The Panama Hat Series - Volume 1: Tezzie and the Villainous Victorians

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Chapter 6

Tezzie thought quickly. Maybe if he stopped struggling in the landlady’s arms then he might have more of a chance of making a run for it. He immediately went limp as though he had given up trying to break free. The landlady peered down at him and then put her face very close to Tezzie’s.

“Ah given up ’ave you? That’s right, you know what’s good for yer.”

The landlady’s hot breath had a disgusting smell, a mix of stale beer fumes and cooking fat. He thought he had better do something quickly now before he passed out from the smell.

The landlady leaned back again and turned her head to the rest of the tavern’s punters to gloat.

“There yer see? I’ve still got ma strength if not ma teeth! Ha!”

Tezzie stamped on the smelly landlady’s foot as hard as he could. This was more difficult than it sounds - he had to get through all the thick layers of skirt before he could find her foot.

“AAAAARRRRGHHHH! Why, yer little weasel!” screamed the landlady while hopping about on one foot. “Oh my aching bones! And to do that to a lady, I ask you? Somebody fetch me an ale! It’s the only way I will survive this heinous injury that ’as befallen me!”

The landlady was clearly very dramatic. She fell with a flourish into the arms of one of the customers. There was a cheer and then a lot of bustle around the fallen lady, the customers clearly enjoying the excitement, so Tezzie took his chance and ran out of the tavern door as fast as he could.

He joined the others who had gone back to hide and watch from a distance in the small side street across the lane. Just as he got there and hid himself with the others, he turned and saw the tavern man come out of the door of the tavern, look up and down the street, then set off down the lane, at a brisk, if rather wobbly, walk.

“What did you find out? What did Billy’s boss say? What is that smell? Urgh!” asked Nico wrinkling his nose as he caught a whiff of the tavern fumes still lingering on Tezzie’s clothes. Tezzie ignored the last question with a roll of his eyes.

“Right, we haven’t much time. Billy’s boss is a dishonest and very dangerous man. I think we’d worked that out anyway. He was talking about the stolen jewels to the man in the tavern because he wants to sell them to him and he’s going to do it in the next hour. One hour! Once he has done that there’ll be no way to prove that he was actually the one who stole them, and not Billy!”

Billy’s face fell at this news.

“What am I going to do? I’ll never be able to get a job again. Where will I go? I will end up on the run for the rest of my life - begging for a piece of bread. Then I’ll get arrested! I, I… I…!”

“You can’t get arrested for begging, Billy, and you are too young anyway,” said Nico who prided himself on his knowledge of the law, “and they should take you to a safe house, like a children's home or orphanage. You would be safe there.”

Billy’s eyes bugged.

“You two really are from a different world aren’t you?”

“Why, what have I said?”

“Don’t you know that begging is illegal? And that if I got caught the only ‘home’ I would be going to, would be the jail or the workhouse?”

“” stammered Nico. That didn’t sound good at all.

“Yeah, the workhouse. They work you twelve hours a day and feed you on thin gruel. Most people don’t come out of the workhouse alive!”

Billy’s eyes started to shine, tears pooling at the bottom. Tezzie put a reassuring hand on his shoulder,

“Don’t think that way, Billy. We’re going to help you get out of this. We need to keep calm and make a plan. We’re not going to let them get away with this, and aren’t going to let them send you to the workhouse. I promise you that.”

Tezzie sounded more confident than he felt, but he couldn’t show poor Billy that. How on earth were they going to sort this mess out?

Billy eyes lit up.

“No one has ever been as kind to me as you are.”

Nico put an arm round Billy’s shoulders.

“We think that we should treat people the way we would like to be treated – and I know that I would want all the help I could get if I was in this situation,” Nico said kindly.

“Ok then we need a plan. The tavern man is going to meet with Billy’s boss in about fifty minutes at Crooks Avenue. Do you know that place, Billy?”

Billy nodded, “It’s actually just round the corner from here. Old Sarah has a place there–“

“That’s it!” exclaimed Tezzie. “He definitely mentioned ‘Old Sarah’ and he said he was at number 12. Great! If we know where they are going to be, that’ll save a lot of time.”

“So…” said Nico doubtfully, “…does this mean we need to go to Old Sarah’s place and catch them red-handed? And then we can hand them in at the police station and…”

Tezzie interrupted, “Hold on, hold on. How on earth are us three boys going to be able to ‘catch’ two hardened criminals and then somehow get them to the police station against their will?”

Even though Tezzie had been learning judo for the past two years, he had never tackled a man, let alone two! He didn’t really like their chances!

