No. 4, Whitehall Gardens – Episode 17

No. 4 Whitehall Gardens illustration by Sailesh Thakrar

William saw that the boy was following a cat.

Clementine reached out in an attempt to drag him back, but William was faster. He lifted the boy by his armpits and swung him back to safety.

“Clem!” the child yelled, and William saw her blanch.

“You know you oughtn’t to use such a familiar name, William Peel,” she scolded, reaching for the wayward child.

She looked into the distance.

“Oh, Julia, don’t go so far ahead!”

“Let me walk with you,” William said. “You have your hands full.”

“Oh, I would be grateful,” she said.

The older girl, Julia, looked round and came running back along the pavement.

She looked up at William.

“What rank are you?” she asked boldly.

“I’m known as a Runner,” he said with a smile, “though strictly you’d call me a constable.”

The child shrugged.

“A force ought to have proper ranks,” she said. “I mean to rise to General, but that’s the Army.”

William laughed.

“I’m only a policeman, but I’d be honoured if you’d take my hand.”

She consented, and little William, upset at Clementine’s scolding, took the other.

They set off, with Clementine repeatedly asking the girl to stop lunging at passing walkers as if handling an imaginary bayonet.

“I’m no good at this,” she said. “They spotted my incompetence five minutes after I entered the nursery.”

“I am sure you are not in the slightest incompetent,” William replied.

“What’s incompetent?” the tallest boy asked.

“Never you mind, Robert.” Clementine turned to William. “I am learning all about children, and they are clever.”

William laughed.

“I’ve a sister myself, older than me. I know she played on our mother mercilessly, and could get what she wanted with a hundred tricks.”

“I’ve no defence against it, Mr Grant. I don’t think they’re bad children.”

“We’re delightful,” the second boy said in a clear voice. “Our mother says so.”

“Yes, Frederick.” She gave William a wry smile.

Even harassed, he thought her the prettiest thing he’d ever seen.

“And Clem loves us, too,” Julia said.

She began a march along the pavement. William guessed that she was eight or nine. He smiled at the stamping rhythm her boots made on the pavement.

“At ease!” Julia yelled, gave three stamps of her feet then stopped. They all caught up with her.

“Miss Julia has an ambition to be a soldier,” Clementine said to William.

He smiled.

“A general,” Julia corrected. “I said so. And it’s not amusing; it’s real.”

They walked on, and while they walked William explained his connection to the Peel family. He was pleased to to mention it, in case it impressed her.

“I feel the new police force is where I will achieve my dreams,” he said.

“Mr Peel has invested much in the planning, I know that,” she said. “My mistress seems barely to see him.”

“And they have such a large family.”

“There is no need to remind me,” she said, looking down at a stain on her dress. “You said you have one sister?”

“A half-sister. And a mother.”

“Widowed before more children came along?”

“Not quite. She made a mistake when young, and married a wastrel. He was too idle to earn a living.”

William hesitated.

“He was one of London’s master criminals, if what some people say is true. He died, and our mother married Harry Grant. He was a hard-working man, and my father.”

They had reached the lake in St James’s Park and he saw Clementine relax as the children knelt by the water to watch the ducks.

“I think you will go far, William Grant,” she said.

He felt a glow of pride and was gazing at her in the sunshine when a loud quack brought him to his senses.

“I’m way off my beat!” he exclaimed. “I have to go!”

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.