No. 4, Whitehall Gardens – Episode 19

No. 4 Whitehall Gardens illustration by Sailesh Thakrar

A few weeks later Clementine had an afternoon entirely free of work, and she decided to ask if her friend Dorcas Barnes might be allowed to visit No. 4.

“Only below stairs,” Miss Everett said, “and don’t use too much tea. I know how it is with young women and tea. Make sure you mash it again with hot water.”

Dorcas Barnes was one of the girls from the laundry where Clementine had been employed. She had, because of this, been one of the girls pulled into Molly Westall’s doomed confidence trick.

When the scheme had been unmasked, Dorcas had recently become engaged to Edward, a tall, handsome subaltern.

Most of the other girls had envied Dorcas – marriage to such a man meant a bright future and one that would raise her above the status of her birth.

There was a fly in the ointment at the time, though none of the girls regarded it as so much of a fly because Dorcas was so happy and Edward so dashing. The fly was that Dorcas was expecting her lover’s child.

As she waited for her friend, Clementine reflected that time was moving on, and that no invitation had come for the quiet wedding Dorcas had been planning when at the laundry.

Surely, Clementine thought, there weren’t so many weeks before the baby was expected.

Dorcas came to the back door, knocked softly and was welcomed by Clementine.

She looked thinner than before. Her belly naturally protruded considerably more than when they had last met, and its roundness was a marked contrast to the sharpness of her shoulders and elbows.

“Dorcas, dear!” Clementine kissed her. “Sit down. My goodness, the walk must have been a trial for you!”

Dorcas lowered herself into a kitchen chair.

“When is the wedding to be?” Clementine asked.

She felt a nugget of anxiety growing in her chest as she looked at her friend’s large and anxious eyes.

“Oh, well . . .” A pink spot appeared in each of Dorcas’s cheeks, and she began to scratch at one hand with the fingers of the other.

“You can tell me, dear,” Clementine said gently. “You can say anything.”

“He was loyal,” Dorcas said quickly. “Edward. I mean to say, he appeared loyal, and loving. Goodness knows I loved him. I love him still, Clem.”

Clementine felt misery wash over her.

“He was not true, Dorcas?” she said. “He left you?”

The girl let out a violent sob.

“It was his family, not Edward. It was his family who took him from me!”

But Clementine was willing to bet that Edward had been easy to persuade. She imagined that at this very moment he was feeling relieved to have been separated from a girl who was pregnant and tainted by Molly Westall’s schemes.

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.