Seven Candles and Seven Feathers, A Christmas Story
By Skihee :)




Captain Pellew sat at his desk. His worn and whiskered face spoke volumes of the last few days aboard Indefatigable. The dark circles under his aging eyes told the story of the sleepless nights and watches he had held. Yes, the Captain had been on watch! He held his quill in hand. His journal was before him. The glassy stare in his eyes came into focus as he pinched his lips together and looked down at the blank paper before him. His spirit felt as empty as this page. It was time to fill it.

December 23,1797

It is two days before Christmas and I write these words with a heavy heart. I have just come through the worst storm at sea in my long memory of time in this service. Was it not bad enough that two thirds of my crew was down with this infernal sickness and then to be hit with such a fierce storm? There were barely left enough fit to see us through it! Praise God, the sea is relatively calm today. We are hove to at the moment. The men need rest after battling that tempest from the west. What a gale! Or, maybe it had been a late season hurricane! I must be thankful that it was moving fast, whichever it had been. If it were a hurricane, I know we could have been in its grip for a week or more! Thank God it has gone leaving us with gray sky where one cannot tell where water ends and sky begins. Mr. Hornblower relieved me from my last watch. In looking at him, I had my doubts whether to leave him. Only my own weariness convinced me to take these last few hours for sleep and his insistence that he was well. I must clean myself up and check on my ship and my crew.

He laid his quill down and covered his face with his hands.

"God, what am I to do?"

Pray.

"You know I do. I am overwhelmed, sir. The world is too much with me!"

Pellew stood. His shoulders felt as if they were drooping to the floor with the weight he felt upon them. Over half his crew sick with fevers, coughs, chills. A sickness that took their strength and laid them low. Not only his men, but his officers. His duty roster revealed the casualties. What few men were left rotated between tending the sick, however they could be tended, running the ship, no, not running it, but maintaining it, and then grabbing whatever rest could be had. Perhaps a little more rest now that the storm had left them. That was all that could be done at this point, maintain, hold our ground. This was as surely a battle as ever there was one. But the enemy was within their bodies rather than without. Could the plague be worse than this? Yes. The one small blessing was that no one had died from this. Not yet, anyway. Thank God, for that!

Yes, thank Him.

"What?"

He put his hand up to his forehead and sighed. 'Pray.' He had heard that word as if someone had spoken it to him. And now this other, 'Yes, thank Him.' He felt himself stagger and reached out to hold the frame of the stern window before him. A sob escaped his throat as he let himself slowly sag to the deck of his cabin. He was on his knees. His head bowed to the deck. The palms of his hands felt the cold wood of the floor as his tears began to fall upon it.

"Lord, forgive me! Forgive me of my sin, Lord. Forgive my men and have mercy upon us. It is written that Your mercies are new every morning. Show me Your mercy. Show my men Your mercy. Help us, Lord. I can do nothing if You do not help me, help us. It is a new day. Show us Your mercy! My men are sick. My officers are sick. My ship ... our ship ... needs us. We need You. Only, You can help me,...help us."

Choked sobs came from him. His tears wetted the deck.

In his mind, a calmness began to creep in, a peace. His sobs lessened as his mind became intense to understand the vision forming within it.

The indistinguishable face was there. It was familiar to him from past experiences and he knew he must focus and understand. It was not a face that could truly be seen with mortal eyes, but it was a face all the same. He knew it was because he knew the eyes were kind as well as the mouth. There was a calm radiance that emanated peace from this being and as he focused his mind to hear, that peace waved over him as the waves of a calm sea come to caress the sandy shore. Behind and above this figure stood four glowing 'angels'. A scripture jumped to his memory. Something Jesus said on that last night with his disciples, "My peace I give to you, not as the world gives it."

The first angel behind the figure gave this announcement: "Jehovah Ra-ah! The Lord is a Caring Shepherd!"

He was quiet now, no crying, no tears. He waited. A vision came that was a leftenant saluting a Captain. Obedience. He heard his voice, faint, distantly reply, "Yes." The figure motioned with an outstretched arm to a table, on it were seven candles. As he looked at them the first one lighted, on its own, no hand touched it, but the flame came to life. He saw a white feather floating down to the floor, followed by another, and then another, until there were seven there lying on the floor. He looked at them, then, at the seven candles with the one alight, and lastly, at the figure now looking at him, radiating that calmness, peace, and assurance. He knew the mouth formed a caring and loving smile at him.

The second angel announced this name for God: "Jehovah Jireh (ji - rah), The Lord Who Provides!" A second candle came to life.

'Remember'...that word came as a spoken thought in his mind. What was he to remember? Then, another scripture popped into his head, "In everything, give thanks." He smiled to himself. How could he have forgotten this? Is this why things were going so badly for so long? He had forgotten to say thanks? It was hard, but it was necessary. It was a command. It was time for the obedience mentioned earlier. He rested his forehead once again on the deck and began his thank you list.

"Thank you, Lord, that my men are sick. Thank you that we are all weary. Thank you that there are not men enough to properly run this ship, at the moment, anyway. Thank you that I am weary and in despair. Thank you for the storm that raged about us for three days. Thank you for delivering us through the storm. Thank you for the overcast sky that prevents me from knowing where on Your good earth we are. Thank you that I know we are in your hands. Thank you for hearing my prayer. Thank you for what you have shown me and help me to understand it. Thank you for choosing me to know you. Thank you for the truth you have given me. Thank you that You, Lord, are in control and that I need not worry, but pray. Forgive me, for forgetting that truth that You are in control. Thank you for everything, Lord. Thank you for You."

A third angel spoke: "Jehovah Rophe (ro - fay), The Lord Who Heals!" The third candle gave out a flame.

A tear came again to glide down his cheek. "Jehovah Rophe. Heal us, Lord. We need your healing power," he whispered.

The last angel lifted his arms and called, "Jehovah Shalom! The Lord is Peace!" And the fourth candle lit.

"The Lord is Peace," he whispered, letting those words enter into his troubled spirit.
He wondered if he had covered everything satisfactorily for the Lord. Had he forgotten to thank Him for anything else?

'The miracle.'

This mind thought startled him. What? He questioned in his mind. Again, the phrase was spoken in his head.

'The miracle.'

