Gateway to the Classics: The Struggle for Sea Power by M. B. Synge
The Struggle for Sea Power by  M. B. Synge

The Death of Nelson

"Heard ye the thunder of battle

Low in the South and afar?

Saw ye the flash of the death-cloud

Crimson on Trafalgar?

Such another day, never

England will look on again,

Where the battle fought was the hottest

And the hero of heroes was slain."

—Palgrave (Trafalgar).

W HILE the thunder of battle roared above, they laid Nelson tenderly on a bed, in the dimly lit cabin below; men lay around, dead and dying.

"You can do nothing for me," he said to the surgeon who bent anxiously over him; "I have but a short time to live."

He was right: the wound was mortal. Nothing could save the precious life, now ebbing away only too fast.

"Pray for me, doctor," whispered Nelson, as the agony of pain threatened to unman him.

Still the battle raged on above. At every cheer that told of victory, a smile passed over the face of the dying man. At last the news came down, that the enemy was all but defeated, and hope was expressed that Nelson would yet live, to bear the grand tidings home to England.

"It is all over: it is all over," was his sorrowful reply.

He longed to see Captain Hardy, who was busy on deck.

"Will no one bring Hardy to me?" he repeated. "He must be killed."

"Oh Victory, Victory," he murmured once as the ship shook to the roar of her guns, "how you distract my poor brain."

At last Hardy snatched a few moments to visit his dying friend. Nelson grasped his hand.

"Well, Hardy, how goes the battle? How goes the day with us?" he cried.

"Very well, my lord," was the reply; "we have got twelve or fourteen of the enemy's ships in our possession."

"I am a dead man, Hardy," he said presently. "I am going fast; it will soon be all over with me."

Hardy bent over his dying friend, then grasped him by the hand, and hurried back to his post on the deck with a bursting heart.

"One would like to live a little longer," Nelson said to the doctor when Hardy had gone.

"My lord," was the heart-broken answer, "unhappily for our country, nothing can be done for you." And he turned away to hide his falling tears.

Another agonised hour passed away. It was four o'clock, when Hardy returned again to the cabin, where Nelson still lay. Grasping his hand, he now announced that the victory was almost complete. Some fifteen ships had been taken.

"That is well," said Nelson; "but I had bargained for twenty."

Then as he planned out the end of the battle, arose a picture of a rising gale, and the battered British fleet perhaps drifting ashore with its prizes.

"Anchor, Hardy, anchor," he said eagerly.

"I suppose, my lord, Admiral Collingwood will now take upon himself the direction of affairs," said Hardy.

"Not while I live, Hardy, I hope," cried Nelson, struggling to raise himself in bed. "No; do you anchor, Hardy."

"Shall we make the signal, sir?"

"Yes; for if I live I'll anchor," was the firm reply.

These were his last commands.

"Kiss me, Hardy," he whispered presently.

Reverently the captain knelt and kissed his cheek.

"Now I am satisfied," murmured Nelson. "Thank God, I have done my duty."

Hardy had risen. He now stood looking silently at the dying Admiral. Suddenly he knelt down and kissed him again.

"Who is that?" asked Nelson.

"It is Hardy," answered his friend.

"God bless you, Hardy," murmured the dying man.

And Hardy then left him—for ever.

About half-past four—three hours after his wound—Nelson died. Before sunset all firing had ceased. The battle of Trafalgar was over.

The news of the two events was received in England with mingled joy and sorrow. "God gave us the victory—but Nelson died," said the people.

Nearly a hundred years have passed away since the famous victory of Trafalgar, when Lord Nelson, Admiral of the British Fleet, was killed. But England's fleet is still her all-in-all; her realm is still the realm of the encircling sea; and the famous signal, "England expects every man to do his duty," rings in her ears to-day.

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