The Captain’s Bride — Episode 4


TABITHA’S mouth was crammed with sweet, delicious, sticky fruit cake. This household didn’t stint on food, it seemed.

But her mind was still replaying the sadness of the last few days and she wasn’t fully concentrating on what her grandmother was saying. But both women were staring at her, awaiting, she supposed, a response.

Something about being prepared to meet a
gentleman . . . become a companion to some widowed gentleman’s children, perhaps? That mightn’t be so bad. Children meant the possibility of love, laughter and fun, didn’t they?

“I’m so sorry, Grandma. You mentioned a gentleman?”

“Wake up, child, and heed what I say, if you please! Once I’m satisfied you are ready to meet the gentleman I have in mind, you’ll be presented to him.

“Edgar Kershaw is a clergyman – a kindly widower who is childless. He will make you an eminently suitable husband.” Tabitha’s grandmother smiled, though her next comment was chilling.

“I consider you to be just the young woman Edgar needs to help him achieve the large family to which he aspires.”

* * * *

Silence reigned as all three concentrated upon their tea and cake. Tabitha was hungry, yet how could she eat now? The tick-tock of the mantelpiece clock might as well have been signalling a prison sentence. Yet her grandmother appeared unaware of her discomfort, moving swiftly on to clothing needs, followed by a speech outlining the many faults she had identified in Tabitha’s father.

His daughter found it difficult to sit there without protesting. Why would a Christian woman wish to speak ill of the dead? But when she glanced at Pinkerton, the dutiful little person gave a slight shake of the head.

A warning? Tabitha thought so, and although longing to protest her fate, knew better than to antagonise Margaret Entwistle before having spent even one night beneath her roof.

She understood better now, how her mother must have agonised over her startling decision to run away. Had Elizabeth also been shocked to discover a suitable match was arranged for her?

If so, no wonder she decided to run to the man she loved. Although she longed to, Tabitha daren’t enquire about this clergyman she was supposed to marry.

What age was he? How was his disposition? And how soon would she be obliged to wed him? She didn’t feel ready for marriage. Indeed, the prospect terrified her. As for children . . .

Tabitha had been brought up as a God-fearing girl who said her prayers at night and who often read the bible which used to belong to her mother. She would pray for deliverance from the destiny chosen for her.

But after only a brief acquaintance with her grandmother, and from snippets gleaned from Pinkerton, she feared this mightn’t prove as easy as she might hope.

Her grandma insisted she read aloud from “Gulliver’s Travels” but after a while, Tabitha noticed the old lady’s eyelids drooping and her chin dropping to her chest.

Another glance at Pinkerton prompted a nod of approval this time, so she continued reading in her low, clear voice, until her grandma suddenly sat upright and barked, “Enough!” followed by a grudging, “You read well.”

Supper was baked ham with vegetables followed by custard tart, taken in the dining-room though the lady of the house complained of the chilly atmosphere. Pinkerton offered to light the fire already set for the morning.

“D’you think I’m made of money, woman?” the old lady snapped.

Tabitha kept her head bent over her food, speaking only when spoken to, still contemplating the fate awaiting her.

If only she’d known, she would somehow have escaped her grandmother’s clutches, exactly as her mother did. She was certain she could have taken refuge at her place of work, but it was too late now.

Yet, a fledgling idea was sparking inside her head, a notion so daring and so unlike her, she almost felt like laughing at the sheer impudence of it.

She didn’t, of course, allow herself to fall into that trap. Nor would she say anything to Pinkerton, or to plump, homely Alice, who she’d met before supper. Although she felt sure each of these women would understand her dismay, it was safer to act as though everything was fine.

 

* * * *

 

Next morning, after a night disturbed by dreams of a masked horseman trying to scoop her up and ride away with her, Tabitha took a bath in a wooden tub kept in the laundry room. Alice poured in the water and helped wash her hair, handing her a cloth to wrap around her head afterwards.

To her surprise, Pinkerton had already visited a local clothes dealer and returned with garments for her to try on. This convinced Tabitha of her grandmother’s standing within the area but depressed her by making her feel she’d no choice in the matter. Her opinions weren’t worth a bone button and she’d best get used to it.

Back in her room, after putting on the chemise and neat grey dress selected for her, sounds from below sent her to the window.

 

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!