A Castle in Spain - Despair
The door to his cell stood open. In another hour the rays of
would creep far enough to make a bright patch on the stone wall in the
corridor. Archie was getting uncomfortable lying on his side. His arm
was growing numb beneath the weight of his body. He did not care to
move. He did not care to do anything. He had been imprisoned at El
Ferrol for several weeks. He couldn't remember exactly how many. It
was too much of an effort to think. There were footsteps in the
corridor. Three pairs of booted feet appeared next to his bunk
With an effort he raised his head. Don Masseredo stood looking down at
him, flanked by two guards.
"Good day to you Mr. Kennedy," he said, as courteous as always.
"Good day Sir," said Archie listlessly. He wished they would all
just go away.
"My corporal tells me that you have not been outside for four days.
Are you unwell? Is that why you do not wish to exercise?"
"I am quite well Sir," replied Archie, resisting the urge to turn
his face to the wall and ignore his visitor.
"I am not so foolish as to expect you to be happy with your
situation," continued the Don, "but I do not think it is normal for
a young man to lie in his bed when he could be outside taking the
air." He stood for a while without speaking and Archie realised
with weary annoyance that he was expected to reply.
"I thank you for your concern Sir. I do not require anything." He
did not add, ënow please go away.' He did not want to think, or
speak or feel. All the long months of wandering and struggling to win
his freedom had led nowhere, had brought him only to this cell. His
dream of returning to the Indefatigable had been foolish beyond measure.
The notion that Horatio might be happy to see him again was laughable.
"I am responsible for your welfare Mr. Kennedy," said Don
Masseredo, "and I must insist that you at least walk as far as the
yard and remain there for an hour."
Archie lay with his eyes fixed on the ceiling. This was all so
pointless. Didn't the man have other matters to attend to? Why should
he care if his prisoner had no desire to exert himself?
"I am giving you an order Mr. Kennedy," said Don Masseredo after a
few moments, "and I am ready to make sure that it is carried out."
Archie looked at him. The commandant's eyes were narrowed. Any minute
now he would be ordering the guards to drag the prisoner outside. Damn
the man! Archie sighed heavily and swung his legs off the narrow bed. As
he stood up he felt a little dizzy from his hours of inactivity but he
ignored it and began walking out, deliberately avoiding his captors.
He was almost in the corridor when Don Masseredo spoke sharply.
"A moment Mr. Kennedy!"
Archie turned wearily to face him.
"What is the meaning of this?" Don Masseredo was pointing to his
bed. One of the guards had lifted the mattress up at the head end.
"The meaning of what Sir?" said Archie, puzzled. The mattress had
been grubby when they gave it to him. Surely he was not going to be
accused of damaging the poxy thing?
"You are in no position to be insolent!" said the commandant
angrily. "It is obvious to me that you are planning to escape."
Completely at a loss, Archie went over to his bunk and looked down.
Half a dozen pieces of bread lay in a row on the wooden boards. They
were all half the size of his usual mealtime ration. Some appeared to be
dry and hard. A couple were speckled with blue and green mould. He had
no idea how they had got there.
"I did not do this," he said shaking his head.
"Please Mr. Kennedy," said Don Masseredo, "credit me with some
intelligence! How else could this have happened?"
"I, I don't know," said Archie helplessly, "but Sir, I give you
my word, I am not responsible for this."
"It gives me no pleasure to find that you are a liar Mr. Kennedy,"
said Don Masseredo coldly.
"I am not!" Archie shouted in his frustration. It was a ridiculous
situation. He felt like crying. "Until four days ago I was absent from
this cell for at least two hours every day. Someone else must have come
in and hidden the bread. I swear I had not knowledge of it being there.
Why don't you question your men?" He glared at the guard who had
searched his bed. "Why don't you ask this man why he chose to look
"Your cell is thoroughly searched every week Mr. Kennedy. He is
simply obeying my standing order."
"I have not been hoarding food, I have no plans of escape." Archie
"This is nonsense!" said Don Masserado, "you will submit to a
search of your person at once. Then you will be moved to another
Archie had suffered all kinds of humiliation during his spells of
imprisonment, including strip searches. This one was not as thorough as
some, but it was no less unpleasant. He stood white faced and still
until they were done and then dressed himself with hands that were not
entirely steady. He had almost no possessions, apart from his uniform,
and so it took very little time for him to be put in his new cell. The
door was shut and locked. Apparently his period of exercise had been
cancelled. He lay down under a blanket and tried to make sense of what
had happened. As far as he knew he had not given the guards any trouble
since his arrival at El Ferrol. He could not understand why any of them
would go out of their way to make it look as if he was planning an
escape. Once or twice in French prisons guards had made his life
difficult because he refused them intimacy. No one here had made any
such demands. Perhaps in was just spite. Perhaps one of them had
received news of a brother killed in a naval action and was looking for
He dozed for the rest of the afternoon and evening until his supper
arrived. As always with the last meal of the day it was something that
did not require the use of knife, fork or spoon. Today, with the usual
ration of bread, there were some cold cooked vegetables. The guard would
not be back for the dish until the following morning. He sat up and ate
a little of everything and then put the dish by the door. His appetite
had diminished since his arrival at El Ferrol. He supposed it was
because he was not very active. He had always eaten everything put in
front of him at sea.