He swallowed. His brow was knitted. Then, he obeyed, even though he did not understand. "Thank you, Lord, for the miracle." The fifth candle showed its light. He looked at the last two. Were these to be lit as well? No more was said as the heavenly beings disappeared in his mind.

As he raised himself from the floor of his cabin he felt as though he were floating. The weight on his shoulders was lifted. He still found this curious and he gathered a deep breath into his lungs. He looked about his room as he wiped his cheeks and ran his hand over his whiskered chin. Before the complete thought had entered his mind that he needed water for shaving, a knock sounded on his door.

"Come."

"Good mornin' to ye, sir. I have brought a bit of hot water for ye. I thought you might be wantin' to shave." His servant looked at him with concern.

"You have read my mind, Jenkins. Thank you."

"Shall I bring ye a bite to eat as well, sir. I've some coffee and ship's biscuit ready, but nothin' else as yet, sir."

"Yes, I will take some coffee and a biscuit. Bring it."

Jenkins left. He was not Pellew's regular servant as his own was down with the sickness. Jenkins worked with the ship's cook. He had been working out well as a substitute. The words slipped off his tongue without a thought. "Thank you, Lord, for Jenkins."

He readied his shaving and had his face half lathered when he noticed something on the floor. It caused him to freeze in mid lather. He blinked at what he saw, then, moved to pick it up. It was a small white feather! Where had it come from? He looked over at his bunk. His pillow was well covered by his blanket, but it must have come from there. Where else could it have come from? He stuck it in his shirt pocket and resumed his shaving.



Hornblower had taken over this watch from his Captain. He frowned to himself that his ship was in such a state that the Captain, himself, was taking a watch. He shivered in his damp and cold clothing, but beads of sweat were on his brow. He paced the deck as steadily as he could, finding himself gripping the railing of the quarter-deck to hold himself up and blinking to rouse himself. Soon Kennedy would be there to relieve him. He did not have to hold out much longer. 'I am not sick.' He told himself. 'I will not be sick.' And, indeed, it was with his will that he was still upright and on watch.

Hardy was manning the helm and watching his officer wavering on deck. He shook his head each time he saw Hornblower grab the rail to steady himself. Mr. Hornblower cannot get sick. He must not get sick. Please God, not Mr. Hornblower, too. He, Kennedy, Ford, Baker, Bowles, and the Captain were the only officers left not laid low with the sickness! If Mr. Hornblower goes, it will mean a double watch for one of the officers who were already taxed to the limit to guide the ship and scant crew. He fought back the fear in his heart. He had never in his time aboard the Indefatigable known its crew to be in such dire straits. He wanted this watch to end. He needed rest. Hornblower needed rest. It was freezing! Thank God there was not much wind today. Wind that was usually a blessing to a sailing vessel, now was a curse to blow icey fingers over a man's chest and through his body!

Someone was coming up from below decks. Hardy squinted his eyes to see who it was. It was Kennedy and Matthews following. Their relief, his and Hornblower's. He watched Mr. Kennedy ascend the stairs. Seeing him looking well in comparison to Mr. Hornblower alleviated some of the fear that was gripping Hardy's heart. He saw Kennedy's face change as he looked at Mr. Hornblower, a mirror of his own concern for the acting leftenant.

Kennedy moved close to Hornblower. He could see the illness to which he had become accustomed on the face of his friend. "Horatio."

Hornblower startled at this familiarity. He and Archie never called each other this on the quarter-deck and he tried to remind him.

"Mr. K.K.. Kennedy." He tried to look sternly at his friend, but the dizziness he had been fighting during this watch had other plans. As he spoke the next words he felt Kennedy's arm around him. "All is well."

Kennedy pinched his lips as he held one arm around Hornblower and his other helped steady him at the railing. Hornblower looked down at his failure to be stern.

"The deck might be well, but you are not, Horatio. Can you get yourself below?"

"My watch is not yet over. You are early, Mr. Kennedy."

"Your watch is over, Mr. Hornblower," it was his turn to speak firmly. "Get yourself below. That is an order."

Horatio looked at his friend. He was not trying to joke with him. He was serious. Hornblower outranked him being an Acting Leftenant. He thought to himself that if Archie were not his friend, he should be angry with him. Then, a shout came from Matthews.

"Ship off the starboard bow!"

All four men looked to see the ship, or what appeared to remain of a ship. It was small and difficult to tell at this distance how many masts she had as they seemed to be gone!

"Good God!" exclaimed Kennedy as he moved to Matthews' side.

The ship must have been through the same storm they had weathered, but not as well. All three mast were gone! Broken stubs stood like limbless trees from the decks.

"We had better tell the Captain, Matthews." As Kennedy turned to speak to Hornblower he collapsed to the deck. "Horatio!" He and Matthews ran to him. Archie put his arm under his shoulders and lifted his head up. He rubbed his cheek with his hand trying to rouse him. "Horatio, Horatio!" He could feel the coldness of his friend's clothing and body. "We've got to get him below, Matthews. Get Styles up here to help get him below, then inform the Captain about the ship. Quickly, man!"

"Aye, sir!" Matthews set off at a run.

Kennedy looked up at Hardy still at the wheel. He saw the fear in his eyes. "Steady, Hardy. You've got to hang on for us. I know you can do it!" He gave the helmsman a trusting smile.

"Aye, sir. Is Mr. Hornblower all right? He's been weaving about the whole time on watch, sir. The minute he got the Captain to go off watch he took to steadyin' himself at the rail. I didn't know what to do, sir. I couldn't leave and he wouldn't. I didn't know what to do!"

Kennedy looked at Horatio and pulled him closer to himself to try to warm him as they waited for help.

"It is all right, Hardy. It will be all right. You have done your duty. Followed orders. Do not reproach yourself. And, do not worry, it will be all right." As he said these last words Oldroyd and Styles appeared. "Get him to his bunk and warm him as best you can."

"Aye, sir," said Styles as he lifted Hornblower on his own. Oldroyd had been one of the first men to become sick. He was better, but not well. He shivered in his peacoat before Styles. "I've got him, Oldroyd, you just go before me and steady us down the stairs."

The three of them disappeared below. A moment later, the Captain appeared with Matthews following behind him. He would have liked to check on Hornblower himself, except for this ship requiring his attention. He felt agitation at it keeping him from looking into the well being of one of his valued officers. Soon he stood next to Kennedy looking at the dismasted ship. It was surprisingly close.

