The Golden Boy
by Maggie M
This story is the prequel of "Powder Monkey" which I posted quite a while ago. It's on the Archive and follows Archie Junior's story on the Atropos, where he is discovered as a powder monkey.
Marie-Therese entered the barn. She kicked a few bales of straw, even though her legs were horribly painful. Her father had been drunk again and when he was drunk he would lash out at her. Oh nothing too brutal usually. Although last Christmas he had joined with the spirit of the Comite de Securite (who had banned it) by breaking her right arm. It was often her own fault anyway. Sometimes she just wasn't fast enough to get out of his way. She had planned over and over again to leave her father and run away. But then she would remember the good times when her mother had still been alive and her father had not been addicted to the bottle. In any case where would a 16 year-old girl find shelter in these cruel and uncertain times? Had the Revolution not been for the working people? Yet the guillotine at Montueil had discharged some strange aristocrats the village butcher for one, caught harbouring the grandson of the local seigneur, Monsieur de Neufchatel, who had perished a year ago on a Parisian scaffold.
Her fury at last subsiding, Mare-Therese flopped onto a bale. Despite her strong spirit, the tears began to fall. It was only two years since her beautiful Spanish mother had been alive, yet it seemed like a lifetime. A lifetime of sadness and hurt. Gradually though, she became aware of other sounds. A kind of small, whimpering noise. The sound of a hurt animal. She looked around at the two farm cows, Bouton and Chocolat. No, they were standing peacefully in their stalls, chewing the cud. She often thought that they led a better life than her own. Her father at least valued them for his milk, his butter and his cheese. She looked around for her little mongrel dog, Pivoine. Yes, that must be it, Pivoine must be hurt.
She moved to the other side of the barn and then she stood quite still, not able to believe what she was seeing. There, lying on straw behind a couple of bales, was a beautiful, golden-haired boy. Not much older than herself, she thought. Maybe 17 or 18. He seemed to be asleep and he was lying perfectly still. Cautiously she moved closer. She could make out that he was wearing some sort of uniform. A blue coat with pale patches on the collar. Maybe at some time they had been white. His feet were wrapped with blood-stained rags. His long golden hair was tangled into ropes and his pale young face was marred by bruising and cutting that showed through a very light stubble. Yet still he was beautiful. Those heartbreaking tortured sounds were streaming from cracked and bleeding lips. Then she noticed his wrists. They were cruelly manacled and the flesh around the metal was swollen and blackened. Involuntarily she winced.
She knelt down beside the boy and hung her head in sorrow and shame. She knew that some English prisoners were being taken from Bordeaux to Paris, to the notorious Temple prison. It had been the talk of the village. This boy must have escaped, for there was little doubt that he was English. There were certainly no blond-haired youths in the area and the uniform was quite different to that worn in the Republican army or navy. At least he was not a French aristocrat. If he was recaptured he would escape the guillotine. But why were men so cruel to one another? What drove them to torture and abuse each other? And why must women always, eternally, be caught in the middle of the frenzy?
Instinctively, she stroked the boy's forehead. Suddenly his
eyes snapped open and, startled, she jumped back. The blue eyes
seemed to mirror oceans of pain and she shuddered. Yet they were
the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen. In fact she thought
she had never seen blue eyes before. Brown, certainly, green
perhaps, but never blue. She gasped. Something deep inside her
body seemed to twist and knot in an exquisitely painful way.
And as she gasped, the poor tortured lips tried to smile.
Archie didn't want to swim to the surface. It would be much
easier to stay down here and to die. But his young body was denying
him that luxury. Without his volition, it was insisting on life.
It made him struggle to the surface so that he could suffer a
bit more. For to suffer was to live and to live was to suffer.
He had woken up in that jolly boat to a world of suffering.
He had been tortured by thirst, tortured by hunger, tortured by
cold, tortured by heat and finally tortured by his French captors.
Cautiously he opened his eyes. At first he could see nothing
and a tide of panic engulfed him. Then he thought he could see
a mass of brown curls and concerned brown eyes. Horatio! His
heart seemed to leap right out of his body. But no, it couldn't
be Horatio. Horatio was either dead or on the "Indy".
He must be hallucinating. Yet the image was persistent. He
closed his eyes and opened them again. It was still there. It
was a girl! A beautiful young girl, perhaps about his age or
a little younger. And something deep within his soul smiled.
Perhaps he actually smiled. Yes he must have, because he felt
the pain of it through his lacerated lips. But it wasn't the
usual pointless suffering, because he was rewarded by an answering
smile and something deep within his body seemed to twist and knot
in an exquisitely painful way.
The boy tried to speak a few words. Marie-Therese didn't understand
them, but she put her finger to her lips. She did not want the
youth to speak. She could see that it caused him agony and in
any case she wanted him to stay as quiet as possible. What if
her father should discover him? She closed her eyes in horror
at the very thought of it. But what use was she to this
suffering boy? She put her head in her hands and tried to think
calmly. Soon her father would be looking for her, unless he had
slumped into a drunken torpor. She must keep him away from the
barn at all costs, for she certainly could not move the boy.
