No. 4, Whitehall Gardens – Episode 12

No. 4 Whitehall Gardens illustration by Sailesh Thakrar

Molly waved her hands in the air.

“Don’t imagine that I would put you at risk for all the world, Clemmie. Nor would my Silas. I merely need a little assistance. And your part will be all above board, as they say, so you’ve no need to fret.”

Molly had an air of confidence. She beamed at Clementine, but Clementine knew that beneath the bravado lay fragility, impetuousness, and a lack of understanding.

Molly’s eyes narrowed.

“Remember our happy times at Mrs Thompson’s laundry, Clemmy? Such fun we had!”

“It didn’t turn out well.”

“I was never good at laundry work. I am not like other girls. I have a longing to do well, Clementine, an itch for success.

“Nursery maiding may be good for some, but I need more than that. Silas agrees that I must take after my father, the most skilled confidence man in London.”

So Molly was still fascinated by her glamorous father. Other people called him a low criminal who had ended his days in Newgate Prison, but he was Molly’s hero.

“We must all apply ourselves to succeed,” Clementine said, trying to guide the girl away from her topic.

“Forget the laundry,” Molly said. “My new scheme is well tried, and successful all over London.”

She giggled.

“Silas says it’s funny because it’s ironic as it ends in bankruptcy, but the bankruptcy is the true aim and the thing that will make our fortune.

“It’s like this,” she continued. “Silas and I begin a business in the city – we have chosen the supply of quality carriage horses for a reason which I will make clear.” Her eyes shone. “All the better houses of London require good horses, and that’s a fact even you must own.”

For once, Clementine had to admit that the girl had her facts straight. It was well known that demand outstripped supply.

Miss Everett said that the great quantity of new and grand houses being built in the west of London was causing the problem.

“A legitimate enterprise, then?” Clementine said hopefully.

Molly raised a hand, palm down, and rocked it back and forth.

“For a little while.” She grinned. “What do I know of horses, or Silas, either? We start up a high-class business, we secure orders, we collect deposits. For such an item as a whole horse, a deposit is expected, and it’s large.”

“And what then?”

“Then we vanish!” Molly declared. “We are bankrupt! We take the fat deposit of money and the business is never seen again.”

Clementine had never heard of the scam. It sounded horribly possible, but if it had been such a success already, why was it unknown to her?

Of all the tricksters to take it on, Molly seemed the least likely to do well.

Clementine looked at the girl, sitting on the wall, her body constantly moving with excitement. She ought to hand Molly to the police.

Now she even knew a policeman, a person she’d be happy to meet again, any day of her week.

But there was Molly, so foolish, so innocent, with her lover and her eagerness . . . It seemed so cruel to a girl who had been her friend.

“What we need to begin the work,” Molly went on cheerfully, “is an order for a pair of horses. It must be a client who will turn heads when mentioned in our printed advertisement.”

Clementine stood up. She knew what was coming.

Molly followed, seizing her arm with both hands.

“Of course, when I knew where you were working, I thought that the family of Mr Peel would be perfect.

“It’s the ideal name for our purpose! And the horses will be supplied entirely legitimately, so all the better for you.”

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.