Tezzie put the hat back on, stood up straight and with a look of determination said,
“Come on – let’s go and have a peek and see what is up there. We won’t be long.”
Excited, and a bit scared (the good sort of scared, like when you are about to go down a really high slide) they made their way up the stone steps, to the very top of the wall. When they reached the top, they were expecting to see the other side of the garden wall, but instead of seeing the back garden of the house on the other side (which should have been there), they saw more walls running parallel to theirs and stretching away as far as the eye could see!
“Wow – this is weird isn’t it?” said Nico.
“I know,” replied Tezzie. “Let’s go and explore where these walls go. We’ll come straight back, nobody will notice we’re gone.”
Nico nodded his agreement and so they both took a deep breath and started to jump from wall to wall. Now you might think that this was a bit dangerous (and normally I would agree) but the boys felt as light as air as they were jumping. Each time they landed on a wall it was rather like landing on a trampoline. They didn’t know how or why, but they just knew they were quite safe.
(Illustration: Tez and Nico jumping from wall to wall)
As they were jumping they saw many strange and curious things. There were people going about their business as normal, mums walking their children to the park, men coming out of the newsagents with a newspaper under their arms; they saw buses, stopping to pick up queuing passengers, cars beeping their horns impatiently. None of this was strange in itself; but as they carried on jumping the people started to look different, the clothes they wore looked as if they were from the ‘olden days’. The women wore strange very long dresses down to the floor, in deep sage greens and burgundy reds; their hair was all piled on top of their heads and most of them wore hats. The men now wore trousers rather than jeans, and a shirt with either a waistcoat or a suit jacket; they also wore hats, all kinds of hats from flat caps to tall black top hats. At this point Tezzie and Nico noticed that the cars and buses were no longer cars and buses - they were carriages! Horse-drawn carriages!
After jumping for what seemed both like a few seconds, and also ages, they finally came to a wall with steps leading down to the ground. They carefully made their way down and at the bottom they found themselves in a garden. They looked about them in wonder. It was an old-fashioned but beautiful and ornate garden, with chrysanthemums, dahlias and roses, and a carved stone bird bath at its centre. All was still and peaceful.
(Illustration: Victorian garden)
Tezzie took a deep breath, taking in the heady scents of the flowers all around them – it smelled so wonderful.
“I don’t think you can smell flowers in your dreams, so we can’t be dreaming!”
“And we can’t both be dreaming the same thing,” added Nico. “I think we should go back just to make sure that we can – we don’t want to be stuck here. This is all a bit too strange.”
“Yeah, we probably should come back another day,” replied Tezzie, nodding. “Then we can, erm, bring a snack or something – you know, to make sure we don’t get hungry…”
Tezzie wasn’t sure that he wanted to come back but he also didn’t want Nico to think he was afraid.
They were turning to go back up the steps when they heard the noises of someone running really fast towards them. Moments later a boy came hurtling into view from behind the hedgerow, he was out of breath and looking behind him the whole time; he ran straight into Tezzie and Nico!
“Ouch – watch it!” cried Nico.
“Oh – I’m sorry, sir,” said the strange-looking boy.
The boy was strange-looking because he was so different to them. Not different in his looks (after all, we are all different looking - though everybody said that Tezzie looked just like his Grampy) but just different the way he was dressed. He was wearing what seemed like very old-fashioned clothes, trousers and shirt with a waistcoat, in various shades of grey and black as they were so dirty, and were far too short for him. They had rips and tears at the cuffs, the elbows and the knees. The boy’s hair did not look as if it had ever known a comb, much less some shampoo, and his face was completely blackened, as though he had just fallen face first into wet mud. He was barefoot and had cuts, grazes and bruises, both old and new, on his knees, feet, elbows, hands and face.
(Illustration: ragged boy)
But while they were still taking all of this in, the ragged boy cried, “Please, please sirs, can you help me? I need to hide – quick, there’s a man chasing me! He’s very angry!”
Tezzie looked the boy in the eyes. He had an honest and kindly face and Tezzie just knew that the boy was telling the truth.
“Quick, hide under this bush. We’ll put him off.”
