Young Arabel's life is changed forever when her father, a taxi driver, brings home an injured bird he finds in the street. This wacky raven eats everything in sight, answers the telephone by squawking "Nevermore!" and causes chaos wherever he goes--but Arabel loves her new feathered friend, whom she names Mortimer.
This is the first volume of Arabel and Mortimer's adventures, brightened with hilarious illustrations by Quentin Blake.
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HMH Books for Young Readers
September 01, 2007
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Excerpt from Arabel's Raven by Joan Aiken
On a stormy night in March, not long ago, a respectable taxi driver named Ebenezer Jones found himself driving home, very late, through the somewhat wild and sinister district of London known as Rumbury Town. Mr. Jones had left Rumbury Tube Station behind him, and was passing the long, desolate piece of land called Rumbury Waste, when, in the street not far ahead, he observed a large, dark, upright object. It was rather smaller than a coal scuttle, but bigger than a quart cider bottle, and it was moving slowly from one side of the street to the other.
Mr. Jones had approached to within about twenty yards of this object when a motorcycle with two riders shot by him, going at a reckless pace and cutting in very close. Mr. Jones braked sharply, looking in his rearview mirror. When he looked forward again he saw that the motorcycle must have struck the upright object in passing, for it was now lying on its side, just ahead of his front wheels.
He brought his taxi to a halt.
'Not but what I daresay I'm being foolish,' he thought. 'There's plenty in this part of town that's best left alone. But you can't see something like that happen without stopping to have a look.'
He got out of his cab.
What he found in the road was a large black bird, almost two feet long, with a hairy fringe around its beak. At first he thought it was dead. At his approach, however, it slightly opened one eye, then shut it again.
'Poor thing; it's probably stunned,' thought Mr. Jones.
His horoscope in the Hackney Drivers' Herald that morning had said: 'Due to your skill a life will be saved today.' Mr. Jones had been worrying slightly, as he drove homeward, because up till now he had not, so far as he knew, saved any lives that day, except by avoiding pedestrians however recklessly they walked into the road without looking.
'This'll be the life I'm due to save,' he thought, 'must be, for it's five to midnight now.' And he went back to his cab for the bottle of brandy and teaspoon he always carried in the toolbox in case lady passengers turned faint.
It is not so easy as you might believe to give brandy to a large bird lying unconscious in thestreet. After five minutes there was a good deal of brandy on the cobblestones, and some up Mr. Jones's sleeve, and some in his shoes, but he could not be sure that any had actually gone down the bird's throat. The difficulty was that he needed at least three hands: one to hold the bottle, and one to hold the spoon, and one to hold the bird's beak open. If he prized open the beak with the handle of the teaspoon, it was sure to shut again before he had time to reverse the spoon and tip in some brandy.
A hand fell on his shoulder.
'Just what do you think you're doing?' inquired one of two policemen (they always traveled in pairs through Rumbury Town) who had left their van and were standing over him.
The other policeman sniffed in a disapproving manner.
Mr. Jones straightened slowly.
'I was just giving some brandy to this rook,' he explained. He was rather embarrassed, because he had spilled such a lot of the brandy.
'Rook? That's no rook,' said the officer who had sniffed. 'That's a raven. Look at its hairy beak.'
'Whatever it is, it's stunned,' said Mr. Jones. 'A motorcycle hit it.'
'Ah,' said the second officer, 'that'll have been one of the pair who just pinched thirty thousand quid from Lloyds Bank in the High Street. It's the Cash-and-Carat boys'the ones who've done a lot of burglaries around here lately. Did you see which way they went?'
'No,' said Mr. Jones, tipping up the raven's head, 'but they'll have a dent on their motorcycle. Could one of you hold the bottle for me?'
'You don't want to give him brandy. Hot sweet tea's what you want to give him.'
'That's right,' said the other policeman. 'And an ice pack under the back of his neck.'
'Burn feathers in front of his beak.'
'Slap his hands.'
'Undo his shoelaces.'
'Put him in the fridge.'
