Archie's Journal (Duchess and the Devil)
Part 3
By Michele

I have not bothered to take up my writing for a day or so; there has
been naught to say, for I could not give adequate voice to the
loneliness in my soul and my growing sense of defeat and
hopelessness. The beginnings of a cold that I had had before my
foolish escape attempt, which had seemed to be waning, now appear to
be regaining strength, as I am losing strength. I find the coughing
becoming worse at night, when it gets so damp and so cold (much
colder than I would have expected here...) and last-night I found it
almost impossible to sleep. This is quite dreadful, and I find that
more than rest been taken from me, as sleep has been my only
successful escape -- the only time I can feel something other than
fear, hunger, and despair...

It does not appear the sun will shine to-day, and I find myself still
shivering, not much improved from last-night. I should amend my
earlier statement and say that I find it strange that I now feel no
hunger, nor do I, at the moment, care any for food. Strange
indeed.... I do wish I had more water, however, as the discomfort in
my throat is becoming worse. And despite not being a man given to
the consumption of much in the way of spirits, I daresay a mug of
grog would not go amiss at this time.

My thoughts cannot help but turn to the lessening number of days of
my confinement to this cell. If the Don is true to his word (and
unfortunately, despite Captain Poulenc's description of him, I have
no way of knowing whether or not he is) then I may be allowed to be
free of these walls, if only for a little while, to take the sun, in
perhaps four days. But were that door to open right now and the
guards to allow me to pass, I do not know that I would be ABLE to,
considering the way I am feeling at this moment. I scarcely have
strength to write this, and sitting up enough to look out the window
was a tremendous effort for me to-day, as I find my body aching and
weak.

And I do want, so very much, to go outside...

At least, I DID......

***********

I do not know how much longer I can take being alone like this....
Sometimes when I'm writing it almost feels as though I'm talking to
someone, so much does it help, at least, to release the pain locked
inside of me. But then I realise that no matter what I say, there
will never be anyone to hear it, or to talk about it, or to tell me
I'm not alone and that I'll be all right... My words are just words,
nothing more, on a sheet of rough paper, left alone there to fade
into history, as I am left here alone to do the same. And the worst
part is the thought that I will NOT know how much longer I must
remain here in this wretched, forsaken place, forgotten by my
shipmates, quite probably given up for dead...

I'm not even certain that I care any more.... staying in this cell,
going outside, eating, sleeping..... living...

..dying....

No matter....


I was walking Indefatigable's rolling deck, her bow cutting through
the water, spray flying through the cool air, and occasionally
misting my face. No matter what else was going on, no matter what
had happened yesterday or WOULD happen in the next hour, right now
life was good.

That moment of exhilaration proved much too short, for abovedecks
came Jack Simpson. Quickly I prayed he might not see me, but I knew
the effort was in vain. He spied me almost at once, one corner of
his thin mouth turned upward in an evil, perverse sneer. The demon
approached me, and spoke with a cool, scolding menace.

"Kennedy... Archie... where've you been? Don't you know as to not
make a superior officer come looking for you?"

"M-Mister Simpson, I --" I stammered, "Lt. Eccleston had ordered my
watch be spent here, seeing to our course..."

Simpson raised his voice, just enough to strike fear into my pounding
heart, but not enough for the seamen to hear. "I don't CARE what Lt.
Eccleston ordered! I'M in charge of the midshipmen, and *I* require
your presence below!!"

I swallowed hard. "But I -- I --"

"There's a good lad, Archie... " that quiet menacing voice
again, "come with me now....."

**************

NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My bed was covered in perspiration, and I as well. My heart was
pounding, and I could scarcely breathe. I was hardly even aware of
my surroundings. Finally I had fallen asleep. It should have been a
lovely dream of home, or of good food, or of being in the company of
friends -- or at the least, blissful, albeit temporary, oblivion.
But that demon Simpson had again invaded my life, even here. I was
twice over a prisoner: Of the Dons, and of my memories....

I forced myself to sit up (which was painful and difficult, as the
aching in my body was now worse than ever), for fear I might go back
to sleep and return to that dreadful nightmare. Instinctively I put
my hand to my forehead, and even through my warm hand I could feel
that I was burning with fever. The realisation that I was more ill
than I had known, had me lying back down at once, again perhaps by
instinct, and I suddenly felt still weaker, in body and in spirit.

At first I wished for more water. My throat was so dry I could
scarcely swallow. But then I think I began to drift once more in and
out of sleep, or perhaps in and out of my senses, for it is here that
my memory is unclear. In those moments which I CAN now recall, I
remember thinking (although not quite sure if I was dreaming these
thoughts or if they were real) on the concept and reasoning of my
imprisonment. What did this mean? Why was I here? Why COULDN'T I
simply walk out the door, through the courtyards, and out beyond the
gate? The guards and their weapons... yes... And what difference did
it make to those guards, or to Don Massaredo, or to the Spanish
government whether I remained here or not? The guards were under
orders and cared not for my concerns. Don Massaredo was also a
military man and clearly under orders, so it is not unreasonable to
assume serious repercussions for him were he to lose me.

