The Captain’s Bride — Episode 16

NEXT day, after the families took their exercise up on deck, Tabitha was singing to the children while their parents collected food for the little ones’ midday meal. The baby was fast asleep in his basket.

Hearing the murmur of greetings, she looked up to find the captain approaching. He was but a few feet away when he called to her not to unsettle the children. At once, Tabitha rose and curtsied, just as Jacob bowed his head to her.

Once again, she marvelled at the captain’s manner. Bob was right. This was a man who possessed the qualities allowing him to reach the position he held, yet also to make ordinary folk feel at ease and as though they were of some worth to society.

“Tabitha. How are you faring? And do seat yourself again, please.”

“Thank you, sir.” She sat on a low stool beside the children, both of whom seemed fascinated by the visitor’s smart uniform and shiny brass buttons.

“I met with Mr and Mrs Lennox when I visited the refectory.” He smiled. “It seems they’re very pleased with the new addition to their family.”

“But sir, it is I who am the lucky one. I feel useful again and it’s all thanks to you.”

He inclined his head.

“I merely made a suggestion though it’s gratifying when others approve. But I must move on. My reason for calling was to ask whether you’d like to borrow one of my books.”

Tabitha gasped.

“You’d really trust me with one?”

“Why not? Your parents obviously felt you should learn to read. You must be missing the joy of that, though I fear I have no romantic novels unless you count ‘Little Women’, which my sister-in-law insisted I should bring. There are books by Tolstoy and Dickens. . .”

He was looking expectantly at her. She swallowed.

“I’ll read anything, sir. I have only two books with me, both of which are in your care.”

“And which you’ve read more than once, perhaps?”

“Indeed, sir, I have.”

“Then come to my cabin no earlier than three o’clock today and you may choose something from my small library. If any of the custodians ask what your business is, you may tell them you’re obeying the captain’s orders.”

“Thank you, sir.” She hesitated. “I fear though that I cannot ensure your book’s safety as I have nowhere to store it.”

“Ah, of course. Then we must make an arrangement. Unless you hear otherwise, you may present yourself at my door each afternoon at three o’clock. You can spend an hour or two reading, whether I’m there or not. I shall instruct my officers as to my wishes.”

His gaze lingered on her for moments. She was unable to prevent herself from smiling.

Then he was gone and the children were pulling at her skirts and demanding another story. Tabitha, overjoyed by the captain’s suggestion, couldn’t wait for tomorrow to come.

* * * *

Jacob didn’t miss the expression on his second-in-command’s face when he explained he’d given permission for a female convict to spend time reading in his cabin each afternoon.

“Robert?” Jacob tapped the envelope waiting on his blotter. “This letter includes a proposal of marriage I’ve written to a young lady of whom I’m very fond. Do you really think I’m the kind of man to take advantage of a young person within my care?

“I must admit to feeling disappointed if that’s how I’m viewed by someone for whom I have the greatest of respect and who I know will make an admirable ship’s captain one day.”

His brother officer looked highly embarrassed but pulled himself together and saluted his chief.

“I meant no offence, sir. Please forgive me for looking sceptical. It was merely that I didn’t imagine any of those female prisoners would possess the ability to read.”

“This particular young woman has more intelligence than most people would realise. Tabitha Westwood is to be allowed inside my cabin each afternoon, even in my absence, so she may read undisturbed.”

Robert looked worried.

“But, sir? What about the artefacts and your personal possessions? Will you lock them away?”

Jacob shook his head.

“Maybe you’ll tell me where a thief would stow such ill-gotten gains?”

“With respect, sir, isn’t this young woman the horse thief? She was found out and thrown into prison.”

“Don’t believe everything you hear, Robert. If you were to converse with Tabitha, you’d soon become aware of her character. She has been the victim of injustice and I intend to help her rise above an unfortunate situation.”

Robert bowed his head.

“Thank you, Robert. Now shall we ring for tea? I want to discuss a weather phenomenon we might encounter upon the next stage of our voyage.”

But later, after the lamps were lit, Jacob recalled his brother officer’s words. He was beginning to realise how a caring attitude towards a female convict could be misunderstood and might even cause jealousy.


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!