Nico and Billy furrowed their brows,

“Erm – that’s a good point Tez – hmmmm,” muttered Nico.

Just at that point Tezzie’s eyes flickered back to the lane, and he saw what looked like a police officer strolling along whistling. Instead of the usual short dark blue jacket and tall rounded hat this man was wearing a long dark blue coat and the hat looked different too.

Tezzie turned Billy towards the man and asked, “Is that a police officer?” Billy visibly cowered and whispered urgently,

“Yes, of course he’s a copper!”

“Sorry Billy – it’s just that in our times police officers look quite different. The uniform is different and they usually drive around in cars.”

“Do you mean carriages? Whoooaah! Your police officers must be rich.”

“No, I didn’t mean carriages I mean cars – automobiles – they run using petrol and diesel.”

“Some run on electricity generated by the running of the car so it’s really good for the earth – “ piped up Nico. (He had just been learning all about renewable energy and recycling in school this term.)

Billy looked baffled.

“Look, we’re getting off the point,” said Tezzie, “let’s go and speak to this police officer and tell him what is happening. Quick! Billy, you stay out of sight, they might already be looking out for you. They won’t know us though and they’d have no reason to doubt us.”

Billy nodded and Tezzie and Nico ran out into the lane, coming to an abrupt halt in front of the police officer.

(Illustration: police officer and Tezzie and Nico)

“’Ello ’ello ’ello! What’s all this then?” said the police officer, his eyes getting wider and his eyebrows rising higher as he took in the boys’ strange dress and clean, well-cared-for, bright-eyed looks.

“Officer – please – we have information about some stolen jewels!” Nico practically shouted at the startled police officer.

“Whoa there, calm yourself, son! Now...what’s all this about?” repeated the police officer.

“Officer, we’ve just heard Billy’s boss, Mr Dallevill, talking with another man in that tavern over there about the missing jewels…!” started Tezzie. The story was coming out all jumbled because of the adrenaline pumping through his veins.

“Wait a minute, are you lads talking about the jewels stolen from Mr and Mrs Fairchild’s house, Belgrave Square? And Mr Dallevill, the respectable chimney sweep?”

“Yes, that’s him! He’s got the jewels!” shouted Nico again.

“Dear, oh dear, I think we’re getting a bit over-excited, boys. Is this a prank? Because if it is I have to say that it is in very bad taste, making accusations about your elders and betters like this, and not very funny either.”

“No sir – we’re telling the truth, we’ve just seen them!” cried Nico, getting louder and more desperate as he realised that police officers here didn’t quite take children as seriously as they did in their own time.

“Now, that’s enough, boys!” The police officer had started to grow a bit red. “I’m in no mood for silly business, I have important work to do and no time to waste on silly tall tales like this. You would do well to stop this nonsense, otherwise next time I mightn’t be so patient. I don’t think you’d want to spend some time in jail!”

Tezzie and Nico stopped at once. This was serious – they couldn’t afford to get jailed! They shook their heads quickly and kept quiet to show the police officer that they wouldn’t be any more trouble.

The police officer seemed satisfied that the boys had got the message, he turned sharply and smartly on his heel and continued his walk down the lane muttering to himself.

“Young ones these days, I don’t know, no respect…”

The boys stood rooted to the spot looking after the police officer.

“Now what’ll we do? This is useless. Nobody will believe us and that horrible Mr Dallevill is going to get away with it and then Billy will get thrown in jail!” cried Nico.

Tezzie grabbed Nico’s arm and led him back to where Billy was hiding while still keeping his eyes on the slowly disappearing police officer. Billy’s eyes looked hopeful but Tezzie just shook his head.

“Sorry, Billy, that was a bad idea. You were right, police officers just don’t take children seriously here. I think we did more harm than good speaking with him,” he said sadly.

“So our only chance is to try and head them off at Old Sarah’s ourselves then?” said Nico. “I don’t fancy our chances with those big men, especially if the police aren’t going to believe us. We’re never going to be able to get two grown men to a police station by ourselves – this is hopeless...”

Tezzie held up one finger as an idea occurred to him.

“What about if... we didn’t go to Old Sarah’s at all?”

“What - you mean just run away?” asked Billy hopefully.

“No, no... What if we talked to Mr Fairchild at the big house? Explained it to him directly?”

Both Nico and Billy looked at Tezzie as though he was crazy. Billy started to shake with panic,

“No, no, you don’t understand I can’t go to Mr Fairchild! He’d have me arrested straight away,I really can’t. It would be a crazy thing to do! He’d never listen to me, I’m just a lowly chimney sweep, and, and he’ll tell Mr. Dallevill.”

