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Aepyornis Ch11 - first draft

by  andinadia

Posted: Sunday, September 1, 2013
Word Count: 1483
Summary: For those who've been counting, I haven't moved the scene with the policemen for the third time! But I have moved the scene with the ferryman. (Thankyou, Annie.) I also decided not to mention the name of Harty until this chapter (it had been mentioned in an earlier chapter). We're at about the half-way point of the story now, I think.
Related Works: Aepyornis (working title) • Aepyornis Ch3 redraft • Aepyornis Ch4 First draft • Aepyornis Ch5 First draft • Aepyornis Ch6 First draft • Aepyornis Ch7 - second draft • Aepyornis Chs8-10 - first draft • 

Chapter 11

She watched the curtain sway and flap. The morning sounds of hooves and wheels came through the partly opened window. Hatttie always liked to have air in the room when she stayed with Alice.

She whispered loudly across the room: ‘Hattie! You awake?’

Hattie lifted herself onto her elbows. ‘Yes, what is it?’

Everything that had kept Alice awake during the night came spilling out. ‘I don’t understand why … why they’re doing any of this. As if Aman-tanay’s some kind of criminal. He’s done nothing wrong. People visit other countries all the time. Didn’t Jacob go to lots of countries to collect his animals? And that prison cell they’ve got Jacob in ... it was so dingy, it stank. They do everything in their cells. Jacob shouldn’t be in there, even for one night. Prison isn’t for him, is it? Just because of those animals? Just for not having some papers? Half the people selling things on the streets would be in prison in that case. It’s as if the police are after Jacob. And the police didn’t help a bit when the Aepyornis was stolen. They were supposed to be looking after the ship, and see what happened!’

‘They haven’t done anything about our house, or about father’s journal being stolen.’

‘No doubt Jacob’ll be blamed for that too. Hattie, I can’t stop thinking about it. We have to find Aman-tanay. Maybe at the same time we’ll find out where the bird is. Jacob can’t do it, while he’s in prison. And Father doesn’t see things the same way.’

‘How do you think …?’

There was a knock on the door. ‘Good morning, girls!’

Miss Simpson entered and pulled open the curtains with an audible shiver. ‘Plenty of fresh air in this room! Breakfast will be served in thirty minutes, girls. Don’t be late down. Your father’s already up at the magistrates’ court to see about Jacob, Alice, so it’s just the two of you. As if he needs that, your father, with all the work on his plate.’

The girls sat at the dining table and Miss Simpson brought in the breakfast. She had poached some eggs. Harriet took a piece of toast. She lifted the ceramic lid from the butter dish, and almost dropped it.


Harriet was staring at a black form silhouetted against the deep yellow of the butter. A fly had got inside the dish and was stuck fast. Alice took the butter dish into the kitchen and returned with some fresh butter on a plate.

‘Hattie. I just had a thought. The animals that’ve been delivered to father, for the taxidermy. You know, …’

Alice did not need to finish the sentence. Harriet’s understanding showed on her face. They finished breakfast quickly and cleared the things away. Alice took the heavy iron key from its hook at the back of the kitchen. For once she was glad of her father’s care at labelling everything. ‘WORKSHOP,’ the label said.

Alice called out, ‘We’re going for a walk, Miss Simpson.’

The workshop had previously been an icehouse and it now served Alice’s father well, keeping the bodies of the animals cool until he could work on them. The smell of the air was a mixture of dampness and turpentine spirit.

They hadn’t brought a lamp with them and they had only the daylight from the open door. Once her eyes had adjusted to the dimness, Alice could see stacks of wooden crates. Looking more closely, she noticed that the smaller crates had pictures of apples stencilled onto the wider slats. The girls moved slowly between the stacks, looking out for any crate that was larger than themselves.

‘Here!’ Harriet said, quietly. Alice realised that although they’d already been inside the workshop for several minutes, this was the first time either of them had spoken. She went over to where Harriet was standing. The box was about six feet in length, too short surely. Together they lifted away another box that was sitting on top of the larger one. They looked at each other. Alice knew it had to be her own decision.

The lid came away easily. She and Harriet began to pull aside the pieces of hessian and newspaper that had been wedged down the sides, until only the object remained, clothed in sacking. Nothing else for it: Alice lifted one of the ends and looked to Harriet to lift the other. It was heavy. They placed the object on the earth floor, and carefully unwrapped it.

Alice had grown up surrounded by her father’s work and she had often stroked the fur of a finished specimin, but this was the first time she had handled the corpse of an animal. The flesh was soft, and her hand leapt. But her surprise was not as great as her relief, that her fingers had not touched feathers. She recognised the creature that looked up at her, from her books. Its snout was something between a horse and a rabbit. A kangaroo.

There were no other crates of this size in the workshop. Quickly, they repacked the body in its crate and replaced the box that had been sitting on top of it. Harriet noticed that they had left one of the pieces of newspaper, screwed up on the floor. ‘Bring it with you,’ said Alice, ‘so there’s no sign we were ever here.’

Once they were outside in the light, Alice placed the key in the door to lock it behind them. The key was hard to turn. Harriet was holding out the piece of newspaper. ‘Look, it’s my local paper, The Kentish Gazette.’

The key turned at last and Alice took the piece of newspaper. It was the front page, with the place and date: Rochester, xx xxxx.

‘Let’s visit William Russell,’ Alice said, remembering a thought that she’d already had once before. ‘He’s supposed to know how to find things out, isn’t he?’

* * * * *

Alice had noticed William at Jacob’s lecture but she hadn’t had a chance to speak to him, having spent most of the evening backstage. She explained what had happened after the talk.

‘Funny business, indeed. Not sure about that man Caine. Or Zachary, come to that.’

‘Can you think of anything? I have to do something,’ Alice said. ‘Did Caine say anything about Aman-tanay, when you saw him in Browns?’

‘Not really. He just told this other fellow, “Take him to Harty.” Must be some doctor, I thought.’

‘Nothing else?’ Alice asked. She looked at Harriet, as if between the two of them they could force William’s memory.

‘You know, it might not be a doctor. It might not be a man.’

‘You’re right, Hattie! Maybe it’s a woman.’

‘No. I mean, it’s also the name of a place, an island. It’s not very far from where we live. In Kent,’ she added, for William’s benefit. ‘There’s a map on the wall in our hallway. I memorised every name on that map when I was little. I don’t know. It’s just possible.’

‘So the island of Harty is not far from where you live. And Gravesend isn’t far from where you live. And the other Aepyornis was stolen in Gravesend,’ Alice said.

‘And Caine described an island.’ William added. He noticed the page of newspaper that was folded in Harriet’s hand.

‘Ah, The Kentish Gazette. Good local rag. Down in Rochester. Know a chap there. Called William too, funnily enough. Not William Too, I mean … oh, you know what I mean.’

* * * * *

‘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.