Ring Of Truth – Episode 34

CASSIE stood in the doorway of Ma’s cookshop, helpless and afraid as Jem was led away.

The plaintive cry of a child, no, a baby, splintered the sudden lull in Chiswell Street and broke the strange, almost trance-like state into which Cassie had fallen, her head burning now with the fever that inflamed it.

She turned to look in the direction it came from, grasping at the wall to keep her balance when even this slight movement sent her senses reeling.

She saw the crumpled figure crouched on the cobbles with the fretting baby wriggling in his thin arms. Peter Jennings.

He clambered to his feet, darting a nervous glance at the women still huddled in the middle of Chiswell Street, but they took no notice of him, or of Alfie.

No longer a baying mob, they were watching the constable drag Jem away and asking themselves what in the world that poor lad had done to warrant being hauled off like a common criminal.

He was a good man, was Jem Clements. One of them, always sparing a smile and a kind word when he passed by on that cart of his.

Heart of gold, he had. He’d help any of them and often had.

They also had to admit, when they thought about it, that Cassie was one of the good ones, too. If she’d been pinching the food from their pots maybe she’d been following orders, because it wasn’t her name above that cookshop door, was it?

Poor lass had a job she’d to keep if she wasn’t to end up destitute, or in Spitalfields Workhouse. Didn’t they all, every last woman there, know the fear of that!

It took them less than a moment to realise that Ma Starling was no longer amongst them; that she’d crept away, like a thief in the night.

And that decided them. Folk who did a runner had something to hide.

They took off after her, but Cassie neither noticed nor cared. She stared after Jem as he was led away, head bowed and shoulders slumped, and Cassie knew it was her doing as surely as if her own hand had planted Lew Brody’s pocket watch.

Only when he and the constable had rounded a corner and were gone did she look down at the child who now stood beside her, damp trails of tears smeared into his pale, grimy cheeks.

“Miss, please. Our Daisy ain’t come home!” Peter’s voice caught on a sob, and Alfie began to weep piteously.

“He’s done something to her, ain’t he? He’s taken her away like he said he would!”

Had her mind been clearer, and her wits about her, Cassie would have known what to do, where to start searching for Daisy.

But Cassie’s mind was clouded with thoughts of Jem, where he’d be taken, what would happen to him. It was only the raw fear in Peter’s voice that made her turn towards him.

“Taken her where?” she managed finally as her tired brain fought to make sense of it. “By who…?”

“Pa Starling, of course!” Peter’s blue eyes burned with impatience.

Cassie blinked at him, struggling to put the pieces together.

“What did Pa threaten Daisy with, Peter?”

“Workhouse, miss!” he exclaimed, his voice trembling on the edge of tears. “He told her he’d have us all chucked in there, me an’ our Alfie as well, if she didn’t…”

“Didn’t what?”

Cassie prodded when he faltered.

“What did Pa make Daisy do?”

“He had her stealing horses,” Peter told her miserably. “She’s bin passing them on an’ making out as how she’s lost them.”

“Not Dolly!”

A wisp of memory drifted into Cassie’s head and she gripped it, closing her eyes the better to hear the few words Daisy had spoken earlier that morning, frightened out of her wits as she’d clung to the soft, warm bulk of Jem’s horse.

“I ain’t doing it… not Dolly!”

But why would Pa order the theft of his own horse? Jem took care of her but the cost of Dolly had come from Pa’s pocket.

Unless… had he intended to drag Jem further into his debt? To blame him for the loss of the horse that had been pinched while Jem was laid up in Rose Court and neglecting his duties?

And Daisy had refused to frame Jem, so Pa had done it himself!

Cassie’s head reeled and she fought to control it as she laid a hand on Peter’s shoulder.

“Peter, were you there when Pa gave Jem the pocket watch?”

“Yes, miss. You said to keep an eye out an’ I did, only Pa would have broken Annie’s door down.”

Peter’s head drooped, in shame that he’d not kept the hatches battened, and Cassie hastened to reassure him.

“It’s all right, Peter. What did Pa say to Jem?”

“He said he was to take it to the jewellers an’ get him a good price on it.”

He’d framed him! Pa Starling, who’d sell the mud off his boot if it made him an extra farthing, had sacrificed the value of an expensive pocket watch just to have Jem thrown into the watch house, because if there was one thing Pa valued above money it was loyalty.

“Miss…” Peter faltered. “I need to find our Daisy!”

“We will, Peter.” Cassie turned back towards the cookshop. “I just need to see that Ruby’s all right first.”

The splintered door was unlocked, Ma Starling having been too intent on reporting the damage to her shop to bother.


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!