Under The Streets Of London – Episode 70

Under The Streets Of London

“What’s a navvy?” Millie queried.

“A worker,” Niall told her in his soft accent. “I came over from Ireland with my brother, looking for a better life – and I found it. England is a land of opportunities, to be sure.”

James coughed.

“Have you the, er, learning to be an apprentice?”

Eliza looked to the floor, wishing she could be anywhere but here, but Niall stood his ground.

“Not the book-learning, sir, not yet. But I’m a hard worker and, what’s more, I believe I have sense and maybe the awareness of how things fit together that should stand me in good stead.”

“How things fit together?” James looked to his wife, who glanced awkwardly at Eliza, but she could think of nothing to say.

The crowds seemed to push and pull at their clumsy little group and suddenly Eliza felt as if a little bit of the magic had been taken out of the occasion and they were left with just the soot and the steam.

She opened her mouth to try to support Niall but to her great relief someone else beat her to it.

“Surely,” a confident voice said behind them, “a man who knows how things fit together is the most valuable man in the world? I certainly believe so.

“Two months ago this young engineer of mine single-handedly diverted a crisis that could have wrecked this whole project – not just for now, but for years to come.”

“Well, now, sir . . .” Niall protested but John Fowler was having none of his modesty.

“It’s true. And if, as I suspect from the pink faces around this lovely group, he wishes to marry your daughter, I would grab him with both hands, for rarely have I met a man I believe more capable of offering a woman a solid and prosperous future. Drink?”

He waved over a waiter with a tray of champagne, the glasses only slightly sooty, and began dispensing them. Everyone took one uncertainly, but no-one drank.

“Is this what you wish to ask me?” James stuttered to Niall.

Niall looked at Eliza and then back at James.

“It is, sir. I think Eliza is truly the most beautiful, most clever and most kind girl in the whole world and nothing would make me happier than to make her happy.

“I know I’m a little rough around the edges but if anyone can smooth those out it is Eliza. I truly believe that together we can make a wonderful life and do you proud. With your permission, sir.”

Eliza felt as if her heart might melt.

“Please, Father,” she said, finding her voice at last. “All Niall says is true, save that he is not rough around the edges at all. He’s strong and caring and hardworking, and I want to spend my life with him. Say we have your blessing!”

James was silent for a moment, his fingers running up and down the stem of his glass. Eliza saw her mother take his arm with a gentle caress and knew she was on her side. Millie, too, was staring with open delight at this romance unfolding before her – but it was her father’s goodwill they truly needed.

Slowly James raised his glass.

“I commend you, sir,” he said to Fowler, “for your choice of apprentice. And you, my friend,” he went on, turning to Malcolm Jones who had joined them, “for the training of your secretary, my dear daughter. They seem focused and earnest young people, do they not?”

Suddenly he lifted his glass high and smiled.

“Except that they are turned fools by love. But who am I to stand in the way of such wonderful insanity? You have my blessing, my dear Eliza, and you, too, Niall. I look forward to welcoming you as a son.” He pumped Niall’s hand. “Now, a toast – to the future. May it be as bright and exciting in engineering as in love. The future!”

Eliza drank with the rest, tears springing to her eyes as she registered that her father had not only given his permission but his blessing.

So much had changed since she’d come to London a cowed and uncertain young lady less than a year ago. Now she had a job she enjoyed, friends who were dear to her, and a fiancé she loved.

“The future,” she whispered, letting the joy of the day wash over her at last as Niall’s arm crept around her waist and her mother and sister embraced her.

Somewhere behind her, possibly at the hands of a bright-eyed young grocer’s son, the first-ever underground train let out a merry whistle to them all.


The End.

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”.