A Castle in Spain
by Inzevar

This story begins a few months after the events described in my story
called 'An Angel in Disguise'.

Archie woke as the birds began to stir and twitter in the trees outside
the hut. He lay still, not wanting to move just yet. It was warm between
the rough, coarsely woven blankets. Fraser would sleep on for a while.
Archie would wait and get up when the lieutenant needed him. Fraser was
very weak now and could not last much longer. As difficult as it had
been to care for him Archie dreaded the man's death because then he
would be left to continue the journey alone. They had come a long way
together, perhaps three hundred miles. It had taken them over three
months because Fraser had needed to rest so often.
It had become clear that the lieutenant was suffering from consumption
a few days after they had broken out of the fortress at Biche. He had
urged the rest of the escaped officers to leave him behind. Four of them
had done so. Archie had not. For one thing, Fraser had been very kind to
the battered and exhausted Midshipman Kennedy who had been thrust
shivering into a cell full of strangers the previous December. For
another, some of the officers had become increasingly ruthless and
desperate after the breakout. They had even discussed the possibility of
killing a French civilian who had caught sight of them as they skirted
around an isolated farmhouse. Such talk had made the hair on the back of
Archie's neck stand up and he had thought of slipping away from the
group at night. Staying with Fraser had allowed him to part from them
without rancor.
The two of them had traveled mainly in the dark. Luckily the building
work that had made their escape from the prison possible had begun in
the late spring so Archie had been spared the ordeal of another winter
journey. By day they slept in the warmth of the sun and they avoided the
discomfort of cooler temperatures by walking at night. Archie became an
expert at crawling into fields and orchards to steal fruit and
vegetables as they grew and ripened. Sometimes he found poultry eggs
under the hedgerows near isolated houses and farms. Occasionally he had
milked cows as they lay in their meadows. They had always been short of
food but had never starved. Archie had grown lean and noticed that he
tired much sooner than when he had been getting three meals a day on the
Indy, or sitting idle in prison. Fraser had become more and more
debilitated by his illness. He had gone further than Archie had thought
possible but had reached the end of his strength two weeks ago. The
foothills of the Pyrenees had been his undoing. His lungs were in rags
and even walking up a slight incline could make him gasp and choke. One
evening he had been unable to get up and walk even a few steps. Archie
had considered trying to steal a mule or a donkey for the sick man to
ride but Fraser had objected on the grounds that such an act was likely
to lead to capture. When Archie offered to surrender to the authorities
in order to get him some medical attention the lieutenant would not hear
of it.
"No," he gasped, "I will be gone soon enough and then you must
continue and cross into Spain. I will not have you give yourself up
now."
Not knowing what to do for the best, Archie had acceded to Fraser's
wishes. He could see the man was close to dying and guessed that he
would prefer not to spend his remaining days in captivity. Archie was
relieved that Fraser was so adamant. It would have been very hard to
turn himself over to the French when neutral Spain was only a couple of
days' march away. They were miles from any dwellings and Archie
wondered how he was going to find food and shelter. The summer days were
pleasantly warm but the nights much cooler now that they were on higher
ground. When a boy came upon their resting place with a herd of goats
Archie was afraid that they were going to be captured after all. Fraser
had struggled to sit up and had spoken to the boy in his rough and ready
French. They had been in luck. The boy knew almost nothing about the
outside world and, having no family, lived mostly apart from the other
people in his home village. He was happy enough to earn a few coins by
letting the strangers stay in the shepherd's hut that stood a mile
away in a secluded little valley. Archie had practically carried Fraser
there while the boy had brought their few belongings. They had arranged
for him to bring goats milk and cheese to the hut each day. Once or
twice he had brought some bread when he had been able to call at a farm
or village. They had not asked him for anything more elaborate. They had
not wanted him to arouse suspicion by suddenly buying enough food for
three. And so the days had passed quietly as Fraser drifted towards
death.

