Under The Streets Of London – Episode 02

“It won’t come to that, sweetheart. A few more months and we’ll have the road back and the train will be working, bringing in no end of business, especially if we’ve a shop at a station.”

“Who will run this shop?”

“William. He’s a good lad and ready to step out on his own, don’t you think?”

Mary nodded. Their nephew had been living with them for several months now, ever since his mother, Mary’s sister, had contracted TB and been placed in a sanatorium. He’d proved a fine addition to the family and the business. He would make an excellent manager.

“What if it collapses into the ground, and this one with it?”

John sighed.

“That’s not going to happen, Mary. There are top engineers on this project. John Fowler is famous. He built the Pimlico Bridge across the Thames last year – for those heavy steam trains to run on. A man who can do that knows what he’s about.”

“Maybe,” she allowed, “but at least you can see a bridge. Not like a tunnel. It’s not natural, digging up the earth underneath us. It’s asking for trouble, John, and I told them so this morning.”

“Told who?”

“Some journalists. There was a girl here from the Metropolitan trying to say all was going well, but I told them the railway was ruining our lives.”

“Oh, Mary, why are you so afraid of change?”

“Bertie was in there, John.”

“Ah. I see.”

“Again, John! It’s like a magnet for him.”

“He wants to be an engineer.”

“Lord help us!”

“It’s the future, Mary.”

“It’s no future at all for our son if he cracks his head.”

“No, I see that. I’ll talk to him. Where was Violet?”

Mary tossed her head. Their niece, Violet, had joined their family with her brother, but was nowhere near as conscientious as he was.

She was a sweet girl and her head was in the clouds. At seventeen, she was meant to be earning her keep by minding the children so Mary was free to work in the shop, but she was too easily distracted and frequently lost control of her little charges.

“Mooning over the navvies,” Mary guessed. “I don’t know what good she thinks marrying one will do her. Who wants a husband who spends his life down tunnels and trenches? Might as well marry a mole!”

John bit back laughter.

“They’re strong lads. Hard working, too. You’ve seen ’em labouring under the oil lamps at night.”

“Keeping us awake till all hours? Yes, I have. I’ve heard them in the George, too. I doubt any one of them earns a penny that they don’t pour into a pint pot!”

“They’re OK, Mary. A nice lot. You said so yourself last Saturday when they sang for us, remember?”

Mary huffed, but she had to admit that the singing had been beautiful. John had persuaded her to leave Violet in charge of the children and slip next door to the George. Some Irish lads had gathered around the grumpy landlord’s piano and sang lively jigs, choruses and haunting melodies that had them all laughing and crying in turn.

“They’re all right,” she conceded. “Just earning a crust, I suppose, like the rest of us are trying to do.”

She spun back into the shop. She could hear the children squabbling in the flat above. It was dinnertime; they’d be getting hungry. She riffled through the vegetables on display, searching for damaged stock for soup. There was plenty. Whatever John claimed, business was suffering. Access to the shop was tight, muddy and dangerously close to the trench edge. People were avoiding it, she knew, and she didn’t blame them.

“I just want it all to be over, John,” she said, a tear catching in her voice.

John hugged her.

“We all do, sweetheart. It’s tough at the moment, but our luck will turn. The Metropolitan’s got a bright future, I promise you.”

Mary buried her face in her husband’s broad chest. She couldn’t share his conviction. She had a cold foreboding that this dark, scary tunnel of a railway would only bring bad luck to her family.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.