Miss Fitzhugh’s Dilemma

Submitted into Contest #67 in response to: Write about a pirate captain obsessed with finding a mythical treasure.... view prompt

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Fiction Historical Fiction Romance

As was her custom of the last two weeks, Miss Fitzhugh knocked at the door of the ship’s captain after she’d partaken of her evening meal, and as was his custom, he’d grunted, “Enter.”

Letting herself in, she saw him there at his table, studying laboriously over maps, and papers, and a well-worn journal, and not noticing her at all. Hadn’t she put on her pearl pink dress just for him? Hadn’t she neatly arranged her copper tresses, added a little color to corner of her jade green eyes, and dabbed extra scent at her neck, just so he’d like her a little more?

Did he like her? She honestly couldn’t tell. He did order his best man to guard her, to keep her from being molested by the crew, a man spry enough to defend her, but too decrepit to woo her himself. The captain was polite, he made sure she was comfortable, and fed, and had whatever she needed. 

“Are you going to just stand there, Miss Fitzhugh, or are you going to sit beside me and keep me company?” he asked gruffly, never looking up. 

“Yes, sir, I will, sir,” she answered, crossing over and sliding along the bench at which he sat until their legs were almost touching. At this he did give her a sidelong glance, and she fair melted at the sight of his warm, brown eyes. 

“You smell nice,” he offered as a compliment. 

“Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t let it go to your head, bearing in mind how the crew smells.”

“No, sir,” she said breathlessly, noticing a lock of his black hair had fallen across his forehead. 

“And you don’t have to keep calling me sir.”

“What shall I call you?”

He shuffled through another scroll or two until he found what he wanted. “Most, as you know, call me John Grayhate.”

“Yes, sir, I know.  When your ship overtook the one upon which I was traveling, you made quite a show of announcing your presence, and introducing yourself as such.”

“So, call me John.”

“I shan’t, sir. I’m sorry, it does not qualify. John is common, and your hair is as black as a raven’s wing. I see no gray at all.”

“You shall see my hair more gray than not by the time I ransom you to your future husband.”

She felt a sharp pain in her chest at the prospect. “Please, sir, can we not talk about him?”

“There’s some who call me Tom Tallbrand, so Tom it is.”

“Tom it is not, sir. That name is sillier than the first.” 

He looked at her and quirked an eyebrow, and she hurried to explain. “In truth, you are the tallest man I’ve ever seen, and your form is,” and she paused to clear her throat, “extremely athletic. But no, sir. Not Tom, indeed.”

“Miss Fitzhugh, are you not afraid of me? Most people are.”

“I’m sure, sir, for the tales of your adventures have gone far and wide. Gold and silver stolen, ships blown to bits, men run through with swords. But as I waited to board my ship, I heard more.”

She stopped there, staring him in the eyes, and he could wait no more for her to continue. “What did you hear?”

“Your real name, and a little of your past.”

He nodded at her, smirking. Her eyes trailed to his mouth, and then the scar on his jaw. “What of my past?”

“That you were forced into a life of misdeeds when your family lost their fortune, and that you chose a path of ribaldry after a particularly painful heartache.”

He chuckled, and informed her, “My father lost what little he had to the curse of drink.”

“How terrible, sir.”

“And there was no heartache. My wife gave herself to practically every man in our village barring the aged, infirm, and infantile. Why else would I have named my ship The Filthy Whore?”

“Oh my, sir. Your wife must not have had eyes, nor a heart, to do that to you, truly.”

“And I’m not in the market for another, so although I enjoy your company and compliments—“

“I didn’t say I wanted to be the second Mrs. Davies, sir.” When he finally stopped studying the map he held in front of his face, and looked at her fully, she continued. “Douglas Davies, that’s your name then. So why wouldn’t the rest of the story be true?”

“I would, Miss Fitzhugh, rather hear about you. Previous evenings you’ve sat quietly, or read aloud, or discussed our day at sea. But now tell me this; how did you come to be on the Lady May, bound for Tortuga?”

