Major William De Lancey stood in the pouring rain outside the Royal Hospital Haslar. He had been in such a hurry to get here, but now he had actually arrived he could not take another step.
The last he had heard from Grant had been only a few weeks into his internment at Fort L’Escarpe and more than a year had passed since then. Most of the men from the 11th Foot who had made it back were recovering at the Portsmouth garrison but when De Lancey had gone there to find his friend, Captain Gibbs had given him a most peculiar look and simply told him to make haste to Gosport.
He took a deep breath and walked towards the door. Whatever had happened, he was determined to stay strong for Grant and make sure he was receiving the best treatment. How bad could it be anyway? He had survived the camp and that was the main thing.
The place was a hive of activity, doctors and nurses struggling to cope with an influx of patients from the latest battle, and it was a while before De Lancey managed to catch the attention of a young orderly and ask for directions to the room he was looking for.
He found himself some distance away from the main wards in a relatively quiet corridor of private rooms and had started searching the names on the doors when he was approached by a stern looking nurse.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Ah. Yes.” he gave her what he hoped was a encouraging smile. “I am looking for Lieutenant Colquhoun Grant. Perhaps who can tell me which room he is in?”
“Lieutenant Grant is not accepting visitors, sir.”
De Lancey smiled again. “I am sure he will want to see me.” But she just shook her head. “No visitors. Not even family. Are you family?”
”Well, no.” There was something about the expression on her face that sent a shiver down his spine. “I am...well... I am his friend. Please inform him that William De Lancey is here.”
“Very well.” She shrugged. “But it will make no difference. Please wait here.”
She disappeared round a corner and returned a few minutes later still shaking her head. “I am sorry, sir. No visitors.”
Resisting the urge to simply barge past her and find Grant himself, De Lancey temporarily admitted defeat. “Then please tell him I shall return every day until he agrees to see me.”
He wandered out of the hospital in a daze. Was Grant really refusing to see anyone or had he told the nurses to keep certain people away? Had his letter failed to reach the camp and left Grant to suffer in that awful place with no hope of a reconciliation?
True to his word, he returned every day for the next two weeks but never got further than the bleak gray corridor. Rather than leaving when he was turned away for the umpteenth time he decided to try and find the doctor who was treating Grant. Perhaps a medical man would be able to shed some light on the situation.
He was waiting outside the doctor’s office when a young nurse came around the corner, supporting the elbow of an old man in a ragged housecoat who was shuffling along with his eyes fixed on the floor.
De Lancey moved aside to let them pass but as he did so his breath caught in his throat. The figure he had mistaken for an elderly veteran was all too familiar at this range.
He managed to find his voice.
The man did not react.
“Grant? It’s me. It’s William. Good God, what happened to you?”
Grant raised his head and met his eyes but there was nothing there. No joy at seeing his friend. No anger at being abandoned in the camp. No recognition at all. Nothing.
De Lancey took an involuntary step back, his mind reeling as the nurse steered Grant into the doctor’s office and shut the door behind them.
When he returned the next day, he went straight to the office and let himself in without even knocking. The doctor looked up abruptly.
“What is the meaning of this, sir?”
“Forgive the intrusion, doctor, but I must talk with you. It concerns Lieutenant Grant.”
“Are you family?”
“Well no, but...”
“Then you understand why I cannot divulge any information. Please leave, sir, you are becoming a nuisance.”
“Please. Just tell me. Did he specifically say he did not wish to see me?”
”Sir, he has not uttered a word since he arrived,“ the doctor looked down at the notes on his desk as if he hoped to find an answer he had previously overlooked. “However, he has made it very clear that he does not want any visitors and we must respect his wishes.”
The following day De Lancey was waiting in the usual place when the young nurse came up to him, looked around to make sure she would not be overheard and whispered solemnly, “I’m afraid he is no longer with us, sir.”
”What?” De Lancey had to reach out a hand against the wall to steady himself.
“How?” He could hardly breathe. “When?”
“Oh, sir.” the nurse realised what she had said and hurried to reassure him. “I did not mean he has passed, simply that he is not receiving treatment at the hospital any more.”
“Please.” De Lancey felt faint with relief. “Tell me where he is. I cannot bear this any longer.”
“I should not tell you, sir, but I can see you care for him very much. The doctors decided there was nothing more they could do and thought that perhaps he would be more comfortable in familiar surroundings. His brother came last night and took him home to Scotland.”
