Under The Streets Of London – Episode 45

“Is it the width that’s the problem?”

Henry spun round to see a tall navvy addressing him. He blinked and then recognised the fellow. It was that accursed Niall – the one on Eliza’s posters, the one whose name she’d called out in the snow-filled air all those months ago . . .

“You!” he growled and saw recognition dawn across the other man’s face.

“Sorry,” the Irishman said, stepping back and putting his hands up.

“What do you want?” Henry demanded.

“I was just trying to help. You looked . . .”

“What? Confused? Because I’m not! I was simply weighing up my options. Considering the, er, load-bearing implications.”

“Absolutely,” Niall agreed. “If the cross-timbers can’t slot together at the apex then there’s no way we can lay the horizontals.”

“That’s right,” Henry agreed. “Exactly.”

He focused on his drawings, willing this upstart to go away. Then he looked up.

“What would you do?”


“If you were me. If you were the engineer.”

“I wouldn’t dream to presume so far, sir.”

“Not at all. We at the Metropolitan like to encourage input from all our staff. You navvies, you’re the ones lifting the timbers, so you must have . . .”

“The feel of them?”


“I’ve no learning, though, sir.”

“I’ve learning and you’ve experience. We could be a team.”

Why was he saying this, Henry wondered. He didn’t want to be a team with some rough-edged navvy, especially not one who’d somehow stolen his Eliza’s affection! Not that she was his Eliza. Not any more.

He felt more confused than ever, but time was ticking on and Mr Fowler would be here soon.

“Well, what would you do, lad?”

He cringed at the word. This “lad” must be about his own age. Niall, however, didn’t seem to notice. He was too caught up in the drawings.

“May I?”

Henry handed them to him, trying not to flinch at the mud on the other man’s rough hands. For a minute Niall studied the sketches, then he strode around, tapping the timbers and measuring out the trench with his big feet, until Henry believed he was pretending as much as he himself.

Suddenly, though, he spoke.

“It’s simple.”

“Is it? I mean, of course it is.”

“Of course. If you reduce the angle of the diagonals they should still reach the verticals without compromising the strength of the join.”

“Hmm,” Henry said, taking the drawing back and twisting it around a little, as if considering the problem from – literally – every angle. “As a solution, it’s a little simple. But simple is good. Well done, er, Niall, was it?”

As if the wretched name wasn’t written across his memories!

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Oh, look, here comes Mr Fowler now. Would you like to meet him?”

The navvy’s eyes lit up and for a moment Henry almost saw what Eliza must like about him. He stepped forward to shake Fowler’s hand, feeling a little more confident than he had before. If it was the wrong answer, he could say he was just testing out the workforce and hope that Fowler would provide the right one himself.

“Solved our problem, Henry?” Fowler asked.

“I believe so, sir. I’ve been discussing it with this worker, er . . .”

“Niall McMenamy, sir. I’m honoured to meet you. Your tunnel is a work of genius.”

Mr Fowler smiled at him.

“It wouldn’t get built without the likes of you, though, McMenamy. So, what have you pair concluded?”

Henry repeated Niall’s suggestion, his fingers crossed desperately behind his back. Fowler looked at him for what felt like a very long time and then nodded.

“Good. Let’s do that.”

It was all Henry could do to keep an incredulous “Really?” inside his throat. He’d solved the problem!

Well, Niall had.

Fowler instructed his surveyor to take accurate measurements, and finally the great man was shaking his hand and striding away.  Henry turned a little guiltily to the navvy but Niall was watching the engineer depart.

“I can’t believe I met him!”

“You were lucky,” Henry agreed, then added, “and you were a big help. Could I buy you a drink, maybe, once your shift is over?”

“Me? Are you sure?”

Henry considered.

“Are you courting Eliza?”

The navvy spluttered with something between laughter and horror.

“Of course not! What would a lady like Miss Rutherford be doing with the likes of me?”

“A drink it is, then. Seven o’clock, the George.”

Niall nodded, still looking dazed, and Henry took his chance to escape.

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”.