Chapter Three: The First Term
David’s feelings took another turn at dinner that night. He had struggled to take note of everything Peters said and did as he helped David dress, but it was impossible. Every piece of clothing had a name and a specific way to be worn. David went down to dinner feeling overwhelmed and confused. When he saw the table, set with multiple glasses and sets of silverware, David’s heart sank, and his head spun. Was nothing to be familiar here? Peters had explained the layout of the dinner table, but David could not remember what was what or for what. Foulkes and Uncle George were sitting down, and so David did the same. Servants came out bearing dishes laden with food. David’s eyes went wide. He had never seen so much food in one place before. How much would he be expected to eat? He was still full from lunch that afternoon!
He took the outer fork and began to eat his salad. That was one thing he had remembered – begin with the outer fork. Beyond that, David felt flustered whenever he looked down at his place setting.
A few minutes later, a bowl of soup was set before him, but David did not touch it until he saw which spoon Foulkes took. Then he watched his teacher eat, observing every move he made. David picked up the soup spoon and tried to mimic Foulkes’s actions. It felt very unnatural, too stiff and proper for something as usual as eating. His back fought against his mouth to remain upright, and his hand shook as he brought the spoon to his lips. At last, there was hot soup running down his throat, and not a drop had been spilled in his lap or on the table. It was then that David noticed the napkins that graced the table, and saw that Uncle George and Foulkes’s napkins had both disappeared. He remembered Peters saying something about putting something in your lap, and so David took the napkin and unfolded it in his lap. He shot a glance at Uncle George, who was engrossed in conversation with Foulkes. Good, he didn’t notice. David listened as he ate more of his soup, but found the subject to be too technical for him, and turned to think of his family.
Then the bowls were whisked away, and a servant stood by David, offering him meat. David reached out to take the serving spoon, but the servant shook his head. David turned red and put his hand back in his lap, waiting as the servant dished out a large chicken leg onto the boy’s plate. To his relief, David saw that Uncle George also had a chicken leg, and followed his uncle’s example as he struggled to eat the meat with knife and fork.
Chicken legs are meant to be picked up and chewed on, David thought to himself as his knife slipped and hit the plate for the third time, making a loud noise. He was not used to such fancy food, or being served, or the need for manners beyond keeping one’s elbows off of the table and chewing with one’s mouth closed. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Father, help me! It’s a strange dilemma to be overwhelmed by food, but I am. I miss the simplicity of home!
“David, are you alright?” Uncle George asked.
David opened his eyes. “I will be, Uncle.”
“You’ll adjust soon enough,” Foulkes said.
David shot him a grateful look.
“Foulkes didn’t work you too hard today, did he?”
“No. I rather enjoyed our time studying. Once I’m settled I think I’ll be quite happy here.” But settling may take many months.
“I’m glad to hear it, David. I don’t want you to be unhappy here, but I’m sure already you’re happier than you were in the slums of London.”
David clenched his jaw to restrain his anger. He looked at Foulkes, who was about to speak, but said nothing. “My family is in London, uncle, and so I’m more than happy there,” David said at last. “Happiness isn’t based on what you have, but who you’re with, and I can be content in any circumstance because of Christ in me.”
Uncle George stared at his nephew. “Well,” he said after a while, “I think it’s time for dessert.”
David could not sleep that night, and so he lit a candle and took out a piece of paper to write home. In London, he would often stay up late talking with Patrick and Susannah when he was troubled about something, and today he longed to do that again. But since he could not do that, a letter would have to suffice.
Dear Mother and Father,
I’ve had my first full day at Donsmoth. I can’t say I’m enjoying myself yet. The carriage ride was long and bumpy. I’m sore in some spots from it, I think. Uncle George wasn’t nearly as welcoming as all of you. I have my own room, which is much too big for me, and too many clothes to wear to dinner (Peters, the footman, helped me dress today and I can’t remember a thing). My teacher, Foulkes, is a wonderful, friendly man. He makes me feel at ease. I know he’ll work me hard, but also understand my limits and need for rest.
I wish you were here, mother, to teach me everything about etiquette. I made a fool of myself at dinner doing everything wrong.
I can’t put into words how much I miss all of you, and our little home. The rooms here are much too big and it’s not a homey place at all. It’s quiet and cold. I know that will help when studies are in full swing, but I miss the noise.
I also miss talking of Christ. I said something of Him at dinner tonight and Uncle George stared at me and then moved on.
Please be praying for me! I love you all.
“Where you going today, Mr. Judson?” Peters asked as David passed him.
“Fishing! Want to come?”
