Chapter One: August, 1802
David Judson closed his eyes and tipped his head back, letting the briny air whip through his dark hair. Gulls screeched as they soared above the rocky beach. Among the crash of waves against the breakers, the sound of children playing met David’s ears. The lad opened his eyes and sat up straight, surveying the grey waters beyond him. On the horizon, he spotted the faint outline of a ship.
David’s brown eyes narrowed as he focused on the vessel, and his nose wrinkled as he thought. “Single masted, fore-and-aft rigged,” he muttered after a moment. “A sloop.”
“David, put away your book and come ’elp us with our castle,” a young voice called.
David looked down from his perch on a rock high above the beach where his siblings were playing. “Be there in a moment!” He stared at the book he held open in his hands. “Oh, bother mathematics!” His eyes returned to the sloop on the horizon. I wish I could join them instead of studying. But anything is better than London this time of year.
“’ow are your studies today, David?” A voice said from behind him.
Recognizing his father’s voice and Irish brogue, David turned. “Very tedious, but I’m almost done with what Uncle George gave me to do.”
“Just a few more days ’afore we return to London and you join him in the country. Are ye ready?”
“Aye, father. I’m very grateful for our time ’ere together before then. I’ll miss you all very much.”
“You’ll be missed as well. But your Uncle George is being very kind to us by allowing you to work for ’im.”
“I know.” David’s eyes wandered back to the ship on the horizon. “An’ it will be easier to bear knowing I’m helping provide for all of you. I just wish it wasn’t so far away.”
“George has arranged for you to visit us for holidays, and we cannae forget he paid for this time as well.”
“I’m not ungrateful, father. Only –”
“Speak your mind, son.”
“It’s not the trade I’d choose.”
Patrick climbed up and sat beside his son. “What would ye choose?”
David looked at the sloop again. It was barely visible now, just a dot on the horizon. “I want to be at sea.”
“That’s even farther from ’ome, and still involves a lot of study. Not to mention pay is irregular and low if you’re not an officer – and twelve is too young yet anyhow.”
“I know. It’s just a dream, and will probably never be anything more.”
“David! You comin’?”
“Harry’s calling you. Go and play with them. You’ll have plenty of time to study when you’re at Donsmoth, but none to play with the wee ones.”
David grinned. “Thank you, father.” He handed Patrick his book and climbed down the rocks.
“What took ye so long?” James asked. He was seven, and today was covered in sand, from the top of his little brown head down to his long toes. He rubbed the back of his hand on the tip of his nose, leaving it smeared with grime.
“I was talking with father. Show me what you’re building there.”
As James, Harry, and William explained their castle to their older brother, David watched and listened, capturing these moments to remember while he was away. He lingered over the sound of their voices and looks on their faces, storing them in his memory. Yet through their joy, he saw the frailty that life in London had brought upon them. Their skin was pale from so little fresh air and sunshine, and their clothes were worn and too large for their thin bodies.
Thank you, God, for this treat. Thank you for Uncle George, David prayed as he watched them. His family needed the extra funds David’s work would bring.
“We just have the drawbridge left, but can’t figure out ’ow to build it,” William said. He squatted by the gate of their castle. “Sand won’t ’old up underneath, and even if we build it up, it will melt away when we fill our moat with water.”
David sat on the sand beside William, his nose wrinkled. “There’s not much driftwood on this beach, but there are rocks,” he said after a time. “P’rhaps we’ll find one that’ll work. Let’s have a look.”
The boys began running toward the large rocks that lined the sand. David stopped a moment to look to where his mother and sisters were sitting.
“Beth! Nan! Come join us! We’re finding a rock for our drawbridge!”
Beth, two years younger than David, stood and left her mother and older sister.
“Isn’t their castle beautiful, David?” she asked as they walked.
“Are there castles like that where Uncle George lives? William told me once they’re all in the country.”
“Most of them are in the country, but I don’t think there are any by Uncle George. I’ll be sure to write you if there are.”
“And will you write us even if there aren’t?”
“Of course, Beth. I expect to be working a fair bit, and studying when I’m not working. But I’ll make priority to write.”
“And priority for God, too?”