But the Dons in Madrid -- what did THEY care?? They did not even
KNOW me! To them, I was perhaps a name on some parchment which was
likely one more piece of unwanted clutter on some overburdened desk
somewhere. I doubt any one had even READ my name, but rather simply
signed whatever sheet upon which it had been scratched, blindly
issuing routine orders that I be held until war's end, as was
customary, and then forgotten. Just as I had been forgotten by my
OWN government, and by now probably by my own ship...

But it mattered to ME.. THIS was my LIFE. It would mean nothing to
any ONE of them if I were simply to quietly slip away.. The guards
could just say they TRIED to stop me but couldn't... THAT would
work... And their lives would go on, and MY life would go on, and I
could return to my ship and try to forget any of this had ever
happened...

What am I thinking? They could never do that... Archie, you KNOW
better than this kind of thinking... I just... I just want to walk
out that door... I want to go home, and I want to sleep someplace
where it's warm at night and I have enough to eat. I want what THEY
have. I want someone to talk to....someone who will talk to ME....

I'm so tired... Maybe if I could just sleep for a while, I might feel
better.....


I do not know for how long I slept, but when I awakened I did not
know where I was, at first. For long moments, my eyes stubbornly
refused to open; finally the strong sunlight pounded on my eyelids
until they tentatively opened, and I took my first look round at my
new surroundings.

The first thing of which I was acutely aware was that I was no longer
in my cell. The second thing which struck me was that I could allow
myself to breathe (ever-present congestion permitting) and not be
repulsed by that all-too-familiar stench to which, of necessity, I
had become accustomed. These two facts absorbed, I was at length
able to determine that I was in a clean, warm, dry bed-chamber, in a
soft bed -- a REAL bed -- with clean white bedclothes. In the corner
a fire crackled happily. Sunlight streamed through the long window
that was a few feet from my bed, and beside the bed, a rough-hewn
table held a bowl, a pitcher and a cup, I hoped of water. A folded
cloth was draped over the bowl's edge, half in, half out.

And... the door was slightly open. The door - was - open....

As the vagueness of sleep and of fever began to clear, I realised
that indeed I WAS feeling better, better than I had in days; though,
when I tried to reach out for the cup at my bedside, I found I was
still very weak, and the small amount I was able to bring myself up
was lost as I lay back down again with a groan. This must have been
louder than I had thought, for at this time a white-haired, kindly-
looking gentleman in black, slightly unkempt clothes, and carrying a
small black leather valise, pushed open the door and softly
approached me.

"Ah, Senor, you are still with us," he said in good, though accented,
English, his black eyes twinkling. He bent over me, feeling my
forehead with the back of his hand, then the palm, and smiled with
satisfaction. "For a while, we were not so sure..."

"Where am I, sir?" My own voice sounded strange to me, for I had not
addressed another living soul in an eternity; indeed, it DID have a
rasp from the infection, and it did not feel as though I was using
all of my voice, only the very top layer of it.

"You are in a guest room, in Don Massaredo's home, Senor Kennedy."
The kindly man drew a chair near to my bedside and sat down, reaching
for the pitcher and cup that were on the table.

"How -- how long have I been here?" Clearing my throat for the third
time did not seem to help much.

"Two days. Here." He poured some water (which looked to be the most
wonderful thing I had ever seen in my life) into the cup, returned
the pitcher to the table, and, gently lifting my head with one hand,
raised the cup to my lips. I drank deeply, feeling as though the
water was washing me inside and out, gasping for breath even as I did
so. My eyes must have implored him for more, for at once this
nameless gentleman refilled the cup and helped me once more to drink.

"Oh, forgive me, Senor, I am so well relieved you are improved that I
have neglected my manners. I am Doctor Villa-Lobos. I am a friend
of His Excellency's." He raised an eyebrow and looked toward the
pitcher, but I wearily shook my head that I did not want more water
at the moment. It had just occurred to me that I might be quite
gravely ill, for the Dons to have removed a prisoner to such
comfortable accommodations.

"Am I all right, Doctor? How did I come here?"

Dr. Villa-Lobos seemed to read my thoughts. "You are fine, Senor
Kennedy. At least, you are improved. Don Massaredo himself had sent
for me, when the guards had come with your meal and found you, not
responding. I had come to that terribly dirty cell and ordered you
removed to a clean room. His Excellency did not argue the point."

