Ring Of Truth – Episode 07

CASSIE remembered the day Jem and Ruby had appeared at the shutters, thin and bedraggled.

They were weary after hours of being bumped and jostled in the back of farm carts; faint with hunger in Jem’s case and sickness in Ruby’s.

They had lost their parents to cholera and, after selling what they could to avoid the dreaded pauper’s burial, and having being thrown out of the cottage rented in their father’s name, with their last sixpence in Jem’s pocket they’d hitched a lift to London to try to find work.

Of the two, Ruby had been the worst affected, her pale face and hollow eyes a clear sign of the sickness she’d suffered. She had been tossed about every which way on a shaky old farm wagon, with the rancid odour of pig muck as her travelling companion.

When Cassie saw her, her skin was alabaster white, the shade of bleached bone. Beads of perspiration dampened her brow, brought on no doubt by the sickness that still cramped her belly.

She had sat slumped in a chair in the scullery, her hands knotted together, and had turned her face from the sight of her brother shovelling Ma’s beef stew down his throat.

Ma had ordered him to eat it through in the scullery. Well, it wouldn’t do for the poor little lass to be huddled in a noisy, steaming hot room with dozens of strangers crammed in elbow to elbow, would it?

And no doubt she would rest easier if she had her brother in her eyesight. He was the one person she had left in the world, poor lamb.

Cassie, herself the scullery maid at the time, though she’d been learning from Ma how to cook for some weeks, had chatted away to Jem and Ruby as she scoured the pots.

She’d made a pot of tea and Ma had let slip the kind heart she kept hidden beneath her voluminous pinner when she’d ordered Cassie to use fresh tea leaves and to heap in the sugar.

Best thing for shock, that was; it would do the girl the world of good.

When it came to paying for the meal that Jem had polished off, and the tea they’d between them coaxed Ruby to drink, the precious sixpence that had lain in Jem’s pocket had disappeared.

Ma would have waved away what he owed and never have said a word about it but Jem had insisted on working to pay it off.

He had swept the floor, scrubbed and sanded the tables and the benches, and he’d even swept the street outside the cookshop.

Although she’d nowhere near her brother’s energy, Ruby had spirit. She’d rallied enough to help Cassie scrub the pots and generally clear up as Ma closed and bolted the shutters.

By the time they were done, Ma had taken on the pair of them.

Ruby had not ventured beyond the front door since, not even to look over Jem’s garret room in the rag yard, nor to walk to the market or even just across the street to Lew’s shop with Cassie.

Invitations to supper at Rose Court were politely declined and she’d not even go out on the rag cart with her own brother.

Ruby’s world was the cookshop, somewhere she’d been living and working a matter of days when Cassie arrived one morning to find that her new friend had stopped speaking.

She’d not said a word since.

“It’s the pain an’ grief of her ma an’ pa’s passing,” Ma had reasoned at the time. “Rendered the poor lass senseless with shock, it has, being dumped in this dirty, sprawling city when she’s a country lass born an’ bred!”

“But she’s got a home and a job, and she sees her brother every day,” Cassie had pointed out.

Ma had shaken her head.

“Ain’t the same as having her dear ma, is it? Maybe it’s her way of healing, Cassie. She ain’t talking ’cause she’s thinking it all through before she can start to heal.”

Ruby had been three years at Chiswell Street, safely surrounded by Ma and Cassie and Jem, and she seemed to have settled into her new home and the work she did in the cookshop.

But not only did she refuse to step outside, she’d yet to utter a single word. Not even to Jem.

Ruby went about her days with an air of, if not contentment exactly, then resignation. She seemed to have accepted that this was her life and she’d best be getting on with it. She had a duty to Ma, who had taken her in, put a roof over her head and given her employment.




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!