Would he survive the night? She must at least bring water and
food to him. She raised her head to see that the boy was looking
at her intently, so intently that tears were forming in those
wonderful blue eyes. She felt that strange sensation in her stomach
again and she knew, knew with certainty, that she would protect
this youth with every last fibre of her being. She blushed at
this outrageous thought. She had known him for only a few minutes.
She didn't know his name and she hadn't even spoken to him. But
there it was. The thing was done. There was absolutely no going
back. Now she spoke quietly to the boy, stroking his hair. She
told him her name and she mimed to him that she would bring something
for him to eat and drink. He closed his eyes and nodded.
Archie did not think he had ever seen such a beautiful girl.
He had been ready, almost desperate, to die. Now he was fighting
to stay alive. He was fighting to swallow the water she was trickling
into his mouth and then he was fighting to swallow the small moistened
pieces of bread she was placing between his lips. But he could
tell it was a battle he was losing. He knew he was going to disgrace
himself. But she patiently cleaned up the mess and started again
and then started again. Eventually she seemed to be satisfied
that he had kept something down at last, and she carefully lowered
his head again. He felt ridiculously tired. But she hadn't finished
with him yet. She dabbed his face with the cool, cool, water.
It seemed to sting him and soothe him at the same time. He thought
shamefully of how he must look and, worse still, how he must smell.
But the girl didn't seem to care. She spoke to him all the time
in that calm, low voice that seemed to soothe his very soul.
She covered him with a blanket and eventually he sighed and fell
into a deep restorative sleep.
Marie-Therese had found a good excuse for frequent visits to the barn. She said that Pivoine was ill and that she was nursing him there. Her father hated that 'evil-smelling cur' enough to keep away. She carried out her other chores with particular care so as not to raise suspicion. Her father rarely visited the barn these days anyway, spending most of his time away in the fields or carousing with his cronies. The cows were her responsibility and she did all the milking. At this time of year, early Spring, there were few other pressing jobs to be done in the barn.
Her greatest preoccupation was to remove the manacles from Archie's wrists. For she knew the boy's name now and he hers. Indeed he could speak a little of her language. In a very strange accent with the words seemingly at the back of his throat, but she could understand if she listened carefully enough. And he could understand her if she spoke slowly enough. Yesterday he had said her name for the first time. It had caused her a strange, wild pleasure and she had laughed to hear the flattened 'r's. And he had laughed at her attempt to pronounce 'ch', but then had blushed to the roots of his hair. She had never seen a boy blush before and it touched her in an indescribable way.
Her simple ministrations involving water, witch hazel and an ointment a cattle doctor had once left behind for cracked hooves, seemed to be working well enough on Archie's young body, but the blackening and swelling around his wrists was increasing in an alarming way. And she knew it was causing him terrible suffering. She tried to lower the swelling with cool water, massaging the skin to facilitate normal circulation, but he could not hide how much pain she was causing him and invariably she would stop after very short periods. She knew also that the boy was mortally embarrassed that she had to see to his every intimate need whilst he could not use his hands.
She found a file in the barn and was gradually filing through
a link of the chain so that he could at least move his hands.
He had to pull the chain taut and it caused him so much agony
that progress was slow. The manacles of course would remain until
she could spring the lock. There were all sorts of keys in the
house, but they would necessarily be useless. At length she remembered
that her mother had used a bodkin to make bed covers and she searched
in the farmyard attic to find the sewing box that her father had
thrown there with her other belongings after her death. In the
event, she smuggled a whole array of needles into the barn and
set about the manacle locks.
Now Archie knew the name of the beautiful girl. He was becoming
stronger and with this strength came a feeling of terrible shame.
For the girl was seeing to his every intimate need as he could
not move his hands. She was turning him back into a human being
because she was treating him as one. He was no longer seeing
himself as a suffering, wounded animal. She made him as clean
and comfortable as she could, even trying to comb out the tangled
knots in his hair. And when she was not with him he would fall
into proper sleep, not the semi-consciousness bedevilled with
nightmares that he had become accustomed to. She was bringing
him more and more food and he worried that she would be found
out and punished. Yet he had become voraciously hungry and he
devoured all that she brought. The worst time and the best time
was when she would file through the chain linking his manacles.
The whole procedure was agonizing, but she would sing him French
songs that calmed him and made him laugh. She laughed too, for
some of them seemed to be a little rude, although he was sure
he missed the finer points. On the third day she had cut through
the link. He felt almost free and they both cried with joy.
Now that Archie's hands were free Marie-Therese was desperate
to remove his coat and shirt to clean them. She had already replaced
his filthy breeches and stockings with rough, workman's trousers.
He had however stressed the importance of her returning the items,
as otherwise he could be shot as a spy.
Appalled at such a notion, she had washed them as quickly as she could and returned them to him - stains and all. She had never washed such fine fabrics before, and she was terrified they would disintegrate in her hands. She could tell by his uniform, by his ability to speak some French, and by his general manner, that he was some sort of officer and probably from a well-off family. It hurt her to think of that family worrying for him and she wished with all her heart that she could contact them to tell them she was doing her best to help their son. How they must love and miss their beautiful golden boy who was fighting and suffering for his country. Against her own of course, but what was her poor wounded country worth these days with everybody informing against everybody else and the only true ruler the abhorrent guillotine?