He woke up frequently during the night. He could not find a comfortable
position and this new mattress seemed to have more than its fair share
of fleas. In the morning the rattle and clang of his cell door opening
woke him. Two guards came in and motioned him to get out of the bed. One
of them began searching under the mattress and almost at once he frowned
at Archie and spoke rapidly to his colleague. Archie was shoved over to
the bed and made to look down. A half ration of bread lay revealed.
Confused, he glanced over at the previous night's supper plate. It
contained only a few vegetables. He knew he had not eaten any of the
bread. A more frightening possibility occurred to him and the blood left
his face. One guard hurried away and the other remained. His face wore
the half-pitying, half-expectant look of a child who knows that an angry
adult is coming to chastise someone else.
"So, Mr. Kennedy," said Don Masseredo when he arrived ten minutes
later, "you are determined to continue with this pointless
"Sir," said Archie quietly, "I give you my word that I have no
recollection of doing this but," he paused a moment before making the
painful admission, "I now believe that I am responsible for this, for
these.." He tailed off, at a loss to explain his own actions.
Don Masseredo did not reply at once. Archie stared miserably at the
"You are saying that you hid the bread but were not aware that you
had done so?" The commandant's tone was much gentler that before.
Archie was stung by the pitying tone. He felt his face go hot with
embarrassment. He could not find his voice to make a reply.
"I am concerned for your health Mr. Kennedy. I am going to arrange
for a doctor to visit you."
"There is no need." Archie forced the words out of his constricted
throat. He mistrusted doctors. His mother had taken him to several
expensive ones as a child and some had prescribed barbaric treatments
for his fits, including long immersions in cold baths and confinement in
dark rooms. His encounters with naval surgeons had been no less
"That is not for you to decide," Don Masseredo pointed out gently
"I suggest that you take some rest."
Left alone, Archie lay on the bed with his hands covering his face.
There was room for only one thought in his head. He was going insane.
"Senor." Someone was touching his wrist, feeling
his pulse. He woke
with a start. A slight dark haired man was sitting on his bed. Archie
sat up hurriedly and backed away until the wall stopped him. The man
immediately rose and went to sit on the bed on the far side of the
"I apologize for startling you Senor," he said. His English was not
as heavily accented as Don Masseredo's. He was looking at Archie very
calmly. "My name is Felipe Cortubas. I am a physician. Don Masseredo
believes that you may have need of my services."
"Cortubas is a Greek name," said Archie. He had drawn his knees up
and pulled his blanket closely about him.
"So it is," said the doctor inclining his head, "my father was
Greek and my mother is Spanish."
"Your English is very good."
"Thank you. I grew up in Athens where my father worked for the
British consul. Often he would bring home young Englishmen who had got
into difficulties, lost their money or been robbed. He would allow them
to stay with us until their families could arrange to send them more
funds. They were always happy to teach me English as a way of repaying
his kindness." Archie studied him for a few moments. The doctor did
not seem to mind being scrutinized. His clothes looked expensive and
were in the best of taste. Archie could not understand what such an
obviously prosperous man was doing attending to a prisoner. His
curiosity must have showed on his face. "Do you have a question?"
asked the Doctor pleasantly.
"I was just wondering if I can afford to consult you," said
"Ah!" exclaimed the doctor with a smile, "an example of British
irony, if I am not mistaken. Do not worry Senor. The Spanish government
will be footing the bill, that is the correct expression, yes?" Archie
nodded. "Very well, perhaps we should begin our consultation. Would
you do me the kindness of telling me something about yourself?" When
Archie did not reply he added gently, "I understand that you have
endured much hardship in the past two years."
During his time in prison and on the run Archie had seen the best and
worst of his fellow man. He had reacted to the worst with fortitude and
all the defiance he was capable of. When he met with compassion it
usually unmanned him. A priest in France had discovered him filthy and
exhausted in a barn and had taken him into his home. That had also been
the time when a poor scrap of a disfigured girl had saved his life by
finding his uniform coat and bringing it to him before he could be
arrested and shot as a spy. Another priest in Spain had nursed him back
to health and then risked his own life by transporting him to the coast
and helping him to steal a boat. These selfless acts had touched him
deeply. The doctor's sympathy was getting under his guard too. He felt
the tears start in his eyes. He covered his face, impatient with
himself. After a little while he heard the doctor moving about and
looked up. Cortubas had retrieved a leather bag from the floor and was
taking out a silver flask. He unscrewed the cup from its top and poured
a measure of liquid into it.
