Archie's Journal (Duchess & The Devil)
Part 5
by Michele

 

My recovery from the cold I had had was a long one -- longer, Dr.
Villa-Lobos said, than any he had ever seen in a man of my age. He
had remarked, his black eyes bright, that I had the recuperative
powers of an old senora, and had then winked at me, in an effort to
put me at ease. He knew I had been in his friend the Don's guest
room for nearly two weeks, and I HAD been getting better, but it was
a long time in happening. Not that I am in any hurry to return to my
cell, but I have accepted that I must hold no illusions: That I WILL
be returned to that dreadful little cell as soon as the Doctor deems
that it will not endanger my health.

I know that that time will come soon, for my voice is full and clear
now, and I feel no congestion in my lungs nor soreness in my throat.
At last I can swallow without pain. I finally feel like eating, and
they have been feeding me well for the past week or so. Dr. Villa-
Lobos has been concerned for me, and he has come in every day,
feeling my forehead and cheeks (which no longer feel afire), and
sitting in the bedside chair to talk with me for a time.

I have learned that he and Don Massaredo have indeed known one
another for many years, as he had told me: since the time of their
youth, in fact. The Doctor mentioned a lady, and alluded to a
rivalry many years ago, but his warm features grew sad as he spoke of
her passing. He never elaborated as to whether either man had ever
won her heart. The conversation had then turned to the weather, and
the general condition of the crops in the area. Quite strange
indeed. Nonetheless, I was so desperately bored and lonely that I
would not have cared were he to recite from the dictionary, so long
as I would have the privilege of hearing another human voice that was
not shouting harsh orders, or making a rude remark to me in Spanish,
that the guards did not realise I could understand.

Then, after a time (and his staying long enough to be certain that I
took in sufficient nourishment), Dr. Villa-Lobos gently adjusted the
covers round me, bid me rest well, and took his leave. And once more
I was alone.

What now? Desperately my mind, finally coherent after so long being
clouded with illness, raced to think of some way to keep myself from
descending back into despair. It had been somewhat of a blessing,
being sick, as I had spent so much time in the release of sleep.
When I had been awake, I had not FELT so very much awake, partly from
the illness, and partly, I suppose, from the medicine Dr. Villa-Lobos
had been giving me. In the last few days, he had been gradually
reducing the amount and frequency with which he had administered it,
and slowly I had felt my mind beginning to clear. What now? I had
little to look forward to; indeed, the most immediate occurrence I
would be facing would be finding myself pulled from this comfortable
room -- with these clean bedclothes, the large window allowing in
blessed sunlight, and the lovely fire, warming me at night, its soft,
happy crackling keeping me company -- and pushed back into that damp,
demoralising little cell. The thought was almost too much to bear.

Absently I reached out to the bedside table for some water. The
Doctor, thankfully, would always leave me with a freshly poured cup,
whenever he left. My fingers found the cup, which felt cool; there
must be water in it, but the back of my hand brushed something else
that must have rested on the table next to it, something cool, and
both smooth and rough at the same time. No -- smooth but with a
texture to it. A book! A leather-bound book!

Excitedly I turned my head toward the table and indeed saw a brown-
leather-bound book next to the cup. I turned my hand and angled my
wrist downward in order to slide my fingers under the volume, grasped
it, and pulled it to me.

It was a Bible. I remembered now -- they had left me one, in
Spanish, in my cell. Dr. Villa-Lobos must have had it sent here.
>From our conversations, he must have discerned that I loved to read;
that was probably the only Book that he had been able to get for me.
I admit it has been a long time since I have been much of a praying
man, though more so inclined than Horatio; but I do have warm
memories of Mother reading her grandmother's old Bible to me on
Sunday afternoons, when I was a boy. I recall having been intrigued
by the many stories, involving interesting people, and exotic lands.
I had nothing to lose, and nothing to do, and perhaps, as when I had
had nightmares as a child and Mother would read a few verses to me,
it might bring me some comfort.

Slowly I opened the worn volume and leafed through the thin pages,
all covered with words in Spanish. My command of the language is by
no means fluent, but I believe I can understand enough to comprehend
at least SOME of what I might read. After a few moments of aimless
searching, my eyes were caught be some words in "Salmo 142":
"..ni hay quien cuide de mi vida" and "Saca mi alma de la
carcel, para que alabe tu nombre..." Even in this foreign
tongue, I
knew those words were for me: "No man cared for my life" and
"bring my soul out of this prison, so that I may praise Thy
name..."

My eyes followed a bit further down the page, and my mind translated
what I was seeing into more familiar words: "For my enemy hath
persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he
hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long
dead. Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; my heart within
me is desolate... Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies..."

