Under The Streets Of London – Episode 28

Niall backed away.

“Of course I don’t. I’m just tired.”

“Tired!” Violet tossed her hair.

Another of the lads rose.

“I’m not tired, sweetheart.”

It was Rob Barker, a sharp-faced labourer with a sideline in cheap fags and a reputation for carrying a knife. He sauntered up to Violet.

“Who, I ask myself, could be tired with such beautiful company on offer?”

Violet flashed a defiant look at Niall.

“Perhaps some people don’t appreciate beauty.” She pouted.

“More fool them. I knock off at eight; shall I see you in the George? Maybe we can have a drink there and go and grab a bite of supper somewhere quieter. Without the rabble.”

Niall’s stomach turned. If anyone was “the rabble” it was Rob Barker!

“Violet,” he warned her, “I don’t think your mother would like . . .”

“My mother is in a sanatorium. Besides, I can look after myself; not that it’s any business of yours. You take yourself off to your bed. I’ll have a better time with . . .”

“Robert.” He bowed low and Violet giggled.

“With Robert. Good day.”

With that she sashayed off, glancing back over her shoulder before she turned into the grocery shop to flash a last look at Rob.

He rubbed his hands and nudged Niall sharply in the ribs.

“Got myself a little cracker there, I reckon.”

Niall’s eyes narrowed.

“Treat her well, Rob. Her father runs the grocer’s shop. She’s a respectable girl.”

Rob laughed.

“We’ll soon change that, won’t we?”

With a wicked wink he dropped back down into the trench, leaving Niall feeling uneasy. He went back to his pie but his appetite was gone, and in the end he handed it to a cheery Seamus and went back to work.

*  *  *  *

Mary scooped away the last of the tea things and took up her sewing basket, feeling better than she had in days or weeks.

The claim was completed and, though it had been hard, she felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment. They didn’t need rats like Eugene Thetford; thanks to that lovely Eliza they could manage it themselves.

At the same time she’d taken the chance to tidy up the books and profits weren’t quite as low as she’d feared.

Their regular customers were holding up well and all the activity around the tunnel collapse, although dreadful, had actually resulted in more trade in the last week. If they were careful they would just about be able to afford the rent on the second shop until it started making a profit of its own.

Mary was still fearful about the venture but she knew they had to expand if they wanted to help their children out into the world. John wouldn’t be doing this if he didn’t think it could work, so Mary would support him in it.

She glanced contentedly around the little parlour and her eyes fell on William, sitting by the fire with Sophie.

The lovely nurse had joined them for tea for a second time and William had bloomed in her company, chatting amiably even when Bertie had tried to tease him.

Now the pair were talking quietly together as she and John stayed at the table, doing their best to give them some privacy.

Violet also seemed to be content this evening, singing with the children at bedtime and asking Sophie to help her with her hair before volunteering to take the potato peelings round to the George for Ray’s fat old pig.

She said at tea, in a moment of rare compassion, that she thought the rough landlord was lonely. It seemed that she’d stayed to chat, for she’d been gone some time now.

Mary vowed to send John round to check up on her shortly, but at the moment he was enjoying a well-deserved read of the paper at her side whilst she seized the chance to darn some of the endless holes in Bertie’s clothing.

“This is nice,” John said quietly to her.

“It is. Moments like this are to treasure.”

“Especially as they’re rare.” They smiled at each other. “What have we done to deserve such peace and quiet?”

“I’m not sure, but I doubt it will last, so let’s make the most of it.”

He leaned in and kissed her.

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”.