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Aepyornis Ch5 First draft

by andinadia 

Posted: 27 July 2013
Word Count: 1868
Summary: This is a quieter chapter than the last one. I'd love to know, especially from those who read the previous chapter, how it comes across. Bartleby is probably the last character that will be introduced into the story (but the story is developing more organically than I expected!) All comments are welcome. I've made lots of notes from earlier comments but I've decided not to revisit earlier chapters until I've finished the first draft.
Related Works: Aepyornis (working title) • Aepyornis Ch3 redraft • Aepyornis Ch4 First draft • 

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Chapter 5

The walls of the room were hung with portraits of ancient men with maps and trophies. Jacob wondered how ancient he would need to be before he might see his own portrait, perhaps standing beside the Aepyornis. He, Jacob Jones, had discovered a pair of the legendary birds, a male and a female. But he had lost the male.

Bartleby was at the wide window, wearing his favourite deep red jacket, stroking the head of his pet bloodhound and watching the giant bird in the garden below. He waited for the committee to take its seats. With his back to the room, the silhouette of Bartleby’s bushy side-whiskers gave his bald head the look of a nest with a large egg resting in the centre.

‘Gentlemen, in the mere thirty years of its existence the Zoological Society of London has blossomed. Many of the living wonders of the world can now be seen here in our magnificent metropolis.’ Sir Bartleby turned to the distinguished committee.

‘I do not need to remind you of the interest that the public showed last year in the arrival of Ubaysh, the hippopotamus. Now a new shipment of animals, which I can report to be in good health, places the Society’s collection at the head of the first rank. And it is Mr Jones whom we must thank.’

Should he tell them now?

The committee rapped their knuckles repeatedly on the mahogany table, which was its time-honoured way of showing its appreciation. Jacob realised how young he must seem to these gentlemen.

Should he tell them? He needed to be out searching.

‘But,’ Bartleby continued. ‘But! More than this, Mr Jones has written the Society – and indeed himself – into the annals of history. Among his cargo was a most extraordinary specimin.’

Sir Bartleby revealed to the committee that Aepyornis maximus, the giant flightless bird that was believed to have died out long before the celebrated Dodo, was in fact still living. The committee showed its disbelief. Was this another of Bartleby’s famous pranks? Bloody Bartleby, as some of them called him, out of earshot, on account of his companion hound.

Not only living, he continued, the specimin was standing immediately below the window. He stepped back. The committee took a few seconds to appreciate what Bartleby had said, and then crowded around the window. The bloodhound retreated from the crush, with a small yelp as one of the committee members carelessly trod on its tail.

‘Imagine … the only surviving member of its race! Mr Jones, how long before you are able to present your speech to the Society?’

Jacob felt his eyes stare. A speech? He was not a speaker. He felt uncomfortable in his high-necked shirt, waistcoat and heavy coat. He was used to the loose-fitting clothes of an adventurer. He could not keep up the pretence any longer.

‘It is not quite the only surviving member,’ he said, almost too quietly. Having spent so many months at sea, here, standing before the committee of the Society, he felt unsteady on his feet.

‘How so? Either it is or it is not!’

‘It is not.’ Almost inaudibly. A few minutes earlier, the world had been his oyster. He knew as well as anyone that oysters could be harmful.

‘Explain yourself, Mr Jones.’

As he related the events of the previous day, Jacob was carried back to his boarding school days, being reprimanded as he too often had been.

After the committee had heard Jacob’s account, one of the members spoke. ‘Sir Nicholas, this rather changes things.’


The African was staring at himself in the mirror, touching the newly dressed wound on his head. He was still barefoot but he was now wearing a shirt and trousers from Jacob’s wardrobe, with the shirt pulled out.

‘Did you tell them, at the Society?’ Alice asked Jacob. ‘Dr Foster said the wound is not too serious. I made Naro some breakfast.’ It was the name they had given the African. ‘He loves tea and ginger biscuits, and he has become great friends with Sam.’ The parrot was in its cage, with the door open, pecking biscuit crumbs from the floor of the cage.

She looked at the African. The clothes fitted him well and he seemed to like the look too. He continued fingering the dressing. ‘Leave it alone,’ Alice said. She gave him a mock glare as she prised his fingers away.

‘Yes, I told them. Bloody Bartleby … Sir Bartleby asked me who it might have been. I told them I have no idea. But I had the feeling that he had some suspicions. I don’t know if he believed my story, or what. Where’s father?’

‘He had an appointment.’

‘Did he say what he thinks we should do with Naro here?’

‘Father thinks we should hand him over to the authorities.’

‘Hel-lo,’ Jacob addressed the African as they both faced the tall mirror. The man looked at Jacob’s reflection, then turned to look at Jacob himself, then back to the mirror once more. Jacob had not attempted any communication with the African while they were sailing up the river from Gravesend.

‘I tried French. Miss Simpson even tried some German,’ Alice said.

