Ring Of Truth – Episode 04

FRED JENNINGS was slouched against the wall of the tiny house his Daisy did her best to keep nice with what she and Peter managed to earn. For the odd shilling Fred got from a rare day’s work at the docks quickly disappeared into the innkeeper’s pocket.

Fred’s cloth cap was yanked down low over his brow, as if he knew he’d no right to look them in the eye.

It was possible that it shamed him that they doubtless knew just how little he cared for his own children.

But Jem spoke to him anyway. Perhaps Jem just wanted Fred to know that, however much he hid beneath his cap, he was still seen in the neighbourhood for what he was.

“All right, Fred? Off to the docks today, are you?”

For a moment it seemed that Fred would not answer, but then he mumbled a response.

“Aye. Be nothin’ goin’, mind.”

“You never know,” Jem said, but there was a stiffness to his usual cheery tone. “Today might be your lucky day.”

Fred made no reply, and Jem urged Cassie on ahead of him along the alley to where Dolly stood patiently.

Daisy was holding her bridle and rubbing her velvety nose.

“Much obliged, Daisy.”

Jem dropped the requisite penny into the child’s hand and she smiled.

But it was a tired smile, Cassie thought, watching the way Daisy’s small shoulders slumped.

She turned on her heel and, with Alfie dozing now on her shoulder, the little girl set off back along the muddy alleyway to Rose Court.

“She’s a proud little lady.”

Jem sighed, taking up the reins as Cassie settled herself on the box seat beside him.

“Well, now, where are we off to, Miss Miller?”

Cassie told him the names of the three housekeepers who would be expecting their laundered linen returned.

Jem, who knew Spitalfields, every street and alley and the folk who lived there like he knew the back of his own hand, clicked his tongue at Dolly and off they went.

Although it was just after five o’clock, Spitalfields −and the rest of the East End, come to that − was already teeming with life, with folk going off to work in the mills, factories and warehouses that peppered the city.

There were also the “ragtags” as they were known. Crowds of downbeat men, weavers mostly, like Fred, out of work since the ban had been lifted on cheaper imports of silk from abroad. Men who crept towards the docks in search of a day’s work, most of them knowing they’d as much chance of it as the King himself showering them with riches.

Coal wagons, brewers’ drays, costermongers’ barrows and handcarts rumbled along. It was a roar and rattle familiar to all who were out at this hour as horses’ hooves and iron wheels struck the cobbles.

Open farm carts trundled by, dropping coal dust, ash, sand, grit and vegetable matter, all ground to mulch by hooves and wheels.

All manner of street sellers plied their wares on every corner, shouting the bargains they offered – apples, matches, firewood, lavender, watercress and hot pies. The lamplighters were up their ladders, extinguishing the lamps.

Jem steered Dolly and the cart expertly through a throng of folk, all jostling to get to the pie man before the mill whistle blew or the factory gates clanged shut.

Cassie saw a night watchman, relieved of his duty to monitor the streets as soon as dawn painted the sky pink, slumped on the step outside his watchman’s box, eating a pie.

Aunt Annie had been right, she mused. On foot, Cassie would have had no chance of delivering all three bundles, or even one of them, and still being at the cookshop for six o’clock, which was when Ma liked them to have the shutters open and the pot on.

But with Jem to help her, she had the laundry safely delivered and it was yet five minutes to six when they turned into Chiswell Street.

Jem drew Dolly to a halt outside the cookshop.

“There you go, madam,” he said, lifting his cap as he smiled at her. “Door-to-door service, that’s what Dolly and me do.”

“Only difference is, Dolly doesn’t clamour to be fed when she gets there.”

Cassie smiled at him as she climbed down from the cart, her mind already ticking over what she’d got from Lew Brody’s ham and beef shop the night before.

“Thanks, Jem. Give me half a minute to hang my cloak up and then I’ll do you some bacon. And I’m sure Ruby’s got tea brewing!”




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!