She could not remove his coat for the cuffs were too narrow to pass over the manacles. As neither herself nor Archie were locksmiths, they made little progress with them, even though Archie could now make some efforts of his own. Archie said he had been in the Navy since he was fourteen and had learnt many things, but no-one had taught him how to spring a lock. Marie-Therese continued to massage his wrists as best she could and insisted that he did the same when she was not there, but still the skin tumefied and blackened.
In desperation, she decided to visit the local locksmith's son, who had of late shown some interest in her. They had often played together as young children and by careful prompting she managed to find out a few tricks of the trade as he was anxious to show her his skills. He was not an unpleasant boy, but she was fairly sure he was anxious to show her a few other things too and she escaped as promptly as she could, having only contributed a kiss and a vague promise of a future visit.
She was burning with impatience to visit the barn that evening
to put her new-found skills to the test. But chore after chore
seemed to hold her up and it was very late before she could sneak
in to Archie. She placed a lantern behind a large bale of straw
so that the light could not be seen. He was fast asleep and for
a moment she sat and studied him. She had by now admitted to
herself that she loved this beautiful golden boy. It made her
feel wonderfully happy and desperately unhappy, all at the same
time. At the moment she had him completely to herself and he
needed her more than anyone else in the world. But as soon as
he was well enough, she knew he would have to move on, to escape
back to England, to rejoin the fine ship that he so loved. What
did he call it? The 'Indy'. To find his friends and family
again. He spoke of one friend with such love that it almost made
her feel jealous. He had a curious name, that she found difficult
to pronounce Horatio. How Archie had laughed when she had
tried to fit her lips around the name! But she could not really
feel jealous of Horatio. She could only love him because he loved
Archie and had tried to protect him against a bully. Archie had
even told her that she could be Horatio's sister, with her dark
curls and brown eyes and somehow that had made her feel happy
because it seemed to bring her closer to Archie. Yet she knew
there could be no future in her love for him. Even if they had
not been citizens of warring countries, she realised that he belonged
to a class far superior to her own. He had never mentioned his
family, but she suspected they were some sort of aristocrats.
They would never accept a poor, ignorant French farm girl for
their beautiful, golden son.
As if he could sense the gaze of Marie-Therese on him, Archie
surfaced from his deep sleep. He smiled at her. In these few
days he had grown accustomed to having this beautiful young girl
near him and caring for him in the most intimate ways possible.
Her pretty voice filled his waking and sleeping hours. She had,
so gently and yet so firmly, refused to let him sink into a shameful
death with no honour. Impulsively he stretched out his hand to
stroke her hair. He suddenly realised that he wanted more than
anything else in the world to make love to her, but he could do
nothing so dishonourable. He had worried that the vile Jack Simpson
had extinguished any natural emotional feelings he might have
towards the opposite sex. Now he realised that this was at least
one thing that the brute had been
unable to achieve. But in any case Marie-Therese was still only really an innocent child 16 years old. He had no idea when girls began to develop sexual feelings. And what in any case could he offer her? He was an escaped prisoner of war the lowest life-form in her country. He had no future and she would be disgusted at his past. At least he had not suffered any fits here, so she had not seen him at his most ignominious. Yet he felt he was really damaged beyond repair. Only Horatio thought he was worth saving and Archie had never been able to work out why.
Laughing now, Marie-Therese chided him for wasting time stroking
her hair when she had compromised her honour that afternoon acquiring
the skills of a locksmith. He laughed too a little uneasily.
What exactly did 'compromising her honour' mean?
It had been a shock. He had caught her in a weak moment, and
he had been unaware of the impact of his actions. His beautiful
hands had stroked her hair and she had felt parts of her body
move and change in the strangest ways. She felt insane and wonderful
at the same time and all she could do was laugh out loud and tell
him off. Certainly she needed her wits about her if she was going
to put the afternoon's training to good effect. Gently, she removed
the graceful hand from her hair and placed it in her lap, palm
up so that the locking mechanism was in the right position. No,
that seemed to distract her even more. So she stood up and fetched
a bale of straw for Archie's hand to rest on. It took her 15
minutes, but she did it and the cursed piece of metal fell away.
Hurriedly she pressed the belt she had brought with her into
his mouth. For they both knew that the pain would be excruciating
as his circulation began to function normally. She rinsed a cloth
and held it to his forehead.
The pain was so bad that Archie doubled over. He knew he must not scream out and he bit desperately into the leather belt that Marie-Therese had pressed into his mouth. Tears came into his eyes. Now Marie-Therese was placing a cold cloth to his forehead, but he was feeling dizzy and he knew he was about to pass out ..
A few minutes later he was surfacing again. The pain had settled
to a sort of sharp stabbing as if someone was piercing his wrist
with small daggers. Marie-Therese had removed the gag from his
mouth and soft brown eyes were searching his face. He tried to
smile, but he knew it was a poor attempt. She smiled though.
She said he knew it was worth it like childbirth but much
shorter. They both laughed. He begged her to free the other
She hesitated. She had planned to free the other one the next
day to give Archie time to recover. But perhaps it would be better
to get it all over with now. As quickly as she could, she placed
Archie's other wrist on the bale of straw. This time she was
more practised and the manacle clicked open after only five minutes.
