The Captain’s Bride — Episode 22

TABITHA relaxed. Though she doubted Jacob Learman would have sent her to people he didn’t have faith in.

She began taking notice of the surrounding countryside. There were fields either side of the road which wasn’t much of a road but better than some she remembered from home. She turned to Will.

“I think the children had a nursemaid before me?”

“Indeed they did. She found herself a husband and left in a hurry.” His eyes twinkled as he glanced sideways at her. “Reckon you’ll find yourself snapped up too – sooner rather than later.”

“That I very much doubt, Will.”

“Sorry if I spoke out of turn, lass.”

“Ah, I didn’t mean to snap at you. I’m only here because my grandmother had a mind to marry me off. But that’s another story.”

“We’re at the doctor’s place now, anyway.” He pointed his whip. “You can just see the roof above those eucalyptus trees. The house is only on one floor but there’s plenty of room.”

Tabitha closed her eyes for moments. They felt gritty and no wonder. But the thought of sleeping in a proper bed with no-one else in the room to cough and snore and call out in the night. . . She reopened her eyes.       Moments later, she saw the house as the pony continued clip-clopping his way up the gentle slope. Will brought them to a halt and dropped the reins before jumping down.

“I’ll give you a hand,” he called.

Tabitha had waited for this moment but still felt panic-stricken at the thought of yet another group of strangers judging her – other servants who might resent her presence, whether or not they were aware of her background. Will was waiting to help her.

“I’ll get your bag and see you inside.”

She swallowed hard, ran her fingers through her dishevelled hair and waited while he rapped on the door. Moments later, a woman wearing a maid’s uniform, opened it.

“This here’s the new governess, Kitty.”

The maid stood back. “Come in, if you please. Mrs Collins will see you in the sitting-room. You can leave Miss Westwood’s bag in the hall, Mr Mackie.”

Tabitha thought the maid sounded more formal than she’d expect, having been impressed with Will’s friendliness.

The maid tapped on a nearby door.

“Come in,” Tabitha heard a voice call. Kitty stood in the doorway. “Miss Westwood, ma’am.” She beckoned to Tabitha to enter.

Tabitha almost stumbled as she walked forward. The floor was polished wood, with colourful rag rugs here and there. There was a fireplace in which stood a piece of driftwood. Above the fireplace hung a portrait. Dressed in her dreary brown convict frock, she felt like a rag bag.

“You must be exhausted, you poor dear.”

Tabitha looked towards the speaker. Mrs Collins sat on an overstuffed couch in front of an open window. The lady of the house looked neat and clean and cool.

Tabitha looked up at the portrait again and realised who the subject was. Her skin was dusky and her eyes dark with well-defined brows and lashes. She wore her glossy black hair tied back from her oval face. Her pale pink muslin gown was immaculate.

Tabitha, awe-struck, wondered what her new employer would make of her and stammered out an apology for her dishevelled appearance.

Mrs Collins shook her head.

“I know something of the conditions in which you’ve travelled, my dear.” She eyed Tabitha’s dress. “You shall wash and I’ll find you something to wear from my wardrobe. We’re about the same size and I don’t think we need reminders of why you’re here. But first, I suspect you need something to drink and eat.” She looked at the maid still standing in the doorway. “Take Miss Westwood to the kitchen, Kitty, and look after her needs, please.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Mrs Collins nodded to Tabitha.

“We’ll speak later, my dear. My husband will be home then.”

“Yes, ma’am. And when will I meet my charges, please? Though I wouldn’t want them to be frightened to see such a scarecrow!”

Her employer met her gaze and Tabitha feared her comment was out of place. But Mrs Collins’s smile was kind.

“The children have been staying with my sister while we’ve been without a governess. They will be pleased to meet you, but this will happen in the morning, after their return. Your borrowed garments, though modest, will suffice until I can arrange to have dresses made for you.”

Tabitha bobbed a curtsey. The doctor’s wife got to her feet and walked towards her.

Mrs Collins gently touched Tabitha’s cheek with the fingers of one hand.

“Captain Learman explained to my husband how you came to be transported.

“Dr Collins and I are happy for you to live with us because we realise how unjust the law courts can be. However, you may find some people are suspicious of you – perhaps because they’ve listened to gossip. Tongues always wag when a newcomer arrives in Fairclough.

“The same applied to me after I met my husband and he brought me here as his wife. Hold your head high. Prove to everyone that Captain Learman’s opinion of you is accurate, which I’m sure it is.”

Tabitha nodded.

“Thank you, ma’am,” she whispered and backed out of the room before the tears threatening to fall could do so.


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!