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Authors: David Alric

African Pursuit

BOOK: African Pursuit
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To Pauline

The author wishes to thank his wife, children and grandchildren for their help and patient support during the writing of this book, Catherine and Pauline for their editorial and secretarial contributions and Toby Clements for his constant encouragement.

He greatly valued the advice he received from his five young advisers, Clare McEvoy, Lucy McEvoy, Georgie Hill, Martha Clements and Sadhbha Cockburn, all of whom made comments that influenced the final text.

Finally, his grateful thanks are due to David Dean for his wonderful illustrations, Stephen Page of Faber & Faber for his kindness and generosity, Clive Martin for his help in creating Acme Press and John Nicholson and Steve Millar of Design Online for their expert and patient assistance.

T
he first two books in this series recounted the extraordinary adventures of the Bonaventure and Fossfinder families in the remote jungles of the Amazon river. This book completes the trilogy of stories, and for the benefit of those readers who have not yet had the opportunity to read
The Promised One
and
The Valley of the Ancients
, a brief synopsis of those stories is included below as a prologue.

As in the first two books of the trilogy, I have tried in this tale to combine an adventure story with a style of writing that is fairly demanding in its use of grammar and vocabulary, and to incorporate a great deal of factual information about geography, science and natural history. Although the book is primarily intended as a story for children I have endeavoured to write it in a style that will appeal to all ages and hope that it will be enjoyed as much by adults as by younger people. I make no apologies for the somewhat challenging level of English that I have employed but, as in the previous books, I have included a glossary of unusual and difficult words to help the young reader with vocabulary. I have also included new versions of
‘Lucy’s Lexicon’
and
‘Notes on the names in the book
’ so that readers can again have some fun guessing the meanings of neologisms and names and, perhaps, learn something at the same time.

With regard to units of measurement I have used the same compromise as in the previous books in the trilogy. Heights and distances are usually expressed in imperial units, particularly when referred to by the older characters in the book for whom such usage would be everyday speech. I have used metric units or SI units for specific anatomical dimensions and scientific measurements. These ‘rules’ have not been rigidly applied and I have endeavoured to use those units that would come most naturally to an English-speaking person in the particular situation being described. I have included a short unit conversion table at the end of the glossary.

Happy reading!

David Alric, London, 2009

T
his story is set in the present day and starts as the Bonaventure family return to England after spending an eventful fortnight in Brazil with their close friends, the Fossfinders. The families share an extraordinary secret. Thirteen-year-old Lucy Bonaventure is the Promised One, somebody whom animals throughout the world have been expecting since time immemorial to come and restore harmony between mankind and the animal kingdom. Lucy has an elder sister Clare who is nineteen and a younger sister Sarah who is ten. The Fossfinders have two boys, Clive who is twenty and Mark who is seventeen.

The first book in the trilogy,
The Promised One
, describes how Lucy regains consciousness after a road accident and finds that she has acquired the power to speak to animals. Following the discovery of her apparently unique ability, Lucy and her family have some extraordinary adventures. Shortly after her accident Lucy, with the help of various animals, rescues her explorer father, Richard, from a remote jungle valley in the Amazon containing prehistoric animals from the Pleistocene era where he has been trapped for several months with two other scientists, Helen and Julian Fossfinder. The Fossfinders, inevitably, learn of Lucy’s power, but the two families
agree to keep this knowledge secret from outsiders to protect her from those who might wish to exploit her special ability.

In the second book of the trilogy,
The Valley of the Ancients
, the two families return to South America eighteen months after their first adventure to investigate a valley adjacent to the one they had previously explored, which they suspect might contain creatures surviving from an even more remote era. The explorers narrowly escape with their lives for not only does their plane crash into a crater inhabited by dinosaurs, but they come into conflict with an avaricious professor and his criminal gang who are making invisibility robes from a special ore found only in that crater. Before coming to the crater the professor had stolen the secret of making the invisibility material from his research assistant, Lucinda, whom he had tried to murder but, unknown to him, she had survived the attempt.