"I do not usually prescribe before I have examined my patients
thoroughly," he said, handing the drink to Archie, "but in this case
I think it is called for."
Archie sipped cautiously and then took an eager swallow. It was a truly
"Good, yes?" said the doctor with a smile. "I keep it for my rich
patients in Madrid."
"I did not think you could be in practice here," said Archie as a
pleasant warmth soothed his stomach and his nerves.
"You are right Senor. I am visiting my wife's people nearby. Don
Masseredo is an old acquaintance. When he told me that he was anxious
about your welfare I was happy to offer my services." The doctor
offered to pour another measure of brandy and Archie held out his cup.
"What did he tell you?"
"I know that you have been a prisoner here for nine weeks. You are
far from your home and have neither the comfort of your family nor the
company of friends to sustain you. In these circumstances some measure
of poor health is to be expected."
"Did he tell you..?"
The doctor held up his hand "I would really prefer it Senor Kennedy
if you would speak to me of your experiences since you were captured. I
believe they are the key to any present condition." He spoke quietly
but persuasively. "However, before you do so I think it would be wise
if you took your midday meal."
Archie was inclined to agree with him. The fine brandy was going
straight to his head. The doctor went to the door and knocked on it. A
guard appeared and there was a rapid exchange in Spanish. Ten minutes
later the usual concoction of watery vegetable stew and scattered
fragments of meat arrived. The doctor frowned at it but made no comment
and waited patiently until he was finished. Archie ate more than he
usually did since he had been given no breakfast. He observed Cortubas
over the rim of his plate. He found himself liking the man and wanting
to trust him but he was afraid to tell him everything. He knew that in
some countries anyone suffering fits was assumed to be possessed by the
devil, and was dealt with accordingly. Dr. Cortubas gave every
appearance of being an educated man but his urbane exterior might be
concealing a religious fanatic.
"I was captured at the mouth of the Gironde in France, over two years
ago," he began, omitting the most damning details. He left everything
else in. The four escapes, the hundreds of miles walked, sometimes with
a companion but often alone. There was no self-pity in his account, but
the bare facts about the months of deprivation were harrowing enough.
When he spoke of being recaptured his anguish was written clearly on his
"That is a story of remarkable courage and endurance," said the
"Do you think so?" said Archie wearily, "well it all ends rather
badly I'm afraid."
"Ah yes, it must have been a severe disappointment to be forced
ashore in the bay," said Cortubas sympathetically.
"I meant because I am losing my mind," sighed Archie, closing his
eyes and leaning his head against the wall.
"You are worried about these episodes of hiding the food," said
Cortubas calmly. "You should not be. They are not a sign of insanity,
in my opinion."
"They are not?" Archie's eyes opened. Their vivid color
contrasted sharply with his bloodless face.
"Assuredly not. I base what I say on everything that you have just
told me. You have spent many months in a state of anxiety about where
your next mouthful would come from, is that not so?"
"Our minds do not shake off such experiences easily Mr. Kennedy.
Hoarding food is the act of a desperate man, and you have every reason
still to feel desperate. Have you not found that after a battle the
images of danger and bloodshed stayed in your thoughts for many weeks
afterwards?" Archie nodded. "I believe this is much the same, and in
this case the battle was long and drawn out. You should not be surprised
if the effects last many months."
"But why can't I remember what I have done?"
"That I am not certain of. Do you know if you walked in your sleep as
"Often, so I've been told." He had done it as a midshipman on
Justinian too, when Simpson had begun to terrorize him. It was supremely
ironic that recalling his night wanderings during that dreadful time
should bring him a measure of comfort now. It did so because he could
now regard his present behavior as part of a familiar pattern. He had
not believed himself to be insane then, and he need not believe it now.
He felt as if part of a heavy loaded had fallen away. "What you have
said is reassuring. I am very grateful to you Sir."
"I am happy to be of service. Now, will you permit me to examine you?
I should like to be sure that your recent lassitude does not stem from
some physical ailment"
Archie was tongue-tied. The Doctor had shown him nothing but kindness
and he did not want to repay him by appearing to be childish or sullen,
but exposing his body also meant exposing the abuses he had suffered at
Simpson's hands. Cortubas would learn his shameful secret and despise
him for it.
"Your are a patient my dear young sir. Nothing you tell me will go
any further." Cortubas had already guessed something of his dilemma.
"I would rather, I mean, oh very well," Archie muttered, admitting
defeat. It was moderately warm in the cell but he shivered a little as
he undressed. As he lay on his bed and endured the Doctor's touch he
had to fight a constant urge to turn away and hide his face. Cortubas
was gentle but thorough. When he was finished he draped the blanket over
Archie and sat down again on the other side of the cell.
