To Hear the Angels Sing
by Sarah B.
It was past eleven o'clock on Christmas Eve, on a warm and starlit night
off the coast of Gibraltar, when Horatio Hornblower stopped pacing on the
deck of the H.M.S. Indefatigable and decided it was time to go to bed.
He had nothing else to do; well, nothing that wouldn't make him uncomfortable.
Down in the lieutenant's wardroom, beneath the sturdy planks that Horatio
now walked, he knew that most of the officers were sitting around the tables
with warm mugs of punch and grog, smoking and reminiscing on Christmases
past. Horatio did not care to do that, so he had excused himself some time
ago and come up to the deck, to pace and surrender himself to his thoughts.
They were not pleasant ones.
No one in the wardroom understood. They didn't know why Horatio had remained
silent while they swapped stories of family and home, of treasured times
spent in the company of loved ones. They seemed mystified when his response
to their inquiries was a simple shrug and an awkward smile. It was almost
as if there was something wrong with not enjoying Christmas.
Oh, he could have shared stories, but Mr. Bracegirdle and Bowles, and the
other men gathered around, wouldn't have wanted to hear them. Where would
I begin, Horatio thought somewhat sarcastically as his eyes fell to the
candelit houses on the shore. Would I tell them about the Christmases I
do remember, vaguely, before my mother died? About the scent of pine and
candles, the lovely voice she had, the warm glowing moments that seemed
tinted with gold dust and velvet? Or perhaps I should begin after she died,
when the house went dark and my father withdrew, when Christmas became just
another day and all singing became as cacophonous noise to me...
No, he thought, they would not wish to hear any of that. But that was how
And no one understood. Although, to be honest, Captain Pellew seemed to
respect his wishes, and did not press him at dinner when he noticed Horatio's
silent brooding. The other people at the table were in a lively enough mood,
and except to wish Horatio a happy Christmas Pellew left him alone, indeed
steered others away when the occasional joshing comment was made about Horatio's
recalcitrance. Thank goodness for that, Horatio sighed, and stared up at
the stars. Captain Pellew was looking out for him, as always.
But it was inevitable that the dinner would end, the party break up. Dr.
Sebastian, the Indefatigable's new surgeon, left to check into the sickbay,
then help the chaplain with preparations for the Christmas service. Captain
Pellew retired to write letters home to his wife and family. And Horatio
was left alone.
The wind blew off of Gibraltar's coast, warm and inviting. Horatio glanced
at the shore again,and resumed his pacing. If things had gone his way, by
this time he and Archie would have been sharing a rum in some corner of
the wardroom, or perhaps in Horatio's cabin, far away from the cheerful
reminders of other peoples' happy Christmases. Of everyone on board, Archie
understood Horatio's gloominess, and it was only with Archie that Horatio
felt comfortable enough to sit, just sit, with a glass or a tankard. They
had passed other evenings like that; while all about them others were making
merry, Horatio would take a flask of rum to Archie's cabin and the two would
just sit, sometimes in silence, but sometimes in quiet conversation. Archie
was the one person on the ship with whom Horatio knew he could have passed
this evening comfortably; Archie would not attempt to dislodge him from
a melancholy mood when he was feeling melancholy himself.
Because Archie's Christmases had not been that joyous either.
Archie didn't talk about it much; he didn't need to. Horatio was well aware
of how his most recent Christmases must have been, trapped on the Justinian
with the shadow of Jack Simpson looming over him, even in his dreams. Before
that, though, Horatio had asked Archie once, what were Christmases like
when you were young, still at home? He was thinking of his own childhood
of course, of the joy in the house when his mother was alive.
Archie's reply was soft and wistful Long ago, when he was very young and
his mother was alive, it was as if nothing could harm him in the world,
he said, especially at Christmas. His brothers would go off and leave him
alone, but it didn't matter because his mother would see his loneliness
and wrap him in her arms, and he felt safe and protected and loved. But
after she died.... Archie trailed off with a sad shrug and a shake of his
blond head. He didn't want to talk about it.
