- 24. Ring Of Truth – Episode 23
- 25. Ring Of Truth – Episode 24
- 26. Ring Of Truth – Episode 25
- 27. Ring Of Truth – Episode 26
- 28. Ring Of Truth – Episode 27
- 29. Ring Of Truth – Episode 28
- 30. Ring Of Truth – Episode 29
ANNIE dropped her gaze from Cassie’s. She, Annie Ordish, who’d held her head up in Spitalfields these past twenty years knowing she was doing what she had to do to keep her niece safe. What better reason was there?
But it was Cassie’s opinion of her. she realised now, that she feared; Cassie’s opinion the only one that mattered.
“What you had to?” Cassie repeated in a whisper, and confusion creased her brow as she gazed at her aunt. “But the debt! My ring – after all these years…”
“It should all be paid off, you mean? You’re right, it should, and perhaps it is, the worth of it at any rate, but then there’s the interest, and you see, lass, Pa’s got me over a different barrel now.”
Annie wrung her hands together.
“You know how I sell unredeemed pledges on from the dolly shop, pretty things Pa reckons need a woman’s touch to shift? Well, you ain’t daft, so surely you’ve worked out by now that they ain’t unredeemed, most of them. Folk are lucky if they pawn anything that sits in Pa’s shop for more than five minutes.”
Cassie stared at her, bewildered.
“So he steals from everyone?”
“Been at it for years,” Annie stated. “And before you ask, Jem’s had no part in it, have you, lad? First he knew Pa were anything less than the upright fellow he’d have the whole of Spitalfields believe, was when Pa’s lackeys were beating him senseless.”
“But you knew,” Cassie murmured.
Annie swallowed her shame and faced the girl who was the closest thing to a daughter she’d ever have – the girl she loved as such and would do anything to protect, in much the same way Jem had.
“Well, I knew what he was up to, ’cause I had a part in it, didn’t I? And I’ll not say as I’m proud of cheating folk, but it was them or you, Cassie.”
“Me?” Cassie repeated faintly.
“With that ring at the bottom of the Thames there was only one thing left belonging to George and Cassandra Miller,” Annie told her bluntly. “And Pa made it clear I either paid the worth of the ring by whatever means, or he’d take you.”
Cassie felt Jem’s fingers squeeze hers and she took comfort from it. But she still trembled as a sudden chill gripped her, as she realised how easily she could have paid her parents’ debt with her own life.
The fact that she hadn’t, that she was safe, was down to her aunt. To Annie, who still struggled to look her in the eye as she waited for her tale to sink in.
Cassie reached across to take Annie’s hand in hers.
Annie finally raised her eyes to meet Cassie’s and Cassie could see she was relieved. It was with a little more courage her aunt told her the rest of it.
“So you see, if I don’t do as Pa wants, well, he could blacken my name.”
“And his own!” Cassie interjected, but Annie shook her head.
“He’s well thought of, and he has friends in high places, lass. Take more than a tale or two of wrongdoing to topple Pa Starling from his pedestal.”
“But the ring! If you’re paying it, why does he want it?”
“Told you, lass, it’s a matter of pride. I could have paid him its worth ten times over, and interest as well, but he’d still want that ring in his pocket.
“Your mother bested him, that’s the way of it. She put it where he’d never find it, or so we all thought. She took control away from him, do you see, Cassie?
“Pa’s reputation’s every bit as important to him as his money, and he’ll not be made a fool of − by a woman, at that!”
“So there won’t ever be an end to it,” Cassie whispered. “Not while I keep this ring round my neck.”
“Cass, no!” Jem gripped her hand. “Don’t. Annie, tell her…”
“Don’t fret, lass.” Annie drew her chair closer to Cassie’s, and squeezed the hand she’d placed in hers. “Jem and me, we’ve a way out of it, all of it. I’ve been keeping back some of the nicer pieces Pa passes me to sell, and prettying them up a treat, and Jem, when he’s up and about, will take the lot to Smithfield, to the second-hand dealers a bit further afield, see? That way we’ve half a chance of Pa hearing nothing of it till Jem’s got the money in his pocket.”
“But if we pay the lot to Pa, he’d still want the ring,” Cassie pointed out, and Annie nodded.
“Which is why he ain’t getting a penny of it. That money’s not to pay any debts, Cassie. It’s for you and Jem, and Ruby, too, to get you far enough out of London that Pa’s no means of finding you.”