It was when food started to mysteriously vanish from his cabin that Captain Flintsworth became suspicious. Knowing his crew, there was little chance they would be drawn to fruit when there was plenty of jerky and ale below deck. The HMS Exultant was a 3rd rate ship of the line, and boasted a crew of nearly six hundred sailors, none of which, he thought, would risk being caught in his cabin just for some taste of aging fruit. That, and the fact his prized bottles of fine whisky and rums had been left undisturbed left him unsettled. Yes, he thought to himself, the case of the vanishing fruit was most suspicious indeed.
In more busy days, he would probably have forgotten about it, or, more likely, wouldn’t have noticed in the first place. A ship this big was like a little village, and there was always something to do, orders to give, people to supervise, courses to plan. The 70 guns that adorned the Exultant weren’t for show, and he had pirates to hunt for the glory of Britannia.
Still, the seas were calm, and they were a long way yet from the pirates’ most frequented routes. Smooth sailing so far had meant that the Captain had had time on his hands. One evening, after noticing that, once more, somebody had been in his cabin in his absence, he decided to catch the thief in the act. Insubordination was better dealt with while they were in untroubled waters. Who knew what could happen later… The next morning, he put a new display of fresh fruit —well, as fresh as he could have them— in evidence, and, having given discreet orders not to be disturbed for the day, he lay in wait, hidden behind a carved panel that cleverly concealed a little nook in the side of the cabin.
The hours passed with monotonous boredom. He could hear his first mate yelling at the sailors, the rush of the waves against the ship, and the wind blowing in her sails. Still, the food lay undisturbed. Maybe, he thought, this was just his mind playing tricks on him. Maybe he had just been eating the fruit himself, distracted by one of his many tasks. Maybe he had caught some illness of the mind… No! he told himself. He was sound of body and mind, he knew he was. That nagging doubt, that gut feeling was enough for him. He had risen to captaincy by trusting his instincts, and they wouldn’t let him down this time either.
Noon came and went, and he wished he had taken food with him in his secreted alcove. Yet, he prided himself for his self-discipline, and didn’t relent. He would catch the thief, and he would see to his punishment personally.
Another hour went by, and another. Finally, as he was about to give up, eyeing the dark brown rum bottle on the side to drown his sorrow, there was movement. To his surprise, it didn’t come from the cabin’s door, but from the windowed gallery that lined the stern. Someone was getting in through the narrow windows. Someone small and remarkably nimble. Young, for sure, one of the ship boys.
The intruder looked around, suspiciously, and got to the table where the fruit awaited. Quickly, he pocketed an apple, grabbed another and took a huge bite out of it. The Captain, triumphant that his instincts had been right, but confused as to who that ship boy was, all but lept out of his hiding place and grabbed the boy’s wrist.
“Now I have you, little thief!”
The boy let out an anguished cry that seemed an octave too high and tried to escape. As he did so, the Captain’s suspicion got stronger, and he grabbed the thief’s oilskin jacket, pulling it off.
Underneath it was, clearly, not a ship boy. Wearing a leather corset and a puffed-sleeves shirt that used to be white over a pair of leather breeches, the thief was a young woman.
“Let me go!” she pleaded, terrified.
“Who in the heavens are you?” he asked, sternly.
“No one! Let me go!”
“No one, huh? I don’t think so. I think you’re a stowaway, young lass, and a thieving one at that.”
“I was hungry, I was!”
“Why are you on board? Answer me!”
“I want to sail the seas! I want to fight ’em pirates!”
“For England! For the Queen!”
“Yes, yes, Glory to Britannia and all. It doesn’t explain how you got on my ship, and how you think you’re going to defeat pirates if you’re a thief, no better than them!”
“I… I was just hungry!”
“You will adress me as Captain, understood?”
“Yes Captain…” the girl said, hesitantly.
He forced her down on a chair.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“Is-Isabelle, Sir, Captain, Sir.”
“Captain will do.”
“Yes, Captain, Sir.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Right… What am I going to do with you, Isabelle?”
“I… I don’t know Sir, I mean, Captain.”
He rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“I can’t have a woman on board.”
“It’s bad luck.”
“But more importantly,” in interrupted, “there are 600 men on board, who haven’t seen a woman since we set sail. How did you stay hidden for weeks?”
“I know my way ’round ships, Captain… My da is a shipbuilder, he is.”
“I see… Well that doesn’t help me, does it…”
“Maybe I could… Be your servant? Keep your room—”
“…Your cabin in order and such things?”
“I would serve you well, Captain, been a maid since I was 6, me.”
He eyed her up and down.
“Were did you find these breeches? And the oilskin?”
“Nicked them from my brothers…”
“And the corset?”
“… A wench at the tavern…”
He shook his head.
“The shirt was mine!” she said with a warm smile. “Ma would have tanned my hide if I’d lost it”
“She would have, would she?”
“Oh for sure, Captain. ‘Never too old for a spanking’, my Ma says.” She nodded, gravely.
“Well, I agree with that!” the Captain said with a dry smile. “Get up”
She obeyed and he took her place on the chair.
“I cannot in good conscience let you out of the cabin, it is far too dangerous out there for a young lass. Maybe keeping you as a servant could work…”
She nodded enthusiastically and opened her mouth to say something, but the Captain lifted a finger up.
“However!” he continued, “thievery is a crime, and crimes must be punished. Your Ma is a wise woman, she must have had the measure of you.”
“What… What do you mean, S-sir? Captain!”
“I mean I’ll be the one to tan your hide, Isabelle, and you better believe I won’t go easy on you!”
“Oh but… Ca-Captain…”
“Pull your breeches down,” he said, his voice commanding.
She blushed and looked at the windows, then at the door. Finally, she looked back at him, his arms crossed over his chest. Her shoulders sagged and she sighed.
Her leather breeches pulled half-way down her thighs, she came to lay upon his lap, a thin piece of home-sewed undergarment barely covering her pearly white buttocks. He wasted no time asserting control and pulled them down to her thighs as well. She let out a pip of embarrassment but said nothing, fully aware that her fate was, quite literally, in his hands.
Immediately, his large, callous hands fell down on her rear, making her yelp and scream. She kicked her legs as more slaps rained down, accompanied by the Captain’s scolding. Theft, lies, deception, hiding herself aboard his ship, there were countless things to atone for. Her bottom jiggled and bounced under the slaps, and tears streamed down her blushing cheeks. Both the heavy slaps and her cries were covered by the waves, the sails and the creaking of the boat. Still, she expected the door to barge open at any point, letting in countless sailors to witness her humiliation and exposed intimacy.
The door stayed closed, mercifully, but the punishment only gained in intensity. Large, broad slaps were falling down on her burning ass, and she begged the Captain for mercy, for leniency, for respite. She promised him everything she could promess, she said again and again that she was sorry, that she would make it up to him. She wore it on her Ma, on her Dad and on the Throne of England. She cried, and moaned and begged again until, at last, he relented and let her catch her breath.
Getting her off his knees, he led her to the hitherto hidden alcove and had her stand in it, her hands over her head, her bruising, fire-red bottom on display for his enjoyment. Bad luck or not, he thought, she was there to stay. He found that he didn’t mind. He was sure Britannia would understand. Call it a gut-feeling.