"Report, Mr. Kennedy."

"Aye, sir. I had just come to relieve Mr. Hornblower when this ship was sighted."

Pellew wondered how long the ship's presence had been known since it was nearly upon them, or rather they upon it. It had no sail. How were they now so close and he only now notified? He sighed. What good would it do to rail about this when his ship and crew were in such a state. It was there and that was that. And as Matthews had informed him of Hornblower's collapse and he had been on watch, it may have been his illness that had prevented him from perfoming his duty. But then Matthews gasped in amazement!

"How'd that lugger get here so quickly? When I spotted her, sir, she was a good two miles off! The Indy's barely got movement in this breeze and only the mizzen tops'l! There must be some undercurrent to join us up so fast!"

Pellew looked at Matthews slightly surprised to hear so much coming out of a rating.

"Beg pardon, sir," said Matthews red faced having realized he was going on so in front of his Captain.

Why they were now in such close proximity was no longer the concern, but what was to be done about it as the two ships were now bumping sides together! It was a gentle thud. The Captain walked over to look down into the deck of the ship. What he saw there amazed him! Standing on the deck were six men dressed in monk robes! The tallest of the six looked up at him. He could see his eyes. They were the deepest turquoise blue he had ever seen and it caused a shudder in his being. As if the man knew of the shudder, a mild smile appeared on his lips and he shouted.

"Ahoy, Captain!"

"Ahoy, sir. Report yourself!"

"May we come aboard?"

Pellew was mildly flustered. "Yes, do so."

The monk climbed the side and stood on the deck of the Indy. He stood silent before Pellew.

"Well, sir. What have you to say? Who are you and where are you headed?"

"My name is not important. We are on a mission." The monk spoke calmly and looked kindly upon Pellew

"A mission? To where?" Pellew was keenly aware there was something missing here.

"West."

Pellew went over to look into the ship once more. "Where is your crew?"

"We are the only ones on board, sir. Just the seven of us."

"Seven? Pellew looked over again. There were the five others standing there.
"I see only six of you."

"The seventh is below, Captain. She is busy."

"She?" The Captain blinked at him. He had a woman with them?

"Yes, she is making preparations."

Pellew felt flustered with this man before him who spoke but said nothing. "From the looks of your ship you went through the same storm we did." He waited for the man to concur, but he just stood there with that slight smile on his face. "I don't have the men to spare to help repair your vessel, sir." Pellew continued. The man still said nothing. Pellew let out a deep sigh. "We are limping home to England, sir. All I can offer you is a tow. There is sickness on my ship."

"Let us help you, Captain."

Pellew looked at the man in monk's clothing standing before him. He was offering to help him? It must be his calling that he, with his ship in such a state, would offer to help them! He seemed well. Should he accept his offer of help? He would be a damned fool not to accept.

"You will be in cramped quarters if you join us and as I said, there is sickness aboard and you will expose yourselves to it."

"We are not afraid. You should not be afraid."

Pellew pulled himself up at this last statement. He eyed the monk then looked at his ship again. "Mr. Kennedy, you and Matthews go have a look at his ship. You do not mind if we take a look, do you?"

"You are welcome to go aboard, sir."





As Kennedy and Matthews were preparing to go over the side they were stopped by two figures making their way up.

"Here, you, take this." A dark haired woman passed a medium sized cylindrical pot up to Kennedy. "Careful! It's hot!"

"Yes, ma'am," said Archie as he took the handle then looked at his Captain. He handed the pot to Matthews and then gave the lady a hand through the entry port.

"Thank you, sir," she said. She looked back over the side and reached for another cylandered pot. The monks had formed a line from the other ship and were passing pot upon pot up the side onto the decks of the Indy. Matthews and Kennedy became ferriers themselves to place the multitude of pots coming up. There was a delicious smell coming from them. Matthews and Kennedy looked at each other and worked the more diligently to move them.

"What is all this, man?" asked Pellew of their leader.

"These are our supplies. But I apologize, Captain, you wanted to check out our ship. Louisa, let Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Matthews on board our ship."

She and the other monks moved out of their way. Kennedy and Matthews took a last look at their Captain before descending to the deck of the dismasted ship. The woman approached Pellew. She had a bag slung on her shoulder that clanged and she picked up one of the smaller pots.

"Where is he?"

"Who, madam?" asked Pellew with agitation. He looked into her face and was embarassed at his rough manner with her. Something familiar about her made him soften. Was it those dark brown eyes? Of whom did they remind him?

"The last one taken sick."

Hornblower? Did she mean Hornblower? How could he explain to her where he was? He and Hardy at the helm were the only ones in charge of the deck. Hardy could not leave the helm to get help and he most certainly could not go. Again, before these thoughts were completed Oldroyd appeared at the stairway.

"You wanted me, Captain?" asked Oldroyd.

Pellew looked at him startled. "Wanted you?"

"Yes, sir. You called for me?" Pellew was beyond wondering. He looked at the woman waiting there.

"What is your name, son?" She directed this question to Oldroyd.

"Oldroyd, ma'am."

"Come show me where he is."

Oldroyd looked with some confusion at his Captain.

"Show her to Mr. Hornblower's cabin." Pellew thought he saw the woman react at his name.

"Aye, aye, sir. Follow me, ma'am. Can I carry that for you?" The two stepped below as two climbed up. Kennedy and Matthews stood before Pellew.

"Well, Mr. Kennedy?"

"It is as he said, sir. No one else is aboard but these we have seen. There are no weapons, sir, no guns, no cannon. Just them and their supplies."

"Very well, see their ship is properly tied to the stern. We will tow them back with us to England. I see nothing else to do."

"Er..." Kennedy and Matthews looked at each other. Pellew looked at the two of them eyeing each other.

"What now, Mr. Kennedy?"

"It is already done, sir." He gave this information haltingly. Pellew looked at him like he was delirious. He walked over to the side and looked into the deck of the other ship which was rapidly sliding to take its towed position behind the Indy. The lines were run and tied. He watched them become taught as the slack was taken up. The other monks must have done it, although he thought they had all been on board before his two men had come back. He began to turn to Kennedy and Matthews as something caught his eye. He stared for a moment and then bent to pick it up. It was a white feather. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the one he had placed there earlier. He tucked both of them back into his pocket.

