Under The Streets Of London – Episode 38

Henry had remained quietly attentive ever since and she appreciated his tact. Time and again, as she lay in bed at night, she tried to imagine being his wife. It wasn’t, after all, as if she could afford to be picky. Some men might not be so understanding.

“You should say yes,” she told herself sternly. There were three weeks until Christmas. He would ask again, and she should say yes. She would be settled then, secure. They could marry in the spring, get a house somewhere in London. It would be perfect, surely?

The cab pulled up outside the Metropolitan offices and she paid the driver, with a tip “for your children”. She hurried inside, grateful to be out of the cold. And there, from a giant poster on the wall before her, seeming to direct his blue-eyed gaze straight into her own, was Niall McMenamy.

Marriage wouldn’t be perfect with Henry, she knew that. Much as she wanted to love him, she just didn’t, and she wasn’t convinced that he loved her, either. He loved the idea of her, maybe, but she was pretty sure that what her employer called “organisational skills and drive” and her mother called “stubborn obstinacy” would drive him insane.

Henry needed a far more compliant wife than he would find in her.

And Eliza – what did she need? She gave a last glance to the poster, then shook herself and strode firmly past towards her offices. Whatever she needed, one thing was sure – it was not an Irish navvy.

*  *  *  *

Niall leaned back against the bar and took a cautious sip of his beer, though he barely tasted it – hadn’t for weeks, if he was honest. It wasn’t like him at all.

Keeping an eye on Seamus was sapping him of all his enjoyment of the lively atmosphere at the George, even though Christmas was approaching and festive cheer was rife.

The navvies, grateful to be out of the bitter cold of the working day, were louder and more boisterous than ever.

Clever gas lights lit up the works after dusk but no-one could ask men to work through the bitter nights and, although the navvies were grateful to be released, Niall knew from listening to whispered conversations amongst the supervisors that the Metropolitan company was struggling to hit its targets.

The line was due to open next spring, but the heavy frosts had made it hard to fit the iron tracks securely and the engineers were worried. The great John Fowler himself had been down several times and Niall had hovered as close as he’d dared, fascinated by his crisp, clear instructions and his decisive priorities.

“We make it safe. I don’t care if we open late. This underground train is groundbreaking in every sense of the word. It must make history for the right reasons. I want it to make people’s lives easier; to make their journeys quicker. What I don’t want is for it to kill them! Don’t cut corners. We do it right or we don’t do it at all.”

Niall admired that attitude, though it wasn’t one that chimed with many of the supervisors on the ground. They were clods, most of them, and many was the time Niall had had to remind them of Mr Fowler’s instructions.

As a result he was not exactly popular with the staff and it was only his strength and skill that kept him in work. Heaven help him if he ever got injured.

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”.