The Wishing Star! A Christmas Story
by Skihee

"Where is he?"

"No one seems to know, sir."

"Why the devil not? He is supposed to be here!"

"Would you like me to go look for him, sir?"

Pellew sighed. "Yes. Ask around further before you leave. Find out what you can, but find him. He is supposed to be here!"

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Take his men with you."

"Aye, sir." Kennedy found Matthews. "Where are Styles and Oldroyd?"

"They're over by the fireplace eating marsh something or other."

"Marsh what?"

"A guest of Captain Pellew brought some kind of marsh food that you cook over a fire and they are over there with her cooking some now."

"Who would want to eat something from a marsh? Styles! Oldroyd!"

Styles was kneeling on the floor in front of the fireplace holding a stick over the flame. "Oy, Mr. Kennedy! Here! Try one of these!"

"It's on fire, Styles! What the devil is it? I do not think I will like flaming marsh food."

Styles blew out the flame. "Here, what's it called Miss Binkie?"

Binkie moved her mouth around like she was trying to part her teeth to speak. "Mrrrssshhhmmmlwss."

"Try it, Mr. Kennedy!" urged Oldroyd.

Kennedy sighed. He gingerly pulled the charred object from the stick. "Looks like a lump of coal." He held it above his mouth, parts of it sticking to his fingers. "Mmm. That is quite, umm, unusual." He bit the bits off sticking to his thumb and index finger. "Very interesting, Oldroyd."

"Would you like another?" offered Wendy. Hers appeared more brown than black.

"Thank you, ma'am. Mmm. They are better not so well done. Oldroyd, Styles, get up from there and come with me."

"Wait! Here try this." Jan held up a strange looking sandwich. Only instead of bread, it was two brown cookie looking things with something brown and white in between.

"Oy! Mr. Kennedy! Yer gonna love one o' them, sir!" grinned Styles.

"Kennedy took a bite. "Mm! What is this?"

"Smore, sir."

"Not now, Styles, we need to go. We must find Mr. Hornblower. Did he say anything to you, Matthews?"

"He said he wanted some time to think, sir."

"Think. Well, that figures. No wonder he is not here. Any other clues to his whereabouts?" Kennedy took a last bite of his sandwich.

The men looked at each other, then Oldroyd spoke. "Well, it's Christmas, Mr. Kennedy. Christmas always says *home* to me, sir."

"Home, for Mr. Hornblower, is too far from here."

"But maybe he went someplace that reminds him of home, sir."

The door opened. Pellew greeted another guest while Archie and his merry men slipped out into the dark, cold night. "Major Edrington! How good of you to come!"

Kitty Cobham came to stand next to him giving her well wishes to the new arrivals.
"So this is the famous Major E! I like your uneeform! Most festive for the season, all that red and gold!" She hit him on the chest with her fan.

"Thank you, ma'am. I have heard much about you as well."

"All good, I hope, sir."

Edrington allowed his tight lips a moderate grin. "What else could there be, ma'am?"

Pellew cleared his throat. "I believe you will find Mr. Bowles and General Charette over by the punch bowl, Major. Please make yourself at home."

"Thank you, Captain! I look forward to it."

Another group entered behind Edrington. Lafferty from the Courageous, Rampling, Cutter, and Bracegirdle of Indefatigable, Captain Campion and Leftenant Carlyle of the Skylark.

"Welcome, gentlemen! Glad to see you made it!" smiled Pellew.

Behind the last group came Colonel Etienne DeVergesse with Rose on his arm, closely followed by Terry Whitehall with a young lady.

"Colonel! Miss Rose! Welcome! Mr. Whitehall! Good to see you looking so well!"

Kitty, looked DeVergesse up and down, resting her eyes on Rose with a raised eyebrow.

"Good to see you again, Captain! This is my sister, Trudy. Trudy, Captain Pellew."

"Delighted to meet you Miss Whitehall. I do not know what we would have done without your brother."

"He is a marvel, is he not? Where is Mr. Kennedy?"

"He is on a mission. One of my men is missing."

"Oh? Who might that be, Captain?" asked Terry.

Pellew looked dismayed. "Hornblower."

"Hm. How have things been going for the Leftenant?"

