Under The Streets Of London – Episode 03

Eliza Rutherford tried to keep up with the three journalists, aware that her court shoes were the wrong footwear for the rough ground of the railworks.

She peered nervously into the vast trench, wider than 10 men lying end to end. A little further down the navvies were fixing the timbers that would form the basis of the tunnel’s roof, but here the trench still lay open to the sky, the supporting timbers like great teeth waiting to crunch anyone foolish enough to topple in.

Eliza scolded herself. She was an employee of the renowned Metropolitan Company now and should be looking at the works as the marvel they truly were. She did find it fascinating. Just a little daunting, too.

She picked her way across the rough wooden plank at the tunnel’s edge, clutching her skirt with one hand and her notes with the other.

This was her first time out at the railway. She mustn’t make a fool of herself. Her father had managed to secure her this post as secretary to the Head of Communications, her boss being an old friend of his.

“Little Eliza Rutherford!” Malcolm Jones had exclaimed when she’d turned up on her first day in the office. “I used to push you on the swings!”

Mr Jones had proved himself a kind and easy-going boss and she, in turn, worked hard for him. She’d got her typing up to 60 words a minute and her shorthand kept up with his dictation easily. She’d been starting to feel on top of her new role before he’d sprung this morning’s task on her.

“It’ll be good for you to get out and see the railway coming to life.” He leaped up from his desk and waved at the window with flamboyant enthusiasm. It was his job, he’d told her when she’d shyly mentioned how beautifully he spoke, but Eliza got the impression it came naturally to him.

Not for her! Much as she longed to see the mysterious tunnel in creation, she worried about the responsibility of showing others round.

“What if I say the wrong thing to the journalists?”

“Oh, you mustn’t do that.” He wagged a finger in jest. “One silly quote will be all over London by night-time!”

If Eliza had been worried before, this made it worse.

“But you won’t,” Mr Jones had gone on, seeing the panic in her eyes. “Just make sure all your comments are positive about the progress of the line. And if they ask when it will be finished, say ‘Let me check and get back to you with a date, but I believe it’s making splendid progress.”

“What if they ask me technical questions?”

“Refer them to the bible.”

Mr Jones produced not a copy of the King James, but a pamphlet entitled Your Metropolitan – Your Future.

“All you need to know is in this. They all have copies so refer them back to this and it’ll go swimmingly, Eliza, my dear, you’ll see.”

Eliza hadn’t been so sure, but she’d been with the journalists for over an hour now and, bar an angry lady in the nice little grocer’s shop, it had gone well.

The journalists had pressed her at first – what will stop the tunnel collapsing; what if there’s a fire; why would people want to travel underground?

She’d smiled and tapped the booklet and they had let her be. One of them had glanced at his pocket watch just a moment ago. Eliza hoped they’d seen all they wanted and would leave, so she could take a proper look at the works herself.

“Hello, there!”

She looked up to see a young man threading along the base of the tunnel towards them. Recognising him, Eliza waved.

“This is Henry Waters,” she told the journalists as he scrambled up the side of the tunnel. “Apprentice to the great John Fowler.”

Mr Fowler was the chief engineer on the project. No-one in the Metropolitan  ever spoke of him without the epithet “great”.The journalists all nodded solemnly.

“Will Mr Fowler be here in person?” one asked.

“He’s a very busy man, I’m afraid,” Eliza said lightly – now good at this. “But I’m sure Mr Waters can tell you all you need to know.”

Henry smoothed down his waistcoat – a fashionable if impractical duck-egg blue – and grinned at her.

“Thank you, Lizzie.”

Eliza cringed. She wasn’t a Lizzie and never had been! She hated the name.

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”.