Suddenly I did not feel quite so alone... Someone knew how I was
feeling...

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

 

I had three more wonderful days in that lovely bedroom since last I
wrote. For most of that time, I was treated to the sun shining
through the window, although one night it rained, and I was
especially grateful for the warm fire. For the first time since I
was brought here, I almost felt, dare I say it, good -- at least, for
a *little* while.

But this is war, and I AM a prisoner of England's enemy, and I
knew my little "holiday" could not last. Tonight I find
myself back in my cell, and it is more difficult than ever to be here
now. I am so cold tonight, although the extra blanket upon which Dr.
Villa-Lobos insisted is helping. There is, however, only so much
that he can do; for, despite his long friendship with Don Massaredo,
my captor must do his duty and keep his prisoners as any commandant
would. I bear his Excellency no malice, particularly after hearing
some of the Doctor's stories; I understand that both sides will
do what they must, in war. I only wish that I did not have to bear
this alone.

It seems darker tonight as well. I had forgotten, but the season is
changing, and the days will be getting shorter soon. This is bad
news for me, but my one consolation is that perhaps it might
facilitate sleep -- blessed sleep, which affords the only escape I
can have.

***********

It was hard for me, when they came and told me. Don Massaredo
himself had come to my room, with Dr. Villa-Lobos, to tell me it was
time I be returned to my cell. I must respect the Don for coming to
talk to me personally. He had sat down in that chair, the Doctor
standing behind him, and had informed me that my punishment had been
over since I'd been brought into the house; and that if I behaved
myself, I would once more be accorded such privileges as walks
outside and taking decent meals in the courtyard. At those two
points, I had looked up from my nice clean bed and seen Dr. Villa-
Lobos smiling at me, as though he might have had something to do with
it. It had been a small comfort to me; yet, my heart had become
heavy and I trembled to control myself so as to not show the dread I
felt at having to give up what had become so welcome and so
comfortable, in this foreign land, so far from my home...

I had arisen from my bed and dressed without much difficulty, as I
had been up and around the room before then. The great difficulty
came in being led from a clean, comfortable house, across the dusty
courtyard (the bright sun overhead causing me to squint), and back
into the foreboding prison, which now seemed larger and more lonely
and forsaken than ever. My heart fell and my throat went dry as,
flanked by two muscular guards, I stood before that heavy door and
waited for a third guard to open it, and the third one had pushed me
into the cell. He hadn't pushed me hard this time, just enough
of a
prodding with the palm of his hand for the point to be made. The
door had been locked, with the now-familiar jangling of those large
keys, and that, as they say, had been that.

For a long moment I simply stood there, just inside the door,
scarcely able to believe I was back in the place that had reduced me
to such despair. Despite the cleaning that Dr. Villa-Lobos had
ordered, it still looked so dirty, and so grey, and it was so damp
and cold. My mind screamed to turn round and pound on the door, but
I knew it would do no good. I must accept that I was here, and that
I was probably going to be here for a very long time...

***********

So I had lain down on my familiar bunk and tried to sleep. But I
could not, and was not entirely certain that I *wanted* to, for then
I might not sleep in the long dark hours of the coming night...

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

And now the darkness has closed out the depth of the real world that
lies just beyond my window, making it seem a flat, black curtain
hanging outside, keeping me in just as surely as the bars and the
locked door. I lie here, trying to sleep, and feeling so terribly
alone that I would almost fear myself the only person in the world,
were it not for the occasional sounds of guards on watch, as
disembodied voices and footsteps in the blackness outside. I am
tired, so very tired. I believe.. I ..can.. sleep now....

*************
Last night was bad. The nightmares were back.

Simpson. He didn't have a face in the dream, but I knew it was
him. I could feel the horror in the air, and the dread and heaviness
in my chest. I tried desperately to cry out, my throat feeling like
I was screaming, but no sound would come. He kept advancing toward
me, that evil laugh coming from behind a blank mask, his thin fingers
stretched out, the skull and crossbones on the back of one hand
leering at me like a portent of my own death. Advancing, advancing...

Then...

A scream. A real one. And I was awake.

And alone.

Utterly and totally alone. Not even a guard to come and find out the
reason for such a dreadful, terrified scream. I might die, and I
fear no-one would know; and I KNOW no-one would care...

All to the good, I suppose, for I am already wracked by great shame
that a man of my age should react so to no more than a passing,
unreal demon of the night. No more so than my shame at being here,
and my failure as an officer in his majesty's Navy.

