No. 4, Whitehall Gardens – Episode 38

No. 4 Whitehall Gardens illustration by Sailesh Thakrar

William could tell his mother was upset. For two days he watched her fretting, and was beginning to fear for her health.

“I have a confession, William,” she said one day.

He waited.

“I told you that John Westall is dead,” she said.

“In Newgate, yes,” William replied.

She swallowed.

“He did not die. He is alive and released from jail. He sent a message that he wants to meet us.” She put her head in her hands. “Why, when our hope is to keep Molly from evil?”

William’s mind raced.

“You married two men, Mother?” he asked.

She looked up.

“No! Don’t think that of me. My disgrace is that I divorced Westall while he was in prison, and I told Molly he had died. Then I met your father.”

“You wanted to save Molly from Westall,” William murmured.

“I knew you’d understand, Will! I hoped she’d forget him, but instead she reveres him as a hero.”

Mother and son talked late into the night. They both knew that trying to keep Westall away from his daughter was doomed to failure.

“But why has he come now?” William asked. “After so many years?”

Mariah shook her head.

“I don’t know, but I suspect.”

“Better to meet him here, on our terms,” William said.

They sent a message asking Westall to come to the house when Molly was out walking with Silas.

They would listen to his explanation and either send him packing, or wait with him for Molly’s return.

*  *  *  *

Westall was tardy, and bluff and confident, and he talked.

William was reminded of Molly as he prattled on about himself. He spoke cheerfully to Mariah about their “joyful years” and also about the plans he had for personal success.

“I’ve had some hard times, Mariah,” he said. “But now I mean to use my brains. I will make something of myself, like this young man here.”

He grinned at William.

“He’s a clever boy. He might be my own son!”

Westall sat with his back to the door, which led to a lean-to between their dwelling and the alley behind. The door lay ajar. William heard a noise from there and suspected a cat.

He wanted to investigate but the man droned on. It was becoming clear that Westall wanted money, or at least comfort and ease.

He mentioned a temporary billet and offered to pay rent when he was sorted out. William recognised him for the blaggard he was – work-shy and shameless. He sensed his mother’s distress.

“But you came to see your child?”

Westall seemed taken aback.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “I was coming to the child, of course.”

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.