The Captain’s Bride — Episode 18

WHEN Tabitha arrived, she learned the captain was elsewhere, but a stern-looking officer heard her timid request and ushered her into the cabin.

“My orders are to show you this bookcase.”

The officer led her across the room and Tabitha couldn’t help her eyes widening as she saw three shelves of assorted volumes, some bound with gold, others much plainer and some looking as though their pages had been turned countless times. Tabitha dropped to her knees and sucked in her breath. Where to begin?

She knew some of Wordsworth’s poems and her mother had admired William Blake. She could start with one of these collections, she supposed. Yet, glancing back at the shelves, one particular book stood out. She reached carefully for it, sliding it from its place and balancing it on the palm of her left hand.

Puzzled to see its title was “Charlotte Temple”, also to find its author was a woman, she opened it. Tabitha was sitting on the floor, back against the wall, engrossed in her reading when Captain Learman arrived.

At once she scrambled to her feet, bobbing in his direction, and feeling herself blush, despite having permission to visit his cabin.

“Good day to you, Tabitha. Why are you not sitting in comfort?”

“I was quite comfortable, sir, in the corner; nor do I want to be a nuisance and get in anyone’s way.”

“I believe it is I who am in your way. Please do continue with your reading while I sit at my desk. You may remain in your corner if you wish, but I should feel more comfortable if you were to sit in the big chair beside the bookshelves.” He inclined his head and walked across the room.

Tabitha, still clutching the book, scuttled over to the big chair and sat down. Sitting bolt upright, her feet together, she returned to the story, losing herself once more in the world of a young woman who’d fallen in love with a British lieutenant.

As these fictional events unfolded, Tabitha’s throat suddenly constricted as she found she was putting herself in the place of the heroine. But that was a ridiculous thing to do. Any self-respecting British lieutenant would never lower himself by falling in love with a convict! Calming herself with a deep breath, she continued reading until a knock came on the door.

“That will be tea,” Jacob said. “Enter!”

Tabitha was about to close her book when she realised she had nothing with which to mark her place. Noticing her dilemma, Jacob rose and walked across to offer her a leather bookmark.

“Will you not miss this, sir?”

“I have another. You should mark your place and put the book back on the shelf. It’s not one I immediately recognise.”

Tabitha marked her place and got to her feet.

“It’s a lively book, sir. I meant to read poetry but I couldn’t resist this story, especially as it’s written by a female author.”

Jacob frowned and held out his hand.

“Please may I look? I can’t think what this can be.”

Tabitha almost gasped when she felt his fingers brush her own as she handed over the book but his attention was on its title.

“I think I know where this came from,” he said. “When my brother’s wife packed a parcel of books for me, this one either got into the pile in error, or she’s decided to influence my taste in reading. In case this was a genuine mistake, I’d better mention it when next writing to my brother.”

He gestured towards his desk.

“I’ll pour you a cup of tea. Maybe you’ll tell me what poetry you enjoy and who first introduced you to it.”

Unbeknown to either of them, the cabin boy who’d brought in the tea, crouched, smirking, outside the door, one large ear pressed to the keyhole.

* * * *

Next day, before the evening meal, Jacob received a visit from the ship’s padre.

The Reverend Percy Surridge, a man of around Jacob’s age, accepted the captain’s invitation to sit opposite him.

“May I offer you a glass of Madeira wine, Percy?”

The clergyman hesitated.

“Only if you’re partaking, Captain.”

Jacob nodded and stood up.

“I’ll be turning in early tonight as the ship’s due to dock first thing in the morning.” He filled two glasses and handed one to the padre.

“Thank you, Jacob. I’m sorry I find it necessary to visit you on such a delicate matter, but I daren’t shirk my responsibility.” He lifted his glass towards the captain.

Jacob raised his eyebrows.

“This sounds serious. Please tell me what it’s all about.”

“It’s probably idle gossip, but I think you should hear it.” Swiftly Percy explained what he’d heard about the captain entertaining a young woman in his cabin.

Jacob sat back, frowning.

“Put like that, it does sound rather scandalous, but I trust you know me well enough to understand this is merely a friendly gesture. Tabitha Westwood has been the victim of a misunderstanding.”

The clergyman nodded.

“Unfortunately, it seems some members of your crew look upon your kind gesture as something much more fascinating. I intend doing my utmost to crush any rumours I hear in future, but it’s a pity the young woman cannot read in privacy somewhere other than the captain’s cabin.”


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!