Thursday, November 8, 2018
The Jealous Land by June Gadsby
When I decided to try my hand at a story much further back in time than I had previously done, i.e. the 1850’s, it was the biggest writing challenge I’d had to date. I had never researched the 1800’s, knew nothing about the history thereof. As usual, I planned to take my characters across the world to Africa. I had already visited South Africa and years later I spent some time in Kenya with my second husband, Brian, naturalist and wildlife photographer.
The inspiration for the book, which I called THE JEALOUS LAND was all there, handed to me on a plate – only I had to take it back to the days when the young Queen Victoria was on the throne, the days of The Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London, early train travel, great white hunters and early photography to be carried out by the hero Daniel, adventurer and wildlife photographer.
As I have said, many times, the research was enormous and filled more pages than the book itself. It also took longer to do than the actual writing, but it gave me a taste for writing the historic novel more than ever before. It was new and exciting for me as a writer and animal lover. And being married to a serious photographer was also a great help. I had seen the places I was writing about; experienced getting up close to the beauty and the danger of the wildlife that hadn’t changed.
5* Review by Rosemary Morris:
I congratulate Gadsby on her historical research. The description of Sophie and Thomas Brixby’s journey by train from Newcastle to London is excellent. So is the description of Daniel’s camera “the latest daguerreotype camera from France, together with the necessary glass plates and chemicals required for his trip.” Gadsby handles a large cast of characters in this unusual novel filled with searing emotion and prejudice. The more I read the more I wanted to find out what happened in the end, and despite tragedies before I reached it, I was satisfied.
Following the death of her parents, Sophie is sent to live with relatives in London, where she is treated like a servant. Later, her chance to escape an imposed life of hardship comes in the form of Daniel Clayton – a formidable explorer and photographer. Sophie agrees to his proposal of a loveless marriage, but this union plunges her into the midst of a family feud. She faces unforeseen treachery, a terrible secret in her husband’s past and her greatest dilemma yet.
There’s plenty of emotion, mystery, murder, danger and romance – and a baby elephant called Billy that will steal your heart.
Here is an extract from the book – though it may make some of you hold your breath and some of you cry. I must admit that I shed a tear or two while I wrote this section:
South Africa, 1853:
Daniel felt a surge of excitement as the big bull elephant moved slowly towards the watering hole. This lumbering giant was followed by a smaller female and a varying entourage, from tusked adults to the tiniest of hair-covered babies. 
From his makeshift hide in the lower branches of a broad-girthed baobab tree, Daniel slowly removed his wide-brimmed hat, and wiped his sweating forehead with his shirtsleeve. He dived again beneath the black Hessian hood that shut out the light, and placed a patient eye against the viewfinder of his camera. His movements were minimal so as not to alert or alarm the group of pachyderms.
This was the moment he had waited for and his patience had been happily rewarded. Yesterday, the elephants had been nervous because of a pack of hunting lionesses  near the hole. Today, they seemed calm and relaxed as they drank and the young ones played beneath the heavy torsos of their parents. As he watched with baited breath, Daniel smiled to himself as one after the other, the females lowered themselves into the cooling water and mud with almost human sighs of relief.
The big male, however, though he showed no sign of uneasiness, remained standing, as if guarding his troop.
Daniel had the animal squarely in the viewfinder. He was finally getting accustomed to the smoky grey and black images that were totally inverted. His finger hovered over the cable release. It was the perfect shot. Not many of the wild animals of Africa stayed still as long as the elephants, though he wished he could get closer to his subject. As it was, he was so close he could hear the gruntings and the murmurings and could smell the creatures well enough. Getting too close to them would provoke an attack. Only last week he had seen a young native boy trampled to death.
‘Hold it, hold it, hold it!’ Daniel whispered under his breath as the bull elephant stood rock solid fifty feet away from the tree, not moving a muscle. ‘Got you!’
