Ring Of Truth – Episode 21


THE door to the Jennings’s home was shut, but at this hour she’d expect nothing else, Cassie reasoned as she lifted a hand to knock lightly, mindful of the fact that little Alfie might well be asleep.

After some minutes she start to consider that, after Daisy’s anger at her over the ring, she might no longer be welcome, even if she had brought them supper.

She knocked again, and this time the door was opened a crack, and Peter’s thin face peeped out at her.

“What you want, miss?”

“I’ve brought you supper, Peter. Plum pudding,” she added, holding it out to him.

“Ta, miss.” He grabbed it as if she might change her mind and take it back.

Daisy’s appearance in the doorway beside him had him shrinking back from her and cradling the pudding dish close to his chest.

“I like plum puddin’, our Daisy! I ain’t sayin’ no when Miss here’s gone to the trouble o’ makin’ it for us …”

“No-one asked her to!” Daisy remarked rudely, but she held her head up like a proud little mother hen. “As it happens, we ain’t got no need o’ your help any more,” she told Cassie, stepping back to show her the proof of it.

Cassie was not quite able to believe what she was seeing as she took a step inside.

A fire roared up the chimney, and what a fire! Not the usual whisper of firelight patiently tended by Peter from whatever he’d scavenged, but a proper fire that blazed and crackled, and gave out warmth as well as a rich glow, and there was half a pail of coal by the hearth.

How had they managed it? What wealth had they come by, to be suddenly enjoying a fire of such intensity, and with coal left over for several more where that came from?

The meal they appeared to be halfway through – a meal that was nothing short of a banquet compared to how they usually ate – had surely not been paid for with the odd penny Daisy might have got for minding a horse.

Thick slices of mutton pie, still hot enough to be steaming, sent up an aroma that made Cassie’s own mouth water. With them were generous chunks of fresh bread.

Daisy crossed to the hearth to fetch the rag that hung upon its hook and as she brought it to the table to wrap around the pot handle and pour the tea, her eyes met Cassie’s. They were shrewd and glinting in the firelight − a cat’s eyes, Cassie thought.

“We ain’t pinched it, if that’s what you’re thinkin’,” Daisy said sharply. “Paid for it, fair an’ square, we did.”

For all except the apples Peter took from the market, Cassie thought. But of the stolen fruit hidden in the basket tucked beneath the table she made no mention, knowing she’d little enough chance of Daisy confiding in her as it was. Especially given her anger over the ring, which she knew was the reason her knocking had been ignored in the first place.

“You found more horses to hold, then?” Cassie asked her, and Daisy’s thin shoulders stiffened as she gripped the teapot handle.

“There’s plenty o’ folk trust me to hold their horses for them.”

“I know that, Daisy. And it seems plenty did.”

“Market day’s best day for it, what with carts being loaded an’ horses stamping about, an’ then there’s the ponies what pull the costers’ barrows, an’ dray horses, an’ all them fancy carriages…”

“More horses than you’ve hands to hold, I know.”

“You think we must have pinched it.”

“I think you must have done very well to be able to buy all this.”

Even more than usual, Daisy seemed so much older than her years, Cassie thought sadly. Not only in the forthright manner with which she got things done, simply because there was no-one else to do it, but also in the weary, stoical, almost submissive way she appeared to accept that this was her world.

And whatever she’d to do to exist, herself and her brothers, well, then, that was what she would do. With her ma and pa gone, and Tibbs threatening to drag them off to the workhouse the minute their rent was even a penny short, she’d no other choice, had she?

One thing Cassie knew. Daisy had not told her the truth. She had not bought all this food and half a pail of coal with pennies she earned from holding horses.

“Well, I’ll be off,” Cassie announced, for she’d no doubt that if she were to stay another hour it would make no odds.

With a last, fond glance at the chair by the fire where little Alfie was curled up in his mother’s blanket, sleeping soundly, she turned to leave.

Daisy’s voice, quiet but cold as ice, stopped her.

“You’ve no need of it. You’ve got work every day, an’ Annie an’ all. You live better than we do. You’ve no need of it,” she repeated, and Cassie turned back to see the amber glow from the fire reflected in Daisy’s eyes so that it seemed as if they flashed fire.

“No need of what, Daisy?”

“Money you got from that ring!” Daisy spluttered, her palms on the table coiled into fists, her nails clawing at the battered wood. “Peter found it. Whatever it made should have gone to us!”

Cassie understood, and she did the one thing she could do if Daisy was to understand, too. She lifted the ribbon out from under her bodice and held it up in the flickering firelight to show them the ring threaded on to it.

 

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!