The Captain’s Bride — Episode 02

AT twelve, Tabitha had found work in a local candle factory and though the tasks were tedious and the foreman stern, her fellow workers showed kindness to a motherless girl.
She wondered how long it would take to replace her when she didn’t arrive come Monday morning.
“Tabitha Westwood! My, but you’re a daydreamer. Just like your mother before you!”
Tabitha gathered herself together. Mr Yates was helping her grandmother descend from the carriage. When she was safely down, he took Tabitha’s bag from her, gripping her arm as her feet, seemingly unwilling to carry her, caused her to stumble.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Miss Westwood,” he said. Tabitha thought his voice sounded rich but croaky, like thick molasses with gravel. But she kept this thought to herself.
Her grandmother was already at the front door, looking impatient.
“Come, child,” she called. “These damp afternoons don’t suit my delicate constitution.”
Safely inside with the door closed behind her, Tabitha looked around. This wasn’t a vast, extravagant house, but the furniture, heavy velvet curtains and the pictures adorning the walls confirmed what she already knew.
How sad that her mother, by running away to marry the man she loved, lived in poverty until pneumonia had its cruel way with her.
“Pinkerton! Where are you? Come here at once!”
Tabitha jumped, startled out of her musings. As if she’d been waiting in the wings, a tiny woman dressed entirely in black, scuttled from nowhere like a small woodland creature trying to avoid predators.
“I’m sorry, Mrs Entwistle.”
“Pinkerton, this is my granddaughter. As you know, Tabitha is to sleep in the old nursery. You shall show her the room and help her move things round to her liking, but first I think we should take tea.
“Kindly ask Alice to provide a tray for three. Has she made cake in my absence? Yesterday’s jam sponge was good for nothing but trifle!”
Abruptly, she moved across the hallway and through an open door, closing it behind her.
Tabitha found herself hoping the person called Alice had done as she was bid. Maybe the cook would be less forbidding than these other two women.
She looked at Mrs Pinkerton, not encouraged by the way her lips were clamped together as if glued. Maybe it would be wise to try and get on her right side?
And did having to move into this household mean she was regarded as a family member or a servant? No doubt she was about to find out.

* * * *

Wait here, if you please.” Pinkerton disappeared through a door which led, presumably, to the kitchen.
Curious, Tabitha looked around, feeling awed by her surroundings. This mightn’t be a nobleman’s residence, but it was bigger than even the parsonage she’d visited, let alone the cottage her father had been renting. Their tiny scullery would fit into this hallway a dozen times!
But how she wished to be back in Dents Row, with neighbours who often squabbled and shouted but who she could turn to in time of need. They’d done their best to help when her father grew weaker, but he had too much against him to recover.
Despite everyone telling her she must make a new life, she felt helpless with her grandma in control. Penniless, she would be at the old lady’s beck and call. It was difficult to imagine her own mother as a small child, clinging to Margaret Entwistle’s skirts.
Maybe Tabitha was being unfair. Perhaps the years since seeing her only daughter disobey her and marry someone who worked as a gardener, not a banker or lawyer, had been difficult for her, too.
Glancing up at the staircase, Tabitha’s heartbeat quickened on noticing a familiar face. A sunbeam highlighted the image, inviting attention. Surely that young girl in the portrait could only be her mother? She almost tripped over her carpet bag, so eager was she to move closer.
She stopped on the landing, gazing at the figure in the white organdie party dress, as though wanting to step through the picture frame and embrace her.
“I’m not here to wait on you, missy!”
Tabitha scuttled back down and grabbed the offending bag. Pinkerton stood, her podgy little hands clasped before her.
“I beg your pardon, Mrs Pinkerton. My attention was caught by that picture. Please believe I never took you for a servant. You look far too important.” How her father would laugh if he could hear her now!
“Yes, well, my official title is companion to your grandmother.” She looked up at Tabitha, who towered over her. “Now, let us go upstairs so you know where you’ll be sleeping.”
But Tabitha realised her rather grovelling remark had gone down well. She followed her guide upstairs and across a wide landing with a corridor leading off. Pinkerton trotted on until she reached the door at the end. She thrust it open and stood back while Tabitha carried her bag inside.
“Oh, my!” All of a sudden Tabitha felt a strange sensation. Still shocked and saddened at losing her father, it hadn’t occurred to her the nursery, now allocated as her bedroom, might contain items associated with her late mother.


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!