Under The Streets Of London – Episode 48

“Henry says that if this underground train works there will be more of them, Aunt Mary. He says that one day there might be tunnels all over the city.”

“Like a giant rabbit warren?” Mary asked, only half listening.

“That’s what Henry said!”

Violet had been up for ages and chattering most of the time about Henry Waters. It was good to hear her animated again, but Mary hoped the girl hadn’t had her hopes raised. The young man had clearly needed someone to listen to him, that was all.

“Violet, please can you go and make sure the children are ready for school? I don’t want Bertie taking everyone’s shoelaces out again. We were nearly half an hour late yesterday.”

“It was an experiment, that’s all. If we’d had any twine . . .” Bertie started but Mary cut him off with a glare.

Recently her son had taken to “experiments”, apparently to test his budding engineering skills. It kept him out of the trench, which was a relief, but Mary wasn’t convinced he was much safer.

Just the other day he’d created a minor explosion in the kitchen with, of all things, bicarbonate of soda! His teacher, Mr Johnson, a bright young chap with very forward ideas, said he was clever. Mary supposed he was – too clever by half!

“You don’t want to be late for Mr Johnson, do you?” she suggested now and that, at least, had Bertie jumping up. Mr Johnson was his new favourite person, followed by John Fowler and Henry Waters.

Perhaps, Mary thought wryly, he and Violet could amuse each other talking about Henry?

She busied herself shooing everyone out of the house and it was only as the children clattered down the street with Violet, and the chaos subsided a little, that she noticed her nephew standing quietly in the corner of the shop.

“William? Is everything well?”

“Quite well, thank you, Aunt. That is . . . Could I speak to you and Uncle John?”

“Of course. John!”

Her husband appeared from the yard carrying a sack of potatoes. William rushed to help him with it and together they poured them out on to the display.

William awkwardly folded the sack and stood, clutching it to his slim chest.

“William would like to talk to us, John,” Mary said.


“It’s just . . .” Their young nephew looked agonised.

“Spit it out, lad,” John encouraged him.

William drew in a breath and nodded.

“It’s just that I’ve noticed that there aren’t many deliveries now, just at the moment until business picks up and all. And there’s not much to do at the new shop now it’s fitted out. So I feel like, maybe, I’m a bit of a burden on you.”

“Oh, William, not at all,” Mary protested but the young man put up a hand.

“I was working out how I could make some more money to help you out and, you know, maybe to save a little, so I could perhaps . . .”

He ran out of words and John finished for him.

“Ask Sophie to marry you?”

William, scarlet, nodded.

“I’m sorry, lad,” John said. “There’s just no more work at the moment.”

“I know,” William said rapidly. “I didn’t mean I wanted you to . . . The thing is, you see, I’ve, er, signed up – as a navvy. In the underground trench.”


Mary was horrified. Their William, a navvy? She looked to John, who took a step forward.

“I know things are tough, but there’s no need . . .”

“There’s every need,” William said firmly. “The little ones want new shoes; we need to save to stock the second shop and the bicycle is desperate for repairs.”

“There’s the compensation money,” Mary said, but with no real conviction. They all knew that was almost spent.

“It will just be for a few months,” William pressed. “There was a recruitment man at the end of the road the other day. It’s a final push, he says, to get the tunnel finished in time to open for the International Exhibition in May. It’s good pay, Aunt.”

“Because it’s dangerous!”

“Not if you’re careful, and I will be careful. Please let me do this. I want to help.”

Mary looked at John. He shrugged.

“He’s a grown man, Mary. He should choose. Violet can help with the deliveries if we need it. Bertie, too.”

“Bertie? He’ll be volunteering as a navvy next, if we’re not careful.”

“He’s not old enough,” William assured her.

“Not yet,” Mary said darkly, “but the way this tunnel’s going he might be before it’s finished.”

“It’ll all be done by May Day,” William said earnestly.

“It had better be,” Mary said, turning away to hide the tears prickling at her eyes.

Surely they hadn’t brought these children up to dig in the dirt? And yet what could they do? Unless business picked up and the new shop opened they had nothing more to offer William but their prayers.

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”.