Again she pressed the belt into his mouth. Again he passed out.
She thought he was incredibly brave. She had heard that English
people, especially men, never showed they were hurt. They were
brought up from early childhood to endure pain without complaint.
She was certain that a French boy would be howling by now, belt
or no. Women of course always supported pain better than men.
That was why they had the babies or so her mother had told
her. Now Archie was surfacing again and again he was trying to
smile. It seemed that the rumours were true. No wonder the English
made such formidable enemies. She bathed his wrists as gently
as she could and removed his uniform coat, stiff with dried mud
and blood. He would not allow her to take his shirt and she did
not persist, thinking that the pain was making him unreasonable.
She wrapped a cloth lightly around each of his wrists. She remembered
when she was hurt, her mother used to sing her lullabies. So
she softly sang as many as she could remember to Archie. Gradually
his eyes closed.
Archie did not sleep well. He was in far too much pain for
that. Yet his mind felt free. He was beginning to make plans
for his return to England. He thought it was probably better
if he worked his way southwards and crossed into Spain. Spain
was not at war with England and he would be able to reach Gibraltar.
From there he could somehow rejoin the 'Indy'. He must
leave Marie-Therese as soon as he could. He was placing her in
mortal danger and he knew he was falling in love with her. It
wasn't fair and it wasn't right. Perhaps he should leave tonight,
before there were any more complications. He tried to get up
and walk about. But he was still ridiculously weak and he slumped
down after only a few steps. He'd wait another day. One more
day. One more day wouldn't hurt. It wasn't fair to just leave
her without saying goodbye anyway. That would be a caddish thing
to do. Yes, he'd wait one more day. And having made that decision
his young body silenced his mind and dragged him down into a deep
Archie was woken up by shouting. Angry shouting. And the familiar thud of someone being beaten. He knew the sound well from the hands of his father and Simpson. But he had never heard someone else being beaten. Horatio had suffered six strokes of the rattan from the punctilious Bolton, Lt. of the midship berth, but luckily Archie had not had to witness it. But now he had to look on, and he had to remain silent. Even though every nerve and instinct was straining to intervene. For his beautiful Marie-Therese was being belted by a middle aged man who seemed almost insane with anger. He was obviously mouthing constant obscenities, although Archie's store of French swear words was meagre. He knew the word for 'slut' though which seemed to thread the invective and he thought he caught the word for 'locksmith'. His stomach knotted and he felt sick. Marie-Therese was taking this beating because of her sojourn with the locksmith. This beautiful girl was suffering because she had wanted to help him. He had not thought that girls could ever be beaten. Certainly his sisters never were. Other punishments were devised for them, perhaps worse in some ways. He could remember Jenny's horror for example at being forced to scrub the kitchen floor in front of the servants.
All the noise was coming from the man. Marie-Therese was not
uttering a sound. Her eyes were closed and she did not attempt
to struggle. Archie thought back to the beatings he had received
from his own father. He was sure he had not been so stoic. But
he had learnt early on that pulling away and crying out only made
his father angrier and the blows harder. Marie-Therese had obviously
learnt the same lesson. At last it was over. With one last imprecation
the man strode out of the barn. Marie-Therese slumped onto the
straw and only now did she sob a rasping, desperate sound
that hurt him deep inside.
Marie-Therese felt a hand on her shoulder. She knew whose
it was. She felt so ashamed that she could not raise her head.
Her beautiful golden boy from his beautiful English family had
seen her father at his most bestial. And she had been beaten
like a child, unable to defend herself. How could he ever look
at her and respect her again? She felt soiled and degraded.
Maybe that was really why she was sobbing. But Archie settled
next to her and spoke gently to her. Sometimes in her language,
sometimes in his own. Then, using the water she had left for
him, he bathed her wounded skin. Gradually she stopped sobbing
and the boy and girl looked intently at each other, a little wary
but unafraid. He reached out and stroked her tear-streaked face.
He was incredibly gentle. His words flooded around her body
and tenderly his hands followed them. Then his words entered through
her own lips. Her body ached for his so fiercely that she arched
towards him. Her hands stretched out impatiently for him. He
hesitated for a short moment, so she guided the beautiful golden
boy into her body to become part of her. She wanted to protect
and keep him there for ever. And joined together they travelled
to a warm, golden place transcending space and time and they cried
out in their pleasure of each other. And afterwards they looked
at each other in amazement. They knew they could only find that
place again with and through each other. And with that thought
they cried each other to sleep.
Archie hadn't meant for it to happen. But the beauty of it
stunned him. He felt cleansed of Simpson's sickening perversions.
For him sexual activity had always meant humiliation and pain.
For that reason he had hesitated, for he was terrified of hurting
Marie-Therese and he had penetrated her as gently as he could.
Once more they found their beautiful, golden place together.
Then Marie-Therese sprang up laughing and declared that if he
was going to become her lover she would insist on washing his
stinking shirt and his yellow ropes that passed for hair. Archie
shook his head. He knew that if he removed his shirt she would
see the deep scars inflicted by Simpson. And she would lose all
love and respect for him.
