No. 4, Whitehall Gardens – Episode 08

No. 4 Whitehall Gardens illustration by Sailesh Thakrar

As William walked down the steps to the pavement, he thought of his older sister, his only sibling.

His mother had admitted only the night before how much worry she had been causing.

“I won’t take up your time with detail, Will,” Mariah Grant had said. “She’s a good girl at heart, but led astray.”

His mother knew that William needed to guard his reputation. She would try to manage his sister herself, and she sought to play down her daughter’s errors.

“Is it men, mother?” he’d asked carefully.

Mariah had laughed.

“Don’t concern yourself. She and I had a little talk last night and she promises me she’s reformed.”

William did not see much of his sister. They had little in common. Her early years had not been as happy as his own.

“Your head nodded like a jack-in-the-box,” Davenport said as they stood for a moment on the pavement, “but Mr Peel seemed satisfied. Now, get yourself back to work.”

William set off for Worship Street, his head swimming with policing, and his sister and his career.

But the thought that took over as he traversed the streets of Westminster was the beautiful girl in the blue dress.

*  *  *  *

Clementine and Bridget had left No. 4, Whitehall Gardens feeling that Clementine must look elsewhere for work. Then a message came to Walworth to say that Clementine was offered the post.

“Six pounds a year and board,” Clementine said, astonished.

Now, almost two months into her post, Clementine wondered why the mistress of the house did not have her dismissed.

The children, though engaging and with their own charm, were exhausting, and constantly got the better of her.

Julia was seven and nearly as pretty as her mother, Robert (a stubborn little creature) was six, Frederick five and sweet as a button, and William only four but already bossy.

John was a doe-eyed boy of eighteen months who still wore napkins, which were Clementine’s responsibility.

The napkins were even worse than all the linens at the Hyde Park laundry!

Miss Everett had said on Clementine’s first day, and with satisfaction, that she had not touched a baby’s napkin since 1799.

Clementine hoped that baby John would grow out of the habit before the next child arrived.

Somehow Clementine kept her job, although she knew there were plenty of young women in London more capable.

Some respite came when she had a chance to read to the children, but after an hour all of them would ply her with questions on any topic under the sun, then they would begin jumping on her until she was exhausted.

Sometimes, at the end of a long day when she ought to go to bed, Clementine would walk into Whitehall Gardens and look at the other houses, wondering how many children lived inside them, and who had the task of controlling them, and if they ever succeeded.

She would stand in the frosty night and remember the morning she first came to No. 4, and a single moment when she and her mother passed by a young man in the uniform of a Bow Street Runner.

The man had looked at her with eyes that she remembered as being brilliant blue.

She was not sure why the moment kept returning to her mind, but return it did.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.