The Best Christmas
by Natalie



It was Christmas Eve. Captain Pellew sighed and laid down his pen. What a
dull Christmas the men were going to have this year; absolutely nothing more
than weevily biscuits for their Christmas feast. The Admiralty had had no
pity. True enough, blockading was dull and tiresome work, and one could not
just sail into any port to get more supplies, butÖ No, thought Pellew
bitterly, no one cared to bring them any. The last supply ship had been so
long ago...
Pellew rubbed his hand across his forehead. No one except he and his
steward knew that he had sacrificed from his own meager store in order to
provide the men with at least a slightly different meal. And no one would
ever know. It was the least he could do to such a fine crew.
*******************
Lieutenant Archie Kennedy looked up he heard footsteps. "Hello, Horatio,"
he greeted at the tall lanky figure approaching him. "What are you doing up
here?" Horatio shrugged. "You've come up so many times during my watches
to keep me company, so I thought I'd try to somewhat repay the debt," he
said matter-of-factly. Archie grinned boyishly. "Perhaps the Christmas
spirit is finally getting to you. I was wondering if it ever would, you
heart of stone."
"Oh Christmas!" Horatio threw up his hands in disgust. Archie shook his
head. "All these years, Horatio," he marveled, "all these years, so many
things have happened, and yet you still refuse to believe."
"Tis nothing but an old legend."
"Ah Horatio, and there you are wrong. It is more than a legend. It is a
tale of love, sacrifice, that changed the lives of countless amounts of
people. It is about God."
Horatio shifted uncomfortably and tried to change the subject. "So what was
the best Christmas you ever had, Archie?"
"Best?" Kennedy looked up. Then he glanced back down where his hands
gripped the railing. "I don't think I ever had one."
"What?"
"Well, the first few years of my life, I have vague memoriesÖmemories of my
mother. She would wish me a merry Christmas and give me some little
plaything on Christmas morning. After she died though, and I joined the
NavyÖ.it's just a blank haze. Like some long eternal nightmare of misery.
Until you came."
Horatio started. "Me?"
"Yes," Kennedy smiled slightly. "A brief but bright ray of sunshine. A
fleeting glimpse of light. Then it was Christmases spent in rotting
prisons, with Spanish or French soldiers making merry outside your door,
while you looked at moldy bread crusts and actually wished for some weevily
ship biscuits. Then last yearÖ" he trailed off. Horatio shuddered
slightly. Last year had been miserable, with the entire ship still feeling
the after-effects of the horrid mission of Muzillac. It had been a quiet,
depressed Christmas, while everyone occupied himself with his own thoughts.
Archie interrupted his thoughts. "But don't you see, Horatio? What you
have been to me? Why I am able to thank God for something? Why-." Archie
broke off at Hornblower's bewildered expression. "Horatio, you do know the
true story of Christmas, do you not?"
Horatio started at the sudden shift of subjects. "I suppose."
"Yes, do you believe it?"
"I...don't know. Perhaps."
"Very well then. Then you must believe in the chance of rebirth that every
man has, as result of that story?"
"I-I...well..."
"Then can't you understand what happened in that Spanish prison?" Archie
pleaded. "That was a rebirth if ever I saw or knew one."
"But me?" said Hornblower incredulously. "A messenger of God?"
"You seemed so to me," answered Kennedy softly. Then he smiled, a bit
sadly. "It would take a miracle to convince you, would it not?"
"Yes, I suppose so."
Suddenly, a voice cried out above them, "Sail to the starboard!" Both
officers whirled around. Kennedy whipped his telescope to his eye. "Bless
my soul," he said after a long moment, "I don't believe it."
"What? What?" Horatio asked anxiously. Kennedy knew his friend's desire
to snatch the telescope. He grinned mischievously. "Well, Mr. Hornblower,
looks like your miracle has arrived." Horatio could barely keep himself
from strangling his friend's neck. His fingers were itching
terriblyÖFinally, with one final joyous laugh, Archie handed the telescope
over. The latter seized it with uncontrolled eagerness. His jaw dropped.
"My God..."