All the villains except the professor are eventually killed by prehistoric animals and he is seriously injured while trying to hijack Julian’s plane with the intention of leaving the explorers to die in the crater.

This final story in the trilogy begins with the Bonaventures returning home to England from their second Amazon adventure and the evil professor fighting for his life in a Brazilian hospital.

T
hirty-five thousand feet above the Atlantic, the plane flew steadily towards Heathrow in brilliant late-afternoon sunshine above the ocean clouds. During the long flight Richard was making some scientific notes about the flora and fauna of the new valley they had discovered and Joanna was sitting next to him reading the newspaper. Suddenly she nudged him and pointed to an article she had just read. He glanced over, then seeing the heading to the article, dropped his work, took the paper from her and started to read.

Second sighting of ‘monkey’ girl

from our correspondent in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Two weeks ago in this column I reported that villagers in a remote area close to the Salonga National Park claimed to have seen a white girl of about thirteen foraging with a small group of bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees). On being approached the group had disappeared immediately into the forest, accompanied by the girl who seemed to move through the undergrowth with extraordinary agility. As there had been no reports of missing children in the area no further action was taken. Wildlife experts are anxious that the few remaining groups of this threatened species should be left as undisturbed as possible and, as the sighting occurred shortly after a 
somewhat boisterous tribal wedding party, no further credence was given to the villagers’ tale.

Yesterday, however, the story took an intriguing turn. Two (alleged) poachers arrested in the reserve said that they had not been after bush meat but had seen a child in the forest and had gone into the reserve to rescue her. When they called to her she climbed a tree at an astonishing speed, joined several small apes and then made off with them in the trees through forest so dense that the men were unable to follow.

These sightings inevitably raise the question as to whether this is a feral child – one who, by being lost or abandoned, has become separated from human society and has been reared by wild animals. Stories of such children have been around for thousands of years and many of them are clearly the stuff of myth or legend. Famous fictional feral children include Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome; Mowgli, from
The Jungle Book
by Rudyard Kipling; and Edgar Rice Burroughs’
Tarzan.
There are, however, approximately one hundred reports in the literature of real feral children. Some of the most famous of these include the Hessian wolf children (1341); Wild Peter of Hamelin (1724); Victor of Aveyron (1797), portrayed in the film L’Enfant Sauvage by Francois Truffaut; Kaspar Hauser (1828), found near Nuremberg in Germany; and the Indian Wolf Girls (1920) aged eight and eighteen months, who were discovered in the care of a she-wolf in Godamuri, India.

Researching these cases has proved to be one of the most fascinating assignments I have ever undertaken but it has also been, it has to be said, a somewhat depressing one. Most of these children, isolated from all human contact from a very early age, never become satisfactorily reintegrated into society. They rarely learn to speak properly, and many die at an early age. It is to be hoped that, if the present stories turn out to be true, and this ‘monkey’ girl is restored to the community, modern 
psychological rehabilitation techniques will prove to be more successful than those attempted in previous cases
.

Richard lowered the paper, frowning. He looked at Joanna, then turned to see what the others were doing. Clare was studying a medical book, Clive was listening to his iPod, and Lucy and Sarah were watching the in-flight movie. His three young nephews were all asleep. They had come with the family to South America for a holiday and had spent their time sightseeing with Joanna while the others explored the remote Amazon valley. He looked back to Joanna. Her eyes were moist.

‘Is it possible?’ His voice came out in a whisper.

‘I don’t know,’ said Joanna, her voice trembling. ‘I just… don’t… know.’

Richard picked up the paper and together they read the article again.

‘It’s the right place… and the girl’s the right age… but how could she possibly have survived that hell?’ said Richard.

‘It would have been a miracle,’ Joanna agreed. She paused. ‘But we’ve got to go and check. Otherwise we’ll never sleep easy again for the rest of our lives.’

They both lay back, held hands and wrestled with their tormented thoughts as the plane thundered on towards the evening sky.

