Ring Of Truth – Episode 24

CASSIE’S head shot up and she knew without needing to look, that so did Ruby’s, the pair of them straining to hear Jem’s footsteps or his cheery whistle.

But the tinkle of the bell heralded the arrival of Tibbs.

“I’ll have a mug of tea if there’s one goin’,” he declared, dropping down on to a stool and dragging a neckerchief from his pocket to mop his brow. “Thirsty work, cartin’ young feller me lad all the way back to Rose Court, an’ him in no fit state to put one foot in front o’ the other!

“‘It’s me legs, Tibbs,’ he says. Well. probably he’d had a sniff o’ the strong stuff, or more than a sniff! But he’s Annie’s problem now, she can see to him…”

It took Cassie a moment for his words to sink in. Ruby stared at Tibbs in alarm, unable to voice the questions. Strewn around her feet on the stone floor of the scullery lay the shattered fragments of the first plate she’d dropped in three years.

“What’s been done to him?” Cassie stood before Tibbs, the soup spoon gripped in her fist. “What’s happened to Jem?”

“Ain’t no-one laid a finger on him,” Tibbs stated, apparent boredom in the subject creeping into his tone.

His attention turned to the tray of jam puffs cooling on the table.

“Told you, it was the ale.”

“The day Jem Clements has a farthing spare for the innkeeper’s pocket is the day you’ll tell that tale and have half a chance of folk believing it!”

Pea soup abandoned and tea and jam puffs forgotten, Cassie had her pinner off and slung over the nearest chair and was grabbing her cloak before she’d finished speaking.

If such behaviour were to cost her the job she relied upon, at that moment she could not for the life of her see why it mattered.

What did matter was Ruby, her face as pale as snow as she stood in the doorway of the scullery like a little ghost. In her eyes was desperate fear that some awful fate had befallen her brother, but also relief that he was safe at Rose Court and being cared for by Annie.

Ma grumbled, and Tibbs pointed out the sense of pinching Cassie’s wage for the pot, and Ruby dropped to her knees and drew towards her the bits of plate as Cassie ran back along Chiswell Street.

It took her a matter of minutes to reach Rose Court, but every one of them was endless. When she tore along the narrow alley from Rose Street she slipped and skidded in the mire and the mud, fear if nothing else keeping her upright as she stumbled down the cellar steps and through the door.

The sharp tang of vinegar chafed her throat and made her cough, and her aunt Annie turned from the hearth, where she was heating sage leaves in a pan, to put a hasty finger to her lips.

“Hush, lass. He’s sleeping.”

To Annie Ordish the sudden appearance of her niece at an hour which should have found her shackled to her soup pot was no surprise. Nor was it unexpected. She knew Tibbs would tell her, and she knew Cassie would race back to Rose Court.

For that lad lying exhausted atop Annie’s bed, battered and bruised and frozen to his bones, Cassie would risk her job and perhaps her life as well, and Jem would do the same for her.

He had − and had got himself beaten black and blue for his trouble.

“Is he…?” Cassie’s voice choked on a sob, and Annie frowned at her as she shook her head.

“None of that, my girl. Poor lad’s been through enough, without having to listen to you bawling like he’s on his last legs.”

“But you said he’s asleep.”

“He is, but if he wakes up I’m not having him unsettled.”

As if Cassie, of all folk, needed telling to be more caring and thoughtful around Jem!

Annie left the leaves to heat in the vinegar and in a rare moment of the affection she was not given to demonstrate, she rested an arm across Cassie’s shoulders as they walked together to Jem’s bedside.

“He’ll be all right, Cassie. He’s young and strong. He’ll mend.”

“What happened to him?”

Cassie stared at the sleeping face of the man who was her closest friend in the world. His eyes were black, his lip split and swollen, his face alabaster white but for one cheekbone which was coloured with a livid purple and yellow bruise.

“He was knocked about a bit,” Annie understated, seeing that Cassie was almost in a state of shock.

And was it any wonder, given how it was between the two of them, which Annie knew very well, even if they didn’t.

“His legs are a bit of a mess,” Annie admitted. “But no broken bones, far as I can tell. Least not in his legs at any rate – I wouldn’t be surprised if he hasn’t got himself a few shattered ribs.

“But they’ll mend in time,” she added quickly, when a sharp intake of breath seemed to shake Cassie from head to foot.

“The cold’s done for him worse, Cassie. Spent the night under the arches at Bishopsgate, he did, poor lad. He couldn’t drag himself any further, see? Lucky it was that Tibbs chanced on him this morning.”

“Lucky?” Cassie exclaimed, her voice shaking. “Maybe he had something to do with it!”

“Now, lass, don’t go accusing folk. Tibbs helped him all the way back here, and if he’d stepped over him and left him there, our Jem would be in a bigger mess, I can tell you. Cold’s in his bones good and proper, and I reckon we’ve got him warm just in time.”


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!