Pellew looked at Kennedy and Matthews who were staring at the pots brought on board by the monks. Their number was seemingly greatly increased and they were trying to understand who had placed them all aboard the Indy. The aroma from them was wonderful!

"Mr. Kennedy. You have the deck, sir. See the helmsman is relieved."

"Aye, aye,sir."

Pellew went below in search of his passengers. He found some of the monks at the sides of his men. They were caring for them, feeding them, wiping their fevered brows. He blinked at what he saw. Some of his own men who were not sick and had been attending the sick were listening to one of the monks instructing them. The monk became aware of Pellew looking at him and he stopped to return his gaze. That smile was on this one as well. Pellew nodded at him. He went back to his explanations.

Pellew turned his steps toward his officers quarters. Hornblower. The most recent of the fallen. There was Hornblower's man Styles standing outside his cabin looking in. Hearing steps behind him, Styles turned to see his Captain. He moved out of his way. He entered the tiny room. A pile of wet clothing lay on the floor. Hornblower was covered. The woman sat in a chair. Pellew moved next to her. She took Pellew's hand in hers.

"He is very sick."

Pellew could hear the emotion in her voice. He found it strange that she was clutching his hand but he let her. So many strange things had gone on today why should this matter? With her holding one of his hands he reached the other to touch Hornblower's forehead. It was clammy to his touch and hot. He saw his leftenant's body shiver under the covers. He looked back at the woman holding his hand. Her face was intent upon Hornblower but then she looked at him and he nearly fell backward. The resemblance was uncanny!

"Who...who are you, madam?" he asked.

"I was told to come and help. That is all, sir."

"Do...do you ... know this man?" He could barely utter the words.

A far away look came into her eyes. "I had a son once. A long time ago. He ... was ten when last I saw him."

Pellew swallowed. He felt a hand upon his shoulder. It was the leader of the monks.

"We are seeing to your men, Captain. It is time you came to have a meal yourself. I do not believe you ever had your coffee and biscuit this morning."

Pellew looked back at Hornblower.

"He will be all right, Captain. Whatever happens. God is in control."

Pellew looked at the monk walking away from him. He started to cross the threshhold and there it was, another one. That made three. He picked it up and stuck it in his pocket with the others. Rather than follow the monk, he went to each of his other officers laid low by the sickness. Evidence was there that the monks had been attending them. Bracegirdle was awake when he entered his room.

He looked up at his captain with weary eyes. He began to cough. Pellew moved to hand him a drink from a cup on his table. Bracegirdle turned it up to his lips draining it of its contents.

"Thank you, sir."

Pellew looked worried.

"Where did you get those angels of mercy, Captain?"

"What, Mr. Bracegirdle?"

"The man that was here, dressed as a monk. I feel as if I have been visited by an angel, sir." As Bracegirdle said this he lay back on his bed, he handed the empty cup to Pellew and closed his eyes.

Pellew looked into the cup. It was full again! "Mr. Bracegirdle, did you not drink all of this concoction?" But he did not answer as he had fallen asleep. His breathing was clear and steady. Pellew lifted the cup to his nose and smelled. It was warm with the smell of lemons and something sweet. He sat it on the table near the bunk. Another feather. He picked it up from the floor and put it in his pocket with the others. Pellew took a deep breath. He looked at his sleeping first leftenant a last time and said, "Thank you, Lord."

As he closed Bracegirdle's door behind him, he turned into the chest of a man standing there. It was the lead monk again.

"Are you satisfied, Captain?"

"Who are you?"

The monk smiled at him. "We are on a mission."

"Yes, a mission to the west, you said so. Are you on your way to America?"

The monk was puzzled and smiled gently. "I did not say we were going to a mission, Captain. I said we were on a mission. I thought Mr. Bracegirdle told you?"

"You speak in riddles, man. Did you not tell me you were sailing west?"

"Yes, we were going west. We were told to go west. West to meet up with you. Now come and have some food. It will strengthen you."

"Wait a minute. What do you mean you were told to go west to meet up with me? Are you from England, from the Admiralty? Do you have dispatches you have forgotten to give me?"

"Captain Pellew, I have no written dispatches, only orders, to meet you and help you. Come. Have some food. It is in your cabin." The monk walked away from him.

He did not follow or go to his cabin. He went amongst his crew. There was quiet. The men were quiet. He checked them. They were not dead, but the coughing had ceased. They seemed to be resting peacefully. The men who had been attending them looked tired. He spoke to a few he found, thanked them for their efforts. He even found himself laying his hand on their shoulders. Touching his men? This was something he seldom did. Indeed, he hardly ever came into their quarters. He came upon one who had been one of those tending the sick. He had fallen back on his bunk asleep, his legs bent to the floor. Pellew picked them up and placed them on his bunk to straighten his body, then covered the man.
"Thank you, for tending your shipmates." He whispered quietly.

"You have a bedside manner, Captain."

He startled at the words, her words. It was the dark haired woman. The woman that resembled Hornblower. He looked at her unable to speak.

"My...my...husband ...had a bedside manner. He .... he.... was... a doctor." She spoke as she seemed to find some memory long forgotten.

Pellew stared at her.

She reached up her hand to his chin and cupped his face. She smiled at him. "Thank you, for being good to him." Then she turned and left. Pellew stood among his sleeping crew wondering at the events taking place on his ship. He looked around the deck. Where was it? It was time for another one to show up was it not? There it was.



He emerged on deck. The sky was still grey and dark, the air chilling. He lifted his shoulders to shift his cloak and pull it around him. Ascending the quarter-deck, he saluted Kennedy. "Report, Mr. Kennedy."

"All is calm, sir. We are heading nor'noreast by the compass."

Pellew breathed deeply. "Very well, Mr. Kennedy. I see Oldroyd has joined you. Where is Matthews?"

Kennedy looked up to the main mast. "Main mast top deck, sir."

"Did you send him there?"

"No, sir. He said he saw something and wanted to check it out?"

"Saw what? Not another ship?"

"No, sir."

"Well, what, man?" Pellew did not like men seeing things and not reporting them. "Matthews!"

Matthews looked down at the deck but did not answer. Soon he was seen to be making his way down the ratlines one handed.

He reached the deck and saw Pellew scowling at him from the quarter-deck. He made his way there. "Captain, sir?"

"Well, man, what were you doing up there? What did you see?"

