Under The Streets Of London – Episode 06

“How soon,” Mr Rafferty had fired at Seamus, “will you be wanting to bring my precious daughter – and her daughter – into that hellhole of a country?”

“As soon as I can possibly afford their fare, sir. I’ll work all the hours.”

“They’ll exploit you, you know. They’ll see that you’re Irish and they’ll do you over for it. You’ll need to keep a rare eye on them.”

“I know that, sir. I won’t trust them an inch.”

“Exactly, son.”

Niall and Brigid had dared another glance at each other – was the old man giving in?

“And you’ll all be back in Ireland when? I’m an old man, and a starving one at that. I could go to my maker any time.”

“A year,” Seamus had suggested tentatively. That was ridiculous, but this hadn’t been about fact, but about persuasion. “And we’ll send money for food.”

“No point. No food to buy.”

“We’ll send food, then, sir.”

“No point. Guards’ll have it. Just make sure you feed my girl, Seamus. I’ve entrusted her to you, against my better judgement, mind, and now I’m letting you drag her into the devil’s own lair!”

He’d wandered away tutting to himself and Seamus had turned slowly to his brother and his wife.

“Did he just say yes?” he’d breathed.

In reply, Brigid had flung herself on him, squealing in delight.

*  *  *  *

Thank the Lord they’d come, Niall thought. England wasn’t the devil’s lair at all; it was paradise – for him, at least. He loved the work on the railway, not just for the wages but for the joy of the project. It was an amazing thing to run a train beneath the ground and he was excited to be even just a small part of it.

He paid attention whenever the engineers came round, even brushing up his rough reading skills to understand the plans and reports that were posted up along the trenches.

He tried not to make his interest obvious or the other navvies would tease him, but he longed to know more.

He was particularly intrigued by a massive horse-drawn wooden contraption that housed a conveyor belt to help lift the earth from the railway trench. It had cost hundreds of pounds, the foreman had told them the first time it had been wheeled into place, but it could do the work of 20 men so would soon pay its own way.

Sometimes, if Niall had a minute, he stood and stared at the thing, figuring out how all the wheels and gears fitted together. It was like magic watching the soil being yanked from the ground and sent bumping down the belt, to be loaded straight into carts.

They were dumping it somewhere down the Fulham Road, he’d been told, at a place called Stamford Bridge. Some of the local navvies claimed there was talk of turning the land into a sports stadium, but Niall had heard such mutterings about one at Lansdowne Road in Dublin and that had come to nothing yet, so he wasn’t convinced.

It was still a fascinating idea, though, and if it went ahead they’d want workers – keen ones like him.

In the meantime, the railway would keep him busy for a while yet. He had to be careful not to get above himself. He was content to be a worker – the camaraderie between the men was fun and it didn’t hurt that the girls seemed to love a navvy!

He glanced up again. The pretty lady on the tunnel edge was talking earnestly to three journalists, but higher up, the grocer’s shop window was occupied again.

The girl was back and her eyes were definitely on him – big, rich eyes with an inviting twinkle. As he watched, two small, cheeky faces appeared either side of her. Not hers, surely?

“Niall McMenamy, will you mind the job before you kill us both?”

“Sorry, Seamus. Sorry.”

Seamus sounded exhausted. He took all the overtime he could. Yesterday had been pay day and Niall had joined the lads in the George next door to the grocer’s for a couple of well-earned pints.

Not Seamus, though. He had taken three hours’ overtime instead. He’d staggered into the tavern just before closing time. Niall had had to leave the lads around the piano to take his poor brother home to their scruffy one-bedroom digs. The navvies had protested, especially as he’d promised them “Molly Malone”, but family had to come first.

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”.