Daniel depressed the button and started counting the requisite number of seconds for the picture to take. There was a moment when all was still, then the old bull lifted his head and trumpeted loudly. The herd, as one, rose and stood dripping and steaming nervously, large ears flapping.
Daniel swore loudly as the big male elephant swung around, its trunk feeling the air, its small beady eyes searching. He could have sworn that the animal met his gaze. One great foot pawed the dry savannah and the red dust rose in a cloud. It drifted like a hot mist over the other elephants that were slowly coming out of their morning bath. They arranged themselves prudently behind their leader and protectively around the youngsters of the group.
They were going, disturbed by something only they could sense. He had waited all morning in the roasting heat of the flat African veldt, and had managed only one image. There would be other days, other opportunities, thank heavens. This was a favourite watering hole, one of the few that retained its life-giving liquid all year round. At this time of the year water was scarce. The land was dry and was crying out for rain.
A thin streak of brown arm shot over Daniel’s shoulder. In his exhilaration, he had forgotten the presence of his guide, Josiah. The old Bantu was anxiously pointing to the far side of the watering hole.
‘What is it, Josiah? What can you see?’
Daniel squinted through the heat haze. The scene before him dissolved like a watercolour painting in the rain, shimmering and distorting before his eyes. He wiped his hand across his face, blinked stinging droplets of perspiration from his eyelashes and followed the direction of Josiah’s pointing finger.
The Bantu was shading his eyes, shaking his head. His black eyes started fearfully from their sockets. He did not move, but became one with the tree.
‘What the…?’ Daniel could see more clearly now, could see the spreading confusion within the ranks of the elephant herd. ‘I don’t believe it! No! Dear God, no!’
Daniel’s words left his mouth in a loud, angry explosion as he made out the moving shapes that slowly surrounded the elephant herd. Tall, dark, semi-naked figures, chanting and ritualistically thrusting long spears in a menacing attitude.
But it wasn’t the Bantu that induced such dismay in Daniel’s breast. There were other figures among them and it was to them he waved his arms and shouted, though Josiah tried in vain to hold him back.
It was not so unexpected after all, Daniel thought, to find his brother, Nick, at the head of the group of white hunters with long rifles at the ready. Even through the dust clouds he could see the bloodthirsty lust on their faces.
‘Nick! Go back! Get away from there, you idiot!’
Daniel’s warning shout went unheeded, even though he knew he had been heard. The bull elephant threw back his head and trumpeted, then stood, ears wafting, head shaking, feet stomping the dry earth. The poor animal knew it was trapped long before the shots rang out.
As Daniel jumped to the ground, preparing to save himself from a possible charge, he felt the earth beneath his feet vibrate as one by one the animals did not run, but fell where they stood, mortally wounded by the constant barrage of bullets and native spears.
‘No!’ he cried out again and again as he witnessed the scene of devastation and slaughter that played out in front of him.
The hunters had not missed a shot. All but the smallest of the herd were dead or dying. The calf, miraculously untouched, stood by its slaughtered mother, swaying gently and crying. It was the most heart-breaking sound Daniel had ever heard.
There was a rush of feet as Nick led his party forward, stopping to admire their handiwork in the muddy waters of the watering hole, now gleaming blood red in the late afternoon sun.
‘Oh, yes! Yes!’
Daniel heard his brother’s exultation. His jaw set rigidly. He moved to the edge of the pool and looked on as the hunters went from animal to animal, inspecting them, measuring them, arguing about which bits would fetch the most money at the market place.
‘Why, Nick? How can you get so much joy out of creating such carnage? We came out here to explore – not to kill.’
Nick looked up, aware of Daniel for the first time. His eyes were wild and glassy and it wasn’t the first time that Daniel had been afraid for his younger brother. Nick liked the killing more than the thrill of the chase.
‘Hey, Daniel! Come on, grab your camera and let’s have a record of all this. Just think how envious they’ll be back in England.’
‘Did you have to kill all of them?’ Daniel demanded, through tightly clenched teeth. ‘Could you not have spared the ones without ivory, at least?’