I simply stared at him in disbelief. "You -- he -- "

The doctor laughed good-naturedly. "I know what you are thinking..
Archie, is it?" I just blinked at him. "I understand you English
have such thoughts of us Spaniards. We are not all terrible
foreigners whose only wish is to torture los ingleses."

"But -- when I had -- Doctor, they've not been feeding me...."

Dr. Villa-Lobos's white eyebrows had knitted together, and he looked
embarrassed and distressed. He hesitated for a moment.

"That is... regrettable, Senor Kennedy." A little more formality
now, but still he was without distance. He was also without
apology. An interesting man, this doctor was, I could see
already. "There are certain realities of this war, and certain
orders, and certain discipline must be maintained. I tell you the
truth, Don Massaredo IS a good man..."

He waited for that statement to go challenged, and searched my tired
features for a reaction. He found neither.

"Senor, he has orders. He has a command here, and he must maintain
it."

"They nearly starved me...." I fought to hold in the tears I felt
were fighting equally hard to come. It was all coming to the surface
now, all the long days and nights of starvation, cold, illness, and
isolation. Why did I suddenly feel I could let such things show
around this man I had just now met (at least, consciously, for he had
apparently been tending me for some time)?

Dr. Villa-Lobos looked sympathetic, but still not apologetic, as he
adjusted the covers over my chest. His voice was even, not accusing,
just making a statement. "You tried to run, Senor Kennedy."

"I --"

"I know.... I know you never intended to...."

How did he know THAT?

"I will be near, Senor Kennedy, as you continue your recovery. You
had a very great fever, and were in and out of consciousness for most
of the past two days. You are very much dehydrated, and very weak
and undernourished, but you will be well, in time."

This man had a gift for the obvious. Yet somehow, I felt no
bitterness nor sarcasm toward him.

"You will stay here, and be properly fed, kept warm, and looked after
until you have fully recovered."

"And then?" I asked quietly, still suppressing the tears.

The doctor smiled, still not in apology, but with something close to
it. "Then you will be returned to your cell."

One tear escaped. I... would not.

"But I will see that it is kept in a better state, Senor." Dr. Villa-
Lobos pushed back the chair and stood. "I will also see a proper
meal sent in to you shortly." He turned to the table, moved the
pitcher and cup as close to my bed as possible, and moved the table a
little so that all would be at an angle at which I could reach. He
picked up his bag and started to approach the door, but stopped and
turned back to me, again coming to my bedside, and leaning over.

"Senor Kennedy -- Archie -- " his voice was soft, not at all
threatening, but again sympathetic, and now entreating. "I must ask
you to believe me -- I have known Don Massaredo for many years, since
long before the war has brought troubles to this land and to these
people. He IS a good man, but the difficult times have taught him
that he must do what he must -- and he WILL."

I saw the seriousness in his aged features, and I swallowed. It was
still painful.
The doctor must have noticed, for he leant his bag on the table,
removed a small vial of white powder, poured some into the cup, and
filled the cup with water, swirling the water in the cup so that the
medicine would be dissolved.

"I had hoped you would not need this. Drink -- it will help." His
smile was reassuring; I did as I was asked. He returned the vial to
his bag, closed the bag, and again adjusted the covers round me.

"Please listen to me -- do not forget what I have told you." His
voice was a whisper. "I know, Senor, that you are far from home, and
that this is very difficult for you. You must not lose heart. You
will be all right, but you must be patient. Give His Excellency a
chance, but *do not* take him lightly."

I did not know whether this was intended to make me feel encouraged
or frightened. Fear was the victorious result. Nonetheless, I
nodded to him and said:

"Gracias, Doctor. I will try to --"

He was already sweeping out of the room.

A very odd man, but one I sensed to be good. I knew that he had been
helping me for the past two days, at least from what he had just told
me. I had, in any case, been grateful for a conversation with
another human being, and for someone to at least *appear* to care
about me.

But still I was left with those same nagging questions about my
captor. As Captain Poulenc of the French ship had said, Don
Massaredo was apparently a good man. But I was here because I was
half-starved into illness. And I should not cross the man. Again,
how could I know what to think, what to feel, what to do? Should I --
or COULD I -- even THINK of making another attempt at escape? Could
I truly believe what Dr. Villa-Lobos had just told me, that the Don
was a good man who would treat me well were I to cooperate and be a
good and obedient prisoner? Or did the earlier picture I had had of
the man, that he might be unpredictable or even unstable, still hold,
even more reinforced than before?

I suddenly realised that I had been holding my head up above the
pillow, since the doctor's abrupt exit. Suddenly deathly tired, I
let it drop back down into the clean, soft cloud, and drifted into
sweet, blessed oblivion, my questions, and my tears, destined to wait
for a time....

 

[To Be Continued....]