Lieutenant William Bush had found it in a market in Kingston,
standing out amid a jumble of broken, dingy or dubious baubles in a
low basket as had the basket itself glared against the orderly rows
of combs, ribbons, and other ladies' sundries. He asked the pretty
girl in the blue and green dress with the matching tie-head how much
"Nuh cent," she told him, a slight frown creasing
coffee-colored complexion. "I find it on ground when I go a beach
sixmonth ago." She charged nothing for the cracked bit of ivory. She
wrapped it with the tortoiseshell and horn combs he'd bought for his
sisters and nieces. William thanked the young lady and slowly
returned to his lodgings. He had paid little for the stack of carved
combs, barely enough for a pair of them in Portsmouth. The women and
girls would be delighted with them, he knew. As for that broken
miniature, he wondered what he was going to do with that. He
couldn't give it to any one of the women in his family, nor to a
sweetheart if he had one. It was broken after all, a piece missing
where perhaps the mount for a chain had come off.
He didn't admit it to himself, nor did he realize it until
later that the woman pictured bore a strong resemblance to his
friend, Horatio Hornblower. Many times he intended to share his
observation and the evidence to Horatio but far many more times, he
had forgotten. His mind was preoccupied with watching over Horatio,
making sure he did nothing foolish in his grief, and being his
friend. Every so often the lady on the ivory made her presence
known, trying to tell him something that she couldn't quite say and
he couldn't quite hear.
He remembered it after Christmas, in the churchyard not far
uncle's. Horatio, visiting for the holiday, was with him. They
stood side by side in the shadow of the abandoned and shuttered
chapel, gazing at the small rough stone. The words, inscribed by
the stepfather of Midshipman Jesiah Marley, the healer who sailed
home with them on the Retribution, were slightly worn with the
weather and time passing.
Mairi Maighread Gunn
beloved wife of William Bush
29 May 1760 - 17 April 1791
"I didn't know she was older than you, William,"
then blushed and tried to take back what he said. "Not that-that it
matters... mattered..." He was acutely uncomfortable. Mairi and
William had been attacked by highwaymen not far from here. Mairi was
killed and William was struck in the throat and nearly strangled with
a broken length of coachwhip. William had healed physically but the
injury permanently altered his voice into a bruised rasp.
"It's all right, Horatio, it matters not," William assured, a small
smile flashing for an instant as he bent to remove a wet twist of
last fall's oak leaf from the headstone. He stood, caught the
concern in the dark eyes and said, "I only visit her grave to make
sure it's properly looked after. She's not in the ground." He
pointed to his chest. "She's here."
Horatio remembered Marley saying something similar to him by
grave in Jamaica. He hated looking back on this, when he was so out
of his head he would have shot himself had not Bush and Marley found
him when they did. William had shown him that others lived with this
pain and it was possible to go on.
"William, have you lost a button?" Horatio wondered,
the hard lump
under his hand bringing him back to the present.
"No, I don't think so-- ah!" He let go of Horatio's
hand and reached
into his waistcoat. "I found this in Kingston, I've forgotten I had
it." He dropped the miniature into Horatio's palm.
Horatio turned it over and stared, his face going nearly as
the freshly fallen snow at their feet. "William... where... where
did you get this... how? Why?" He bowed his head into his collar,
his way of trying to compose himself when he couldn't hide from the
William, heart in his throat, repeated slowly, "I don't
know why I
wanted it. I do know that she reminds me of you. Do you know this
Horatio looked up, face reddening, tears streaming. He drew
shuddering breath, then whispered, "My mother."
William laid a hand on Horatio's arm. The boy's mother had
he was still small. He wondered how and why this had ended up in a
seller's stall in a Jamaican market. And again, he wondered how
Horatio could weep rather messily and still not lose his looks in the
process. He had seen Horatio in tears far too many times but they
had not been happy ones like these. "She was beautiful, Horatio.
How did you lose this?"
Horatio looked down, breaking the gaze of questioning pale
"It-- it was Simpson. He t-took it from me aboard the... I'd never
thought I'd see it again. Th-thank you." William embraced Horatio,
who cried softly, tears freezing on his cheeks as the sky darkened.
Before long, he let go, sniffled and took William's offered
handkerchief. He tried to hand it back but was refused.
"You think I want your snot all over my pocket? No thank
Horatio giggled, then said guiltily, "I never did get
"Think nothing of it. Having a good friend I haven't
seen in some
time visit me and my family is far more than I could have hoped for."
William clapped Horatio on the back. "Come along, we must be going
back before we're missed." They turned and left the churchyard,
striding up the snow-covered road as twilight slowly faded into gelid