Marie-Therese could not understand. Why was Archie so reluctant
to remove his shirt? She had removed far more intimate articles
of clothing for him and he had not complained. Yet he looked even
more appealing. Like a little boy who had done something naughty
and was worried that he would be found out. She took his obstinate,
troubled face into her hands and cuddled him to her. She said
she would be back soon with some food for him and a clean
When she returned she could hear strange noises, almost like
the whimpering sounds she had heard when she first met Archie.
Hurriedly, she made her way to the back of the barn. For a second
or two she could not understand. Archie was writhing uncontrollably,
his arms and legs thrashing. She dropped what she was carrying
and ran to his side. She stroked his tormented limbs and spoke
as calmly as she could to him. Gradually the spasms lessened
and eventually he curled into a ball and fell asleep. She watched
him for a long time. She had never before seen someone having
a fit, but she had heard about them. She had also heard a lot
of stupid stories about the affliction and a lot of stupid 'cures'.
Instinctively she knew that Archie's fit had been caused by distress.
He had been so brave for so long. She felt desperately guilty
that perhaps she had triggered the convulsions somehow. Perhaps
he regretted making love to her a poor, ignorant farm girl.
Perhaps he thought she was only a slut and she had given herself
to him too eagerly. Perhaps he thought she had also made love
to the locksmith boy. He had certainly seemed very unhappy when
she had left him. The shirt had only been an excuse for his feelings
of disgust towards her.
Archie awoke to find Marie-Therese watching him with tears in her eyes. What had upset her? Had her father attacked her again? Then the muscles in his arms and legs began to pull. He knew that feeling only too well. Desperately he pulled up his shirt-sleeves and saw the tell-tale bruising. He had had a fit. In front of Marie-Therese. He could feel his face going red and then white. He felt so ashamed that he could not look at her. And then he realised that it was her distress he should worry about, not his own. He reached out to her and apologised as far as he could in his fractured French. He said he understood if she felt disgusted and that he would leave as soon as possible.
Her reaction was instantaneous. She slapped him on the face
and pulled away. In a hoarse whisper she said the only disgusting
thing was that he did not believe in her love for him. Archie
listened, startled, as she talked about a woman's love being much
stronger than a man's. That if she now disgusted him he should
say so and not look for other excuses. Archie could sense her
very real anxiety and he could think of only one way to reassure
her. And after that he took off the damned shirt.
With Archie's warm, golden, love around her and inside her,
Marie-Therese calmed down. She had misjudged him. She had spoken
unkindly to him and she felt deeply ashamed. She picked up the
shirt made of such incredibly fine material. She had never before
seen such a beautiful garment with its frilled cuffs and collar.
Why had Archie been so reluctant to part with it? Now she could
wash his hair and get rid of all those twisted ropes. Lovingly,
she straightened the straggling fringe and moved around to comb
out the frenzy of tangles at the back. Then she stopped dead.
She gasped. And her hand moved gently across his shoulders and
back, tracing the scars left by years of torment and abuse. Tears
started to her eyes. Who had done this to her beautiful golden
boy? His father, the bully he had spoken of, the British Navy,
the French? Or a combination of all of these. She moved back
round to look into his face. He had not meant for her to see
he had tried to protect her. She took him in her arms and
held him as tightly to her as ever she could.
Well, the job was done. With infinite care Marie-Therese had
banished the tangles some washed out, the more recalcitrant
ones cut off. He almost laughed at his fears. She had not questioned
him. She had not lost her love and respect for him. She was
the only other person in the world who knew. He had taken care
that Horatio had not seen. For Horatio would have known who had
inflicted those scars and would perhaps have asked questions.
Archie had not told him of the extent of Simpson's abuse and
he probably never would. How could friendship survive such an
admission of weakness and dishonour? Horatio would have fought
back, would have not allowed it. Would have died rather than
allow it. And Archie, in his weakness, had wanted to live.
Six months later.
Horatio looked out of the cell bars at the rain. He and the Duchess would not walk today. And he felt inexpressibly sad. In this ghastly prison he had come to need her beauty and her ready wit. She could take him out of his customary melancholy, if only for an hour or two a day. For things had all gone horribly wrong. He couldn't believe his stupidity in sailing his little prize ship into the Spanish fleet. No wonder Hunter and the men were losing their respect for him. He had little respect left for himself. Enough not to make a fool of himself with the Duchess though. Would she have allowed him to seduce her? He wasn't sure and he certainly wasn't going to demean himself by finding out. But his subconscious was wrestling with the problem in his dreams. In his dreams she became the perfect sensual lover, and he would wake up feeling sexually frustrated, bad-tempered and a little guilty. What would she think if she knew he was dishonouring her in his dreams? It was just one more insoluble problem in this cursed place. One more problem that he was miserably wrestling with and miserably failing to resolve.
He turned to look at Archie. Archie, his best friend who seemed now to hate him. And why shouldn't he? It was because of him that Archie was in this blasted place. Archie had suffered horribly, there was no doubt. He had tried to escape five times, and the last time they had put him into that nightmarish hole in the ground. He so despised Horatio now, that he accused him of causing him fits. Horatio closed his eyes. He wasn't even nineteen yet, and he had screwed everything up. He could forget his brilliant career in the Navy. They would be stuck here for years. Archie was far too unwell to take part in any escape bid. In any case, the prison was far too heavily guarded. The war with Spain had only just begun and they were at the moment the only captives here. He reckoned that the ratio of guard to prisoner was at least three to one. The morale of his men was becoming incredibly low. They seemed to despise him as much as Archie did. Hunter openly so. Horatio would gladly have shared some of the responsibility here with him, but he was the worst combination of midshipman too old, too stupid and too impulsive. If Horatio didn't watch out, he would gladly lead them all to disaster just as he had tried to on Le Reve.
