- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Nine-year-old Fergus Crane's life is filled with classes on the school ship Betty Jeanne, interesting neighbors, and helping with his mother's work until a mysterious box flies into his window and leads him toward adventure.
“A whirlwind adventure: five stars.”—www.cool-reads.co.uk
“Brilliantly inventive.”—Independent on Sunday (U.K.)
“Great fun to read aloud.”—The Scotsman (U.K.)
Your homework for tonight, me hearties...erm...I mean, children,’ said Mr Spicer, absentmindedly playing with the large gold hoop that dangled from his left ear, ‘is to read chapter thirteen of Practical Pot-holing for Beginners.’
The class gave a low groan.
Outside, seagulls flapped noisily round the returning fishing boats, while the coal barges moored to the quayside bobbed up and down on the light swell. Inside, the classroom of the school ship Betty-Jeanne was hot and stuffy and full of slowly nodding heads.
Will another one come tonight? Fergus Crane was wondering sleepily. And if it does, will I be able to stay awake long enough to find out?
The gently swaying classroom became hotter and stuffier than ever. Fergus’s eyelids grew heavy. His eyes closed and . . .
The shrill sound of the bosun’s whistle echoed down the corridors, announcing the end of school. Fergus’s eyes snapped open. It was four o’clock. At last! He was out of his chair and away before the whistle had even faded.
He didn’t hear Mr Spicer telling the class that there’d be a test tomorrow; nor his friends calling their goodbyes; nor even Bolivia, the headmaster’s parrot, squawking something at him as he ran down the gangplank. All Fergus could think about was getting home and waiting at his bedroom window for midnight.
Fergus headed off along the canal. The heavy Practical Pot-holing for Beginners and his empty lunchbox bounced about inside the backpack on his shoulders; his shoes clattered on the cobblestones.
At the tall,pointing statue of General Montmorency, he turned left, and headed up into the labyrinth of narrow alleys. He hurried through square after familiar square, past fountains and sculptures, flower-stalls and candy-booths and small, candle-lit shops selling intricately carved wooden figures.
Turning right at Old Mother Bleeny’s bagel-stand, Fergus emerged onto the bustling Boulevard Archduke Ferdinand, with its tall, slightly shabby buildings.
Wall-eyed Ned was in his usual spot in front of the Archduke Ferdinand theatre. Head down, he was marching back and forth, the sandwich-board strapped to his body advertising the new show in town. This month it was a musical farce entitled The Cycling Fish.
‘Afternoon, Ned,’ Fergus called.
‘Afternoon, Fergus,’ Ned replied without looking up.
Further along the road, the air swirled with mournful music. Fergus smiled at old Antonio the hurdy-gurdy man, with his chestful of medals and curling moustache. His monkey, Pepe – dressed in a suit of red and yellow satin – jumped down from the wheezing barrel-organ and scampered towards Fergus. It seized the tasselled fez from its head, held it out upside-down and let out a little screech.
Fergus pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket, carefully unfolded it and presented an almond macaroon to the monkey.
‘Bless you, my boy,’ said Antonio and, for a moment, as Fergus continued, the slow mournful music speeded up.
He passed familiar shops. Madame Aimee’s Wedding Gowns. H.H. Luscombe’s Umbrellas. Le Café Rondel. Joshua Berwick: Bespoke Tailor . . . And as he hurried by, familiar faces appeared at the windows and waved or nodded. Everyone knew Fergus.
Hannibal Luscombe saluted him with one of his umbrellas. Katrina – the waitress in Le Café Rondel – blew him a kiss. And, as he passed Karpf, the jeweller’s, old Miss Wittering held up a half-eaten walnut eclair and winked.
Yes, everyone knew Fergus – he was Lucia Crane’s boy, who sometimes helped his mother at Beiderbecker’s cake counter. When they saw his face, Fergus’s neighbours thought of glass counters full of cream-horns, or chocolate macaroons, or strawberry-slices, or best of all,
Archduke Ferdinand’s Classic Florentines . . . Little wonder they always smiled.
At last, Fergus came to Beiderbecker’s Bakery itself. Boris Beiderbecker was a short, fat man with a large ginger moustache. He baked the bread – everything from plaited sourdough rye to malted wholemeal with a poppy-seed crust. Mrs Crane ran the cake counter.
Fergus pressed his nose against the window and peered through the displays of his mother’s walnut eclairs and almond meringues at the counter. Sometimes she worked at the till in the afternoon. But not today. Apart from young Lucy, who was serving an old woman with a fat dachshund, the shop was empty.
Fergus turned away and headed for the doorway to the right of the shop. There was an arched plaque above the entrance bearing the words Archduke Ferdinand Apartments. Fergus thrust the larger of his two keys into the lock, put his shoulder to the heavy wooden door and shoved. The door opened with a creak and a sigh, and Fergus stepped inside.