“My parents died when I was very young, sir. A burden I was to my remaining family, so when a business associate of my uncle’s said he desired a wife, they said we have just the girl.”

“Do you have tender feelings for this man?”

“Certainly not, sir. I’ve never met him, but his name and reputation are detestable to me. I cried every day after leaving home, and many times I considered flinging myself overboard to keep from becoming Mrs. Frederic Philomander.”

He laughed uproariously, causing her to ask, “Do you know him, sir?”

“I do not, but with a name like that, I do pity you, Miss Fitzhugh.”

“I have a rendering of him, sir, here,” and she withdrew a small, gold case from a pocket, placing it in his large, calloused hand. 

He popped it open, and made a face. “Those teeth, they do stick out, and he has almost no chin.”

“He’s fat, and his wig undoubtedly conceals a bald pate. I do not mean to be unkind, and judge a soul on looks alone. I know he owns slaves, a fact that causes my blood to run cold. I shan’t live on a plantation, and rule over captive, fellow humans.”  

“You’ve a soft heart, Miss Fitzhugh,” he said, handing the portrait back to her after snapping it shut. “Most girls your age would enjoy living in the lap of luxury, and being waited upon hand and foot by servants.”

“Slaves, sir, not servants. And I’m not a girl, I’m a full grown woman of three and twenty, and I’m like no one else, rely on that. I was so glad when you rescued me—“

“Rescued? No, I kidnapped you, and I’ll collect my money, you’ll see. I need it to search for this,” and with an unceremonious smack, he slapped the journal down in front of her. “The private writings of old Dick Sharpsabre, the meanest, nastiest, most miserly pirate who ever sailed these seas. He tells of a treasure beyond all comprehension, but it’s in code, and I’ve yet to decipher its true location.”

She did not spare one second looking at the book, but rather got up, and went to his case, and drew out a volume of poetry. 

“You’re angry, I understand, but business is business, and my business is—“

“Buying and selling humans, even one who’s been as kind as I have to you over the past fortnight,” she said haughtily, raising the book to her face, looking at him no longer. 

“And beyond coming here every evening, and keeping me company, what have you done?” he asked, bristling with annoyance. 

“How have your meals been of late? Better than usual, have you noticed?”

“I have, actually.”

“That’s because I cooked them. I insisted on it.”

“I see.”

“And do you think the clothes in your closet clean and mend themselves?” She put down her book, and went to it, and withdrew his best coat. “For instance, this not only had a devastating rip from a rapier, but significant bloodstains from when you cut that man’s throat on the Lady May.”

“No one told him to act the hero.”

“I mended it, I cleaned it, and the next time you need to storm and pillage a ship, you’ll cut a fine figure, thanks to me.”

“I didn’t ask you to do that,” he insisted, standing and almost bumping his head on a beam. 

“I did it because I wanted to, because I owe you my very life, and because I don’t want to marry Mr. Philomander!”

“Well, you cannot stay with me. It wouldn’t be decent!”

“And what will you do with all this treasure once you find it?” she asked, sitting, and hiding behind the tome of verse once more. 

“Set my feet back on solid ground, build a house high in the mountains, and never be bothered again.”

“And where shall you do this? Back in Wales?”

“Definitely not, I’m a wanted man there. I’ll go to America, and live off the land, alone forever more,” he said angrily. 

“I don’t think so,” she said knowingly. “I think I know where the treasure is, and since you’ve been poring over that material since I met you, garnering no results, you need my help.”

“Is that so?” he dared, crossing his arms over his vast chest. “And you deciphered this when, and how?”

“I was cleaning and straightening your cabin, and looked everything over myself. When my uncle told me who he dealt me to, and where’d I’d be shipped off to, I wanted to learn all I could about the region. You see, my aunt enjoys an extensive library at her home, and my deepest interests have always been geography, and history.”

“Get to the point, Miss Fitzhugh.”

“Your friend Dick, however, was very bad at writing poetry.”

“He was a pirate, not a poet, so tell me what you know!” He put a hand on each arm of her chair and leaned down close. “Now.”

“Let me up, and I shall, sir.”

