Authors: Lissa Evans
I have to go away, and I may not be able to get back. If I don’t return, then my workshop and all it contains is yours if you can find it—and if you can find it, then you’re the right sort of boy to have it.
Your uncle Tony
P.S. Start in the telephone booth on Main Street.
FOR MY GIRLS. —L.E.
STERLING CHILDREN’S BOOKS and the distinctive Sterling Children’s Books logo are trademarks of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
© 2012 by Lissa Evans
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher.
ISBN 978-1-4027-9806-1 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-1-4027-9845-0 (ebook)
Originally published in 2011 in Great Britain as
Small Change for Stuart
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Stuart Horten was small for his age—the smallest boy in his grade at school—and both his parents were very tall, which meant that when he stood next to them he looked about the size of an ant.
As well as being tall and quite old (especially his father), his parents were extremely clever people. But clever people aren’t always sensible. A sensible person would never give their child a name that could be written down as
. A sensible person would realize that anyone called S. Horten would instantly be nicknamed “Shorten,” even by his friends. And Stuart had quite a lot of friends. He also had a bike with eight gears, a yard with a tree house and a large and muddy pond. Life was pretty good.
Anyway, this whole story—this unexpected, strange, dangerous story of Great-Uncle Tony’s lost legacy—began when Stuart’s mother was offered a new job. She was a doctor (not the sort who stitches up bleeding wounds but the sort who peers down a microscope) and the new job was in a hospital a hundred miles from home, which was too far for her to travel to every day.
“I could live there during the week,” she said, “but I’d hate it. I’d miss you both too much.”
So that was that
, thought Stuart.
Life went on as normal for a day or two, and then Stuart’s father, who was a writer (not of films or of bestselling books, but of difficult crosswords), came up with an awful suggestion.
“We could rent this house out for a year,” he said quite casually to Stuart’s mother, as if leaving the town in which Stuart had lived for his whole life was something quite minor. “We could move closer to your new hospital and see if we like it.”
won’t like it,” said Stuart.
His father took out a road map of England and began to trace his finger northward. “Well I never,” he said, his finger halting at a black smudge. He shook his head wonderingly. “I hadn’t realized that the hospital was so close to Beeton. That’s the town where I was born—I haven’t been back in well over forty years. We could go and live there. It’s quite pleasant.”
“Oh, now that would be interesting for Stuart,” said his mother.
“No, it wouldn’t,” said Stuart.
They didn’t listen to him. At the end of the school year, they packed up and moved to Beeton, taking Stuart with them, and though they were clever people, being clever isn’t the same as being sensible. A sensible person would know that if you
to move, then the worst possible time to move would be at the start of summer. Because when you arrived at the new house you wouldn’t know any other children, and you’d have no chance to meet any until school started again in the autumn.
And—to make it worse—the new house (20 Beech Road) was small and boring and looked just like all the other houses on the street, and on the next street, and on the street after that. It was nowhere near a playground or a swimming pool. There was no front yard, and the backyard consisted of a square of grass surrounded by a fence that was slightly too high for Stuart to see over.
On the first day after the move, Stuart shoved his clothes and games into closets, and flattened out the giant cardboard boxes into which they’d been packed.
On the second day, there was nothing to do. Nothing, nothing, nothing.
Which is why, when his father said, “Ah, there you are. I was just thinking of going for a brief perambulation. Would you like to come too?” Stuart answered, “Oh, all right, then.”
By “brief perambulation,” his father meant a short walk. That was the way he talked
all the time
, and he always spoke in a loud, clear voice, so that people in the street turned and stared at him.
Normally Stuart would rather have poured cold gravy over himself than go for a walk with his father. Instead, on this dullest of days he accompanied him out of the front door and went left along Beech Road, right along Oak Avenue, and left into Chestnut Close.
“When I was a youngster,” his father told him as they walked, “there weren’t any houses in this part of Beeton at all. This whole area was sylvan.”
mean?” asked Stuart.
“Wooded. And there was a stream running through the middle of it.”
“Did you light fires?”
“Beg your pardon?” said his father, who was so much taller than Stuart that he sometimes had to bend almost in half in order to hear him.
Stuart raised his voice. “
Did you light fires?
Did you dam the stream? Did you make a swing?”
His father shook his head. “No,” he said. “I was never very keen on that sort of thing. I was too busy inventing crosswords.”
They walked in silence along Hawthorn Avenue.
“Aha!” said his father as they passed an ancient red telephone booth and turned the corner into a street of shops. “Now, this is the older bit of the town. I seem to remember that the entrance to the family business used to be just along here.”
He halted at a narrow passageway, but there was nothing to see apart from a pair of high-tech metal gates, firmly shut. “It’s long gone, of course,” said his father. “Though the name’s still discernible.” He pointed to a cast-iron arch that curved above the gates. A scattering of painted letters was just about visible.
“Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms,” said Stuart after a lot of thought. He turned to his father. “What sort of mechanisms?”
“Locks and safes, originally, and then the business diversified into coin-operated machinery. Though by the time the factory was conflagrated by an incendiary I believe it was making armaments.”