"A good question," sighed Pellew. "The man stays busy, indeed he does. Captaining American ships, sailing prizes to England, forestalling the French, but I see DeVergesse is here, so he is free for the moment. But I hate seeing him brooding. I have a surprise for him, and he is not here."

"A surprise?" smiled Terry. "Then, he had best get himself here, eh?"

The room was getting more crowded with holiday revelers. The smell of hot cider with cinnamon permeated the atmosphere.

Mr. Tapling and the steward were standing next to the canape table exchanging comments on the ordeurves. Leftenant Chalk was eating nuts, and Mr. Caldwell sipped punch nearby. Naomi was standing next to a thin man dressed all in red, from his head to his foot. He also wore a wig of white hair with a beard to match.

Another knock. More guests. Pellew opened the door. "Miss Jean, Miss Joan! How wonderful you could make it!"

"Your command is my wish, Captain! I wouldn't miss this for the world!" exclaimed Jean, leaning to kiss him on the cheek.

"Nor I, Sir Edward! Where is Mr. Hornblower?" asked Joan.

"A good question. I hope someone knows. Nearly everyone is here. Someone should know."

"Hm. Is Skihee here yet?"

"Yes, I believe I saw her over talking to Dr. Sebastian and Mr. Brandon. Check near the fireplace."

Jean and Joan made their way through the crowd. "Sarah! You made it too! Isn't this marvelous! I love this old Inn! What a neat idea! How did we do it?"

"Well, ladies, you know all things are possible in cyber space! And, what the hay, it's Christmas! Did you see Archie yet? Mmm mm! He looks even more fantastic in person! He was with Natalie for a while, but then Captain Pellew called him over. It seems Horatio has gone missing."

"Missing? Well, he had better get here. It isn't everyday I let myself be pixeled to come to a cyber Christmas party," stated Jean.

"At least now we know how our characters feel," added Joan.

"Is Bev here?"

"Yes, she went over to talk to Skihee and Dr. Sebastian."

"Ah. There's Drew! That turkey! I told him to wait for me," complained Jean.

"Boys will be boys, Jean!" consoled Sarah.

"I see the Whitehalls are here!"

"I know! Everybody who is anybody has to be here!"

"There is quite a crowd from the HHfic list over by the punch bowl."

"Oh, say, is that Kyle? I am so glad she is here! I've been wanting to meet her!"

"There's Jamie!" Jean waved at her.

"Yep, and there's a lot of lurkers over there as well. Uh oh. Look. PJ has spotted Edrington! Well, he's gone for the evening!"

"Don't bet on it, mate! Karen is here, too. Just wait!"

"I hope they don't fight over him."

"He may need to call out his lobsters! LOL!"

"Hey look, Jean! I just did a real LOL!"

"Well, it's cyberspace! What do you expect? Next thing you know you will be grinning sideways!"

"Look! Skihee is already doing that! Ha ha ha!"

"You guys are soooo silly!"

"Are you going to lead us in Christmas carols, Captain Sarah?"

"Maybe later. I think they need to find Hornblower first."

"I get the feeling Skihee knows where he is. Let's go ask."

Skihee stood across from Dr. Sebastian inquiring about the weather in Cleveland. Sebastian was holding Bandit, the cat, and Bev was scratching underneath this chin, telling him to be a good boy in the kind doctor's arms. Drew sipped his hot apple cider listening to the two discuss snow and the proper way to create a snowman.

Jean and Joan greeted the group. Drew blushed when he saw Jean.

"Hello," he said to her.

"Mm hm." Jean snapped her fingers. Violet appeared next to Drew. "Did you forget something else?"

"Violet!" He beamed at her.

"Silly men. They would forget their heads if they weren't attached," complained Jean.

"Excuse me, Dr. Sebastian, I need to talk to Skihee," Joan grabbed Ski's arm and pulled her aside. "What's going on? Where is Horatio? You know the Captain is getting ticked at his absence."

"He is his own man, Joan."

"But I know you know where he is."

"Yes, but he wanted some time to think."

"Come here." Joan pulled Ski into a small room. Lifting a tapestry, she pulled her behind it. On a table sat a Hewlett Packard. "Sit, and find him."

