Gordon's latest Adventure series is huge! It's massive! It's bigger than big! It's Titanic! No, really, it is. Titanic is set aboard the Titanic, oddly enough, on it's maiden voyage. It tells the story of the unsinkable ship that sank, of course, but it tells it through the (fictional) lives of several kids on board the ship. The writing is enjoyable, and the setting is interesting. The characters come to life. This series is well worth the reading. At this point I have been told all three books have been released, so there is no reason not to jump on in and enjoy!
From the Book:
RMS CARPATHIA – Monday, April 15th , 1912, 9:30 a.m.
They stood four deep on the afterdeck of the Carpathia , chilled to the bone, staring out at nothing.
Dark water, light swells – no evidence that barely seven hours before, the largest and most magnificent ship the world had ever seen had sailed here in all her glory. The truth was nearly impossible to believe, perhaps the trick of an evil magician. The unsinkable RMS Titanic lay at the bottom of the sea, along with everyone who sailed in her, save the 706 souls rescued and now aboard the Carpathia .
The cry energized the exhausted throng. A flash of color among the endless waves. A survivor?
And then the swell turned over the item that stirred their frozen hearts with momentary hope. A deck chair. Nothing more.
How could this be? The Titanic was more than a steamship. She was a floating city, a sixth of a mile in length, and ninety feet abeam, 66,000 tons gross displacement. Was this piece of flotsam all that was left? How could so much have become so little?
A uniformed steward – no more than seventeen years old – tried to take the arm of a lady who was shivering in the folds of a Cunard Line blanket.
“There's tea and soup below, ma'am. Please come out of this cold and wind.”
She shook him off, mindless of his attempted kindness. “Go away. We have just seen our husbands drown.”
The young seaman bit his tongue. She would probably take no comfort in the reality. Of the 1517 passengers and crew lost in this tragedy, very few lives had been snuffed out by drowning. The sea that had swallowed their ship was 28 degrees Fahrenheit, well below the freezing point of fresh water. What the victims had suffered was unimaginable, as if their entire bodies had been suddenly packed in ice. Shock would have set in after barely sixty seconds. Next, unconsciousness, followed swiftly by death. No human could survive more than a few minutes in water that was as cold as the ice that ripped open the belly of the great ship.
That ice was very much in evidence around the Carpathia . The horizon was dotted with distant bergs, and, to the north, pack ice.
Many ships had encountered ice on the north Atlantic crossing the previous night. All but one had survived. The greatest of them all.
The unsinkable Titanic .
BELFAST – Wednesday, March 27, 1912 – 2:12 pm
The punch struck Paddy square in the jaw, rattling his teeth. It hurt more than he expected – more than it needed to hurt. He wasn't even acting when he staggered backwards into the man in the hounds-tooth check cloak.
A slim white hand slipped out of the boy's ragged sleeve and found its way into the coat's patch pocket. It emerged a split second later, the small fingers deftly clutching a gold money clip fat with banknotes. That too disappeared, flicked under his threadbare jacket.
The man roughly shoved him away, growling, “Keep your brawling from decent people, boy!”
Paddy suppressed a grin. He always enjoyed it when the mark helped out by sending him off with the stolen purse. By the time the rich fool realized he'd been robbed, Paddy would be far away, counting the windfall.
All that remained was to finish the street theater that had provided cover for the theft. He lunged at Daniel, burying his fist in his partner's stomach – revenge for that haymaker to the jaw.
“I'll do you for that!” Daniel wheezed.
Then, like so many times before, Paddy fled the scene, Daniel in hot pursuit, bellowing threats. The crowd parted to let them go, as if the passersby were their accomplices, and the horse-drawn buggies and electric trolleys had been placed there as obstacles to aid their escape.
The pair kept running, dashing down side streets and through the back lanes they knew so well. At last, they collapsed against each other, laughing and celebrating their success.
