No. 4, Whitehall Gardens – Episode 18

No. 4 Whitehall Gardens illustration by Sailesh Thakrar

Clementine’s mind was too much on her policeman and hardly at all on the Peel children as she made her way back to No. 4, Whitehall Gardens that cold February day.

William was so pleasant to listen to and just as pleasant to look at.

William Grant. She let the name roll around in her mind. It had a solid, handsome, manly feel to it.

Clementine tried to fix a picture of his lively countenance in her mind, his sparkling blue eyes and sweet smile.

One never knew when one might meet such a charming person again, she thought. It seemed only natural, and not really so very forward, to begin thinking of some other names.

Mrs William Grant. Clementine Anne Grant. They sounded very fine, too, and she looked at each passer-by in the Westminster street, imagining him or her greeting her by one of them, until out of the corner of her eye she saw five-year-old Frederick sauntering across the pavement towards a heap of horse manure.

“Fred!” Clementine hurled herself at him, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and returned him to the fold.

“Oh, he’s done that before, Clem,” Robert said. “Wouldn’t it be a lark to take him home smelly and brown?”

“No, it certainly would not be a lark!” Clementine exclaimed. “And how many times must I ask you not to call me Clem? It’ll be the death of me.”

Robert grinned and took her hand, and little William took the other, and they kept going.

She always tried to get the boys to hold each other’s hands while they marched along the pavements of Westminster, but they would keep straying and threatening to trip up passers-by.

Her worry was that passers-by in this part of London were quite likely to be a member of Parliament, of the Cabinet, or even the Prime Minister himself!

Clementine could only imagine what Miss Everett, the children’s stern and disapproving governess, would say if she were to cause a broken Parliamentary ankle.

Were the Members not now in session, too, debating the Catholic Emancipation Bill, and therefore likely to be in London?

Clementine didn’t understand the bill or why it was important, but it seemed to be occupying Mr Peel immensely, along with his new police force. He was in his study for almost every moment he was at home.

Looking at the state of the children in her care, and the lateness of the hour, Clementine was fairly sure that her employment as nursery maid was going to be brief – certainly if she kept making a muddle of things.

If truth were told, she puzzled over why Julia Peel had appointed her at all.

Her mistress seemed languid, and struggling to see what went on around her, but surely even she would spot Clementine’s inadequacies?

“Nearly there,” she said, glancing around for the thirtieth time to count heads.

All were present, if not entirely correct.

The clean, modern lines of No. 4, Whitehall Gardens rose before her, and she herded the children through the front door with a sigh of relief.

There were lessons next, and various activities for the little ones, and Clementine had half an hour to herself, though she knew she really must tidy the toy cupboard in the nursery.

She crammed herself into one of the miniature chairs and snatched five blissful minutes to think about William Grant.

So, she considered, he had a mother – Mariah, she recalled was her name – and a father. Clementine could not recall the father’s name, which was trying, because she wanted to have some polite questions ready in case they should meet again – small talk, as people called it.

The half-sister’s name also eluded her, and Clementine felt that her social skills were woefully lacking.

The topic of the sister’s father (Mariah’s first husband) seemed, from William’s words, best avoided. He sounded most unfortunate.

William had referred to him in an ironic tone as a master criminal, and something about the phrase made Clementine uneasy.

But she brushed that aside and concentrated instead on William Grant and his blue eyes, and their time spent in St James’s Park, side by side.

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.