the door for several moments, breathing deeply and collecting her thoughts. Talking to her brothers had brought back some semblance of her former self—she no longer felt like lying in bed for days, with no hope for the future. Now, she knew that she had people on her side—people who were going to free her. She no longer had the prospect of marrying Roger Thornton hanging over her head, either. After many minutes of thinking, she returned to her bed and lay down. She found it difficult to fall asleep, since she was still filled with excitement from knowing her brothers still cared about her.
The following morning, pretending to be mad proved to be very difficult. Before, it had been very little trouble at all staring at the wall all day, since she had no energy or motivation to do anything else. Today, though, she wanted nothing more than to get up and run around the room or find some way to pry the bars off of her window. Servants came and went all day, and she had to fight to keep herself from following them with her eyes. She tried to keep her mind as empty as possible so as the maintain a blank stare, but it was also exceedingly difficult—she couldn't stop thinking about how to get out of her room!
When night finally fell again, Cate breathed a sigh of relief. She got out of her bed after the servant had taken the wash basin away for the night and went to her window. While she waited for Jack and Henry, she picked at the bolts holding the iron bars in place. Much to her surprise, the bits of caulking holding the bolts in place crumbled almost immediately after she touched them. She immediately left the bars alone, not wanting to cause them to go tumbling onto the ground below. She was certain that would raise some sort of suspicion from Sir Marcus.
Before much longer, she heard Jack and Henry fumbling with the lock on the door. She walked over and sat down on the other side, chatting quietly with them as they tried various instruments in the keyhole. About an hour into the night, the wooden door came flying open, smashing into the side of Cate's face.
"Bloody door," Cate cursed, rubbing her hand against the side of her face, "But thank goodness you all came with it!" Jack and Henry quietly closed the door behind themselves, then threw their arms around their sister.
"We were afraid you might have gotten some ghastly injury or something," Jack admitted, "Since the knights were after you and all."
"You don't get injuries when they catch you at a ball," Cate laughed, "I'm sure that surprised Father—I was standing in front of him in a ball gown, purely by choice."
"What?" Jack and Henry asked in unison.
"Alexander and I had discussed sneaking into a ball to listen for information," she explained, "So, after Alexander went missing, I thought I would go in on my own and listen for anything about him. Unfortunately, Father and Genevieve happened to be attending and my escape route was to go towards Aunt Margaret's—and he saw right through that."
"Cate—not to put an untimely end to your story or anything—but we've got to give you something before we forget about it," Henry said quickly. Cate looked at him in surprise.
"Alright," she said, "What is it?" Jack and Henry stepped away from one another and held something out in their arms. Cate stepped up and immediately recognized the object in their outspread hands. She gingerly touched the delicate brocades and linens that had been ripped to shreds and tied together. The different colors weren't completely evident anymore, since it had gotten covered in dust and dirt on more than one occasion. But it was unmistakable—the item her brothers were holding was the very rope she had once made out of Genevieve's old ball gowns. It seemed like so tremendously long ago that she had made it in her desperation to escape the confines of the very room she was in at that moment.
She turned her gaze at once to the iron bars and the crumbling stone at its base. She looked back to her brothers. "I know it may not be much help what with you having bars on your window and all," Henry said, "but we thought it'd at least give you incentive to try to work them off." Cate rushed forward and threw her arms around Henry's neck, catching him off guard. He dropped the rope to the floor with a quiet thud.
"Jack, Henry," she whispered, "You both have no idea how happy this makes me." Together, they hid the rope carefully in the bottom of her wardrobe, then made plans to meet again the next night. Cate knew the stone was crumbling, but she had already been caught running away too many times—this time had to be perfect, or she knew she would most likely meet an untimely demise. The Prince would probably not want to be embarrassed yet again by his betrothed's rascal of a younger sister.
As Cate climbed into her bed and waited for yet another day of pretending to be mad, she smiled. Despite the bleakness of her situation just three days before, she now had hope. And, if things worked out as she anticipated they would, she would not have to worry about finding herself in the same situation for the rest of her life.
Author's Note: Look! I updated twice in one week! Thanks again to reviewers...you all are amazing! The story is getting close to being finished...I'd count on probably 5-10 more chapters (although I can't say for certain how wordy I'll be in reaching the conclusion!). Thanks for sticking with me! R. Antanor