“I’d love to on a day like this, but I can’t take the time away. Enjoy your afternoon!”
“I’m sure I will,” David said. Foulkes had given him the afternoon off, and he was taking the opportunity to get out of doors. He whistled as he walked, a fishing rod over one shoulder and a jar of worms in his hand. A cold wind blew through the air, reminding David that autumn had begun in earnest, and in a month he would return home for Christmas. He had been at Donsmoth for two grueling months. Etiquette was still a trial for him as he struggled to remember who he was supposed to call what and what he was supposed to say to whom and what he was supposed to wear when and how he was supposed to wear it. His studies he enjoyed, and was completely at ease with his teacher as they delved into mathematics, penmanship, history, literature, and anything else they set their minds to. Foulkes had gotten David a few books on sailing and Naval history, but David found it hard to find time to read for pleasure. He rose early for prayer, and then his morning and afternoon were filled with lessons and work before he dressed for dinner – with Peters’ help whenever the footman could be spared – and after dinner he read his Bible until he was too tired to do anything else. But once in a while he and Foulkes would go on a walk or a drive, or Foulkes would give David the day off.
When he reached Uncle George’s lake, David kicked off his shoes and sat down on the grass. He baited his hook, cast his line, and waited. I’ll bet this lake is something wonderful in the summer.
Still keeping a careful eye on his line, David dug into his pocket and pulled out his latest treasure – another letter from home. He had read it that morning when Uncle George had given it to him, but David read and reread his family’s letters until he knew them by heart, and then he often read them more, only stopping when another came. This one was dated a few weeks ago.
Dear David, it began.
All the boys ask every day when you are coming home for a visit. We all miss you and are counting down the days until you’re home for Christmas. William has started helping papa with the weaving, taking your place. He’s learning, but sometimes it seems very slow. James will soon be able to read by himself, and Beth is teaching Harry his letters. Mama stays busy keeping house, and I helping her.
How are your studies? William says he wishes he could trade places with you, and I’m sure there are days you wish the same. Know that we are glad for the opportunity Uncle has given you, though we all miss you very much. We love your letters, but know time is scarce for you and want you to focus on your studies. Beth wants to make sure you’re not neglecting the Bible we sent with you, and mama needs reassuring you’re saying your prayers. Some in the church have continued their kindness towards us and it’s not as hard to make ends meet – but we need so much still – don’t let mama know I wrote that; she doesn’t want you to worry. I’d write more but I’m almost out of paper. Everyone sends their love.
- Nan, for all of us.
David sighed and glanced at his line. No fish yet. He stared at the paper in his hand, smiling at the familiar, crooked curves of Nan’s handwriting.
“Why must we be so poor?” He wondered aloud. He looked behind him. His uncle’s grounds were so expansive that he couldn’t even see the house from where he sat. He thought of his family, back in London where the skies would be full of rain and the house leaked, and the weather would be cold and there was little money for fuel. The Bible Nan had mentioned the family had bought for David after saving pence all summer long. He had just read that morning in the Bible about seeing a brother in need and closing their heart to them. At least some in our gathering have been helping us. And Uncle, too, though I wonder if he really knows Christ. I’m thankful mama and papa fear God, though sometimes I worry it’s just tradition; that they don’t know Him, just His ways.
He thought of his bedroom at Donsmoth, half the size of the Judson house. He shook his head and looked heavenward.
“Why must it be so, God?” David cried aloud. “If the rich stopped living for themselves and material gain – and started giving to the poor and using what God has blessed them with for the good of others, the world would be a different place.”
Chapter Four: Home for Christmas
The next month dragged by. Every day seemed longer than the one before it as David counted the days until he would see his family again.
I only wish they could share this bounty with me, he thought. It isn’t fair at all, that I receive all this while they and so many others remain in poverty in London. ’Tisn’t right.
But soon the carriage was pulling out of Donsmoth and David was on his way home. He waved farewell to Foulkes, Peters, and Uncle George.
“Well,” he murmured to himself, “I never thought I’d say this, but I’ll be glad to see them again after the New Year.”
He settled back into the leather seats of the carriage and tried to sleep. Even with the leather on them, the seats were uncomfortable. Home had never seemed so close and yet so far away. He couldn’t arrive soon enough.
David woke when the carriage pulled to a stop. He rubbed his eyes and looked out the window. There it was, the alley that led to his family’s house. The narrow street was cluttered with carts parked there for the night, waiting for their owners to take them for work in the morning. David smiled. The alley had always seemed rather ramshackle to him, and it seemed even more unruly when he had spent the last few months at Donsmoth. But no matter how derelict it looked, though, it was home. The driver jumped down and opened the door.