Horatio's thoughts turned back to Archie. Alright he'd had a bad time. But why was he so disconsolate and bitter? Surely he should have been pleased to see his old shipmates back. Where was his old Archie, the one with the irrepressible smile and the ready quip? This weak, sullen Archie was beginning to irritate him. They all had problems didn't they? Why were his so special? Alright he had fits, but they weren't that frequent. Horatio suffered horribly from sea-sickness and that was fairly debilitating, wasn't it?
He stopped short. He was becoming disgustingly morose and unfair. It wasn't Archie's fault that in a fortnight he, Horatio Hornblower, the up-and-coming naval hero, would celebrate his nineteenth birthday in this ghastly dump. Actually it wasn't anybody's fault but his own. As for the Duchess, how could he be thinking about sex at a time like this? What kind of animal was he anyway? Suddenly Archie broke into his uncomfortable and uncomforting thoughts.
"No walk for you today, Horatio?"
Horatio sighed. At least Archie could bear to ask him a civil question.
"No, not today Archie."
He turned round to look at his friend. Once upon a time he could have shared his problems with him. They had been that close. For Horatio did not usually favour intimacy. Archie had, briefly, been the exception. But now Archie looked like some sort of cruel shadow of his former self. The shadow had ravished the vibrant, smiling friend and left this pale, extenuated shell. But Horatio thought back to the golden youth he had known. Perhaps if he made Archie think about some good times in the past, he would revive a little.
"Archie, did you have a sweetheart in England?"
"No", thought Archie. "But I had one in France and she became part of me and I became part of her and I had to leave her sweet heart and her sweet breath so that I could pointlessly keep on suffering for my country and land up in this hovel."
Archie closed his eyes and saw Marie-Therese laughing and running towards him. He heard her talking and singing and he felt her stroking his hair. But when he went to touch her she seemed to turn to stone. Only her eyes moved and they were drilling him with blame. Wherever he moved, the tormented, tortured eyes followed him. He took in a breath and held it there, floating between his lips. Somewhere, in another world he heard a voice shouting:
It didn't matter, he didn't belong in that world any more.
All he wanted was the glowing, warm, safe world that Marie-Therese
had offered by opening her body to him. If he couldn't have that
world, he wanted no other. Better far to die than be exiled from
it for ever.
Marie-Therese felt her tummy. She knew she was carrying part of Archie inside her and she rejoiced at it. Sometimes there would be a small kick, as if Archie was reminding her of him. Not that she needed reminding. It was as if she was living two lives. The everyday life of milking, chores, coping with her irascible father. And the enchanted life she had led with the golden boy who had touched her so deeply in every possible way. Soon the two lives would have to separate for ever. For it was becoming difficult to hide her condition. She would have to go away. She had decided she would have her baby in Archie's country, not her own, where human life was held cheap and valued only as fodder for the ghastly guillotine.
She remembered Archie's plan to travel south through Spain
and on to Gibraltar. She would follow the same itinerary and
would smuggle herself onto a British ship. Until her mother died,
she had travelled often to Granada, her mother's town of birth.
Indeed, she had given directions to Archie, especially concerning
the treacherous Pyrenees passes. She had told him how to find
her uncle Jaime, a Basque guide who had little love for Republican
France. In many ways it would be easier for her than for Archie.
She knew the way, she remembered a lot of her mother's language
and she did not have golden blond hair. And Spain had now come
into the war as an ally of France. Indeed this fact had caused
her great anxiety. Had Archie escaped through Spain before it
had abandoned its neutrality? Unknown to her father, her mother
had left her some money. Luckily in Spanish ingots, for Republican
money was useless. Against his will she had given some of it
to Archie, but she had enough left to last her for travelling
expenses, if she was careful. And Archie had given her
something too. She felt the round golden button in her palm.
It had been on his coat and in his beautiful hands. With her
fingers she lovingly traced the embossed lettering 'RN', which
he had explained meant 'Royal Navy'. She held it to her lips.
She was young and strong and she was determined to follow the
boy she loved. And the part of him inside her made her feel stronger
Horatio had managed to persuade Don Massarado that Archie should
be moved to the infirmary. But then the real battle began. Archie
was still refusing food or drink and shrank away from Horatio's
contact. He had even accused him of wanting to boast about rescuing
Archie. Horatio was deeply hurt and deeply puzzled. He could
not understand Archie's bitterness and reluctance to be saved.
But Horatio had a strong will of his own. Just as strong as
Archie's. And he had decided that Archie was going to live.
Archie was too tired to fight Horatio any longer. He was struggling
through fiendish nightmares in which Jack Simpson was again torturing
and dishonouring him. Marie-Therese refused to enter his dreams.
He began to think that she would only do so when he had given
up his determination to die. She did not approve of his plan.