‘Bartleby suggested we take him to a colleague of his at University College,’ Jacob said. ‘Someone called Robin Asquith. He’s a specialist in the languages of southern Africa.’

‘Good. Let’s go. I will come with you.’ Alice went to tell Miss Simpson she had to go out on a matter of vital importance, and promised to do double lessons the next day.

As Jacob opened the front door, the parrot flew out of its cage and landed on the African’s shoulder. The man fed the parrot a piece of ginger biscuit from his pocket, then placed the bird on Alice’s shoulder. She returned it to its cage, leaving the cage door open as usual.

The College was a short walk from Alice’s house. The three of them attracted the attention of many passers-by: Jacob with his weather-beaten face, and hair that fell over his collar, Alice, and the bandaged African who looked unlike anyone else on the street. Alice found herself looking at the London streets through the African’s eyes, and wondering what his own home looked like. They passed by shop windows full of meat and groceries, fur and fabric, books and bangles. Boys and girls younger than her were selling goods from folding tables that could be packed up quickly at any sign of a constable. There were advertisements for everything from hair tonic to boot-cleaning machines. She saw the African’s attention caught by a row of newly stuck posters for the Genesis Experience show, showing some of the animals from the show.

As they walked through the streets she named things for the African and he repeated the names.

‘Good! We might even have you speaking Cockney!’


‘Sir Bartleby sent a message to say you were coming. I’ve asked my colleague, Professor Viljoen, to join us. He is knowledgeable about the area. I thought he might be interested to meet your guest too.’ Professor Robin Asquith welcomed them into his book-lined office.

‘Villejean?’ Alice said, registering the foreignness of the name. ‘Is he from France?

‘No, from South Africa. He’s a brilliant man. His field of study is human-animal relationships. In fact, he was recently awarded a large sum of money by some foundation. I forget the name. I had not heard of it until this award.’

‘So.’ Professor Asquith sat on the floor and motioned to the African to do the same. ‘Saso palana rapatay.’

Vara sesa palana.’

The two men exchanged more short phrases.

‘The language is Malagasy.’ Asquith stood up and found a book on his shelves.

‘He says there was a fight. Two men … no, three. One had hair that was ... burning? I think it means “ginger”. He tried to stop them. He fought them. He opened a cage. He let a lion out. But they took a … kind of bird. They tied it up and carried it off the ship. They did not …’ Asquith flicked through the pages of the dictionary. ‘They did not show it any respect.

‘It must have been a very special bird, Mr Jones.’

Jacob did not know how far the news had already travelled. He did not need to reply, as at that moment a man entered Asquith’s office.

‘Hello, Robin.’ The accent was distinctive.

Professor Asquith introduced his visitors and explained to Viljoen how the African had been injured. Viljoen glanced at the African and turned to Jacob. ‘So, you are the soon-to-be-famous Jacob Jones? You seem to have set the cat among the, ah, pigeons!’

Alice felt herself blink.

‘I’m not sure I follow,’ Jacob said. Bartleby had made the committee promise to say nothing until he had decided when and how to make a suitable announcement.

‘He’s from Madagascar,’ Asquith said to Viljoen.

‘I’d like to spend some time with him, to study him properly,’ Viljoen said. ‘Mr Jones, perhaps you could bring him over tomorrow for the day. Or I could pay you a visit in Chelsea.’

‘I’m afraid I have some business to attend to,’ Jacob replied.

Alice saw an opportunity to find out more about Naro and to learn a few words that would allow her to communicate with him. ‘I know the way to the College now. I could accompany him.’

As soon as Jacob and Alice were outside the College building, with the African, Jacob excused himself. He needed to track down the captain.

As they began walking Alice began to enjoy having the public’s attention on her and the African. She gave every curious passer-by a braod smile to make it clear that she was happily out walking with this unusual man, and was in no danger. She stopped suddenly at the corner of the street. ‘Goodness, Naro, I still don’t know your name!’ She faced the African and pointed to herself. ‘Alice,’ she said, making the two syllables clear.

The African repeated the two syllables, and then said, ‘Aman-tanay’.

Aman-tanay! So that’s your name? Aman-tanay.’

While they were standing on the street corner, she noticed a cab pass by, slowing down and then picking up speed again. Through the cab window she thought she recognised the distinctive profile of the passenger. Perhaps it was just another curious passer-by, intrigued at the sight of a young girl in the company of a young African man with a bandaged head on the streets of Bloomsbury. On the other hand, if it really was Caine, why had he not stopped to greet her? She noticed that her forehead was tingling.

They continued walking. Alice was unusually quiet until she saw a shop window displaying an extravagant array of colourful biscuits, arranged in pyramids on ribboned silver trays. ‘Come on, Amantanay. Let’s see what we can find!’ She made for the entrance of the shop and reached for the door handle. As she pushed at the door and heard the welcoming chime of the bell above her head, she turned to usher her companion in.

He was no longer there.

