Holding firmly to a mental picture of Lord Nelson’s greatest moments, I spent the last few months reading entries in his private diaries. In the course of this, my eye was recently drawn to one entry which appears to have been overlooked by all-bar-none of our weightiest historians.
Success people! Trafalgar is won. Thanks be to God, &c. The Spaniards and the French are in pieces and more than a bit mad so we’ve done our duty. On the flip side everyone thinks I’m dead, but really I’m not. Nevertheless, I heard Hardy flew into frenzy and sheared his own legs off. What an absolute man!
I think this has all stemmed from a marvellous case of mistaken identity. Earlier, I was out on the quarterdeck observing the raging battle and thinking to myself that I’d give anything for a larger chin, or at least a few inches on the heel, when I chanced upon young poop-decker George Stepney who looks exactly like me only taller.
As we stood there talking about the mispronunciation of the word ‘suede’ someone from the other side pushed a bullet into Stepney’s spine causing him to fall into a crumpled heap on the floor. Although by now I had such a headache my first instinct was to take off my coat and place it over the poor boy which I duly did. But then a terrific blast from a 36-pounder knocked me from my feet and blew the crease in my breeches clean off. By pure chance I landed twenty paces away behind the locked door of my cabin.
Dazed and more than a little nauseous, I peeked from a porthole and watched as young Stepney was carried below decks with great urgency, a cloth covering his face. Everyone was convinced that they were carrying the Admiral to safety; it was really quite marvellous to see! Then Stepney was whining about something but no-one could make him out. At one point, I thought I heard him talking about Fanny but I couldn’t be sure.
As luncheon came and went I heard shouted rumours of what had happened and concluded that below-decks must have been so gloomy with smoke that they still hadn’t twigged. I considered going there with feigned temper and saying, ‘If this is someone’s idea of a joke…’ But really how could I tell them they had the wrong man now? Poor Stepney would have been thrown overboard if they’d known the truth. If only someone had asked him to stand up for a minute they would have seen how much taller he was and none of this would have happened. Oh, well.
Having said that, all is not lost. Not at all. For once, things are working out in my favour. By a bizarre stroke of luck I’m ‘dead’ and in perfect health — I’ve never been happier! I think, therefore I am. And when the sun goes down I intend to jump out onto a large chunk of the Duguay Trouin and live the rest of my days on a sand dune in Morocco.
NELSON AND BRONTE