“Curse your evil heart, Daniel Sullivan! Were you trying to break my jaw? I'll be black and blue for a week, thanks to you!”
“It can only make you handsomer,” Daniel chortled, rubbing his stomach. “You talk like you didn't just knock the breath out of me. If I can't run away, who are you going to start your next dust-up with? Yourself?”
“To listen to your whining,” Paddy bantered, “you'd think I couldn't get along without you. With you clapped up in jail, this fat purse would be all mine.” He took out the money clip and the two examined their prize.
Daniel's eyes bulged. “I didn't know the Prince of Wales was walking down Victoria Street!”
Paddy nodded. “This is a fortune!”
They fell silent, counting the haul over and over again. They were accustomed to worn purses containing a few meager coins. But the clip held twelve crisp bank notes worth one pound sterling each. This was enough money to replace their rags with warm clothing and proper shoes. It would keep their always-empty bellies full for a long time.
Paddy caught his breath first. “If I'd known about this, I'd have had his watch, too! And maybe the gold out of his teeth!”
At fifteen, Daniel was a year older and more worldly. “We'll have no easy time spending these,” he predicted. “When the likes of us hands over a brand-new banknote, there's not a shopkeeper in Belfast who won't know we stole it.”
That wasn't what Paddy wanted to hear. “Are you saying we fell on a king's ransom, and it's worthless to us? Maybe you're afraid to spend it, but I'm not.”
Daniel tried to be patient. “Think, Patrick. What kind of man likes his money in paper notes printed by a bank? Someone who's got so much of it he'd need a barrow just to carry the silver. When you spy your reflection in a window, do you see that person?”
Paddy was stubborn. “I'm going to be that person someday, so this will be good practice.”
Daniel threw his hands up. “I'm just saying be careful. And if you had half the brains God gave geese, you'd know it.”
They argued often, but never with lasting effect. Despite all their insults and bickering, Paddy Burns and Daniel Sullivan had been closer than brothers since the day they'd met. It was a bond forged by friendship, but also by something darker. Daniel was an orphan who had fled the life of a chimney sweep's climbing boy. Paddy had walked sixty-seven miles to Belfast after the last whiskey-driven beating he intended to endure from his stepfather. There was no question that each was all the other had in the world.
They stashed the money in their secret hiding place behind a loose brick in an ancient wall – “There are pickpockets and footpads out there,” Paddy reminded his friend. “Look what happened to the gentleman who used to own all this lovely money.”
Then they headed back toward the most crowded part of the city – Queens Island, home of Harland and Wolff, the largest shipyard in the world. It was a hub of activity, with more than fifteen thousand employees working shifts around the clock. All Belfast seemed to orbit this center. It was a pickpocket's dream.
The boys watched from across the road as a trolley let off dozens of passengers. Paddy's eyes settled on a short squat man whose overcoat bulged where a purse might be carried.
Daniel read his friend's mind. “No, not him. Look how down-at-the-heel his boots are. He needs the money.”
The two had an informal agreement never to make a victim of a poor man – even though they themselves were always much, much poorer. Their unfortunate situation forced them to live by their wits and steal to survive. But there was a line they would not cross, knowing that they were not the only hungry youngsters in Belfast. Besides, there were plenty of peacocks, plump in the pocket, just waiting to be plucked.
And there's one right now, thought Paddy.
The gentleman stepping down from the hansom cab wasn't dressed so differently from the other men on the street – in tweed coat, suit, and bowler hat. Yet every article seemed pressed and perfect, down to the elegant knot of his silk cravat. There was a quiet confidence to his bearing, a sureness to his step. And, Paddy guessed, a fullness to the purse concealed by his overcoat.
With an almost imperceptible signal to his friend, he fell in line behind the new mark, heading toward the shipyard gate.
“No!” rasped Daniel, rushing to keep pace. “Don't you know who that is?”
Paddy nodded vigorously. “A proper swell who can well afford to part with a few coins for our favorite charity.”