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Comments by other Members

Issy at 12:30 on 28 July 2013  Report this post
Hi Andy,

This is pretty good for a first draft - mine are virtually unreadable.

I did have to read it several times to understand what was happening. I thought I had missed a chapter and checked back to chapter 4 and found that I hadn't. On the next draft you might want to consider putting in another chapter where we can get some explanation and the scene that followed the discoveries in ch 4 (or alternatively extend the existing chapers.)

This chapter too did seem to jump from one situation to the next, so again I think we want more as to where everyone is, what the mcs are feeling, what's going on in their brains - lots more internal stuff so that we can really empathize with them, especially Alice, who has lost some of her delightful liveliness here.

They do accept the African rather readily, and it might be an idea - as his features and skin colour would have been relatively unusual at this time, to have an incident such as someone asking Alice if she is OK, or an embarrassing one as a child runs up and shouts "Look, there's a black man!" and his reaction, or along those lines.

It all falls easily into place - someone is very quickly found who can speak the language, Jacob is doing something on business, the governess allowing Alice to go out, the passing cab. It struck me as rather a little coincidental, so perhaps we need to know what business Jacob is urgently involved with, ,whether the governess makes a fuss before allowing Alice out.

In the first section I felt that they were a bit mean to Jacob by turning on him. Maybe he could give a full description of what happened and enlisting their help and support.

But the ideas are all there, lots of things to intrigue, and I totally agree with your plan to keep going and come back to work through comments later is by far the best. It's going well.

andinadia at 13:44 on 28 July 2013  Report this post
Thanks so much, Issy, for these very useful comments and for the positives!

I obviously need to make clearer that Jacob's need to get out is in order to start tracking down the second bird, via his former captain who we now know was clearly 'in on it'. The cab is not passing by accidentally. Viljoen has been 'bought' and has informed Caine that the African needs to be 'taken out'. (Whether he is 'taken out' or not, you'll have to wait and see!) The governess didn't need to accompany Alice this time as Alice is with her adult aged brother. (I think my shorthand style of writing is often a little too short!)

This is my first go at trying to get a sequence of scenes into a single chapter, separated by short time/location breaks. If anyone can suggest ways that I might do the sequencing better, I'd be very grateful!

a.m.edge at 20:45 on 28 July 2013  Report this post
I think the sequencing works pretty well... particularly for a first draft.

I obviously need to make clearer that Jacob's need to get out is in order to start tracking down the second bird, via his former captain who we now know was clearly 'in on it'.

I agree with Issy about giving the reader more of what is going on in Jacob's head. Maybe you can remind the reader about the former captain being 'in on it' by doing this.

The story is getting to the point where it could go off in all sorts of directions. When you have this omniscient narrative - getting into anyone's head I mean - we sometimes lose our empathy for the main character. Here, I am keen to get back to Alice, yet we are focussing on Jacob.

It is tricky to decide how to best tell a story, from whose point of view I mean. I am keen to read on though - enjoying it.

andinadia at 10:53 on 29 July 2013  Report this post
Thankyou, Annie. You've made me realise that instead of another 'letter chapter' from Alice, the next chapter needs to be properly focused on Alice (and Hattie). Glad you're enjoying it.

Buzzard at 20:29 on 01 August 2013  Report this post
Hi, Andy
I think this chapter works just fine. Structurally, all I'd suggest is a line break after Jacob & co. leave Asquith's office.

I think fine too that the first section doesn't include Alice. But I did think very early on, 'Oh, OK, so we're receiving this from Jacob's point of view now. Then in the same section we had the committee members' pov when they wonder if Bartleby is playing a prank. That, I'm afraid, I found less acceptable because it's so fleeting.

Maybe it would help to choose definitively up front whose perspectives you're going to allow yourself you speak from and keep strictly to it. I can see that you might need Jacob's perspective in order to carry the plot when Alice isn't around, and clearly he's going to be a fundamental enough character to carry it. But too many more might be overload.

I don't think it's unreasonable to offer narrative that isn't from any major character's perspective if that's what the plot requires. But in those circumstances, I think you the narrative voice will have to remain completely impartial, simply coveying the action that's needed.

Hope that helps some. Otherwise, I think the story is hanging together excellently. And if you're at all worried about this chapter being 'quieter' than the last, I'd say don't worry at all. Not a problem in the slightest because while it is quieter, the story is still moving.

Great stuff.

andinadia at 23:04 on 01 August 2013  Report this post
Thankyou, Clay. That's very encouraging and ose observations on pov are really helpful. I find this so hard. I was worried about this chapter.

I'm now thinking I should remove the sighting of Caine in the cab - a bit cheesy. My African's disappearance doesn't need pre-announcing.

rescuedonkey at 17:41 on 10 September 2013  Report this post
I really enjoyed this chapter and thought the separate scenes actually work really well to keep up the pace while having a 'quieter' chapter action-wise.

andinadia at 17:49 on 10 September 2013  Report this post
Thanks, Victoria

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