Under The Streets Of London – Episode 34

Eliza did, and if sometimes, especially in the evenings, she still felt a little intimidated by the fancy carriages full of people heading out to the theatres and restaurants in their beautiful clothes, she needn’t say so.

“Do you go out every night?” Millie was asking, almost as if she’d caught her thoughts.

Eliza sipped carefully at her wine, not wanting to admit that she was normally tucked into her lodgings before eight, with just the clack of her landlady’s knitting needles for company.

“When I can,” she managed airily. “Henry and I had a lovely dinner out last week, didn’t we, Henry?”

“Did you?” Thea, her mother, sat up and Eliza instantly regretted admitting to this, but Henry seized on it.

“Oh, yes, we had a fabulous time. We were at Simpson’s with some friends – delicious food wasn’t it, Lizzie?”

“Lizzie?’ Thea’s eyebrows rose and Eliza cringed. She still hated the wretched nickname. She thought she’d trained Henry out of using it, but here it was, back again, and now her mother was taking it as some sort of evidence of closeness between them.

“It was to do with work, really,” she said quickly. But Thea just smiled and Eliza knew she thought her elder daughter was keeping romantic secrets. She was grateful when Malcolm Jones took up the conversation.

“Eliza’s been working marvels at the Metropolitan,” he told James.

“Very glad to hear it.”

“I see a great future for her with us.”

“Do you?” James couldn’t keep the surprise from his voice.

“Indeed. She has a wonderfully calm approach that people love, and she can think on her feet. That’s a very valuable asset in Communications.”

“I see.” James looked at Eliza as if seeing her anew. “Well,” he offered eventually, “it’s nice for her to keep busy until . . .”

“Until?” Malcolm prompted but his wife – plump, pretty Beatrice – nudged him sharply.

“Eliza will want to marry, Malcy.”

Malcy! Eliza stored up the pet name to smile over later, but right now she would have enjoyed it more it hadn’t been for the word before it.

“No rush,” she muttered, drinking more of her wine. It was a delicious Madeira but she could feel it going to her head. The restaurant seemed stuffy and unsteady all of a sudden and she forced herself to put her glass down.

“Being married needn’t stop Eliza working,” Malcolm began, but that was too much for James.

“Maybe not in London, Malcolm.”

“But she is in London, James!”

Thankfully, at that moment the waiter arrived with their fish course – a light cod in a golden egg sauce – and Thea expertly steered them into a consideration of the delicacies of French cuisine.

The rest of the meal passed happily in discussion of the sights and shows Eliza’s family wanted to see during their stay in London and Eliza relaxed again, content to be with the people she loved the most.

As the waiter cleared the remains of a beautiful marrow and almond pudding, however, and James rose to pay the bill, Henry leaped up.

“I’ll escort Eliza home, Mrs Rutherford,” he said to Thea with a neat little bow. “I’m sure her father doesn’t want to go out into the cold air now, and it will be easy for my cab to pass her door. I’ll see her safe, don’t worry.”

“I’m sure you will, Henry,” Thea agreed, charmed. “How kind of you.”

“It will be my pleasure.”

The smile he gave Thea made her glance archly at Eliza, who was left with little choice but to accept Henry’s offer as graciously as she could.

She kissed her family goodnight, promising to meet them the next evening after work, then took Henry’s proffered arm, keeping her head high and trying to ignore her sister’s barely hushed giggles as they left the hotel together.

“A lovely match!”

Her mother’s words floated after them, making her flush furiously. She supposed she couldn’t blame them for making assumptions, but she wasn’t the one who had invited Henry tonight, was she?

She glanced awkwardly at him as he handed her in to a hansom cab and was horrified to see his eyes fixed upon 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”.