David stopped walking and hugged Beth. “That will be done before anything else, and in everything else. The help of the Lord is the only way I can do anything, and His glory the only reason – I pray – I do anything.”
Beth stood on tiptoe and kissed her brother’s cheek. “Then though I’ll miss you, I won’t worry about you.”
“C’mon, let’s help those wee ones find our drawbridge to finish the castle.” David took Beth’s hand and they ran to catch up to the younger boys, playing until they were called in from their escapades.
Two days later, David sat upright in a carriage, his nose pressed against the window. He waved to his family.
“Goodbye!” he cried. “I’ll see you in three months!”
“Goodbye, David! Godspeed!” his family called back.
A moment later, they had vanished behind a wall. David faced forward in the carriage. The hard seats were already uncomfortable, and his journey had barely begun.
“Father, help me,” he whispered. "I’m on my own."
Chapter Two: Donsmoth Estate
Night fell, and at last the carriage jolted to a stop. David looked out and was greeted by many tall, well-lit windows that peered into large and well-decorated rooms. Two men came out through the double doors and stopped beside the carriage. A moment later a third man, well-dressed and with an air of authority about him, came and waited just outside the mansion's doors, under the cover of the porch.
David reached for the handle of the carriage door, only to find it pulled away as soon as his fingers touched it. He scrambled to regain his balance and composure as he realized that one of the first two men had opened the door for him. He stepped down from the carriage and nodded to the servant.
“Thank you,” David said. He walked to the man waiting on the porch.
“Welcome to Donsmoth Estate, David,” George said as David approached.
“Thank you, Uncle George.” David had not seen George since he was a small boy, but his eyes went not to his uncle’s face – though he was very handsome, with sharp features and a fair complexion – but to his clothing. Uncle George wore what David had only seen from a distance before, when rich men walked by the streets of London where David sometimes ran errands for the butcher. How can anyone afford such clothes? It would pay our rent at least, if not our food, too!
“I trust you had a smooth journey.”
“Aye. Shall I fetch my trunk?”
“Smith will bring it for you.” George turned toward the door.
“Smith?” David asked.
“Is that who opened the door?” David looked back at the two men.
“No. That was Peters, the footman.”
David sighed, but nodded.
“Don’t worry, you’ll soon be schooled in proper etiquette. Nothing like the streets of London to rob you of good manners.”
The door opened – David wondered what a servant who opened doors was called – and they walked inside.
“I warned Susannah not to marry that Irish weaver,” George muttered to himself.
David opened his mouth to speak, but said nothing about his uncle’s comment. He bit his lip. “We’re very grateful for your ’elp, Uncle George.” He winced at his accent. Uncle George sounded so refined, and here he was, dropping his ‘h’s like the street urchins. His mother tried so hard to keep her children from picking up slang from the other children, but it still infiltrated their language from time to time.
George grunted. “Peters will show you to your room in a moment. He will act as your valet until we can find you someone suitable.”
David nodded, his eyes wide as he surveyed the room around him. The ceiling was high and that one room alone seemed bigger than his entire house in London – perhaps even the whole apartment building. Instead of dirt, there was thick carpet beneath his feet, and instead of thin, splintering wood, the room was trimmed with solid mahogany. In his bewilderment, David forgot to ask George what a valet was.
“Peters, please show him to his room and help him get settled. David, let him know if you need anything to eat or drink. I often breakfast in my room – tell Peters what time you would like to eat. I’ll introduce you to your instructor in the morning.”
David nodded again, too astonished to speak. Food and drink were scarce in the Judson house. Many days he went without breakfast, and others his dinner was meager.
“This way, Master Judson,” Peters said.
David looked at the footman. He looked about twenty and was well-groomed. Peters was a small man, just about David’s height. His blonde hair was combed to the side, and his hooked nose reminded David of the beak of a hawk. “Just David, please,” David said.
Peters smiled and began to walk. They climbed a flight of stairs. David ran his hand on the railing, which was carved with knots and curls. They journeyed down a long corridor adorned with paintings. David walked slowly, looking at the intricate furnishings all around him.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” he said.
Peters opened a door. “This room is yours.”