Archie stretched and got up. Nature would not let him lie in comfort
any longer. When he came back into the hut he saw that Fraser was awake.
His gray eyes were large in his sunken face.
"Good morning Archie" he whispered. Talking any louder was certain
to send him into a paroxysm of coughing.
"Good morning sir," said Archie kneeling down beside him. They had
become close but still Archie called him 'sir'. Fraser was some
fifteen years older than he and had taken Archie under his wing in
prison. It was also a way to afford him some dignity. Fraser was a naval
man through and through and came from a long line of worthy, if not very
distinguished officers. They both knew that he would never tread the
deck of a ship again but still Archie tried to give him what was due to
his rank.
"Not long now" breathed Fraser with a faint smile. He had stopped
eating some days ago. At first Archie has suspected that the other man
was attempting to hasten his death so that he could push on to Spain but
Fraser had assured him that this was not so. It was simply that all
desire for food had left him. After two days Archie had believed him and
had stopped trying to feed him. Fraser had obviously been relieved that
he no longer had to make the effort to chew and swallow. He had become
much calmer and appeared to accept his imminent death without fear.
"You will visit my wife?" he said with an effort.
"Yes sir, I promise I will." Archie had already pledged this many
times during the past two days. Fraser's mind was wandering a great
deal. It was a promise he genuinely wanted to keep. Fraser had talked at
length about his wife and three daughters and their modest but
comfortable home in the countryside to the north of Portsmouth. Archie
had never heard anyone speak of his home and family with such affection
before. He felt he wanted to go there and see it for himself. It sounded
so different from his own experience of family life.
"Take the rest of the money, and anything else you need. It cannot be
far to Spain from here. You are going to get home Archie!" Fraser
smiled and reached for his hand. Then he coughed. It was bad and blood
was soon spilling from his lips. Archie lifted him upright as that
always seemed to help a little. He offered Fraser a drink. The dying man
shook his head.
"No need," he gasped "going soon." He shivered violently.
Archie wrapped his own blankets around him and held him tightly. A few
minutes later he gave a small sigh and was gone.

 

When the evening came Archie dragged Fraser's body outside. The
ground was too hard to dig but there was a shallow depression not far
away that would serve for a grave. Once the body was in it Archie began
to cover it with the largest stones he could find. Most of them he
carried from a stream about a hundred yards away. It was hard work and
he was glad he had not attempted it under the glare of the sun. By the
time he laid the final stone over his dead companion the moon and stars
were bright in the sky. He lay down on the ground and slept for a while
from sheer exhaustion.
He woke up cold and with his muscles aching. With an effort he walked
back into the hut and lay down in his blankets. He had burned
Fraser's. He wasn't sure why but the had been convinced that
Horatio would have advised it. He wished with all his heart that Horatio
was with him and then, as always, cursed himself. It was wrong to want
Horatio to share his hardships. It was better to think of him standing
on the quarterdeck of the Indy. He never allowed himself to believe that
Horatio might have perished the night of the cutting out expedition. He
hoped Simpson was dead. Shot or hacked to pieces, it didn't matter.

Sleep did not come again that night. Archie's mind raced ahead of him
over the mountains. He would head for the coast as soon as he began the
descent into Spain. He had money to buy a passage south to Gibraltar on
a coastal trading vessel. Thanks to Fraser's patient teaching in
prison and on the road, his Spanish was good enough to ask for food,
shelter and directions. Once he reached his Gibraltar he would be able
to get news of the Indy, and perhaps of Horatio. He already knew that
the Papillon had been taken successfully and that she had come to the
aid of the Indefatigable the following day. He had spoken to men at
Verdun who had been captured some weeks after him and they had furnished
him with that much information. He had not liked to press them for too
many details. He was sure that every officer he met thought him inept
and ridiculous. What else could they think about the only man who had
been captured during an otherwise successful mission? He hardly knew
what to think himself. He could remember so little. The planning
conference in Sir Edward's cabin was a jumbled nightmare. He had
barely understood a word. His stomach had been churning and he had been
fighting an almost overpowering desire to run away. Jack Simpson's
malevolent presence had destroyed in a minute all the self-confidence
and peace of mind that he had gained since joining the Indefatigable.
Dinner had been another misery. He had barely eaten a mouthful. If
Horatio had not been at his side he could never have sat through the
meal, so conscious was he of Jack's eyes devouring him. They had gone
up on deck and Horatio had patiently explained the details of the
upcoming expedition to him. Archie could remember being envious of
Horatio's unwavering certainty that all would go well. He also
recalled Horatio's kind re-assurance that Simpson would be assigned to
another ship within days and that he would not be permitted to do Archie
any harm in the interim.
Still feeling comforted by his friend's encouraging words he had gone
below to retrieve his hat from the midshipman's berth. The hated voice
came from the shadows and turned his guts to ice water. He had been
frozen as Jack moved towards him. Years fell away and Archie became a
terrified child. He began to retreat to a place deep inside his mind
where no one, and especially not Jack, could find him. Then mercifully
Horatio was there and Jack was looking uneasy and drawing back. When
Archie saw the contempt and loathing for Simpson blazing out of
Horatio's eyes he felt a pang of resentment. It was plain that his
friend was no longer afraid of their tormentor. Archie despaired of ever
reaching such a state. Obediently he had followed Horatio back on deck
and down into the jolly boat although he could barely feel his legs
under him. Something was wrong. His mental retreat from Simpson had
started a chain reaction. He should have pleaded illness and stayed
behind but he could not even collect himself enough to speak. He could
not remember anything after that. There were many possibilities; most of
them embarrassing, but the fact remained that he alone of all his
shipmates had been captured. He had been found unconscious in a drifting
boat. His captors had treated him well enough but he had scarcely
noticed at first, so great had been his misery. Within a few days he had
decided that escape would be his redemption. If he could get back to
England and rejoin his ship then he would as least be able to hold his
head up in the company of other officers. Whenever he told himself this
it was always Horatio that he thought of.