Richard woke from a fitful sleep. The plane was in darkness apart from a few subdued reading lights here and there, and silent but for the continuous drone of the engines. He turned to check on Joanna but she was fast asleep. A passing stewardess noticed he was awake
and he gratefully accepted her whispered offer of a drink of chocolate. As he sipped the steaming cup his thoughts turned, inevitably, to the ‘monkey girl’ article which had recalled for them both the terrible events surrounding Lucy’s birth. Richard and Joanna had met and married while working in the same university botany department. Their work on tropical species of trees involved them in field trips to faraway places but after their first daughter Clare was born Joanna no longer accompanied Richard on these expeditions as they involved trekking and camping in remote, wild places under conditions unsuitable for a young baby.

When Clare was six, however, they were invited to undertake a particularly interesting one-year project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, then called Zaire. The research opportunity focused on a species of fig that had been one of Joanna’s major research interests and so they decided to go together, leaving Clare back in England in the care of Joanna’s parents.

When, five months into the project, Joanna discovered with delight that she was pregnant, she and Richard were pleased when they realised that she would have just enough time to complete her work and return to England before the actual birth. This was a relief because their studies were being conducted in an exceedingly remote area with only limited medical facilities, and political upheavals in the region were leading to increasing civil unrest.

The project went well: they were lucky enough to discover a large stand of the trees they were studying very close to the village they were using as a base. This meant that they had to make only relatively few camping trips into the bush. As the months passed Richard noticed Joanna’s rapidly growing size and began to wonder if she was expecting twins. Although he had qualified in medicine
before becoming a botanist he had never practised as a doctor and had virtually no obstetric experience. Fortunately there was a midwife in the village who worked for the World Health Organization. She had been there for years and was known throughout the area simply as ‘Big Mama’. Her daughter Mzuri was a kind girl of twenty who had been halfway through nursing training when her hospital had been burned down in a recent riot and she was now back living at home. Until she could resume her training she was helping Joanna in the house and she cooked local dishes that Richard was particularly fond of. Richard asked Big Mama for her advice about Joanna and she agreed with him that Joanna was probably going to have twins, though without any ultrasound equipment she couldn’t be absolutely certain. Richard and Joanna were concerned about this for they were not due to return to England for another month and knew that twins often arrived early. They were now at a crucial stage of their work, however, and Joanna was very keen not to shorten their stay.

‘It’ll probably be fine,’ she said, ‘but if I do go into labour I’m sure you and Big Mama can cope between you – she must have delivered hundreds of babies over the years.’ Richard wasn’t so sure about coping, but reluctantly agreed to stick to their original travel plans.

During the next fortnight, however, the civil unrest rapidly became worse and when they heard reports of groups of rebel soldiers marauding neighbouring towns and villages they both realised it was time to go. The roads were now unsafe – many had been mined and others were under guerrilla control and the only safe route back to the airport was an armoured train that ran once a day. A few hours before they were due to leave Richard heard a gasp and ran through to where Joanna was doing some final packing. She sat on the edge of the bed clutching her swollen abdomen.

Are you all right?’ asked Richard.

‘Well, yes and no,’ Joanna replied with a nervous smile. ‘I’ve had a few twinges in the last few days that I haven’t worried you with. They turned out to be false alarms, but now I think I may be going into labour. We’d better wait and …’ but before she could finish Richard had gone to find Mzuri. ‘Quick,’ he said, ‘get your Mum. I think Joanna’s started!’

By the time Big Mama appeared Joanna had had another contraction and had decided that this time she really was in labour. Just at that moment there was the sound of distant rifle fire and, going out into the street, Richard saw that many of the villagers were leaving, some with hastily packed possessions on carts and bicycles, others leading goats and sheep. People were shouting and screaming and there was a general air of panic. Richard rushed back inside but saw at once that the labour was now well in progress and that it was too late to try and escape. The next few hours were the worst he had ever experienced. He was overcome with guilt and remorse at having got them into this awful situation and bitterly regretted that he hadn’t insisted on their returning to England earlier. Big Mama remained calm and efficient throughout, comforting and helping Joanna and reassuring Richard.

