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Aepyornis Chs8-10 - first draft

by  andinadia

Posted: Sunday, August 25, 2013
Word Count: 1335
Summary: Re-uploaded this after a bit of tinkering. I still think it needs expanding but I'm not sure where. Do the place and time shifts work clearly? Also, I keep moving the moment where the police arrive. I think it's found it's proper home in this chapter. The main thing is to stop Jacob from moving around for a while, as well as to show how far Zachary and Caine's 'tentacles' have reached
Related Works: Aepyornis (working title) • Aepyornis Ch3 redraft • Aepyornis Ch4 First draft • Aepyornis Ch5 First draft • Aepyornis Ch6 First draft • Aepyornis Ch7 - second draft • 

Chapter 10

‘Not far now.’

Aman-tanay looked. The man called Viljoen was pointing towards a small stone building with a high roof and a tower, not far from the water’s edge. There was a cross on top of the tower. The boat that was carrying them was being buffeted by waves that rose in the wind, and it was raining lightly.

‘It’s an island. Like your own home,’ the man called Viljoen said.

It did not look like his own home at all. An odd tree here and there did not make a forest. The gloomy greyness did not look like his own rich blue skies.

‘We’ll have those bandages off you soon. It’ll be safe around the house. There’s no-one about.’

Aman-tanay did not speak. He looked at the ferryman. The ferryman had not spoken either, since they pushed off from the mainland. The ferryman glowered from under the brim of his hat. The man called Viljoen spoke again. He said he’d told the ferryman his passenger had suffered bad burns to his face and that he had been ordered to recuperate by the sea. Aman-tanay could see that the ferryman did not believe a word of it. And he, Aman-tanay, did not understand why he was being brought to this remote place. He pulled his coat around him.

* * * *

Alice pushed Jacob’s hair from his forehead. She saw how uncomfortable he was in his high starched collar. The audience in the theatre was growing and the temperature was rising.

‘You look very smart, Mr Jacob Jones, explorer extraordinaire. Doesn’t he, Hattie?’

‘I hope I’ll sound even smarter. You made all the difference to my lecture notes, Harriet. I would have bored everyone to death.’

Jacob always joked when he was nervous. In a few minutes he would take his place on the podium. The Secretary would come to escort him, and then he would be facing hundreds of faces. The rumours of the finding of Aepyornis had spread fast. Alice could hear the noise of anticipation.

‘Good luck, Jacob,’ Bartleby said. ‘It’s years since we saw such an attendance.’

The President had popped backstage to make sure everything was in order, before the secretary of the Society opened the proceedings. From where he stood in the wings, with Jacob and the two girls, Bartleby had a view of the front row of seats.

‘Hmmph,’ Bartleby muttered, to no-one in particular but loud enough for them all to hear. ‘He’s only one seat away from where I’ll be sitting.’

‘Who, sir?’ Jacob asked, craning to look.

‘The very large man in the middle of the front row. Gideon Zachary.’

‘I don’t recognise him, I’m afraid.’

‘We met him …’ Alice began.

‘He and I go a long way back,’ Bartleby continued. ‘He made his fortune as a merchant. He had ships. His routes were from West Africa to the Caribbean, and from there to Liverpool. I knew him in my time as a Member of Parliament, for Liverpool.’

‘Do you mean the slave trade, sir?’

Alice looked at Harriet. To Alice, the slave trade belonged to another time entirely. Not to the modern era of steam trains and omnibuses.

‘He knew how to evade the law. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still engaged in the business. I last saw him a year ago. In fact, it was in connection with your voyage. He wanted to fund it in return for a share of the goods. I turned him down. Now, here’s the Secretary.’ Bartleby took Jacob’s hands in his own, in a fatherly gesture. ‘Remember, don’t look at me and don’t move around. Fix your eyes on the back row, take your time, and speak with gusto.’

Alice watched Bartleby return to the auditorium and take his seat. As he did so, Zachary spoke to a lady in a broad hat who was sitting between him and Bartleby. Then – with a stiff bow – Zachary changed places with the lady so that he was now sitting immediately beside Bartleby. He said some words to Bartleby, who drew himself up to his full height – almost the height of Zachary – before turning to glare at his unwelcome neighbour.

What had Zachary said?

Zachary and Caine. They seemed to be everywhere. Alice’s thoughts turned to her father, who was so pleased to have his commission. Was his payment tainted by human trafficking?

* * *

‘… As we were leaving the island, heading across the beach and down to the turquoise sea, the Aepyornis walked beside us. We herded it as a sheep dog herds its flock. There was no question of trussing the bird up like a Christmas turkey, nor tieing it on a leash. With its head held high, as if following a pre-ordained plan, the magnificent creature stepped into the little boat. We rowed the boat alongside our ship and carefully placed a harness around the bird, to hoist it out of the boat and onto the deck above. Even as its body swung and rotated, while the winch slowly did its work, the Aepyornis continually adjusted its long neck in order to fix its gaze for the final time on its island home …

Ladies and gentlemen, thankyou for your attention.’ Jacob took out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead once more.

There was a short silence, then applause. Someone in the front row stood up. Then the whole audience. From the wings, Alice saw that the last person to stand was Zachary, who seemed to be making it very clear that his great size prevented him from moving too quickly.

Jacob acknowledged the applause and turned towards the lifesize watercolour of the Aepyornis that the Society’s own illustrator had produced, and which was standing on an easel beside him. He added his own applause to that of the audience, but he directing his towards the painting.

The Secretary climbed the three steps onto the stage where Jacob stood, and shook him by the hand warmly. Alice wanted to rush onto the stage and throw her arms around her brother. She had to wait. The evening was not over yet.

‘Mr Jones will now take questions from the audience,’ the Secretary said.

‘Yes, sir?’ The Secretary responded to a raised arm.

‘Thankyou for the fascinating presentation, Mr Jones. There are reports that there were in fact two specimins of the Aepyornis Maximum. You have mentioned just the one. Can you throw any light on this?’

Alice looked to see whether Zachary’s face showed any reaction. There was none. Bartleby had discussed with Jacob how to answer such a question. He had guessed that not all of the members of the Society would be as discreet as he asked them to be.

‘The Society has just the one specimin,’ Jacob answered.

After more questions, Jacob’s ordeal was over and he stepped off the stage to receive congratulations. The audience began to disperse through the doors at the back of the theatre. As Alice waited to give Jacob her own congratulations her attention was caught by a hubbub on the other side of the room. Then she heard a raised voice saying ‘But this is the Zoological Society of London, sir!’

Two uniformed constables were pushing their way through the crowd. One of them pulled out a notebook and stood squarely in front of Jacob.

‘Jacob Jones, I’m very sorry, but orders is orders. I am arresting you on one count of failing to register an illegal himmigrant, and fifty-seven counts of himporting wildlife without proper certifications.’ The second constable took hold of Jacob’s arm.

‘But you can’t imagine … I … he …,’ was all Jacob could say.

Alice looked around in desperation for her father, for someone to say something, do something. She saw Sir Bartleby approaching. He would sort the matter out.

The constable with the notebook blocked Bartleby’s way. ‘Sir Nicholas, sir, I must also ask you to haccompany us to the police station.’