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Aepyornis Ch3 redraft

by  andinadia

Posted: Saturday, July 6, 2013
Word Count: 1388
Summary: I've cut this chapter back a bit (thanks, Annie) and removed a character. I hope it's tighter now. Would love feedback.
Related Works: Aepyornis (working title) • 

Chapter Three

‘Sorry! We missed our train. Didn’t we, Miss Anderson?’ Harriet called, as she jumped out of the cab. Miss Anderson was trying to remove the hem of her coat from the carriage step where it had become stuck, and did not – or would not – confirm.

Miss Simpson turned towards the theatre entrance, with barely a greeting for Miss Anderson. ‘We have directions from the curious Mr Caine,’ she said.

After climbing two flights of stairs and navigating a dimly lit passage, an usher pushed open a door and they found themselves in a theatre box. The performance was underway and the theatre appeared to be full. In the box to their right was a young man with full sideburns who appeared to be making notes. He smiled broadly at Alice and Harriet as they sat down. Harriet glanced down at her programme in slight embarrassment. In the hurry she had not noticed the title of the show outside. She now read: The Genesis Experience, being the Extraordinary Account of the Origins of Life.

The stage was crowded with animals, all larger than life, animated by almost invisible performers. Alice quickly realised that each animal was represented twice: two crocodiles, two elephants, two giraffes. Two sharks, turtles and octopus. Birds of all kinds filled the air, and penguins and shoebills walked the land. One pair of land-based creatures was larger than the rest. Their giant bodies were supported on short legs, while a row of vertical plates ran down their spines and enormous horns protruded from their heads.

‘Look! It’s a … what do you call it?’ Alice wondered in a whisper.

‘A kind of dinosaur,’ said Hattie, who had seen drawings of such ancient terrible lizards at home. She knew its name too, but did not think it necessary to say so.

The man with the sideburns made more notes.

Two shadows, of human forms with arms raised high, extended gradually across the stage from each wing, until the arms of the shadows touched. A man and woman appeared – dressed as trapeze artists – and seemed to gather up their shadows as they strode gracefully towards the centre of the stage, to the rhythm of the orchestra, while the animated creatures retreated right and left. Slowly, the man spoke: ‘A great writer once said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” An even greater writer wrote the very first story, that of the Creation. He described how all the animals of the Earth were preserved from a Flood, along with Noah and his family. But only now, with the blessing of science, do we have the power fully to know the meaning of this event. To understand.’

Other actors now appeared from the wings, pushing and carrying strange-looking contraptions, while other structures were lowered onto the stage from above. Piece by piece, with a crescendo from the orchestra, the form of a great ship, with sails, began to emerge. The pairs of creatures returned to the stage and, led by the two stegosaurus, climbed a ramp onto the ship. With a wave and a bow to the audience the man and the woman followed, and the whole ship exited the stage while the orchestra played a fading accompaniment.

The curtains closed. There was a short silence, then the theatre was filled with applause and voices called, ‘Encore! More!’

Caine appeared on the stage, his smile unchanged. ‘Ladies and gentlemen. We are glad that you have enjoyed our, ah, presentation. You will indeed find more about our work in the official programme. The Genesis Experience is the unique conception of an extraordinary man. Mr … Gideon Zachary!’

A large man sitting in the front row, highlighted by a spotlight, stood and turned to receive the applause with a stiff bow.

The house lights came on and the girls and their governesses went down to the foyer, where Caine reappeared. ‘Mr Zachary would be delighted if you would join him for tea at his hotel,’ he said, and excused himself.

Alice heard a voice behind her: ‘Hello! I believe we are the same party.’ It was the man with the sideburns. ‘William Russell,’ he continued. ‘Illustrated London News. Remarkable show! You arrived just in time. Cab?’

William unfurled a giant umbrella and led them outside. The rain had barely stopped for three days.

As they entered the hotel lobby, they came face to face with Zachary. He towered over Alice and Harriet, with Caine behind him.

‘Miss Jones and Miss Darwin?’ said Zachary. ‘I was expecting you. I had the pleasure of meeting your grandfather this morning, Miss Jones. I hope you have good appetites, girls.’ He guided the party to the tea lounge and assigned everyone a place at an enormous round table. He then sat down himself and repositioned the cutlery in front of him so that it was at perfect right angles. The girls were seated either side of him. They glanced at each other in mock alarm across his belly.

Zachary summoned the waiter who returned with tiers of extra thin sandwiches, sponge cake, pots of tea, and lavender lemonade. ‘I recommend the sponge cake,’ Zachary said, taking over from the waiter and cutting large slices for everyone. ‘It has a layer of delicious lemon curd. Please …’ he continued, making an expansive gesture to indicate that everyone should begin eating.

‘That was a wonderful show, Mr Zachary,’ William said. ‘Will all performances be free of charge, like today’s?’

‘Thankyou. Yes, it is available to all, whatever their means.’

‘Mr Zachary is a remarkable, ah, benefactor,’ added Caine. It was the first time Caine had spoken since they had arrived at the hotel.

‘We live in an age of animals,’ Zachary said, through a mouthful of cake. ‘The animal world connects us all, however young or old, to history and to science. It is through animals that we can interest the people in the Creator’s work.’ He emphasised the word people.

‘Do you have any pets, Miss Jones?’ Zachary asked, shifting his large body to address Alice.

‘A parrot, called Sam,’ Alice replied. Caine’s smile did not wilt.

‘And you, Miss Darwin?’ Zachary turned his body again and delicately brushed cake crumbs from his hands.

‘Father has lots of animals in the house. Barnacles and worms mostly. One day he tipped thousands of worms onto the billiard table! He even made my brother play his bassoon to them,’ replied Harriet. ‘But we have several dogs too. Father loves dogs.’

‘Your father sounds an unusual man,’ said Zachary. ‘He is a natural historian?’

‘Yes, he’s writing a book. He’s been writing it ever since he came back from his voyage. He went to South America. When he’s not making notes for his book, he’s always writing to breeders or specialists,’ replied Harriet. ‘He says everyone keeps telling him to hurry and finish it before someone else publishes the idea first.’

‘And what idea is that?’

‘It’s about how all living things have …’ Harriet always found it hard to explain. ‘How things have come to be.’

‘Indeed?’ Zachary said. ‘It seems that Mr Darwin and I should have a discussion one day.’ Alice thought she saw Zachary glance at Caine.

Miss Simpson spoke. ‘I noticed you making notes during the performance, Mr Russell. Will you write an article about the show?’

‘He will.’ It was Caine who had answered.

‘My notes are also of the visual kind, Miss Simpson. I like to sketch. It is my way of recording.’

William opened his sketchbook. Alice and Harriet looked with amazement at the lively drawings of the performance and the spectators. Miss Simpson saw that he had drawn some rapid sketches of her own profile.

While they were flicking through the sketches a man in a badly fitting brown frock coat approached the table, glanced at the assembled group, and spoke into Caine’s ear. Caine looked at Zachary, who quietly announced to the party, ‘Thank you, everyone, for joining me. It was delightful.’

As Alice was leaving the tearoom, along with Harriet, the governesses and William, she noticed Caine in the corner of the hotel lobby, handing a package to the man in brown. She also noticed that – for the first time – Caine’s smile had vanished.