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Aepyornis Ch13 - first draft

by andinadia 

Posted: 24 October 2013
Word Count: 1179
Summary: This was going to be part of Ch12 but developed its own life. It has the format of other chapters in this phase of the story, with a plotline following Alice and a sub-plot following Aman-tanay. I've struggled a bit with this chapter - hence the hiatus - and I'm aware that even at this stage, I'm still introducing secondary characters. I don't feel it holds together yet and would love some blunt comments. On the other hand, the ending of the story is becoming a bit clearer now!

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Chapter 13

As the guard was blowing his whistle for the train to leave, the carriage door opened again and a woman got on. She was carrying a wicker basket that was entirely filled by a large plump white goose. After settling herself down on the end of Alice and Harriet’s bench and placing the basket on the floor, she nodded at Alice and Harriet and said, ‘Good day, good sirs.’ Harriet turned to look at Alice. Alice also turned in her seat, wondering who the woman was addressing. She was not yet used to her new persona.

‘Good afternoon, ma’am,’ Harriet replied. Alice was impressed not only at how well Harriet had modified her voice, but how she’d also mastered a countryside accent. It must have been based on her own village.

When Alice turned, she noticed another passenger sitting beside her. It was a man with long sideburns, asleep in a battered bowler hat that had been pushed to one side as his head lolled against the dirty glass window. She saw sweat rolling down from beneath the man’s hat and breaking against his overtight collar.

The train jolted and began to pull out of the station. The man gave a rattling snore and woke up with a start. For a moment he did not seem to know where he was. He pulled a dark cotton handkerchief from the top pocket of his jacket and as he lifted his hat to wipe his brow his eyes came to rest on Alice, beside him on the bench.

‘Hello, chum.’ He belched. His breath was sharp and strong.

Alice shifted, pushing Harriet towards the woman with the goose. Alice considered placing the package that she was holding on the seat between her and the man, as a kind of barrier, but she was afraid of letting go of the package for a moment. It was Harriet’s and her route back to a familiar world, whenever they needed it.

‘Travelling alone, boys?’

Alice now understood why the bench had remained so empty when the rest of the train had looked full. She felt she should make some kind of response but was not sure she would get the voice right. Not as right as Harriet, anyway. Instead, she nodded.

‘Fancy a tipple?’ The man produced a small metal container and started unscrewing the top.

‘No, sir. Thankyou,’ she said, with as deep a voice as she could manage.

The man smiled broadly. ‘You’re most welcome ... Most. Welcome,’ he repeated, as if enjoying the sounds of the words for the first time. ‘Are you boys on the right carriage? You don’t sound like third.’

‘Leave them young gentlemen alone.’ The woman with the goose had stood up and now sat herself down beside the man, pushing Alice along to make room. She took the goose out of the basket and cradled the bird, allowing its neck to protrude from between her thick fingers. The goose immediately turned and stared at the man who removed his hat, ready to protect himself. The bird was as good as a guard dog.

‘Don’t you worry none, boys. You’re alright with Mary Quilp. Where are you two headed?’

Alice was not sure how much to reveal but she did not know the names of any of the stations on the route. She could only say ‘Rochester.’

‘You visiting family, then?’

The girls glanced at each other.

‘You got nowhere to stay? You stay with me,’ the woman said. ‘I’m getting off a bit before Rochester. I’ve plenty of room, and a good supper. Just for tonight. Then you can see about tomorrow. Get the train into Rochester.’

Harriet looked at Alice and saw in Alice’s eyes that she should speak for both of them. Alice was beginning to feel hungry. They had not eaten since breafast. ‘Thankyou. That’s very kind of you … Mrs Quilp.’

Mrs Quilp explained that she had been to Smithfield market all day and had managed to sell most of her geese. Just one remained unsold. ‘Maybe ‘e is too bad tempered!’ she said with a smile.

At the station they followed Mrs Quilp off the train. Alice looked back at the carriage. Mrs Quilp could tell what she was thinking.

‘Don’t worry about ‘im,’ she said. ‘I see ‘im all the time. ‘E always gets off after me.’

The station building stood alone, surrounded by fields. Although the light was now fading, they had left the fog behind in London and a few houses were visible in the distance.

‘This way,’ Mrs Quilp called as she tied a length of string around the goose’s neck and set off with the empty basket in one hand and the string in the other. The girls followed the woman along twisting narrow roads hemmed in by tall hedges, while the goose waddled behind. A flock of dunlin wheeled and soared in the darkening sky above them. The goose seemed to look up at the dunlin in envy.

It was almost completely dark by the time they reached a small cottage.

‘Come on in, dears. Mr Quilp will be home later.’

After a supper of thin soup and bread, they were shown upstairs to their bed under the roof. Alice remembered to take the package with her. She did not want to tempt Mrs Quilp’s curiosity. The girls were half way up the stairs when the front door of the cottage opened. The whiskered face of the man from the train carriage was unmistakable.

* * * * *

Viljoen knocked. Thick fingers pulled the door open far enough for Aman-tanay to see a squat man in a brown frock coat standing in front of them. He could tell that Viljoen had not met this man in the coat before. They went into the house. It was damp and dark. Viljoen spoke to the man, who lit a wall lamp. Aman-tanay looked around. There was a fireplace for cooking, with a large empty pot suspended above the ashes. It did not smell as if anyone had done any cooking for some time, or had even lit the fire. On a shelf above the fireplace, in a container, was a cluster of metallic blue feathers. Even in the poor light of the lamp he recognised them immediately.

‘What have you got there?’ Viljoen asked, as Aman-tany picked one of the feathers out of the vase. He took the feather from him and held it up to the wall lamp to examine it.

Viljoen asked the man some questions. The man was not comfortable and would not look at Viljoen in the eye. Viljoen asked more questions. The man mumbled. Viljoen looked at Aman-tanay.

‘Volopatra,’ Aman-tanay said. As if in answer to its name, a piercing screech sounded from outside the house. Aman-tanay hurried to the window. It was the first time he had seen the bird since it had been stolen. It was standing on a slight hill, looking out towards the water, its feathers glinting in the low light of the setting sun.

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Comments by other Members

a.m.edge at 16:11 on 27 October 2013  Report this post
What is Mary Quilp's function in the story? Is she simply there to provide an over-night stop? If so, the section getting off and staying at her house would be superfluous. Could the girls not just fall asleep on the train and wake up to the drunk sitting next to them?
If we could have some of Alice's thoughts about what they plan to do, this could help keep the reader reading. What is she worried about? What are her plans? I feel there is tension missing here, although I like them being on the train.
Sometimes you have to finish the whole thing before you can see where the superfluous sections are. That's just my opinion though.

There's something that doesn't feel right about the Aman-tanay section. I think it's to do with the fact that the character Aman-tanay is a 'noble savage' type character, who doesn't speak our language, who comes from a different country and culture and who no one seems to understand, yet you are telling part of the story from his point of view (in a third person limited way, I mean). Wouldn't he be more fearful than he appears? I'm not sure whether it 'works' but I can't be any more helpful than that.

Sorry if that hasn't been much help, Andy. Others will probably have more of an idea.

Freebird at 15:58 on 05 November 2013  Report this post
Andy, since I've only read one chapter of this (I think it was ch 2 or 3!) I don't really feel qualified to comment, but I'd be happy to read the whole m/s or all the thirteen chapters up to now, if you want.

The chapter I did read has stuck in my mind, so that has to be a good thing!

andinadia at 09:19 on 06 November 2013  Report this post
Hi Sarah
That's a generous offer. Thankyou! I'll inmail you.

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