Under The Streets Of London – Episode 10

“Thank you so much,” Eliza said to Mary, handing the blanket back, “but I’d better get on.”

“Not the best day for your company?”

“No. My boss isn’t going to be happy.” She sighed. “Goodbye, Mary.”

The grocer moved off and Eliza turned to Henry, still hovering just behind her.

“We need to do something. This is a nightmare for the Metropolitan. You must go and find Mr Fowler.”

Top engineer on this project, John Fowler was famous. He had built the Pimlico Bridge across the Thames the previous year.

“But . . .” Henry reached out a hand to her.

“Please, Henry. There must be things the engineers can do to make the area safe, and they need to do them fast. This is bad enough as it stands, but a fatality could put a stop to the whole project!”

Henry nodded.

“I’ll maybe see you later? I could take you to dinner.”

“Maybe,” Eliza agreed, smiling as kindly as she could whilst privately resolving to avoid such a meeting. Henry was a lovely man but she was not ready for romance.

Gratefully she watched him head off, and then she turned to look for the journalists. People were congregating in the grocers and even more densely in the George beyond.

She edged that way and spotted the first of the journalists, thankfully whole but, less thankfully, deep in conversation with members of the excitable crowd. She couldn’t begin to imagine the terrible things they’d be saying about the railway.

Where was her boss’s silver tongue when it was needed? He’d have found something positive to say. He wasn’t here, though, so it was up to her.

Taking out her handkerchief, she wiped her face as best she could and marched forward.

“This?” she heard in a rich, musical lilt – Irish? “Just a little set-back. It’s bound to happen when you’re pioneering. You have to take risks to move forward. Mr Fowler will have it sorted in a wink. The man’s a genius! The whole system’s a marvel and we should be very grateful to be part of it.”

Eliza recognised the muscular navvy who’d been manoeuvring the timber before the collapse. He was safe, then! Her heart lurched with relief and she crept forward, drawn in by his soft, confident voice.

The journalist – Mr Filcher, if she remembered correctly – was rapt, and furiously scribbling down every wonderful word. Someone was watching over Eliza today, and no mistake!

*  *  *  *

“We’d be fools to let a little incident like this one put a stop to the project,” Niall continued.

The pretty girl from the tunnel’s edge was drawing close and he spared a moment to breathe in relief that she wasn’t hurt.

She seemed interested in what he was saying. He flushed and turned up the charm, though in truth he meant every word. He and Seamus couldn’t afford for the work to stop. Seamus had already been fretting round the shift manager about their pay and had been told that they were all on full wage.

That was grand for today, but they’d be fools to think it would last. They needed this railway to get under construction again fast or this move to England would all have been in vain.

More than that, though, the intricacies of this breathtakingly ambitious project had awakened something in Niall – a desire not just for money, but for purpose.

He’d grown up in the potato famine. Throughout his early years life had been about little more than a struggle to survive. His horizons had been no further than the bottom of their rotting veg patch.

He’d seen England as an escape, but what it was offering him was a glimpse of a future world – one that stirred his soul. This thin-nosed journalist had to be made to see that, too.

“We should be proud, Mr Filcher,” Niall insisted. “We’re not a people to let adversity stop us, are we? We’re surely not so narrow-minded as to let personal safety stand in the way of collective greatness? We can, I’m certain, see past the tangle of this regrettable, but small, collapse, and down the great reach of the tunnel already securely built.”

Somewhere behind him Niall thought he heard Seamus groan and could vividly picture his big brother rolling his eyes at what he so often called Niall’s “big fat tongue rolling over itself”.

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”.