Eventually the first baby was born.

‘It’s a girl!’ Mama announced. ‘A beautiful girl.’ She showed her to Joanna then gave her to Mzuri, telling her daughter to take the infant across to the clinic and clean her and wrap her up. Big Mama’s clinic was across the road and was stocked with dressings, nappies and baby clothes. When Mzuri had left with her precious bundle Mama turned back to Joanna. ‘Now for number two,’ she said briskly. Sure enough within five minutes the second child was born. ‘It’s another girl,’ said Mama excitedly. ‘I can’t be sure, but I think they’re identical twins.’

A few moments later, however, their feelings of elation, were deflated by a series of events that they would all remember in vivid detail for the rest of their lives. There had been sporadic gunfire throughout the whole time she had been in labour, but now, terrifyingly near, came the sound of automatic weapons. Mama ran to look out of the window facing the clinic, then turned and thrust the baby and a handful of towels into Richard’s arms.

‘Quick − take Joanna and the baby. The truck is out the back. The keys are in the ignition.You’ll have to risk the roads. Go! Now!’

‘But the first baby,’ cried Joanna. ‘What about my other baby!’

Mama turned, tears streaming down her face.

‘I fear we have both just lost a daughter, Memsahib. The rebels have taken the clinic and will invade here shortly. I will stay and do what I can, but you must go.’ Even as she spoke they heard the sound of voices outside the door. Richard grabbed Joanna with his free hand and pulled her out to the pick-up truck outside. Frantically he wrenched open the car door, helped Joanna into the back seat and bundled the screaming baby into her arms. He dashed round to the driver’s door, jumped in, and prayed the engine would start. To his heartfelt relief it did so even as a burst of machine-gun fire came from within the room they had just left and as the truck roared off with a squeal of tyres a group of young men in camouflage gear ran out into the road and started firing. As the truck disappeared in a cloud of dust the firing petered out and soon they had escaped. As the truck bounced over the uneven road Richard prayed they wouldn’t hit a mine or a road block. The baby was now silent and he glanced back to see that Joanna was now feeding her, weeping bitterly as she did so.

‘We had to save this one,’ was all Richard could think to say. Joanna nodded through her tears. By some miracle they reached the airport
unscathed. A British consular official dealing with the crisis issued them with emergency passports and they flew back to London with their new baby, torn between relief at having escaped with their own lives and that of this little infant, and desperate sorrow at their loss.

On the flight home Joanna and Richard had decided not to tell Clare what had happened. She was overjoyed to see her parents again with her new baby sister Lucy, and there seemed nothing to gain from telling her all the tragic circumstances surrounding the loss of Lucy’s twin.

Over the years they had never quite got round to telling Lucy either. They had vaguely imagined they would tell her when she was older but, somehow, the time had never seemed quite right.

And now? Richard dragged his thoughts back to the present. As he and Joanna had read the newspaper article a few hours earlier, the same incredible thought had come into both their minds. Was it conceivable that Lucy’s twin sister had survived? The child mentioned in the article was the same age as Lucy, and lived in the very area where the twins had been born.

Suddenly Richard was struck by an overwhelming thought. The feral child described in the new article was apparently living with animals. If she was Lucy’s identical twin she had an identical genetic make-up to Lucy, and an identical brain structure, and an identical ability to… Richard’s mind was spinning with the possible implications.
That
was why this feral child could live among the animals. Suddenly he was seized with the conviction that this feral child must indeed be Lucy’s twin. He recalled Joanna’s words: ‘…
we’ve got to go and check. Otherwise we’ll never sleep easy again for the rest of our lives.’

She was right. They would have to go to Africa – and as soon as possible. If the child
was
his daughter he couldn’t bear the thought of what might happen to her. His blood ran cold at the thought of
the scores of journalists and sensation-seekers already heading for the jungle as a result of the article. Would she be hunted down and kept captive or killed, or, perhaps even worse, captured and smuggled away to appear in freak shows or circuses?

BOOK: African Pursuit
6.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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