Nobody said much on the journey back to the house, each of the passengers deep in their own thoughts.
Tezzie was wondering whether they would find that the steps back to Grandma’s would have re-appeared. He removed the Panama hat to have a look to see if it showed any signs of getting warmer or glowing. It just looked like the same old hat as before. Tezzie’s shoulders sagged. Wasn’t the hat supposed to glow once they had helped Billy out of this mess? What were they missing? What did the hat want them to do? Were they stuck here forever after all?
Billy’s thoughts at first were of how happy he felt, and how relieved he was to have been proved innocent; but then his thoughts turned slowly to what he was going to do now. Even though he wouldn’t be going to jail for stealing the jewels, he had still lost his job and his home in one fell swoop. Where was he supposed to go? How would he eat? How could he survive? Where did he belong?
Mr Fairchild’s thoughts were a little less stressful. He was marvelling over the boys’ courage and, unbeknown to Billy, he was also wondering what would happen to the boy. He realised that now Billy’s boss had been exposed as a crook, he would be sent to prison, Billy wouldn’t have a job, and also, probably no home. Mr Fairchild watched Billy’s expressions closely. The boy started to look more and more forlorn as the excitement of the last few hours ebbed away, and was replaced by the realisation that, although his name was cleared and he wouldn’t be going to prison, he now had nowhere to go. What should he do in this situation? What could he do for Billy? Yes, he could give him a job in the house - but what then? Was Billy really old enough to fend for himself and find his own lodgings? Mr. Fairchild doubted that very much, although sadly, he knew that this was the case for many abandoned children on the London streets of Victorian England.
Nico was also wondering what would happen to Billy, but was eager to know if the steps had appeared on the back garden wall again, so that they could go back home. He was also thinking about food again (I wonder if Grandma has got any left-overs?)
Each of the carriage’s passengers had their own thoughts and problems to sort through. Yes indeed, it was a quiet and sober ride back to Mr. Fairchild’s house, as the excitement died down and reality hit them all.
When they arrived back at the big house, they all traipsed back into the library. Mr Fairchild rang the bell by the library door and ordered tea and cakes. “I think we could all do with a cup of tea, don’t you, boys?” he said. They nodded their agreement, suddenly shy now that their adventure seemed to be over.
(Illustration: Tea and cake (steam from pot) looking delicious)
When the tea arrived it was like no other tea that the boys had ever had. A large trolley was wheeled in with a huge pot of hot steaming tea, but the best bit was the array of sandwiches and cakes right next to the tea. There were hot buttered scones with thick, delicious-looking cream and strawberry jam to slather all over them; there were tiny little cut sandwiches filled with cucumber and cress, and tempting looking buns with a sort of blue icing that the boys had never come across before, but tasted of roses and lavender and other beautiful flowers. It wasn’t, in truth, as good as Grandma’s cake but it came a very very close second, and to be quite honest the boys were so ravenous (they hadn’t eaten for hours) that they enjoyed every single delicious mouthful.
It didn’t seem long after they had slurped up their piping hot tea and hungrily enjoyed two-thirds of the tray of cakes (they were growing boys after all) that the Sergeant returned, bringing with him the Inspector. The boys now noticed how tall the Inspector was and what broad shoulders he had, with a lined and wrinkly face, in fact, the boys would have felt quite intimidated by him, if they hadn’t noticed that he had the sort of eyes which twinkled as he looked from one boy to the next. He addressed Mr Fairchild first.
“Mr Fairchild, sir, thank you very much for your time. As you witnessed earlier, we have apprehended the crooks who took Mrs Fairchild’s jewels and as we caught them red-handed this should be an open and shut case. We will just need a short statement from you confirming all that you have seen and heard today. My man will be with you shortly to take down the details.” The Inspector carefully handed over a hessian bag, clearly heavy with jewels “I believe these belong to your good wife?”
“Thank you Inspector. I think that Mrs Fairchild and I will be forever grateful to you and your men for your efforts in bringing these men to justice, and for returning my wife’s precious heirlooms. They were her dearly beloved late mother’s jewels, and so are of far more sentimental value to her than their monetary worth. Please Inspector, won’t you and your Sergeant join us for some tea?”