Tezzie held up a hand to stop Billy who looked as though he was starting to hyperventilate.

“Shhh Billy, calm down, I didn’t really mean you. What if Nico and I talk to him? We can explain the whole situation. We can tell him what we have seen and heard, he has no reason to doubt us – and maybe we can convince him to get the police to catch your boss red-handed!”

Billy paused as he took all this in.

“Well...I don’t really think it would work…the man probably won’t even see you – he’s very busy…and important...”

“Let us worry about that. We’ll find a way to see him. It’s our best shot at getting you cleared Billy,” said Nico. “Do you think you can keep yourself hidden but near the house? Once we’ve convinced Mr Fairchild, we’ll give you a signal to let you know you will be able to come in. Remember we have to act quickly, so you need to be ready.”

Billy and Tezzie nodded, both with a look of grim determination on their faces.

The boys set off at a run back towards the big house. There wasn’t a moment to lose. Billy took care not to draw attention to himself by jogging about ten paces behind Tezzie and Nico (who of course were drawing a lot of quizzical and bewildered looks from passers-by staring at their strange clothes and well-cared for looks (which was very unusual for unaccompanied children in Victorian times.)

About twenty metres from the house, on the opposite side so he was in viewing distance of its front, Billy hid himself under another bush. Tezzie and Nico made their way up to the front door of the house. Billy had told them on the way that only important visitors came to the front door of houses of this sort. Everybody else would use the tradesmen’s entrance around the side or back of the house. And that you should have an appointment, you shouldn’t just turn up ‘unannounced’, unless you just wanted to drop your ‘card’.

“Well we only send cards at birthdays and Christmas generally so we’ll just have to try our luck. This is about as important as a situation could be and we need to speak to Mr Fairchild somehow. Even if it means two strangely dressed stranger children turning up at the door unannounced!” argued Tezzie.

The boys arrived back at the big house, ran straight up the steps to the front door and rang the rather ornate looking bell. After a few seconds they heard the latch on the door being released and then the door opened to reveal a very well-dressed, slim and haughty looking man, wearing a charcoal grey suit with a soft dove-grey waistcoat. He had a neat pair of soft white gloves covering his long elegant hands. It was the butler. He looked straight ahead and then quickly to his left then right before realising, and looking down his turned-up nose to the boys on the step below. His eyebrows raised, he coughed as if to clear his throat before saying,

“No beggars allowed at this house! And how dare you come to the front door? If you are after some scraps go to the tradesman’s entrance round the back and ask for Mrs Beeton - she may have something for you.” He glanced anxiously behind him as he said this.

(Illustration: butler in the doorway looking down on Tezzie and Nico, nose in the air)

“Please sir, we are not beggars. We have come to see Lord Fairchild on a very important matter,” said Tezzie clearly and firmly, although he was still out of breath from running. The butler looked a little shocked at the boy’s presumption, the boys could see that the fact that they were out of breath made the butler even more suspicious and they watched as he looked them up and down a little more closely. He then shook his head as if to get rid of an impossible thought.

“You boys, you certainly don’t look like beggars but I cannot consider what kind of an ‘important’ message two boys such as you could possibly have for my master. I am under strict instructions not to allow visitors. The master and m’lady are in a turmoil over a very delicate matter and do not wish to be disturbed by the prattlings of two strange boys. Now be gone with you”

“But,’s about the missing jewels!” blurted out Nico in a last ditch attempt to gain access. The butler’s eyes widened in shock, his eyebrows almost reaching his receding hairline, but then they quickly narrowed again as he took a determined step forward.

“I don’t know where you have got your information from. I know that there is a lot of idle gossip that goes on around here – but this is NOT a matter for two small boys. You need to leave right this very instant or I shall call someone to remove you!”

The butler stepped back smartly and shut the door in their faces.

“This is crazy! Grown-ups just don’t listen to children at all in these times! It’s like we’re too young to know anything. Yet they’ve been making Billy and a lot of other children work really dangerous jobs as if they’re adults – it’s just so unfair.” said Tezzie, completely puzzled that his direct and honest approach just didn’t seem to be working like it would under normal circumstances. But this was not a normal situation. Far from it.

They had hit a dead end. They walked slowly down the steps again to the street, their shoulders hunched, their spirits dashed.

It looked as though Billy was going to lose his home, his job, his reputation; he was going to lose everything. And so were Tezzie and Nico!

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