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

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Chapter 7

“Well, we’ve got to get in there somehow,” said Nico, breaking the silence as they ambled aimlessly along the street. They could see Billy peering anxiously from behind a bush at the end of the path.

“What did Billy say about the tradesman’s entrance? Maybe we just have to get in the house sneakily. It’s not ideal, but we have so little time left, and I really think that Mr Fairchild, once he hears what we have to say,might be the one grown-up in these times who will listen to us AND take us seriously. He really is our only hope.”

“I think you’re right. I really can’t stand the idea of breaking into somebody’s home, but what choice do we have?”

Nico nodded somberly, although secretly he thought that this would be the most exciting thing they had done so far! The boys ran over to where they knew Billy was hiding.

“Ok Billy, you were right - they don’t let people through the front door ‘unannounced’. We now need your help with something. It’s your, well our, last chance to get you cleared of all of this,” said Tezzie. “We have to get into that house and get to Mr Fairchild without being seen – if we can do that it will give us enough time to explain to him what has happened.”

“And if that doesn’t work?” asked Billy sadly,

“We have to make sure it works Billy, this is the truth, and it is important that the truth is heard - whatever the consequences. Do you understand? Do you think you have the courage to help us to get in there unseen and get this sorted out once and for all?”

Billy straightened up and a look of determination came over his face,

“I’m ready. Let’s do this. What do you need me to do?”

Tezzie held up a hand to ‘high five’ Billy – but Billy just looked at it with a puzzled expression. Nico laughed and said,

“This is called a ‘high-five’, Billy,” as he clapped his hand to Tezzie’s still suspended hand. “We do this when we want to congratulate each other, or when we’ve achieved something good”

“Ooohhh,” said Billy, still looking a little bewildered by the boys’ strange ways.

Tezzie and Nico grinned and then Tezzie said,

“Right then, Billy, we need to know how to get in by the tradesmen’s entrance, and we need to know how to reach wherever Mr Fairchild is without being seen by anybody. We may need you to create a diversion - do you think you could do that?”

“I think it’s going to be a miracle if we can get through, but I do know my way around that house,” said Billy,

“Ok, let’s go – we’ve only got half an hour left before those men meet. You lead the way Billy – but keep your head down,” said Tezzie.

Billy waited until the street was quiet, and then scooted across to the big house, with Tezzie and Nico following closely behind. They carefully tiptoed to the back of the house, keeping their backs to the wall and stopping every so often to listen carefully for footsteps. As they approached the tradesmen’s entrance they started to hear the comforting sounds of a busy house and kitchen, the occasional chink and clatter of china, the cheerful whistling of the cook or the errand boy in the kitchen, and the delicious aroma of home cooking wafting out of the door and up to their noses. It made them all suddenly realise that their tummies had been grumbling for quite a while now.

Billy waited until the coast was clear and then motioned with his hand for the boys to follow him into the doorway. They peered through and saw a plump-looking woman with a frilly white apron and a frilly white hat covering her head. That must be the cook, thought Tezzie. The door that led from the kitchen into the main house was right across at the other side of the room, so the boys would have to pass right by the cook somehow, to get into the main part of the house.

There was a long and wide wooden table in the centre of the kitchen, with gleaming copper saucepans hanging above it from a series of rather dangerous looking hooks. The table’s surface was covered with flour and vegetable peelings and a great big pie stood in the centre, which the cook was now filling with delicious-looking meat and vegetables. The boys’ mouths watered. It really had been a long time since they had eaten. I bet Grandma’s dinner has all been eaten up by now, Nico thought ruefully.

The cook turned to the stove behind her to tend to a saucepan as its contents started to bubble over the sides. Billy whispered,

“Let’s go! Now!” They all ducked down, keeping close to the stone-flagged floor, and crept carefully to the table, quickly hiding themselves underneath it. This was more like it, thought Nico, enjoying the excitement. They waited for the cook to be distracted again before they moved on. Luckily, at that moment, a stray cat wandered into the kitchen through the tradesmen’s entrance (which they had accidently left open) The cook screamed at the cat as she chased it out.

(Illustration: kitchen table with pie on it, with boys underneath and cook with back facing reader)

“Shoo, shoo, scat, you raggedy little rat of a thing!” and boys quickly crept the rest of the way to the door leading to the main house.

They went through the small door which led to a dark, pokey and narrow stairwell. As they climbed the few stairs up to the first floor (Tezzie with his fingers pinching his nose – the stairwell smelled of damp vegetables somehow mixed with stony dust - he really couldn’t stand strange smells), they passed the kitchen cat, which barely acknowledged them, clearly on his way to investigate which feline had invaded his territory this time. (It appeared that cats behaved the same way no matter what the century.) When Billy stopped suddenly in front of the door at the top of the stairwell, the boys bumped into the back of him getting a bit tangled up.

(Illustration: mangy cat hissing and spitting)

“Oi! Watch it!” Billy whispered furiously.

“Sorry,” said Tezzie, rubbing his nose from the bump, “we didn’t know you were going to stop so suddenly!”

Billy rolled his eyes.

“We’re just outside the main entrance hall. By this time Mr Fairchild should be in the library before he goes to get dressed for dinner”

“Erm – why does he have to ‘get dressed’ – he’s not naked is he?” asked Nico tentatively, fearing the worst.

“What? No, of course he’s not naked! He just needs to get into his dinner jacket, you know, so he can sit down to dinner. All the rich folk do it,” replied Billy.

“Maybe we can discuss this later?” said Tezzie urgently “Go on Billy...so Mr Fairchild should be in the library. Where is the library?”

“It’s directly across from this door – so as long as we’re careful not to let old bossy-boots Perkins, the butler, see us, we could sneak across the hallway and find Mr Fairchild there.”

Billy carefully pushed open the door and then looked around to make sure there was no one there. He had started to tiptoe across the hall when he suddenly found himself caught up in a vice-like grip! Billy began shouting and kicking with all his might. Perkins had caught him!

“Right then, Billy - come back to steal some more have you? Well you will be in for a surprise. Let’s get you to the holding room and then we’ll see what the master has to say to you. Your Mr Dallevill will be interested to know you are here too I dare say.”

They heard Perkins make all kinds of threats while Billy continued to struggle and kick as he was carried out of the hall. Tezzie and Nico watched in horror as they saw Perkins carrying Billy through a door at the opposite end of the hall to the front door. What should they do now? Maybe this would have to be the diversion they needed to get safely across to the library without anyone noticing. They would just have to get this all cleared up and fast if they were going to save Billy now. But what if nobody believed them? What if they couldn’t find Mr. Fairchild in time? What if Mr. Fairchild summoned the police and they just arrested Tezzie and Nico? And what about poor Billy?

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