The Captain’s Bride — Episode 14

JACOB still held her gaze.

“As might I, Tabitha Westwood . . . as might I.”

They sat in silence for moments before he spoke again.

“The couple I mention have three children under the age of seven, one still a babe in arms. I’d like you to move into their quarters because I think you could help them through this voyage, by entertaining the two older ones – maybe assisting with the baby? It would be good experience for you in terms of future employment in your new country.”

Tabitha’s first thought was of Jenny. What would her friend think? Yet, the captain awaited her answer. He was allowing Tabitha, a convicted thief, freedom of choice. She marvelled at his interest in her situation and the good intention behind his suggestion.

“I’d be honoured to join this family, sir. And I’m very grateful for your consideration. When should I begin my duties?”

* * * *

Bob and Mary Lennox were delighted to meet their new nursemaid. Mary shed a tear when Tabitha appeared. Bob placed his arm around his pretty wife’s shoulders and shook Tabitha by the hand. She noted their accommodation was at the other end of the ship from the women’s dormitory and felt sad at the thought of not seeing Jenny, except maybe by chance. But she rolled up her sleeves and immediately received her first lesson in caring for a baby.

“This captain’s a good man.” Bob confided his thoughts to Tabitha as they were taking the children for some fresh air up on deck a day or two later.

“I told him about my desperate state when I was forced to steal food to put in the children’s mouths and he was very understanding – made me feel as though I was still an honest man and not a criminal.

“He asked what my trade was and when I said I’d worked as an office clerk, he expressed surprise. I explained I’d been plotted against and a theft took place for which I was blamed. A lot of cash was stolen and my enemies copped the lot.”

Tabitha stopped walking.

“I’m so sorry! But that’s like what happened to me. Except I was given a stolen horse. I still don’t know how I could have been so stupid as to fall for that story.”

“Blimey, how dreadful! The wife and I wondered what a nice girl like you could’ve done to get herself transported. Does the captain know?”

“I mentioned it. But what could he do?”

“He might come up with something – maybe put in a word for you and say you shouldn’t have been sent here in the first place.”

She swallowed hard.

“I know it might sound silly, but I think I’m better off making a new life in Australia. My parents are both dead and my grandma wanted to marry me off to someone years older. I couldn’t expect Captain Learman to put himself out for me and anyway, making my own way in London would be difficult, I think.”

“I’m sorry to say it won’t be easy getting on with life in Australia. But I’m prepared to work at whatever I’m given. Land’s cheap, so I hear. It might take a few years, but if only Mary and me can get by, we could end up owning a nice little spread. Farming’s in my blood, so who knows?”

They beamed at one another.

“And Mary tells me she used to be a seamstress before she got married,” Tabitha said.

“A good one, too. I pray she’ll be able to use her skills again in the new world.”

They fell silent as the ship lurched and each of them hurriedly reached for a child. Tabitha held little Betty in her arms and sang a nursery rhyme, to stop her from whimpering.

Bobby, her elder brother, was wriggling in his father’s arms, asking to be let down to play again. Then one of the women whose job it was to supervise the families, arrived to warn them it was time to return to their quarters.

Tabitha could see Mary was having a hard time with the baby when she walked in. The young mother looked tired, probably because of baby Thomas’s teething problems, so Tabitha offered to tell the children a story.

“You’re an angel in disguise, my dear,” Mary said as her husband gently took the wriggling infant from her arms and cuddled him against his shoulder.

“I doubt that,” Tabitha said. “But I’ve plenty of stories in my head from the days when my mother used to tell them to me.”

The evening passed quietly after Thomas was fed and settled down to sleep. Tabitha was already accustomed to an early bedtime and being woken at dawn. At times she thought longingly of the last proper bath she’d taken and this was one such occasion.

She wondered, too, whether her grandmother’s relationship with the local clergyman was still intact. She imagined he wouldn’t wish to antagonise a patron such as Margaret Entwistle.

Drifting off to sleep, a blanket tucked around her to keep the night-time chill at bay, she wondered when, or indeed if, she’d see the captain again. Though, now he’d arranged for her new shipboard routine, she must accept there was no need for her still to remain on his mind. . .


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!