“Can’t fit down the alley, lad. I’m afraid you’ll have to walk from here. Think you can manage with your trunk?”
“Aye, sir. There’s not much in it.” David climbed out of the carriage while the driver brought his trunk down from the roof.
“I’ll meet you here in the morning a week after the new year,” the driver said. “Merry Christmas to you and your family.”
“Merry Christmas to you, too,” David said. He shouldered his trunk and waved as he turned into the alley. Apartment buildings rose high on either side of the boy as he journeyed down the street. Loose cobblestones shook underfoot, but David only had eyes for the sixth building on the right. There, his family lived on the ground floor, putting up with the noise of families living on the floors above them. David breathed deeply, then sputtered and coughed.
No fresh air here, he thought as he tried to rid his lungs of the smog and fumes.
He heard faint voices floating out of the buildings around him, and from time to time a dog barked or cat mewed. Somewhere was music. Then he was surrounded by warm, outstretched arms, and he could not move in any direction for the little band of children around him.
“David’s home!” James shouted.
Harry grabbed David’s sleeve and pulled him toward the open door. Beth put her arm around David’s waist and kissed his cheek.
“What’s Uncle George’s estate like?” William wanted to know.
“Will you teach me all you’ve learned?” James asked.
“What’s your teacher like?” Beth wondered.
“Will you have to leave again?” Harry said, blocking the doorway.
Nan pulled him aside. “David will answer all your questions before long, just let him inside before it rains!” she looked up to the thick, dark clouds that showed in the narrow space between the rooftops of the apartment buildings.
Susannah’s arms enveloped David after he set his trunk down, and he smiled.
“It’s so good to be home, mother,” David said.
“Welcome home, my son,” Patrick said from where he sat by the fire. David noticed that there was more wood by the fire than usual and shot a grateful prayer heavenward. God was providing for them.
“Have you eaten?” Nan asked.
“Not since this morning, but I won’t eat unless you’ve all had enough,” he said. “Uncle George fed me very well.”
“I think you’ve grown in these three months,” Susannah said. “It’s a good thing for a lad your age to have enough food.”
I only wish we could all have enough, David thought.
An hour later, the younger children were all in bed. Nan was drifting off to sleep after a long day of helping her mother. But David, Susannah, and Patrick were huddled around the dying embers of the fire, wrapped in blankets to keep warm.
“So, David, how were yer first few months?”
“They felt so long and yet went by so quickly,” David said. “The first was the ‘ardest. There’s so much etiquette I didn’t know, though there was much I did know, thanks to you, mama. There were so many things I never thought about or never had to think about, like finding my way around or how to greet one person different than another or even what I wanted for breakfast – and when I wanted it! I couldn’t wrap my head around all of it. The next month was easiest, as I was more adjusted to life at Donsmoth. My studies haven’t been easy, but I have a good teacher and he’s also become a friend.”
“How’s your uncle?” Susannah asked.
“I don’t see him very much. He’s often working all day, so I only see him at dinner, and sometimes he’s traveling so I don’t even see him then. But father, I don’t understand it at all, how some can be so rich and others so poor, and how the rich could do so much more to help us and yet they don’t. I’m very grateful for what uncle has done, but I don’t know if he realizes how much more he could do or how much need there is.”
“He’s helping in more ways than you see,” Susannah said. “He employs many people who otherwise would be without work.”
“Aye, but he still has so much more than he needs!”
Patrick looked long and hard at his son before replying. “It’s an ’ard balance, and one ye’ll always be facing, especially if ye continue to work for Uncle George. But ye’re also in a position to do something, ’aving seen both sides and seeing what change can be made and how the poorer folk can best be ’elped. If you sit by silent, ye’re not much better than the rich that do nothing.”
David nodded. “I’d never thought of it that way before.”
“We’ll talk more during your time home. It’s good to ’ave you back, my son.”
“And it’s good to be back. No matter how comfortable I get with life at an estate, I will never be happier than I am with my family.”
David went to bed, but Patrick and Susannah remained by the fire speaking in hushed tones.
“I wish there were another way,” Patrick whispered.
“We’re doing all we can. Another year or two and he can come back here,” Susannah said.
“I don’t want to have him back in London,” Patrick replied. “I don’t want him to be hungry and pale like the rest of us – I don’t want any of us to be that way. Life in the country has done him good. He has grown, and his cheeks are ruddy and he’s not so scrawny like the rest of the boys.”
“We knew we’d have these struggles, Patrick.”
“But it’s so different when you’re living them.”