As soon as it was light he got up and made his preparations. He rolled
his two blankets up and fastened them with a leather harness strap that
he had been lucky enough to find at the side of the road some weeks
earlier. Inside was Fraser's spare shirt and stockings. A small
leather bag held the money, a tinder box and some kindling, a razor and
Fraser's commission. He had removed the document from the dead man's
coat before burial. Knowing how difficult the Navy could be about
handing over money he suspected that poor Mrs. Fraser would need to
produce it in order to claim her husband's back pay.
Goats bleating in the distance announced the arrival of the young
herdsman. Archie went out to meet him. He was glad to see that the boy
had brought some bread as well as cheese. He gave the boy what money he
could spare and indicated that he was leaving. He showed him the grave
and the boy nodded solemnly. Archie held out his hand and the boy looked
nonplussed at first before he reached out and gripped it with his grubby
fingers. Then he pointed up a nearby track and held up three fingers.
"Three days?" said Archie "three days to reach Spain?"
The boy didn't speak, he just continued to hold up his fingers for a
while longer. Then he urged the goats to move on and slowly drove them
down the valley. Archie went to the stream to fill up his two water
bottles. As he knelt and plunged them under the water he wondered about
the boy. Fraser had asked him if he knew how far it was to the border
when they had first met him. According to the lieutenant he had not even
known that another country lay so close to his own. If he knew how far
it was now he must have asked someone. It was possible that he had
mentioned the two strangers who had been living in the herdsman's
shelter for the past two weeks. It was certainly time to move on.
Archie bent his head and drank deeply, cupping his hands to bring the
water up to his mouth. When he could swallow no more he went back to the
hut and collected his belongings. He took one last look around and then
set off up the path. Spain was waiting.

 

Archie stepped through the entry port of the Indefatigable and Horatio
came forward eagerly to meet him.
"Archie!" he said, "I am so glad to see you! How did you get
here?" he shook Archie's hand and smiled delightedly at him.
"I escaped Horatio," he answered. "Twice from Verdun and once
from Biche. I walked to south to Spain and then I got a passage to
Gibralter." Horatio looked at him with admiration.
"This is wonderful news!" he said, "Come with me. Captain Pellew
is waiting to hear about your exploits." He turned and walked away
towards the quarterdeck. Archie tried to follow but his legs were cold
and would not obey him.
"Wait Horatio. I need help, please wait!" The Indefatigable
vanished. It was dark and he was shivering. He was sitting on the ground
between two large rocks trying to shelter from the piercing wind. It was
the third night of his solitary journey. By the end of the first morning
he had realized that he was not going to reach the border within three
days. The two weeks of relative inactivity spent caring for the dying
Fraser had robbed him of much of his stamina. The hills were growing
steeper all the time and there were fewer and fewer down slopes where he
could conserve his resources. He had to travel by day. It was too
dangerous to try to negotiate rocky paths in the moonlight. His coat and
the blankets weighed him down under the sun but there was no question of
leaving them behind. Without his uniform he could be executed as a spy
and without the blankets he might not withstand the cold nights at
higher altitudes.

He had no food left now. He got to his feet painfully. His muscles were
stiff and aching, especially in his legs. He stamped his feet to try and
get his circulation going. The soles of his shoes were paper thin and
the hard ground jarred his bones. There were still a couple of hours to
go before dawn. He pulled the blankets closer around him and tucked his
hands under his armpits for warmth. He needed to occupy his mind until
the sun came up and he could move on. He knew from experience that it
was not wise to dream about food and soft beds. That way lay misery.
Instead he drew on his impressive mental fund of poetry, songs and
excerpts from plays. There had been many times during the past few
months when having this treasury in his head had saved him from boredom
and distress. Having to stay in hiding for hours at a time, without
making a sound would have been far more stressful without his private
gallery of kings, warriors and lovers. With the wind rushing past he
could recite out loud for a change. He was certain that no one else was
so desperate or foolish as to be nearby.
"Blow, winds and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!"
You cataracts and hurricanes, spout"
He was pretty sure he was the first person to quote Shakespeare's
King Lear in this place. He wondered if a stony path in the Pyrenees
qualified as the "blasted heath" called for in the stage directions.
He soon felt the need for a change. The words of an old man driven mad
by grief and abandonment did nothing to raise his spirits. He left the
old monarch to his fate and turned to the sonnets to lighten his heart.
Out of sheer contrariness he began with,
"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" and when he got to
"Rough winds to shake the darling buds of May" he laughed at the
absurdity of uttering those words on a dark gale-swept hillside.
Dawn arrived at last and Archie rolled up his blankets and set his feet
to the stony track again. The wind had died as the sun came up. He had
filled both his water bottles the previous afternoon and still had
several mouthfuls left. He walked slowly but steadily. It was not as
warm as the previous day and he did not feel the need to take his jacket
off until past noon. Two hours later nearly all his water was gone and
he was getting increasingly thirsty. He had already finished one long
climb and was nearing the crest of a second hill. He prayed that he
would find a stream or a spring very soon. He felt the strain on his
protesting leg muscles ease as he gained the top of the slope and the
ground began to fall away again. He paused, swaying slightly with
fatigue. The track went down between hillsides that were mostly rocky
with scattered scrubby bushes and then it rose again. Other steeper
hills rolled on after the next one. Did they ever end?
A movement on the track ahead caught his eye. There was a small group
of people some half a mile distant. He could see they were not soldiers.
They seemed to be wearing robes that came down to the ground. He had a
fleeting moment of nervousness and then remembered that he had seen a
monastery on a distant hillside the previous day. These must be monks.
He began to walk towards them rehearsing some Spanish phrases. He did
not seriously think he could pass for a Spaniard but neither did he
think that holy men would care who he was. As he closer he saw they were
wearing gray habits and had that each was carrying a leather bag slung
over his shoulder. He wondered if they might be able to spare him some
food. They must certainly have some water.
When he was within thirty yards or so he hailed them. They came towards
him in a single file with their eyes downcast. When they were ten yards
away he bade them good day. When they drew level he asked if they had
any water and then watched in disbelief as they passed him without any
kind of acknowledgment. He stood in the middle of the track looking at
their retreating backs.
"Well you're a fine parcel of gentlemen," he said "and
furthermore allow me to say that you are - " He let fly with the most
colorful language at his command. Having spent much of his young life at
sea he was able to insult them at great length and in minute detail. He
ended his observations by casting doubt on the Pope's parentage. He
giggled weakly when he had done and then, because he had made himself
even more thirsty with shouting, he drank his last mouthful of water.