And yet, despite his unhappy past, Archie was still determined to celebrate
Christmas. Horatio pondered this as he came to the end of the deck and turned
around to pace the other way. In fact, Archie had suggested that they attend
the Christmas service, at least to make Dr. Sebastian happy. Horatio had
to smile at that; it was such a relief to Archie to have a surgeon on board
who wasn't cold or rude, who didn't think fits made one weak or terrible
scars made one less of a man, that Horatio was certain that Archie would
have performed somersaults to make Dr. Sebastian happy. However, attending
the Christmas service would have been enough, and Horatio had almost agreed
to it despite reminding Archie of the discomfort music caused him due to
his tone-deafness. He had almost regretted mentioning it, when he saw how
Archie's face had fallen in dismay and disappointment. Then Archie had rallied
and said, come anyway, Horatio. Perhaps it will cheer us both up. And Horatio
had just about decided to go.
Then that afternoon Archie had gotten sick, and that changed everything.
Horatio hoped it wasn't anything serious - Archie insisted it was just a
sore throat, but because he also had a fever Dr. Sebastian confined him
to the sick bay, to stave off a possible epidemic. Horatio had gone to see
Archie after dinner, but since he was asleep it was an extremely short visit,
and an unhappy one as well. To see anyone sick made Horatio feel frustrated
and helpless, but when it was his closest friend lying in a sickbay cot,
his face damp with sweat and pinched with pain, it made Horatio particularly
unsettled. But Dr. Sebastian assured him that he would do all he could,
and that likely Archie would be fine in a few days. Attending the Christmas
service that night, however, was definitely out. After some inner debating
Horatio decided to forego the service as well, and instead went to the wardroom.
Then up to the deck to pace.
And now - at last - Horatio was weary of pacing, and decided it was time
to go to bed.
The unfairness of the world weighed heavily on Horatio's shoulders as he
made his slow way to his cabin. It was bad enough that the season afforded
him no joy, when it made others practically giddy; it was bad enough that
England was at war, and he was forced to spend Christmas away from his father,
who while distant, did not deserve to be alone; but besides all of that,
the one person Horatio knew who needed happiness, who needed the kind of
peace and rest that Horatio was unwilling or unable to accept, was lying
ill in a sickbay hammock and would miss even the sharing of rum in Horatio's
cabin. It was too much to bear.
With a deep sigh, Horatio plodded down to his cabin and opened the door,
half-asleep already with the sodden mantle of depression. As soon as he
turned up the lantern, however, something lying on the neat covers of his
bunk caught Horatio's eye and, frowning, he leaned over and picked it up.
It was a slip of paper, Archie's handwriting. Your gift is by the
Ensign, it said.
Horatio grew puzzled. Gift? By the ensign... well, all right. If it would
cheer Archie up, Horatio decided to play the game. He turned the lantern
back down and made his way to the topdeck.
The ensign,the grand flag of England, was flapping in the soft Spanish breeze
just as Horatio knew it would be. But as he neared the pole, Horatio saw
to his aggravation that there was nothing there but another slip of paper,
jammed into the bottom of the flagpole. Taking it out, he opened it and
Sorry, I'm mistaken. Your gift is over by the wheel.
All right then, Horatio thought, getting a little more puzzled with
each passing second. He turned about and headed for the wheel, which stood
unattended as they rode at anchor.
A little searching found not a gift but yet another note. Has this
taken your mind off the melancholy? This note asked, Then you've
only one more journey to make. Your gift is really up at the mainmast fighting
The fighting top! Horatio looked skyward, to where the platform halfway
up the main mast sat. Damn it, Archie knew he didn't like heights...why
did he put his gift on the fighting top?