“That's Mr. Thomas Andrews, the designer of the Titanic !”
Paddy was impressed. The name Thomas Andrews meant nothing to him. But a fellow had to be deaf and blind not to know about the Titanic , the world's greatest ocean liner, under construction right here at Harland and Wolff. Those four towering smokestacks dominated the Belfast landscape. There was hardly a spot in the city where they couldn't be seen.
Paddy and Daniel had first met in the enormous crowd that had gathered to watch the launch from dry-dock a year earlier. Paddy had been there to help himself to a purse or two. But as he watched the massive hull sliding down the ramp and into the water of Belfast harbor, he'd forgotten the emptiness in his pockets and his stomach. It – she – Daniel constantly corrected him that ships were always she – was a dazzling sight.
The Titanic had only grown more magnificent as she lay in her slip to be fully outfitted. It was said that neither a millionaire's mansion nor a king's palace was more lavishly appointed than this mistress of the sea.
And, Paddy reminded himself, had it not been for the Titanic , he would not have tried to pick Daniel's pocket on that launch day. Then he would have been alone, or perhaps even dead. So he owed Mr. Thomas Andrews that much.
Just before the main gate, Andrews suddenly wheeled on them. “If you two young gentlemen have your eyes on my purse, you'd best know that I'll not part with it easily.”
It was the first time that anyone had referred to Paddy Burns as a gentlemen, and possibly the last time anyone ever would.
“Mr. Andrews, sir –” Daniel was nervously worshipful “– is it true that the fourth smokestack is a fake?”
The shipbuilder looked surprised, and then he smiled. “Does the heart of an engineer beat inside that thin chest? Wherever did you hear about that?”
Paddy spoke up. “Daniel reads, Mr. Andrews. He even taught me a little.” His friend's interest in books and newspapers had bewildered Paddy at first. Why risk arrest to steal something that can't put food in your belly? Now he saw that Daniel's passion for reading was a hunger just as urgent as an empty stomach. Paddy didn't understand it – not yet, anyway. But he knew it to be true.
“Impressive,” Andrews approved. “Well, boys, the fourth smokestack is not connected to the boilers, but you could hardly call it a fake. It provides ventilation. And, of course, it is a recognizable feature of both the Titanic and her sister ship, the Olympic .”
Daniel's thin pale face was almost alight with interest. “And she's truly unsinkable?”
The shipbuilder chuckled. “Anything made of metal has the potential to sink. But see if you can understand this: Titanic 's hull is divided into sixteen compartments. At the touch of a single button on the bridge, the captain can close watertight doors, sealing those compartments from one another.” He paused. “She can remain afloat with any four of those sixteen compartments flooded. It's safe to say that no one can envision an accident that would do more damage to her than that.”
“I can!” Daniel exclaimed eagerly.
Andrews's eyes widened. “Do tell.”
“Well, I – I don't know it right now, sir,” Daniel stammered in embarrassment. “But if you'll give me a little time, I'm sure something will occur to me.”
The shipbuilder seemed amused, but also intrigued. “It might at that,” he agreed with a smile. “And if it does, I should be very interested to hear it.”
“He can do it, too!” Paddy put in. “Daniel's really smart!”
Andrews's smile grew wider. “Then I shall direct my staff that if a Master Daniel and companion should come calling, they are to be brought to me at once.”
The guard at the gate blocked the boys' way. “Be off, you two! And stop bothering Mr. Andrews!”
The shipbuilder made a point of shaking both boys' grubby hands. “It's all right, Joseph. We were discussing business.” He tipped his bowler hat to them. “Gentlemen. I trust we'll meet again.” And he disappeared into the bustling yard.
Paddy and Daniel stood there long after he was gone, astonished that such a great man had treated two street lads with kindness and respect.
LONDON – Friday, March 29, 1912 – 11:45 a.m.