The boy didn’t need telling twice. He dropped to the ground and crawled under a bush using his already red-raw elbows. His foot was just disappearing under the bush when they heard, and then saw, a burly man charging into view.
“What’re you two doin’ ’ere? Where’s that little scallywag of a thief, my chimney boy – ’ave you seen ’im?”
Nico spoke first. “Erm, no sir, we haven’t, erm, seen any chimney boys around here – none at all.” (He wasn’t entirely sure what a ‘chimney boy’ was but didn’t feel this was the best time to be asking questions.)
“Worrabaht you? ’ave you seen ’im running around ’ere?” The big gruff man was pointing at Tezzie.
“Nnno, I haven’t-“
The man came up close to Tezzie and Nico. He leaned down to their faces, so that they could smell his breath and said, “If I find out you’ve bin lyin’ to me I’ll ’ave yor guts for garters, I will!”
Just at that moment they heard a shout from the house. The gruff man looked up, with a worried look on his face, then turned on his heel to make his way back up to the big house; but not before shooting a nasty, suspicious look back at Tezzie and Nico.
(Illustration: Tez and Nico with gruff man leaning over them)
“Phew – that was close,” said Nico, when they were quite sure that the man was out of sight and hearing.
“You can come out now,” Tezzie called to the boy.
There was a scrambling sound and then they saw the scruffy little boy emerge from under the bush, still on his tummy.
“Thanks so much for hiding me,” said the boy as he stood up and then held out his hand, “I’m William, but most people call me Billy. What are your names?”
“I’m Thomas but Grampy calls me Tezzie and this is Nicolas, but we all call him Nico. It’s nice to meet you,” Tezzie said, shaking Billy’s hand.
“Why was that man chasing you? Why was he so angry?” asked Nico, getting straight to the point.
“That man is my boss, we’re chimney sweeps and I am his apprentice. He was chasing me because jewellery has gone missing up at the big house and he blames me for it: He thinks I have taken them.”
“Why would he think that?” asked Thomas.
“I don’t know sir, really I don’t. I work hard for my boss – I need this job - but he is a very mean and short-tempered man and he will be even more angry if the owner of the house decides not to get his chimneys swept by us. I really didn’t steal any jewellery though, you have to believe me. They think that because I’m poor and have nothing that I would do such a thing, but really I wouldn’t.” Billy sniffed a bit and had tears welling in his eyes.
“Don’t worry,” said Thomas, “we believe you, even if they don’t. But tell us – how old are you? I mean you can’t have a job, you look about the same age as us.”
“I’m six years old – I think – I’m not sure. My mum died when I was born and I don’t know who my dad is or where he is. Anyway,” Billy added defensively, “most children my age work. If you’re poor then you have to work. Don’t you two work?” He looked doubtfully at Tezzie and Nico’s obviously clean and tidy clothes.
Tezzie and Nico looked at each other –
“Erm, no, we don’t work, we go to school. Where we come from all children have to go to school, you’re not allowed to work, you’re supposed to go to school until you are 16 years old,” explained Tezzie.
“Blimey! Your families must be rich then, if you get to go to school!” said Billy wide-eyed in amazement.
“Not really,” said Nico, “We’re not rich, but actually, we did go to Disneyland last year…”
“Diss..knee…Land? What’s that?” asked Billy, looking puzzled.
Tezzie rolled his eyes. He thought that they were straying off the point here, and besides, he was a bit miffed that Nico had been to Disneyland – he’d been asking his parents to go there for ages.
“Yes, yes, well, that’s great,” interrupted Tezzie, “Look, Billy, it’s great to have met you, but we were actually just about to leave. I hope this all gets sorted out for you. We really should be getting home, we’ve been gone a while now and our Grandma will start to worry, she will have made dinner by now and...” he said as he turned back towards the wall. He gasped. The steps in the wall had disappeared! They must have been rearranged themselves back into a normal wall whilst they had been talking to Billy! How were they going to get back home? Were they going to be stuck in this strange world for good? And what would Grandma say if they didn’t turn up for dinner on time? (Grandma was quite strict on meal times – as all Grandmas are.) This was very bad indeed!