"I spoke of your courage and endurance a little while ago," said
the doctor quietly. "You have needed them a long time I think."
There was no judgement in his voice, only calm acceptance. Archie had
the sudden feeling that he could drop his hateful burden at this man's
feet, for a while at least. He told him everything.
Archie sat in the sun-drenched courtyard, enjoying the sensation
being warm right through to his bones. For the past three weeks he had
spent the better part of each day outside. Dr. Cortubas had assured him
that frequent exposure to sunlight and fresh air would help him shake
off the melancholy that had gripped him since his arrival at El Ferrol.
He had to admit that he was beginning to feel more energetic. The
changes in his diet that the doctor had ordered were very welcome and
had led to a marked improvement in his appetite. Since he now finished
everything on his plate he no longer had to worry about whether he was
hiding leftovers during his sleep. His spirits were rising again and he
could think about Horatio and the Indefatigable without drowning in
self-pity. It gave him genuine pleasure to think of his friend causing
trouble to the French. Was he a lieutenant by now? If anyone was going
to climb the promotion ladder quickly it would be Horatio, especially
with Sir Edward looking out for his interests.
The gate to the exercise yard clanged open. Don Masseredo came into
view, with his usual escort. Archie stood up. With his health improved
he was feeling more kindly disposed towards his jailer.
"Good day to you Mr. Kennedy. I trust I find you well?" His wispy
gray side locks were beginning to annoy Archie. He wished the man would
either cut them off or tie them back.
"You do Sir," he said politely.
"You will be sorry to hear, as I am, that Dr. Cortubas will be
leaving for Madrid in a short time."
"You are right Sir," said Archie truthfully "this is unwelcome
news. The doctor has been very good to me. Will I see him before he
"I am sure that you will," said Don Masseredo peering up at the
sky. "We shall have rain soon. You should enjoy the good weather while
The skies opened later that afternoon. Archie stood by his cell window
watching the torrents of rain carve rivulets in the soft sand of the
yard. He found he was nostalgic for the sea. The prospect of treading a
heaving deck with rainwater dripping inside the collar of his watch coat
was much more appealing than being penned up here. But what hope was
there of escape this time? He was the sole prisoner. The small garrison
had nothing to do but see that he stayed put. His cell door unlocked and
he turned to see Dr. Cortubas enter.
"Good afternoon Senor Kennedy," he said with a warm smile.
"Dr. Cortubas," said Archie sitting on his bunk with a sigh, "you
find me in an ungrateful mood I'm afraid."
"How so?" said the doctor sitting down on the opposite side of the
"It has just occurred to me that I might have been more content when
I was feeling ill and had no thought of escape. Now that you have
restored me I am finding captivity harder to bear."
"This had been my first experience of treating a prisoner," said
the doctor seriously, "and I must admit that it has troubled me."
"I am sorry Dr. Cortubas," said Archie, immediately remorseful.
"You have done so much for me. I should not have said anything."
"You do not need to be careful of my feelings Archie. I am the one
who is free to leave this place."
"Don Masseredo tells me you are returning to Madrid soon," said
Archie trying to steer the conversation into calmer waters.
"Will you be honest with me?" asked the doctor, ignoring Archie's
"Do you wish to escape from here?"
"Yes, but I am not hopeful that it can be done."
"But you have escaped from other prisons four times," said Cortubas
looking at him with an intense expression.
"Only because I had the help of fellow prisoners. Large numbers of
men are not easy to guard and it is possible to set up all kinds of
diversions. Here, I am the center of attention. I'm afraid I must wait
for the war to end before I can taste freedom again."
"The war may last for several years," said Cortubas. "I cannot
believe that you are resigned to such a long confinement."
"Well of course I am not!" said Archie irritably, "but as you
pointed out earlier, I have no choice in the matter." He wondered why
the doctor was choosing to remind him of the hopelessness of his plight.
"Forgive me," said Cortubas quickly, "let me
try to explain
myself." He appeared to be lost in thought for a few moments. "If
someone had told of your circumstances two months ago I would have said
'yes it is unfortunate that such a young man must lose his freedom,
but that is war.' Now it is different."
"Anyone in the Service has to accept the risk of being killed or
captured," said Archie. "I am grateful for your concern but all of
this is beyond your control." He saw that the doctor was distracted
and did not appear to have heard him.
"You will fall ill this evening after your meal," said Cortubas
slowly, "you will complain loudly of stomach pains and ask for
"But what good?" began Archie.
"Listen!" said Cortubas crossing the cell and sitting down next to
him. "When I leave here I will remark to Don Masseredo that I am a
little uneasy about you. When you become ill he will assume that I was
right and will not be suspicious. When I return to attend to you we will
be left alone. You will overpower me and bind me so that I cannot move
or speak. With good fortune it will still be raining. You will take my
cloak and pull the hood over your face. A guard will walk you to the
gate. My carriage will be waiting. All you have to do is get in. When
the road begins to climb three miles from here the carriage will slow
down. You can jump out and conceal yourself in the forest."