Piccadilly Circus was always one of the busiest areas of London. But today, busy was an inadequate description. Hundreds of horse-drawn carriages and automobiles powered by gasoline, steam, and electric motors were locked at a standstill in the roundabout. Klaxons honked, bells rang, and angry drivers and coachmen bellowed their frustrations at top volume. The traffic extended up the five main streets that fed the circle, especially choking crowded Regent Street. The cacophony of protest grew louder and louder. No one was going anywhere.
The cause of this huge disruption to London life was perched on the pedestal of the statue of Eros at the center of the roundabout. Mrs. Amelia Bronson of Boston, Massachusetts, the famous American suffragist, was holding a rally in the place where she knew it would draw the most attention. Her strident voice, directed by a large cone megaphone, rose above the general din.
“ Votes for women! ” she thundered, provoking a chant from the mass of female humanity, resplendent in purple, white, and green, the colors of their movement.
“ Votes for women! ” they shouted back, making the air ring with their demand.
“Move out of the road, you shameless baggage!” bellowed a lorry driver.
Other cries echoed his sentiments, their words not so polite. London saw its share of political activism for a wide variety of causes. But not from women, who were expected to be obedient and demure. The “suffragettes” were considered unfeminine, rebellious, and even immoral. The crowd was growing ugly.
Fourteen-year-old Sophie Bronson reached up and tugged at the hem of her mother's dress. “Mother –” she said in a low voice. And was ignored. “Mother –” A little louder.
“Not now, Sophie. Things are escalating.”
“I know they are,” her daughter complained. “This isn't like Boston or Hartford or Providence. You can feel the rage in the air!”
“That rage is the tool men use to cling to an outmoded system where half the population is kept down as second-class citizens!”
“Mother, you know as well as I do that most of this rage is from people who only wish to get on their way past Piccadilly Circus.”
Sudden sharp whistle blasts bit into the chill air.
“Here come the police!” Sophie exclaimed. “You're going to be arrested again!”
“I'm counting on it,” Amelia Bronson beamed. “I didn't journey all the way to England to not make the papers!”
Sophie groaned. “Then everything they say about you will be true. You really are a radical foreign agitator.”
“I am what I need to be for the good of our movement,” was her stalwart reply.
And then the Bobbies were upon the throng – dozens of them, arresting the women en masse, shouting and manhandling them roughly. The constables surged through the crowd, shoving the protestors out of the way in their zeal to reach the ringleader on the statue.
Nor was Amelia Bronson reluctant to face the minions of the law. She jumped down from the pedestal, held her arms out in front of her, and declared, “Go ahead, clap me in irons! Show the world and your own wife and mother how you hate women!”
“Got nothing against women, mum,” said one constable in a strained voice. “It's American troublemakers what gives me a problem.”
He made to shackle her wrists, and a large Englishwoman ripped off his helmet by the chinstrap and began beating him with it. The constable wheeled on her and brought his truncheon down on the top of her head.
Sophie had resolved to stay out of the fray. Back at home in Boston, her father had assigned her such duties as keeping her mother out of prison and bailing her out of jail. But when Sophie saw the blood running down the face of the suffragist who had tried to defend Amelia Bronson, a red haze descended over her vision. She attacked the constable, leaping onto his back and wrapping her arms around his head.
Later, in the horse-drawn paddy wagon, Sophie was forced to endure the double humiliation of criticism from her mother as the prisoners all sat chained together by the ankles.
“Sophie, I'm very disappointed in you. You know better than this.”
Sophie stared at her mother. “You were arrested too!”
“That was necessary for us to get the publicity we require for our movement,” Amelia Bronson lectured. “It was a calculated decision made long before that policeman arrived on the scene. What you did was dangerous and unnecessary. It added nothing to the cause. And it will be very difficult for you to post my bond when you too are in a cell.”
