The Captain’s Bride — Episode 09

NEXT day, Tabitha and Jenny learned they were to be moved. Tabitha was to be sent to Newgate Prison and Jenny to Bridewell. More and more alarmed now, Tabitha sought frantically for some way of avoiding this. She’d been pleased with her disguise, but now found the thought of being locked up with so many men really frightening.

Jenny noticed her anxiety and lost no time in putting her halfpennyworth in – one of her favourite expressions.

“’Ere, what’s the matter, mate? Do you know something I don’t?”

“Yes.” She heaved a sigh. “You see . . . I’m not who you think I am.”

“Garn! You’re a prince in disguise and you’ve sent a message to your father to send soldiers to rescue you! Take me with you, Billy boy!” She rocked back and forth, laughing.

Tabitha took a deep breath and spoke in her normal voice.

“I’m a girl, not a boy. My name’s Tabitha.”

Jenny fell silent.

“How come you’re dressed in men’s clobber, then?”

“Because I thought pretending to be a boy would stop me getting noticed but then that horse thief put paid to any chance of my making my own way in life.”

“By jiminy, there’s a surprise! Cross me heart and hope to die, I never guessed. But y’know they’ll find out, don’t you? Once you’re stuck in Newgate, you’ll not last long among all them rough fellows.

“You have to tell them now, Billy – Tabitha. Just tell ‘em why you did it, like you told me. Then we’ll both be sent to Bridewell.”

Tabitha bit her lip and though she tried hard, she couldn’t stop the tears trickling down her cheeks. Jenny got up and put her arms around her.

“We’ll be sisters. Look out for one another. That all right with you?”

Tabitha brushed away the tears and nodded.

“Yes. Let’s do that.” But she hadn’t forgotten Jenny’s warning about the noose. And she didn’t think admitting to being a woman would make the authorities any more forgiving about her fate.

* * * *

Tabitha, having confessed her true identity, had been sent to Bridewell as Jenny prophesied.

She’d lost count of the days that had passed since her one and only visit to the bathtub at her grandma’s house. Fleetingly she wondered what Margaret Entwistle would say if she knew where her charge was now. She hoped Pinkerton wasn’t suffering from ill humour on her grandma’s part. Mrs Entwistle must be furious because Tabitha chose to disobey her, just as her daughter Elizabeth had done.

Even so, panic gripped her as she realised there was no way back. No matter how much she’d dreaded the prospect of becoming wedded to a man she knew she could never love, she now felt she’d exchanged one awful fate for another.

This new development would take her far away from England and into a completely new world. Yet, no matter how frightened she was, at least she was still alive. She’d protested her innocence, but those in charge, although deciding this young convict didn’t warrant the death penalty, still issued the transportation order.

Tabitha held out her arms to receive the clothing bundle presented to her by a jailoress.

“Get those on and go next door for your meal. And mind you don’t try no funny tricks! The only place you’re going is Blackfriars Bridge, and that’s a fact. Rather you than me, little miss!”

Tabitha scuttled back to her corner, firstly pulling on undergarments, then a smock made of coarse fabric. She’d no idea what the weather was like in Australia but was glad of the shawl and sturdy boots.

Nor had she any idea what had become of her carpet bag, not that she now had need of male clothing. But she hated the thought of being parted from those precious souvenirs of life with her parents.

“You! Through here now.”

Tabitha found herself in a hall where women sat at trestle tables. Bowls of what looked like broth were being served. She joined the small queue and looked around for Jenny, feeling a rush of relief as she spotted the dark-haired girl at a table with space opposite her.

She took her bowl and a chunk of bread then carried the food carefully across the room, determined to get there before one of the wardens ordered her to take the nearest empty place.

Jenny grinned as Tabitha placed her bowl on the table and began gnawing the bread.

“I wondered if you’d turn up. So, this means you escaped the noose?” She gave a loud, throaty laugh.

“Shush,” Tabitha said. “I don’t want any more attention if I can help it.”


Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, I have found my perfect place on the “Friend” as I’m obsessed with reading and never go anywhere without a book! I read all of our stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!