"I cannot let you do this," said Archie astonished at the
doctor's suggestion. "It is incredibly generous of you to make
this offer but you would be risking your own freedom. I cannot allow
"No, no you are wrong. The risk is yours. We can arrange matters
between us so that no one will believe that I aided you. In truth I can
hardly aid you at all. I cannot give you food or money without
incriminating myself. The opportunity to leave this fortress is the only
line I can throw you. That is what you would call it, yes?"
"Yes and it is indeed a lifeline." Archie could not help himself.
He was thinking seriously about the doctor's plan. "But what if Don
Masseredo wants to know..?"
"I shall speak to him when I arrive," said the doctor eagerly.
"He does not like to leave his quarters after dinner. All I need do
is tell him that I will not disturb him again unless you are gravely
"You would really do this?" said Archie. His heart beat quickened.
It was possible that he could be out and away before the night was
"Gladly," said Cortubas. "I know that many would say that I
betray my country but I cannot support the idea that isolating you here
will affect the outcome of the war. Now, we must talk some more and make
our preparations and then you must lie down and pretend to be a little
When the guard came in with his supper that evening Archie
eyes closed and shifted restlessly on his bunk and if in some
discomfort. The guard tapped him on the shoulder and when Archie looked
up he held the plate out to him. Archie groaned and turned to the wall.
He heard the guard put the dish on the floor and go out. Archie waited
five minutes and then sat up. He ate half the food and then chewed the
rest carefully before spitting each mouthful onto the floor. He went to
the door, hammered on it and yelled for help. As soon as he heard the
guard coming he began groaning loudly and dropped to his knees, bending
over as if in acute pain. The door opened. The guard stood at his
shoulder questioning him in Spanish. He heard the man exclaim in disgust
as he caught sight of the 'vomit' on the floor. Archie smiled to
himself as he kept up a pitiful series of moans. A hand patted him
briefly on the back of the head and the door closed again as the guard
Archie went over to his bunk and threw himself down, leaving his feet
and one arm trailing on the floor. He uttered groans now and again in
case a guard was waiting in the corridor for the doctor to arrive. He
could here the rain lashing down outside and the wind gusting. So far,
the weather gods were with him. In a little over an hour Dr. Cortubas
hurried in with two guards at his heels. He felt Archie's forehead,
took his pulse and pretended to take an interest in the partly digested
food on the floor. Then he gave an instruction to one of the guards who
fetched a bucket of sawdust and covered up the mess. When that was done
the doctor waved both guards out of the cell.
" I was bad tempered with them as I came in," murmured Cortubas,
"I think they will not want to speak to you much when you
"You're an experienced campaigner," said Archie with a strained
smile, "but now you must let me take command." He reached into the
doctor's bag and took out a pair of sharp scissors. He stood up and
pushed Cortubas suddenly so that his back was against the wall. He put
the point of the scissors to the artery in his throat. "I don't want
you to have to lie about this part," he said "and I want you to know
that it's too late to change your mind."
"You have killed men," said the doctor looking calmly into his
"Yes. I have boarded ships and run my sword through the guts of men
who were standing this close to me."
The doctor shuddered a little.
"Afraid?" said Archie, his eyes unnaturally bright.
"Who would not fear such an angel of death? I think I could be very
afraid, if I did not trust you."
"Take off your boots," said Archie, "I must look as much like you
as possible when I leave here." When the doctor had obeyed Archie
urged him to lie down on the bunk and tied him hand and foot with strips
of bandage. "I am going to gag you," he said, " and it will not be
comfortable. If I do not hurt you a little they may suspect you of
"I assure you my bonds are already most uncomfortable," said
Archie took a roll of bandage and bent over him.
"Are you ready?" he asked.
"Yes, I am. Godspeed my young friend."
Archie pushed the roll of material between the doctor's teeth and
then tied it securely in place. He put on his jacket and the boots and
enveloped himself in the cloak. He emptied the doctor's bag and took
out everything except the brandy flask. He kicked the instruments and
the bottles under the bunk. He put his shoes in the bag. The boots were
a tight fit and he would need to be able to walk and run easily in the
days ahead. He was ready. He sat on the bunk next to the doctor.
"I hope you will forgive me," he said, "but later on they would
wonder why you did not move or cry out to warn them. This way no one
will doubt you." The doctor's eyes widened in alarm for a second
before Archie drove his fist hard into his jaw.
