Gibraltar Haven
by Inzevar

 

This is a companion piece to my story called Gibraltar Interlude, which can
be found on the archive.

 

Autumn 1803

He had been speaking to Horatio when the pain stopped and everything began
to go white.
"So it ends now," he thought. He looked at Horatio sitting on the end of the
bed and, in a brief moment of revelation, saw contained in him an intense
pure flame that was partly clouded by self-doubt and other earthly cares.
Then a brilliant white light filled and surrounded Archie. It brought
complete peace. He was aware of other beings who intended him nothing but
good. He could not say if he stayed in this blissful state for long, or if
it was only a short time, but he did know that it ended too soon. The pain
returned and he was suddenly cold. People were speaking nearby. They were
surprised that he was still alive. He was too exhausted to follow the
conversation in any kind of detail. It did not matter to him. It could not
be long before he was carried back to that other wonderfully peaceful place.
Earlier he had demanded to know the truth from Dr. Clive and knew that both
his lungs had been pierced and that the ball still lay within his rib cage.
Someone was speaking quietly and so close that he could feel their breath on
his cheek.
"I am taking you to my ship Mr. Kennedy. I give you my word that you have
nothing to fear." It sounded like Sir Edward. He had used that gentle tone
once before when Archie has arrived unexpectedly on the Indefatigable after
being in prison for two years. Why was the commodore taking him on board the
Tonnant? Oh God! Was he to be hung after all? He sobbed and struggled to
open his eyes. Sir Edward was looking calmly at him and laid a hand on his
shoulder. "Do you understand me?" he said quietly but forcefully "I promise
that no further harm will come to you."
"Yes" whispered Archie when he could catch his breath again "but why..?" Sir
Edward shook his head and put a finger on Archie's lips.
"We will speak at another time" he said "you must stay quiet until then."
It was not hard to obey. Archie spent most of his time in a deep dark place
and only rose to its surface for short periods that always drained his
strength rapidly. He had little notion of his surroundings except that the
movement of his bed told him that he was at sea. At first all his waking
moments were taken up with people spooning liquids into him. Sometimes it
was soup, at others it was brandy diluted with water, or water alone.
Even when he was conscious enough to swallow he rarely opened his eyes. He
did not have the energy. He must have been in a cabin with windows because
it was often daylight and the air was fresh. His mind was too fatigued to
question exactly which part of the ship he was in. If he had been told that
he was occupying a cot in the commodore's chart room, and that it had been
turned into a private sick berth, he would have been astonished. He would
have been still more amazed if he had known how many times a day Sir Edward
came in to enquire about his condition. It would have surprised him much
less to know that the commodore, at least in the first three weeks of the
voyage, always came in expecting to find Archie slipping away to death.

