Just at the Self-Same Beat

Image: The island of Cabrera

 Thursday, 15 September 1813

‘My name is Elizabeth. It is seven o’clock in the morning and I am worried about the rain. I have consulted every barometer in Pemberley, and they all seem undecided. The most precise forecast that any of them will risk is ‘Sunny periods with showers at times’.  I have already forecast that myself after a quick glance at the sky. But I wish I could be sure.  The skies of Derbyshire are still new to me, and I have not yet had time to read their messages.  
At all costs the excursion to Bakewell must go ahead.  I must get my mother and father out of the house. Darcy is to accompany us. Perhaps we could have some Bakewell Tart in the inn but then my mother would probably come out with, “Well, Mr Darcy, this Bakewell Tart is very fine, but don’t you think it is not quite as tasty as the pudding you were served at the last meal we all enjoyed together at Longbourne?”  
No, perhaps we should not risk the Bakewell Tart.  But at least when walking around Bakewell I can make sure that my mother is not always close by to bother Darcy too much.  I am not concerned about my father.  He can be pleasant and entertaining if he wants to.  And now he does want to.  What a pity, though, that my uncle and aunt have not been able to come.  
Ah, there’s the sun! I saw it for a few seconds behind that cloud. I’ll order the carriage to be ready at 10 o’clock.  
If it does rain, then we’ll all have to come home and stay inside. Enormous though the house is, we will all be forced to spend several hours together in the same room listening to each other saying nothing in particular and looking at the raindrops trickling down the windowpane.  What can be worse than that? 
‘Just at the self-same beat of Time’s wide wings.’    

John Keats. 

Spring 1819  
 Thursday, 15 September 1813
‘My name is Henri Dupuis. I have been on this island for several years now. They call it the island of Cabrera. It is now seven o’clock in the morning.  This is a prisoner of war camp for French soldiers. There is no wall and no fence. There is just the sea around this rocky island where no trees grow and where the sun dries up all life even the grass.  
Ten thousand of us came here, survivors of the Battle of Bailén where we were defeated by the Spanish. That was in July, 1808. They put us on ships in Cadiz and we thought we were going back to France.  Instead they brought us here to hell and left us. Half of us have died through hunger or thirst or just through losing interest in the struggle for life. We are now five thousand. Five thousand men have died, not fighting for France in battle but from thirst and hunger and despair.  
The rabbits were all eaten long ago. There are some lizards but they are impossible to eat. The birds come and go, out of reach.  They are the only creatures who are free. There is only one source of fresh water.  It doesn’t rain. It never rains here in summer. Day after day we look at the sky and there is no cloud worth the name. Here it has forgotten how to rain.
Sometimes they bring us food from Palma.  But it is always too little and too late.   
Some of us have died while digging the graves of those who died just before them. They fell into the grave they were digging for a friend. This is the truth.
I dream of returning to France.  I was born in Ile de Ré, which is another island but so different from this.  My father and my mother have had no news from me for three years. I dream of taking the little boat from La Rochelle and landing in Sablanceaux once more.  I dream of walking up the lane to Rivedoux.  If I do walk there one day, I will never leave Rivedoux again. I promise myself that. This promise keeps me alive.  
Today I will look out for the supply boat that comes with food from Palma.  I have spent hours on this rock waiting for a sight of that boat.  It should have come three days ago.  It may come today.  Or it may not.’