"Aw, Joan, I was enjoying the party!"

"Type! And now!"

"Aye, aye, ma'am."

Horatio sat on a bench. It was dark, cold, and windy, and he hugged his cape about him. His head hung on his chest and he breathed into the folds to warm his nose. *Why am I sitting here? Captain Pellew is expecting me at his party.* He looked up to the street lamp. The air around it misted as the cold damp met the warm fire. A fog was settling over the town as well, creating halos around the lamps lining the street. He shivered his shoulders sending a brief warming through his body.

What was he waiting for? He did not know, but he knew he had to wait a little while longer. He sighed and watched his breath go white before his eyes. *Will it snow again? Christmas and snow. They go together. Christmas and family. They go together. I haven't got a family, except my father, and he is miles away. I wish...I wish my mother were here. And, if not her, then Pamela ...and our child. Why do I feel that I will never see the child? It is a foreboding. That dream. The baby crying in the dark. Is that why I feel so lonely tonight?* He was about as low as low could be and felt an odd prick of tears in the corner of his eye.

The wind gusted. He peered at the rustling trees across the street. Looking higher, the wind seemed to blow open a hole to the heavens. A bright star appeared. The only one visible. "Star light, star bright, first AND ONLY star I see tonight, wish I may, wish I might, have the wish, I wish tonight:... I wish I could talk to my mother." He smiled wryly at himself. *Silly children's poem, silly idea to wish upon a star.*

He stood, shaking the cold from him. Looking about his present abode, he sighed as the wind once again whipped his cape about his legs. It was time to go. They would be wondering where he was, but his heart was not in it. And then he heard it. He froze. Was he hearing things? The wind stopped blowing. The night was suddenly still and the cold seemed to disappear.

He listened. There it was again. He looked towards the tree lined path. Footsteps could be heard coming nearer. And, then, again, for the third time, he heard it.

"Raysho!"

He blinked his eyes. Walking out of the mist, a woman's form became visible.

"Raysho! Raysho, darling!"

"Mother?"

"Yes, dear!" She approached him enveloping him in her arms, causing his hat to fall to the ground. But the cold had disappeared and he did not notice. "Horatio! You are so thin! Has not Captain Pellew been feeding you?"

"Mother!" He held onto her, resting his head on her shoulder. "Mother, you came!"

"You only have to ask! I am always here! I am so pleased you wanted to see me! I am with you all the time, son! You know I love you!"

"I thought last year was a dream!"

"Dreams can come true, darling, if only you want them enough."

"Mother. I am married. We are expecting a child."

"I know, son. I am delighted you will have a child of your own."

"But, I have this odd feeling something will happen."

"Do not worry, Raysho. All things work together for good."

"But I lost you. I don't want to lose her, them, as well. I think I would rather die."

"Shh shh shh. Do not say such things. You must have faith."

"I miss you. I miss father."

She looked into his sad eyes and ran her fingers over his head and through his hair. "I love you. He loves you. Why did you not *wish* to see him?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "He is miles away. There is not a chance."

She looked up to the star. "The wishing star! Look how bright it is!"

"I know. Did it really bring you?"

"You brought me, dear." Looking intently at the star she repeated the poem, finishing with her own wish. "I wish your father were here, and your wife and child."

"But that is impossible, mother. The child is not due until late February, and Pamela is in Gibraltar."

"But Horatio, all things are possible with God, you only have to ask, and have faith. And it is Christmas! The time of miracles! Years ago a Baby was a miracle for the entire world!"

"Mother!" He shook his head.

She held his cheek. "Oh Horatio! This is what I regret for you the most. That you will not believe! Do not let my departure keep you from believing! You are greatly loved! Greatly loved! With an unfathomable, incomprehensible love!"

"You are talking about God, aren't you?"

She nodded. "Do not blame Him for the sadness in your life. There is a plan. You may not see it, but there is a plan. Have faith."

"Yes, mother."

She smiled. "I have to go now. And, Captain Pellew is not happy with your tardiness. There is quite a party going on at the inn! Be sure and eat something, dear."

"Will you come?"

"No, sweetheart. I am only for you."

"But if Pamela could appear, why not you?"