Nick looked genuinely surprised.
‘What? Pass up the chance of making good money?’ he said. ‘There’s a fellow in Cape Town who’ll take all the elephant feet and tails I can provide him with. This beats stalking any day.’
Daniel shook his head in disgust. ‘It’s a shoddy business,’ he said. ‘Totally amoral – like you!’
Nick threw back his head and laughed lustily. ‘Oh, my poor dear brother,’ he said, his eyes gleaming. ‘If you don’t have the stomach for life out here in Africa, you should have stayed back in Northumberland and photographed your cows and your sheep. Come on, man! I want some images of this.’
He ploughed out of the sucking mud and ran to where the bull elephant lay twitching in the last throes of death. Leaping on to its side, he posed, one foot on its shoulder, the other on its head. With a triumphant smile, he brandished his rifle in the air and threw a challenging smile at Daniel.
‘No!’ Daniel shook his head, his refusal adamant.
‘Josiah!’ Nick snapped his fingers, the sound echoing cleanly through the now silent air. ‘Here, boy! Camera! Give Masser Daniel his camera.’
Josiah edged silently to Daniel’s side and proffered the camera, which he had brought down from the hide in the baobab tree. Daniel no more than glanced at the apparatus before swiping it viciously from the African’s hands. The old man looked shocked and bent to retrieve the shattered pieces, but Daniel stopped him with a gentle pressure of his hand to the shiny, ebony shoulder.
‘No, Josiah. Leave it.’
‘I sorry, Masser Daniel!’
Josiah’s whispered words filled Daniel with remorse, pushing aside, momentarily, the anger directed towards his brother and his friends. Josiah was a simple man, a good guide and a valued servant. They spent many a long hour together in the evenings when they weren’t trekking the veldt looking for subjects that Daniel could sketch or photograph. In halting English, learned from missionaries, Josiah would relate the stories of his village and his people. He was old, but he was tireless and he was devoted to his Masser Daniel.
‘It’s all right, Josiah. It’s not your fault.’
Daniel was relieved to see the fear leave the old man’s eyes.
‘Camera break, Masser.’
‘Yes. Camera break, Josiah.’
Daniel stared in disbelief at the camera pieces scattered at his feet. What stupidity. Why on earth had he done such a thing? As he looked up again in time to see Nick levelling his rifle in the direction of the grieving calf, he knew the answer to his question. He had smashed the camera, because if he had not done so, he would have ended up killing his own brother with his bare hands.
Nick raised his eye from the rifle sight.
‘You trying to spoil your little brother’s fun, eh?’ he said.
Daniel swallowed with difficulty, for his throat was tight and dry. He glared at his brother and felt his fists clench. There was too much distance between them. Before he had time to travel two yards, Nick could pull the trigger and the baby elephant would be dead, like the others.
‘What challenge is there, Nick,’ he said quickly, ‘in killing something so small and defenceless? It’s hardly heroic enough to impress your important friends.’
The friends in question were hovering in the background, pretending not to hear this exchange between the Clayton brothers. Daniel knew them all. They were cronies of their host here in South Africa. Reverend Henry Noble, disciple of God, was better known as one of a new breed of explorers – the “great white hunters”. Henry was more interested in earning money from the animals he killed than preaching the Gospel.
‘Leave it, Nick!’ It was Noble who now called out from the tight cluster of white men, still glassy-eyed with exhilaration. ‘Let the boys get on with the butchering. We have business back at camp.’
There was a ripple of subdued laughter. Daniel knew what Noble meant by ‘business’. They had brought out crates of alcohol, which they drank from liberally after every killing. They would be inebriated out of their minds long before the sun slipped down behind the black horizon.
‘Ach, you’re right, Henry. I’ll wait until this one gets his tusks before I come after him.’
And by then, dear brother, thought Daniel, I hope to have you safely back in England or die in the attempt.
[Images by June Gadsby]
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