At length he accepted some water and he allowed himself to be
fed. Gradually he allowed Horatio's care and friendship to wash
over him. He began to accept that Horatio would not give up on
him, so he might as well make an effort. He began to feel ashamed
that he had abused Horatio's kindness with cruel words and crueller
thoughts. Gradually the boys began to speak as friends again.
Through long days Horatio would stay with Archie, reassuring
him and listening to him. Archie even managed to spit out the
nature of Simpson's abuse. Horatio had been appalled and Archie
wondered if he should have spared his friend the details. Horatio
had sat quietly by his bed all that night and when Archie woke
up at dawn, he could see that tears streaked his friend's face.
Marie Therese tried to be brave, but the pain seemed to
be tearing her apart. It was like no other pain she had ever
endured and she was terrified. Desperately, she bit into a piece
of wood she had found. Between contractions, she thought about
the agonies that Archie had endured, and she hated herself for
feeling so frightened. She thought about his bravery when she
had freed his wrists from the pitiless manacles and how he had
passed out. And how she had joked that it was like childbirth,
but shorter. She suspected that nature would not allow her the
luxury of passing out, for the job she had to do was too important.
Once as a young child she had twisted her ankle when running away
from a bull. But somehow the desperation to escape had masked
the pain until she was safe. She suspected that was why some
fighting men did not realise they were hurt until the battle and
the emotion was over. But nature would not allow her that luxury
either. This was a battle that she had to fight with full consciousness
and full awareness. And she was terrified it was a battle she
was losing. She had been fighting it for hours. It was a battle
against agony, blood and death, and she was losing it.
The little midshipman, Williams, crept into the hold. He was
terrified of it down there, for Pike, the master's mate, had told
him it was haunted. But the Second Lieutenant had ordered him
down to check on the water barrels after the recent storm, and
he could not refuse a direct order not unless he wanted
a beating any way. He had only started to descend the companionway
from the gun deck, when he heard strange sounds. He started to
bolt up again, and then remembered about his best friend, Tom
Pullens. Tom had suffered grievously at the hands of the Second
Lieutenant when he had refused to climb to the masthead to convey
a message to the captain of the maintop because he was afraid
of heights. He hadn't been able to sit down for a week and had
cried himself to sleep for at least three nights. No, there was
nothing else for it, he'd have to continue. But what he saw was
far more frightening than any ghost. A young girl was thrashing
around and lying in a pool of blood. He had not idea why, and
he didn't wait to find out.
"Sweet mother of Jesus!" exclaimed Mrs. Connolly to little Williams. "Bring me soap and warm water quickly!"
She glanced hurriedly at the boy's pale face.
"And if you can't stand the sight of blood, find me someone who can!"
Mrs. Connolly was the Irish wife of the gunner on the frigate "Lively". She was a middle aged lady, well used to emergencies of all descriptions, but the sight before her made her gasp, however briefly. For she was looking at an exhausted child of no more than sixteen lying in her own blood and stifling her screams with a block of wood in her mouth. The child was straining to give birth, but the briefest of examinations indicated that she would not do so unaided. For the baby was in the breech position and the more the child pushed, the more the narrow birth canal became blocked.
Mrs. Connolly became aware that Williams had returned with
the warm water. A small part of her brain felt that the boy should
not be a witness to such distress, but another part thought it
would do no male any harm to see the result of the casual lechery
so inherent in the Navy. She held the girl's face and stroked
her hair. She spoke calmly to her. Lord alive, she was a pretty
girl, with her brown curls and hazel eyes. But soon the face
creased into a contortion of agony as she underwent another useless
contraction. Impatiently Mrs. Connolly removed the block of wood
from her mouth. The child had every right to scream, and as loud
as she wished. Mrs. Connolly thanked God she had come onto the
ship at Gibraltar. For the surgeon was a stupid clumsy man, fit
for amputating limbs and no more. And this would be a delicate
Marie-Therese looked in wonder at her little Archie. She smiled
at Mrs. Connolly who was making her as comfortable as she could.
Marie-Therese knew she was still hurting terribly, but she was
no longer racked by wrenching spasms, and she didn't care. For
she was holding a tiny, perfect human-being in her arms. With
their love she and Archie had made him. She felt a huge bubble
of joy and optimism within her. This child was going to live
in a golden country that had no guillotine. A golden country
that produced beautiful golden boys and she was going to find
her own, for she had only briefly lost him. Why had she and little
Archie lived, if they were not fated to find him?
Mrs. Connolly returned the child's smile, though she felt only
sadness in her heart. The girl had been incredibly brave but
she was almost sure that she would not recover. Despite her best
efforts, she had been dreadfully torn internally. She would certainly
have no more children and it was doubtful she would live to bring
up this one. She cursed the man or boy who had placed her in
such mortal danger, probably by abusing her innocence. The age-old
story. If only men were forced to witness childbirth, they would
not spread their seed so carelessly. She even knew his name.
For the child had cried it out often enough. Mrs. Connolly hadn't
been able to make it out at first. It had sounded like "Arshie".
Then she realised it was "Archie". And the child had
made it clear that the baby was to share the bounder's name.
