The Captain’s Bride — Episode 19

JACOB turned his glass around, watching the wine swirl before he drank.

“It seems I haven’t thought this matter through, but you’ve given me an idea. If you’ll allow, I’d like to seek your help.”

“I’ll do my best to accommodate you.” Percy Surridge hesitated. “You appear to feel strongly about this particular convict.” Seeing the captain open his mouth as if to protest, he sat back and waited.

“I admit to having a personal interest in her plight. I feel indignant on her behalf that some so-called horse trader should take such advantage.” In his turn, he hesitated.

“Your face tells me you doubt the truth of this. Please let me relate some of the information she gave me when I selected her to help Bob Lennox and his family through the voyage.” Quickly, he explained how Tabitha had set out, disguised as a boy, to avoid marrying the man her grandmother chose for her and how this led to her imprisonment.

“Now, please do me the favour of interviewing Tabitha, then see what you think.”

The clergyman drained his glass.

“I’ll do that with pleasure. Perhaps it would be best if I come to your quarters tomorrow. I don’t doubt your judgement but it would be helpful if I arrived at the same conclusion. And as your decision to allow her access to your day cabin seems to be creating comment, what if I were to chaperone this young woman while she reads?”

“You’d do that for me? Every afternoon, save Saturday and Sunday?”

“Of course. I always spend time in the afternoons, reading and meditating, so I see no problem making use of your accommodation rather than my own.”

* * * *

Tabitha was taken aback the following afternoon when she arrived at the captain’s quarters. As the ship had docked, its crew was involved with taking on board water and victuals to see everyone through the next stage of the voyage. But both the captain and the ship’s padre were waiting when she knocked on the door. Upon being invited to enter, she hesitated on the threshold, curtseying as usual.

“Please come in, Tabitha. There’s no need to look so worried. Our padre has kindly offered to remain here with you during your reading time.” Jacob looked across at Henry Surridge, who nodded at her.

“Tabitha, please be aware this arrangement is made so your reputation is protected and, of course, should you have questions arising because of what you’re reading, our padre will be on hand to offer guidance.”

Tabitha bit her lip. What if the padre disapproved of the novel she’d chosen to read? Still, she murmured her thanks.

The captain gave her a low stool to sit on and the padre was offered the big chair. Tabitha’s hand hovered beside a volume of Wordsworth’s poetry but she longed to continue with the novel already begun, so selected it and settled herself.

The two gentlemen held a conversation in low voices for several minutes, but after the rowdiness of the prison decks, this presented no problem for Tabitha. Lost in a make-believe world, she didn’t even notice the captain leaving.

After a while, the padre called to her and so engrossed was she, his sudden request startled her. She placed the bookmark between the pages, put down her book and walked across to his chair, standing, hands clasped before her.

“My child, I’m given to believe you have the ability to become a valued helper, maybe a nursemaid or even governess to a family. Captain Learman thinks highly of your abilities and Mr Lennox and his wife much appreciate your assistance.”

“Thank you, sir.” She’d no idea how she should address him but he looked steadily back at her. “I’m indebted to the captain for instructing me to spend the voyage helping the Lennox family.”

“You’ve impressed him. What concerns me, my child, is the impetuous manner in which you appear to have left a good home.”

Tabitha felt her throat dry. Surely the padre didn’t have the power to send her back on the next available ship? She gulped.

“I . . . I couldn’t bear the thought of being bound in matrimony to a man so much older than me.” She daren’t mention his plumpness but hurried on. “He was a man of the cloth – a widower who . . .”

“Go on,” the padre said gently.

“My grandmother told me he was anxious to wed me and begin a family, sir. I felt unable to go through . . .”

“It’s all right, Tabitha. I understand your predicament, but couldn’t you have made your views clear to your grandmother?”

“She is someone who expects to be obeyed. I didn’t dare argue and I couldn’t see any other way out than running away.”

Tabitha saw the clergyman frown.

“You could have met with even graver danger, despite your disguise. But even though your life is following an unexpected direction, you’ve encountered friendliness from Captain Learman.

“We still have many weeks left before we arrive in Victoria and your conduct throughout the voyage will be noted. I know you won’t let either the captain or me down.”

“I appreciate your trust in me, sir.”

He bent his head to his own reading matter but not before Tabitha detected a glint of sympathy in his eyes.


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!