Growling inwardly, Horatio tucked the note into his pocket and, swearing
revenge on Archie once he got better, climbed the rough ratlines to the
The climb did not seem nearly as long as it had when he was a midshipman,
and after only a little huffing and puffing Horatio found himself on the
metal platform that marked the halfway point between the deck and the top
of the tallest mast on the ship.
For a moment Horatio forgot about the promised gift and took in the view.
Since they were at anchor, the sails were furled, and the unobstructed view
was magnificent. Below him, and some distance away, Horatio could still
see Gibraltar, the town's lights twinkling serenely across the black waters
of the harbor. It was the same town as it had been when viewed from the
deck, but Horatio could see more of it, could see how all of the homes were
lit with candles and torches, how the churches were glowing and inviting.
As if in answer, the endless web of stars sparkled overhead, and Horatio
tilted his head to gaze at their sheer number and the vastness of their
reach. Down on deck they were grand enough; here he seemed to be among them,
and it stirred his unpoetic soul out of its sadness to wonder at their heroic
Then he thought, it's Christmas Eve. And looked for one particular star.
A moment later, he found it.
His mother's star.
The wind grazed his cheek again, soft and wistful, and Horatio leaned his
back against the mast and looked at the tiny beacon, now so close he felt
he could reach out and touch it. It was the star his mother had shown him
before she died, and told him whenever he needed to feel her near, he had
only to look for that heavenly reassurance and know that she was close,
and watching him.
Horatio's sight was blurred by sudden tears, and he looked away from the
star in sudden, ferocious anger. It was Christmas, and his mother wasn't
there, would never be there again. The rawness of his pain made him gasp
- he wasn't prepared to miss his mother so much, all in an instant. But
there it was, as undeniable as every other unfair thing he'd been dwelling
on, the sorrow as real as if she'd died yesterday. His practical scholar's
mind fell away as if it were made of paper, leaving only the aching knowledge
that he missed his mother, and what Christmas had been when she was alive
and he could hear angels singing. It was that real, that foolish, and that
agonizing. And Horatio had never thought about it before.
One of the men called to another below, and Horatio came back to himself
and wiped his eyes. A moment to compose himself, and then - oh - Archie's
Before Horatio had even completed that thought, he happened to glance down
and see that someone was climbing the rigging toward him. He was even more
surprised when the figure came closer, and he recognized who it was.
"Dr. Sebastian," Horatio breathed, for it was indeed the tall
half-Spaniard who was now near to his perch, and came up through the lubber's
hole with a gentle smile on his long face.
"Ah, you are here, lieutenant," the doctor said in his deep tones,
easing his tall frame through the small hole much as Horatio had done some
time earlier. "Good, it was my last hope."
"Sir?" Horatio asked, confused and hoping his eyes did not look
red. He couldn't think of a way of wiping at them without Dr. Sebastian
noticing; the man was very observant. "Do you need me? Is something
"Everything is fine, lieutenant, Mr. Kennedy is resting comfortably,"
Dr. Sebastian replied as he crouched with a grunt on the metal platform,
using one hand to steady himself on the ropes. Looking at Horatio with his
sharp black eyes he continued, "I am afraid I have come to offer you
an apology, however, on his behalf."
"On Archie's behalf?" Horatio's eyebrows went up. "What for?"
"Well," Dr. Sebastian looked down with curious eyes, his long
gray hair flowing around his face as he spoke, "It seems that Mr. Kennedy
was very keen on my finding you as soon as possible, to prevent your following
the notes he left for you. My apology is that apparently I failed in that
Now Horatio was extremely confused. "He didn't want me to follow the
"Do you mind if I sit for a moment?" Dr. Sebastian asked as he
stretched out his long legs on the platform, "It was a long climb up
here, and I must gather my strength to climb back down without becoming
Horatio shook his head, his grief giving way to aggravating puzzlement.
"The notes," Dr. Sebastian said with a sigh as he gazed at Gibraltar's
shore, "You see, Mr. Kennedy's intention was to meet you up here with
a bottle and his good company, to witness the Christmas services on shore."
