He walked quickly, conscious of the sleeping young girl in his arms. It was raining heavily, and he had wrapped a coat around her, but he knew it wouldn’t keep her dry for much longer.
Out of the rain-drenched gloom he identified the particular building he was looking for, a greystone townhouse with a particularly large (and enormously ugly) old-fashioned wooden door. He thumped heavily on its slick surface and was rewarded with its prompt opening by a scowling woman dressed all in grey – much like the house in fact.
The matron of this particular orphanage, for such it was, was not best pleased to be roused from her comfortable seat before a gentle fire, where she had been enjoying some peace from the rigours of caring for her boisterous charges before turning in for the night, only to be disturbed by the resounding thudding from the direction of the front door. Who was this man, to come here in the middle of the night like a common criminal? She didn’t say it, didn’t say anything at all in fact, letting her frowning silence speak for her.
They stood like this for some time, each studying the other. The Matron glowered imperiously at the man, an intimidating look that had the orphans in her care suitably cowed when it was necessary.
The effect of the glare was not nearly so satisfactory on the man before her. In an effort to be more commanding, she put both hands on her hips, tapping her foot impatiently, even as she stood staring at him, waiting for him to speak as if she had all night.
The man on her front step looked her up and down unabashedly, thoroughly annoying the Matron, since she couldn’t tell if he’d seen whatever it was he was looking for, not to mention the unspoken social rules of public decency he was blatantly breaking.
As he stared at her, he was wondering if perhaps this had been a good idea.
The Matron looked nowhere near as imperious as she thought, being vertically challenged, and almost fully horizontally compensated for the insufficiency. Her greying hair was pulled back into a severe bun that stretched her beady grey eyes to the point of looking Oriental, her skin was like the bread dough he’d seen his cook kneading, and her mouth was set in a hard line that conveyed her impatience quite accurately.
He looked away from the doughy woman and down at the young girl in his arms, his large, imposing stature offset by the tenderness in his eyes as he brushed away her short hair, a deep red in the faint lamplight, to see the light tan of her elfin features, so similar to her mother’s. She looked peaceful, like she would smile widely and hug him when she woke up. He sighed inaudibly at his little girl, ignoring the Matron. If he was still with her when she woke up, her features would be shadowed by grief, and she would hug him tightly, as if afraid he would leave her. He hated to do it, but it was the best thing he knew to do for her. He couldn’t give her the life she deserved, and he knew it; he hated it.
The tapping of the Matron’s foot increased and he suppressed the urge to return her glare, and simply held the sleeping thirteen-year-old girl out to her. When she eventually took the girl, with some effort, he finally spoke, his voice rough with the remnants of tears.
“This is for you, and the other is for her – and her only.” he said in a gruff voice, holding out two letters.
As soon as the Matron took them, the girls’ father turned on his heels and left, not daring to look back.
Despite the Matron’s best efforts, the girl refused to speak that night, though she had woken as soon as the man had left. The Matron sighed, and slumped in a chair.
She wouldn’t read the letter meant for the girl, though she felt she had a right to do so, and instead opened the one for her.
It wasn’t addressed to anyone in particular, she didn’t think the man knew who he was going to leave the girl with, and the Matron felt a brief surge of righteous anger at him for it.
‘Her name is Alex,’ it said. ‘She is my daughter. Find her a family that will care for her.’
The Matron unfolded the sheet of paper to see the entire extravagant signature only hinted at the part she saw. As she read the name, she threw the letter away from her in surprise and fear, as if the name written on the paper would summon the man. She seemed to have forgotten that the same man she shook at the thought of had been standing in front of her mere hours before.
Captain Bartholomew Drake.
The infamous pyrate Captain.