Wordcarpenter Books

Chapter Twenty-eight 


Concerning the French prison and what Hellmantle finds there

100km east of Dien Bien Phu, Son La Province


In the morning, instead of eating breakfast, Hellmantle chewed betel nut one after another while D'Aqs sat with the family and had eggs and bread.

"Umm, are you nervous or something? Why are you chewing betel nuts for breakfast?" asked his squire, who was still favoring his ribs on the left side from his wipeout in the Philippines. "Hungover?"

"No. But having betels for breaky isn't breaking any laws in this country." He tossed another into his mouth and bit into it. He moved it to his cheek and began the process of crunching it into splinters of liquorice tasting narcotic.

"Your teeth are now stained red."

        "Good, just like one of the boys."

"What does it taste like compared to the ones we had in the Philippines?"

"Bitter," he said, crinkling his face when he found a spot between his cheek and gums. "Bitter and chewy tar it is." D'Aqs shook his head when he spat the red juice into an empty beer bottle.

"Is this normal behavior for you? Or I suppose not since there's a wake of destruction and mischief in your past."

"I consider that a compliment, thought perhaps destruction isn't the correct word. I'd say something like a wake of mischief and laughter with no one gettign hurt...most of the time."

"Someone always got hurt when you were involved. I used to watch and wait unil whoever you were sparring with would either limp away with a severe bruise or sprang, or getting the cane from Tottenham." It was a fact that had slipped his mind; and not once did someone commit the worst sin.

"Remember that time about six of us went out to play Space Invaders downtown that night, must've have been late Novmber."

        "I how could I not? Grandfield..." D'Aqs didn't want to retell the shame of being caned for the first time, being a sportsman and A-student.

        "I don't know if I ever told this to anyone before because I'm sure I didn't while I was still at Lakefield."

        "How did you not get caught by the way? I remember, because it was one of those life-changing moments for me."

        "Oh yeah?"

        "Sure. Tottenham hitting me with the cane telling me I was better than this and he kept calling me Big Ball, which he called my Dad when he was there."

        "I was never caned."

        "Come on! Never? I don't believe it."

        "Once I went in expecting one. I had over twenty-four quarters and it was only Wednesday."

        "I think I remember that because you missed the cricket match." He recalled the image of the proud Hellmantle posture for the first ten kilometers, but when the afternoon sun began to set over the Maple trees along the edge of the fields, his body was like mashed potatoes. Hellmantle was finally called in for dinner after twenty-one kilometers of running.

        "I only had three more quarters owing for the following Saturday so I did them in the morning and that was the afternoon I had my one-and-only-no out and century combo at Appleby."

        "We on that match, too."

        "Anyway, so when I walk into Tottenham's office to deflect I go to his bookcase and say: ‘Have you read all these?' He put down the cane - I remember that thing: long and thin wood like willow or something; and he walks up to me and says: ‘Mantlepiece, you remind me a lot of me when I was young. I remember the mothball smell of his tweed, worn and cut like a Lord."

        "He was a real Lord you know?" Hellmantle nodded.

"How could anyone forget that?" D'Aqs looked like he was fifteen again, sitting on the bottom bunk hunched over feeling socially awkward. "So Lord Tottenham and I stood looking at his books until we both reach out for a book at the same moment. And that's when we both laughed, and I knew I would get a lecture instead." D'Aqs had an image of Tottenham running down the hallways of Eton or Harrow inbetween patrols by the master on night duty.

"So then what was the lecture? Do you remember?" Hellmantle brought his eyes to D'Aqs' in a rare moment of eye contact.

"Yes! I remember! It was a life-altering moment for me too." He recollected silently as he stroked his fluffy beard. "If you recall I started to wear a Herringbone tweed after that."

"So what did he say to you?"

"After some minutes flipping through books, he said: ‘You know Mantlepiece, if you can read that book in your hand than that would be the best punishment solution for you. Only if!' he said, raiisng his hand. ‘Only if you never get a twenty-four again! Deal?' He put out his hand and I was nervous as hell, because he hand was so big!" "D'Aqs laughed at the unknowing Aspergers manifesting it so early.

"What book were you holding?" He shook his head.

        "Chaz said he had started to read in a whole other way atfer he read Leaves of Grass."


        "I read most of it, enough to write a paragraph or page and hand it to him to read. Yeah, I could say it had a very similar impact on me too." D'Aqs felt admiration at his cleverness to deflect to bookshelves before the business at hand, and envy at how his own caning had been horrible that left emotional scars.