Matthews looked down as he carefully pulled from inside his peacoat what he was cradling in his left hand. It was a white dove. "She was near frozen up there, sir. I thought I had seen somethin' flitterin' around up there and when I got up there, there she was! Storm must 'ave blown her here, sir. She's taken refuge on the old Indy, she has!" He smiled at his captain. "Her little feet are cold as ice!"

Pellew looked at Matthews' bird and wondered at the feathers in his pocket. "Is she missing any feathers?"

Matthews held her up and turned his hand to look at the bird wondering at this question of his Captain's. "I don't think so, sir." He exchanged a quizzical look with Kennedy.

"I am not daft, men." He reached into his pocket and pulled out the feathers he had been collecting. Then, it occured to him that his men might think he was daft carrying feathers in his pockets. "I have been finding these around the ship. Do you have any idea why?"

"No, sir," replied Kennedy in amazment.

Pellew realized how ridiculous this was and stuffed them back into his pocket.

"Sir, did...did you look in on Mr. Hornblower?" Kennedy asked tentatively.

Pellew looked down at the deck. "He is not well, Mr. Kennedy. We will divide his watch amongst the rest of us. We will do five hours each instead of four. I will inform Bowles, Baker and Ford. Mr. Baker will be relieving you soon. You shall see Hornblower for yourself."

He did not tell Kennedy the woman had made Hornblower her special charge. Nor would he let himself formalize the reason in his mind.

"Mr. Kennedy, is Mr. Hornblower's mother still living?"

"No, sir. He told me she died when he was ten."

The number struck him a blow! The same age the woman had said she had last seen her son. What was going on here? He looked aft at the dismasted ship they were pulling. Why did they seem to be making headway with only one sail unfurled? Were they in a current? If he only knew where they were. He needed a star to sail by to plot their position or clear skies to use the sun. He raised his hand to his forehead and rubbed his wrinkled brow. "I'll be in my cabin, Mr. Kennedy. Call me if needs be."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Upon entering his cabin, an aroma of food reached him. He went to his table and sat down. He was suddenly hungry. He lifted the cover off a soup bowl sitting there. Steam arose from it as if it had just been placed there. It was chicken soup! Floating in the thick broth were lumps of tender white chicken meat, carrots, potatoes, celery. He sat down not even removing his cloak and took a spoonful. It was delicious! It warmed him through. He ate and ate and wondered how so much soup could be contained in such a bowl. It seemed bottomless. On the plate next to it under a napkin was a fresh baked roll! He touched it. Warm? In heavens name! How could this be? He broke it and took a bite. It melted in his mouth. Next he took the wine glass sitting before him. A deep red wine sat in it. He drank. It too, was excellent! At last he had finished the simple but excellent meal. Moving to his bunk, he let his shoes fall to the deck. He lay there and was soon in a deep sleep. A hand extending from a rough woolen monks' robe pulled his cloak up over him and then covered him with a blanket as well.



With the sounding of the ship's bell, Baker appeared on deck to take over for Kennedy. Bradley came with him to take the helm from Matthews. Oldroyd had returned below decks with the dove to find a coop for it until it was recovered.

Kennedy exchanged greetings and information with Baker. Was there something different about him? Something in his eyes, in his voice? Kennedy had not spent much time with this new addition to the crew so he could not answer his own questions and how could he ask one of the man himself? And, Bradley, too, seemed different. He was usually sullen about duty at the helm. He did not like the cold and generally made his displeasure known in comments to those he relieved though not to his officers. At any rate, he and Matthews were glad to be getting out of the elements for a while. Below decks would be warm compared to here.

One of the monks greeted them as they came below, inviting them to eat some of the food they were supplying. Kennedy thanked the man but made it known he wanted to check on his friend first.

He went to Hornblower's cabin. The door was ajar. Inside was the woman from the other ship. Archie entered slowly so as not to disturb her. Horatio was obviously still fevered and chilled at the same time.

"He is so sick, Archie," said the woman.

He was startled at her calling him by his first name. She looked at him. Archie swallowed. Now he understood why his captain had asked him about Horatio's mother.

"What ...what did you say your name was?" he asked haltingly. Then, it came to his remembrance. The monk leader had called her Louisa. He swallowed again. "Louisa." He said as he answered his own question. Horatio's mother's name was Louisa.

"Of course, Archie. He had been sick like this then. I stayed up night after night with him until his fever broke. I came down with it, too. His father was so upset that I had to leave. I was called home, what was I to do? I did not want to leave my boy, my husband. But it was time, it was my time. Your good captain has done this for me, for him." She smiled up at Kennedy. "He asked for me, in a way, and it was a promise He made me when I did not want to leave. He said I could come to him if ever I was needed and someone asked. Your Captain asked. And I am needed. He needs me." She smiled at her son and began to hum a lullaby. Archie looked at Horatio and thought he saw him visibly relax his features. A hand was on Archie's shoulders.

"Mr. Kennedy, you should come and eat and get some rest."

"Not yet, sir. Thank you."

The monk smiled. "Very well." He left as quickly as he had come.

A suspicion was in Archie's mind and he knew where to find his answer. He made his way to Baker's cabin. He closed his eyes and swallowed as he opened his cabin door slowly. Baker was in his bed, fast asleep and snoring lowly. Archie sucked in his breath and felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Shhh. Do not wake him."

"He...He is supposed to be on watch," he stammered at the monk before him.

"He is on watch, Mr. Kennedy. You saw him there yourself."

"What...what are you doing? Who...who are you?"

"Do not be afraid." The monks countenance seemed to brighten as he said these words. If this was supposed to make Archie less frightened it was not working. The monk smiled at him as though he knew his thoughts and he repeated himself. "Do not be afraid. We are here at your Captain's request."

Archie knitted his brow at these words. "What...what are you saying?"

The monk sighed and as he did his monks clothing seemed to fade away as his clothing became radiantly white. "All your crew is resting peacefully. Jehovah Rophe."
He could see Kennedy did not understand. He could read his thoughts and saw he believed himself to be on the verge of a fit. "You are not going to have a fit, Mr. Kennedy. Do not be afraid."

"Why...why do you keep saying that?"

The angel smiled at him. "Because you are. Do not be. The Lord loves you and has answered your Captain's prayer. Indeed, Mr. Kennedy if you no longer wish to be troubled by those fits you need only ask him. Jehovah Rophe."

