“Mr. Geoffrey Forbes is hereby convicted of high treason against His Royal Majesty the King of England and sentenced to hang.” The mallet struck the desk. “This Court-Martial is now adjourned.”
Mr. Forbes sat dumbstruck. His mind filled with jumbled thoughts.
How could they? I’m a first lieutenant!
But I deserve it… it’s the just payment for what I did!
The word pounded in his mind.
The most shameful manner of death… hung – publically – for his crimes, like a criminal.
That’s what you are, you idiot, a criminal.
Mr. Forbes gulped as two army officers grabbed his upper arms and dragged him off to his cell again.
Sunlight streamed in through the small window, but Geoffrey saw only darkness. The darkness of the rope closing around his neck and his life fading away. He sat silently on the edge of his cot, elbows on his knees, staring at the floor.
It’s what I deserve.
He lay down as if to sleep, but trepidation mingled with hatred and a feeling of wretchedness, and sleep did not come. Yet he lay still, eyes fixed on the stone ceiling, too shocked to move. Death has been so close before, but never this close. It’s terrifying… it closes in around you, consumes you.
The light began to drain from the cell, and Geoffrey felt a sudden urge to cling to it. The last sunset of my life, he thought dismally. Suddenly he began chasing after the light, grabbing at it… then he fell, sobbing, to the floor.
Perhaps he fell asleep there, or perhaps he just lost all sense of time, but a ruckus in the halls roused him from his stupor. Terrified, Mr. Forbes rushed to the bars of his cell. He clung tightly to them, the cold metal pressing into his jacket.
“What’s going on?” He shouted as sailors and soldiers passed him by. His hands were sweating. Death. It’s coming. One Naval officer, a friend of Geoffrey’s, his junior in rank, stopped.
“The court’s been recalled, Mr. Forbes, sir!”
Geoffrey was astonished. “Recalled, you say? But the verdict…?”
“They say they have some new evidence, though what, I do not know.”
Puzzled, Geoffrey walked back to his cot and sank down on it. There was one last ray of sunlight near him. Hope?
He started pacing. Left. Right. Left. Right. Turn around and go the other way… curse this small cell! Then two soldiers were unlocking his cell.
“There’s something you need to see, sir.”
There, before the court, stood Mr. Forbes’s captain, the admirable Captain Jones. Geoffrey’s jaw dropped. What’s he doing here?
Geoffrey stared at Jones, who met his eyes boldly.
“Mr. Forbes is hereby released and Captain Jones condemned for high treason against His Royal Majesty the king of England.”
Jones turned to leave, and as he did the gavel banged down once more.
The soldiers released Geoffrey, and took Jones instead. Geoffrey panicked. What’s going on? he wanted to ask.
“But it was me, Captain, it was me!” Tears filled Geoffrey’s eyes.
Captain Jones put his hand gently on the boy’s shoulder through the bars of his cell. “I know, I know it was.”
“Geoffrey… someone had to take the punishment.”
“And I was going to! Just let me get what I deserve!”
Captain Jones shook his head. “No. This is a gift for you, that you might live. You’re young, Geoffrey. I want this to change your life so you’ll never be the same man again. You’ve stared death in the face, and bravely so. But I want you to live.”
Geoffrey was silent.
“Take it, Mr. Forbes.”
“That’s an order, Mr. Forbes. Is that understood?”
Geoffrey smiled a little. “Aye aye, sir.”
“There you go, lad. You’re free.”
Captain Jones turned and sat on the cot, his back to Geoffrey. Mr. Forbes stood still, trying to comprehend the awesomeness of Captain Jones’s sacrifice.
Too great to understand,
So heavy to think about,
Too wonderful to speak of,
Yet so compelling to tell the world.
Geoffrey turned and silently walked to the harbor, where the ship was lying. The officer who had told him the court was recalled grinned when he saw Geoffrey. “They’re renaming the ship, Mr. Forbes.”
“Are they, Mr. Fox?”
“Aye. The Altruism. Seems like a strange name for a frigate, don’t you think?”
Geoffrey closed his eyes.
“No, Mr. Fox, a most fitting name.” Geoffrey excused himself and climbed into a small boat waiting on shore. Once onboard the ship, he climbed the rattails, up, up, up… and there he stood atop the yardarm of the Mizzen mast, clinging to the mast pole, eyes closed, ever-gracious to his Captain, who had altruistically given his life in exchange for Mr. Forbes.
Geoffrey stood up straighter, prouder. O Captain, my Captain… Thank you.
Don't read this alone. Read the Bible alongside it, and to get the background behind it watch Horatio Hornblower, episodes 5 and 6 (be warned - there IS a good deal of violence and swearing, and one scene to fastfoward), and/or read my latest blog posts (www.drumofadifferentbeat.wordpress.com) the two called "Self-Sacrifice" and "Your Courage Asks Me..."
Too often we just take for granted Christ's sacrifice. Outwardly we say we're sinners and deserved death, but Christ did it for us. But inwardly? How often do we add "Yeah, but I did deserve life!" or "Of course He did that!" As well as trying to get my thoughts on paper after watching The Retribution, I also wanted to make it so much more clearer to myself and others just how much Christ didn't deserve the death (and so much more than that!) He took on Himself for us.
Bail o Dia ort