The Inspector eyed the tea and the cakes with longing (there was nothing he enjoyed more than a cup of tea and a piece of cake)
“Um – I don’t think it would hurt to have just a small morsel and a gulp of tea…”
“Of course, of course, please help yourself to one of Cook’s Eccles cakes – they are quite delicious,” insisted Mr Fairchild, gesturing to the substantially depleted tea on the table. As the Inspector comfortably settled himself down to his cup of tea and cake he looked round at the boys.
“So boys, today we have seen and heard some incredible things about you and your adventures,” said the Inspector smiling benignly at them, while carefully wiping a crumb from the corner of his mouth.
The Inspector then turned to Billy,
“Son, you have some very good friends here”
“Yes – they are the very best friends I’ve ever had,” said Billy at once. Then he paused, looked bashful and turned to Tezzie and Nico, “You are my friends now…aren’t you?” he asked shyly.
“Of course we are!” laughed Tezzie. The boys suddenly gave each other a bit of a group hug and then broke apart quickly, looking sheepish and embarrassed, but happy.
Mr Fairchild, the Inspector and the Sergeant all chuckled.
“Well then. All that remains is to find out what is going to happen to you Billy,” said the Inspector, turning to him, “where are your parents Billy? What is your address so that we can get you safely back home?”
The room went suddenly very quiet and Billy immediately looked down at his feet, shifting uncomfortably and starting to turn a crimson red.
“I…I don’t have any parents Inspector…my mum died when I was born and I’ve never known who my dad is…th-that’s why I was working and living with Mr Dallevill, it was the only way I could survive”
The Inspector nodded knowingly. It wasn’t unusual for him to come across children who had nowhere to go and had to work to survive. Victorian London was a harsh place for a homeless child; he may have to take Billy to the workhouse.
Mr Fairchild quietly walked over to Billy and laid a hand gently on his shoulder.
“Billy,” said Mr Fairchild “I hope you don’t feel embarrassed by what I am about to say. And I hope that you take this in the spirit it is intended”
Billy looked up at Mr Fairchild, puzzled by his words.
“Today you have shown me how to trust people and how to be brave, and to do the right thing, even if it means you would be left in dire straits. You knew that there was a strong possibility that no one would believe your story and that you could easily have been sent to gaol, have no job and nowhere to live. But instead of running away, in spite of all the odds being stacked against you, you still did the right thing, and that, young man, takes integrity.” He paused, while Billy’s face went from crimson to deep burgundy red, painfully embarrassed that all eyes were on him. Mr Fairchild continued, “Therefore I would like to ask you a very serious question, which I want you to consider carefully before you give me an answer.” He took a deep breath, seeming now to be just as nervous as Billy, “Ahem - Would you like to live with us Billy?” Mr Fairchild looked down at Billy, his eyes soft and kind and hopeful.
Billy looked sharply up at Mr Fairchild, “What? You mean live here? Here with you? I mean, I can clean the chimneys every week and help with the horses, and in the kitchen, and oh, anything you want me to do!”
Mr Fairchild threw back his head and laughed and laughed until the tears rolled down his merry cheeks.
“Oh Billy, bless you my child, when I ask you to live here with Mrs Fairchild and me, I am afraid it will have to be as our son and NOT as my chimney sweep. Do you think you could do that for me?” he chuckled, eyes twinkling with merriment.
“Oh sir, that’s…I mean…how could I possibly repay?...YES PLEASE!” and without thinking Billy ran into Mr Fairchild’s arms giving him the biggest hug, and then jumped back again, frightened when he realised what he had done.
(Illustration: the room with Inspector, sergeant Billy Mr Fairchild, tezzie and nico)
The Inspector and the sergeant looked at each other,
“Well it looks as though we’re not needed here anymore, Sergeant – we’d better be off.” They smiled and turned to go. The Inspector paused at the door. “Just one more thing – what about you two boys? Can we take you back to your homes?” He looked more closely at Tezzie and Nico, raising his eyebrows at their odd sense of dress.
Just that second Nico started to point at Tezzie’s hat and jump about,
“Tezzie! Tezzie, your hat is glowing again! The wall must be changing again! It must be because Billy is safe now - maybe we can get back home!”