Under The Streets Of London – Episode 39

Niall shook the thought away and looked again for Seamus. If anyone was in danger of getting hurt, it was his brother, who had become almost manic in his quest for the precious shillings from Eugene Thetford.

People didn’t like being pestered by him. Niall didn’t blame them – the poor navvies only came in for a pint and a natter after a hard day’s work; they didn’t want some stranger buttonholing them.

Many was the time Seamus had been threatened with a fist if he didn’t go away, but he’d become consumed by the need to raise Brigid and Ciara’s fares out of Ireland and was oblivious to the danger.

“What will come of your savings plan if you get yourself punched and can’t work?” Niall had demanded after dragging him away from a particularly irate young man a few nights ago. “And what will Brigid say if she knows you’ve been fighting?”

“I wasn’t fighting. I was talking. Is it my fault if they threaten me?”

“Yes!” Niall insisted, exasperated. “Approach people, Seamus, if you must, but if they ask you to go away you have to go.”

“But they don’t listen.”

“That’s their right, brother. Listen to yourself!”

But Seamus couldn’t. The only thing he spent money on, save meagre coal and just about enough food to keep his body together, was letters back to his wife – long, laborious scrawls full of promises to get her to England before she was too close to her confinement to travel.

The baby was due in spring so time was running out, but he’d only saved just over half her fare and if he didn’t manage the rest before daughter Ciara turned two they’d have to pay for her as well. Worry was consuming him and Niall hated to see it.

“I’m going to have to tell him to stop.”

The voice made Niall jump and he turned to see Ray, the surly landlord, leaning over the bar and nodding to Seamus.

“Your brother. I have to ask him to stop pestering the punters. It’s costing me business.”

Niall wasn’t having that.

“It’s costing you nothing, Ray – where else would the navvies go? There’s no other inn on this road.”

“They’ll walk further to escape Seamus if I’m not careful. They might go to the Rose and Crown.”

“That’s over a mile away – too far on a cold night like this.”

“Why does your brother not go there, then – get himself some new custom? Better still, drive some of their punters here to me!”

“You’ve no room for more, Ray.”

Ray shook his head.

“There’s always room for more if they’re drinking.”

Niall looked at the portly landlord curiously.

“The works must have done you the world of good, surely?”

Ray shrank back a little.

“It’s helped,” he allowed.

“Helped! Who drank here before we all came along?”

“Locals. Nice, friendly locals who daren’t come in here now you navvies have taken over.”

Niall laughed.

“Really, Ray?”

The landlord had the grace to shrug and even offer Niall a small smile.

“You lot haven’t hurt,” he admitted, “but it’s at a price. Not for me so much, but for the rest of us living around here. The works have torn a hole through a lot of lives, and not all the navvies are as soft as you.”

Niall was about to protest at being called soft, when Ray went on.

“They’ve caught him, you know – that Rob Barker.”

“What?” Niall was all attention. “When? How do you know?”

Ray tapped the side of his squint nose.

“I keep my finger on the pulse, lad. Arrested him over your way, I gather.”

“My way?”

“Ireland. He’d fled home to his mammy, but that lass from the Metropolitan had written to the family, and when he got home Mammy kicked him right back out and, from what I heard, straight into police custody. Said he’d brought shame on the family, he was no good and plenty of other things besides.”

Niall didn’t doubt it. Little was more frightening than an Irish mammy on the rampage! For a moment he almost pitied Rob, and then he remembered the poor girl, Violet, and her uncle, so nearly badly hurt. All pity drained away.

“Good,” he said. “Let’s hope a spell inside teaches the man how to behave.”

“Behave?” Ray scoffed. “Teach him how to become a criminal, more like. Or a lawyer – I reckon they’re more criminal than most. Tell your brother to stop, lad. Thetford is bad news.”

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”.