"Yes," said Archie with his broad grin, "apparently, He has answered my
prayer and yours, and probably many others. That's a supply ship! A
miracle eh, Horatio? The Admiralty actually thought of us."
"You must inform the captain immediately," snapped Hornblower.
"I will do so soon enough, Leftenant."
"Mr. Kennedy..."
"My dear Horatio, running everything in life with the Articles of War."
Archie suddenly drew himself up stiffly. "Now enough of this dawdling sir!"
he barked gruffly in an exact mimicry Captain Pellew. "Should I catch you at
it again, man, you'll be put on watch and watch and run the gauntlet for it,
sir!"
"Archie!" exclaimed Hornblower, torn between delight and outrage.
"I judge a man by what I see him do, so you had better watch yourself. The
next man I catch dawdling-."
"Good evening, Mr. Kennedy." At the sound of the voice, Archie jumped, and
Horatio choked back his laugh. "S-sir!" they both said. Kennedy's blue
eyes were terrified. He could see his future clearly, court-martialled for
insubordination, his commission stripped.
"Is there something I should know about?" Pellew asked with no emotion on
his controlled face. Hornblower elbowed his paralyzed friend and nudged him
forward. "Y-yes, sir," stammered Kennedy. "Sh-ship s-sighted. W-we
believe it's a s-supply ship." He cursed silently under his breath.
Pellew arched a fine eyebrow. "Is that so? What a fine thing for
Christmas. Well gentlemen, I came on deck to ask you if I would have the
pleasure of your companies at dinner tonight?"
"Yes sir," answered Hornblower for both of them.
"Good," said Pellew as he started to go below. "Perhaps, Mr. Kennedy, you
would care to show us a little display of your fine acting talents?" he
asked dryly.
"Yes sir...I mean, no sir...I mean, if you say so. Sir." Kennedy blushed and
cursed more furiously in his mind. He was shocked that the captain hadn't
hanged him yet.
As soon as Pellew disappeared, Hornblower laughed at his friend's stricken
expression. "Come on, Mr. Kennedy. As officer of the watch, you have to
see to the supplies. Now no more dawdling!"
******************
Finally finished with his watch, Kennedy headed below with Hornblower. The
supplies were surprisingly bountiful and in good condition. The officers
had been pleasant, sharply dressed fellows. Still strange that the
Admiralty had thought of them...
"I say Archie."
"Hm?" Archie turned around.
Horatio ran his long fingers through his curly brown hair. "ThisÖsounds a
bit strange, but you know the supply ship?"
"Yes?"
"Well, it hasn't left us for more than a few minutes, and, well, it's out of
sight now. Strange, it just rather...vanished."
Archie's blue eyes lit up. "There Horatio, didn't I say it was the answer
to a prayer? You must believe now."
Horatio shook his head grudgingly. "There must be a logical reason, but,"
he smiled his rare smile, "I do promise to think more about it." His smile
widened. "After all, they say God is on our side."
Archie looked over-stern. "Then let us pray the Almighty never chooses to
become neutral," he said with perfectly copied dry, sarcastic wit.
"Yes," said a identical dry voice seemingly out of nowhere. Both young men
jumped. "And let us pray two promising young lieutenants will show up for
dinner tonight."
Archie and Horatio quickly ran and took refuge in the wardroom. Around the
corner, Pellew smiled, reluctantly and affectionately. He shook his head
and went to his cabin. Outside, the moon shone brightly above; a full
glorious moon, flanked by millions of dazzling stars. The Indefatigable
sailed on a peaceful quiet ocean, with only the sound of an Irish sailor
singing for his shipmates.
*****************
That Christmas was always remembered fondly by everyone on board. The
captain whom they all idolized and worshipped had somehow procured wonderful
food for all. The dinner with the officers had been merry. Archie had even
drank some brandy, and Horatio, after much prodding, consented to listen to
the music-making of the men. And though he couldn't really understood the
noise, somehow, the sounds reached him, making him feel a strange sensation,
a warmth in his heart. And there was Archie by his side, smiling, happy,
and fresh. "It was," he later told Hornblower when late into the night they
finally retired to their hammocks, "truly the best Christmas I have ever
had."