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

Those were my thoughts on awakening. Midday brought a very welcome
visit from Dr. Villa-Lobos. I was greatly surprised to see him, as I
had thought myself of no further concern to a medical man, since my
recovery.

However, the Doctor told me he had used the excuse that he wanted to
follow up on his care of me, but had in truth wanted to visit, to see
how I was doing, and just to talk for a time. He sat on a small,
crude bench beneath the window and regarded me carefully.

`Senor Kennedy,' he began, `I do not know how many visits
I will be able to manage. Don Massaredo is a friend, but he is also
a very determined man, and he knows me, and he will not allow even me
to continue this, if it might undermine his authority.'

`I understand,' I replied quietly, looking at the floor.
`ANY visit, sir, is most welcome, more so than I can ever
say.'

`I, too, understand, Senor,' the Doctor replied, a sad
compassion in his gentle voice.

We had gone on to talk of literature and art, and a little on
politics, although it was silently and mutually agreed that,
considering we SHOULD have been enemies, that particular topic might
not be a good one for extended conversation. Slowly I began to feel
a little better, and the nightmare images I had been seeing since
awakening began to fade from my mind's eye.

But I knew that this welcome company and pleasant conversation could
not last, and that soon he would leave, and I would be alone again.
That time did come, and I do believe Dr. Villa-Lobos was almost as
downcast as I.

`I will try to come again, Senor Kennedy,' he promised,
rising, and shaking my hand warmly. Despite my fevered, hazy
memories of him tending me when I was ill, it felt strange. There
has been so little human contact here, other than being pushed and
led round.

`Gracias, Dr. Villa-Lobos,' I replied, unable to stop my
voice from breaking, as I feared this might be my last contact with
anyone who cared a drop for my well-being, for a very long time to
come. The Doctor's black eyes shone for a moment, communicating
volumes about his regret at the situation; and then, he knocked on
the door, it was unlocked, opened, he passed through it, and I was
alone.

Once more.

If only...

No. No, I could not wish this on a shipmate.

But... If only there was someone here with me, I might bear it better.

Horatio. He is strong enough for us both. He would help me to bear
it.

There is no use in dreaming. I am going to be alone for a very long
time.

Dreaming.

Dreaming....

 

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

More nightmares last night. Terrible ones. Terrible ones....

What am I doing? Why am I even troubling myself to write this? No-
one shall ever read it, and no-one will care...

Back aboard the Indy, men are living their lives they are
working, sleeping, eating, and doing battle. They are enjoying the
company of friends, laughing when mirth is occasioned, mourning when
a shipmate is lost. Life continues, without me, and I doubt any one
misses me, or even remembers me. I doubt any one came to look for
me. I do not understand it, and I never will. Maybe I was too much
trouble for them. I did not belong in his majesty's Navy -- I
never DID belong.

But neither did I belong at home. Oh, would that I had gone into the
theatre, as my heart had desired! Father would never hear of it.
Why did I ever let him decide upon the course of my life... I could
never be a fit officer, never. It has been as though I HAVE been an
actor, playing at being a midshipman, but never really appropriate
for the role. I thought I could contribute something -- I thought I
was doing well at first, making my mark in battle. But I know now
that whatever I did, it was not enough, and it never COULD be.
Because *I* could never be good enough...

And what have I done this day? Not one thing of value. I have lain
in my bunk, I have considered the dirty stuccoed ceiling, I have
looked longingly out the window at my limited view beyond it,
despairing in the knowledge that I am no longer a part of the world
that lies outside these walls. That world is continuing without me,
and I believe it cares nothing for me.

And tonight? I shall have more of the terror of night, more
nightmares. I say this because it has become most a certainty. Last
night, I dreamt that there was a great explosion, and all in my
division were killed, and... and Horatio was as well. And all I
could do was awake from my sleep -- the sleep within the dream -- and
hear their dying screams, and look, and see their torn bodies, thrown
clear, but dead nonetheless. And I could do nothing to stop it, and
nothing to save them.

And thus, as was the nightmare, so is real life... I can do
nothing. For all my knowledge (and I have none), that nightmare
could be fulfilled at this very moment -- there could be a great
battle, and Horatio could be gone. I fear I shall never see him
again, or any of my shipmates.

But there is another fear that wracks my every waking moment, and
which haunts my dark and empty nights.

Far worse still is the fear that none of them will care. Even
Horatio. He was as a brother to me. Why then, did he do nothing to
look for me, to save me? Does he feel better now, is his life easier
and on the road to advancement, now he no longer has to worry about
his weak friend, the one who has the fits? What am I to think? What
am I to feel?

Would that I could feel nothing...

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