Ring Of Truth – Episode 17

FOLK will be clamouring for your pastries today, Cassie,” Ma declared confidently, “now that him across the street’s been robbed of every last crumb. So we’ll have more o’ your puddings an’ turnovers on the go, an’ with luck we’ll make ourselves a pretty penny, eh, girls?”

She was almost rubbing her hands together in glee, Cassie thought.

Yet it was true what Ma said. Folk would go to the pastry cook’s shop expecting the fare they usually got from him and then, on finding he’d nothing on his shelves but crumbs and cobwebs, they’d likely as not divert to Ma’s cookshop where they could buy one of Cassie’s pastries instead.

It was just business, there was no room for sentiment. Besides, Cassie reminded herself, the pastry cook was not the most pleasant of men, nor was his baking of any great standard.

But did that mean he deserved to lose his livelihood?

If Ma was anxious about the indisputable fact that the mob was targeting Chiswell Street, she showed no sign of it. Mind you, she and Pa were the Starlings, and between them, what with the cookshop, the dolly shop, the rag yard, and the houses in Rose Court and several other alleys of which Pa was landlord, it seemed they owned half of Spitalfields!

Perhaps Ma was confident that she and her husband were enough of a presence that no thief would dare to put one foot inside her shop.

Shame she were not quite so particular with other folk, especially wiry little weasels who spent their days squeezing every last penny out of frightened children, Cassie thought wryly when, after the midday rush, the doorbell tinkled and Tibbs scurried into the cookshop.

“Ain’t never seen the likes of it!” he exclaimed, plonking himself down on a stool and taking his hat off to scratch beneath his unruly tufts of hair. “Folk dashing here an’ there, spending the rent money like it’s burning a hole in their pocket!”

“Market day, Tibbs,” Ma reasoned, a little irritably, Cassie noted. “What’re you after? We ain’t a resting house!”

Tibbs produced a handkerchief from his waistcoat pocket and dragged it across his brow.

“Got tea in the pot, have you? An’ one o’ them jam puffs!”

A bit of manners wouldn’t go amiss, Cassie thought crossly.

When she heard what Tibbs had to say for himself, she wished she’d poured his tea herself so that Ruby had no need to hear a word of it…

“He’s bin hauled over the coals this morning, the young feller me lad,” Tibbs told Ma, an unmistakeable note of triumph in his tone. “Handing out rags from his bundle like they were his to give! He had that blanket o’ Bess Jennings, real silk stitching, if you please. An’ Fred having pinched it in his days o’ weaving, no doubt, if you ask me.”

“No-one asked you, Tibbs,” Ma cut in sharply.

Now in his stride, Tibbs continued.

“He had it coverin’ them little uns, an’ Fred’s coat an’ all. Promised it to them, or at least the money for it after Annie flogs it. I told Pa, I said, you ain’t no charity. An’ he told young feller me lad the same. Now he’s to pay back every penny out o’ his own pocket that Fred owed Pa!”

Did Tibbs think that by calling him “young feller me lad” they would not twig that he was talking about Jem?

Or perhaps Tibbs thought himself like one of the aristocracy, who held the opinion their servants were dumb creatures who could be privy to any conversation and not understand – never mind repeat – a word of it.

But Cassie had understood, and so had Ruby. Their Jem was in bother with Pa! And Tibbs had made a grand tale of it, just for the joy of telling it.

“I despair, I don’t mind telling you,” he carried on, pausing only to down what must have been half his tea in one noisy, slurping gulp. “State o’ this town! Horses whipped out from under folk’s noses, an’ rag men doling out what ain’t theirs to give.An’ now I hear that mob what did for him across the street − Brody, ain’t it? − I hear they’ve taken a fancy to pastry!”

He jabbed a finger at Ma.

“You watch it, lass, it’ll be this place they’re plundering next!”

“Oh, talk sense, man!”

Ma heaved herself up from the stool she’d sunk down on to chop rhubarb.

“More than their life’s worth to lay a finger on this shop! Besides,” she added quickly, “Cassie saw one of them, so he’ll not dare show his face.”

“You saw him?”

Tibbs turned his sharp stare to Cassie.

“You’d know him again, would you?”

Cassie nodded, but she had one eye on Ruby, who had fled back to the scullery.

What on earth was she making of all this? Even if she’d still no fear of being alone in the cookshop should the mob strike, she would be afraid for her brother.

Ma nodded towards the scullery, but it seemed it was not Ruby she was thinking of.

“Get your pinner off an’ take yourself to market, Cassie.”

Cassie blinked at her.

“But I’ve these puddings to bake, and if I go this early, they’ll not be selling off the scraps yet, Ma.”

“No matter!” Ma waved a hand dismissively through the air. “We’ve filled the pot thrice over today, Cassie! Take two shillings instead of one an’ see what you can dredge up. No luxuries, mind.”

Perish the thought! What happened to paying less to buy more to feed more folk? Such was Ma’s usual approach to market days.

Ma wanted her out of the way, Cassie thought, so that Tibbs could talk freely and Cassie would hear nothing more she could pass on to Jem.


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!