The hallway was cool and fresh and, as the door shut behind him with a soft click, Fergus was struck by a heavy silence that seemed to press at his inner ear. It was like being under water. The next instant, he was struck by something else.
A smell. A delicious smell. The most wonderfully aromatic fragrance in the whole world!
‘Florentines,’ Fergus murmured.
Mrs Crane baked non-stop throughout the day. Croissants for the early-morning trade; cakes and pastries for lunchtime; scones, buns and multi-layered gateaux in the afternoon. But it was not croissants that Fergus could smell, nor warm spicy currant-buns . . . This was the unmistakable nutty, chocolatey, caramelly smell of the most delicious cakes ever created.
‘Flo-ren-tines,’ Fergus whispered slowly. Just the name in his mouth was enough to make his stomach gurgle with anticipation.
He closed his eyes.
He could see them floating before him – small roundels of toasted nuts, plump dried fruit, candy peel and glacé-cherries, all bound together with sweet, buttery toffee and set on a base of dark, velvety chocolate. He could almost taste them.
Fergus guessed that his mother must have been asked to stay late in the bakery kitchen to complete a special order.
He made his way across the marble hallway, past the row of metal letter boxes, their owners’ names on the front of each little locked door. Gumm. Bigsby-Clutterbuck. Squeegie. Beecham. Mme Lavinia. Fassbinder. Crane . . .
Fergus stopped at the last letter box. A large parcel sat beside it, addressed to Mrs L. Crane. On one side was a sticky label with a picture of three penguins and the words,
The Fateful Voyage Trading Co. Fergus bent down and picked it up with a sigh. He wasn’t the only one with homework. His mother was taking on more and more, just to make ends meet. Thank goodness the school ship Betty-Jeanne had offered him a free scholarship, Fergus thought, as he climbed the stairs.
It spared his mother the worry of school fees on top of everything else.
Taking them two at a time, Fergus hurried up the steep, marble stairs, pausing at the landings at the top of every second flight to catch his breath. There were two high-ceilinged apartments leading off each landing, one to the left and one to the right. Beside each door was a name-plaque which announced the identity of the person who lived inside. Some of the names were written by hand, some of them were printed.
On the first floor, there was Miss Jemima Gumm, who kept canaries, and Major and Mrs Bartholomew Bigsby-Clutterbuck and their Persian cat, Prince Caspian; Arturo Squeegie, who wore a black toupee and his neighbour, Miss Eugenie Beecham, the famous actress, lived above them on the second floor, while Madame Lavinia, a retired piano-teacher, and Dr Fassbinder, who taught at the Montmorency Academy, each had an apartment up on the third.
Half-way up the final flight of stairs, Fergus heard a sound behind him. He turned and looked back, to see Dr Fassbinder emerging from his apartment, dressed in a stiff collar and black bow-tie. In one white-gloved hand he was holding two tickets to The Cycling Fish; in the other, his pocket watch.
‘Botheration,’ he mut- tered as he checked the time. ‘Late again.’ He put the two tickets in his waistcoat, and the watch in the inside pocket of his coat. ‘I do hope I haven’t missed the beginning.’ And with that, he hurried off down the stairs, the steel-tipped heels and toes of his shoes clipping and clopping, quieter and quieter, as he went.
Fergus smiled to himself. Dr Fassbinder was always late for something.
On the fourth-floor landing, Fergus came at last to his own front door. It was smaller and scruffier than the others, and badly needed a coat of paint. The names, Lucia and Fergus Crane, were written in black ink on yellowed card below the bell. Fergus rummaged in his pocket for his keys.
Up here, directly beneath the sloping roof, there was room for only one rather small apartment. But as far as Fergus was concerned, it was the nicest, cosiest, snuggest apartment of them all – his mother had seen to that. She had the knack of taking something old or broken or unwanted and making it new again, with just a lick of paint or a carefully placed cushion or rug.
‘If Archduke Ferdinand himself ever came to visit,’ he used to tell his mother, ‘then ours would be the apartment he would like the most.’
Fergus selected the smaller of his two keys and opened the door. A blast of air struck him in the face; it was deliciously warm after the chilly stairwell, and the wonderful, mouth-watering smell of Florentines which had accompanied him up the stairs abruptly grew more intense than ever.
Fergus had been wrong. His mother wasn’t working late at Beiderbecker’s at all; she was home early and baking him a batch of Florentines all of his own. And he knew what that meant.
‘Is that you, Fergus?’ Mrs Crane’s voice floated out from the sitting-room. ‘Good day at school?’
‘Fine,’ Fergus called back. ‘Got some homework, though.’ He tossed his backpack into the corner, crossed the hall and pushed the sitting-room door open. ‘And so have you, by the look of it.’ He held out the parcel.
