Ring Of Truth – Episode 09


AFTER the mob of a dozen men, maybe more, tore off down Chiswell Street, their arms crammed with legs of beef and shoulders of pork, Cassie crept into the raided ham and beef shop.

Her heart was in her mouth at the thought that she might find her friend Lew injured, or worse.

But it was not Lew Brody who lay lifeless on the floor.

It was Fred Jennings.

*   *   *   *

Cassie quickened her step as she emerged from the gloom of the narrow alley, a shortcut she always took on a Friday evening as it shaved a good ten minutes off her journey, and turned into Thames Street.

Emma Brody would have been expecting her an hour since. She’d have the linen bundled up and ready for its weekly trip to Rose Court and Annie’s washtub. Cassie, who took a pride in always being on time for her aunt’s customers, was late, and for Emma Brody of all folk, who had more than enough to be fretting over.

As dusk crept over the city, Thames Street was dimly lit by the oil lamps that hung from the lintels of every third or fourth house, casting a soft glow across the cobbles and creating dark shadows between the pools of lamplight.

It was a fair step from Chiswell Street in the centre of the East End over to Thames Street which was but a stone’s throw from the docks, but it was a familiar journey and one she usually made in daylight.

Cassie was not the sort to jump at her own shadow but she was feeling unsettled, and no wonder, she thought wryly.

It had been a harrowing week, the culmination being Fred Jennings’s burial, which she had attended that morning.

Not for Fred’s sake, of course, nor her own. She felt no sadness at his passing and would not pretend otherwise. She went for the sake of his children – Daisy, Peter and baby Alfie.

They were orphans now, cast adrift in the mire of the East End without either parent.

But their pa, useless as he had been, was still their pa. His burial, paid for by Pa Starling, was attended by three solemn little beings clad in mourning clothes that were more a dull grey than black but it was the best Daisy had been able to cobble together.

Ma Starling had allowed her the time away from the cookshop. In fact, with the cost of the burial coming from Pa’s pocket, both the Starlings had been kindness itself, especially as the Jennings children were of no particular interest to them.

Still, trade at Ma’s cookshop slowed down for no-one or nothing, certainly not Fred’s burial. On her return Cassie had needed to work an hour later than usual to finish everything before she could leave for Thames Street.

One trip she’d had no need to make was her daily walk across to Lew’s shop which was closed and bolted, but the trip to the market she made instead took longer, especially as Ma would not have her spend a farthing more than she’d paid Lew.

Ma had found a new supplier, a source of cheap cuts of meat for Cassie’s soups and stews, and she was off to see him that evening.

A temporary arrangement, Cassie hoped, but Ma seemed none too convinced that Lew would be back on his feet. He had been taken to the infirmary with a broken arm, several shattered ribs and a deep cut so perilously close to his left eye it was a miracle he’d not lost his sight.

Lew Brody’s business was destroyed. And the men responsible had yet to be apprehended. They had by all accounts disappeared, swallowed up by the London fog.

The lodging house on Thames Street was all he and Emma had left. Both those who took rooms regularly – tradesmen from York, Leeds and Manchester, and even far-flung corners of London itself – and those who were occasional guests, trusted Emma Brody to provide the high standard of hospitality for which she was known.

Arriving at Brody House, Cassie went swiftly round to the tradesmen’s entrance, and knocked.

She expected to see Mrs Croft, the woman who came daily to help Emma with the cooking of the evening meal she provided for her guests, but it was Emma herself who opened the door.

She looked pale and tired, Cassie noted, but it was hardly surprising, given the frequent trips to and from the infirmary she would doubtless be making, in addition to running her business.

“Ah, Cassie, there you are.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs Brody. I had to work another hour at the cookshop.”

A shadow flitted across Emma Brody’s face and her voice was tight with barely concealed anger.

“Indeed. Ma Starling will have twice the trade now, I imagine. With my husband… with less competition.”

“Mrs Brody, Ma has been very kind.” Cassie chose her words carefully. “She’s insisted I take supper for Daisy and her brothers every night this week.”

“The Jennings children?” Emma asked sharply.

Her anger seemed to deflate as swiftly as it had ignited as she sighed and leaned heavily against the doorframe.

“Forgive me, Cassie. I know those poor children are no more responsible for their father’s reprehensible conduct than I am. Here.” She lifted the bundle of linen from the counter beside her and handed it to Cassie. “Life must go on, and there’s no sense in both businesses suffering.”

Cassie shouldered the bundle and smiled at her.

“It must, but with help if needed. Is there anything Aunt Annie or I can do to help?”

“Thank you, lass, but I don’t think so.”

 

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!