When Tom Scatterhorn's eccentric father disappears to the Far East in search of rare beetles, closely followed by his mother, Tom is left to spend Christmas with his uncle and aunt, keepers of the weird and wonderful Scatterhorn Museum. But don’t get too excited – because it's a dusty, dingy place, full of tatty stuffed animals and rickety cases of junk. Nobody really wants to visit it anymore, and it looks as if its days are numbered.
But when Tom comes to live there, he finds more to the museum than meets the eye. The animals may be ragged and moth-eaten but they have an incredible secret – a secret that originated when the stuffed animals were first made, a hundred years earlier. And then Tom discovers he can go right back to the time of their making. . . .
In an exciting adventure that threads in and out of time, from an Edwardian ice fair to the wastes of Mongolia to the jungles of India, Tom discovers that there is far more at stake than the fate of the museum. . . .
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Henry Chancellor is the author of the highly acclaimed Colditz: The Definitive History and James Bond: The Man and His World—The Official Companion to Ian Fleming’s Creation. He has made many documentaries for television, including Escape from Colditz which won sweeping praise and has been shown all over the world. He lives in England with his wife and children.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
A Strange Reception
‘What do you have in here; rocks, I suppose?’
It was three o’clock on a cold winter’s afternoon, and a small round man struggled around the back of a taxi with a battered blue duffel bag and heaved it onto the pavement.
‘Not exactly,’ replied the skinny blond boy, standing shivering in the wind in a thin coat.
‘Don’t tell me, there’s a few bricks in there too?’ wheezed the man, raising his eyebrows as he reached into his pocket for some notes. The boy smiled politely and braced himself against the buffeting wind. Even though it was only mid afternoon, the streetlights had already come on up and down the grey street, and the minicab driver unrolled the top of his steamed-up window just wide enough to slip out his hand for the money. He wasn’t going out in that; that was far too cold. That wind came straight from Siberia.
‘Cheers, mate,’ he said, taking the wad of notes and blowing noisily on his fingers, ‘have a good Christmas yourself.’ And away he sped through the puddles.
‘Right Tom, let’s get inside before we both freeze to death,’ wheezed the round man, and grabbing the duffel bag in both arms he tottered up the wide steps of the large, crumbling brick building behind him and disappeared through a small side door. Huge hailstones had started to fall, cracking hard against the stone steps, and Tom was just about to follow him inside when he caught the eye of two angry-looking stone dragons above the entrance. Between them they were holding a crumbling stone plaque that read:
The Scatterhorn Museum
Founded 1906 by Sir Henry Scatterhorn
Bequeathed to the people of Dragonport
God Save the King
Despite the hailstones and the icy wind whipping his face, Tom found himself smiling. Maybe it wasn’t going to be that bad after all. There couldn’t be many children who were about to spend their Christmas holidays in a museum that was named . . .
‘Tom Scatterhorn, get yourself in here right now before you turn to ice, boy!’
The voice boomed above the cracking hailstones and Tom suddenly remembered that his teeth were chattering. He scampered up the steps two at a time and ran inside.
‘So Mum’s taken off to Mongolia or some such place, has she?’
Tom nodded. He was now sitting in a small yellow kitchen at the back of the museum, with his fingers pressed onto the radiator. Slowly he could feel himself thawing out.
‘Good old Sam. Full of surprises.’
‘Well, let’s hope to goodness she finds him; it’s an awfully big place.’
‘She will find him,’ said Tom politely but firmly, ‘I know she will.’
Ever since his father had disappeared six months ago, and his mother had gone to look for him, this is what Tom had wanted more than anything else in the world.
‘Hmm.’ Aunt Melba poured the tea thoughtfully. ‘Well, let’s stay optimistic, shall we?’
Tom nodded, though his teeth were still chattering. He had to stay optimistic – he had no choice.Just as he had had no choice but to spend Christmas with his only other living relatives, Uncle Jos and Aunt Melba, on the other side of the country. They were the proud owners of the Scatterhorn Museum, and he had never met them before in his life.
‘Oh yes please,’ interrupted Uncle Jos, taking two.
‘Now just you wait, you great heffalump,’ snapped Melba, snatching one back and passing it to Tom.
‘This boy’s bound to be hungry; just look at the state of him.’
Jos crunched the biscuit noisily and peered over his spectacles at the skinny boy shivering on the other side of the table. Tom was eleven years old, tall for his age, but thin, with strikingly dark, piercing eyes. His hair was a wiry blond tangle that tumbled down over his forehead. He looked both young and strangely grown-up at the same time.
‘Just like his old dad,’ said Jos with a shrug. ‘He’s the spitting image of Sam.’
‘But thin as a whippet,’ added Melba with some concern. ‘Don’t your parents ever feed you, Tom?’
Tom looked across the table at the two strange looking people and all he could think about were his mother’s words as she had kissed him goodbye at the station that morning.
‘Just remember that Uncle Jos and Aunt Melba are a little bit different.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, they are older, and they’ve not had children of their own. They’re just a bit . . . different.’
‘Like . . . eccentric?’
‘No, not exactly,’ replied his mother, weighing her words carefully so as not to put Tom off, ‘just unusual, that’s all. They’ve spent a long time in that funny old place.’
