Ring Of Truth – Episode 03


DEFEATED, and aware of the empty pail she’d yet to fill, Cassie headed back into Rose Court and to the pump, but she’d barely left the alley when Jem Clements fell into step beside her.

“Daisy’s right, you know,” he said amiably. “You’d best be off unless you want to incur the wrath of Ma.”

“Good morning to you, too, Jeremy.”

He was smiling and Cassie, who’d known and liked Jem Clements since he and his sister, Ruby, hitched a lift to London on a farmer’s cart three years since, knew he’d help her out and not expect a crumb in return.

Mind you, he’d have his breakfast at the cookshop with her and Ruby, like he always did.

He and Ruby worked for the Starlings, as did Cassie – and Aunt Annie, too, when Pa Starling found himself landed with something neither he nor Jem could shift. This would be usually a dress of some description: something pretty, or had been in its day, and needing a woman’s touch to sell it.

No-one had the gift of the gab when it came to shifting fripperies, as he called them, like Annie Ordish.

Ma Starling had her cookshop, with a room above it where Ruby Clements lodged, and Pa had his dolly shop, a pawnbroker’s of sorts, but one that took the dregs that other pawn shops wrinkled their noses at.

Beside the shop was the rag and bone yard, also belonging to Pa. But this was Jem’s domain.

He slept in a garret above the stable where Dolly, so-called as folk knew her as the horse from the dolly shop, slumbered after a day of pulling the rag cart all over London in Jem’s quest to make treasure of other folk’s rubbish.

He was tall and lean, but there was nothing awkward and gangly about Jem.

He had his wits about him, Jem had. And there was doubt he needed them to safely steer old Dolly, and the cart she pulled, through the teeming streets of the city. The place where, whichever direction they took, folk were crammed shoulder to shoulder like sprats in a barrel.

He lifted the pail and, with the bundle he’d brought from his cart tucked under his other arm, he walked beside Cassie back along the court and down the cellar steps.

He bent his head as he walked through the low doorway.

Annie had her hands in a washtub up to her elbows, scrubbing white linen on a ribbed washboard, but she straightened and wiped her arms on her pinner as she beamed at Jem.

“Morning, Jem! What have you got for me?”

He set the brimming pail down beside the hearth before dropping his bundle on to the table.

“All manner o’ jewels in there − diamonds, rubies, you name it. All put on hock by the King himself, only he’s nothin’ to buy them back with. So I told him, I says, ‘I’ll be off down Petticoat Lane with these, sire, an’ see if our Annie can’t get us a king’s ransom for them!’”

“You’re a cheeky young devil, Jem Clements,” Annie chided him.

Jem winked at her and delved inside his jacket to retrieve a bunch of violets which he duly offered to Cassie.

“For you, Cass. Can’t have you feeling left out, now, can I?”

“Thank you. But you’re a daft beggar, Jem, spending your money on flowers. Or did you pinch them from some toff’s garden?”

He watched her place them carefully into the earthenware vase he’d come by on his rounds and kept for them. To brighten the place for both of them, he’d said.

“I’d best be off then, Aunt Annie,” Cassie said, lingering only to fetch the three bundles of laundered washing from the chair beside the dresser. “Just these three want delivering, is it?”

“Aye, but you’ve no time, lass…” Annie began.

She trailed off as Jem gave a reassuring pat on the shoulder of the woman who was the closest to a mother he had.

“You’re forgetting how fast Dolly can go when she has breakfast dangled like a carrot, Annie.”

“No, that’s you,” Cassie told him, slinging the bundles over her shoulder.

“Don’t fret, Aunt Annie. I’ll be five minutes late if that, and Ruby will have the fire going and a pot on to boil.”

“She’s a good lass, that Ruby,” Annie agreed.

She was speaking half to herself as she suddenly remembered whose sister Ruby was, but then Annie always said what, in her opinion, needed to be said.

“Shame the cat had her tongue and swallowed it.”

“Ruby will speak when she’s a mind to,” Cassie reasoned.

“And in the meantime she’s a brother who’ll talk enough for the pair of them!” Annie exclaimed.

She had a fond smile on her lips as she waved him and Cassie out of the door.

 

Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, I have found my perfect place on the “Friend” as I’m obsessed with reading and never go anywhere without a book! I read all of our stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!