She smiled again, smoothing his hair. "I am only for you." Footsteps could be heard up the road. "They are coming. Happy Christmas, son!" She threw him a kiss as she backed away from him into the mist.

The moment she disappeared the cold and wind returned, Horatio's curls whisked around his forehead. He bent to pick up his hat, knocking the snow away.

"Horatio!"

"Mr. Hornblower, sir!"

Kennedy and Matthews approached. Kennedy pointed over towards the fork in the road. "Get Styles and Oldroyd, Matthews. It's cold out here! Horatio! What the devil are you doing? Trying to freeze to death?" Kennedy stood before him, grinning chattering teeth. "What's wrong, old man? The Captain has a roomful of revelers! All sorts of guests, you would not believe!"

"I am just not in the mood, Archie."

"But, you can't stay out here. You will end up an icicle!"

Horatio looked beyond him to where he last saw his mother.

Archie turned. "What are you looking at? Have you not had enough time for thinking?"

Horatio shrugged and hung his head.

"You are missing Pamela.," remarked Archie, blowing hot air into his hands. "Look! A star! Why don't you make a wish? It might come true!"

"I think THAT star is all used up for tonight."

"What?"

"I already made a wish."

"Did it come true?"

Horatio could not help but smile. "Yes. Yes it did, amazingly enough."

"Well, I don't see Pamela, so it could not have been for her that you wished."

"That is a ridiculous notion, Archie. Pamela is in Gibraltar, and I am here."

Archie shook his head. "Well, what DID you wish for? More snow?" It had begun to fall again. He did not give Horatio a chance to answer. "I haven't made a wish! It is the first star I have seen tonight!" He said the rhyme and at the end he wished that Pamela were here. "There. My Christmas present to you, old friend. I gave you my Christmas wish! Now, come on. The party will do you good. There is some wonderful food! And, if I do not bring you back, Pellew will have me on watch on watch," he grinned.

He remembered his mother's admonition to eat. Grudgingly, he let Archie pull him along.

 

Reaching the inn, Archie pushed open the door. The light and warmth flooded over all of them. Oldroyd stepped sideways behind them to get into the cozy room.

"Oy! I am ready for that hot rum punch, I am!" exclaimed Oldroyd, rubbing his hands together. "It's freezing out there!"

"Mr. Hornblower! It is about time, sir!" exclaimed Pellew with a smile. "Success, Mr. Kennedy!" He beamed at his newest leftenant. "Well done! Mr. Hornblower there are all sorts of people wanting to wish you well. You have kept them waiting!"

Hornblower removed his hat allowing a cascade of snowflakes to drift to his feet. Undoing his cape frog, he replied. "Sorry, sir. I ... I let the time get away from me."

A woman dressed in odd looking clothes approached him taking his hat and cape.
"I'll take that, Mr. Hornblower!" said Captain Sarah with a twinkle in her eye.

Horatio stared at her, then noticed the other oddly dressed people in the room.

"I see you have noticed my guests," commented Pellew. "Don't mind them. They supply us with all sorts of amazing things to do. Just treat them like you would anyone else, Mr. Hornblower, and everything will be all right."

"Aye, aye, sir." He gave the room his full attention. Other people he did not know came up to introduce themselves and tell him hello. He was mystified that so many knew who he was. He stared at the man in the red suit for ages until the man realized his gaze. The fellow pulled down his white beard to reveal a grinning Nick Collins, secret agent for his majesty King George. Horatio's face must have revealed his startled amazement as Nick and the young woman next to him began to chuckle.

Pellew watched him for a moment then took his elbow. "Mr. Hornblower, I have a surprise for you." He pulled him over to a grouping of overstuffed chairs. Coming nearer, Hornblower could see two elderly gentlemen in conversation.

Hornblower's face changed to one of pleasant and surprised recognition. "Father!"

Dr. Hornblower looked up to see his tall lanky son. He rose to his feet carefully, extending his hand. "Horatio! It's about time you got here, boy!"

"Father, what are you ...how did you....I.... I'm speechless! It is so good to see you, sir!" He held his father's hand shaking it firmly.

"We can thank your Captain for this reunion, son. He sent a carriage for me the same day your ship arrived. Sir Edward is a schemer!" announced Dr. Hornblower winking at the Captain.