David stepped inside. “Just mine?”
“Aye. Where shall I put your trunk?”
“Anywhere, it doesn’t matter.”
“I’ll leave it by the window for now.”
David looked at the candles burning and the large bed and wardrobe. “I don’t know quite what to do,” he said.
“You’ll get used to it soon enough,” Peters replied.
“Peters – I – I know this sounds silly, but I’m not used to this sort of palace. This room is half the size of my whole house, and that a house for eight. We have no servants and ration our few candles – I need your help.”
“I’ll be happy to help, and will answer any questions you have. But first, would you like anything to eat?”
“I’m fine, thank you. My mother and Nan cooked a feast before I left. I’m still full from that. And Peters – I know you’re supposed to be a servant, but will you be a friend as well while I’m here? This house seems to swallow everyone up, and already I feel alone.”
“As much as I can be, I shall try. But some etiquette is not to be broken.”
“You’ll have to tell me what can and can’t be done. I fear I’ll make a mess of things. I think I already have – Uncle didn’t seem too pleased.”
“Your uncle is difficult to please, and if it’s any help, Mr. Judson, I can tell you’ve at least some noble blood in you from the way you speak.”
“Mother’s trained us well,” David said. “Though we do have some of father’s accent, and the younger boys have picked up a lot of a street accent.” He opened his trunk and then the wardrobe doors. “Do people really have enough clothes to fill this?”
“I’ve never seen for myself, but I’m told they do. We footmen aren’t often in the bedrooms – that’s a job for a valet.”
“Uncle George said something about you being my valet until we found someone else – but I have no idea what a valet is. If he means my own servant, I don’t need one – no offense to you or anyone else.”
“When you see what Mr. Young has purchased for your clothes for dinner, you may change your mind,” Peters said with a nod to David’s clothes.
David swallowed. “I don’t know what I’ll do; everything is so different!”
“You’ll learn in time, don’t worry. I wish I could stay longer, but I have other duties I must attend to now. There’s a bell you can ring to call downstairs if you need anything.”
“Thank you, Peters. I feel much more comfortable now than I did a few minutes ago, thanks to you.”
“Before I leave – what would you like for breakfast?”
“Porridge, I think.”
“Aye, Peters. Is that odd?”
“Well, if you don’t mind me saying so, porridge is poor man’s food.”
“I’ve never had anything else for breakfast. What do rich people eat for breakfast?”
“Eggs or sausage and the like.”
David’s eyes grew wide. “Sausage? What’s it like? I’ve only ever heard of sausage!”
“I’ll get the cook to make you something delicious. We’ll feed you well while you’re here, young man, put some meat on those bones.”
Peters left, and David collapsed onto the bed.
“Father, what were we thinking?” If only the Navy were an option – there wouldn’t be so much finery there, nor looking ahead to dull studies. But maybe that’s a romantic view of it. “I’m going to need Your help so much.”
He fell asleep then and there, exhausted from his travels and the unfamiliarity of his uncle’s estate. Before he slipped away into slumber, his final thought was – what will tomorrow bring?
“Foulkes, meet your new student,” George said the next morning.
David surveyed the man in front of him. His teacher was a tall man, neither slim nor stout, and he wore a powdered wig. His nose was large and bulbous, but did not seem oversized because of the man’s wide jaw. Foulkes was old enough to be his grandfather, but his air seemed stiff and distant. Everything at Donsmoth Estate seemed so foreign, and another strange face did not ease David’s adjustment.
Never thought I’d miss London! He thought, and then swallowed. At least the dirty, smoggy streets were familiar.
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Foulkes,” David said, extending his hand for the instructor to shake.
“And I you, David. Your uncle has told me much about you.” The old man smiled, and David’s fears melted away.
“I have other business to attend to this morning, so I shall leave you two to get acquainted. David, I will see you at dinner tonight,” George said.
“I thought today we’d take it easy on the academics, since you’re still settling in. I trust you’ve found everything you’ve needed?” Foulkes said.
“Aye. Peters has been most helpful in that regard. While I’m learning academics from you, I’m being schooled in etiquette by Peters. I’m afraid I know very little of upper-class life.”