If any of the inhabitants of Elizondo had been out of doors to see him
they would have pitied the young man who came limping into the village
square. He was obviously bone weary and in desperate need of food and a
bath. He had several days' growth of light colored beard and the face
above it was thin and drawn. He was clasping a bundle to his chest. He
stopped in the middle of the square and gazed slowly around. It was
early in the afternoon and the good folk of the village had retired for
a siesta after their midday meal. He was too tired to understand this
and wondered if the place was abandoned. He caught sight of the church
on the far side of the square and walked to its doors with swaying
steps. They were not locked and he went inside. It was cool and smelled
clean and he felt as if he was welcome.
He put his bundle down on the nearest bench and walked slowly towards
the front of the church. Someone had left a jar of flowers on the altar
steps. They looked as if they had just been picked. He was desperately
thirsty. He knelt down and lifted the flowers out, laying them down
carefully. As he picked up the jar he heard an exclamation behind him.
Turning, he saw a powerfully built man standing behind him wearing black
vestments. He shook his head and bent to take the jar out of the young
man's grasp and then hurried into a side room. He soon came back with
a brimming pitcher and a cup. The young man drank as if he had not seen
water for a week. When he had at last quenched his thirst the priest
helped him to his feet and led him out the back of the church. They
crossed a small yard and entered some living quarters. There was a small
chamber on the first floor with a bed in it. When the young man was
sitting on the bed the priest explained in Spanish that he was going to
fetch some food and some water for washing. The young man did not reply.
He was drawing a hand across the top of the brightly colored counterpane
as if he could not believe what he was seeing. All at once he began to
sob.

