No. 4, Whitehall Gardens – Episode 25

No. 4 Whitehall Gardens illustration by Sailesh Thakrar

Clementine decided to seize her one chance of salvation.

“I am very sorry that I took the children to the zoo, ma’am, and that they went hungry. It won’t happen again, and I do try my best, although I have so much to learn –”

“I am sure they adored the zoo,” Mrs Peel said.

Clementine stopped.

“Well, yes, they did.”

“And they could have walked home. It won’t kill them. Children need exercise. My father, Clementine, was a general in the Army, and we were marched all over the place like a platoon.

“Once, if I remember right, we walked all over the island of Corsica, assailed by the wild boars.” She shifted John’s little body against her breast.

“Perhaps I should tell you, Clementine, the reasons I employed you and why you will not, despite that terrified expression on your face, be dismissed.

“Miss Everett is efficient and dedicated. She provides admirably for my darlings’ material needs. They are properly fed, watered and disciplined according to the accepted methods. But I want more than that for my children.

“When I first laid eyes on you, I saw a lively girl with no expectations or preconceptions of caring for children and infants.

“In the very best London residences I have seen dozens of servants acting like machines, moulding their charges into some uniform model of obedient childhood.

“I felt that you, Clementine, would make a good second to Miss Everett.

“I hoped you might provide the children with stimulation and fun,” she continued. “They live in a formal environment with the restrictions of public life around them. I was right about you.”

She smiled round at the children.

“Robert told me that you have made letters from lines of peas last week, sticking them to the plate with jam. I applaud you. Don’t worry – Miss Everett is none the wiser.” She looked out of the window. “Can’t Jones go any faster? I know he panics about our safety, but really!”

Together they got the children indoors. Clementine saw how tired Mrs Peel was, and suggested she sit in the nursery while the children ate some of the picnic and were made ready for bed.

“Look,” Julia whispered. “Look at Mama.”

Mrs Peel was fast asleep in a nursery chair.

Clementine looked at her delicate, beautiful face and realised that the woman she had thought vague and uninterested, always languid and struggling to concentrate, was simply drained by pregnancy and an endless social life.

She cared passionately about the upbringing and care of every one of her children.

“She feels sick,” Julia whispered, touching her mother’s hair gently. “Every time.”

Julia was standing beside her mother, and Clementine noticed how similar they were.

“Good night, Julia,” she said softly and Mrs Peel stirred and smiled.

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.