Escape from the Tower of London


By the time the motor coach passed Big Ben, Jamison knew what he was going to do. “Peter,” he whispered to his friend, “I’m not staying with the class. I want to explore the Tower of London alone.”

“Are you daft? Miss Wellington will really be upset.”

Before Jamison could reply, the teacher announced: “Get your lunches, and when we get off the coach, we’ll queue up (form a line) by the ticket booth.”

Later Jamison clutched his lunch bag nervously as he waited his turn to be searched by the Tower guard.

“Scotch eggs and biscuits (cookies) today, is it?” joked the guard as he quickly glanced into each sack. “You don’t have a bomb in there, do you?”

“N-No, sir,” stammered Jamison. Everyone was checked before entering the Tower because a bomb had recently been planted there.

Miss Wellington led the class down the stone causeway into the Tower of London. Jamison marched beside Peter.

“I’ve got to drop back, or someone will tell on me when I slip away,” said Jamison.

“I’m going with you,” replied Peter.

“You might get in trouble.”

“When Miss Wellington asks for partners to hold up arms and I don’t have a partner, she’ll know you’re gone. If both of us leave, nobody will miss us.” Peter looked to see if anyone was listening. “How do you plan to get away?”

“Simple—when we stop at the scaffold site on the Tower Green, we’ll slip away.”

Jamison had been on field trips to the Tower before and knew that at each important site a guide was stationed to explain its history.

When they reached the place where many famous people had been beheaded, a large crowd stood listening to the guide. Different school groups could be recognized by their uniforms. Miss Wellington stopped her class on the edge of the crowd.

Jamison jerked at his friend’s sleeve. Carefully the two boys inched from one group of tourists to the next. “Where are we going?” asked Peter as he dashed after his friend.

“To the White Tower. I want to see the armor. We never stop long enough there for me to really examine everything.”

The boys entered the White Tower and climbed the narrow, winding stone steps to the Chapel of St. John. Behind the Chapel they reached the room where swords from the early Middle Ages were displayed on the walls and in cabinets.

“Oh, look at this sword!” cried Peter, pointing to a long-bladed weapon with a jeweled handle.

“Now isn’t this better than trailing along with the class and looking at all those crown jewels and silver goblets?” asked Jamison with a grin.

The boys walked from display to display, exclaiming in whispers. Finally Jamison said, “I’m hungry. Let’s go up to the top floor and eat our lunch.”

“They won’t let us eat up there,” said Peter.

“I’ll show you a place where we can eat and they won’t see us.” Jamison wiggled his way through the people standing beside a counter of Middle Ages armor and headed for some stairs. He motioned for Peter to follow.

The top floor opened into a large hall where suits of armor stood like silent guards. A few tourists were moving slowly from display to display.

Jamison marched with confidence past a horse carrying a rider. Both man and beast were completely outfitted in mail and armor, ready for battle.

One cabinet housed fourteenth-century breastplates and gauntlets. Others displayed shields of various sizes and with different designs.

Quickly Jamison glanced around the room. Satisfied that no one had noticed them, he dropped to his hands and knees and crawled behind a display of crossbows. Peter followed.

It was dark in the corner, but the boys were completely secluded from view. When Jamison was satisfied that they were safe in their hiding place, he sat on the floor and crossed his legs. “Let’s eat. But don’t drop any crumbs,” he warned. He pulled his scotch egg from the sack and took a bite. (A scotch egg is made by taking a hard-cooked egg, rolling it in sausage, and frying it in deep fat.) Each boy ate his egg with delight.

“What kind of biscuits do you have?” asked Peter. “I’ve a chocolate chip and two shortbread. Have you anything to swap?”

“I’ve two oatmeal and a ginger with white icing. I wish the school had packed those marshmallow biscuits with chocolate on top,” whispered Jamison.

When the boys finished eating, they carefully folded their paper sacks and stuffed them into their pockets. Jamison peeked out of their hiding place to see if all was clear.

Everyone had gone while they ate. “We have the place to ourselves. Isn’t it great?” whooped Jamison as he dashed around the room.

“Jamison, don’t you think it’s a bit odd that nobody’s up here besides us?”

“Someone will be along in a minute.” Jamison walked over to a display and lifted a knight’s faceplate. “Hello in there,” he called.

Soon Jamison also began to feel uneasy. No one had entered the room, and he knew they had been alone for at least fifteen minutes. “Maybe we’d better go find the class,” he said. “I’ve seen enough, haven’t you, Peter?”

As they dashed down the narrow stone steps, their footsteps echoed against the walls. Jamison grew more nervous. No one had come up as they descended. At the foot of the stairs Jamison reached for the heavy iron latch on the door and tugged. Nothing happened.

“Peter, the door is locked! We’re trapped in here.”

“What? Let me try. We can’t be. Miss Wellington will have the headmaster punish us if we aren’t back when the class boards the coach.” Peter yanked at the door, but it didn’t budge.

“Let’s go to a window and call for help,” said Jamison. “Someone will hear us.”

They hurried into the nearest room.

“There’s a window!” shouted Jamison. He ran to it and looked out. “Peter!” he gasped. “They’ve roped off this area. Look!”

“What does it mean?”

“The guards must have received a bomb threat or something. They’ve closed this building and evacuated the area,” replied Jamison, unable to keep the tremble from his voice.

“What if the building blows up?” Peter asked, swallowing hard. “We could get hurt or maybe even die.”

“If we’d stayed with the class, we wouldn’t be here now. I know I’m supposed to follow rules. Mum and Dad taught me that. And now you’re trapped too! I’m sorry, Peter. It’s all my fault!”

“It’s my fault, too—I chose to come with you. I thought it would be a lark … We could have come back another time. Our parents would have brought us.”

Just then a police siren wailed and an armored demolition lorry (truck) wheeled around the corner. The tower guards rushed over to the bobbies (policemen) jumping from the lorry and began explaining the situation.

Jamison stuck his head out the window and waved his arms. “Hello! We’re up here! We’re locked in!”

The guards and the bobbies looked relieved to see the boys. One shouted, “We’ll have you down in a few minutes!”

Jamison and Peter were at the door when they heard the key turn.

“You’d better dash over to your coach,” one bobby growled. “Your teacher’s been giving the guards fits because they’ve had other people to look out for—some blind students and a group of foreign tourists—before they could make an all-out search for you. I’m glad you’re found, though. Go along now—leg it!”

Jamison and Peter did not stop running until they reached the motor coach. “When we get back to the school, we’ll decide what to do about your leaving the group,” Miss Wellington told them. She sounded more scared than angry. But the two boys were quick to sit where she pointed. “Take those seats where I can keep an eye on you. I don’t want you straying again!”

Jamison looked at Peter. “She doesn’t have to worry about us ever straying again, does she?”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dick Brown