No. 4, Whitehall Gardens – Episode 41

No. 4 Whitehall Gardens illustration by Sailesh Thakrar

That same morning, William was dragging his sister towards Whitehall Gardens.

“I can’t go there!” Molly wailed. “I don’t even know what a Home Secretary does! How can I speak to him?”

“What he does is show pity, if you’re fortunate,” William said.

He wished he had spent a day’s pay on a cab, because it was going to be a long walk with an unhappy sister.

“I’m sorry,” she kept saying. “I thought Silas was the man for me! I thought he’d make my fortune.” She sniffed. “I love him, that’s the thing, and the laundry idea went wrong because –”

“No more schemes!” William interrupted. “It is the time to be humble, and not whine your excuses.”

As they crossed the park at Battersea, making for the river, Molly grew silent, and William felt affection for his sister begin to return.

They walked around the side of a clump of trees, and there, a hundred feet away, William saw the unmistakable figure of Clementine. Even from this distance he knew her – graceful in a blue dress.

A lady, who he guessed was Mrs Peel, was running in the opposite direction from Clementine, and three of the children sat huddled on a rug. William wondered if it was hide and seek.

Briefly, he fantasied about joining in the game and finding his beloved behind a tree, but he knew this was no time for dreams.

Quite the reverse: he was taking Molly to see Mr Peel to see what could be salvaged of their lives.

His gaze was completely fixed on Clementine as she ran across his field of vision. Then he felt Molly yank her arm from his.

He turned to see she had set off at a run, too.

“Keep back!” Molly shouted at the top of her voice. “Stop!”

William looked to where she was running, and tried to work out what was happening.

He made out a small boy, coming quickly from the direction of a clump of trees. The boy held something in his hand.

Between William and the boy was open space, into which Molly was hurtling, and as his vision adjusted he made out two men, facing each other, and two further men close behind each of them. All four men seemed very still and very stern.

The boy was entering the open space as Molly did the same, but from the opposite direction.

It was like a strange dance, performed in a fraction of a second – men to the north and south, his sister and the boy converging from east and west.

Robert Peel was veering towards the taller man, arm raised, as though somehow he recognised him.

Then into the dance and into his field of vision came Clementine, as frantic as Molly.

The two men stood oblivious. He saw with horror that they were raising pistols.

Like a streak of lightning, Molly whisked the boy off the imaginary axis that ran between the two men.

She caught Robert in her arms and continued on her way without a pause.

Even in that split second William had time to remember how many times his sister had run from a scolding or some incident of petty crime, and how fast she was. She could outrun him any day.

Another second later, the boy and Molly were lying on the grass and Clementine had reached them. Mrs Peel was barely 20 feet behind.

Beyond that imaginary axis between the Prime Minister and the Earl, the group crouched. William, from the other side, saw what happened next with astonishing clarity.

The Duke’s pistol twitched a fraction to his right – William was certain of it for ever more.

Two shots rang out, one a hair’s breadth of time after the other.

Two puffs of smoke rose and dissipated in the air, and the two men stood, looking at each other across the space between them.

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.