Ring Of Truth – Episode 18


RUBY and me’s up to sorting them puddings o’ yours,” Ma said, when Cassie hesitated. She threw out an arm to encompass the room. “An’ we can warm bowls o’ soup, so don’t you go fretting the place’ll fall down round our ears while you’re gone, Miss Head Cook! Go on, get yourself to Bethnal Green, lass.”

“An’ you got your new supplier due any minute,” Tibbs reminded Ma, as Cassie went to hang up her pinner. “Shifty folk like him ain’t to be trusted, oh no. Perhaps you’ll be wantin’ me to drop by an’ have a word with them…”

“If a word’s what’s needed, I’ll be havin’ it meself, Tibbs!” Ma retorted sharply. “Ain’t you got nowhere else to be?”

“As it happens, I have.”

Tibbs rose to his feet and replaced his hat, calling through to the scullery.

“It’s off I’ll be, then, an’ thankin’ you kindly for the tea, Miss Ruby!”

He’d manners for Ruby, then!

Cassie waited until the door had closed behind him and Ma was occupied serving a customer, and then she reached into the sink and took Ruby’s wet hands, red raw almost from all the scrubbing, into hers, and she gave her what she hoped was a reassuring smile.

“I’ll find Jem, and I’ll see that he’s all right.”

Ruby nodded, but the alarm that had made no appearance when the mob tore past with armfuls of stolen pastry misted her eyes at the thought that Jem, her dear brother and the only family she had left, was in trouble with Pa Starling.

“I’ll find him,” Cassie repeated, and turned to go.

She would go to Bethnal Green market as Ma expected, but she would go by way of the Rag Fair.

Of a Saturday Jem could usually be found on Petticoat Lane, selling oddments from his handcart.

He’d told her he intended to take Dolly and trawl the length of London in his efforts to find the rent money for Daisy, but he did a good trade at the Rag Fair, just as Annie did.

And he’d have need of it, if Tibbs had told his tale right and Jem owed Pa a debt for the cost of Bess Jennings’s silk embroidered blanket.

  • * *        *        *

Cassie found Annie in her usual spot. As well as the clothes she sold on for Pa, unredeemed pledges from the dolly shop, she did a bit of buying herself, searching out thread, ribbons, buttons, bits of lace, scraps of muslin or silk. Anything she could use to “pretty up” an old dress or shawl or bonnet, and so make herself, and Pa, a few more pennies on it.

She appeared to have sold the greater part of her bundle and was unpicking silk roses from an old, raggedy bonnet when Cassie hurried to her side.

“Aunt Annie, have you seen Jem?”

Annie kept her eyes on the bonnet and her voice low.

“No, and if he’s any sense he’ll keep out of sight. Pa’s been up and down here three times already.”

As if it had suddenly occurred to her who it was beside her, Annie turned sharply to look at Cassie.

“Where does Ma think you are?”

“Bethnal Green market, but…”

“Then for pity’s sake, go!” Annie hissed. “Don’t let him catch you here!”

Then she gripped Cassie’s sleeve.

“Ma’s not seen your ring?”

“No-one has. It’s hidden.”

Annie exhaled slowly.

“Keep it that way, lass. And get to that market and back before Ma sends out a search party.”

“But, Jem, he’s…”

“Best keeping out of Pa’s way, and paying the money off soon as he’s a means to,” Annie finished for her. “From the look on your face, I reckon you know Pa found out about that blanket?”

“Tibbs came into the cookshop, eager to spill his tale,” Cassie said bitterly.

“Where is Jem?”

Cassie could detect the note of rising hysteria in her own voice as she stared frantically around her and up and down the length of Petticoat Lane, as if Jem might appear at any moment, strolling towards them with his usual cheery smile.

“I don’t know. But I’ll tell you this. I know you and Jem think less of me for not agreeing to help those children…”

“No, we don’t, Aunt Annie.”

“Aye, lass, you do. Anyway, I did try to tell Pa that it was me who gave that blanket to Daisy so it was my debt to pay. But he was having none of it. He knows what Jem did. And Cassie?”

She was still clutching Cassie’s sleeve and she drew her closer, keeping her voice barely above a whisper.

“He knows about your ring, lass! I made out like I hadn’t a clue what he was on about, but whoever told him, he knows. Perhaps he thinks Jem’s got it.”

“Tibbs!” Cassie said darkly. “He was crawling round Rose Court last night. He must have heard us talking and gone running to Pa.”

“Aye, maybe.”

Annie’s head swivelled round, on a constant look out for Pa Starling.

“Just get yourself to the market, Cassie, and keep that ring out of sight. If Pa thinks Jem’s got it, he’ll not be after you for it. Go on, lass, go!”

Cassie went, because it seemed to settle Annie, but her own mind was troubled as she hurried away from Petticoat Lane and towards the market at Bethnal Green.

 

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!