Ring Of Truth – Episode 10

THE two of them stood in the shadows at the side of Brody House, and Emma kept her voice low, as if she were afraid they’d be overheard.

“Your friend, the one who works the rag cart?”

“Jem,” Cassie supplied.

“Jem, yes.” Emma stared straight at her. “Can he be trusted?”

Surprised, Cassie blinked at her. Could Jem Clements be trusted? That was like asking if Dolly could pull a cart!

“He can,” she assured Emma. “Without question.”

Emma nodded.

“Then I have a favour to ask of him. He works in the dolly shop, too, I believe?”

“Yes, he helps Pa sort the stock.”

“And he has a sharp eye?”

“Needle sharp, Mrs Brody. Jem can spot a bargain a mile off.”

Emma smiled distractedly, but her tone was grave as she continued, drawing Cassie further into the shadows before she’d speak a word more.

“Lew’s pocket watch was stolen in the raid! Those men took it. Now, I realise that London is a big city with a pawnshop on every corner, but should it appear over the counter at the dolly shop, I would appreciate your help – yourself and Jem – in returning it to its rightful owner.

“It’s very distinctive,” she added, “gold, with a little anchor charm on the chain, and on the back it’s engraved with his name. It was my wedding present to him, see.”

Her eyes brimmed with unshed tears.

“He treasured it.”

Cassie rested a hand comfortingly on Emma’s arm.

“I will ask Jem to keep an eye out for it, Mrs Brody.”

“Thank you, Cassie, but I must ask that you and Jem keep this to yourselves. I know that there is as much chance, perhaps more in fact, that Pa Starling will find Lew’s watch, but if he does it’s not to be helped.”

She swallowed.

“I do not want him told of it. Just yourself and Jem.”

“Of course, Mrs Brody.”

“And one more thing, Cassie. I was somewhat reluctant to bring this up, but I had a dress, a pale lemon cotton dress, which I enclosed in last week’s bundle. When you returned it to me the dress was missing.”

Cassie stared at her. It was one thing to suspect all and sundry of harbouring Lew’s pocket watch, but did Emma seriously believe that Cassie, or Annie, had stolen her dress?

“I am not accusing you of anything, Cassie,” Emma added quickly. “Nor your aunt. But my dress was not returned to me, and I wondered perhaps if it was mistakenly placed with someone else’s bundle? In which case, I know the chances of retrieving it are slim.”

Emma was already backing away as she spoke, and Cassie lingered only to bid her farewell before she turned on her heel and went hastily back along Thames Street.

Was Emma Brody calling her a thief? The woman was upset, exhausted with running to and from the infirmary, and no doubt deeply worried as to the future of Lew’s shop, Cassie reasoned. She’d not be thinking clearly.

Perhaps she’d simply misplaced her dress and when she found it she would realise her mistake and apologise.

But she felt cross and decided to walk home by way of the river as a means of calming down. It was almost dark but if she was able to stand for a few moments at the edge of the water and listen to the soft lapping sounds it made, it would soothe her like it always did.

Chains rattled and ropes splashed as she neared the docks, and even at this hour she could hear captains bellowing orders and the rumble of barrels being rolled along the cobbles.

She passed the Billingsgate fish market, still up and running with folk shouting their wares, and the inn that stood beside it, the Darkhouse Tavern, where Fred Jennings used to spend the rare and precious pennies in his pocket.

She heard the cheerful voices of men made jolly with ale, who sat outside the tavern and enjoyed their usual sport of tossing coins to the raggedy mob of children. The “mudlarks”, as they were known, scrabbled and fought each other for every penny.

She would have walked on, making for the spot just past the tavern where she could walk down on to the sandy mud and venture to the edge of the water, had one of the mudlarks not sprinted up on to the docks and hurtled past her as if the devil himself were at his heels.

He was a thin scrap of a boy, with his cloth cap yanked down over his brow, which would have slipped down even further but for his ears, which stuck out like jug handles.

She knew him at once, even in the gloom of the dimly lit docks. Peter Jennings! He’d been mudlarking, and by the looks of his swift departure, made a fair job of it and was taking flight before the rest of them attempted to relieve him of his bounty.

The river forgotten, Cassie turned to walk back to Rose Court, following in the wake of Peter’s fleeing footsteps.

As she had told Emma Brody, she had taken supper from the cookshop for Daisy and her brothers every night since the raid, and at Ma’s insistence.

Daisy had eaten a little of what Cassie brought back each evening, but she was struggling to accept what she saw as charity.

Peter, on the other hand, ate enough for both of them, and no wonder, if he was to have the energy to go running about London scrabbling in the mud for pennies!

Cassie knew instinctively that the little girl would disapprove of her brother’s endeavours, just as she also knew that Peter would know better than to tell her of it.



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!