When the Tonnant dropped anchor at Gibraltar 34 days after leaving Kingston,
Archie was still clinging to life. This presented his rescuer with a
considerable problem. Lieutenant Kennedy was, after all, officially dead and
could not return either to his country or to his family. Sir Edward had
given the matter a great deal of thought during the last few days of the
voyage and, as soon as his duties to the port admiral were discharged, he
went into action. Luckily a transient population of sea officers and their
families meant that there were usually a number of properties available to
be rented, either in the lower town or on the higher ground behind. A
flustered local agent found himself giving Sir Edward a lightening tour of
half a dozen houses in two hours. The last one proved to be suitable for the
rather abrupt and very senior officer. Within five minutes of entering the
small house that stood within a secluded walled garden Commodore Pellew had
taken a year's lease, with the option to renew at the end of that period.
The agent, Mr. Ramirez, had seldom earned a fee so quickly and had no
objection to helping Sir Edward find a suitable couple to keep house. He was
not surprised to learn that the commodore wished to arrange matters the very
same day. By a stroke of good fortune Ramirez knew of a husband and wife who
were looking for just such a position. They were used to the ways of naval
officers and came highly recommended.
Sir Edward liked what he saw of them. Caterina was kind and animated. Sergio
seemed strong and intelligent. He hoped that they would not find the task he
had in mind for them too daunting. He decided that it might be prudent to go
in under false colors at first. He arranged for them to go and open up the
house at once, and in particular to air the bedchamber on the ground floor.
In the meantime he did nothing to suggest that he would not be living there
himself.
His next problem was more difficult. He needed medical help. A physician
would be ideal, a surgeon acceptable and nurse tolerable. He knew he could
be ordered to sea again in the next few days and had to act quickly. He went
straight to Government House and called on his friend Sir Hugh Dalrymple.
Sitting opposite his bluff, honest friend the commodore silently begged
forgiveness as he misled him. He kept as close to the truth as possible. He
hinted at a delicate medical matter that he did not care to make known to
anyone on board his ship. Did Sir Hugh know of any retired physicians living
in Gibraltar that he might consult? The Governor did not but his secretary
did and Sir Edward was provided with directions. Having made his apologies
for departing his friend's company so soon, he hurried back to his ship.
Early the next morning an unconscious figure swathed in blankets was lowered
gently into Sir Edward's barge. This was as much as most of the ship's
company saw of the young man who had supposedly been injured in a hunting
accident and was being brought home to die. Sometime later Archie woke for a
few moments to find that the world had stopped moving beneath him. He opened
his eyes and saw a dark haired woman of about thirty standing next to him.
He had not had the pleasure of looking at a feminine face for a long time
and he smiled at her. When he asked for some water in a faint whisper she
raised his head gently and helped him to drink. Then she bathed his face,
settled his head on the pillows and promised to bring him some soup of her
own making in a little while. Archie felt so soothed by her kindness that he
didn't trouble to ask himself where he was.
At this time Sir Edward was in the sitting room next door to Archie
attempting to persuade Sergio that the handsome wages he was offering would
be worth the trouble of caring for a young invalid.
"I don't know Senor. It is not what we were expecting," said Sergio
doubtfully.
"I understand that, but as I have said you will be very well paid and I am
engaging a physician to care for him on a daily basis." Sir Edward was
speaking with all the patience at his command but he really did not want to
be standing here arguing. He had pressing business elsewhere. His main task
of the morning would be to call on the physician in question and persuade
him to come out of retirement. At that moment Caterina appeared in the
doorway. "You had better speak to your wife," said the commodore. The pair
stepped out of the room and Sir Edward could hear a lively discussion going
on in the kitchen. His Spanish was notoriously bad but he could make out
Caterina's voice and the words 'poor boy' and 'angel'. He allowed himself a
brief smile. It looked as though his shameless strategy had paid off. His
servants had carried Mr. Kennedy into the house still shrouded in blankets
and put him to bed behind closed doors. Once he was ready Sir Edward had
sent his own servants away and then, a short while later, had asked Caterina
to look in on the new arrival. She had walked in to find a pale and
obviously fragile young man dressed in one of Sir Edward's finest
nightshirts. His blond hair was spread out on the pillow like a halo and his
hands lay at his sides on top of the bedclothes. As the commodore had hoped
(if not prayed), Archie had woken at the opportune moment and worked his
guileless magic.
When Sergio came back into the room fresh from his conversation with his
wife it was to tell Sir Edward that he and Caterina were willing to give the
situation a month's trial.

Autumn 1803

Doctor Ralph Osborne was expected back from his morning walk when Sir Edward
arrived at his small neat house in the lower town. Shown into the doctor's
study, the commodore studied the pictures on the wall. He learned that the
physician had two sons in the service and that one of them had certainly
been killed in action.
He heard the front door open and the voices of servant and master consulting
in the hallway. The study door opened and an upright gentleman with white
hair came in.
"I am honored to meet you Sir Edward," said the doctor "although I must
confess to my astonishment at finding you in my study. Is there some way
that I can be of service to you?" The commodore found himself warming to the
man's calm and friendly demeanor.
"You are very good sir and I must apologize for calling on you in this
manner. You do not know me and I have no right to ask this, but will you
accompany me to a house that lies about a mile from here? I can say no more
at present but I will explain all later."
The doctor looked searchingly at Sir Edward for several moments.
"It is true that we have not met before," he said "but I am aware of your
reputation. You are a brave and honorable man by all accounts. If you will
assure me that you so not require me to perform any procedure that an honest
physician would shun, I will go with you."
"You have my word on it sir."