Horatio nodded. "Oh - "
"Of course," Dr. Sebastian frowned, "That was before he fell
ill, and in his fever forgot that he had already baited your path. He only
awoke a few minutes ago, and remembered them."
"And sent you to keep me from..." Horatio looked down at the ratlines,
and made a face.
"Um, yes," Dr. Sebastian scratched his neck and smiled a little,
"I believe his exact words were, 'Oh my God, Horatio will murder me
if he climbs those ropes and nothing's there.'"
Horatio returned the smile, then asked, "Then is he feeling better?"
"Not quite yet, I'm afraid," Dr. Sebastian reached into his jacket
and pulled out a thin black cigar and some flint, "But he will, with
rest. Don't worry."
Horatio sighed, felt his melancholy weigh once again upon him.
"My, this is quite a view, from up here," Dr. Sebastian squinted
at the distant shore. "I believe I've been to that church."
"Indeed, sir," Horatio said, just to be polite. He was beginning
to feel very tired.
"Yes," Dr. Sebastian leaned back against the mast and struck the
flint to light the cigar. "It's beautiful on the inside, but you can't
tell from here." There was a sharp crack as the flint sparked, and
the tip of the cigar flamed.
Horatio watched in silence as Dr. Sebastian took a few puffs on the cigar,
then blew a thin line of blue smoke into the night air. Then he turned to
Horatio and asked, "Lieutenant, do you mind if I ask if something is
Surprised, Horatio stammered, "Me, sir?"
Dr. Sebastian nodded, squinting again through the smoke, "Mr. Kennedy
was very keen on me making sure you were all right. We had a conversation
after he awakened, while I was making some tea for his throat."
Knowing Archie would never divulge his secrets, Horatio shrugged and said
quietly, "Mr. Kennedy knows that I...we share a similar..." Finally
he stopped and said in a louder tone, "I'm sorry, doctor, I know you
hold this season sacred, but to myself it brings only unhappy memories,
and I seek to avoid it."
Dr. Sebastian nodded. "And Mr. Kennedy feels the same. I understand;
it's honorable that you both wish to carry each other."
"Yes, sir," Horatio answered in frustration, "Only you see
the result, him alone in sick bay and me alone here. If you'll pardon my
saying so, if there is an Almighty this is a very bad joke."
"Oh, I don't mind," Dr. Sebastian replied with a smile, "He's
played some very cruel ones on me as well!" He took another long drag
on the cigar and studied Horatio closely. "You consider yourself alone,
Horatio couldn't help glaring at him. "Sir, if you'll forgive me, I'm
in no mood for religious debates - "
"Nor am I!" Dr. Sebastian laughed and stretched his legs out again.
"Believe me, lieutenant, I have no arguments that would batter down
that thick wall of logic that I can see surrounds you. And after that climb,
I don't have the strength either."
Fine then, Horatio thought, and stared at the lights on the shore.
Dr. Sebastian took another pull on the cigar and said softly, "No,
the reason I asked concerns Mr. Kennedy. You see, we talked about his mother,
about Christmases when he was a young boy. Did he ever tell you of those
Horatio remembered, nodded. "Some."
Dr. Sebastian leaned forward and crossed his legs. "And he told me
about you, that you lost your mother when you were young as he did. You
do not mind that I know this, I hope?"
Horatio shrugged. "It's common knowledge."
Another drag on the cigar, the red tip glowing in the warm darkness. "Memories
are powerful things, you know. Mr. Kennedy told me he wanted to bring you
up here in the hopes that seeing the lights, the stars, and hearing the
choirs sing when it strikes midnight would remind you of your mother, and
that you are not alone."
Horatio managed an awkward smile. "Mr. Kennedy forgot that I am tone-deaf,
but I appreciate his trying nonetheless."
