Chapter Thirteen: David Judson, Midshipman
“Where am I?” David asked, opening his eyes. Above him was a real ceiling, not the deck of a ship. There was no sound of sea around him, and the room was still.
“You’re in Gibraltar,” Moses said.
“Gibraltar!” David began to sit up, but Moses pushed him down. “What’s happened?”
“Ye had a nasty wound to yer head that no one noticed until ye fainted. Ye had a musket ball in yer head, deep enough to leave ye out for days, but praise God not enough to make an end of ye.”
David reached up and felt the bandage on his head.
“The gale that was coming when the battle ended lasted a week. We set out for Gibraltar, towed by the Naiad, but had to let many of our prizes loose so as not to lose our own.”
“What day is it?”
“The first of November. We’ve been here since the twenty-eighth of October.”
“Remind me of the battle, and tell me the news we did not learn at first.”
“Casualties were high – four hundred and forty-nine dead, and over a thousand wounded. But I think we inflicted worse on the enemy. If I had known ahead of time what Nelson’s tactic was, I would’ve doubted it, I’m sure. It seemed daft to send ships in bows exposed to a fleet much bigger than our own. But he split up the enemy into three parts, by our two lines, and that left them floundering. That’s just a li’l of it, I’m sure I don’t understand it all.” Moses shook his head. “Nelson sure was a genius.”
“Ah, I s’pose the news came after ye were out. Our Admiral Nelson perished, Mr. Judson. He, too, was a mortal man, and took a bullet. There’s rejoicing everywhere on account of our victory, but it’s dampened by the death of our Admiral. No one knows whether to rejoice or mourn. Such men aren’t born every day, men who can inspire their country and keep the enemy at bay, then wipe them out. It’s said he honored God, too, making him even more of a hero.”
David said nothing. It did not seem either real or right that Nelson should die in the moment of perhaps his greatest victory.
On November 4, the Victory set sail from Gibraltar. David and other wounded remained there for a time, but most others returned to sea. David bade farewell to Moses and Parker, but only after Moses gave David a painting of the Belleisle, with his address written on the back.
“For if ye’re ever up in bonnie Scotland. Even if I’m not home, Jane’ll have ye and the children’ll all love ye.”
Yet their parting was bitter, for they did not know if they would ever meet again on this earth, and their camaraderie, forged in trials, was deep and strong.
David arrived back in England on Christmas day. He had written his family to let them know to expect him, as he hoped to come into port in London. It was a splendid reunion, but the joys of it were overshadowed by Nelson’s impending funeral.
After the New Year, Nelson’s body lay in Greenwich Hospital, and David was one of almost a hundred thousand people that visited to pay their respects. He walked silently by the body of his Admiral, and a single tear rolled down his cheek. Although he had never met Nelson, David knew he was a military genius, and an example to all of faithfulness, even unto death, to duty – for most, that example was in duty to men, but to David, it also spurred him on to duty towards God. On the eight of January, the coffin was taken to the Admiralty in Whitehall. David watched in silence as the funeral procession marched by. He could not enter St. Paul’s Cathedral; it was overflowing with people. So he put his hands in his pockets and walked home.
So much had happened in the last few years. He had met many people who had made an impact on him forever – Foulkes, Captain Bristow, Moses, and Parker, to name only the most prominent. As he thought back over the past year, David realized how far he had to go. He was only a midshipman, after all, and rising in the Navy was the least of his struggles. He longed to speak well and often of Christ to all men, and prayed he might do so with more grace than he had aboard the Belleisle. He had covered many miles since the last time he was in London, and had grown up in every way, but still he fell short of the glory of God every day.
Yet even in that feeling of smallness, David felt satisfaction. He had worked harder than ever before, overcome countless difficulties, preached Christ, and had survived his first battle. David was not eager to fight in another battle, but he wanted to remain true to Nelson – “England expects every man to do his duty,” and defend his home and country. He knew not what his next ship would be, nor where it would take him, but he looked forward to whatever adventure it would bring.
He stopped outside their little house, rocking back and forth on a loose cobblestone as darkness fell. Aye, he longed for another round of excitement, but for now – be it a few days or a month - he stepped inside to the warm house – he was content to be home.