"What does that mean? Jehovah Rophe? You keep saying that as well."

The angel smiled again. He looked up as if listening to someone. Kennedy followed his gaze but saw only the wood ceiling above him. The angel looked at him again. "Jehovah, The Lord, Rophe, Who Heals... The Lord Who Heals. It is one of the Father's names."

"Why...why...why are you rrr..revealing this to...to me?" Archie stuttered still very much afraid.

"You are the only one still awake. Come, have some food, it will strengthen you and give you rest."

"No, I won't eat your food. No."

The radiance disappeared. The monk was walking away from him. He heard him speak as though he were next to him. "We do not force ourselves upon you."

He gave a last look at Baker sleeping in his bunk. Closing the door, he made his way back to Horatio's cabin. His mother still sat with him, wiping his brow. She did not look at him but spoke to him anyway.

"There is no need to be afraid, Archie. The Lord loves you. Since you are here, help me. I want him to drink this. Get behind him and lift him for me. I do not want him to choke."

Archie did as she asked. He sat at the head of the bunk and lifted Horatio so he was leaning against his chest. His mother wiped his brow and spoke to him softly.

"Raysho, Raysho. Wake up, sweetheart. Raysho."

Horatio moved and blinked open his eyes. She held a cup of the lemony drink to his lips.

"Drink, Raysho, drink." He did drink for her but could not keep his eyes open.

"Mother?"

"Yes, sweetheart. You rest now. You will get better." She wiped his forhead. He went back to sleep. "Thank you, Archie, you are a good friend."

Archie sat with Horatio leaning against him. "Raysho?"

She laughed. "Yes, Raysho. When he was just a very little boy, a toddler, that is what he called himself. He would say. Raysho hungry. Raysho not sleepy. That was one of his favorites. I had a devil of a time getting that boy to bed! So, I took Raysho to be a pet name. He did not like me to call him that when he was older, near the time I had to leave."

"How is it you come to be here, Mrs. Hornblower?"

She smiled at him. "I haven't been called that in years, Archie! You may call me Louisa."

"Yes, Louisa. How do you come to be with the monks."

"Oh, they're not monks! You know that! You saw!"

Archie swallowed. "Yes, ma'am. Why did they let me see?"

"Well, when we leave you won't remember us."

She rattled around in the bag she had brought with her and pulled out a cup. She filled it with the lemony drink she had given her son. "Here, Archie, drink this." She handed him the cup.

He looked at it. Smelled it.

"It won't hurt you!"

"But, I... don't want to sleep, Louisa." He tried to give it back to her.

"You don't have to sleep, unless you need to, Archie. Drink it," she insisted.

He put the cup to his lips. It was a refreshing drink with some sweetness to it. In fact, it tasted so good he drank it all.

"There now. Are you sleepy?"

He closed his eyes and drifted off. "I guess you are," she said as she looked at him. She looked again at Hornblower asleep against his friend. "Oh Raysho, I am so pleased you have such friends! Archie here, your Captain. He prayed for you, you know, you and your shipmates. You are fortunate to know such a man. I thank the Lord he put you with Captain Pellew. I love you, son. I am so proud of you. Now, you are going to get better. Let's take advantage of your good friend Archie here holding you up for me. I want you to eat some of this soup. It is special soup we made just for you and your crew. You will all get better." She held a spoonful to his mouth. "Come on, Raysho, come on sweetheart."

And so the day passed into night. The crew of HMS Indefatigable rested. The watch changed. Each officer and man did his part, or so it seemed. If there had been another ship near them that night it would have wondered at the strange glow that seemed to emanate from it. A glow and warmth that is sometimes seen showing from hearts at Christmas.


Pellew woke. He looked at himself still dressed, covered with his cloak and a blanket. He felt very refreshed, as if he had slept the whole night and then some. He wondered at the time and heard the ship's bell ring. Had he taken his turn on watch last night? He could not remember. He lay there thinking, trying to remember. Oh yes, the monks. Slipping on his shoes and hat, he headed for the deck.

The sun was low on the eastern horizon. It was morning. The sky was clear. The air was crisp. He made his way to the quarter deck. Ford was on watch. He saluted him.

"Good Morning, Leftenant Ford. Report if you please, sir."

"Good Morning, Captain. A quiet watch, sir. We are headed nor'noreast by the compass. Wind from the west so'west about five knots."

"Thank you, Mr. Ford." He walked to the taffrail to look at the luggar they were towing. Everything looked in order. The ensign flapped over his head. "Mr. Kennedy relieves you next, does he not, Mr. Ford?"

"Aye, sir."

Pellew was having trouble remembering the previous day. "I will be below decks, Mr. Ford." He saluted and left.

Below, the men were stirring. He heard an occasional cough but it was nothing like what it had been a day ago. He noticed the monks were up already and seemed to be preparing meals for them. Having them on board seemed to have been a blessing.

He moved on to the officer's quarters. He wondered how Hornblower was doing and if the woman were still tending him. The door was slightly ajar. Looking in he was amazed to see Kennedy sitting with Hornblower leaned up against him. The woman was awake and watching over both of them. He eased into the room.

Whispering he said, "Good morning, madam."

She smiled up at him. "Good morning, Captain," she whispered back.

"How is he?"

She reached over and put her hand on Hornblower's forehead. She looked back at Pellew. "I think the fever is gone."

"Then, it must be your care, madam. The others with this sickness had the fever for days. Thank you for taking care of my officer."

She smiled at him.

"How has Mr. Kennedy come to be here?"

"He was helping me with Raysho last night and fell asleep. I did not want to disturb him."

"Raysho?"

She smiled at him. "That is what I called him when he was a little boy. It is my pet name for him."

"When he was a little boy? Then, you know Mr. Hornblower?"

"He is my son, Captain."

"But, I thought .... I beg your pardon, ma'am. I was given to understand Mr. Hornblower's mother was deceased."

"I am, Captain. At least, my body is deceased. But, in spirit, I am alive and very well, now. Thank you for asking me to come."

The captain leaned against the wall and wondered if he were still asleep and dreaming. "I.... I asked you to come?"

"Yes, in your prayer. Don't you remember?'

"What...what... did I say?"

"You asked for mercy, that your officers were sick, and your men. The Lord told you. Don't you remember?"

"I remember praying, yes, and it was one of those special ones I have once in a while, when I think I am seeing things. But....I cannot say that my prayers have been answered so dramatically before."