Marie-Therese sighed. She felt so tired. The kind lady was
holding her baby and she was sure she had told her to rest. Kind
words in any language needed no translation. Marie-Therese closed
her eyes. She felt herself walking into a golden, warm world,
holding little Archie. With joy, she saw Archie walking towards
her. His arms were held out to her and she rushed to him. His
blue eyes glowed with love and laughter. He held them tightly
and told her how brave she'd been and how beautiful the baby was.
And he took them to a stunning golden place where they would
be happy for ever ..
Archie knew that he was going to live. Marie-Therese and now Horatio had refused to let him die. He felt ashamed of his weakness and self-pity. He began to understand that Horatio really did need his help to survive, that his friend had become deeply depressed and unsure of himself. The Simpson nightmares began to recede. He began to dream of Marie-Therese. She needed him now. He must be strong and he must recover for the two people he loved most in the world. One night he had a beautiful dream that Marie-Therese had brought him a child, their child, born of their love. And he had been filled with that golden, warm joy that her presence always brought him. He had embraced her and the child and, in his protection, taken them to a golden, enchanted place where they would be safe for ever.
When he woke up he knew he was still smiling. But a worry
began to gnaw at his mind. What if Marie-Therese were pregnant?
How would she survive? In his ridiculous, boyish egotism he
had not even considered such an eventuality. How could he have
been so thoughtless? But somehow the dream made him even more
determined to live. He had to find her again as soon as he could.
He had to escape from this damned prison. He had to fight and
help defeat the monster that was devouring her country and wanted
to devour his own. Only with the declaration of peace could he
be joined with her again and live fully again.
Horatio was delighted when he awoke from an uncomfortable pre-dawn
doze to see that Archie was smiling in his sleep. At least he
had won this battle, even if he had lost so many others. When
Archie awoke, Horatio smiled himself, and asked his friend if
he had had sweet dreams. And Archie had seemed to hesitate.
It seemed he was about to confide something to Horatio. But at
the last moment decided against it. Tactfully, Horatio did not
press him. If his friend had found something to smile about,
so much the better. Horatio did not need to know all his secrets.
He only sensed that from now on his golden friend was back.
Together they would fight Hunter, fight the Spanish and fight
the French and fight any other damned enemy who would cross their
path. Together they would be stronger and they would find a way
to get out of this damnable hole. And Horatio felt a blessed
relief flood over him.
She had only lived for half and hour after the birth. Mrs.
Connolly had passed the baby to Williams and cradled the girl
for as long as it took. Again, the child had whispered the obviously
adored name. And she had died quietly, with a look of glowing
peace upon her beautiful young face. Mrs. Connolly heard little
Williams sobbing next to her and realised that tears were coursing
down her own face too. Such a battle nobly lost, yet nobly won.
Following the Irish tradition, she took the child's hands and
placed them in a position of prayer on her chest. To her surprise,
something fell out of the girl's right hand. A button. A gilt
midshipman's button with 'RN' inscribed on it.
The "Lively" was in mourning. Everyone on her knew about the beautiful young French girl who had died in childbirth. At first Mrs. Connolly had thought that the baby would not survive. But against all the odds he did so. The imperative sounds of a new human life filled the frigate. Sheepishly, grizzled sailors visited Mrs. Connolly with gifts. Nappies and tiny articles of clothing were beautifully stitched. Dummies, rattles and dolls were lovingly fashioned from bone and wood. The youngsters in the midship berth fought each other savagely for a chance to hold the baby. The officers grew used to the infant's wailing competing with the bosun's pipes when orders were given, and smiled complacently.
There was some argument and consternation as to how the young girl should be buried. She had obviously stowed away to have her child in England and the father was surely English. But she was French. And they only knew her first name. Captain Moore himself decided the question. The girl would be honoured as if she had died in battle for her country, and she would be covered by the tricolore. He would take the funeral service himself, as there was no chaplain on board. They could not give her a popish funeral (religion had in any case been banned in Republican France) but they would give her a dignified one.
And so Marie-Therese was buried at sea on a dark January day
in the Bay of Biscay. The whole ship's company were present in
their shore-going rig. The Captain intoned the solemn words from
the Common Prayer Book and the First Lieutenant, who spoke some
French, added some appropriate words of farewell. Tears flowed
unashamably from the youngest powder boy to Mr. Baker, the purser,
who answered to at least six decades.
Long before the arrival at Portsmouth, the baby's fate was
being hotly debated, fore and aft. Certainly a man-of-war was
no place to bring up a baby. Most of the seamen had 'wives' of
sorts who might be prevailed upon to look after an orphaned mite.
But seamen's pay was erratic at best. No. All in all, it was
thought best that the child should be deposited at the Coram Foundling
Hospital in London, set up half a century before and renowned
for training boys to be sailors. Thus on a wintry February morning
a tearful Mrs. Connolly presented the child there with his only
two possessions - a single gilt midshipman button and his first
Thomas Coram was an eighteenth century sea merchandise manager
who was sent by a group of Lyme Regis merchants to set up the
first shipyard in Massachusetts. On returning to London he became
appalled at the number of abandoned babies there and after 17
years of petitioning for funds, set up the Coram Foundling Hospital
in 1741. The boys were trained to be sailors or soldiers, the
girls to be domestic servants. The hospital closed in 1954, but
today the charity is called Coram Family and works with children
separated from their parents.