Ring Of Truth – Episode 27

THE embers of the fire she had kept stoked all night, so that Jem would not wake to the cold or shiver in his sleep, cast but a faint splinter into the darkness as Cassie rose stiffly from her chair. She was shivering violently herself, her breath trembling from her in clouds.

She and Annie had agreed to take half the night each, sleeping in shifts in Cassie’s narrow bed so that one of them would always be alert and vigilant, attentive to whatever Jem might need. A damp cloth held to his brow or a sip of water dribbled between his parched lips when he’d a moment’s strength to swallow, their ears pricked for the menacing tread of one or more of Pa Starling’s men.

Because if Tibbs knew that Jem was in Rose Court, then so did Pa.

But when an angry fist had pounded on the door, and long before Annie had taken to her bed leaving Cassie to take the first shift, it was not one of Pa’s men.

It was Daisy Jennings, who had burst into the small cellar the second Cassie lifted the latch.

She had hardly seemed to notice the quiet figure in Annie’s bed, nor the haste with which both Annie and Cassie had pressed their fingers to their lips, so incensed had she been.

The reason for her fury seemed to be a small cooking pot which she thrust under Cassie’s nose.

“Fancied helpin’ yourself to our Alfie an’ Peter’s supper, did you?”

“What? I’ve done nothing of the sort!” Cassie hissed at her.

Even in the dim light cast by a flickering candle as dusk seeped into the cracks and shadows of Rose Court, Cassie could see the marks where the small joint of beef had been sliced. A good bit of it had been shaved off.

But who would do such a thing? And why was Daisy convinced that she, Cassie, was to blame?

“I handed it to Ruby in good faith,” Daisy went on. “A shilling’s worth o’ beef went in that pot, an’ about a farthing’s worth was handed back to me. An’ there’s our Peter dribblin’ at the thought o’ decent meat for his supper, when we ain’t got nothing!”

“You took the pot to the cookshop, Daisy?” Cassie interrupted her.

If Daisy’s word could be believed, she had taken a small but complete supper to be cooked by Ma and Ruby, and had been handed only half of it back.

Daisy darted over to the somewhat larger cooking pot suspended over the fire in the hearth, into which Annie had put potatoes, onions, carrots and a taste of mutton to boil. Her intention was to make a nourishing broth to start to build up Jem’s strength.

Daisy reached into it with her own pot and scooped up as much as would fill it, seemingly heedless of the blistering heat that scalded her pale skin.

Cassie, who knew her concern would be unwelcome, could only watch helplessly as the red welts scorched Daisy’s hand and arm.

Annie, who had thus far listened quietly and patiently to Daisy’s accusations, watched while the girl helped herself to a bowl full of broth from Annie’s own supper pot.

Then she reached for a cloth and dipped it into the water pail, her usual forthright manner brooking no nonsense as she gripped Daisy’s arm and wrapped the cold, damp cloth around it.

“Suppose you think you can do as you please, with me bein’ a child, stealin’ an’ cheatin’! First takin’ Pa’s coat an’ all his belongings what were mine to claim, an’ now you takin’ the supper from our Peter an’ Alfie’s mouths like it don’t matter if we live or starve, so long as no-one takes anythin’ from you, Cassie Miller!”

Daisy’s green eyes had glinted alarmingly as she’d delivered her parting shot.

“You think I’ll keep me mouth shut, d’you?”

After Daisy had gone back to her brothers, Annie voiced the words Cassie had been too shocked to utter.

“Our Daisy isn’t one to keep quiet if those brothers of hers are going to suffer, is she?”

“You mean? Surely not… I’d have known…”

“Aye, well, there’s some folk do wrong and get clever at hiding it,” Annie stated, arching an eyebrow at Cassie’s faltering disbelief. “Or did you think where one had gone bad the other would be pure as the driven snow?”

And then Cassie knew why Annie had stayed silent while Daisy had accused all who slaved over a hot oven at Ma’s cookshop of pilfering half the meat she’d handed over. Annie knew what had happened to it!

But it was neither Cassie nor Ruby at fault, she knew that, too.

Cassie herself would never suspect Ruby, even fleetingly.

Which left one culprit. And given her husband’s years of stealing the clothes from folk’s backs and the boots from their feet, it was no great stretch to believe that Ma Starling would think nothing of stealing the food from their tables!

And Cassie had been her accomplice, albeit unknowingly!

She might not have shaved slices of meat off joints that were paltry to begin with, nor scooped out the insides from pathetically small pies – another trick Annie told her was commonplace. But she had handed supper pots back to folk who knew they’d no chance of eating half what they’d put in, and how many of them held her responsible? She was the cook!

Ma would deny any wrongdoing, of course. It would be Cassie who would be arrested, tried and likely as not made to swing for it!

“You’ve no choice, Cassie,” Annie had told her quietly, as they sat either side of the table, neither touching the basin of broth that rapidly congealed before them.

“You need to leave London while you’re still free to go, and Ruby, too, before the pair of you are made to pay for Ma’s deceit.”


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!