He did so, and she took up the journal and read:

Those who are truly fair of face

Cannot look upon the place. 

“Isn’t it obvious?” she asked. 

“No,” he growled. “I’m not as clever as you.”

She read again:

Seven sisters, crescent moon

Go there and find the treasure soon. 

“Terrible really, but look at this map,” she said, unrolling it and running her finger along it until she found what she was looking for. “Seven Sisters, the Pleiades, crescent moon, that’s not directions, or coordinates in the sky. Is that what you were thinking?”

He walked over slowly, and leaned down to look at the map, standing very close to her. “Yes, it is, as brainless as I am.”

“You’re not sir, you’ve just not spent half your life with your nose in a book. This is St. Drogo’s, a crescent shaped island, with seven tiny, uninhabitable islets here, off its northernmost point.”

She looked up at him, and explained further. “St. Drogo is the patron saint of the ugly, sir, hence the reference to the fair of face not being able to look upon it. Really rather simple.”

“You had this all planned this evening, every little bit,” he said lowly, edging even closer. “Your best dress.”

“It’s not my best, it’s my favorite.”

“Your face made up, your hair just so.”

“Do you like it?”

“Lavender,” he said, boldly nuzzling her neck, making her knees nearly buckle, “behind your ears.”

This was developing faster than she had anticipated, so she broke away from him. “So, sir, shall we change course for St. Drogo’s?”

“What is it you say to me every morning, Miss Fitzhugh?” he persisted, following her. “You ask how I am. No one did that until you came along. Not ever.”

“They didn’t? I can hardly believe that.” She was backing up toward the door now. 

“And then you tell me you’ve been preparing my meals, cleaning my cabin, and tending to my wardrobe? Unbelievable.”

“As I said, I would be at the bottom of the briny deep if not for you.” She had her hand on the doorknob now, twisted it, opened it, but he was too quick, slamming it back shut. 

“Now you’ve helped me find my treasure.”

“We haven’t deciphered the rest of his clues, we haven’t arrived at St. Drogo’s, and for all we know, there mightn’t be any treasure anyway. Old Dick might’ve been completely out of his mind!” Oh, why was she so nervous? Isn’t this exactly what she wanted?

“No, he was brilliant, and I half feel sorry for slicing his liver and leaving him for the sharks.”

When he then grabbed her, held her tight and kissed her quick, she realized something beyond the initial sensation of wanting to faint; he killed people, quite often, and usually without a second thought. Ah, but wasn’t he more visually pleasing than her betrothed, and didn’t a cabin in the hills of the new world beat a musty manor on a steamy island any day of the week?

“He led me to the treasure. For the real treasure is here, right in front of me. A woman, three and twenty, and like no other.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I told you, stop calling me sir.”

“Yes, Douglas.”

“And I shall have to name my ship anew. What is your Christian name, my love?”

She sighed, she stood on tiptoe, kissed him, anything to avoid answering as long as possible. “It’s...Hortense.”

He made a face of momentary displeasure. “Maybe that can wait until we find you a proper nickname.”

“Yes, sir.”

November 09, 2020 16:51

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6 comments

Gip Roberts
20:00 Nov 22, 2020

This was exactly the kind of story I pictured when they first threw the prompt out there. Felt like I was on that ship and was getting all tense with anticipation when she explained the meaning of the map.

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Trenace Windsor
17:13 Nov 15, 2020

I love this! I can't wait to read more.

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K. Antonio
14:26 Nov 15, 2020

I really liked the language you used and the character interaction was great. I think you really dove deep into there personas and gave them an identity. My critique is, even thought the story has great dialogue, there is an overabundance of it, and part of me missed having pieces of text that weren't being directly used in conversation. Aside from that, GREAT JOB , INDEED! Feel free to check out my submission, I'd love some feedback and opinions!

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Cliff Lewis
23:04 Nov 10, 2020

Great dialogue. I was able to picture the scene like it was from a movie.

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Janey Gale
01:31 Nov 10, 2020

Love it.

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Eddie Youngs
17:30 Nov 09, 2020

Amazing work... Had me captivated from start to finish.

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