        "So you went in for a caning and left confidence with the Lower School Headmaster with a book of poetry in your hand and a new flair for herringbone tweed?"

        "That's about right, but back to that night when Grandfield caught all oyu guys. I remember so clearly when we had just got to the bottom of the stairs, you know-"


"I was the one who opened the door and for a full second at least we stared at each other, eye-to-eye." They laugh together. "I mean, what is this guy doing up at four in the morning by the showers? I still relive that moment sometimes out of the blue; his unshaven and coarse hair, his pale skin, his skinniness, his intensity."

"So how do you think that saved you? Do you think he recognized your face?"

        "I've been wondering that so twenty-five years. If I saw him how couldn't he see me? So immediately we're all running for our lives, right? I knew exactly where Grandfield would go: it was either D Dorm or ours in B. So I ran after him listening to his footsteps, and when he went up the extra flight of stairs, I ran into the dorm and slipped under my covers maybe ten seconds before Grandfield arrived. Once the lights came on he could see who was still out there in the woods. I never understood that."


        "Why some guys ran back to the safety of the trees. It was so obvious you would get the cane." D'Aqs looked away, not wanting to admit that that was exactly what he had done. Hellmantle's red-stained teeth made him smile.

"Yep, you sure are weird, and get an A-plus for consistancy."

"Thank you. I never fall into the category of normal!. I never have and never will, and I'm proud I don't. It behooves all men to live an extraordinary life in my opinion. Never be normal because normal is unexciting and it has been done before."

"Yeah but it's not safe, you riding and chewing betel. It's reckless."

"Seems to me we both did it on Luzon."

        "That was one. You've had what? Five so far?"

"With the amount of motorcycling experience I have under my belt I don't think you should worry about me. It's you I worry about with your riding technique. Watch me and learn My Son because I am among the best who ever lived when it comes to this. So let it go - your worries - and let's focus on the prison we have on our agenda this morning. When we go to the prison," he said more to God than to himself, "we need to be patient, so we don't miss anything. Only with patience and humility we will best serve God. Even contemplative warrior monks must perform some labor, and cannot live without devoting time to activities other than contemplation!"

Outside the colonial hotel immediately they both saw the convergence of several rivers that they couldn't have seen last night due to darkness.

"Look," said D'Aqs. "There are three rivers that converge here."

"Or four if you include that dried stream there." Hellmantle pointed to an intermittent stream. "It likely comes alive during the rainy season."

They warmed up their engines and clipped their helmets to their knapsacks, preferring the wind in their hair than the claustrophobia of a tight-fitting hat.

Heading toward the prison, they stopped on a bridge from where they could see the yellow walls on the prison up on a escarpment above where the rivers met.

"This must be it," said D'Aqs. No more words were spoken because Hellmantle knew in his gut that this was the prison where the Great Dane had left the map.

Reaching the prison above where the rivers converged, they stood in front of what was left of the doorway to the old colonial prison.

"Damn!" said D'Aqs. "All this way to find the thing smashed up!"

"Oh ye of so little faith," came the reply. They hadn't been able to see this old part from the road because it was way up on the hill. The prison had been completely blown apart but some walls and cells were still partially standing. There was a part, the main body, where there was a second floor balcony in tact right along a steep grade in the hill.

Parking their motorcycles they walked around to the main part but didn't see anything but the bars on the windows in the European style. The jungle was in the process of overtaking the old wall. The barracks where the guards would have slept was the only part of the jail that was still untouched, as well as the infirmary with old wooden floors. It was still in beautiful condition. It was now part of a museum with some rooms being used as offices. Everything was open so the two cousins checked out everything, not letting one single nook or cranny escape their inspection.

"Where is everyone? We're going have to pay to get in," said D'Aqs, looking around as if someone were spying on them.

"Those that run it must still be sleeping in the office." So Hellmantle led the way by checking each room on tiptoes to minimize suspicion from any wandering Vietnamese ladies who ran the museum. One eventually caught the two Normans and they paid the twenty cents for admission.

"You want tour?" the lady asked.

"No, it's okay. We will do a self-guided tour," Hellmantle replied. The Vietnamese lady nodded in approval and went about her business.

