Under The Streets Of London – Episode 24

The trench was secured and work had begun again but the labourers were understandably nervous, the locals, too, and letters were flooding into the offices.

“We have a procedure,” Malcolm said. “There’s a simple form people can fill in explaining what they feel they have lost and offering any evidence they have to back up their claim. We review them as soon as we possibly can and do whatever is fair.”


“Some people are looking for assurances about safety but most just want money to pay for their lost stock or their damaged property. That’s not a problem – we have a budget to deal with it – but now some lawyers have made problems. They make ludicrous claims to their clients and then pester us. They don’t get anywhere but they waste a lot of people’s time trying.”

He reached out and grabbed a sheaf of papers from the corner of his desk.

“These are almost all letters from some lawyer by the name of Eugene Thetford. Seems he’s been all over the works like a rat, scrabbling for scraps of people’s rightful claims. It makes me sick, Eliza! Here we are trying to do something innovative and helpful for the city, and he just sees it as a way to line his pockets.”

Eliza smiled.

“I doubt the Metropolitan is doing this as a charity,” she said gently.

Malcolm looked surprised but then, to his credit, smiled back.

“You’re right, my girl, you’re right. We’re all in it to make profit, I suppose, but some of us more honourably than others. That’s enough of me ranting, though. I need to approve the copy on Mr Filcher’s article and you need to get over to the works. If you’re quick, you’ll catch the men on their lunch break.”

Eliza needed no more prompting. Grabbing her coat and hat from the stand in the corner of the little office, she made for the door.

*  *  *  *

It wasn’t far to the works from the Metropolitan’s offices but the roads were clogged and Eliza’s cab got stuck in a nasty melée around two collided carts. There was much cursing and shouting and the driver was most apologetic.

“The sooner that train starts running underneath us the better, miss, and no mistake. It’s shocking on the streets these days.”

It was good to hear, and Eliza clutched the posters tight to her chest as they finally found their way round the blockage and he dropped her at the reopened tunnel.

She stood for a moment, looking around. There seemed to be more men than ever at work, clearly drafted in to bring this section up to the line’s tight schedule.

The company hoped to run the first trains next summer to coincide with the International Exhibition, planned by the Society of Arts with the profits from the Great Exhibition ten years previously.

The Exhibition would bring thousands of visitors into the city, both from all over Britain and from the wider world.

It was the perfect chance to demonstrate the innovative new underground trains, but time was tight and they couldn’t afford any more “incidents”.

Eliza scanned the busy workforce but couldn’t see either of the McMenamy brothers anywhere. A little further down, though, a large group was installing the roof.

It was impossible in the shadows to tell one man from another. She would have to wait until the bells in the nearby churchtower sounded out the midday break and hope she could locate them in the crowd.

What could she do whilst she was waiting? Her eye was caught by a pretty display of fresh fruit and vegetables in front of a shop just up the road.

Recalling Mary, the fierce little owner, Eliza wandered over and considered the produce. The apples looked small but there were some juicy plums and even a small basket of strawberries.

Perhaps she could treat herself to something sweet. Living here in the city, she couldn’t pick fruit from the trees and bushes as she always had as a child, and she missed that.

She selected the strawberries and took them into the shop to pay. Mary Farndale sat behind a small table, frowning over a piece of paper, but she leaped up when she saw her.

“Can I help you with those?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Lovely, these are, at the moment,” Mary offered, taking them to wrap.

“They’ll be a nice treat,” Eliza agreed. “How much?”

“Sorry?” Mary seemed distracted.

“How much for the strawberries?”

“Oh, sorry. Thruppence, please.”

Eliza blinked. It was a lot for fruit, but they did look beautiful. She felt in her purse for the coins but couldn’t help noticing the woman’s eyes drifting back to the paper on the table between them.

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”.