Under The Streets Of London – Episode 13

The landlord grunted and retreated inside his tavern.

Mary watched him go and scolded herself. Goodness, she was even beating Ray Matthews at grumpiness now, although, to be fair, they’d made a few sales themselves today.

Less than Ray – cabbages, it seemed, weren’t nearly as consoling as ale – but more than usual. Not that it would make up for the lost apples and pears that had tumbled on to the train tracks.

Mary shuddered and turned back into the shop. She’d thought it was the end of the world, or of their little bit of it, at least. It was a relief that they were all here and well, and even the injured were now limping away with thanks and bags of veg. One man had bought nearly their whole stock of eggs.

“I’ll treat the family tonight,” he’d said as she’d wrapped them carefully. “These delicate little things survived, and so did I. It makes you think about what’s really important.”

True enough. Mary’s children were all safe. She’d hugged them to her one by one – to much wriggling and protesting, especially from Bertie – and now Violet had taken them, wild with excitement, to the George to “help tend the wounded”.

Mary hadn’t been keen at first. She certainly needed to try to get the shop straight and sort out the mess, but it wasn’t worth risking the children. Already, though, barriers had been put up along the crumbled trench edge. They made the walkway outside the shop even narrower than before, but at least they’d keep Bertie out.

A good job, too, as the last time Mary looked into the George Violet had seemed more interested in tending to nominal scratches on navvies’ broad arms than keeping an eye on her nephews and nieces.

“She thinks of nothing but men, that niece of ours,” she said to John.

He looked up from mopping the floor.

“You didn’t at that age?”

Mary thought back and flushed. Violet was nineteen, the age she’d been when she’d met John.

“I may have had my head turned a little, I suppose,” she admitted coyly.

“Not that a man could tell.” John laughed, mopping up to her feet.

She batted him away.

“I thought I was very encouraging.”

“Encouraging? You told me you wouldn’t walk out with me unless the Thames froze over.”

“I didn’t want you thinking I was easily won.”

“Oh, you certainly were not that, Mary, my love – but you were worth it.”

He propped his mop up against the onions and came over to take her in his arms. She snuggled in against him, glad of his strength after the chaos and fear of the morning.

She cast her mind back to their far-off courtship . . .

*  *  *  *

They met at a dance at the town hall. Mary’s best friend, Ruth, had been trying to persuade her to go to one for months.

Mary hadn’t needed persuading – it was her parents who’d been unsure. Unlike Ruth, a third daughter and free to more or less run about as she pleased, Mary was the eldest of her clutch of siblings, and her father was wary of something as frivolous as a “dance”.

In the end Ruth’s married sister, Victoria, offered herself as chaperone, and he’d given in. Mary had been beside herself with excitement, and even her mother had relaxed enough to spend hours trimming up an old dress with taffeta and ribbons for her to wear.

She tripped out of the door feeling like a princess, only to arrive at the town hall and meet a procession of other young women in dresses newer, more fashionable and altogether much prettier than hers.

She spent the first hour of the dance hiding in the corner, fiddling with her empty dance card, and that was where John found her.

“Bit noisy, isn’t it?”

She jumped.

“So noisy I didn’t hear you creeping up on me!” she shot back.

“I didn’t creep. I just didn’t want to startle you.”

“Well, you did. Startle me, that is.”

“I’m sorry.”

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”.