"Ah, but there it is, you see," Dr. Sebastian said as he leaned
back and waved his expressive hands, "He is trying. And your Captain
Pellew, he is concerned for you also, he told me so after services tonight.
They do not want you to be alone, lieutenant, they pray for you, I thought
you should know that if it does not make you too uncomfortable. He did not
tell me as much, but I believe that was to be Mr. Kennedy's Christmas gift
to you. To guide you back to your happiest memories, and to let you know
that you are not alone."
Horatio's eyes went to the star that still shone overhead, so far away.
"I know." But he didn't; not really.
Dr. Sebastian paused and took a long drag on the cigar, his black eyes gazing
at the glowing shore in front of them. After a moment he blew another thin
veil of smoke into the air and said softly, "It is usual, when one
receives so generous a gift, that a gift is given in return."
Horatio frowned and gave Dr. Sebastian a searching look.
The doctor answered that look with a solemn smile. "Your friend wishes
you a release from your solitude, lieutenant, indeed made me climb halfway
up the ship to give it to you. What would you wish Mr. Kennedy in return,
that I may take back with me to the sick bay this night and give it to him?"
Horatio paused, turned his eyes once again to that singular star, and thought.
A gift for Archie? A thousand thoughts filled his mind, books he knew Archie
liked, new clothes, other things, but they were all trinkets, useless really.
Archie didn't really need any of those things. What he really needed was...
Horatio sighed and let his gaze wander to the shore, to the churches that
were now filling with parishioners eager to celebrate Christmas. Peace.
That was what Archie needed, just one night of complete peace, no horrible
memories, no fearful half-sleep that was too easily jarred to waking. Perhaps
a kind dream, where he could return just for a night to the arms of his
mother, to feel safe and loved and protected. Those reassurances seemed
to be denied to Horatio, but he didn't really need it. Not really. But Archie
Yes, Horatio decided, if it were his to give, he would give his friend one
night's blissful peace. He did not say this to Dr. Sebastian, however; he
was not sure the doctor would understand, and he didn't feel like explaining.
And in any case, it was a gift that was beyond his ability to give. So Horatio
cast about for something else to say.
Strangely enough, however, Dr. Sebastian didn't press him for an answer.
With a loud sigh he stood up into a crouch and put the cigar between his
teeth. "Well, you'll excuse me, lieutenant, but I fear that Mr. Kennedy
will not go back to his rest until I've returned with your good wishes."
He dug his pocket watch out and looked at it, "Well, we've a few moments
to go, but I've never been one to mind tradition. A happy Christmas to you,
"And to you, sir," Horatio said hastily, for Dr. Sebastian was
already halfway through the lubber's hole. "And please give Mr. Kennedy
the same for me. Tell me his gift was very much appreciated."
Dr. Sebastian smiled. "I will, lieutenant. Good night."
And he was back down the ratlines and gone.
Horatio lingered on the fighting top a few moments longer, half-afraid that
he would once again be overwhelmed by those feelings of loss and loneliness
that this time of year seemed to accentuate so sharply. Archie was a good
friend, Pellew was a fine captain, but all the prayers in the world would
not bring his mother back, and somewhere deep inside himself where he was
still ten years old, that's what Horatio wanted. And he knew he would never
Time to get to bed. With a heavy grunt, Horatio hoisted himself to his feet,
wincing as his cramped legs told him how long he'd been sitting there. As
he stretched, Horatio spied one last piece of paper, stuck in between the
platform and the mast. Horatio smiled and shook his head. Leaning carefully
forward, he plucked the note out of its home and opened it.
It read, simply: Happy Christmas, Horatio. A.
And the bells began to ring.
Horatio started a little; but it was midnight, it had to be. Christmas Day,
and the bells were ringing. Of course. The bells - the -
Wait a minute - Horatio turned around and looked at the church. The bells...they
were playing a melody....
Adeste Fideles, Laeti triumphantes -
The notes. He could make out the notes.