“You may know more than you think. Your uncle tells me you are very well-read.”
“Compared to many in the streets of London, aye, I am. My mother has made sure every one of us can read. Whatever Uncle George may say, she was not a fool in marrying my father. We may be poor but in other ways we are very well-off,” David said.
“I’m glad to hear it. I’m also glad to know that you’re used to work. Many of the young men I’ve tutored aren’t accustomed to it and so they’re very lazy and try to get out of work whenever they can.”
“I’ll try not to do the same, Mr. Foulkes. I ’ave been taught to work, but my flesh very often would rather spend my time on trivial pursuits.”
“Come along, and I’ll show you where you’ll be spending much of your time.”
David followed Foulkes down a corridor and up a flight of stairs. Then they journeyed down another hall and turned here and there, coming to stop in front of large, double doors. David looked behind him. He couldn’t remember how to get back to the stairs, much less to the dining room or his bedroom. Foulkes opened the doors and stepped inside; David followed.
The room was small, and David breathed a sigh of relief. No more endless caverns gaping back at him. It was lit by faint sunshine that came in through the window. The walls were lined with shelves filled with books, and in the middle of the room two desks had been pushed together. David looked down. Another plush carpet ran beneath his feet, cushioning every step. The room seemed to welcome David. He could tell it was lived in, unlike most of the other chambers of Donsmoth, which seemed stiff and uninviting.
“Well, what do you think?” Foulkes asked. “No secrets between us, my boy. Say what you’re thinking.”
“I’m quite lost, sir,” David said. “I don’t know how I’ll ever find my way around here. Other than that, it looks like a comfortable room.”
“I’m glad you think so, since you’ll be spending long hours here. As far as finding it again, I’ll draw you a map you can carry in your pocket.”
David nodded. “Thank you; that will help very much.”
“Do you go by David, or something else?”
“Always David by my friends and family.”
“What do your enemies call you, then?”
“Davey – but I don’t consider anyone my enemy, though they may consider me theirs.”
“Then I shall always call you David, unless I’m very angry with you.”
David blushed. “Thank you, Mr. Foulkes. I’ll try very hard not to make you angry with me.”
“Have a seat and we’ll look over some things until suppertime.”
David sat at the empty desk, and Foulkes sat across from him. For the next few hours, they pored over books and problems of arithmetic and literature.
“You’re to be trained as a clerk, but also to be educated about everything else we can think of,” Foulkes said as they closed the books at noon. “You’ll have long days, but I’ll make sure there’s some time for leisure in there, too. The mind must have rest if it’s to grow.”
“I’m glad to hear it, sir. I don’t mind working a long time, and am glad to be learning about many things – but I do treasure discretionary time as well.”
“I’ll show you down to the dining room and while we walk you can tell me what you like to do with your leisure time.”
They left the room. As they retraced their steps back downstairs, David fingered the map in his pocket with a grateful heart.
“At home there’s not much time to do as I please,” David said. “Often someone needs help in one way or another. But when I do get a spare moment, most often I spend it reading the Bible and praying. I like to fish, too, but there aren’t many places in London where you can do that. And reading, too, but I don’t often get books other than my Bible.”
“We’ve plenty of books here, so don’t worry about that. What do you like to study most?”
“I like mathematics, but only if there’s not something else I’d rather be doing. ’istory, too.”
“Sorry sir, history.”
“I’d love to study more about ships and the Navy but there’s not time or means for that very often.”
“I’ll see if we can get you some books on that – as long as it won’t distract you from your other studies.”
David grinned. “I’ll try not to let it, Mr. Foulkes.”
They turned into the dining room, and though David felt as if the greatness of the room swallowed him up, he felt at ease with his teacher and the prospects of the next few months. Perhaps Donsmoth won’t be so bad after all.
This began with an idea for writing a story about a Christian in the Royal Navy, and how difficult it would be. Problem is, I ran out of steam by the time he got there and it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be, so I haven’t put all the energy into it I think it needs. Let me know your thoughts on this! I think to make it what I thought it would be, I’d need to make it a full-length book, which I don’t want to do at the moment, but also it works as a short book, too.