“The Lord will provide for us, even as He already has. I don’t doubt His goodness.”
Patrick brushed his hand over his eyes. “It shames me to say it, but often I do, Susannah. I wonder how He could allow us to suffer so much. I can bear it for myself, but not for the wee ones. I cannae fail in providing for my family.”
Susannah moved closer to Patrick and leaned against him.
“And now to see David come back and feel the heartache of the divide between rich and poor. In many ways, he may suffer the most, as he struggles to find his place between them.”
David closed his eyes and rolled over in bed, feeling he shouldn’t listen in any longer on their conversation.
Christmas came and went, quiet and small, but full of love. The Judsons decorated their house with evergreens cast off by the rich folk, everyone took on odd jobs to earn extra money to buy presents, someone was always singing, Susannah and Nan scrimped and saved on their food budget so they could make wintery treats and Christmas dinner. They had no tree, but Susannah hung a few baubles from she still had from her childhood above the fireplace. When the first snow fell three days before Christmas, the children tramped out in it and made snow angels and snow men and had snowball fights, coming in rosy-cheeked for hot mugs of tea when the sun set.
“We may not have much, but we do know ’ow to celebrate Christmas,” Beth said on Christmas Eve.
Christmas day they journeyed to the church and celebrated the birth of the Savior, then came home and all pitched in to cook a feast with foods that were delicacies in the Judson home, like chicken and cheese. Little Harry’s gift to the family was an orange they all shared, getting only one or two sections each, but they savored each drop of sweet, tangy juice.
Nan and mother had made new hats for everyone; William had helped James carve whistles for the boys, spoons for mother and father, and birds for Nan and Beth. Beth stitched verses from the Bible onto canvas scraps she and David had found at the port. David said he would clean their section of the chimney as his gift to mother and father, brought pressed flowers he had gathered in the autumn for Nan and Beth, and had made little fishing rods for the younger boys.
“I’ll teach you to fish when I’m home in the summer,” he promised.
The turn of the year came with the same quiet joy as the Judsons spent the day thinking about the year before and gathering with the church before going to bed just after midnight.
“Only a week left here,” said David the next morning.
“What do you want to do before you leave?” Patrick asked.
“I want to spend time together – that’s what I miss most while I’m gone. But while I’m close, I’d like to take another trip down to the port.”
Patrick looked long and hard at his son before replying. “I’ll take you down there today.”
David and his father bundled up in hats, scarves, and gloves, and walked the few miles to the port. David stood on the wharf, hands in his pockets. He fingered the piece of string he kept there for practicing the knots he had learned from one of Foulkes’ books on the Navy. He wrinkled his nose as he scrutinized the ships he saw all around.
“There’s a 74-gun frigate in port today,” he told Patrick.
“Did you ever weave and sails, father?”
“I weave the fabric, maybe sometimes it becomes a sail. I don’t often weave sailcloth.”
David could not tear his gaze from the frigate. He named every sail he could remember, and all the sections he could name.
“Still want to join the Navy?” Patrick asked.
“Aye, father, if it were to become possible. I’ll give it up for the sake of our family, but before I know it’s out of the question I can’t stop thinking about it – and even more praying about it.”
“I’ll think about it, too, but I cannae promise you anything. From our position, becoming an officer in the Navy won’t be easy.”
“I know. But father, don’t just think about it – pray, too.”
“Father, I know times are hard, but you must continue to trust the Lord. There’s no other way through,” David said. “Our greatest need was our salvation, and that we have in Christ. He can provide all our earthly needs, too.”
“Let’s go home, son.”
David cast a last long glance at the frigate. Father, you know my desire. I know you’ve planned the outcome of this all from the start; conform me to be joyful in whatever You bring me.
The week passed far too quickly, and soon David found himself waiting at the head of the alley, sitting on his trunk. Harry, William, and Beth waited with him.
“Promise you’ll write,” Beth said, her arms around David’s waist as they waited.
“I will, as often as I have time. These next months are going to be long and grueling.”
“But then you’re back for the summer,” William said.
“Aye. We’ll have such fun then, but I’ll have some studies as well.”
The clatter of a carriage drew their attention from each other.
“That’s for me,” David said, standing.
Beth clung to him as the carriage pulled to a stop. “I’ll miss you so much,” she said.
He hugged her back. “It won’t be so long once we’re through.”
The driver took David’s trunk and put it on the roof. “Good to see you, lad.”
David nodded. “Goodybe, William. ’Bye, James. I love you, Beth.”
Then he climbed into the carriage, and a moment later the carriage turned a corner and home was behind him once again.