Under The Streets Of London – Episode 56

Mary Farndale raised her glass in a toast to John as they sat together on the step of their shop in the last of the evening sunshine.

He chinked his own against it and the merry sound echoed down the street, finally clear of the fences and machinery of the underground construction.

“I can hardly believe it’s under there,” John said, standing up and taking a few cautious steps into the road.

“Oh, it’s there,” Mary said darkly, “and don’t we know it.”

She peered suspiciously at the shiny new road surface. It looked so innocent and yet only a week back it had still been a gaping hole.

It was hard to believe it could be safe, but that nice boy Henry, who was at the house more and more often these days, dancing attendance on young Violet, had assured them that it was all “mathematically perfect” and she supposed he must know.

Certainly it had been a blessed relief when the planks had gone across the top of the elaborate wooden structure of the tunnel and then the rubble had been poured on and bound with tar.

The whole place had stunk for days and men had patrolled up and down making sure no-one stepped on the steaming surface.

Finally, though, it had hardened and the fences had been taken down. The clunking dirt-removal conveyors were wheeled away to ruin someone else’s day further down the line, and it had been almost – apart from the memories of the fuss and fear – as if they’d never been there.

“I can hardly believe the works are gone!” Mary said now. “It’s so quiet without the clank of the machines and the shouts of the navvies. Listen – you can hear the birds singing again at last.”

They both looked up into the few trees that had somehow miraculously clung on to their roots along the torn-up road and were now playing host to the evening calls of the local birds. It was a sweet sound and Mary felt herself beginning to relax at last.

The tunnel works were still going on, of course, but a little further down the road, and although they could hear the faint echoes, it felt at last as if their own little corner of London was finally being restored to normal.

The pavement in front of their street was once again wide and open and people could stop to choose their fruit and vegetables without having to cross dangerous planks or catch their skirts on metal fencing.

“Will it finish soon, do you think?” Mary asked now.

John chuckled.

“Not a chance; not before midsummer at the earliest. This fuss at the Fleet sewer has held things up. William says they’ve got it sorted out, but I’m not so sure. Can you hear them still banging away at it?”

Mary shook her head determinedly.

“I can, but I don’t want to. I prefer the birdsong.” She drank her ale and looked down the street to the George. “Was it quiet in the inn when you fetched this, John?”

“Quieter than it has been for a while,” he agreed. “Ray looked fed up.”

Mary laughed.

“Ray always looks fed up. I swear he was born grumpy.”

“You might be right. He’s been moaning for months about the ‘rough’ navvies keeping the locals away and now he’s moaning about them not being there so much. There’s no pleasing him and it’s not even as if the work is finished. There are plenty of thirsty men about yet.”

“Well, I for one will be very glad when there aren’t. Not that they haven’t been perfectly civil. And hard working, too, I’ll give them that, most of them.

“But I want Will out of there. It’s not good for him. He’s looking pale.”

“He is,” John agreed, “but his pockets are well stuffed. I reckon there’ll be a wedding on the cards by autumn.”

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”.