'He hasn't got any shoelaces,' said Mr. Jones, not best pleased at all this advice. 'If you aren't going to hold the bottle, why don't you go on and catch the blokes that knocked him over?'
'Oh, they'll be well away by now. Besides, they carry guns. We'll go back to the station,' said the first policeman. 'And you'd best not stay here, giving intoxicating liquor to a bird, or we might have to take you in for loitering in a suspicious manner.'
'I can't just leave the bird here in the road,' said Mr. Jones.
'Take it with you, then.'
'Can't you take it to the station?'
'Not likely,' said the second policeman. 'No facilities for ravens there.'
They stood with folded arms, watching, while Mr. Jones slowly picked up the bird (it weighed about as much as a fox terrier) and put it in his taxi. And they were still watching (he saw them in his rearview mirror) as he started up and drove off.
So that was how Mr. Jones happened to take the raven back with him to Number Six, Rainwater Crescent, London N.W. 31/2, on a windy March night.
When he got home, nobody was up, which was not surprising, since it was after midnight.
He would have liked to wake his daughter, Arabel, who was fond of birds and animals. But since she was quite young'not yet school age'he thought he had better not. And he knew he must not wake his wife, Martha, who had to be at work, at Round & Round, the record shop in the High Street, at nine in the morning.
He laid the raven on the kitchen floor, opened the window to give it air, put on the kettle for hot sweet tea, and, while he had the match lighted, burned a feather duster under the raven's beak. Nothing happened, except that the smoke made Mr. Jones cough. And he saw no way of slapping the raven's hands or undoing its shoelaces, so he took some ice cubes and a jug of milk from the fridge. He left the fridge door open because his hands were full, and anyway, it would slowly swing shut by itself.
With great care he slid a little row of ice cubes under the back of the raven's neck.
The kettle boiled and he made the tea: a spoonful for each person and one for the pot, three in all. He also spread himself a slice of bread and fish spread because he didn't see why he shouldn't have a little something as well as the bird. He poured out a cup of tea for himself and an eggcupful for the raven, putting plenty of sugar in both.
But when he turned around, eggcup in hand, the raven was gone.
'Bless me,' Mr. Jones said. 'There's ingratitude for you! After all my trouble! I suppose he flew out the window; those ice cubes certainly did the trick quick. I wonder if it would be a good notion to carry some ice cubes with me in the cab? I could put them in a vacuum flask'might be better than brandy if lady passengers turn faint . . .'
Thinking these thoughts he finished his tea (and the raven's; no sense in leaving it to get cold), turned out the light, and went to bed.
In the middle of the night he thought, 'Did I put the milk back in the fridge?'
And he thought, 'No, I didn't.'
And he thought, 'I ought to get up and put it away.'
And he thought, 'It's a cold night, the milk's not going to turn between now and breakfast. Besides, Thursday tomorrow, it's my early day.'
So he rolled over and went to sleep.
Every Thursday Mr. Jones drove the local fishmonger, Mr. Finney, over to Colchester to buy oysters at five in the morning. So, next day, up he got, off he went. Made himself a cup of tea, finished the milk in the jug, never looked in the fridge.
An hour after he had gone (which was still very early), Mrs. Jones got up in her turn and put on the kettle. Finding the milk jug empty she went yawning to the fridge and pulled the door open, failing to notice that it had been prevented from shutting properly by the handle of a burnt feather duster which had fallen against the hinge. But she noticed what was inside the fridge all right. She let out a shriek that brought Arabel running downstairs.
Arabel was little and fair. She had gray eyes and at the moment she was wearing a white nightdress that made her look like a lampshade with two feet sticking out from the bottom. One of the feet had a blue sock on.
'What's the matter, Ma?' she said.
'There's a great awful bird in the fridge!' sobbed Mrs. Jones. 'And it's eaten all the cheese and a black currant tart and five pints of milk and a bowl of drippings and a pound of sausages. All that's left is the lettuce.'
Copyright ' 1972, 1973, 1974 by Joan Aiken and renewed 2003 by John Sebastian Brown and Elizabeth Delano Charlaff
Illustrations copyright ' 1972, 1973, 1974 by Quentin Blake
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