No. 4, Whitehall Gardens – Episode 37

No. 4 Whitehall Gardens illustration by Sailesh Thakrar

He was helping her down in front of No. 4 when Mrs Peel emerged from the house with her maid.

“My, she’s a picture,” Griff breathed.

He was a frequent critic and admirer of ladies’ appearance, and prone to reading passages on the subject from his novels.

Today Mrs Peel wore a red velvet dress, with a bodice very much gathered so as to fall in perfect folds over the growing swell of her belly.

Her hat was broad brimmed and worn at a fetching angle, with grey feathers around its crown, and a wide silk ribbon tied beneath the chin.

“A picture indeed,” Clementine agreed.

Mrs Peel noticed her stableman and her nursery maid walking off to their various parts of the building.

“Griff!” she called out. “You have been out. Does this mean the smaller carriage is not ready?”

“It’s the work of two minutes, ma’am,” he said nervously.

“Oh, is it?” Mrs Peel looked disappointed. “So I can be at Lady Roselyn’s for eight?”

“Mayfair for eight o’clock?” Griff replied. “If not sooner, ma’am. I’m sorry for forgetting your engagement in all the . . .”

“All the what, Griff?” Mrs Peel asked. “Where have you two been?”

Clementine knew that explanations would have to be made eventually.

“Mr Jones and I have been attending a birth.”

Mrs Peel clapped her hands.

“How wonderful! News of a baby safely arrived is always a delight! A girl or a boy?”

Clementine briefly told her mistress Dorcas’s story.

“Then she will need things!” Mrs Peel cried.

Her maid stepped forward.

“Ma’am, should we consider Lady Roselyn –”

“Fiddlesticks!” Mrs Peel interrupted. “She only talks about Napoleon all evening! No, a new baby must have attention. Send a message to Lady Roselyn. Say I am indisposed.”

She smiled.

“There are advantages to my delicate condition! Clementine, go up to Miss Everett and ask her to open the trunks. A girl, you say? Julia was my first child and only daughter; I have clothes enough for ten girls.

“Hurry, Clementine. No, wait!” She pulled her back. “Miss Everett will be fierce with you, and that won’t do.

“I will see Miss Everett in the nursery, and I will have Julia help us. Clementine, you see the cook about provisions. If this young woman is in need, we must assist her!”

No. 4 was plunged into happy activity as Mrs Peel went around issuing orders.

“Of course she will be nursing to begin with,” she said later to Clementine as they packed eggs and jars of preserves into a basket.

“But she cannot live with you and Mrs Denny for long in your lodgings. Babies need air, you know, and also it is employment which will allow this friend of yours to survive.”

She raised a finger.

“My maid mentioned the problem of laundry only yesterday. She reminded me the burden of washing is too great in the house already, and with my next baby it will be impossible.

“I will ask Mr Peel if we can employ your Dorcas in due course. The times work well, you see – her lying-in, and then mine in the summer.” She paused with a wrapped pat of butter in her hand. “Can your friend undertake laundry – on a large scale, I mean?”

Clementine swallowed.

“Yes, ma’am. She is very experienced in laundry.”

During this flurry of work, Griff was to be seen obsessively sweeping and re-sweeping the smaller carriage. At last, when the goods and Clementine were loaded inside, he stood up straight.

“She’ll want a godparent.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Griff,” Clementine replied. “I suppose so.”

“She should look for someone steady for that,” he said. “A man with steady employment would do well.”

As he climbed up, and they set off down Whitehall Gardens, Clementine discerned a smile of satisfaction on his face.

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.