Under The Streets Of London – Episode 60

One brick was all it took – one brick knocked from the straining sewer wall and suddenly the Fleet River was upon Niall and the others, rushing into the channel, flinging itself joyously towards the Thames, digging the little ditch deeper and deeper with its own force.

Some water leaked out around the men’s shoes, but no-one cared. It hit the Thames and they could almost hear the earth sigh with relief as the pressure was released.

The workers began dancing and whooping like kids at a party, and over in the crowd a cheer went up.

“You did it, Niall!” he heard Will scream in his ears. “You did it!”

We did it,” he corrected. “It’s not over yet. This will silt up soon. We need . . .”

But he was interrupted by a resounding pat on his back and turned to see, to his astonishment, Mr John Fowler himself standing over him and beaming.

“I arrived just in time to see it. A triumph, young man, an absolute triumph! What’s your name?”

“Niall,” Niall stuttered. “Niall McMenamy, sir.”

“Good work, Niall. That took vision and courage, and I thank you for it.”

“Thank you, sir,” Niall said. “But we still need . . .”

“To shore up the diversion,” Fowler filled in. “We certainly do, but you must go home and rest. I won’t forget this, though. I will see you again, Mr McMenamy. The Metropolitan owes you a great debt tonight and I will see it paid. Now – home!”

Niall nodded and, dazed, made his way back from the trench. Roary and Will ran after him.

“See you paid?” Roary repeated. “He must mean a bonus, Niall. How much do you reckon? Will we get some, too? I’ve a sister who’s after joining me here – this could pay her fare.”

“I hope so,” Niall agreed.

Weariness was seeping into his bones now and it was a struggle to speak.Money might get him that house he wanted, he reminded himself, maybe even the means to get wed.

“Ha!” he said bitterly. John Fowler’s money might pay for the wedding, but it couldn’t secure Niall his bride. Only her father could do that, and somehow Niall doubted he’d be impressed by midnight mud-digging.

He looked for Eliza and saw her, her beautiful dress muddy around the edges. Not that she seemed to care. She was in the middle of a crowd of journalists with her boss at her shoulder and Henry hovering. Niall didn’t dare go over, covered as he was in mud and dripping with river water.

“Shall we go back?” William asked tentatively. “See if the babe’s born?”

At that moment the lad was leaped upon by a tear-stained older woman and enveloped in an endless hug. William caught Niall’s eye over her soft shoulder and nodded him away. Niall did as he was bid, turning for home.

He thought of his brother’s anxious face when they’d left and of Brigid’s cries of pain, and picked up his feet to run.

Will, the Fleet and even Fowler were all forgotten. Pray God his sister-in-law’s labours had been as fruitful as his, and that there was a new life safely in this world of theirs. The rest would have to wait.

*  *  *  *

Mary held William fast, ignoring his squirms of protest and his sodden clothing.

“Aunt Mary,” he protested against her shoulder. “I’m fine, truly I am! I’m a grown man; I’m . . .”

“My sister’s dear son,” Mary said firmly, “and my own dear nephew.”

She had to hold him still, to be sure that he was here and truly well.

The minute they’d heard the terrible noises earlier, she and John had run down the street with the other neighbours, leaving the older ladies to keep an eye on all the sleeping children.

The sight that had met their eyes would stay with Mary for a long time to come, for if she’d ever imagined hell it had been something like this. There had been so much confusion, fear and raw menace in the air.

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”.