"How have you been, sir?" Horatio and his dad sat to talk with one another. While they exchanged news, Horatio kept looking over at the older man sitting in the other chair, listening intently to their conversation. Whenever, Horatio looked at him, the old gentleman would smile behind his glasses. He seemed to be waiting for recognition and Hornblower felt like he should know him.

Finally, Dr. Hornblower realized his sons querulous expression. "You remember him, don't you, son? He is a very, very, very old friend of ours. And, I know he knows you VERY well," grinned his father.

Horatio's mouth dropped open with glee. "Mr. Forester! I can't believe it!" Horatio extended his hand. CSF took it happily. "It has been years! Where have you been keeping yourself? It is indeed a pleasure, sir.!"

"The pleasure is mine, Leftenant. It is good to see you looking so well."

"Thank you, sir. You know there have been some changes in my life."

"Oh, I know, I know! Fascinating isn't it?" grinned Forester.

"I seem to get put through the wringer every now and then, sir."

"But you come out unscathed for the most part," winked CSF.

"I suppose, sir. Thank you."

"You are more than welcome, Leftenant Hornblower. More than welcome."

Conversation, laughter, and song, permeated the old inn like the odors of a pumpkin pie cooking in a kitchen. The assembled crew and visitors enjoyed each others company into the night.

Hornblower was delivered unTOLD amounts of food which he surreptitiously slipped onto the plates of others when no one was looking. Between the food, the drink, and the crowding, he was becoming quite warm. He walked through the kitchen seeing Hetty Bracegirdle checking out the remaining pies recently pulled from the hot, iron oven. He nodded at her as he made his way out the back door. Closing it behind him, he found himself in the cool night air. He sighed through puffed cheeks, feeling overly full and flushed.

Snow blanketed the back stoop and railing. Brushing the powdery flakes, he leaned on the rail looking into the dark night beyond the light fall. He smiled with the memory of so many old and new acquaintances. The woman called Joan had been very kind to him, inquiring how he was doing. Why on earth had he mentioned Pamela to her? And that other strangely dressed woman that made him think of his young wife far away in Gibraltar. She had seemed interested in him, yet had avoided anything but the most casual hello. It was seeing her that brought Pamela back to his mind. Why did she? He canted his head in thought.

"Thinking again, Horatio?"

"Archie! You startled me!" Turning to his voice, he saw his friend emerge from the kitchen and the woman named Joan smiling as she left the two of them alone.

"Deep thought, eh?"

Horatio did not answer, but returned to lean against the rail. Archie leaned with him.

"Feels good out here! It was getting a bit stuffy in there." He eyed his friend. "Pamela here yet?"

Horatio smiled sadly. "Not much chance of that, Archie."

"The other Mrs. Bracegirdle is here. She has the baby with her," he offered optimistically.

Horatio smiled crookedly. "That is all rather odd in there."

Archie chuckled. "Indeed! But they are a nice group of people all the same."

Horatio continued to smile in thought.

"Miss Joan told me she would see what she could do for you."

"What could SHE do for me?"

"I don't quite understand it, Horatio, but she seemed to think she could help you in the Pamela department. She said something. I did not quite catch it. Something about skiing."

"Skiing?"

"Yes."

Horatio shook his head. "Skis will not get me to Pamela unless they can fly!"

Archie sighed, clamping his hand on his friend's shoulder. "Don't stay out here too long, Horatio." Archie reached to open the door, but it opened before he could touch it.

"Hello, boys!" grinned Captain Sarah. "Here you are, Mr. Hornblower." She handed him his hat and cape.

"What's this?"

"You have orders to report to the church near the bench you were sitting on earlier this evening."

Archie and Horatio exchanged glances.

"What?" questioned Hornblower as he wrapped his cloak around himself.

"That is the message I am to deliver!" She turned sideways to show her back. "See my wings!" she grinned. "I am a messenger tonight!" She took Archie's hand pulling him inside and closing the door.

Horatio licked his lips and swallowed. Blinking, he shoved his hat onto his head. He stepped down the stairs, walking normally. He picked up his pace, stepping quickly, until at last he was at a full blown run down the footpaths to the old church. Would anyone be there? There were a couple of people just opening the arched doorway, allowing a spill of light onto the new fallen snow.