In the museum section the walls were covered with black and white photographs, each hanging crooked. Every photo was scrutinized efficiently with some deserving more attention than others. All the enlarged photos showed the French using the prison and many showed the abuses of the Vietnamese by the French officers clad in kepis. From these rooms Hellmantle was able to have a better idea of the original layout of the prison during French rule. At the end of the corridor they climbed creaky wooden stairs up one of the two turrets on the east side of the compound. What was likely once a gendarmes old personal living quarters with balcony and sectioned rooms spreading south down the hill, it gave a good view of the rivers below. From high on the hill on the second floor, they both could see the four rivers converging by the hotel. The small intermittent creek was too small for the map.

"Remember, the map is buried in the east tower lying at the mouth of four rivers behind the inscribed stone and hidden by an oak," Hellmantle said like a student wanting his homework checked when he knew it was right.

The way the morning sun reflected off the balcony directly into the room caused the wood beams to light up into something that looked alive. The rooms on the other side of the compound appeared to have been transformed into classrooms beside what was now a defunct kitchen. Walking out to the courtyard, Hellmantle could sense the history of it: the horses, the spit, the boots, the laughter and the cries of terror in the deep of night, and the smell of French coffee.

"The French were known for their sharp rule during their stay in Indochina, so it's not surprising that the Viet Mingh destroyed the prison after 1954. They were at least smart enough to keep the courtyard despite the lack of functioning kitchen facilities, unlike the Khymer Rouge who left no more than walls standing in the entire summer retreat town of Kep during their communist revolution in Cambodia."

Now looking as if the betel nut had taken effect, Hellmantle examines his compass and identified what must be the east tower. It was the stairwell closest to the jungle side, where the land jutted upward. There was an opening in the south part of the courtyard so he went through the deep grass to the corner. Hellmantle thanked God that his motorcycle boots protected him from snakes. D'Aqs, who was not wearing motorcycle boots, walked stiffly through what could be a snake pit.

"We're looking for some sort of oak motif," said Hellmantle.

"Look at all the oaks though." They walked to the corner where there was an old oak tree.

        "Look!" They both saw the cornerstone at the same time. There was an inscription or mark of some kind on the stone, but it had been painted over and worn from the elements. Hellmantle had anticipated this so he removed sandpaper from his backpack.

        "Always have the necessary tools," he volunteered. He bent closer to the stone and saw that it was the cross of the Blonde Acquitaine.

        "See it?"

        "It's the Acquitaine cross!" said D'Aqs.

Hellmantle peelled the foliage away from the tower. Some of the weeds were barbed and sharp, so he slipped on one of his motorcycle gloves. Minute jagged barbs scraped the leather on the glove as he pushed the weeds to the side.

"Look, below the cross. It's an arrow!" The arrow pointed east and downwards to the stump of the oak tree.

"There's a hole." Hellmantle reached in with his gloved hand and pulled out debris of leaves and twigs. Down on his hands and knees, he took out a flashlight.

"I see it!" D'Aqs said from his standing position.

        "Can you hold that foliage back for me?" Hellmantle asked. He was about to suggest the gloves but D'Aqs responded with alacrity grabbing the barbed weeds with his bare hands. Just then D'Aqs let out an involuntary cry.

        "Damn!" he yelled to cover up his outburst.

        "Nice one. Trooper." There was blood where his hand had been ripped by the barbed weeds. "Chin up." He tried in vain to repress his laughter, so in an effort to hide his mirth Hellmantle reached deeper into the hole.

"Is there something?" He pulled out the last of the grass and soil and then reached in deeper this time.

"What is it?" D'Aqs let go of the foliage and promptly put his hand, albeit a bit gingerly, into his pocket.

        "There's something hard and smooth. Wait! It feels like it's a corner of a bottle." Hellmantle stood up from the stump and removed his knapsack and put on the other glove.    

"A bottle?"

        "Yeah, it feels like a bottle. It's slippery. I need more space. It's buried in there."

        "It's been there over fifty years."

"Yeah, yeah." Hellmantle knelt down again shining the light directly into the hole in the earth. When he bent his neck at a hyper-extended angle, his heart jumped into his throat. For a second he couldn't breath. From the light of his flashlight he saw a reflection of glass. He lied flat on his chest and reached as far down the stump as he could.

"There is something else that feels like a cork." This time Hellmantle was able to grasp the top of the bottle. Wiggling it a little, he finally had enough of a grip to pull it out.

        "This!" unable to complete his sentence. Hellmantle was laughing hysterically. His eyes popping out of his head as he rubbed his hands around the bottle with noted care. He was on the verge of losing control.

