The Captain’s Bride — Episode 08

HOW could she have been so trusting – so stupid? Tabitha sat huddled on the floor of a dingy dungeon, frightened and chilly. Somehow, she still retained her bag though she feared someone older and bigger would probably find a way of snatching it. Dark depression surrounded her.

Joe Cullen had given her a stolen mare! She’d never even thought there might be such a thing as a register of horses in the county. Never once imagined Joe might be a horse thief.

Why, oh why had she accepted the kind stranger’s offer? Of course, she’d been weary and ravenous, her judgement less sharp than it should have been, but she’d been swift to agree and now suffered the consequences.

She closed her eyes, feeling the sting of salty tears, and lowered her head to rest on her knees as she hugged them, rocking back and forth in the deepest despair she’d ever experienced.

After a while, she raised her head, rubbing her eyes and sniffing. Luckily, her surroundings didn’t smell too bad. Her throat dried as she saw a movement over in the corner by the door. After being shoved roughly into this dank and cheerless prison, she hadn’t noticed she had company. Now she feared the other occupant might jeer at her for shedding tears, especially if he happened to be male.

“Hello. I’m Jenny.”

Tabitha felt a wave of relief. Maybe her fellow prisoner hadn’t noticed her show of despair. In her hurry to introduce herself she stammered as she almost revealed her real name. She really must be more careful.

“I’m Billy. How long have you been here?” Tabitha wondered if her voice sounded gruff enough but Jenny didn’t seem suspicious.

“Since last night,” her cell-mate said. “I think I must’ve been fast asleep when they brung you in.” She put her head on one side. “Hey, you ain’t murdered no-one, have you?”

Tabitha shook her head.

“Not me. I’ve been taken for a fool, that’s why I’m in here. How about you?”

“I helped myself to my mistress’s silk handkerchiefs. Only took two, but I reckon someone went in my room to see what they could nick. They must’ve noticed the hankies and gone straight to the mistress. She didn’t take long to get me reported and stuck in here.”

Tabitha couldn’t hide her soft heart.

“That’s awful. I bet you did it because you were desperate for money?”

Jenny nodded.

“Aye. Ma’s got five little ‘uns at home and a second husband what drinks. I only wanted to flog the hankies and give my ma the money.”

“I’m so sorry.”

But Jenny looked fierce.

“No good us being sorry, mate. We’re stuck here now with worse to come. Who made a fool outa you then?”

“A stranger who took pity on me – a man who turned out to be a horse thief. He offered to give me one of his horses so I could sell it at market and I was daft enough to accept. No self-respecting livestock dealer would believe a scruffy lad could own such a beautiful mare.”

Jenny’s mouth was open.

“You talk like a toff but you don’t look like one.”

“That’s because I’m not.” Tabitha needed to change the subject away from her background. “I. . . I ran away from home because my grandma had plans for me that I didn’t fancy.” She could have kicked herself for revealing the truth instead of telling Jenny any old rubbish that came into her head.

“But was it a nice home? Did ya get enough to eat?”

“I was well fed, yes.”

“Huh! Then more fool you fer not heeding the old biddy! What did she want to do with you?”

Tabitha thought swiftly.

“Um, she wanted to send me off to some foreign country. I don’t know which, but she has a cousin out there who runs some kind of plantation.”

“All I can say is, you must be dafter than you looks. Sounds to me like you’d ‘ave been on to a good thing there, Billy, me darlin’. Funny thing is, you’re gonna get over the water all right. But as a prisoner, not as a well-heeled young fella!”

Tabitha stared at her companion, horrified.

“Wha. . . what do you mean, Jenny?”

The girl pulled a face and rubbed her hand over her mouth.

“I’m gonna yell fer water and vittles if nobody brings ‘em soon. Now, what do you think I mean? That’s a hanging offence you got there, Billy boy. You got to hope they lets you choose between the noose and transportation.”

“Transportation where?”

“Where d’you think? Why, Australia, of course. I’ll be sent there, that’s for sure. Now all you can do is pray.”


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!