Ring Of Truth – Episode 08

IT was a little after three o’clock. The customers Ma called the “noon-piece rabble” had departed with their pies.

The trickle of regulars yet to finish up their bowls of stew or one of Cassie’s apple turnovers, fresh from the range, were no doubt making the most of the peace before the whistles blew and weary labourers thronged to the shutters.

“Is there tea in the pot, Ruby?” Cassie asked her friend, lifting the lid of the teapot.

She answered her own question as Ruby gave a small nod.

“Then we’ll have us a cup, shall we, before we’re run off our feet again. Will you have one, Ma?”

Dragging a stool out from under Cassie’s work table, Ma Starling rested her hands on her ample hips and straightened her back before she plonked herself down on it with a weary sigh.

“Go on, lass, I will. Good an’ strong, eh, with plenty o’ sugar. Get that tea down you, lass, an’ then take yourself over to Lew’s while there’s not much doing here,” Ma told her. “See what he’s got for tomorrow’s stew pot, eh? Take a shilling from the pot.”

Cassie enjoyed the brief chance to escape from the heat and steam of the cookshop. She took a shilling from Ma’s pot and with a parting smile at Ruby, stepped out into the street.

A little girl was standing outside the pastry cook’s shop, peering into the box of pastry so very stale by now it must have been as hard as stone.

Cassie watched with mounting concern as she realised that the child, at present doing her utmost to hide beneath her late mother’s shawl, which she’d tugged around herself and the baby she clutched in her arms, was Daisy Jennings.

What was in all likelihood her last penny was dropped from her clenched fist into the pastry cook’s greedy palm, and Daisy took a penny crust of rock-hard pastry from the box.

Sitting down at the side of a street made dusty and dirty after a day of horses’ hooves and the endless trundle of cart wheels, Daisy took from beneath her shawl the chipped mug in which she’d bought a pennyworth of milk.

Propping Alfie on her knee, she tore off a piece of the pastry, dipped it into the milk and offered it to him.

Cassie knew very well her interference would not be welcomed, but how was she to go about her day as if she’d not seen such a pitiful sight?

She crossed the street, walking past the ham and beef shop and a bemused Lew, and arrived instead beside Daisy who, on seeing Cassie’s expression, scrambled to her feet.

“Daisy, wait, please. Is that Alfie’s supper?”

Cassie knew it was quite possibly the only thing the child had eaten since his watery gruel, hours since.

Alfie hid his little face in her shoulder as Daisy stooped to snatch up the mug, with nothing but a drop of milk in it.

Straightening up, the little girl turned her pale blue eyes, icy with pride and defiance, to Cassie.

“Beggin’ your pardon, miss, but it ain’t none o’ your concern.”

“Yet I am concerned, Daisy.”

Cassie lowered her voice, suddenly aware of the pastry cook watching them through the window of his shop.

“If you had come to the cookshop instead, I would have done you a basin of stew for the price of… of that!”

Cassie eyed the stale lump of pastry with distaste.

“Then, well, you could have shared it, you and Alfie.”

“I’d best get Alfie home now,” Daisy announced, as if Cassie hadn’t said a word.

She peered up at the sky as if mulling over the possibility of rain – as if any of them could make out grey skies or otherwise through the pall of smoke.

“Daisy, did your pa get work today?” Cassie asked.

Daisy looked back at Cassie, the expression in her eyes flat, and she shook her head.

“Nah, miss. He says the foreman down at the docks don’t never see him, no matter if he stands in front o’ the lot o’ them.”

More likely Fred Jennings didn’t have sense enough to be there early enough to be at the front of the queue, Cassie thought grimly.

Either that, or the foreman had more sense than to hire a man like Fred.

Proud little warrior that she was, Daisy’s head drooped a little, as if it were somehow her fault that her father was an idle scoundrel.

If Cassie could just get the pair of them back to the cookshop with her, she knew Ma would look kindly upon them, just as she had with Jem and Ruby.

“We’ve stew left, Daisy, and perhaps a cup of tea will go down nicely, eh?”

The brief flicker of interest in Daisy’s eyes showed she was tempted, but then she evidently remembered the reason she couldn’t agree.

“No, ta, miss. I can’t pay you.”

“You’ll not be asked to – not today, anyway,” Cassie added hurriedly.

She knew of old the futility of trying to foist on to Daisy what she would always see as charity.

“Make it right when you’ve a penny in your pocket.”

She might have been persuaded, Cassie thought, for Alfie’s sake if not her own, but suddenly a storm of shouting and shrieking erupted behind them.

Cassie turned to see what on earth was going on.

But when she turned back to urge Daisy away from what she realised was a raid on Lew Brody’s shop, the little girl had vanished, seemingly swallowed up by the bellowing crowds.

And it was a blessing she had.





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!