No - Horatio shook his head, that was impossible. He had been tone-deaf
for ages, ever since -
Natum videte, regem angelorum -
Horatio's eyes grew wide with astonishment. He could make out the notes.
Every note, it wasn't noise to him but glorious, flowing melody, but that
couldn't be, but it was. He grasped the mast in shock, listening with his
breath held as the music floated over the harbor, the sweet strains so long
dormant in his memory springing to life again as if heard only yesterday
But it couldn't be. It couldn't be -
As he strained to listen, Horatio heard something else, mingling with the
bells in a crystalline harmony, sounds at once so foreign and familiar that
it made his heart stop to hear them. The people inside the church were singing,
a song he knew, a song his mother sang, and he had not heard it since she
Ergo qui natus,Die hodierna
Jesu, tibi sit gloria
Patris aeterni ,Verbum caro factus
Horatio was unsure how long he stood there, between his ship and
the stars, listening to the rapturous music and feeling his heart overflow
to bursting with the beauty of it. Part of his mind cast about frantically
for some explanation, the sea wind, the air, perhaps he was catching Archie's
fever...but that was only one small part of his mind. The rest was weeping
with joy at hearing those wonderful sounds again, at feeling his mother's
hand on his cheek, her arms around him, even if it was just for one night.
Even if it was just for one moment, how warm and welcoming it felt! He had
no idea how he had longed for it, until he had heard that beautiful music...
Cantet nunc io,Chorus angelorum
Cantet nunc aula caelestium
Gloria, gloria, In excelsis Deo
Horatio knew he was crying; he couldn't help it. He had forgotten how beautiful
it was. It was like coming home again, and being loved forever -
"He did not tell me as much, but I believe that was to be Mr.
Kennedy's Christmas gift to you. To guide you back to your happiest memories,
and to let you know that you are not alone."
The words came unbidden, drifted over the music almost, and Horatio gasped
as he remembered what Dr. Sebastian had said. It seemed absurd - it didn't
make sense - and Horatio was not sure he completely believed it -
But the music - the music -
The gift had been given after all. And it filled Horatio's heart until he
was sure it would burst with joy.
Another carol began, a Spanish one, and as Horatio closed his eyes and drunk
in those glorious long-forgotten melodies he heard entwined in them words,
Dr. Sebastian's words -
What would you wish Mr. Kennedy in return, that I may take back with
me to the sick bay this night and give it to him?
Horatio opened his eyes with a start, his mind still captivated by
the wondrous music but suddenly aware of a new and urgent thought. He had
not answered that question except in his heart - and if this miracle could
be worked, why then...
With trembling hands Horatio quickly descended the ratlines, not caring
that his eyes were wild with amazement and his face was streaked with tears.
As soon as he touched the deck, he almost ran to the sick bay, desperate
to know. Desperate to see for himself.
The sick bay was quiet, dark with the softness peculiar to special nights.
Horatio saw a dim glow in the corner, and stilled his pounding heart enough
to walk in slowly. There was Dr. Sebastian, reading by the light of a single
lantern set by the hammock where Archie was sleeping. Horatio came forward
quietly, until he came into the glow of the lantern's light.
And Horatio saw Archie's face, and began to weep again.
The lines of pain and flush of fever were gone, replaced by a peace so complete
and profound that Horatio knew he was in the presence of something he could
never understand. No mere pleasant dream could erase the torment from Archie's
brow, but it was gone; no drugged slumber could soften those haggard features,
replace that stolen innocence, ease that wounded soul, but those miracles
were happening, and as he stared in awestruck amazement Horatio knew, knew
, that at that moment his friend was resting safe and protected in his mother's
arms, far away from the world, where no evil could ever touch him. To know
such peace was what Archie really needed. And he was receiving it this night.
