The Captain’s Bride — Episode 13

THE next few days passed slowly as the women tried to settle in to their new life. There were some whom Tabitha feared, though Jenny told her to ignore them. But Tabitha mistrusted their sly expressions as they sized up their shipmates.

All the women wore the same drab brown dresses, with shawls, stockings and boots. But some of the convicts had more possessions than others and Tabitha knew her carpet bag was gaining notice from one or two of the more experienced lawbreakers.

Each time the women were escorted up on deck for their daily exercise, she hung back so she was last to leave. With Jenny in her confidence, it was easy to ensure one or the other was first in the reluctant queue to go back afterwards.

One fine morning a week or so into the voyage, they’d returned to their quarters after exercising, when Tabitha received a visitor.

“The Master wants a word so you’re to come with me now.” The custodian pulled a face. “No idea why, so don’t bother asking.”

Tabitha thought quickly. This was her chance to take her belongings and throw herself upon Captain Learman’s mercy. She feared losing those last few reminders of her beloved mother and placing them in his care would fill her with relief. She pulled the bag from beneath her hammock and stood up straight. Her escort laughed.

“You’re not jumping ship, you fool. Leave that!”

“Please, mistress, I prefer to take it with me.”

The older woman stared back at her then shrugged her shoulders.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Come on then.”

“Good luck,” Jenny whispered.

Tabitha nodded at her and followed the custodian who stalked ahead until they reached their destination. Here she tapped gently on an oak door, its panels, Tabitha noted, polished to perfection.


Her escort turned the brass doorknob and gave Tabitha a push. She found herself in a pleasant cabin containing furniture and a beautiful mahogany desk at which the captain sat. He sprang to his feet immediately, making Tabitha’s heart skip a beat in acknowledgment of his politeness.

“Miss Westwood, take the seat opposite me, if you please.” He turned to the custodian. “Thank you very much, mistress. If you wait nearby, I’ll call when I need you to escort this young woman back again.”

Alone with the captain, Tabitha dropped her bag on the floor, walked to the chair he indicated and seated herself. How she longed to be wearing one of the pretty dresses her mother used to make for her!

An image flashed into her mind of the market stall back in Rockham where her mother purchased material to make garments for herself and her family. Bright floral muslins, pastel cottons, sturdy material for her father’s shirts, rolls of jewel-coloured velvets. . . She dragged herself back to the present.

Captain Learman turned over a page and looked up from the large, leather-bound notebook lying on his desk. He smiled.

“Tabitha – if I may call you that?”

She nodded, wondering what this was about. At least he didn’t seem angry.

“I’ve a mind to put you to work.” He must have seen the alarm in her eyes. “Oh, please don’t fear – I shan’t have you scrubbing the decks or scouring cooking pots!”

She managed a weak smile.

He consulted his notebook again.

“We have a young family on board, father imprisoned for stealing fruit from a market stall.” He compressed his lips. “He was desperate to feed his family. Have you ever known hunger, Tabitha? Real hunger with no hope of being fed?”

His blue eyes were mesmerising. Something burned within him that she wouldn’t have associated with a man in his position.

“Not often, sir. I can feel nothing but compassion for the man you mention.”

Jacob nodded.

“It seems you and I have been more fortunate. By the way, what do you carry in the bag you left by my door?”

She felt her throat dry.

“Please forgive me if I appear impertinent, sir, but I would much appreciate your keeping it safe for me. Within it are remembrances of my parents – such as a little doll my mother made for me. They will be of no interest to anyone but myself and yet . . .”

He nodded.

“They’re important to you and you fear the bag might be stolen.”

He gave a wry smile and she knew at once what she must say.

“I do. As for me – I’m no thief, Captain Learman. Never in a hundred years would I have stolen a horse.” She held her head high and gazed into his eyes. “But if I had starving children, I might well have stolen in order to feed them.”


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!