It was all absurdly simple. The guard barely looked at him. It was
raining hard and no one thought it strange that he was wrapped up so
that his face was barely visible. Within a minute and a half of leaving
his cell he was sitting inside the doctor's carriage. The driver urged
the horse forward and the walls of the fortress were left behind. Archie
leaned back against the soft leather of the seat feeling light headed
with relief. In the brief hours leading up to this moment he had made no
fixed plans as to what he would do once he was clear of El Ferrol. With
luck the doctor would not be found until the morning He had eight or ten
hours before they would begin the hunt. It would be futile to try and
head for the coast. They would be expecting him to double back and steal
a boat. He must go inland and try to reach Gibraltar on foot. A quarter
of an hour later, as the carriage was being hauled up an incline he
opened the door and slipped out into the black night.
Archie shivered and drew the cloak tightly around him. He was
for its heavy warmth. It had rained almost without pause for the three
days and nights since his escape. The hilly, wooded terrain made for
difficult traveling, more so now that every slope was made muddy and
treacherous. He did not dare to keep moving in the dark for fear of
breaking a limb or his neck. He was huddling under an overhanging rock,
taking advantage of its shelter. He did not think he had covered more
than twenty miles since leaving the haven of the doctor's carriage.
Archie folded his arms across his stomach. It was really aching now,
with hunger this time. He had not been able to find anything to eat so
far. The country was wild and seemed hardly to be inhabited at all. The
occasional sawn tree stumps were the only signs of recent human
activity. He deeply regretted that he had not been able to bring any
food with him. It was ironic that his unconscious hoarding of food
beneath his mattress looked more like common sense than lunacy in light
of his current situation. A three days old piece of bread would be very
welcome just now. Water had not been a problem and he still had half the
doctor's brandy left. Food was a pressing problem though and if he did
not find a farm or a village there would be no one to steal it from.
His past escapes had involved days and weeks of planning. Fellow
prisoners had shared their knowledge of the surrounding area and had
even made maps. This time there had been no preparation and he was
beginning to appreciate that he had been reckless. It had been
impossible to resist the opportunity to be free, but what kind of
freedom had he won? At the moment it looked as if all he had gained was
the privilege of dying of hunger in an unforgiving wilderness.
He shifted his legs in an effort to ease his aching muscles. He must
get on his feet as soon as it was light and keep heading east. He would
have to hold to that direction for many days before turning south. It
would be hit and miss as to whether he reached Gibraltar or not but the
alternative was to head back to France. If he were caught there he would
surely be shot. That was not something he wanted to dwell on. To chase
the unpleasant thought away he began to imagine what Horatio might say
about his present predicament.
"No supplies, no map, no money." He would be frowning of course
while his mind mulled the problem over. "You've not organized this
very well Archie." A remark that would have earned anyone else the
rough side of Archie's tongue, but which he would have accepted from
Horatio because it would have been made with a complete absence of
malice. A mere factual statement of the situation. If he closed his eyes
he could see the mobile face with half a dozen expressions chasing
across it as the quick mind sifted all the possibilities.
"What should I do Horatio?" he murmured. Unfortunately no answer
came before he fell asleep.
Birdsong woke him just before dawn. It took him several minutes
to his feet and straighten his protesting body and limbs. He allowed
himself a mouthful of the brandy to drive out the chill. It was a relief
to find that the rain had stopped. It was still overcast but the clouds
were much higher in the sky. He set off slowly, picking his way down the
wooded hillside. The ground was still very soft and inclined to slip
away beneath his feet so he had to catch hold of the trees as he went to
keep himself upright. The doctor's bag was slung over one shoulder. He
was carrying the boots and the flask in it. He might be able to trade
them for food, if he ever came across another human being. No sooner had
this thought crossed his mind than he heard a voice coming from further
down the hill.
He froze and listened. There was more than one voice and all of them
male. Now he was torn between his fear of possible capture and his
desperate need for food. He decided there was no choice but to go
forward and try to see whom the voices belonged to. Another three days
of hunger might render him too weak to move at all.
As the voices grew louder he could also make out the sound of booted
feet on a hard surface. He must be getting close to a road. Yes, there
it was! He could glimpse its chalky surface through the trees and
undergrowth. The voices were slightly to his right and seemed to be
going away from him. He took the bag off his shoulder and inched
forward, in an attempt to see, without being seen. Suddenly his feet hit
a patch of ground that collapsed under him. He made a wild grab for the
nearest branch. His shoulder was wrenched as it took all his weight. He
tried desperately to hold on but the wood was slippery with recent rain.
In a moment he was plunging down to land sprawling in the middle of the
road. Dazed and panicked he scrambled to his feet. A hundred yards to
his right a dozen men were walking away from him, no, marching. They
were soldiers! They had not turned round. He still had time to hide
himself. He dashed for the far side of the road where the ground sloped
sharply away. Just as he dived into the bushes a shout went up. He was
discovered. He scrambled down the hillside as fast as he dared, cursing
wildly. He could hear several men crashing through the undergrowth
behind him. His breath soon got short and he was stumbling rather than
running. His feet slid from under him and he crashed into a tree. All
the wind was knocked from his lungs and he lay gasping like a landed
fish. They were on him a few seconds later.