Tom had wondered what ‘unusual’ meant as he watched the raindrops racing down the train windows. It could be unusual like his own parents – they scarcely counted as normal. But now that he had arrived he was beginning to see what his mother had meant.
‘Paste sandwich, Tom?’ wheezed Uncle Jos, holding a tiny plate of bread triangles out to him. ‘Go on, they’re the best: sardine.’
Uncle Jos was a round ball of a man, with red cheeks and a bald head that sprouted small clumps of hair in all directions. His most prominent feature were his eyebrows, which were as thick as hedges and met in the middle, hiding a pair of dark beady eyes that were constantly on the move. At the moment he was wearing two cardigans, one on top of the other, and his head was cocked slightly to one side like a dog listening to a public announcement.
‘Er . . . no thanks.’
‘No idea what you are missing, lad,’ said Uncle Jos, cramming another sandwich into his own mouth.
‘I think he might, Jos,’ clucked Melba disapprovingly. ‘Tom dear, do have some more tea. One can never have enough tea.’
If Uncle Jos was one extreme, Aunt Melba was quite the other. Instead of being short and round and rather jolly she was pale and slim and, with her hair cut in a pudding bowl like a medieval king, she looked rather severe. At this moment she was picking the crumbs off her plate with quick birdlike movements and placing them on the tip of her knee, where a long white rat with red eyes sat nibbling. This was Plankton, and he was having his tea too.
‘Plankton is the best mouser in town,’ cooed Melba, gently stroking his back.
‘Mouser?’ repeated Tom, who was sure that mousers were cats and definitely not rats.
‘Ah yes,’ winked Uncle Jos. ‘Didn’t you know mice are terrified of rats? Particularly white ones with red eyes. They meet Plankton in the dark holes in the skirting board and they think they’ve died and gone to hell.’
Jos picked up two jam tarts and wedged them beneath his huge black eyebrows. ‘He is the devil, you see, with big, red eyes! And he has come to punish them for all those naughty things they have done in their lives! Roah! Roah!’
Jos waved his stocky arms madly in the air like a weird little monster, and Tom stifled a laugh. The next moment Jos popped the jam tarts out of his eye sockets and winked.
‘So them naughty little critters turn tail and skedaddle. They never come back!’
‘Don’t you listen to it, Tom,’ said Melba with a smile. ‘But devil or no devil he’s a very fine rat, wouldn’t you like to hold him?’
And before Tom knew it Plankton was scrabbling about on his lap.
‘Er . . . thanks. I . . . er . . . ’ Tom had never been sure about rats, and Plankton, who smelled slightly of straw, did not change his mind.
‘I think he likes you,’ cooed Melba.
‘So . . . er . . . is this a . . . er . . . busy time of year for the museum?’ said Tom, trying hard to ignore Plankton’s scabby white claws investigating the pocket that happened to contain his last sherbet lemon.
‘Oh yes lad, it’s all go all the time,’ Jos replied breezily, ‘it never stops here, ever. Melba and I run this ship entirely on our own. Why, only last week we had . . . erm . . . who did we have, Melba?’
‘The school party from St Denis’s cancelled on Monday,’ she said, feeding Plankton a crumb.
‘Yes, ah, it’s a wee bit cold for the little ones this time of year,’ explained Jos. ‘But those old folks from the Dragonport Historical Society came on Tuesday and they definitely enjoyed it–’
‘Except for the two who swore blind they would never come again.’
‘Why was that?’ asked Tom.
‘Scared,’ replied Uncle Jos quickly. ‘We have to keep it very dark in there, you see. Some of the old dears’ hearts aren’t up to it.’
‘Three people on Wednesday.’
Jos harrumphed loudly.
‘You see, my dear, I just don’t think you’re counting properly. It was definitely more than that–’
‘Well, there was one old fellow who slipped in and out without paying at all.’
‘Leaky Logan?’ exclaimed Jos. ‘Not him again!’
‘He refused to pay because he says you owe him so much money for fixing the boiler that he deserves a free ticket in here for the rest of his life,’ said Melba pointedly.
‘Hagfish!’ muttered Uncle Jos.
‘Thursday, Friday, no one at all,’ Melba went on, and with a sm...
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Book Description Doubleday Canada, 2008. Book Condition: Good. Former Library book. Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. Bookseller Inventory # GRP26647308
Book Description Doubleday Canada, 2008. Book Condition: Good. Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. Bookseller Inventory # GRP71553204
Book Description Doubleday Canada, 2008. Book Condition: Fair. Former Library book. Shows definite wear, and perhaps considerable marking on inside. Bookseller Inventory # GRP78855058
Book Description Doubleday Canada, 2008. Book Condition: Good. Ships from Reno, NV. Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. Bookseller Inventory # GRP90358186
Book Description Doubleday Canada, 2008. Book Condition: Very Good. Ships from Reno, NV. Former Library book. Great condition for a used book! Minimal wear. Bookseller Inventory # GRP97194923
Book Description Doubleday Canada, 2008. Hardcover. Book Condition: Used: Good. Bookseller Inventory # SONG0385665229