No. 4, Whitehall Gardens – Episode 39

No. 4 Whitehall Gardens illustration by Sailesh Thakrar

William stared at Westall, realisation dawning. He had forgotten his daughter!

True, she had been tiny when he was convicted. But to forget her!

“Molly is her name,” William said. “She is twenty-seven years old.”

“Yes, that would be right,” Westall said. “I’ve thought of my girl often.”

In the man’s tone, William could hear no hint of affection or regret.

He opened his mouth to express his contempt, but stopped short when he saw Molly herself. She was standing in the doorway.

“This is him?” she asked.

William saw his mother notice the girl and turn white. Slowly Molly walked round to face her father.

“You told me he was dead, Ma,” she said.

“Oh, child of mine!” her mother cried, “I had to!”

Molly peered at her father’s face. He was smiling – a curious, bright smile that was utterly devoid of warmth or truth.

Behind the smile William saw panic: Westall had already lost the battle with William and Mariah, and now the child seemed to doubt him, too.

“If you were alive all this time,” Molly said, “why didn’t you ask for me?”

Mariah stepped forward, her arms held out.

“It was safer to say he’d died, my darling,” she said. “He doesn’t know how to love, only how to take. He wouldn’t look for you.”

“Not until he reached bottom and had nowhere else to go for a bed and a five-shilling loan,” William said softly.

He moved to the street door, opened it wide, and stood waiting.

Westall stood up, directed one last pleading look towards mother and daughter, and left. William closed the door.

Molly fell into her mother’s arms and cried. Words tumbled out – how she’d come home early and heard her father talking.

“He’s nothing,” she said at last. “He’s not what I imagined.”

She looked lost and young, and drowned in misery.

That night they left her alone, but the next day William told his mother they must tackle the problem of her new criminal scheme.

“Now that she sees her father in his true light,” William began, “she might understand. We must try to extricate her from Silas’s clutches.”

*  *  *  *

They talked to Molly, but she was in love with Silas, or believed herself to be.

“I know our plan has risks,” she kept saying, “but we’re in too far. I daren’t turn on my Silas. I can’t.”

“If he loves you,” Mariah said, “he will listen.”

But William saw that she could not distinguish affection from manipulation, or courage from reckless endangerment.

Later, William thought about their options. He had to be the one to end this. Whatever the risk to his own career, he must go to Mr Peel and reveal Molly’s plan to use the Peel name.

Maybe the Home Secretary would agree to deal privately with Molly. Perhaps Clementine could be kept out of the picture if he took control swiftly.

Once the crime came out, she would never marry him, but perhaps he could keep her name intact.

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.