When they arrived at the house Sir Edward took the doctor straight into
Archie's room.
"Please be good enough to examine this young man Doctor Osborne," he said "I
will await you in the next room."
"What is his name?" asked the doctor. Seeing Sir Edward hesitate he added,
"if he wakes while I am about my work I will need to reassure him."
"His name is Kennedy, Archie Kennedy."
It was twenty minutes before the doctor joined the commodore in the sitting
room.
"How did he come by the wound?" he asked.
"Honorably. He is a naval officer and was hurt in battle. Tell me doctor,
how long do you think he can live?"
"I fear he cannot last longer than a few days."
"Would it surprise you to learn that he has just survived a sea voyage of 34
days in his present condition?"
"It would indeed Sir Edward! I may have to revise my opinion, clearly Mr.
Kennedy is made of sterner stuff than first appears."
"You are not the first one to find that out" observed Sir Edward. "I will be
as honest as I can with you doctor. I am wholly responsible for Mr. Kennedy
and wish to provide the best possible care for him. I am willing and able to
pay you very well for your services. Will you consent to be his physician?"
"I probably ought to ask you to explain yourself further but I see no point.
I am willing to do all I can for him. I have very few other claims on my
time so you may be assured that I will devote a good part of each day to
him."
"I thank you with all my heart," said Sir Edward in his brisk way "and I
have only two stipulations. I ask that you never discuss Mr. Kennedy with
anyone outside this house. I also ask that you treat him with all possible
kindness."
"So," said the doctor coolly "first you hire me for my professional ability
and then you suggest that I lack two of the qualities most essential to it!"
"Forgive me!" said the commodore quickly "It is not my intention to insult
you or to doubt your professional conduct. If you will allow me to explain
matters fully to you I believe you will understand my concerns." He went on
to give the doctor a full account of the circumstances in which Archie came
by his wound. He also explained the nature of his sacrifice at the court
martial and the fact that, as far as the service was concerned, he was
already dead and buried. "I do not suppose that he will ever be sought,"
said Sir Edward "but I prefer that no hint of his presence ever goes beyond
the garden walls."
"I understand you concerns" said the doctor, who had lost all trace of his
previous anger "and you may rely on my silence but why did you think it
necessary to ask me to treat him gently?"
"For no reasons connected with you," answered Sir Edward. As the sun shone
brightly on the flower filled courtyard outside the window he told the
doctor of dark and cruel episodes in Archie's life.
"Such strength of spirit'" said the doctor quietly when Sir Edward had done.
"I may have to revise my prognosis. I have no doubt that his wound I mortal
but he may live far longer than I thought."
"But you will still..?" began Sir Edward anxiously.
"Yes" said the doctor. "I had two sons in the service Sir Edward. They were
both killed. One died swiftly on the quarterdeck, struck down by a sniper's
bullet. The younger one was not granted such a merciful end. He died in a
French prison, weeks after he was wounded. His companions visited me as soon
as they could after their release and did their best to conceal his
suffering from me but I know how painfully he must have died. I could not be
at my son's side, but I will stay with Mr. Kennedy."

