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Authors: Tim Hehir

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Julius and the Watchmaker

BOOK: Julius and the Watchmaker
3.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


Tim Hehir lives in Melbourne and writes short stories and plays.
Julius and the Watchmaker
is his first novel.

Teaching notes available at



The Text Publishing Company
Swann House
22 William Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000

Copyright © Tim Hehir 2013

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

First published by The Text Publishing Company 2013

Cover illustration by Keith Thompson
Cover design by WH Chong
Page design by Imogen Stubbs
Typeset by J&M Typesetting

Printed in Australia by Griffin Press, an Accredited ISO AS/NZS 14001:2004 Environmental Management System printer

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry
Author: Hehir, Tim.
Title: Julius and the watchmaker / by Tim Hehir.
ISBN: 9781922079732 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781922148582 (ebook)
Target Audience: For young adults.
Subjects: Time travel—Fiction.
Dewey Number: A823.4

For Con and Barbara


Monday 3rd July, 1837
3:56 PM

Give me seven extra long seconds, that's all I ask,
thought Julius Higgins as he sprinted around the corner into Ironmonger Lane. Crimper McCready and his two henchboys were close and gaining. Julius weaved among the window-shoppers, looking for the sign at the far end of the street.

There it was, swinging in the breeze, like a hand waving to an old friend.
Higgins' Booksellers: Rare and Difficult to Find Books a Speciality.
Only two seconds away.

Julius collided with the brass doorknob, giving his ribs a sharp punch. He slipped inside, and the shop bell tinkled violently as he slammed the door.

Made it.
Julius slumped against the frosted glass, as he fought for breath. The triple fusée mantel clock ticked disapprovingly, its second hand flicking across its face like a wagging finger.

From behind the counter, Mr Higgins adjusted his spectacles. ‘Good afternoon, young Caesar,' he said.

‘Goo…good,' said Julius. His face was squashed into a grimace, and he clutched his aching side.

‘Lost the first round, I see,' said the shop's only customer.

Julius stopped trying to breathe and looked up. The customer, a gentleman wearing a bright red cravat, sniffed disinterestedly.

Just as Mr Higgins opened his mouth to speak, there was a hammering at the window. Three fat faces pressed themselves against the glass panels and six hands slapped out a tattoo.

‘Come out, ya poncy toff,' called Crimper McCready. His small eyes, like currants in a bun, searched the shop for his quarry.

‘The natives giving you gyp?' asked the gentleman.

‘Er…' said Julius.

‘Allow me,' said the man. He snatched his walking cane from the counter and spun it through his fingers as he opened the door and stepped out. The lock spring clicked into place behind him. In the silence the clock ticked twice. Julius pulled the display table out from the window, and the third volume of Gibbon's
Decline and Fall
fell off it, somersaulting once and landing flat on the floor with a smack.

‘Have a care of the stock!' said Mr Higgins.

Julius edged himself between the table and the window to peer though.

Outside, the gentleman stood in the middle of the narrow cobbled street, still spinning the cane through his fingers. Crimper, Fosdyke and Grim-shaw narrowed their eyes to calculating slits. Then a flick of Crimper's head sent his two sidekicks wide to flank the gentleman. They preferred nailing beetles to their school desks or twisting small children's ears until they cried on their tip-toes, but they could stretch to doing down a spruced-up gent, if the opportunity presented itself. But while they weighed up their chances, the gentleman took them by surprise.

He pulled the handle of his walking cane and out slid a long steel blade. It flicked through the air, flashing as it caught the light, and its tip poked between Crimper's front teeth. The gentleman advanced, backing Crimper against the wall.

Fosdyke made a whimpering sound and Grim-shaw stepped back, tripping over the kerb.

“Ha! Ha! Ouch,” laughed Julius from the other side of the glass.
Now, this is the way to deal with currant buns.

‘What's the to-do, Julius Caesar Higgins?' asked his grandfather.


Outside, the window-shoppers gawped, some of them stopping to see what would happen next.

‘You are dribbling on my blade, boy.
is unacceptable,' said the gentleman.

‘Aagggg oorrry,' gargled Crimper.

The gentleman raised a questioning eyebrow in Fosdyke's direction.

‘'E's sayin' 'e's sorry, er…sir,' said Fosdyke, his knees and his bottom lip trembling.