The soldiers were from the fortress. Since there was no one
guard Don Masseredo had sent almost his entire garrison of thirty men
out in search of Archie. It took them less than a day to march him back.
His struggles up and down the steep terrain had not taken him more than
a dozen miles from El Ferrol as the crow flew. It was not surprising
that the soldiers laughed among themselves as they saw Archie begin to
realize the extent of his failure as the fort appeared in the distance.
They made sure he could not slip out of their grasp. His hands were
bound behind his back and one soldier held a rope that was tied around
his waist. Another led him by a rope that passed under his arms.
Luckily they understood that he had to be fed if he was to walk more
than half a mile.
It was late afternoon when he was led back through the gates of El
Ferrol. He was too tired to feel any acute sense of despair. He just
wanted to lie down and sleep, but they didn't take him back to his
cell. He was marched to one of the courtyards and, for one heart
stopping moment he thought they might put him up against a wall and
shoot him. He was pushed and pulled over to a padlocked grating in the
ground. Don Masseredo arrived and looked coldly at him.
"So, Mr. Kennedy, I trust you enjoyed your brief hours of freedom?"
Archie, caked in mud and swaying with fatigue, could not believe that he
was meant to reply to that. "You are more enterprising that I gave you
credit for," the commandant continued grimly, "and much more
ruthless. I was appalled by your brutal behavior towards Dr. Cortubas. A
man who treated you with utmost consideration and kindness."
Archie knew he must guard his tongue. He must not risk implicating the
"I regret any hurt that I caused Dr. Cortubas Sir," he said flatly,
not daring to ask if he had recovered from his ordeal.
"I intend to see that you regret it even more!" said Don Masseredo
harshly. At a signal from him the grating was unlocked and raised.
"You will stay in here for a month. Before the end of that time you
will be begging to be returned to your cell."
They untied him and pulled his cloak off. Then he was taken by the arms
and dropped into the hole. He cried out in fear, not knowing how deep it
might be. When he hit the bottom the soldiers laughed at his surprise at
finding his shoulders were still above the ground. He just had time to
duck down as they slammed the grating shut again. The padlock was
fastened and then he was left alone.
It was impossible to stretch out in any direction. Either his
his spine were bent all the time. At the end of the first night he ached
in every joint. There was never any relief from the discomfort in the
all the days that followed. The rats came when it got dark and he was
thankful that he had his jacket to put over his head. He was terrified
that they would bite his face while he slept, if he ever slept. The
recent rains had left several inches of water in the bottom of the
oubliette. To try and keep his feet dry he had to perch his buttocks on
the low stone ledge that ran down one side and brace his legs against
the opposite wall. He could only do that for an hour or so before the
pain in his legs got the better of him.
At first he kept count of the days, scratching marks on the stonework
with a small pebble. He grew confused after twelve. It was impossible to
sleep the night through and so he took to snatching rest when he could
and became unsure of the time of day, or even which day it was. There
was no more rain after the first afternoon. That allowed him to curl up
on his side in the bottom of the pit once the water had drained away. It
was no more comfortable than any other cramped position, but there was
at least a small amount of relief to be gained from shifting about. One
or two of the guards went out of their way to add to his misery, kicking
sand and gravel through the bars onto his head whenever they passed by.
On one horrible occasion four of them got drunk and used the oubliette
as a urinal.
He began to dream vividly of his mother. He was a child again, climbing
on her lap in search of comfort. She embraced him lovingly and rocked
him gently but when he asked her to take him out of this place she
smiled sadly and told him she couldn't. He always woke up weeping
after that. When he asked the guards how much longer he would have to
stay confined they would not answer. Don Masseredo never came near him.
He was unconscious when they eventually hauled him out. He woke in
lying on straw in a bare cell. There was a blanket over him but his
clothes had vanished. His sobs of relief changed to cries of pain as he
attempted to stretch his cramped legs. The spasms lasted for days and it
was as much as he could do to get to his hands and knees. At first they
would just come in and change the straw as if they were tending some
kind of animal. When they saw him begin to heave himself upright against
the wall they brought him a slop bucket. Then, on one never to be
forgotten morning, they walked him slowly to his old cell. His clothes
had been cleaned and lay on the bunk. There were two buckets of hot
water and one of cold. It was glorious to wash the stink of the
oubliette of his skin and to let the water run through his hair. Small
mercies, but he was grateful for them. In the weeks that followed he was
left alone. No one made him go out to the exercise yard if he didn't
want to. He often felt tired and preferred to lie on his bunk for much
of the day letting his mind drift.
