- 9. The Captain’s Bride — Episode 09
- 10. The Captain’s Bride — Episode 10
- 11. The Captain’s Bride — Episode 11
- 12. The Captain’s Bride — Episode 12
- 13. The Captain’s Bride — Episode 13
- 14. The Captain’s Bride — Episode 14
- 15. The Captain’s Bride — Episode 15
JACOB marvelled at the way she held his gaze. No shiftiness, no stammered excuse.
“I’m very sorry, sir, but I’m no child!” She bit her lip. “I wanted to take a last look at Blackfriars Bridge as the ship took sail.” She spoke clearly and Jacob realised this was no street urchin.
He released her shoulders.
“How old are you?”
“I have sixteen years and seven months, sir.”
“Have you indeed?” He smiled. “Do you know who I am? Don’t be afraid – you’re not in any trouble.”
Her smile was a joy to behold, her teeth surprisingly white. What on earth could this young woman have done to warrant banishment to the other side of the world?
“Beg pardon, sir, but by your uniform and bearing, I believe you’re the ship’s master.”
“I am indeed. Captain Jacob Learman at your service. And you are. . .?”
“Tabitha Westwood, sir.”
Jacob glanced towards the companionway leading to the prison deck. He felt surprisingly reluctant to consign this girl to her quarters. There was something about her that intrigued him, but he’d no other option. He beckoned to one of the women who helped with the female captives.
“My apologies, mistress. I detained this young woman on deck in order to discover something of her background.”
Tabitha’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Take her below, if you please.”
Jacob watched young Tabitha Westwood curtsey then walk away. Hours later, when he put pen to paper to write to his intended, he was puzzled by an image of brown eyes and copper curls appearing in his mind. Didn’t the woman he wanted to marry possess blue eyes and golden hair?
* * * *
Tabby! What kept ya?”
Tabitha was relieved to hear Jenny’s voice as she picked her way between lines of hammocks.
“I’ve been up on deck. Couldn’t see you anywhere!” She headed for her friend.
“How’d you manage not to get spotted?”
“I was in a quiet corner of the deck then the captain happened by and he kept me talking.”
“Blimey! You don’t waste no time, do ya? And now you’re blushing! Is he nice?”
“He’s very polite. A real gentleman and he wanted to know a little about me.” Tabitha tried not to sound as though she’d received any favouritism.
“Well, I’ve been saving this hammock next to mine, hoping you’d come in here.” Jenny’s heart-shaped face split into a wicked grin. “I’ve had to pretend I was waiting for my sister!”
“I’m pleased to have found you, but won’t the custodians wonder why we have different names?”
“Don’t worry. We ain’t going nowhere in a hurry and we need to stick together,” Jenny said. “Watch each other’s back and make sure to keep out of trouble.”
“Seems to me we’re in enough of that already!”
Tabitha looked around her, wondering what different crimes all these women were guilty of. Was horse theft regarded as the most scandalous offence of all? It was far more serious than stealing brass buttons or bread rolls. Would anyone besides Jenny believe she’d been duped by a scoundrel?
Many of their fellow-prisoners were lying in their hammocks. Some were sobbing. Others lay on their backs, their expressions blank as they stared at the wooden rafters above. No doubt each of them had a tale to tell.
At that moment Tabitha wondered how on earth she’d manage to pass the forthcoming days, weeks and months of this dismal voyage. She had a book or two in her bag. Would there be books on board for those who could read?
Jenny reached out a hand and squeezed her shoulder.
“We’ve got one another. And thank your lucky stars you ain’t got to wed that fat parson your grandma had up her sleeve!”
Tabitha giggled. No-one knew what the future held, but they were young and full of energy. And hope. Everyone needed hope. She resolved to thank the good Lord when she said her prayers before she went to sleep. Thank him for sparing her and for giving her the chance to forge a new life.
Two of the custodians were moving amongst the hammocks, asking questions of some occupants, ignoring others. The taller of the two pushed her way through and stood between the two girls. She looked curiously at Tabitha.
“Tabitha Westwood, ma’am.”
The woman’s finger moved down her list. “The horse thief.” She met Tabitha’s gaze. “How’d you manage to pull that off – a young wench like you?”
“Please, I. . . I was given that pretty mare. I’m no horse thief, truly I’m not!”
The woman pursed her lips.
“And I’m Queen Victoria!” She chortled. “Take my advice, Miss Hoity-Toity, and keep your trap shut. That way you won’t tell lies!”
Tabitha knew it was pointless arguing. The custodian smirked and moved on, ignoring Jenny.
Tabitha thought about the ship’s master who’d come across her earlier. If she ever got the chance to explain how she’d been wrongly convicted, would he believe her? Or would he laugh in her face? But she doubted their paths would meet again. He was the captain who must be obeyed by everyone. She was nothing but a lowly convict.