The Captain’s Bride — Episode 17

TABITHA felt nervous about explaining her new afternoon routine to Bob and Mary. At first, Mary looked stricken and Tabitha realised she assumed this was some kind of punishment. She was soon reassured, although her husband was a different matter. Thunder clouds gathered as Bob scowled and clenched both fists, obviously unsure how to form the words he wanted to say.

Life had forced Tabitha to grow up quickly and she realised at once what he suspected.

“Be assured, Bob, Captain Learman’s a true gentleman. He’s allowing me to spend time reading so I may improve my learning. He may sometimes be elsewhere, but he’s instructed his crew to allow me into his day cabin for this purpose.”

“I see.” Bob still looked concerned. “Begging your pardon, but what good can this do you? You’re a girl and you don’t need learning.”

Tabitha glanced at Mary who seemed determined to look anywhere but at Tabitha or her husband.

“I only got into this predicament because I didn’t want to be married off to a man I could never love. I might have to carry out lowly tasks once we reach our destination, but with my reading skills and whatever learning I have, I might be fortunate in securing a post as children’s nursemaid or even governess one day.”

Bob shrugged.

“Anyone who takes you for a horse thief must be an idiot. But I’m afraid you’ll still set foot on Australian soil as a convict. I don’t know how you’ll fare – we don’t know how any of us will, but if the captain thinks this reading lark’s of use to you, then so be it.”

“Thank you. I’ll still be with you for the rest of the day.”

“And the children usually sleep for some of the afternoon.” Mary nodded at Tabitha. “It’s a good idea and shows you’ve impressed the captain.”

“Thank you, Mary. The way he put all of us together has impressed me, too. I believe he’s a good man.”

Tabitha felt the baby she cradled in her arms begin to stir. Looking down at his small countenance and seeing him pucker his lips as if seeking nourishment, she wondered if she would ever become a mother one day. Mary took her little one from Tabitha and began to feed him.

Tabitha turned to Bob.

“I’ll take the other two up on deck if I’m allowed.”

“Mrs Gibbs is patrolling just now and she’s usually all right about taking the children for a walk.”

“She’s already told me she has two of her own, both boys working on the land. I think she took to a seagoing life after she was widowed. It must be strange, going backwards and forwards over the ocean.”

“Being a chaperone means she has no worries over rent or putting bread in her mouth. She could do very much worse.” Bob looked pensive.

“I apologise if I seemed uncaring at first but I’m aware of how men can behave, especially when they have power like Captain Learman.”

Tabitha looked at her boots.

“I appreciate your concern, Bob, but I know he’s a good man.”

“Indeed. And I understand you must take any chance you can get to help you once we’re in the new world.”

“Come, children. Time to take a look at the sea. I wonder what mood it’s in today.” Tabitha took each child by the hand and turned to Bob. “We’ll see what words we can learn. What colours we might see in the sky and in the ocean. Already we’ve seen flying fish – such a pretty blue and silver! One day we might have sight of a whale.”

“Thank you for being so kind to my children.” Bob nodded to her.

She set off between the hammocks, a child either side.

* * * *

Later, Tabitha made her way up from the prisoner deck after telling Mrs Gibbs where she was heading. The woman looked incredulous at first but waved her on just as Tabitha was wishing Captain Learman had issued her with a pass authorising her to quit her quarters. She felt excited at the thought of spending time with a book and wondered where she would sit. Any old corner would do.


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!