As Horatio stared, staggered by what he was witnessing, Dr. Sebastian looked
up from his reading and met Horatio's gaze. Horatio opened his mouth, but
of course he couldn't say anything, how could there be words for what he
was feeling? He closed his mouth again and looked at the floor, too undone
to even attempt composure.
Horatio heard the soft thump of a book being closed, and a moment later
he felt Dr. Sebastian's hand on his shoulder.
"Mr. Kennedy's gift was to your liking then?" the doctor whispered,
a smile in his voice.
Horatio shook his head and fumbled for some means of expression. He was
so confused - "Sir, it was...extraordinary, it was..." He paused,
then asked, "Sir, if I may ask your opinion, is it - is it possible
when one has a - a deficiency, for that deficiency to - to vanish without
cause or...or..." Horatio stopped, looked down at the floor, feeling
But when Horatio gathered his courage and looked up again, the expression
on Dr. Sebastian's face did not suggest that he thought Horatio a fool.
Indeed, the doctor studied him very closely for a moment, half in wonderment
and half in awe. Then he said quietly, "On this night, lieutenant,
I believe anything is possible."
He indicated the book he was holding, and Horatio saw that it was a Bible.
Horatio felt his confusion mount and mingle with an unexplainable fear,
of what he did not know except that it terrified him to be the recipient
of a miracle from a God he wasn't even sure existed. The enormity of it
was overwhelming, and Horatio found that he did not know what to do with
the emotions he was feeling. So he simply shook his head and shrugged.
Dr. Sebastian smiled a little and glanced back to where Archie was sleeping
and said, "For the believer, no explanation is needed. For the skeptic,"
He turned back to Horatio, his dark eyes shining in the low light, "No
explanation is sufficient. I'm sorry I cannot answer your question scientifically,
lieutenant, but for whatever it's worth I hope that the gifts you receive
today bring you happiness and the profoundest of joys."
Horatio sighed and looked again at Archie, knew he could never find words
to convey the gifts that had been contained in hearing music again, and
seeing such calm in the face of his friend who had known such sorrows. Mustering
an awkward smile he said feebly, "Thank you, Dr. Sebastian. A happy
Christmas to you as well."
The doctor smiled and patted Horatio on the arm. "Come back again in
the morning, I'm certain Mr. Kennedy will be most anxious to see another's
face besides mine."
"Yes, sir," Horatio said softly as he backed away, "Good
Dr. Sebastian nodded his farewell and was on his way back to the chair when
Horatio left the sick bay. Before he left, however, he chanced one more
look behind him, at that small halo of light where Dr. Sebastian was but
a dark silhouette, and Archie's sleeping face almost glowed with the inner
serenity he so desperately needed. Then Horatio turned, and went back up
on the deck.
The night air was still warm and soft, and as he walked to the railing Horatio
found that he could still hear the glorious music from the church on the
shore. It was grand and triumphant, wreathed in the wind and entwining all
around the riggings and the masts of the grand ship he called home. Horatio
looked up, thinking that he could almost see the melodies and harmonies
twining around the masts like living things, to spin like a ribbon of gladness
and beauty from the ship to the stars, and beyond them. And it seemed -
of course, it didn't make sense, and Horatio knew that come the morrow his
doubter's mind would attempt to dismiss the notion - it seemed that the
shimmering ribbon of song and happiness was infinite until it reached his
mother's star, where it found its home and came to rest.
Horatio smiled as he beheld that vision, and with a heart too full for expression
gazed up with grateful eyes at the star that would always be there, to shine
steadily and remind him of the friends he still had on earth, and the miracles
that even the stoutest of sensible hearts could not in good conscience deny.
Happy Christmas, mother, he said, not to himself, he knew. Not tonight.
The star seemed to twinkle an answer. Horatio smiled to himself. Then he
took ahold of the closest rigging and leaning against it closed his eyes,
and with the kindly help of the rejoicing voices on the distant shore, surrendered
to the miracle...
... and listened to the angels sing.