Ring Of Truth – Episode 32

CASSIE’S breath trembled from her as she managed a thin smile at the woman who’d shown her such kindness.

“Thank you, I’m sorry to put you to so much trouble. You’ve been very kind, Mrs Phipps.”

“Elsie, lass, call me Elsie. An’ it’s no trouble. Don’t mind him.”

She cocked her head after the retreating figure of Tibbs.

“He’s all bluster, but you’ll know that already if you’ve had the pleasure o’ being squeezed for every last penny o’ rent! Thank me lucky stars that this place ain’t on his patch, otherwise I’d be payin’ twice as much if it went in Pa Starlin’s pocket! This here’s my shop, see. Magpie’s den I call it, on account o’ me takin’ anything what glitters, or will make me a penny. So if you’ve anythin’ you want rid of… Oh, my, what’s up now, lass?”

Cassie stared wildly around her, but she knew already it was pointless. The bundle of clothes her aunt had so tirelessly prettied up was gone, just as the ring was gone. And if not by the same hand, then by a passing stranger who’d had no need to know of its contents to be off with it, stepping over Cassie as if she’d been of no more concern than a mangy rat in the gutter!

“I had a bundle…” she began, heedless now of the glint in Tibbs’ eyes. “Clothes I brought to sell to you, but they must have been stolen.”

Elsie frowned at her.

“Are you sayin’ you were robbed, lass? You’ll be needin’ a constable, then. That’s if there’s one to be had …”

She peered into the crowded market square, sighing at the futility of it.

“Like rats down an alley when you no need of them, but when you do…”

“Maybe they’ve somethin’ else to be seein’ to, Elsie,” Tibbs reminded her. “An’ we’d be best off leavin’ them to it. Anyway,” he added, turning his sharp weasel’s eyes on to Cassie, “you’ll be needed at cookshop so you’d best get there, an’ quick, before Miss Ruby takes it in her head to do anythin’ else daft.”

“Ruby? What’s she done?”

“It was Annie sent her all peculiar,” he pondered. “Showin’ up at Ma’s yesterday with news o’ Jem beaten black an’ blue, an’ there ain’t nothing poor Miss Ruby can do for her own brother, stuck as she is wrong side o’ that counter!”

He shook his head in disbelief.

“For all the freedom she has, she might as well be locked up in Newgate. Ma’s her jailer as sure as if she has the key danglin’ from her belt. Only Miss Ruby’s no need o’ settin’ one foot outside that cookshop to do somethin’ about it…”

“About what?” Cassie demanded. “What did she do?”

“Made herself a fruit stew, that’s what,” Tibbs said. “Chalked it up as beef, Ma did, only Ruby threw in plums an’ apples an’ rhubarb till it was more fruit than meat, an’ there ain’t many bring fruit to cook of a Sunday, is there now, Miss Miller?”

Cassie understood. She knew what he was telling her, and her surprise that he would talk of it openly, and with her of all folk, was second only to her shock that Ruby, quiet, meek little Ruby, had conspired to make Ma a laughing stock!

Beef stew, the board outside the cookshop said, because stirred into beef stew a handful of meat scraps from other folk’s supper pots would go unnoticed.

But mixed in with the sharp tang of fruit it would taste little better than pigswill! Nothing would be done about it, nor would it be news to folk who had for some years been used to paying for their food twice over. But it would inconvenience Ma, make her look foolish, and lighten the pot by a good few shillings when folk refused to pay for such a nasty mixture!

In her own quiet way Ruby had turned the tables – and on Ma Starling, whose husband had punished Jem’s disloyalty by sending his men after him.

What would Ma do to Ruby?

“Lass, are you sure you’re up to goin’ off on your own?” Elsie protested, as Cassie rose from her chair.

But Tibbs’ concern was for himself as he grabbed Cassie’s arm.

“Say nothing to Ma, d’you hear me? You ain’t seen me!”

As Cassie went as quickly as she could back towards Chiswell Street, it crossed her mind that the whole tale might have been just that − a fabrication, its only purpose to send her running back to her stew pot. Because Ma wouldn’t know her deceit had been rumbled, not if Daisy had made it no further than the rag yard.

But if it was just a tale, then why had Tibbs risked Ma’s reputation by talking as he had?

It was true, all of it. The proof was there in Chiswell Street, in the rabble of baying women, a good few dozen of them, swarming around the cookshop.

They were pounding angry fists upon the closed shutters, aiming hobnailed boots at the board until it cracked down the middle, and, as Cassie watched in horror, flinging basins of something which could only have been fruit stew at the windows which shattered beneath the onslaught.

Where was Ruby? And Ma? Her safety was of no concern, not like Ruby’s was, but it was not like Ma Starling to batten down the hatches and hide from anyone, especially if it meant she might lose even a farthing from a passing customer!

Cassie quickened her step. Her only concern was for Ruby’s safety as she headed right for the middle of the mob, one of whom turned and saw her, and then they had a new target for their anger.


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!