Ring Of Truth – Episode 11

AS she turned into Rose Street, where a narrow alley squeezed through into Rose Court, Cassie heard footsteps behind her but it was a light step she knew and she was not alarmed.

She stopped to allow him to catch her up and turned to smile at him.

“Jem Clements! Are we ever to be rid of you?”

“Not today, Cass.”

He grinned at her as he held up the bundle he carried.

“This lot needs the magic touch of our Annie at the Rag Fair tomorrow.”

While it was just the two of them, standing beneath a lamp-post in Rose Street with none to overhear but the rats scurrying in and out of the shadows, she told him about Lew’s stolen pocket watch, and Emma’s request.

Jem shook his head slowly.

“There are dozens of pawnbrokers in the East End alone, Cass.”

“I know. I told her that. She just wants you to keep an eye out for it.”

Jem nodded, but a growing perplexity creased his brow.

“So, should I happen to find Lew’s pocket watch, she expects me to snatch it up and return it to her?”

“It’s her property, Jem. Well, hers and Lew’s.”

“But if it turns up at the dolly shop, Pa will have paid money in good faith for it.”

Cassie blinked at him.

“But it’s stolen! If he has any sense he’ll look over it anyway, before he hands over a penny, and then he’ll see the inscription and know that it’s stolen,” she added, as the truth of this dawned on her.

But then Jem pointed out what she knew herself.

“The inscription will be long gone.”

“I suppose it will.”

Jem exhaled softly.

“Look, leave it with me, Cass. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for it.”

He arched an eyebrow at her, touching her sleeve as she turned to walk through the alleyway and into Rose Court.

“Is there anything else, Cass?”

“No, just the watch.”

But he didn’t mean that, and she knew he didn’t, and because it was Jem, who she trusted more than anyone, except perhaps Aunt Annie, she told him about Emma Brody’s missing dress.

“She thinks you took it?”

Anger glinted in Jem’s hazel eyes as he listened, and he was tense, like he’d half a mind to go tearing off to Thames Street and give Emma a piece of his mind, Cassie thought.

It was a thought that made her smile.

“She thinks it’s missing,” she told him, feeling a little calmer now she’d shared the whole ludicrous tale with him. “And until she finds it, anyone who’s touched it is under suspicion, I suppose.”

“What a foolish woman,” Jem remarked.

He was holding back, Cassie was sure, from what he really wanted to call her.

“Will you tell Annie?”

Cassie shook her head.

“No sense in worrying her. Besides, I’ve told you, and I feel better for it. Thanks, Jem.”

“Any time, lass.”

She had no need to tell him to keep it to himself: the watch, the dress, any of it. Like she’d told Emma, Jem could be trusted, especially when Cassie took him into her confidence.

He’d not breathe a word of it.

“Anyway, standing out here is not getting supper to those children, is it?”

She started to walk through the alley, with Jem close behind her, and when they emerged into the dirt and grime of Rose Court, she went first to the house where the Jennings children now lived alone, and Jem followed her.

It was not a cellar like the room Annie and Cassie shared, but for being above ground level it was no better. In fact it was considerably worse.

The floorboards were damp, the window frame rotten and the walls streaked with grime no matter how hard Daisy scrubbed.

A pitiful fire flickered in the grate but there was no candle to light the tiny room.

Cassie had walked back from Thames Street in darkness but nonetheless it took her eyes a few seconds to adjust to the gloom.

Peter was not yet back, and Daisy was seated in the one chair, which she’d pulled up close to the hearth, and rocking Alfie who was dozing in her arms.

“Supper, Daisy,” Cassie whispered.

She was unwilling to wake Alfie, who, though he needed supper as much as his siblings, would not welcome a mouthful of it if he’d been dragged from sleep before he was ready.

Daisy nodded towards the table.

“Just put it there, will you? I dunno where our Peter’s got to but he’ll be home an’ wanting his supper soon enough.”

“It’s for you, too, Daisy.”

Cassie took the pie from beneath her cloak and set it down upon the cracked plate Daisy had taken to putting out ready.

“You must eat. Your pa… your pa wouldn’t want you to starve.”

Daisy looked up at her sharply, her voice creeping higher so that Alfie stirred in his sleep.

“Pa didn’t care if we ate or not.”

“Your ma, then.”

She’d no wish to upset the child, but nor could she stand to see how, in the space of a week, Daisy was thinner and her bones sharper.

If the memory of Bess Jennings, who had cared about her children, was what was needed to push her daughter into eating then Cassie would chance it.

But all Daisy said was, “Ma’s gone. There’s just us now. Me an’ Peter an’ our Alfie.”

“All equally deserving of a decent supper,” Cassie pressed, as she heard footsteps outside.

She hoped it would be Peter, returned safe and sound from his exploits.

Daisy opened her mouth, about to argue, but clamped it shut again when the owner of the footsteps was revealed to be not her brother but the rent collector, Mr Tibbs.

Of course! Peter’s light step could not possibly be mistaken for Tibbs’s heavy tread.


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!