It took the best part of a week to reach Forres and another half day to locate the farm where Grant had grown up so De Lancey was in no mood to take another rejection when he finally knocked on the door, but the woman who opened it bore such a strong resemblance to his friend that he could not help smiling.
She frowned at the intensity of his gaze but nodded her head.
“My name is William De Lancey. I am a friend of your son’s. I believe he has been brought here to recuperate and I would like to see him.”
“I am afraid you have had a wasted journey, Major De Lancey.”
“I do not understand. Is he here or not?”
She sighed. “That is what I ask myself every day.”
De Lancey gritted his teeth. This made no sense and he was getting fed up with the constant stalling but he had no wish to upset Grant’s mother so he swallowed his frustration and bowed politely.
“Please tell him I called. I have taken a room at the inn in the village and will await your invitation.”
He heard nothing for the next two days and try as he might to find out more from the local people, they either knew nothing or had been warned not to tell him.
With no idea what to do next and stranded in the village for the time being by a vicious storm that was battering the valley, De Lancey sat in his room at the inn with an open book unread on his lap, trying not to let his mind wander to the dark places he had visited in his nightmares.
He heard a commotion in the hallway and when he put his head round the door to see what was going on he was astonished to see Grant’s mother rushing towards him, her eyes wild with panic.
“Major De Lancey.” She was soaked to the skin and struggling for breath as if she had run all the way to the inn.
“Madam, what on earth is the matter?”
“It’s my boy,” she gasped, “I cannot find him. Please sir, I need your help. He cannot be out there on a night like this. We must find him. Please.”
De Lancey grabbed his coat and followed her into the bar. The news chilled him to the bone but at least there was something he could do.
“Landlord,” he called, “can you send out word to the men of the village? We need to organise a search party.”
“No.” Mrs Grant reached for his arm, “That will take too long. Have you not seen the weather?”
“Very well. You stay here and keep dry. I will start looking immediately. Tell me, is there anywhere in particular he would go?”
”I do not know. He has not left his room since Lewis brought him back. He has barely acknowledged me at all. It is like there is a stranger living under my roof.” Her resolve broke and the tears started flowing.
De Lancey gently put an arm around her shoulder, helping her to take a sip of the brandy that the landlord placed in her hand.
“What about when he was a child? Were there any favourite places? Anywhere he spent a lot of time?”
Her eyes lit up. “Yes. Yes of course. The waterfall on the mountain behind the house. He used to love that place. He spent hours there with his books and his sketchpad whenever he was fed up with his brothers teasing him.”
It was not difficult to find. The storm had swollen the stream and De Lancey managed to follow the raging torrent until he came to the waterfall. Unable to keep a torch alight in these conditions, he struggled to gain purchase on the slippery rocks and almost lost his footing when he stepped back in shock as a flash of lightning illuminated a figure standing on top of the cliff, arms outstretched and face raised to the heavens.
The howling wind carried his voice away into the night as he scrambled up the steep incline.
Heedless of the danger, he grabbed Grant’s arm and pulled him away from the edge, slipping on the wet ground and only just managing to stop the two of them sliding into the falls.
Grant looked at him with wide eyes full of pain and confusion.
“Oh God, Grant, What are you doing out here? Come on. Let’s get you home.”
Grant had lapsed into silence again. He stood completely still and stared straight ahead as De Lancey unbuttoned his coat and lifted it off his shoulders then suddenly flinched and drew back as he started untying the laces of the sodden shirt.
“Grant. Please. You have to get out of these clothes. You will get sick if you do not dry off and warm up.”
Grant turned his face away but allowed De Lancey to pull his shirt over his head and as he fell to his knees in front of the fire, the light from the flames cast flickering shadows over a horribly familiar pattern of scars on his back.
De Lancey gasped in shock as he knelt down beside him, unable to tear his eyes from the crisscross marks.
“Oh God!” The anger surged through his veins as he lifted Grant’s face and searched for a flicker of recognition. “What did they do to you?”
“William?” Grant’s shoulders began to shake as De Lancey moved closer and gently traced the raised scar tissue with the tips of his fingers. “Help me?”
De Lancey leant forward and pressed his lips to the damaged skin.
“It’s alright,” he murmured, pulling Grant into his arms and stroking his hair as his body convulsed with heartbreaking sobs. “It’s going to be alright. I’m here now.”