‘Is he, indeed?' the gentleman pondered. ‘Well, contrition must be applauded. I suppose,' he said at last, removing the blade and wiping the saliva on Crimper's sleeve.

Everyone breathed again, including Crimper.

‘I'll show leniency on this occasion. But, mark this, the next time we meet, I'll slice off your tongue for my collection, and there'll be no preceding debate.'

He slid the blade back into the cane and it snapped home with a metallic click. The gentleman looked up and raised an eyebrow again.

‘You are still here?' he said.

Crimper turned and sprinted down the street as if the devil himself wanted to borrow a sixpence. Fosdyke and Grimshaw ran in the opposite direction.

The gentleman returned inside. Julius stared at him from the display table. He guessed the man to be close to thirty. A sculpted nose perfectly divided his long pale face. Black lashes bordered his dark glinting eyes and his black hair swept, like a wave of ink, over his crown and down to his crisp white shirt collar.

‘You deliver, I presume,' said the gentleman, tapping one of the books on the counter.

‘Well, yes, that is, if you require it, sir,' said Mr Higgins.

‘I do,' he replied, pulling a calling card from his breast pocket and tossing it on the counter. ‘And if you would be so kind as to inform me if you hear anything of that,
…other matter we discussed?'

…diary, sir?'


‘Certainly, sir, most definitely. I shall make enquiries, sir.'


The man dipped his head in a bow, then winked at Julius as he walked out of the shop.

The clock ticked. Julius took a deep breath and winced at the pain of his bruised rib.

‘Nice day at school, Julius Caesar?' asked Mr Higgins.

‘Pardon?' said Julius, leaning out the door to watch the gentleman strolling away, swinging his cane as if vanquishing brainless bullies was his favourite pastime.

‘Did you learn anything?'

‘School? Oh, yes.'

‘Apart from how to run, that is.'

‘We did a bit of Latin…I think.'

Mr Higgins looked at the clock face behind him and then at his pocketwatch to check they matched. He always liked to know what time it was and that the timepieces in his life were in agreement. He turned around to see his grandson standing at the counter like an eager customer.

‘Who was that?' said Julius.

‘That, my boy, was
Jack Springheel, Esquire
,' said Mr Higgins, holding his spectacles in front of the calling card.

‘I'll deliver his books, Grandfather,' said Julius, reading the spine of the top book.

‘Oh? They're only books about watchmaking, you know.'

‘I'll do it after dinner.'

‘Eager for delivery duty? Pray tell, young Caesar, what are you plotting?'


‘I know his type, my boy. Not one of nature's big tippers, if that is what you were thinking.'

‘No, it wasn't.'

‘And that cravat. My poor eyes.'

‘What was wrong with it?'

‘A real gentleman would know better. Neckwear comes in one colour and that colour is white…black is permissible if you are feeling rakish.'

‘I thought red suited him.'

‘Which proves that you are no gentleman either, Julius Higgins.'

Straight after dinner, Julius bolted out of the shop with the parcel of books clutched tightly under his arm. If anyone could teach him how to stand his ground in a fight it would be Jack Springheel. He scurried along Paternoster Road while the pale sun shone halfheartedly through a veil of ashen clouds. The breeze from the Thames estuary chilled the summer evening, adding to Julius's shiver of excitement. To his left, above the roofs, the dome of St Paul's Cathedral loomed dark. And the comfortingly familiar stench of the Thames tickled his nose—he liked the summer river, it was familiar.

Turning into Warwick Lane, he stopped and took out the calling card with a trembling hand.

Jack Springheel, Esquire
Above No. 26, Warwick Lane
Cheapside, London

Julius looked down the empty street. Even this early in the evening it wore a grey cloak of danger—a place deserted and up to no good.
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, Higgins.
He rubbed the sore spot on his side, and the pain reminded him why he had volunteered to brave the London streets at this hour.

He swallowed hard and entered Warwick Lane, passing a dark, grimy shop window. In its reflection he saw a sudden movement. He stopped and looked across the street. There was something in a doorway. He squinted to get a better view. It was an amorphous shape, the same dappled greys and browns as the doorway. What was it? A giant lizard? An escaped bear? Then Julius saw a dozen pairs of eyes—the whites standing out in the gloom like porcelain marbles. They looked directly at him. Julius jutted his chin out and squinted as he peered closer.

BOOK: Julius and the Watchmaker
3.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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