The door to his cell opened. It was too early for the next meal he
thought. Someone sat down heavily on his legs. He cried out in surprise
and pain and thought he heard someone else make a noise too. His blanket
was pulled off roughly. He turned over in alarm and looked straight into
a pair of startled brown eyes. He saw his own shock and disbelief
mirrored in the mobile face. It was Horatio! Somehow he had arrived here
in this godforsaken place to witness his failure and degradation. Before
he knew it he had screamed at him to go away. He pulled the blanket back
over his head in despair, praying that this was just a bad dream. It
wasn't a dream. That was Horatio's voice again. No, Horatio could
not be here. He had to be free, following the career that suited him so
well. He of all people could not be locked up here. But he was, and he
had to be told that it was hopeless. He would not lie to him, not
Horatio. Besides, returning to the Indefatigable as an object of pity
would be unbearable.
Hunter was a bastard. He could sense that within minutes. Why didn't
Horatio just throw him against the wall and shut him up? No, that
wasn't his way. A good officer treated his subordinates well, even
it he disliked them intensely. Hunter had the right idea though; he had
to admit that. Archie was a millstone around Horatio's neck,
especially now that the fits had come back. He didn't know which had
been harder to bear, Hunter's disgust or Horatio's sympathy.
"He's one of us. We don't leave without him."
It was so typical of Horatio to accept full responsibility for a
useless crippled comrade. It was almost laughable thought Archie
bitterly. It was as if his notions of honor had been gleaned from tales
of the knights of old. It would be useless to try to persuade him to
escape with the other men. As long as Archie was alive he would wait for
him to recover. That made things very simple. He must not recover, and
the sooner he ceased to be a drag anchor the better. Hunter was a
willing ally. Whenever Horatio was out of the cell he helped Archie
dispose of most of his food in the slop bucket. The hunger pains were
like old friends and he hid them easily. One rainy afternoon they
stopped altogether. He was sorry that Horatio was so distressed. Someone
was carrying him and sobbing. Water was falling on his face. A woman was
stroking his forehead gently. Somehow he knew she was an actress. Was he
in a play then? Quick, what were his lines? It was all right, he
hadn't forgotten them. She spoke hers and vanished. The play must
"Jack's missed you boy."
Oh dear Christ. Had Horatio lied to him? He was sure that Horatio had
sat down next to him on the bunk one day when Hunter was outside and
told him how Simpson had died.
Perhaps he had only dreamed it. Simpson's hands were all over him,
tugging at his clothes and pawing his flesh. They were real. Simpson was
real. No, here was Horatio at his side, trying to calm him. Dear
Horatio, he mustn't burden him any longer. Only he wouldn't take no
for an answer. Archie didn't want to say those bitter things but
Horatio had to understand it was all no use. Why wouldn't he just go
away and leave him?
He heard the break in Horatio's voice and saw the tears start in his
eyes. It struck him suddenly that no one else had been allowed to see
this or to even guess at the extent of the fear and doubt that Horatio
was hiding beneath his mask of self-control and command. His friend was
laying his soul bare. Archie understood that he was being offered a
precious gift. It was true, Horatio did need him. A small flame of hope
was kindled inside his heart. He could not refuse to drink. As soon as
he made a slight movement towards the lip of the cup a hand slid gently
under his head and lifted him. The water was heavenly. Everything else
would have to be thought about later.
Archie lay on his bunk listening to Horatio breath. He was glad his
friend was asleep at last. He hoped he was taking refuge in pleasant
dreams. The days, weeks and months ahead were going to be very hard for
him. There was no telling how long their imprisonment would last and he
knew that Horatio would miss shipboard life desperately. He had thrived
during their brief hours on the Indefatigable. Everyone, from Sir Edward
down to the powder monkeys had been vastly pleased to see him. He had
learned that his promotion had been confirmed and had absorbed every
detail that he could about the Indy's recent actions. Dining in the
wardroom he had been surrounded by the warm regard of his fellow
officers. In contrast Archie had felt quite detached during his brief
re-immersion in service life. Sir Edward had been extremely kind during
a private conversation in the stern cabin but Archie felt that his
commander still regarded him as a largely unknown quantity.
It had been easy to make the decision to return to El Ferrol with
Horatio. Staying aboard without him had been unthinkable. He knew he
could be of use to his friend. It was as if all the weary cycle of
imprisonment and escape suddenly had a purpose. It had given him a
particular kind of strength; an ability to endure that would sustain
both of them during an uncertain future. Horatio's courage was of a
different kind. It stemmed from a belief in his abilities to think and
plan and outwit his enemies. Action brought out the best in him. Rust
would kill him.
Archie smiled to himself in the darkness. He would keep the rust at
bay. It was the least he could do for the man who had re-awakened his
desire to live. Nothing was too good for Horatio. No sacrifice would
ever be enough.