Archie woke up from a dreamless sleep and, for several seconds, had no
idea where he was. The wall in front of his face was white washed. The
bed he was lying in was blissfully comfortable. He turned over on his
back. The room was not large and was sparsely furnished. A small table
stood next to the bed, his belongings were on it. His jacket was hanging
on the back of the door. There was a chair on one side of the door and a
picture of the Virgin and Child gazed down kindly at him from the
opposite side of the room. The privations of the last several days came
crowding back into his mind. He had been reduced to eating berries and
any plants that looked as if they might be edible. Sometimes they had
not agreed with him. His descent from the hills had not taken him past
many streams and he had drunk from standing water once or twice, with
disastrous results. At that stage, if he had walked into a column of
French troops he would have gladly surrendered his liberty and his soul
for clean water.
A man came into the room. He was in the garb of a priest. He was large
and powerfully built and his face was stern. Archie remembered the fresh
water that this man had given him and guessed that he owed all his
present comforts to him. He summoned up the Spanish phrases that Fraser
had so patiently taught him.
"Disculpe Senor, soy un oficiel naval britanica. Deseo regressor a mi
patria. Podria dar me auxilio?" The priest smiled. And all traces of
severity left his face.
"My dear senor," he said gently "Please allow me the pleasure of
practicing my inadequate English. I so rarely have the opportunity. I
take it that you have come to my country from France? And you were
imprisoned there?" Archie nodded. "You may be certain that I will do
all I can to help you." Archie stared at him, overwhelmed. He had been
very close to complete despair before stumbling into the village and now
he dared to believe that he might find his way back to the Indy after
all.
"I, I can never thank you enough" he stuttered, close to tears.
"I do not do this for thanks," said the priest simply "It is my
duty and my pleasure. Now senor will you tell me your name?"
"Kennedy, Archie Kennedy."
" I am called Father Ramirez. And now Senor Kennedy, we must feed you
again I think. My housekeeper has prepared some dishes for you, none of
which she will allow me to have even the smallest taste of."
"Oh but that's - I mean I am so sorry sir!" said Archie
embarrassed that this good man should be so put out. The priest laughed
and patted his arm.
"Do not distress yourself Senor Kennedy. Once you have eaten
something I am sure she will relent and allow me a portion!" He went
away to fetch the meal and Archie silently thanked the fates that had
brought him under this roof. Now he would at least be able to regain his
strength before making for the coast and beginning the next stage of his
journey. Protected by Spain's neutrality he would be able to travel
openly. He might not be able to afford to stay at inns but perhaps he
would find people along the way sympathetic to his plight and who might
offer him food and shelter.
The meal would have been good under normal circumstances but to a man
who had been in a state of hunger longer than he could remember it
seemed to come from paradise. Father Ramirez helped Archie to sit up and
began to feed him spoonfuls of a delicious thick soup. After a few
mouthfuls Archie protested that he could manage by himself. He realized
that the priest must have fed him the day before, although he had no
recollection of it. Since he was cleaner than he had been for months he
assumed that the good man, or someone in his household, had bathed him
while he slept. He soon found, to his chagrin, that he was not yet up to
feeding himself. His arm trembled with the effort of lifting the spoon
to his mouth and after a few tries he had to drop it back into the
bowl.
"It is difficult for someone of your age to accept this weakness I
think" said the priest, "but you must not despair. You will be much
stronger in a few days." He helped Archie finish the remains of the
soup and then offered him a sweet concoction of stewed fruit and honey.
It tasted so good that Archie lay back on his pillows feeling completely
satisfied.
"If you are not too tired I could shave you," suggested Father
Ramirez.
"I would like that," admitted Archie frowning as he felt the
bristles on his chin. He closed his eyes for a few minutes while the
priest took the dishes away.
"Shall we begin?" a gentle enquiry woke him from a light doze.
Father Ramirez was standing by the bed with soap and a razor in his
hands. He seemed tentative.
"Have you done this before Father?"
"I have shaved myself of course but I must confess that I have not
attempted to remove someone else's beard. Would you rather wait and do
it yourself?"
"No. I think I would like to get rid of it now. I will take the
risk," said Archie smiling. "I do not want to distract you from your
task Father but will you tell me how you came to speak such good
English?"
"It is not a long story," said the priest putting a towel under
Archie's head and working the soap into his fledgling beard. "My
mother was English and always spoke her native language with me. As a
young man I lived with her family in London for months at a time."
"I lived there for a while too," said Archie wistfully, before
Father Ramirez began to use the razor. He did not try to speak for the
next quarter of an hour, having no wish to distract his barber.

When he had wiped the remains of the soap from Archie's face the
priest stepped back to study the effect of his handiwork. Now that the
beard was gone the boy looked no older than twenty, in spite of the
evidence of hardship.
"Thank you," he said drawing a hand over his newly shaven face,
"that feels so much better."
"I will leave you to rest now," said the priest gathering up his
bowl of water and the towels.
"No, please. I would like to talk. I have been alone for such a long
time."
It was impossible for Father Ramirez to ignore this appeal.
"Very well. Let me take these things away and then perhaps you will
tell me about your journey." When he returned he found that the young
man had fallen into an exhausted sleep. The priest carefully re-arranged
the pillows so that Archie lay flatter. Then he knelt by the bed and
prayed for his young guest.