Hornblower panted as he approached the door. Pulling it open, he stepped inside and removed his hat. The church was decorated with greenery and candles. Someone was playing softly on the organ. The fresh smell of the evergreens met his nose.

Coming closer to the central aisle, he stopped to assess the people dotting the pews. He began a slow pace up the long walkway towards the altar. He looked first to his left, then to his right. Would he see a familiar face? He reached the front of the church. Nothing.

He walked across the front, over to the left. There was another small grouping of pews off to the side. They faced a small creche where figures depicting the birth of Christ were displayed. No one was here either. The candles flickered on the walls. He looked back to the larger room, feeling the loneliness and despair rising in his chest. How could he ever believe any such thing could happen? He had let the strange evening and stranger guests muddle his thinking. Or was it that last cup of hot rum punch he had let Oldroyd talk him into drinking? His shoulders slumped, feeling like a fool on a fool's errand.

A rustle of clothing behind him caused him to turn. There stood a hooded figure close to the creche. A baby was heard to gurgle. Hornblower looked over the shoulder of the woman to the figure of the baby Jesus, lying in the manger. Is this what he heard gurgling? He stepped closer to the cloaked woman. There was something familiar about her.

"Horatio, look how lovely! How happy Mary must have been this night! A Son! A Son is born to save the world from sin." Pamela turned beaming a bright smile into his face. And in her arms, a baby. Horatio inhaled quickly, opening his mouth to speak, but no words came. Licking his lips, he reached to pull the blanket away from the cheek of the baby in Pamela's arms.

"Is it ours?" he asked cautiously.

"Hm hm." She smiled down at the child. Horatio moved his long index finger to the tightly gripped little fist. The baby opened its fist and grasped his finger. He pulled them both to his mouth and began to suck.

"He has a good grip! It is a he...isn't it?"

"Yes. Just like his father. He has your chin, your nose. He will look just like you, Horatio."

Horatio swallowed again staring into the face of his son. His middle went all tingly as the child held onto his finger.

"Here, darling, hold your son." She shifted the small bundle into the arms of her husband.

Horatio could feel the warmth of the small body through the soft navy blue blankets. He cradled him in the crook of his arm, lowering himself into the pew close to the creche. All the apprehension, despair, and despondency melted into nothingness. The babe opened his eyes gazing intently into the eyes of his father. "What do I say to him?" he whispered.

"Tell him you love him."

Horatio looked at his wife, who smiled and nodded. Looking back into the intense stare of his son, he hesitated, then said, "I love you.....What ...what is his name?"

"Well, you know, that is the strangest thing, Horatio. Mr. Styles named him."

"Styles? My Styles?"

"Yes. For the life of me I cannot remember why!"

"What is his name?" he asked in a hushed voice.

"His name is Captain. Cap for short. Do you like it?"

"Captain? Cap. Well,... do you like it?"

"Of course. It reminds me of you! I think that is why I agreed to it."

Horatio returned to peer down at his little bundle. "I love you, Cap." The baby held up the fist he had been sucking on towards his father and grinned a toothless smile. Horatio chuckled and taking the little fist on his index finger, leaned to kiss it. "He is beautiful, Pamela."

She knelt before her husband and child, looking up into Horatio's happy countenance. "I love you so, Horatio."

He leaned towards her for a kiss. The child gurgled, and the two of them watched him. Horatio offered his finger and Cap latched onto it, pulling it to his mouth again. "Is he hungry?"

"No, I am sure he is not," she replied lovingly.

"You had best take him, now." They stood and he passed the child back to her capable arms.

"I...I am feeling a little strange, Horatio. Are you feeling all right?"

He wriggled his finger out of the baby's grip and ran his hand over the child's forehead.

Looking deeply into Pamela's eyes, he looped his arm around her shoulder. Pulling her to him, he kissed her forehead and thought *Not time, nor tide, will keep you from me.* He closed his eyes and kissed her head again, pressing his lips against her hair.

"I love you, Pamela."

"Merry Christmas, darling!" She gazed up at him.

"Merry Christmas, my lady, Merry Christmas."

 

The End