Autumn 1803

Archie opened his eyes slowly. He was growing accustomed to his new
surroundings and had begun to take comfort in them. Having woken up so often
in the past to discover that he was unclean and lying in squalid
surroundings he took joy in the fragrant sheets and the spotless room. The
French window was standing open and the scent of flowers and the sound of
birdsong came into the room. The boom of cannons firing a salute drifted up
from the harbor. It seemed very distant, as if it was only a faint echo of
his former life. He turned his head towards the window. He liked to see the
colors of the flowers in the courtyard and rejoiced in the brightness and
warmth of the sunlight. He saw that his view was partly blocked this time.
Sir Edward was sitting in a chair by the window. He turned as he heard
Archie stirring. He smiled and brought his chair next to the bed.
"How do you feel Mr. Kennedy?" he asked
"Better that I have for a long time," said Archie. His voice was not much
above a whisper but it was quite steady.
"I am glad to hear it. I have several things to tell you, are you up to
listening?"
"Yes, but some water first please." Sir Edward poured some from the jug that
stood ready on the bedside table. With a gentleness that would have
astonished many of his crew but which no longer surprised Archie, he helped
him to drink.
"This house is your home for as long as you need it," he began, as soon as
he had laid Archie down again. "No one who can harm you knows you are here.
You need not worry about former events any more. You are safe here Archie, I
can assure you of that."
Archie tried to thank him but he would have none of it. "Let me say this
once and then we will not speak of it again. I have done what I have done
for several reasons. For one thing, I can think of no more appropriate use
for some of the prize money that has been sitting idle in my banker's
cellar. My admiration for your loyalty and courage has been another motive,
and so has my regard for Mr. Hornblower. There is also the matter of natural
justice. As I have said I do not care to dwell on any of this and we have
more pressing matters to discuss. I will not be able to stay more than a few
days. I want you to meet the man who will have charge of your welfare." He
smiled at someone on the other side of the bed and Archie turned his head to
see that another man had been sitting there quietly all the time.
"I am Doctor Osborne," he said "I am a physician, indeed I am your
physician. I will do all I can to make you comfortable. I took the liberty
of examining you while you slept this morning. I hope you do not object?"
Archie studied him for a few moments. The doctor's brown eyes were kind, as
was his voice. He felt overwhelmed suddenly and tears began to spill down
his face. The doctor took his hand. "Forgive us," he said "we have made you
tired. We will talk again later. Sleep now."

Sir Edward was gone for a month. During that time Archie regained a little
of his strength and spent more of his time awake. At his request his bed was
moved closer to the window and he began to think that one day he might be
able to sit outside and feel the sun on his face once more. Doctor Osborne
generally arrived at breakfast time and stayed until after supper. Once or
twice, when Archie was feverish, he stayed all night. With Sergio's help he
bathed Archie every day and dealt with his most basic needs with utmost
tact. His waking periods grew longer and the doctor offered to read to him.
The first attempt proved that he was not yet able to concentrate fully
enough and so they agreed to try again in a few days time. Bu he found he
could think more clearly and his mind began to range beyond his own
immediate situation. He began to wonder about Horatio. He knew that his
friend was safe. He was thankful, but it was no longer enough.

Sir Edward returned to find that that the small group of strangers he had
brought together had become a harmonious household. He noted with pleasure
that a close bond had developed between Dr. Osborne and his patient. When
the commodore asked Sergio if he and Caterina would be staying he was
assured at once that they would not think of leaving Senor Archie.
"Is all well with you?" he asked, when he was alone with Archie.
"Yes, Dr. Osborne could not be kinder, Sergio is a tower of strength and
Caterina spoils me terribly. Look what she is doing for me now." He lifted
his arms a little way off the bed to show the blue flowers that had been
embroidered on the wristbands of his nightshirt. He smiled ruefully and then
grew thoughtful.
"Is there something on your mind?"
"Horatio," he said shifting on his pillows "It did not hurt to know that he
thought me dead at first, but now it does." His eyes clouded with sorrow.
"Dr. Osborne has told me that I may have months left to live and I feel that
it is true. I want to see Horatio again."
"But you would be asking him to endure your death a second time," said Sir
Edward gently. He had witnessed Horatio's grief first hand and would never
forget the white bereft face and the racking sobs.
"Our second parting would not be as painful as the first," said Archie. "I
do not know how to explain it but I am convinced that Horatio would want to
be told that I am here."
He turned on his side with an effort and reached out a hand to Sir Edward.
"You have done so much for me Sir that I am ashamed to ask you for more but
I cannot help it. I cannot be easy in my mind. Please will you write to
him?"
Sir Edward took the outstretched hand. "Lie quiet Archie, please do not
distress yourself. I will do as you ask even though I am not convinced it is
the right thing to do."
"I would not do anything to hurt Horatio," whispered Archie "I know he will
want this."
"You understand that I must be circumspect? I can only write and advise him
to come here. I cannot tell him why."
"Thank you." Archie's face was pale with exhaustion. "He will do what you
ask. He will come." His eyes closed and his hand grew slack in Sir Edward's
grasp. Drifting away he murmured something under his breath. Sir Edward
leaned closer to him and heard "he will come."

Continued in Gibraltar Interlude