No. 4, Whitehall Gardens – Episode 40

No. 4 Whitehall Gardens illustration by Sailesh Thakrar

The next day, March 20, dawned sunny, and William made his way to No. 4, Whitehall Gardens.

The housemaid recognised him, and he was admitted and told he could wait for Mr Peel, who was writing his letters.

For half an hour William listened to every creak and muffled voice about the house, and suffered the agony of knowing Clementine might be feet away from him.

At last he was sent for.

“Grant, isn’t it?” Mr Peel said. “Glad to see you again. This is about the new Metropolitan Force? We’re nearly there.”

“I am calling on another matter,” William said.

Mr Peel listened, and was stern. At the end, he considered for a full two minutes, then he spoke up.

“I have little sympathy for your sister, and none for the criminal with whom she consorts. It is just such organised wrongdoing that the new Metropolitan force will seek to eradicate. But for you, Grant, and your predicament, I have feeling.

“Bring Molly to me, at eleven tomorrow, and I will have a decision for you.”

*  *  *  *

Clementine missed William and her spirits were low, so she was pleased to have the distraction of a picnic that day, March 21, and delighted that Mrs Peel was to come as well as the children.

Julia had insisted on that particular date for the trip.

“There is to be an actual duel,” she told Clementine and Mrs Peel, her eyes shining, “between the Duke of Wellington and the Earl of Winchilsea. I hid under the table at the gentlemen’s dinner last week and heard.”

The child was determined to witness the event.

“They cannot agree about Catholic Emancipation,” she explained, “and it has come to pistols at dawn!”

“Not quite dawn,” Mrs Peel said, “but early enough. We shall have to call our picnic breakfast and have Cook pack hard-boiled eggs.”

Mrs Peel declared that, if it proved possible, the children would be allowed to view the event from afar. She seemed quite as fascinated by it as Julia.

Robert, who was not interested in the Prime Minister and his political disputes, packed his equipment for gathering insects in Battersea Fields.

They took a boat, came ashore at the Fields, and laid out rugs and hampers. As usual with childhood picnics, the food was soon abandoned and the children began to stray.

“We should tie them all together with string!” Mrs Peel said. “It’s a good thing the park is almost deserted at this hour or we’d lose them in a crowd.”

For a few minutes they were occupied with Fred, who tried to reach a lily pad by lying flat on the grass with his arms in a pond.

There was much scolding, mopping, and searching for dry clothes.

“Where is Robert?” Mrs Peel asked when she looked up again.

“I can’t see him,” Clementine said, feeling panic rising in her breast.

“We will sally forth to search!” Julia cried. “I am the commanding officer!”

“No!” Her mother’s sharp tone made the child jump. “You will stay here and mind Fred and William!

“Clementine, go towards the trees, and I will go the other way. I hope he has stayed away from the water!”

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.