"Well, it's Christmas, don't you know." She smiled at him.

He felt he needed to sit down. One of the monks appeared and slipped a stool under him. "Thank you," he said absently and slipped onto the chair. He watched the monk walk away and picked up another feather from the floor. He held it before his eyes looking at it.

She smiled at him. "They do that when they become human for very long. Some kind of molting type of thing."

"Are you...." he swallowed, "Are you.... telling me what I.... I think you are telling me?"

"You mean that the monks are really angels? Yes. Well, you saw the seven feathers did you not? There are seven of us, are there not?"

He blinked at her.

"Well, actually, I am not an angel, it was sweet of the Lord to include me as one of those."

He looked at her as she had returned her gaze to his two officers still sleeping. "I beg to differ with you, madam. I believe He was correct. You have been an angel to these men."

She smiled at him. "If that is true, Captain, then you too shall have to take on that title."

He blushed. "I only do my duty, madam."

"But, you do it with caring, sir. No false modesty, man. Did you not say that to Horatio once?"

He blushed again. "It is nearly time for Mr. Kennedy's watch. I must wake him. Will that disturb Mr. Hornblower?"

"Let me wake him, sir." She reached over and smoothed Kennedy's hair across his forehead. She ran her hand down his cheek and then placed her hand on his. She rubbed the back of his hand lightly. He opened eyes to look at her. He realized Horatio was still leaning against him. He saw his captain and sucked in his breath.

Pellew put his finger to his lips for him to be quiet. Then, removed himself and the stool from the small room waiting outside for Kennedy to emerge.

Kennedy let Horatio gently back down to the bunk.

"Thank you, Archie," his mother whispered.

"Captain, sir."

"Good Morning, Mr. Kennedy. Walk with me." Pellew headed to check on his other officers. "It seems you rested well."

"Captain, there's something you should know about these monks, sir. But, I am afraid you will think I have lost my senses."

"Indeed, Mr. Kennedy. Then, let us not speak of it."

He knocked on Bracegirdle's door. It opened and there stood his first leftenant. "How are you, Mr. Bracegirdle."

"Captain! What are you doing here, sir?"

"Mr. Bracegirdle, when two thirds of your crew is sick, if a Captain wishes to see his men, it becomes incumbent upon him to make house calls. How are you?"

"I am feeling better, sir. A little weak perhaps, but the coughing has seemed to cease." He took a deep breath. "My lungs seem to be clear, sir. I would not have thought rest would have cured me so well."

"When you are ready, Mr. Bracegirdle, report yourself for duty. There is no rush. Be sure you eat something. I believe our guests have taken over our meal preparations."

"Guests, sir?"

"The monks."

"Yes, sir."

"If they bring you something to eat or drink, follow their orders."

"Yes, sir."

He checked on each of his other officers. Looking into the crew's quarters, he could see more movement than he had for days. There was low chatter now instead of coughing, hacking, and moaning. His crew was healing.

"This is a welcome site, Mr. Kennedy."

The lead monk approached the Captain. "Good morning, Captain Pellew."

"Thank you, sir, for helping my men."

The monk smiled at him, "Your breakfast waits for you in your cabin, sir. Did you want Mr. Kennedy to join you?"


"Mr. Kennedy, would you like to have breakfast with me?"

"It is nearly time for my watch, sir. I need to shave..."

"You need not worry, Mr. Kennedy. We can take care of that for you," said the monk.

"No, I will do my watch. Please."

"As you wish, sir." The monk left them.

"Do I want to know what that exchange was about, Mr. Kennedy?"

"I do not think you do, sir. It ranks up there with what we chose not to discuss earlier."

Pellew cleared his throat. "I see. Be sure you get some of their breakfast, Mr. Kennedy."

"But..."

"That is an order, sir. Eat before you take your watch. You haven't much time."

"Yes, sir."

Pellew returned to his cabin. His breakfast was there. It was as warm as the food had been yesterday. The meal invigorated him. He rose to stand at his stern windows. he bowed his head and closed his eyes. "Thank you, Lord, for this Christmas blessing. Thank you for healing my men."


Louisa had busied herself with her son's sea chest. She found several items of clothing that needed repair. The clothes from the previous day had been hung up to dry, as much as clothes would dry at sea. Suddenly, she became aware that he was watching her. His brow was knitted as he squinted at her. She smiled at him. Sitting back in her chair she took his hand.

"Hello."

He blinked at her, closed his eyes, and opened them to squint at her again. She watched his eyes grow moist. "Am I dreaming?"

She swallowed. Her eyes filled with tears. She shook her head no, unable to speak.

"I must be dreaming. ... Mother?"

"Yes, Raysho." She leaned over to him to hug him, and kiss him on the cheek.

"Mother." He held her face in his hands. "How?"

"It's Christmas!"

He sat up, the blanket falling from him, leaving him bare chested. He put his arms around her, leaned his head onto her breast, and wept.

"Shhh. Raysho. I love you, sweetheart." She petted his head and rubbed his back until he became quiet. She bent over and kissed the top of his head. "Here, put this on." She helped him on with a clean, dry shirt. He lay back against the bed and stared at her.

A monk appeared at the door. He gave her a tray of food. She smiled her thanks to him.

"This will make you well, son." She held out a spoonful of food to him and he took it from her. "I heard you were sick and He let me come to help you. It was a promise He made me when I had to leave you before. You must be sure to thank your Captain for asking, too."

He smiled at her. "Mother, I don't understand a word you are saying. I think I must be dreaming, in a delirium. I know I was getting sick and now I must be totally delirious and having a dream, a wonderful dream."

She smiled at him and gave him another bite of food. He heard the ship's bell ring. Knitting his brow he asked, "What time is it?"

"You are not going anywhere, young man."

"But I think it is my watch." He sat up to get out of bed and realized he was not dressed from the waist down. "Hand me my trousers, mother."

"You are not going anywhere."

"It's my job. I must go."

"You are not well enough. You are not going out into that cold air."

"I've got to go!"

"No. Lay down!"

"Mother. I am an officer. I must go."

"Did you need me, Mrs. Hornblower?" asked Captain Pellew suddenly appearing at the door. "One of the monks said I might be needed."

"Captain Pellew, sir," said Hornblower as he stood holding his blanket around him. Standing quickly caused his head to swim and he nearly fell forward. Pellew caught his shoulders.