In spite of having youth on his side it took Archie several days to
build up enough energy to want to get out of his bed for longer than a
few minutes. After breakfast on the sixth morning he asked Father
Ramirez for his clothes. He found that his shirts and breeches and linen
had all been washed and mended and were in far better condition than
they had been for months.
"Whom shall I thank for this?" he asked as he dressed slowly.
"Consuela, my housekeeper, and Marguerita the woman who comes to help
her everyday. They have both spent days repairing your clothes and have
neglected me shamefully."
Archie looked up at him with a grin. He was used to the priest now and
enjoyed his quiet humor. Fraser, although a good man, had not been one
to joke. Archie bent to put on his shoes and was pleasantly surprised.
"Someone has mended these!" he exclaimed picking them up and
admiring the sturdy new soles and heels.
"Marguerita has a brother-in-law who is a shoemaker."
"How much do I owe him?" said Archie reaching for his purse.
"Let us go and see," said the priest taking his arm and guiding him
to the kitchen.
Consuelo and her helper were sitting at a table preparing vegetables.
Both women were older than Archie's mother but they still blushed like
schoolgirls when he appeared in the doorway. Father Ramirez was amused
but not surprised. The young man's fair hair and blue eyes made him an
unusual sight in these parts and now that he was regaining his health
his natural attractiveness was much more apparent. Marguerita refused to
accept any payment for the shoes. When Archie walked over and kissed her
hand in gratitude she threw her apron over her face in confusion.
Archie was eager to get some fresh air and so Father Ramirez led him
into the courtyard that connected the house to the church. They walked
up and down together at an easy pace while the older man encouraged
Archie to talk about himself.
"Your family must be very anxious to have news of you my son." He
saw at once that a shadow passed over the boy's face and he was sorry
to have evoked such a painful response. "Forgive me," he said, "I
should not have intruded on personal matters."
"There is no need to apologize," said Archie quietly. "It's
just that I try not to think about them."
The priest's heart went out to the young man. He knew that he had
been in captivity and living as a fugitive for over a year. His
opportunities to communicate with his family must have been severely
limited at best. He thought of his own circumstances at a similar age.
Cushioned from the harshness of the world by his parents' wealth he
had spent his youth in Barcelona and London and had always been in the
company of those who cared for him. Archie had been struggling for
months to stay at liberty and alive in the hopes of reaching his own
country once again. An idea struck Father Ramirez.
"Archie," he said gently "If you wish to write to, anyone, I will
do all that I can to ensure that your letter reaches England." There
was no immediate answer. Archie had come to a halt and was lost in his
thoughts. The priest waited.
"Yes," came the reply with a hesitant smile, "I would like to
write to my mother."
They walked into the church together and Father Ramirez took Archie
into the little side room where he had a desk and kept the vestments
that he wore during mass.
"I will leave you for a while," he said when he had provided paper,
pen and ink. "Some of the people from the village come to confession
at this time. Go back to your bed whenever you like."
When he had gone Archie sat facing the facing the empty sheet of paper
for several minutes. As so often before he had to choose between telling
his mother what was really happening, or only those things that would
not cause her distress. His letters home during his later years on the
Justinian had been almost entirely works of fiction. Horatio's arrival
on board and their deepening friendship had been one of the few things
he had wanted to write truthfully about. His mother's letters to him
were full of affection. Jack got hold of one of them once and read it
aloud to some of the other middies. Being afraid of Simpson they had
joined in with his mockery. After that Archie had been careful to hide
her letters and then destroy them once he had committed them to memory.
He picked up the pen and began to write.

'My Dearest Mama,

You will have heard by now that I am a prisoner of war. I am certain
that Captain Pelllew will have written to inform you of this himself. I
want you to know that I am well and that I am no longer being held in
France. I have managed to escape to Spain and, since they are neutral in
the matter of the current war, I am very hopeful of reaching Gibraltar
or meeting with a friendly ship in the near future.
At present I am staying with a man who is both kind and good. It is
thanks to him that I am able to send you this letter.'

A sound from the church made Archie pause. It was the jingling of
spurs. Feeling alarmed he got up and went cautiously towards the door.
He caught a glimpse of men in uniform and shrank back into the room. He
went silently to the corner that was the least visible from the man body
of the church and sat on the floor. He told himself that it was
unnecessary to be afraid of meeting Spanish soldiers but months on the
run had ingrained him with a desire to hide from anyone in uniform. He
reasoned that if Father Ramirez thought that an encounter with these men
was safe, he would come and tell him so. He could hear the murmur of
conversation but was not close enough to hear the words clearly. He
thought that Spanish was being spoken but that might mean nothing. Any
French officers sent across the border to look for prisoners of war
would probably speak at least some Spanish. He hugged his knees and
waited. It was not until an hour later that the priest came in.
"I am glad you were cautious my son" he said as Archie scrambled to
his feet.
"Were they French?" said Archie. The tension of the past hour had
exhausted him and he was pale.
"No, they were Spanish," said the priest gently. He waited a moment
and then as he saw the truth begin dawn in Archie's eyes he said "I
am very sorry my son. They told me that Spain has been at war with
England since five days ago." He stepped forward as Archie swayed on
his feet, and taking him firmly by the arms he lowered him into the
chair.

Later that evening, when he was feeling recovered, Archie sat up in bed
and continued his letter to his mother.

'It seems that circumstances have caught up with me. I learned today
that Spain is no longer neutral. As soon as I heard this I thought that
my host would feel obliged to hand me over the authorities. I certainly
would not have blamed him for doing so. (I cannot tell you anything
about him Mama. It is possible that this letter may fall into enemy
hands and I will not risk exposing him to any penalty for helping me)
You will have realized that my plan to make my way openly to the coast
and get a passage to Gibraltar will no longer stand. What you cannot
possibly have guessed is that this saint, and I do not exaggerate when I
call him such, insists that he will help me to continue my journey
towards freedom. How can I ever thank him? Nothing can ever diminish the
effect that his goodness has had on me, not even capture.
Know that I think of you every day and hope to embrace you soon.
Your loving son
Archie.'