        "You've got it! I can't believe it!" The bottle was small like a medicine bottle. The cork was jammed in deeply so it required care to remove it. Hellmantle held it in his hand for them both to look at.

        "There's something inside."

        "I see it," said D'Aqs.

        "Let's not open it here. In fact we should split."

        "We should." Hellmantle made one final reach deep in the hole and found nothing more.

Placing the bottle in his bag, he covered the hole as best he could and they walked briskly together unseen to the prison's main compound and then under the gateway where old Frenchmen had once saddled their horses. There, Hellmantle lit a smoke. He was so giddy he could hardly stand still. D'Aqs stood there shaking his head with his mouth wide open. The missionary felt his edifice of belief threatened as if by an earthquake.



TABLE OF CONTENTS                                                                                  
          The Family of the Bible
1.       Concerning the famous Hellmantle's position, character and way of life
2.       Concerning the ingenious man's visit with his uncle Jack Grosseteste
3.       Which relates to how Hellmantle is given his first adventure
4.       About what happened to our adventurer when he goes to the Philippines
5.       In which the story of our crusader's journey begins in earnest
6.       About Hellmantle's time in the city of sin on Christmas Eve
7.       About the brave Hellmantle's success on his adventure to Baguio City worthy of happy memory
8.       In which the courageous Hellmantle of Normandy journeys north into the Cordillera Mountain Range
9.       About what happened to Hellmantle in the mission in the mountains and the crucifixion of Jesus
10.     Concerning Hellmantle of Normandy in the land of the headhunters
11.     About the required riding techniques to reach the destination of Sagada and the church organist
12.     In which the German artist is tracked to the Shamrock Café and dangers of the northeast of Luzon Island
13.     In which Catharine is tracked to the Shamrock Café and an eery coincidence of a reoccurring dream
14.     About Hellmantle reaching the rice terraces and finding a way to the northwest
15.     About what happened to our intrepid philosopher in the middle of the Sierra Madre Mountains
16.     In which a record is given about the brave Hellmantle through uncharted territory on his trusted dirt bike
17.     Which relates to Hellmantle of Normandy reaching the northern coast and the rubble of Aparri
18.     About the final day of the motorcycle journey and discussing the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel in Vigan
19.     About the sermon in Agoo Basilica and what they find at the church with the rouge bell tower
20.     Concerning the Dutch Padre and what he knows about the hidden map
21.     About the return to Manila and the coup that causes the Great Man from Normandy grief
22.     Which brings Hellmantle of Normandy back to Hong Kong to re-evaluate the next step in his quest for truth
23.     In which their journey is related to Jack Grosseteste and a new task is set before the Man from Normandy
24.     Concerning the journey to northern Vietnam to track down the map hidden at a French prison
25.     About how Hellmantle and D'Aqs compare notes on their task at hand in Hanoi
26.     In which an account is given of the beginning of the journey of Hellmantle in Vietnam
27.     About how Hellmantle and his brave squire ride north to the place where the four rivers meet
28.     Concerning the French prison and what Hellmantle finds there
29.     Concerning the discovery of the bottle and what lies inside of it
30.     Concerning the journey to Dien Bien Phu in honor of their grandfather the Great Dane Hellmantle
31.     About what the motorcyclists see on the fields in Dien Bien Phu
32.     Concerning the motorcycling required to reach Hanoi via the other side of the Da River Valley
33.     Which tells of the final stage back to Hanoi and the discussion after their most beautiful ride
34.     Concerning the visit with the knowledgeable Jack Grosseteste and the sally to India
35.     Concerning the arrival and journey to Kashmir Valley
36.     In which the journey begins in earnest through the checkpoints to the foot of the Moghul Fort
37.     In which Srinagar is reached and how the houseboat was as it was hundred years ago
38.     In which Hellmantle reach their houseboat on the lake below the fort and beside the mosque
39.     In which Hellmantle sets out for the Tomb of Thome and his brother Joshua beside him
40.     Which relates to the agreeable history of the journey north to the monastery on horseback
41.     In which Hellmantle returns to Srinagar and finds the first translations of the black stones
42.     Which concerns the deciphering of the discovery at the monastery and the need to go to the Ganges River
43.     About Hellmantle of Normandy's meeting with the holy man after taking a dip in the Ganges River
44.     About Hellmantle's meeting at Jack Grossetests's place with D'Aqs and Catharine the artist from Sagada
o       Chronology of Historical Events



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