The Captain’s Bride — Episode 01

Lancashire 1861

STAY in this house? How will you pay the rent, lass?” Margaret Entwistle drew her grey woollen shawl more tightly around her and looked pityingly at her sixteen-year-old granddaughter.

“Are you sure my father didn’t leave me any money?” Tabitha saw the look on her grandmother’s face and her spirits plummeted even lower.

“I checked under the mattress, amongst other places, while you were getting that shopping for me.” Mrs Entwistle frowned. “We all knew your father was hopeless at saving for a rainy day. He couldn’t understand how short-sighted he was, helping other folks when you were barely managing.” She sighed and Tabitha knew it was with impatience, not sympathy.

“Aye,” her grandmother continued, “my son-in-law was a proud man and wouldn’t ever accept my help, God rest his soul.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Tabitha, but you need to fetch your things and come home with me. There’s nothing to keep you in Rockham.” She sniffed. “Not a town I’ve ever warmed to.”

Tabitha was trying her hardest not to cry in front of this forbidding old lady.

She had very few memories of her own mother. But she clearly recalled a sweet voice singing a lullaby when she was tucked up in bed . . . a smiling face and unruly bright curls just like her own mop of hair.

But she knew, from things her father said, her mother was a gentle soul, nothing like the stern matriarch now glaring at her. But though she might wish to remain in her own home, she knew when she was beaten. She was an orphan and needed to accept her situation.

She fled upstairs to her room, where she pulled an old carpet bag from beneath the bed and began stuffing a few possessions inside. In went the black-covered bible from beneath her pillow, closely followed by a yellow-haired rag doll, which her mother had made. Tabitha always felt there was much love stitched into little Maisie.

She stripped the bed of its bedraggled sheets and blankets, folding them carefully on the mattress before taking one final look round and going, her heart a solid lump of misery in her chest, back to her grandmother.

Margaret Entwistle opened the door and called to the elderly manservant waiting with the pony and trap.

“We’re ready now, Mr Yates.” She turned to Tabitha. “In you get and don’t you go looking back. Look to the future.”

Tabitha climbed up and settled into the far corner. Her grandmother, still sprightly for her sixty or so years, accepted a little help from Mr Yates and sat beside her, remaining silent, as though sensing her granddaughter needed time to adjust to her changed circumstances.

They drove down narrow streets, houses crammed higgledy-piggledy, many of them with children playing outside. Some of them stared and pointed, their shouts and laughter echoing in Tabitha’s ears while the chestnut pony clip-clopped along, pulling the two-wheeled shiny black carriage over ruts and potholes.

After a while, the jolting and the heady scent of jasmine oil which her grandmother wore like an extra layer of clothing, made Tabitha feel queasy. She closed her eyes, wishing she was anywhere but here, sitting beside a woman she didn’t totally trust, let alone love. But where else could she go?

She could hardly ask her grandmother if there were other relations who might accept her. And even if there were, no doubt they’d regard her as a hussy, like her mother before her.

* * * *

“Tabitha? We’re almost there!”

She opened her eyes to find they were in the midst of trees and fields with an occasional barn. Her mother, Elizabeth, was brought up here, but Tabitha barely remembered those few visits she’d made.

“It’s a pity your father didn’t allow you to see me, Tabitha, after your mother died. Never mind, we can make up for that now, can’t we? Rest assured I have plans for you, child. Tell me, is that the only shawl you possess?”

“It is, ma’am.”

Her grandmother muttered something inaudible. She wondered what plans the old lady meant, but didn’t risk enquiring.

They’d turned off the road now and ahead lay the house.

She knew her grandma had done her best to prevent Elizabeth from marrying Tabitha’s father, and suspected this was the reason why he became withdrawn over the years, eking out a living by taking odd jobs.


Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!