His mother looked up as Fergus entered the room, pushed the strands of hair which had escaped from her bun away from her face and smiled a little sheepishly.
‘Another one already,’ she said. ‘I hope it’s as easy as the last batch. The money certainly comes in useful.’
Fergus nodded, and handed the parcel to his mother. He knew that the rent on the apartment was high; he knew that the wages Mr Beiderbecker paid were low. The extra work Mrs Crane took on meant they could just about afford all the basics, but there was precious little money left over. Fergus’s jumper was already too small for him, and he hadn’t yet told his mother about the hole in his right shoe.
Mrs Crane opened the parcel and a cascade of tiny paper horses tumbled out onto the floor, followed by dozens of paper wings and a printed note.
Dear Valued Worker, Mrs Crane read, smiling. Please fix the wings to the horses by folding the tabs as instructed. No glue or paper-clips needed.
Good luck and very best wishes, Finn, Bill and Jackson;
Vice-Presidents, The Fateful Voyage Trading Co.
There was a P.S. Pre-payment enclosed.
‘Look!’ Mrs Crane cried, holding up a brightly coloured money-order. ‘They’ve paid me already, and it’s for . . . Oh, Fergus! Now I can afford to buy you a jumper and a new pair of shoes! I know you need some.’
‘I like this jumper,’ said Fergus, tugging the sleeves down to his wrists. ‘And it’s only a small hole. Honest.’
‘You’re a good boy,’ said Mrs Crane, smiling, and added, ‘I’ve baked you something special for tea.’
‘You have?’ said Fergus, feigning surprise. ‘What?’
‘Guess,’ she said.
Fergus made a great show of closing his eyes, tilting his head back and breathing in deeply. ‘It’s nutty,’ he whispered.
‘Yes,’ said his mother.
‘Chocolatey . . .’
‘Caramelly.’ He gasped. His eyes snapped opened. ‘It’s not . . . is it? Archduke Ferdinand’s Florentines?’
‘It is!’ said Mrs Crane gleefully. ‘A special batch, Fergus. Just for you. My best boy.’ She pushed back the strand of hair which had come loose again, and looked at him lovingly. ‘They were always your father’s favourites,’ she added. Her gaze strayed over to the framed photograph on the sideboard.
Fergus looked too, and his eyes fell upon the familiar picture of the father he’d never known – a picture he’d looked at a thousand times before, studying every detail, looking for clues . . .
Marcus Crane was dressed in a naval uniform, with medals, gold buttons and tasselled epaulettes decorating the jacket, piping down his knife-edge trousers and a heavy peaked cap tipped at a jaunty angle on his head. At his belt, there hung a ceremonial sword on one side and a pistol on the other. He might have looked severe if it hadn’t been for the look on his face – which was the image of cheeky-grinned, sparkly-eyed mischief.
Over the years, Fergus had asked his mother endless questions about the mysterious figure in the photograph, but all she would ever say was that he’d left on a voyage just before he, Fergus, had been born, and had never returned.
‘I asked him not to go,’ she would say. ‘I begged him, but it was no use . . .’
And then she would begin to cry. Since Fergus didn’t like to see his mother cry, he tried not to ask her too many questions – but sometimes he just couldn’t help himself.
Posted March 28, 2013
Two figures walked up the hill in the rising sunlight. One is tall, and slender, with golden hair and pointed ears. The other is short, and burly. He has thick ginger hair and a braided beard. They stop and look around at the top of the mountain.
"I do hope you know where you've got us this time." The elf says to the dwarf.
"Nonsense!" The dwarf snorts, "Of course I do! Just past the trees and over the water and.." he shakes his head, "I do wish hobbits gave better directions!"
The elf shakes his head.
"It's too late for that now. I think I see the trees they were talking about." He gestures foward. Far away, to the west, he sees a forest that looks dark, and ominous.
"I think, perhaps, you may not want to be using your axe. This forest has an mind of it's own."
"What forest? Curse your elven eyes! I can't see any forests!" The dwarf grumbles.
"Come along, then. With luck, we should make it to Bag End by nightfall." With that, the elf sets off again in the direction of the forest, the dwarf following after him, grumbling about forests and elven eyes and the like.
Posted August 15, 2011
Fergus Crane is a very brave little boy. Who goes on exciting adventures. I would recomend this book to anyone who is looking for an easy read. This book is short and simple but it is hyesterical. My mum even read it and liked it!! So what does that tell you? If you read it I hope that you like it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 31, 2006
When I picked out this book at the library, I wasn't sure if I would like it or not. But as soon as I got it home and started to read it, I thought, WOW. How can such a fictional book about a young boy who goes off on a far-flung adventure, be so interesting.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.