It was difficult to see what the young man looked like. He was wrapped
in a cloak and his head and shoulders were covered with a shawl. His
older companion, a large man with a stern face, lifted him from the
small carriage and bore him up to a room on the second floor of the inn.
Eva, the girl who took dinner up to them, reported that the young Senor
lay in bed under the covers and that his head and face were still
hidden. The older gentleman, whose name was Montalban, had told her that
the poor boy had suffered a terrible bout of brain fever a few weeks ago
and had been despaired of several times. The illness had left him
physically weak and, most unfortunately, feeble in his wits. His rich
and ailing grandfather had employed Senor Montalban to bring the boy to
the coast in the hopes that the invigorating sea air might bring about
some improvement.
The girl, Eva, almost shed tears over the sad tale and would have
stayed longer to express her sympathy if Senor Montalban had not
escorted her to the door.
"No one is to enter the room without waiting for my permission," he
warned her. "Senor Diaz is very easily alarmed and may hurt himself if
he is approached by a stranger." Eva nodded and ran downstairs to
share what she had learned with the innkeeper, his wife and as many of
those drinking and dining who cared to listen.

The next afternoon Senor Montalban drove with his young charge down to
the small harbor where the fishing boats rode gently at their moorings.
Leaving the boy in the carriage he spoke to the men who were mending
nets on the quayside and within a short time had arranged for one of the
boats to take him and the invalid out into the bay. Back at the inn
that evening the Senor told Eva that the short sea trip had been very
beneficial. The sea air had put some color back in Senor Diaz' cheeks.
She could not see this for herself as he was resting in bed again. She
reported to the interested parties downstairs that Senor Montalban had
apparently done quite a bit of sailing in his youth and was going hire a
little boat the next day and take the young man out himself.
When the two gentlemen returned from their excursion the next day it
was plain that Senor Diaz was improving. He was still closely wrapped up
against the possibility of taking a chill from the sea breezes but at
least he could now walk up the stairs with only a little help. When Eva
came down from serving their dinner that night she brought a request
from Senor Montalban. Could the inn provide a basket of food suitable
for a midday meal? The gentleman were planning to sail a little way down
the coast and back tomorrow and would be gone for several hours.
They left after breakfast the next morning with a well-provisioned
basket. It was a fine day. Eva looked for them in the late afternoon and
evening as she wanted to have their dinner ready for them as soon as
they returned. They did not come.

 

Archie and Father Ramirez stood on a small strip of sandy beach on the
sheltered side of a rocky promontory.
"You are certain that you will not eat?" said Archie.
"No my son. You must take all the food. You have the fishing lines
and the hooks in a safe place?"
"Yes."
"Good. I will leave you my cloak as well as your own."
"Father, you have been so good to me. Why?"
The priest frowned. "It is not a mystery Archie. My faith requires me
to help those in need."
"It's not just that," said Archie stubbornly, "you have
compromised your own safety on my account. You begged, borrowed or stole
a carriage from one of your local dignitaries to get me safely thus far.
All of this goes beyond what your faith requires. Won't you be
truthful with me? I am not likely to have another chance to ask you."
"I do not wish to speak of it," said the priest reluctantly, "but
I will tell you this much. I came late to into the church. I was a
married man when I was twenty. We had two children, both sons. I, I lost
them all." His eyes seemed to be fixed on some point far out on the
sea as he spoke.
"I am so sorry," whispered Archie.
"The youngest was a gentle soul. He was four when he died. He would
have been like you. I do not mean in appearance, I mean in his nature.
I could not help him. I can help you. That is all." Archie put his
arms around the priest and embraced him.
"Go now my son. I will make my way back to the inn and report that
poor crazed Senor Diaz took the boat out as I slept after our meal and
have surely perished. May God be with you, always."
Archie did not speak. He was close to tears. With the priest's help
he pushed the boat down through the surf and jumped in. Quickly he
hauled up the sail. When he could look back he saw that Father Ramirez
stood watching him. He raised an arm in salute and the priest waved back
and then began to scramble inland over the rocks.
"God bless you," whispered Archie as he turned his face to the open
sea. In a little while, as the boat skimmed over the waves, he felt his
heart begin to grow lighter.
'I will get home again,' he thought, 'I will.'

The squall came upon him rapidly. He just had time to haul the sail
down and stow everything away as best he could. He lay down in the
bottom of the boat and covered himself with the canvas sheet hoping that
the downpour would be brief. As far as he could judge he was about a
mile out from the coast and would have to take care that he did not
drift in too close to the rocky shore line. The rain fell suddenly and
drummed on the sail. The noise was loud and grew louder when the rain
changed to hail. It was like being bombarded with small pebbles and
Archie was glad that he had the stout canvas to keep the worst of it
off. When the hail eased off it was followed by more rain, but gentler
this time. He sat up briefly to check his position. He was still a safe
distance from the shore and he decided to shelter from the rain a while
longer. The wind had dropped and the boat was riding the waves bravely.