Sophie shut her eyes and held her tongue. To the rhythm of the hoof-beats on the cobblestones, she counted the days until April 10 th , when she would finally get her mother out of England. She could never have imagined how difficult it would be to keep Amelia Bronson free of trouble without Father on hand.
She sighed. The only thing that kept her going was the anticipation of the exciting trip home. In less than two weeks, they would be sailing on the newest, largest, and most spectacular ship in the world, the RMS Titanic .
SOUTHAMPTON – Sunday, March 31, 1912 – 9:40 a.m.
Posters of the Titanic adorned all four walls in the offices of the White Star Line – every conceivable image from photographs of the shipbuilding process, through artists' renditions of glorious ballrooms and dining saloons, to advertisements boasting of the luxury brand of soap used in the first class water closets.
With the maiden voyage a scant ten days away, the place hummed with activity. Last minute passengers thronged the third-class ticket desk, and a chatter of different European languages filled the air, as foreigners struggled to make themselves understood.
At the opposite end of the building, White Star officials were hiring throngs of waiters, stewards, maids, and laundry and kitchen workers. The Titanic offered features that had never been dreamed of on other ships. Employees were required to perform dozens of onboard functions, like trainers for the gymnasium, and attendants for the swimming pool and Turkish bath. When the great ship set sail on April 10 th , she would carry nearly nine hundred crew members, most of whom would have nothing to do with the nautical operation of a ship.
One visitor, though, had business completely unrelated to the pride of the White Star line. He was the youngest person in the office, thin and round-shouldered, practically swimming in his worn overcoat with the patched elbows and frayed cuffs.
Fifteen-year-old Alfie Huggins stood at the paymaster's wicket with his certificate of birth unfolded on the counter.
“According to company records,” said the clerk, looking down at him through thick glasses perched on the end of his nose, “your father's pay goes to –” He squinted at the ledger in front of him “– Sarah Huggins.”
“That's my ma,” Alfie explained, pointing out the name on the certificate.
“Well, just send her around and she can sign for the money.”
Alfie's face fell. “I can't.”
“Why not? Is she ill?”
“Gone? You mean dead?”
“Gone. And she's not coming back.”
It was a tough thing to admit. Who knew why his mother had married his father in the first place? John Huggins was a stoker for the White Star Line. His wife was dreamy and silly and romantic, and her husband was away at sea all the time, leaving her with a young son to raise.
“And what's your name again?” the clerk prompted.
“Alfie – Alphonse.” He indicated the paper once again. Ma was exactly the kind of person to name her only child after the hero in one of the French penny novels she loved so well.
Where was she now, he wondered wistfully? Try as he might, he could not bring himself to stay mad at her for deserting him. For some reason, he pictured her crossing the Continent on an exotic and glamorous train. The truth was probably more like a milliner's shop in London, trimming hats with artificial flowers and braid. Whatever it was, he hoped she was happy.
The clerk's voice interrupted his reverie. “I'm sorry, lad. Your name isn't anywhere on these instructions. I can't pay you.”
Alfie swallowed hard. “But how am I to feed myself, sir? I have no money at all.”
The clerk was sympathetic but firm. “It says here that your pa is signed onto the Titanic . Several of the Olympic's engine crew are laying over in Belfast until the new ship is ready to sail. He should be here on Wednesday.”
Three days! Alfie's heart soared. Of course, he would be proper hungry by then. But at least Dad was coming home.
Still, if he was now part of the Titanic 's crew, he'd be gone again – Alfie checked one of the posters – on April 10 th .
And this time I'll be alone like a dog in the street.
His eyes fell on the line of hopefuls waiting to be interviewed for the Titanic jobs.
When the solution came to him, it seemed so obvious it was a wonder he hadn't thought of it sooner. How did you stay with a seafaring father? By sailing the same seas on the same vessel.
He folded up his certificate of birth and stuffed it far into his pocket. Now all he had to do was lie a little about his age …
Copyright © 2011 by Gordon Korman, used by permission