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Aepyornis Ch7 - second draft

by  andinadia

Posted: Sunday, August 18, 2013
Word Count: 1210
Summary: After some very useful comments (thankyou!) I've reframed this chapter. I've also repositioned the moment of the police arriving, to ask about Aman-tanay. It's probably the last 'domestic' chapter before the story accelerates. I'm trying to bring out the relationship between Alice and family members, including Miss Simpson. (When I revise, I'll add some more background about Alice's mother, in Ch6.) Thinking about possible titles now... 'Flightless'?
Related Works: Aepyornis (working title) • Aepyornis Ch3 redraft • Aepyornis Ch4 First draft • Aepyornis Ch5 First draft • Aepyornis Ch6 First draft • 

Chapter 7

Through the kitchen window Alice watched William Russell sitting and talking with Miss Simpson, under the yew tree. He had his sketchbook open and Miss Simpson was laughing. When she laughed, Miss Simpson’s sixty years seemed like sixteen.

The water had boiled now. Alice filled the teapot.

Perhaps William would know more about Caine. Maybe even about Aman-tanay. He was a reporter. It was his job to know things, to find things out.

She carried the tray out to the garden and placed it in front of Miss Simpson.

‘Thankyou, Alice. I might get used to be served by you! Look at this. Mr Russell is so talented.’ Miss Simpson held open William’s sketchbook. He had drawn a caricature of Zachary, looking even larger than life, shouting at a much smaller man.

‘Just came from a meeting with Mr Caine,’ William said. ‘I got to the hotel early. While I was waiting for Mr Caine, I saw a scene. Mr Zachary, losing his temper about something or other. Anyway, I couldn’t resist!’

‘It’s very funny,’ Alice said. ‘You were meeting Mr Caine?’

‘That’s right. Thought it was going to be about the article. But now they want a special. A whole issue. Paying quite a sum, no doubt. I’m not involved with the money side of the matter.’

‘But that’s good … for your magazine. Isn’t it?’

‘Yes, but a lot of pages to fill. By next week! So I’m here to interview your father. See what he’s creating for the exhibition. That should make a couple of pages. It’s amazing how many projects Mr Caine is supporting.’

‘I’m sure he won’t be long, Mr Russell.’

‘Please, call me William. And don’t worry. Nothing better than having tea with two young ladies in the garden.’

Alice enjoyed the description of herself. ‘What do you think of Mr Caine?’ she asked.

‘Ambitious. He told me about an island where they’re setting up a ‘living laboratory’, he called it. Seems to be the big project.’

William opened his notebook, and read out some notes: ‘Man and beast. Fish and fowl. Two of everything. Rebuilding …’ William held down the page that was turning in the breeze, ‘the Lord’s community on Earth, purified.’

‘See what I mean?’ William looked up, his eyes exaggeratedly wide.

‘So that’s why it’s called the Ark.’ Alice visualised the copperplate script on the card Caine had left.

‘That’s it. He said they’d have two of every beast they could acquire. I asked him how many kinds of animals there are in the world. I mean, there must be thousands, don’t you think? You know what his answer was? “Knowledge is never complete, Mr Russell.”’

William’s imitation of Caine’s voice made Alice smile. She realised at that moment how much she disliked Caine, and what a relief it was to make fun of him.

‘Where do you think he’ll get them from? The animals, I mean.’

‘He said Mr Zachary has a ship. And he’s also financed some expeditions. Must have cost him a fortune.’

‘Where is it, this island?’

‘That’s the funny thing. He wouldn’t say. I asked him, of course. Hasn’t he told your father about any of this, Miss Jones?’

‘Perhaps. I haven’t seen much of father recently. He’s been busy.’

‘Caine told me Mr Jones is creating a giant diorama for the Great Exhibition. A display of stuffed animals that will show the moment the Ark settled on land and opened its doors. He says it will be the largest diorama ever made. Visitors will be able to walk through a glass tunnel and view the animals all around them, whatever the weather.’

‘Father has rented an extra workshop, not far from here, so we haven’t seen what he’s been working on.’

Miss Simpson picked up the tray and excused herself. William watched the governess leave and then looked at Alice. ‘Have you ever met a black man, Miss Jones?’

Alice felt her body jump. It was as if William had somehow read her mind. ‘Yes. Why do you ask?’

‘Because I hadn’t, until yesterday, that is. Came into the hotel while I was talking with Caine. Handsome fellow, but not in very good shape I’d say.’

‘Why? What do you mean?’

‘Very thin. Like he hadn’t eaten for days. He was with another man, some friend of Mr Caine’s.’

‘Did this he anything?’ Alice asked.

‘The black man? No, I don’t believe he did. But he didn’t seem well at all. Had a bad head wound. Blood showing through the bandage. Caine told the other man to “take him to Harty”. Some doctor, perhaps.’

* * * *

‘Mr Russell was here. He was interviewing father about the Great Exhibition commission. Father’s taken him to the workshop,’ Alice said.

Her brother’s face was grim as he came out to the garden. ‘The first mate told me the captain paid the entire crew a part of their wages, with instructions to go into Gravesend and spend it. He said he didn’t want anyone to remain on the ship. Meanwhile, he checked himself into the hotel, with me. I had no idea the ship was unguarded. Even the policeman absented himself. I believe someone paid the captain off, which means they knew about the Elephant Bird. God knows how. I’m pretty sure, if it hadn’t been for Naro, whatever he was doing there, we would have lost both the birds, and heaven knows what else.’

‘But who would want to steal them, and why?’ Miss Simpson asked.

Alice held her tongue. She wanted to speak to her brother alone, first.

‘I wish I knew. And to make matters worse,’ Jacob continued, ‘I passed by the Society just now, to make arrangements for the lecture. Of course, I checked up on the bird. It has lost some feathers. I’m not a specialist but even I can tell it’s distressed.’

Mr Jones arrived back from the workshop, rubbing his hands. It showed he was in good spirits, even though lunch was later than usual.

‘This commission has changed everything. The publicity alone will guarantee a lifetime of work,’ he said. ‘Jacob, you haven’t met Mr Hieronymous Caine yet. He is a real gentleman and he has been very generous to me. I believe he is invited to your lecture, so you will have the pleasure of meeting him soon! Miss Simpson, could you see cook about lunch as soon as possible. I’m going to change.’

Mr Jones left Alice alone with Jacob.

‘Jacob, I knew it. Aman-tany is with Mr Caine.’


‘Naro. I found out his real name. It wasn’t difficult. Anyway, Mr Russell saw Aman-tanay with Caine. There was another man with him too. He’s taking Aman-tanay to someone called Harty.’

‘How did Naro – Aman-tanay – end up with Caine?’

‘I’d like to ask the curious Mr Caine directly,’ Alice replied. ‘Aman-tanay is our guest in this country and we’re responsible for him.’

At that moment the clatter of the clawed knocker rang out. Alice heard Miss Simpson usher visitors through to her father’s studio, and then a stranger’s voice, loud enough to carry through to the garden:

‘Mr Jacob Jones? We have reason to believe you may be sheltering an illegal immigrant.’