 

It was his fifth day in the little craft. He was staying well within
sight of the coast and, as the wind was blowing from the northwest, he
had made steady progress southward. At dusk each day he had put into a
deserted cove and made the boat fast before sleeping. He had eaten the
most perishable items from the food basket first. Now he was eking out
the some fruit and the stale bread. Having drunk the wine and water
supplied by the inn he had to search the shore for streams or trickles
that were making their way to the sea. On the second evening he had
found some mussels in a rock pool and had eaten several of the largest
in spite of the fact that he found their texture quite repellent.
He had seen only two warships so far, both heading northward. They had
been too far away for him to identify and even if they had been British
he could never had made his course coincide with their great sweeping
tacks. Countless fishing boats had passed him, some within a hundred
yards, but had shown no interest, for which he was grateful. Father
Ramirez had given him a wide brimmed hat to conceal his fair hair. No
one who came close would be fooled by it but it was his intention to
avoid coming within hailing distance of any French or Spanish vessels.

When the rain ended Archie put the sail up again. The wind had shifted
for the first time since he set out. It was picking up from the west and
starting to blow him towards the shore. He shifted the boom over and
angled the sail so that he would be on a course parallel to the coast.
An hour later he had to shift the sail again in order to give himself
room to clear a large headland that was jutting out. He had just altered
his course when a glance behind showed him that three ships had come up
over the horizon behind him. They were close in to the coastline and it
would not take them long to catch up with him in this brisk wind. He
watched them anxiously for over an hour as they came nearer. At the end
of that time he was sure they were French. He could not see their colors
but he recognized their sleek lines and the arrangement of their sails.
He was almost clear of the headland now and decided to make for the
shore again. He did not want anyone on the ships to begin paying
attention to him. When he finally rounded the headland he saw that he
was in the mouth of a wide bay. Now the wind began to blow him towards
the land, faster than he wanted to go. The sea on the north side of the
bay was breaking over great bars of black rock than ran out from the
bottom of the headland. He must steer away from them or be smashed to
pieces. He threw all his efforts into putting his little craft ashore on
the curving sandy beach.
On the southern side of the bay a modest sized castle or fort sat on
top of hill. He hoped that it might be deserted. His hopes were dashed
when he saw movement on the battlements. The ships were beginning to
sail across the mouth of the bay. He could see men on the quarterdeck of
the nearest one. Some of them were pointing telescopes in his direction.
Looking towards the castle he saw horsemen ride out of the gate and
begin to gallop along the shore. They were in uniform. He worked
mechanically now, steering the boat towards a soft landing. Inside he
was numb. He was about to be captured and there was nothing he could do.
Even if by some miracle the wind veered round to the opposite direction
he would be no better off. He would be blown towards the French ships
and in a short time they would lower boats and men to intercept him. In
the few minutes left before the bows nosed into the sand he pulled on
his uniform jacket. Some way behind the horsemen he could see a group
of soldiers trotting on foot.
He pulled the boat a little way out of the water so that it would not
float away. He took his money and Fraser's commission but left
everything else. They were bound to search him. The horses came to a
halt in front of him. Archie addressed the rider wearing the most gold
braid.
"I am Midshipman Archie Kennedy of His Britannic Majesty's ship the
Indefatigable," he said, thinking that his reception was wildly
inconsistent with his importance. He waited to see what would happen
next, feeling oddly detached from events. The officer dismounted. He was
a slight man in his late middle years. His wispy gray hair hung untidily
about his shoulders and he had a weary air. He looked at Archie with
undisguised curiosity.
"I am Don Massaredo," he said "I am in command of the castle of
El Ferrol. Am I correct in thinking that you have escaped from our
French allies?"
"You are Sir," admitted Archie. He was beginning to feel very
tired. It a waste of time.
"Or perhaps," continued Don Masserado with a slight smile "you
are part of some invasion force. Although I have to say that your
government would have been better advised to send bigger ships." He
repeated his joke in Spanish to the other officers who all laughed
heartily.
"Forgive me Mr. Kennedy," he said, "I am forgetting my manners.
Since El Ferrol has been designated to hold prisoners of war I am able
to offer you extended hospitality. You are in fact the first to arrive.
It is most ironic that you should come ashore at this place don't you
think?"
"Most ironic," agreed Archie tonelessly. "You must be greatly
honored Senor to have been asked to perform a task that is so perilous
and so crucial to your country."
"Are you being insolent?" said Don Masserado, his narrowed eyes
glistening with anger.
"I hope so Senor." Archie stalked past him to meet the group of
soldiers who had just reached them. He pushed his way through them and
they fell in behind obviously realizing that there was no need to lay
hands on him. There was nowhere to run. Archie was glad they let him go
ahead. It meant they couldn't see his tears.

The End