Under The Streets Of London – Episode 53

The cab pulled into Duke Street where Niall lived, a narrow little road just off the main run of the tunnel works. The rough surface was churned up from the nasty storms that had raged across London a few days back and the cab jolted her around.

But then Eliza saw him standing there waiting for her, and all her nerves were forgotten. Pushing money at the driver, she leaped down and straight into his arms.

“You came!” he said, sounding delighted.

“Of course I did. Am I last?

“No. Will, Violet and Sophie are here but Henry hasn’t arrived yet. He’s due any minute.”

Eliza smiled. Henry had been very excited about it when he’d called into the office earlier with a smile that had wiped out any awkwardness she might have had about dining with her one-time suitor.

But Henry, with his usual candour, had told her, “We wouldn’t have suited, would we?”

She’d smiled at him and agreed that he was absolutely right, and thank heavens they’d realised it in time. All had been well.

“Shall we go inside?” she suggested now.

Niall jumped.

“Yes, of course. Sorry. Keeping you out here on the pavement!”

He drew her arm into his and swept her towards one of a long line of doors along the narrow street. Then he hesitated.

“It’s very small, Eliza.”

“As are my own rooms.”

“We will be a little cramped.”

“Cosy. Niall, stop fretting. I’m not some porcelain doll, you know. I’m happy to be here.”

She squeezed his arm and he nodded and rolled his eyes in a way that made her laugh.

“In we go, then.”

Barely had he opened the door, however, before a pretty lady with dancing eyes and a belly twice the size of the rest of her burst upon them.

“Ah, now, you must be Eliza. How wonderful to meet you. Niall never stops talking about you, do you, Niall?”

“I . . .”

But she didn’t wait for an answer.

“I’m Brigid and this here,” she drew a dark-haired little girl round the side of her legs, where she was clinging shyly, “is Ciara. We’re very glad to welcome you to this tiny scrap of a home.”

She drew Eliza over the threshold and into a small but neat little room, plainly furnished but bursting with colour from some beautiful cushions and a mass of meadow flowers arranged in jars around every available surface.

In the centre an assortment of chairs and stools were gathered around a little table covered with a sprigged cloth, and as they entered Violet leaped up from the nearest chair.

“Miss Rutherford!” She took her hand. “How lovely to see you again.”

“Eliza, please.”

“Eliza. What a beautiful dress.”

Eliza flushed.

“I don’t wear it much,” she said, “so I thought I should.”

“Of course. It’s so pretty and it suits you so well. Come and meet my brother, Will, and his young lady, Sophie. Oh, and here’s Henry!”

Violet’s eyes lit up and she scampered past Eliza to welcome the last of their party through the door. Eliza smiled to see her so animated. It was such a contrast to the pale, cowed girl she’d seen after Rob Barker’s nasty attack.

Within minutes the room was filled with chatter. Seamus fussed around pouring mugs of ale and Brigid brought fresh sausage rolls from the oven, filling the room with a delicious smell and warmth.

Eliza felt as relaxed as if she’d been here every night of her life and wondered why on earth she had been nervous. A nasty flicker at the back of her mind asked her what her father would make of this cramped, jolly little get-together, but she blinked it away. It was her life and she intended to enjoy it.

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”.