"Lay down, man! What do you think you are doing?"

"Sir, my watch."

"Your watch is right here until you are well. That is an order, Mr. Hornblower."

"But, you are short handed, sir. I have no fever."

"Who says I am short handed? All my officers returned to duty this afternoon, except you, of course. You will stay here until you are fit for duty."

"And, that will be soon, Captain," added his mother. "Our food will take care of that. Though I shall be sad to go."

Horatio looked at his mother and lay back on his cot. "You are going?"

"Yes, dear. Our job here is nearly done."

Horatio looked at his captain. "I do not understand, sir. What is happening?"

"It is a long story, Mr. Hornblower. Enjoy your mother's company while you can, and thank God for your good fortune."

His mother handed him the bowl she had been feeding him from. "I think you can do this yourself. Eat every bit." She sat down and returned to some final mending on his clothing. "What would you like to talk about, Horatio. It has been a long time. You are a man now!" She smiled.

Captain Pellew breathed deeply as he closed the door to Hornblower's cabin. A bevy of feathers flew round his feet. He bent to pick them up, looked them over, then stuck them in his pocket with the rest.

He clasped his hands behind his back and slowly walked through the crew's quarters. The men quieted at his presence. He was deep in thought and nodded at them as they saluted or nodded to him. He was thinking about the candles. Five were lit. What about the other two? He recalled the vision to his mind. He heard some of his crew laughing. He saw them smile at each other, helping one another.

Goodwill. At the thought of this word, he saw a hand this time lighting the sixth candle. He smiled. "Ah."

He came to the stairs and began the climb to the deck. Every now and then he picked up a white feather from the floor. He chuckled to himself wondering if he would have enough to stuff a pillow before their guests left.

As he broached the deck, he heard his men mumbling. He looked about his ship. There was a crew! Men at their stations! It was as though they no longer were a ghost ship, but a ship full of life! He wondered at the mumbling until he looked aft and saw three mast heads gracing the sky with yards, spars, and sail waiting to be set. He walked quickly to the quarter-deck and looked aft.

The lugger was now fully repaired! He looked at it with awe. "My God!"

Suddenly the lead monk was standing next to him, smiling he said, "Exactly, Captain! It is time for us to take our leave. We did not want you to worry about us, so you see our ship is fine."

"Fine indeed, sir. She fairly sparkles!" said Pellew.

Two figures emerging from below decks caught his eye. It was Hornblower with his mother on his arm. He covered her hand with his, was smiling into her face, and chatting as he came topside.

The lugger glided next to the Indy's mid-ship. The other monks were letting themselves over the side. The lead monk went to Hornblower. "You have been given a great blessing, Mr. Hornblower."

Horatio only had eyes for his mother and she for him. She reached up to hug his neck. "I love you, son.!"

"I love you, mother! Thank you for coming."

She kissed him on the cheek and hugged him close. Then, backed away from him. She looked at Pellew smiled and nodded at him. The monk helped her over the side.

The night overtook them as the crew of the Indy watched the smaller ship move off the starboard side. The sails unfurled, unaided, and filled with a wind that did not touch the Indy. The ship seemed to grow smaller and smaller and then was gone.

Pellew breathed deeply. He looked again at the crowded deck and smiled. "This is more like it." He clapped his hands together and moved to the quarter-deck rail. "Well, men," he shouted, "It is Christmas Eve. We have much to be thankful for." Jenkins had run up to his Captain and was whispering in his ear. Pellew looked at him, smiled, and continued his speech. "Below you will find a feast fit for King George himself. Enjoy yourselves and remember to give thanks, in all things, give thanks."

Hornblower had joined the other officers on the quarter-deck. He could not help but look out to sea where the other ship had disappeared. He became aware of Archie standing next to him.

"Well, Raysho, what do you think?" Archie smiled sheepishly.

Displeasure crossed Hornblower's face. Without looking at his friend he said, "You will never call me that again, Mr. Kennedy." He heard his friend stifle a laugh.

"What did you say, Raysho?"

Hornblower turned on him laughing and hit him over the head with his bicorn, "You heard me!" The two of them were laughing and hitting each other with their hats.

"Boys!" It was Pellew yelling at them. "Behave yourselves!"

Archie and Horatio stopped hitting each other and looked at their Captain, mouths agape.

"What poor unfortunate has the watch?" asked Pellew.

"I do, sir." It was Ford.

"I will see some food is brought to you. You have the deck, Mr. Ford."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Pellew looked at Hornblower and Kennedy. "If you two settle down you may join me in my cabin for Christmas dinner with the rest of the adults."

"Aye, aye, sir." They said in unison. As soon as Pellew had walked passed them, Horatio hit Archie with his hat again.

The officers and men enjoyed their Christmas dinner. Carols were heard from below deck late into the night. Toasts, laughter, and goodwill abounded on His Masjesty's Ship Indefatigable. They were well. Well, indeed.

Pellew came out onto the deck feeling full and peaceful. The night was clear and crisp with a multitude of sparkling stars looking close enough to touch. He thought over the last forty-eight hours and marvelled at what had taken place. It was a miracle! The miracle he had said thanks for before he knew what it was. What part of what had occured could be labeled 'the miracle'? It had all seemed to be so. The men well. His crew restored and thereby his ship, for what was a ship without the men to man her? His officers well once more. The incredible visitor for Hornblower! What must this young man think? The delicious food that seemed to heal them. The magnificent Christmas dinner! He could never have come up with such food for so many with all the stores in Gibraltar! They had been visited! He sighed. His brow knitted.

"A penney for your thoughts, Captain." It was Kennedy who spoke.

"Mr. Kennedy! Ah, I was just thinking of the last candle."

"What, sir?"

"Never mind, just a candle." He looked at Kennedy trying to decide whether to discuss this with him. Why not? "I had a vision of seven candles. They are all lit save one."

Kennedy smiled. "That's easy, sir. I know what is to light the last candle."

"Indeed? What, sir?"

"Why it is saved for Him! It is midnight! The Savior of the world is born! It is His birthday candle!" Kennedy smiled broadly at his superior officer.

Pellew looked inside himself and smiled. "I believe you are right, Mr. Kennedy. Happy Christmas to you, sir!"

Happy Christmas, Captain! God bless us every one!"



The End